Visa Free Travel
Bulgaria’s citizenship-by-investment system offers a low-cost, flexible gateway to the European Union. The program, founded in 2009 and modified in 2013, offers permanent residency in exchange for a 1 million Bulgarian lev (about $600,000) investment in a range of options, including bonds, stocks and even intellectual property. Investors can then obtain full citizenship after five years — or, in exchange for investing an additional 1 million lev, they can fast-track their application and obtain full citizenship within about 18 months of making their initial investment.
Investors can divest their investment (both the initial and the secondary) 2 years after receiving citizenship. Investors receive their invested amount back in full together with all proceeds on top, including the bond coupons, so the total cost of the program can be remarkably low. With no language requirement and no residency requirement besides three short trips during the application process, makes Bulgaria’s CBI program an attractive option for investors seeking entry to Europe.
Though not formally marketed as a CBI program, Bulgarian law offers a number of pathways where investors can obtain permanent residency, and subsequently citizenship, by investing 1 million Bulgarian lev in a range of different ways. Most investors opt to invest in government bonds, but it is also possible to qualify by buying shares in Bulgarian companies traded on the Bulgarian Stock Exchange, making an investment managed through a trust agreement with a Bulgarian bank, or purchasing intellectual property and patents.
Investors who maintain their core residency investment for five years qualify for citizenship, while investors who double down and invest an extra 1 million lev can qualify after just 18 months. Fast-tracked investors must maintain their investments for two years after obtaining citizenship, however.
Some investors opt to finance their initial investments, increasing the overall cost but significantly reducing the amount of capital needed to obtain Bulgarian citizenship. Such approaches may be legal under certain circumstances but can be complex and risky. They should be viewed with caution.
The first step in the application process is to make the required investment. While it can be useful to obtain professional advice in making arrangements, the investment itself should remain in the applicant’s name and under their direct control. Applicants should be wary of agents who ask them to transfer money out of their own accounts, which can be a scam allowing agents to pocket the interest that accumulates on an investor’s capital. Also be cautious about plans that involve financing the capital used for the CBI investment. Though permissible under certain scenarios, such approaches can be risky, and are generally frowned upon by immigration officials.
Once the investment is made, applicants can file their paperwork to begin the process. This is a multi-stage process that requires three trips to Bulgaria. Neither trip need to last more than a few days, however.
The due-diligence process for Bulgarian immigration investors was previously seen as less intensive scrutiny than some other programs. Since the end of 2017 however, the situation has shifted somewhat and it is now advisable for every applicant to undergo a preliminary due diligence procedure and feasibility assessment with a reputable immigration law firm. The Bulgarian government is determined to keep the fast-track citizenship program as a legal pathway for new citizens with “great business visions” rather than a “passport for sale scheme.” It is expected among the professionals in the field that the Parliament will soon amend the current articles, making the application more cumbersome. As before, investors must be able to produce a criminal record report showing that they have not been convicted of serious crimes.
Bulgaria, though a member of the European Union, is not currently a member of the Schengen Area, so residency card holders do not receive automatic travel rights in Europe. Bulgarian passport holders, however, enjoy visa-free access to 156 countries, including the E.U., making the Bulgarian passport the 20th-strongest in the world.
As an industrialized eastern block country, Bulgaria economy has in recent years diversified and grown steadily. Bulgaria is now a stable parliamentary democracy. Bulgaria’s coastal and mountain resorts are popular with international tourists and locals take pride in their country’s architecture, long history and rich culture.
Investors using the pathway described for obtaining Bulgarian citizenship receive permanent citizenship after making their initial investments. It is also possible to obtain “continuous residence” — a long-term residency visa that only lasts for a year, but which can be renewed indefinitely — by investing at least 500,000 lev to take over, or create a business that employs at least 10 people; by investing 250,000 lev in a company that creates at least five jobs in an economically challenged region; or by investing 600,000 lev in real estate.
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