Investors can seek residency in Hungary through business ownership or by launching a startup. Such options are significantly more complicated than the straightforward, 300,000-euro bond purchase previously required to obtain residency. Still, the remaining visa programs have no fixed capital requirements, and for investors with the time and resources to start or manage a business, they offer a clear pathway to residency in a European Union member-state that’s also part of the Schengen Area.
Hungary suspended its “residency bonds” program in early 2017 amidst claims of corruption and mismanagement. The once-popular program does remain on the statute books, however, and local experts say that it is possible the residency bonds option will be resurrected in the future.
Given the lack of formal guidance for applicants, it’s advisable to seek assistance from local immigration experts when considering seeking residency in Hungary. Applicants should be prepared to provide detailed documentation regarding their planned business activities in Hungary, including certification of Hungarian employees, professional licenses, and corporate registration papers, along with proof that they are financially stable and have secured a place to stay in Hungary. Most residency applications are handled within 15 days of receipt and authorities should announce a decision within 70 days.
Hungary is a member of the Schengen Area, so residents enjoy the right to travel freely across the region. For travel outside the Schengen Area, residents must rely on their own passport.
New Hungarian citizens can look forward to receiving a passport that is among the world’s strongest: it is ranked 11th in the world and offers visa-free travel to 178 countries.
Hungary was hard-hit by the 2008 financial crisis, but returned to stability following a $25 billion EU and IMF bailout, and its economy continues to grow steadily. With a free health service, free university education, and high levels of public investment in infrastructure and innovation, Hungary is an attractive location for businesses, especially those planning to trade with other European Union states. Hungarian politics has in recent years been dominated by right-wing politicians.
Hungary offers no citizenship-by-investment program, but successful business-visa applicants can obtain permanent residency after five years, and citizenship after eight. However, before being approved for naturalization, applicants must demonstrate that they have learned to speak Hungarian, and that they have fully assimilated themselves into the country’s culture.
Hungary’s business investment visa, formally called the Residence Permit for the Pursuit of Gainful Activity, allows would-be immigrants to obtain residency through the ownership of an active business with at least three Hungarian employees, or through the presentation of a detailed strategy for starting a new business or working in a self-employed capacity.
By contrast with the now-inactive residency bonds program, the business investment visa is rather opaque: there is little formal guidance about what kinds of business investments qualify, or what sorts of business plans are acceptable for residency purposes. Local experts say that immigration officials determine applications on a case-by-case basis, after examining applicants’ past business experience and determining that applicants are capable of supporting themselves independently while in Hungary.
In practice, that means that applicants should be able to provide evidence that they have at least a few tens of thousands of dollars in savings. Applicants must also secure health insurance and rent or purchase a place to live in Hungary before applying.
Successful visa applicants receive a one-year residency permit; after the first year, the permit can be renewed in two-year increments. After five years, the applicant can upgrade to permanent residency, as long as they have spent at least three and three-quarter years of the previous five years physically present in the Schengen Area.
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