By Alexandros Karakitis
Greece’s golden visa, or residence by investment program, is growing stronger. Since its launch in 2013, the number of property residence approvals, has exceeded 3,000 and the number of people who benefited by the program, including eligible family members of the investors are more than 8,000, according to the most recent data of the Ministry of Immigration Policy.
About half of all applicants come from China, followed by people from Russia and Turkey. Other major applicant groups come from Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq, followed by Ukraine, Syria, Jordan, Iran and other countries.
The program’s benefits include a five-year residence permit after investing in the real estate property sector and the right for the investor to bring the spouse, children up to 20 years old and both the applicant’s and spouse’s parents. The residence permit is renewable for consecutive five-year periods provided the investor preserves his investment in the country.
Once the residence permit is issued, the investor and his family are entitled to travel freely and stay in other Schengen area countries, including the EU countries except the United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania. Greek passport holders can also travel to EFTA countries, which include Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, for a period of up to 90 days within any six month period. At the same time, the period that they can stay in Greece is unlimited. However, this residence permit does not provide the right to work in the country.
The program is appropriate for people who need a visa to travel to Greece and who wish to buy a property in the country. The minimum value of the real estate property investment is 250,000 euros.
People who make use of the program are taxed like any other person owning real estate property in Greece.
The program does not include any special rules for obtaining Greek citizenship. However, it is explicitly provided in the Greek citizenship code, following an amendment enacted in 2018, that in line with the general rule, the property residence permit enables its holder to apply for Greek citizenship after 7 consecutive years of lawfully residing in Greece.
FEATURES AND LIMITATIONS OF THE PROGRAM
To be eligible for the program, applicants must fulfill one or a combination of the following investment choices:
Full ownership right over a real estate property or properties in Greece. Obtaining a ten year or longer leasing contract of a hotel or another tourist accommodation facility in Greece, which is accredited by the National Tourism Organization. The lease agreement must be executed via a notarial deed, which is registered with the relevant land registry. Another option is a time sharing contract for a property in Greece, accompanied by the relevant certificates of the National Tourism Organization and the land registry. The total amount for any of the above types of investment or for the combination among any of them should be at least 250,000 euros.
Also, any property in Greece acquired jointly by the spouses is also eligible for the program if the total value is at least 250,000 euros. In addition, an applicant is also eligible for the program if the applicant co-owns a property together with other people other than the spouse, provided, however, that each co-owner invests at least 250,000. The value of property rights owned by the applicant should be reflected in the notary deed executed for the acquisition of the property.
The total amount of the investment should be settled in its entirety and no part should be made conditional or be payable at a later stage. Settlement should be made by means either of a cross-check issued in the name of the beneficiary of the payment or through wire transfer to the bank account in Greece of the payment’s beneficiary. Both the full payment and the way of payment should be reflected in the relevant notarial deed executed.
The program encompasses not only new investments, but also previous real estate investments in Greece that the applicant continues to hold and that have a current value of at least 250,000 euros.
The investment can be carried out either by the individual directly or by a company that is wholly owned by the investor.
The specific residence approval does not give the holder right to work in Greece. Moreover, no special rules apply for obtaining the Greek citizenship in a faster pace than in accordance with the general rule, which requires the lawful stay in Greece for 7 consecutive years and the fulfillment of certain qualitative criteria.
APPROVAL PROCEDURE AND ADMINISTRATIVE FEE
Before making the investment, the applicant can apply for a visa at a Greek Consulate by specifying that the purpose of his or her travel will be to look for an appropriate investment opportunity that meets the residence-by-investment criteria. The applicant will need to provide evidence by a well-established bank or other financial institution of the applicant’s ability to cover the minimum investment amount of 250,000 euros, as well as a copy of the relevant mandate assigned to a law office or a real estate brokerage firm. However, it is also acceptable that the investment is completed while the person is visiting Greece on a tourist visa, thereby avoiding the need to produce the financial evidence.
After making the investment and executing the relevant notarial deed, the investor can apply for the relevant residence permit by paying an administrative fee, which is about 2,000 euros as of Sept. 13, 2018.
Although the law stipulates that the residence permit is issued within 2 months following submission of the complete file with the required documents to the relevant authority, in practice the time required for the processing of the application may last more than 2 months as it depends on the resource capacity of the relevant authority. It is also common practice that after providing biometric data, following a relevant appointment with the immigration office., a temporary blue card is issued, thereby enabling the applicant to lawfully reside in Greece until the final residence permit card is issued.
STEPS TO RECEIVE THE GREEK RESIDENCY CARD
An applicant need to submit the required documents in person or by a proxy, including a copy of the passport and the travel visa obtained, the notarial deed in relation to the 250,000 euros or more real estate property investment (or in relation to the long-term hotel lease) made and the certificate by the land registry of the registration of the transaction.
That is followed by an appointment for the applicant in person to provide his or her biometric data in order to receive the temporary blue card. If other family members are included in the application, the applicant need to submit a family status certificate, evidencing their relationship with the applicant. In addition, appropriate evidence of health insurance coverage in Greece should be made available.
The initial residence permit can be renewed after 5 years provided the investor continues to hold the investment in Greece.
DOMESTIC TAX TREATMENT OF THE INVESTMENT
The tax depends on the type of investment. Based on the assumption that the investment involves the acquisition of ownership of a real estate property in Greece, the following taxes would be applicable:
Taxes on the real estate property acquisition: Provided it is not a newly built property acquired directly from the constructor of the building, there will be a 3 percent real estate transfer tax on the higher between the value of the property determined in the contract and its objective value determined by reference to the urban zone in which the property is located and features such as its façade, floor, age and the residential or commercial character of the property. By contrast, if the property consists in a newly built property acquired directly by its constructor or developer and the construction permit was issued after January of 2006, there applies VAT at 24 percent, calculated on the higher between the contract price and the objective value of the property, and not real estate transfer tax. Newly built properties subject to VAT (and not to real estate transfer tax) are transfers of properties that take place between the constructor /developer and the investor within 3 years from the completion of the construction of the property provided nobody was living there before. The time of completion is considered to be the time of filing of the completion of construction statement of the constructor to the social insurance agency.
The following taxes burden annually the owners of real estate property in Greece:
Uniform Real Estate Ownership Tax: This tax consists of the basic and the supplementary tax. The basic tax is calculated differently for the ownership percentage corresponding to the unbuilt area of land included in the property and, on the other, for the built area. For the built area of the property, the basic tax ranges from 2 euros to 12 euros per square meter, depending on the tax zone that the property belongs to. A different table of tax zones and adjustment coefficients exist for the unbuilt area of the property. The supplementary tax of individuals ranges from 0.1 percent to 1.1 percent, depending on the value of the property: No supplementary tax is applied to individuals when the property’s value is up to 250,000 euros. It is set to 0.15 percent when the property’s value is up to 300,000 euros and to 0.30 percent when the property’s value is up to 400,000 euros. Thereafter, it is increased every hundred thousand and, eventually, after the a value of more than 2 million euros, it reaches the top rate of 1.15 percent.
Extraordinary Special Duty of Built Surfaces connected to the Grid: The relevant duty ranges between 3 euros and 16 euros per square meter, depending on the urban zone where the property is located. For a property located in the median urban zone of a value of 2000 to 2500 euros per square meter, the corresponding duty would amount to 8 euros per square meter.
Municipality Real Estate Property Duty: The duty can range between 0.025 to 0.035 percent and is subject to a relevant decision of the municipality council taken each year with respect to the following year.
Taxes on the lease of property
Income Tax: The rental income of individuals is subject to income tax according to the following rates: Total rental income of up to 12,000 euros per annum is taxed at 15 percent, rental income of up to 35,000 euros each year is taxed at 35 percent and rental income of more than 35,000 euros each year is taxed at 45 percent.
The personal income tax on the rental income is applied after deducting 5 percent percent of the annual rental income for maintenance and repair. If the property is owned through a company, the income will be subject to 29 percent corporate income tax, reduced to 26 percent for income generated from Jan. 1 of 2019 onwards and in addition there would apply a 15 percent dividend withholding tax on the after tax profits distributed to the company owner, unless a lower dividend withholding tax rate is provided under an applicable tax treaty of the country of tax residence of the company owner with Greece.
Special Solidarity Levy: Provided that the leased property was acquired by the individual in his name and not through a wholly owned company, there would also apply special solidarity levy calculated according to a progressive scale as follows:
- No tax for the first 12,000 euros of income. The levy free income bracket is broadened to 30,000 euros from 2020.
- For income between 12,001 and 20,000 euros, the tax is 2.2 percent; for 20,001 and 30,000 euros it is 5 percent; between 30,001 and 40,000 euros it is 6.5 percent; between 40,001 and 65,000 euros it is 7.5 percent; between 65,001 and 220,000 euros it is 9 percent; and for any excess amount of income it is 10 percent.
In case the property is owned via a wholly owned company, subject to the solidarity levy will not be the rental income but any dividends distributed by the company to its individual owner.
- Stamp Duty of 3.6 percent is only payable when the lessee is a company or the property is leased for business use: No stamp duty applies when the lessee is an individual who leases the property for residence. However, even when the lessee is a company or a business person and thus the rentals attract 3.6 percent stamp duty, the parties can freely allocate the relevant tax burden and it is common practice that the relevant burden is assumed by the lessee. Since the lessor is liable to pay the duty to the state at the time of filing of the annual income tax return), the lessee would normally undertake to pay to the lessor an amount of rental increased by the relevant stamp duty.
Tax treatment of the sale of the property: Provided the direct owner is an individual, the application of the capital gain tax provided in the income tax law and amounting to 15 percent of the amount of the capital gain is suspended until Dec. 31 of 2018. After that, any sale occurring would attract a 15 percent capital gain tax, discounted with coefficients applicable to properties owned for 14 years or more. Morever, from the amount of the taxable capital gain, an amount of 25,000 euros is deducted provided the seller of the property had been owning it for more than 5 years. The capital gain is also subject to the special solidarity levy, determined according to the scale above and applied to the total taxable income of the relevant year. If the property has been acquired via a wholly owned company, the capital gain from its sale will be added to any other taxable income of the company generated during the same year and the net income remaining after deducting the tax deductible expenses will be subject to the corporate income tax.
OTHER SIGNIFICANT MATTERS TO CONSIDER: CAPITAL CONTROLS
The capital controls introduced in June of 2015, when the Greek economy was at the brink of collapse, have been gradually relaxed and are expected to be entirely removed in the near future. While they still continue to apply, they are not relevant for the so called “fresh money,” which is money remitted from the bank account of the individual abroad to his bank account in Greece. Such money can be freely transferred outside Greece, but for the amounts of money which the capital controls still apply, such as any excess amount realized following the sale of the property, can be gradually wire transferred abroad. The limit was recently increased to 4,000 euros every two months.
If the property is owned through a foreign company established in a non-cooperative jurisdiction, a 15 percent annual tax applies on the value of the property. Such tax also applies when the ultimate individual beneficial owners of a domestic or a foreign company, established anywhere in the world and owning the property, are not fully and validly disclosed or when the individual beneficial owners have not acquired a tax identification number in Greece.
Regarding the income tax liability in Greece: Only Greek sourced income, such as the rental income from real estate property located in Greece and any capital gain from a sale of the property occurring after expiry of the capital gain tax suspension period, are applicable. Depending on whether a person is considered as non-tax resident or tax resident of Greece. there might also be tax on the worldwide income of the taxpayer, The tax residence is not determined based on the person having a valid residence permit in Greece, but where he or she lives throughout the year or has a permanent home. The Greek residence-by-investment program does not require physical presence of the investor in Greece.