Portugal's golden visa programme 'swamped' by inquiries from Hongkongers seeking alternative residence and a safe haven

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Inquiries from Hongkongers about property in Portugal, the homeland of football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, have seen an upswing in recent months as wealthy residents and investors clamour for an alternative residency amid escalating political tensions in the city, analysts said.

Since its unveiling in 2012, Lisbon's golden visa scheme has attracted 7,500 applicants, contributing 4.6 billion euros (US$5.2 billion) in investment, according to List Sotheby's International Realty, Hong Kong.

"We have seen more inquiries about Portugal properties from Hong Kong buyers in the past few months. Many see Portuguese residency an alternative option in Europe," said Binoche Chan, chief operating officer at List Sotheby's. "The entry requirements are relatively low against other popular destinations."

The increase in inquiries coincided with escalating tensions in Hong Kong over the now-shelved extradition bill.


Bela Vista in Lisbon, which features panoramic views of the city, is one of the developments being offered by List Sotheby's International Realty Hong Kong. Photo: Handout

The golden visa programme grants successful applications the right to live, work and study in Portugal, along with visa-free travel within the 26 countries under the Schengen area of Europe, and eventually a legal residence.

An individual is eligible for a golden visa if, among other options, they acquire at least a 350,000 euros worth of property.

"In 2019, more citizenship inquiries are coming from Hong Kong than any other Asian territory, including mainland China. In Hong Kong, most high net worth individuals are only now deciding they need a backup plan and an overseas residency, in case they need to leave the city in a hurry," said Poland-based David Lesperance, managing partner at Lesperance & Associates.

"For some, Europe is an obvious destination. Portugal is along with Greece the easiest and cheapest way to obtain permanent residency in Europe," he said.


Fireworks during New Year festivities behind Lisbon's Saint George castle on January 1, 2019. Photo: AP

"Nine out of 10 of those dollars went into real estate. Since the programme's inception, Chinese nationals have taken 60 per cent of all visas issued. Chinese have invested an estimated US$2.8 billion through the golden visa programme," said Georg Chmiel, executive chairman at Juwai.

In April to June, Chinese and Hong Kong demand for Portuguese property jumped 40.4 per cent from a year ago, the highest number of inquiries for any quarter since 2016.

"Portugal is not a top 10 country for Chinese buyers, but for those seeking a golden visa, it is among the top three," Chmiel said.

Chan also noted that Lisbon was ranked by accounting firm PwC as the best city in real estate investment and development prospects among major European cities this year. Property prices in the metropolitan area of the capital were up by about 8 per cent in 2018, and rental yields ranged from 5.5 per cent to 6 per cent.

Henley & Partners, an advisory which specialises in residency and citizenship issues, noted a "dramatic spike " in recent inquiries from Hong Kong, with a 260 per cent rise in June from a year ago. The number of inquiries in July more than doubled from June.

"Portugal has proven to be an extremely attractive option, its relatively low cost of living, beautiful and varied landscape, Mediterranean climate, rich history and culture, and very high standard of safety and security have all been strong drawcards," said Paddy Blewer, Henley & Partners group director of public relations.

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