Why you need a Lawyer for your Golden Visa Application in Portugal
Portugal’s Golden Visa program continues to grow in popularity, and for very good reasons. Not only does Portugal boast the world’s 4th most powerful passport for visa-free traveling, but the program also stands out against other European options that can offer you a passport to the Schengen zone.
Because Portugal’s Golden Visa program has been running for a decade now, its surrounding industries are well established. This includes an extensive list of law firms - from boutique to international - that are available to represent you here in Portugal while you apply from your home country.
Let’s get into why you’re going to “need” to engage with that industry.
First up, it is not a legal requirement to hire a lawyer to complete your Golden Visa application in Portugal. Yes, I hear your protest at the article’s title… “well in that case I don’t need to hire a lawyer”, and yes… technically… that’s correct. But by the end of this article, I think you’ll understand why it’s seriously unwise to proceed without a law firm at the helm of your application.
For clarity, I am making three assumptions on your behalf:
- You do not want your Golden Visa application to be rejected
- You do not want to be exposed to unnecessary risk in your investment
- You do not like to waste your time and energy
If these are true for you, the article below explains why it makes sense to hire a lawyer to manage your Golden Visa process.
This may seem like a broad starting point but Portuguese culture informs the way everything works in this beautiful (and sometimes confusing) country.
The fact that business dealings look similar on the surface will lull you into a false sense of familiarity, making you think you understand the rules of the game as it’s played here. However, Portugal’s business expectations and norms are surprisingly different from Anglo-Saxonic countries.
As a foreigner, you are guaranteed to be regularly frustrated by unexpected developments. If you want to prevail in a timely and risk-free fashion you either need to work here and learn how it’s done beforehand or hire a local expert.
An illustration of a key cultural difference is the way rules are written and enforced in Portugal. Laws and policies are defined as loosely as possible with minimal and vague wording. This is by design and has two “benefits” (debatable…).
- If something about a policy backfires, whoever created it can blame it on the implementation and wriggle out of taking responsibility for the failure
- Sidenote: “It’s not my fault” is a frequently used expression in Portugal
- Vague rules allow the worker on the front line to implement the rule as they see fit, leaving plenty of room for a common sense application of policy.
- While this has a real benefit in terms of accommodating the messy reality of human existence, it also guarantees inconsistency - one day you must have this particular form to apply, and the next day you definitely don’t need it. As a foreigner, this is confounding and will trip you up constantly.
This alone is reason enough to hire a local to manage your process. As a foreigner, you are, by definition, a square peg in a round hole.
Risk of Your Golden Visa Application Being Rejected
A Golden Visa application is an extremely bureaucratic process. There are many steps to complete and even more pages to sign.
What makes the process not only complex but almost impossible to navigate is that the lines are always shifting.
Sometimes these changes are officially sanctioned updates to the program. More often, they are changes in the way the SEF (Portugal’s immigration agency) chooses to interpret the rules. For example, they might mysteriously decide to start enforcing a rule they previously overlooked. This creates a real risk, for those who are not up to date, of having their application rejected.
The only people who can stay up to date on these kinds of changes are the immigration agents themselves and the immigration lawyers whose job it is to speak to those agents every day.
There are several immigration teams in the market who have a 100% success rate, meaning they have never had an application denied. This is simple enough for a dedicated team who are paying attention to the rules, and the way in which those rules are being enforced, day in, day out.
Golden Visa Investment Risk
In order to apply for a Golden Visa, you are required to make an investment.
This means you are required to put your capital at risk for a few years by choosing fund managers or real estate developers to invest with.
Lawyers deal with these people every week. They have a great view of the players and projects in the market. Although they’re not permitted to give investment advice, it's likely (!!) that they’ll provide a nod and a wink away from disaster and toward more reliable options.
Aside from your lawyer you only have people who are paid to influence you to invest in specific places. These include real estate agents & property developers (who are trying to sell you their products) and intermediary brokers (who are paid by the real estate agents & property developers to sell their products on their behalf!). It’s hard to find an impartial opinion in this market!
For clarity - don’t go asking your lawyer exactly what you should do with your money. They’re not investment managers and they’re not qualified (or allowed) to answer that question directly. However, they should still provide basic information in this area.
This is an easy one and we’ll keep it short.
If you read GOLDEN VISA GUIDE PART 3: 10 Steps to Achieving Portuguese Citizenship you’ll see that 6 of the 10 steps to getting a Portuguese passport can be completed by your lawyer on your behalf.
Not only will they do the work for you, but they’ll do it correctly, eradicating time lost to backtracking and repeated steps.
Namely, these steps are:
- Get a NIF
- Open a bank account
- Complete your qualifying investment
- Submit initial Golden Visa application
- Complete Golden Visa renewals
- Application for Citizenship
If you’re unsure about any of these you can learn all about each of them in the Golden Visa: Insider’s Guide.
Special Access for Golden Visa Lawyers
Law firms are given special status in Portugal allowing them access to government portals, information, and appointments for helping their clients progress. Without this information, individuals will struggle to find out the latest updates from the SEF, and secure appointments.
This restricted access clearly demonstrates just how much the system assumes that you will be represented by a law firm, and how difficult it is to operate as an individual.
The Portuguese put huge value on personal relationships and trust. Once an official knows and likes you, all kinds of doors will open that are completely closed to strangers. We see this in all walks of life.
Lawyers work with the same immigration offices and individuals time and time again. This gives them access to advice and a problem-solving capability that you simply can not access without them.
How to Choose a Golden Visa Law Firm
The extensive bureaucracy in Portugal creates a huge demand for lawyers who can absorb the hassle and complexity. As a result, there are a huge number of law firms and one-person offices in Portugal.
As an outsider, it’s extremely hard to know who will actually do a great job, and who just made a good website and conquered the Google search rankings (which is, of course, no indication of quality service).
This is precisely why we created the Golden Visa Community. It’s a place where users can promote quality lawyers and leave comments about their experiences so that by the time you come along with this question, you can already benefit from their past experiences.
You can find our list of law firms, which has been curated by our community.