Golden Visa changes – Greece flirts with cashed-up overseas investors

Launched in 2013, the Golden Visa program permits third-country nationals to gain residency in Greece by investing in real estate. The minimum investment is now being raised. (Shutterstock)

When Greece’s Ministry of Finance addressed reporters on a crisp spring day this March, he confirmed the rumors that had the real estate community buzzing for months: the Golden Visa program is getting a facelift.

Initially launched in 2013, the Golden Visa program allows third-country nationals to obtain residency in Greece if they invest at least 250,000 (about US $270,000) in real estate. Now, that minimum threshold is increasing to €800,000 (about US $860,000.) A handful of additional stipulations will also make it harder to qualify for the program. 

Under the new rules, it’s possible future visa permits will be more heavily swayed towards developers or landlords seeking to maximize margins, rather than single families looking to relocate to Greece, experts say. Historically, many of the Golden Visas were given to Chinese investors and Turkish buyers.

“It’s more attractive for developers to buy a property and lease it out now,” Georgia Tselliou of Roula Rouva Real Estate said. “The returns on a long-term lease for a property worth €250,000 are very different compared to a property worth 1 million. This will attract a different kind of investor in Greece, but they will have the same benefits.”

These benefits include access to Greece’s healthcare and education systems, residency for immediate family members, visa-free travel in the Schengen Area, and the many luxuries of life in the Mediterranean.

Greeces’s Golden Visa program was enacted in order to generate foreign investment after a notable downturn in the economy. (Shutterstock)

Golden Visa at a glance

For roughly a decade, the Golden Visa program provided an avenue for foreigners to access the Greek market and gain residency. 

The goal of the program? Generate foreign investment and provide a boost to the economy after a significant slump in the market.

Originally, a 250,000 investment granted a five-year residency permit with the potential of citizenship after seven years. Investors could divide this amount across multiple properties, provided the total investment reached €250,000.

Starting on August 31, the minimum investment will increase to 800,000 for a single property in the more populous and highly coveted areas such as Athens, Mykonos and Santorini. This isn’t the first time the government has increased the threshold. In January 2023, the minimum value doubled from 250,000 to 500,000 (about US $537,300) in some parts of the country. In most other regions, an investment of 400,000 (about US $429,700) will suffice. Short-term rentals such as Airbnb are forbidden. 

As of 2023, Greece has granted more than 31,000 Golden Visas. From 2021 to 2023, the program raised €4.3 billion (about US $4.6 billion) alone. Thousands of applications are still awaiting processing. But recently, the tide has started to shift against Golden Visa programs amid fears that they’re negatively impacting the local housing market and fueling corruption. 

Earlier this year, the Greek Prime Minister revealed that rents have increased by 40% since 2018. While only 7% of those real estate sales are linked to the Golden Visa, he maintained that short-term rentals driven by the program contribute to the housing shortage. 

Other countries with similar programs, such as Portugal, Spain and Ireland, have either nearly abolished them or significantly restricted them in response to rising housing prices and pressures from the European Commission. While the changes are significant, Tselliou says that they “address the current needs of the global market”. The fact that the government isn’t canceling the program altogether is a positive sign. 

For those who can’t afford the new threshold, there are always other avenues for investment in Greece, such as the Financially Independent Person visa or Digital Nomad visas, Tselliou said. The recent visa changes are unlikely to affect HNW buyers who are simply looking for an additional home without the need for residency. 

From 2013 to 2023, Greece granted more than 31,000 Golden Visas. (Shutterstock)

Cashed up buyers flock to Greece

Three weeks after the new rules were announced, Tselliou led a live webinar on YouTube in which she urged some 300 viewers to “act fast and enter the program under the old rules”. 

To ease the transition, the Greek government is offering a grace period. Buyers can qualify for the visa under the current rules if they pay a 10% deposit before August 30. It didn’t take long for the wider global real estate community to mobilize. One viewer by the name of @SomewhatRetired commented on the YouTube webinar that they were tuning in from Virginia. Many others flew to Greece to snap up some last minute bargain deals, Tselliou said. 

“People with the means to buy property in Greece, who were already considering it, thought ‘Why not now?’,’” she added. “It got them over the edge.”

Author

Natalie Hoberman’s work as a digital marketing consultant focuses on architecture, real estate and design. She’s a former editor at leading real estate news publication The Real Deal.

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