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Portugal markets itself among Swiss retirees

The Lusitanian country hopes to become the Florida of Europe with its tax status package for residents and investors.

Portugal has its eye on retirees. On Tuesday evening, a delegation of Lusitanian tax lawyers, accompanied by the Portuguese consul in Geneva, came to the end of the lake to present the tax advantages of settling or investing in this country which, over the last four years, has embarked on a major seduction campaign aimed at foreigners. Some 40 people - Portuguese who have lived in Switzerland for many years, local entrepreneurs and wealthy Genevans - came to the Swissôtel Métropole to talk about taxation in the country with "3,300 hours of sunshine a year".

"In life, only death and taxes are unavoidable," jokes Jaime Esteves, a partner at PwC Portugal, who regularly conducts such tours in France and the USA. But our government has worked hard to make the country more attractive fiscally."

Non-usual resident status, express visas for investors, life insurance, exemption from inheritance tax: Portugal is hoping to convince retirees, high-value-added workers and multinationals to set up in Portugal thanks to its package of special tax statuses designed to turn the country into the "California of Europe".

Part-time tax-exempt residents

Since 2013, for example, Lisbon has offered a ten-year tax exemption for European retirees wishing to buy property in the country. Provided they live there for at least 183 days a year. This "non-habitual resident" status has become a new tool for promoting the country's economy. According to Jaime Esteves, some 5,700 Swiss nationals - mainly private bankers and families - and French nationals have already been attracted by this tax regime.

For Miguel Calheiros de Velozo, Consul of Portugal in Geneva, these discussions reflect an economy that is opening up to the world. "From north to south, there are a lot of foreigners in the country. It's a great place to live, but also to do business." The consulate reportedly receives up to eight calls a week relating to the non-habitual resident status.

Lisbon, the new gateway to Europe

But Portugal is also hoping to attract investors from outside Europe with its "golden visas". These visas, granted in less than 90 days, open the doors of the Schengen area to all entrepreneurs prepared to invest at least 500,000 euros in the purchase of a house or apartment, inject one million euros into the Portuguese economy or create ten jobs. The golden visa also allows you to apply for Portuguese nationality 6 years after settling in the country.

More than 3,295 "golden visas" have been granted since the end of 2012. The status has brought in some 2 billion euros in investment - the majority in real estate - according to figures released by the Lusitanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Nearly 80% of the golden visas have been granted to Chinese nationals. Brazilian and Russian millionaires followed with 151 and 111 permits respectively.

A "safe house" for bribes

However, these statutes have been challenged since the discovery that a Chinese citizen wanted by Interpol was able to obtain a Portuguese passport in exchange for a sum of over half a million euros. The affair doesn't stop there. Seventeen people, including former Portuguese Interior Minister Miguel Macedo and several Chinese businessmen, are currently on trial for corruption, money laundering and influence peddling.

Once frozen by Portugal's former center-right government, the granting of "golden visas" has resumed "at the same rate as in 2014", reassured Socialist Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva at the end of April, while claiming to have introduced new control measures since taking office on November 26.

Merchandising in a Europe in crisis

Portugal is not the only Mediterranean country to have introduced such a system. Spain and Greece, weakened by the economic crisis, are also trying to attract foreign investors with their Schengen visas. But they cannot promise the same fiscal and political stability as Portugal, says Jaime Esteves. Since the national debt crisis, there are few countries that can boast of offering such guaranteed framework conditions for ten years," he says. In tax terms, that's an eternity."


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