On my decision to abandon the Portugal GV search

Hello to all,

I’m a US citizen and have been a member here for several months. So far I’ve been “lurking” only and have gathered a lot of useful information. In about the middle of 2020 I started to make a serious effort to obtain a Portugal GV (PGV for brevity) via the funds route. Just recently (April 2021), I decided to abandon that pursuit. In part it is due to personal factors (wife and I are pursuing Canadian residency, plus she is entitled to be an Irish citizen by heritage). However, another large part of my decision to abandon the PGV pursuit is my dissatisfaction with quite a few aspects of the process. I will summarize the steps I took and what concerns I had.

After learning of the funds option for PGV, I decided that was the way to go, as I don’t want the responsibility of owning real estate so far away from home. I have owned investment real estate and in my experience, closer is better. I have several decades of experience investing here in the USA in stocks, bonds and mutual funds, so I thought a PGV fund approach would be appropriate to my experience, needs and skills.

After some research, I hired a Lisbon immigration attorney in what appears to be a small to medium sized firm. They wanted the first of 5 installments of €2250 up front and I signed Power of Attorney for them to obtain a tax ID number (NIF) and open a bank account on my behalf. Various documents changed hands, and some of them needed to be Apostilled. I began to research funds, paid another €2250, and that got me to the present time. Below are some of the issues of concern that I encountered. I hope this is helpful to others.

  1. Not too long after my initial payment, the attorney I had been working left the firm and I was assigned to another attorney. I would have preferred to have been given the option of switching to another firm but I was not.

  2. Note that there are two different types of Apostille certification. Documents that were issued at the US state, county, or city level can be Apostilled by an office of the state you live in. That was easy and fast. Documents issued at the Federal level (like the FBI background check) must get their Apostille from the US State Department in Washington DC. This was a problem-- it took them over 4 months to return my certified documents (they blame Covid), during which time my FBI background check expired, per Portugal GV regulations. It’s possible Portugal might accept it with a letter of explanation.

  3. Banking issues: It is expensive and confusing . They wanted a minimum starting balance of €500 and charge €15 or €30 per month maintenance fee (I forget which now). In order to avoid all monthly fees, they require a minimum balance of €50000 (fifty thousand euros)… compare this with how ridiculously easy it is to get free checking in the USA. The bank sent me info needed to set up an app on my phone but I was never able to make it work, despite several rounds of email with my account manager, who contacted their tech support people. I have never received monthly statements, online or by regular mail. Finally, when I got to the point where I felt ready to make a GV fund selection, I was informed that I needed to establish a second bank account in order to hold the fund. This leaves me confused as to why I had to establish the original bank account in the first place, as it hasn’t been used for anything other than to extract money from me.

  4. The funds: The majority of available funds appear to be similar to REITs in the US. As noted, I want to avoid direct real-estate investment and so I focused on GV funds that were not so heavy in real estate. My analysis is that all of the PGV funds are very expensive in terms of annual management costs, performance fees, up-front costs, and possible hidden fees. In comparison with investing in US mutual funds (my main experience base), finding info on the GV funds is very difficult and not terribly transparent. In the US, all fees are clear and presented up front-- Front end fees (or load), annual fees, buy-sell fees are all easily known at the outset. My US investments are all in funds with no load and with annual fees less than 1% (most of mine charge less than 0.2% per annum), and I avoid funds with buy-sell fees. In comparison, the PGV funds I researched typically charge 2-3% per year, along with other fees up front and usually some sort of performance fee, and possibly other hidden fees. The fund that seems to have the lowest fee structure unfortunately appears to be poorly subscribed, at €12.5 million euro invested so far. This translates to only about 35 GV investors have subscribed (as of 29 March 2021), according to my math. This means that my personal exposure to risk is quite high in the case of this fund underperforming. So in the end I was unhappy with the cost, transparency, and/or risk level of all of the available GV funds.

  5. The tax picture for US citizens: There has been a lot of discussion on this topic elsewhere in this forum (search PFIC, FATCA, Form 8938), so in brief there appear to be challenging filing requirements with the US IRS for foreign investments such as this and a non-trivial chance of getting something wrong. To get it all right you will probably need a US accountant with significant international experience. The consequences of misfiling (or not filing) are potentially severe, and evidently even if is done correctly, there is a good chance that your US taxes on the PGV fund returns will be punitively high, wiping out even more of any investment gains you have left after the fund fees take their hit.

  6. The Lisbon attorney: Their fee structure is apparently fixed rate and doesn’t depend on how much time they actually spend on my behalf. I paid out the first €2250 last August and did in fact get value for that. I paid the second installment of €2250 this past January and little has been done on their end except for answering some emails, as I was waiting for my FBI document to return from US State Department and I was researching funds. I am accustomed to the typical US legal-fee model in which the client may pay a retainer deposit up front but is only billed for actual services rendered, and there is always an accounting statement available. In contrast, I have been told that they don’t owe me any accounting for their services as I signed off on their fixed fee agreement (they say I signed it but I cannot find any record of signed copy on my end, so I have asked them to email me a copy of the form they say I signed).

So given all of the above, my gut feeling as well as evidence-based analysis of available information led to my recent decision to abandon the PGV quest. There are certainly a lot of pitfalls and costs, plus the entire process is rather opaque-- different financial and legal systems, the language barrier and working primarily online all contribute to this. That said, I do feel as though the Lisbon attorney’s office could have been much more helpful, proactive and clear in their advice. Instead, I was charged a lot of money, went through a lot of steps (some seemingly unnecessary) and became more confused and concerned over time instead of less so.

Do I accept responsibility for my own due-diligence failings in this? Absolutely! In addition, I probably should have retained a skilled US Emigration attorney! It is a complex process with lots of pitfalls and a lot of information is unclear and hard to find. A good attorney is your best bet to help and I wish I had had a better one. I think if I wanted to obtain a PGV at any cost, I might have proceeded even with a less than ideal legal team, as long as they got the job done. However, my slightly jaded view is that the funds route to a PGV is a great deal for Portuguese fund managers, attorneys, probably developers and perhaps the government, but not for me. If I was to revisit a GV approach, I might choose instead a GV process in which I make a donation to the government (as seen in many Caribbean countries) rather than an “investment” path like I encountered with the PGV.

Sorry this is so long, but I hope that some of this will be helpful, especially to US citizens. I will have limited capacity to respond but will try to check in every few days.

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I think you have pretty accurately summarized the situation. No one said the process was fast or simple and it certainly is not. Definitely the GV is not right or best for all persons. I hope you can find somewhere that works for you. Good luck.

One area I found a difference was in the attorney. Unfortunately you had a bad experience there. My attorney is similar in that they charged fixed rate and probably don’t do that much work to justify it. However, it my case my attorney actually gave me help and advice for several months (prior to formal application) and did not insist that I pay anything. I was frankly a little surprised by that. Ultimately I offered to pay as it was never demanded.

Thank you very much for sharing your story.
I agree with you about the PGV via investment fund route.

The information about the fund is very limited, not transparent, and funds are just like REITs as you have pointed out.

Opening bank account is already a challenge. A certain fund uses a certain bank. We cannot use any random bank for this process.

I also took the PGV via investment fund but I have to stick with it right now because I have no other choice.

Lawyer is also the big issue. I had to use a law firm in Lisbon (probably the biggest one). So far I am not happy with their support. Very poorly communication, slow response, never answer directly to my question. In my opinion, they have done an extreme poor job…but I still paid them lots of money for my process. Sometimes I just feel like I really want to take a fight with them. Not sure if someone here has similar kind of feeling against their laywers.

I totally understand what you have been thru and I am glad that you had a different option to take.

I agree that lawyers are part of the problem here. It is ok in my mind to charge high fees if they are clear, but to provide poor service is inexcusable in exchange for high fees. My lawyers have been very responsive but I understand your point about them not wanting to solve problems or answer questions directly. When I question my lawyers at all, they walk away and take offense instead of acknowledging a problem or offering solution. I think this is a cultural thing, and not particular to any single lawyer.

Overall, in Portugal there is not a culture of customer-service, nor is there attitude of “customer is right”.

I see here that some had not so good experiences with law firms, while a few were happy with it. Would any of you share the names of the firms (even if in pvt) so people that are starting now can be cautious about it?

I have received great service from my lawyers with prompt execution leading to a successful, timely filing of my GV application. I was very proactive about researching the documentation requirements and getting everything into the right hands at the right time; YMMV.

Feel free to PM me for a referral.

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We also have a good attorney. We didn’t have any problems with her and her team at all. She is absolutely a no-nonsense kind of person, doesn’t sugar-coat anything and would give us straight answers. She genuinely tried to find solutions for us. For example, when we weren’t comfortable with setting up a bank account with one bank, she contacted a few other banks for us to make sure they accepted US citizens before we proceeded. They were also prompt at replying to our emails — always within 24 hours. Our applications were submitted swiftly. It was within a week of fund subscription. (But I am also a freak when it comes to doing research and planning. Our lawyer had everything they need from us in hand before we even picked the fund. The fund we picked were also great. They sent our attorney everything promptly as well)

Regarding lawyer fee model, it is not uncommon to see immigration lawyers and real estate lawyers charging a lump sum and not billed by the hour. Some lawyers in the US also charge this model (the ones that know they have a set of things to do like real estate and immigration lawyers). Real estate lawyers in some EU countries also charge a percentage of the purchase price as their fee (even though, I don’t think there are more paperwork to submit for a €500k apartment vs a €150k)

I agree about the bank issue, though. We are definitely spoiled by our banks here in the US. Bank fees in the EU is not small and I think you also have to pay a fee for a debit card.

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I may be missing something but I dont understand why you are doing all this. Unless you relinquish your US citizenship there is little tax saving and what there is will be consumed by fees. You can stay for half the year in the EU with no trouble as long as it doesnt exceed 90 days in 180.

If you want some offshoring then UK REITS are far clearer and there is much more choice. UK bank accounts are normally totally fee free and on line capability makes US accounts look prehistoric

I am not criticizing I am just curious

There are a lot of posts and threads where people talked about why GV is right for them. From what I gather, it is not about investing or tax advantages and more about wanting to eventually get a passport from a country in the EU (become a Portuguese citizen). U.K. won’t work in this case.

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Thanks wkb. Yes I have looked at these posts and remain mystified. If you can divest yourself of other tax residencies as well as domicile and if you dont expect to incur capital gains tax and are happy to pay high income tax after a decade to live in the country, that is one thing, but many posters seem to not want to live solely in Portugal and will remain indebted to Uncle Sam. There are then much cheaper and better ways to the endpoint.

I suspect those EU countries who depend upon inward investment such as Portugal will struggle post covid and we will find the visa system loosens up. Portugal is going to be in difficulty if the British are excluded now they are no longer part of the EU and there is talk of the 90 day rule changing.

Spam ab,
You are correct in pointing out some of the risks in investing in a country such as Portugal. I think many countries will struggle post-COVID including Portugal and this is a risk.

On the other hand, you are looking at this too narrowly and not taking into account the full perspective of GV applicants. Some of your comments are speculative and relevant to UK investor, but not US investor. I think it is unlikely that EU will expand tourist visa stay requirements to non-UK citizens around the world.

You mentioned that there are “cheaper and better ways to the endpoint” but you don’t provide any specific examples and you don’t define the endpoint. If there were such better ways, I think everyone here would be interested to hear about them.

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This is actually opposite from what I’ve seen on various forums and various social media sites. I see a lot of posts about U.K. residents trying to find a way to keep their EU residency through GV or other resident visas.

About paying taxes, in short, whatever foreign taxes imposed on US citizens, we receive it as tax credits when we file our taxes in the US.

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Hi “spam”-- There can be many reasons to seek residency in the EU and/or a EU passport. In terms of a “pull”, people might want to work there full time, open a business, or retire. Or it can be a “push”, with numerous reasons for people to wish to leave the US, for example. Or, it might just be as simple as wanting the security and flexibility of a 2nd passport. Or some combination of the above, as is my case. Tax reasons are at the bottom of my list and I think there are probably other GV programs that would be more tax advantaged than Portugal’s. Relinquishing US citizenship is not in the picture in my case… the goal is to reside elsewhere and ultimately to have a 2nd passport.

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I’d much appreciate the recommendation of lawyers. Thanks!

I don’t think this is true. US persons are the most constrained in that they have to open accounts at banks that are willing to accommodate them and are FACTA compliant. But within those constraints you should be able to pick any bank to hold your participation units.

There are a couple of banks that I know for certain (because we tried to open one) won’t hold participation units for US citizens. They are Millennium and Novo Banco.

I first also considered an investment fund, but quickly after research abandoned the idea - little transparency, high risk. Same as you explained in detail above. I went for real estate (and yes, we now live in Portugal!).

  • As for the banks…I had zero issues here. Opened Millenium account, transferred money to it, then closed it. For the current expenses I have ActivoBank which doesn’t have maintenance fees at all.
  • wkb is right, there is a lack of “customer is right” mentality here.
  • Same as wkb, I happened to find a good immigration layer. When I read “She is absolutely a no-nonsense kind of person, doesn’t sugar-coat anything and would give us straight answers” I thought we might actually have the same layer.

Anyhow (and why I am writing this comment in the first place), in my humble opinion PGV should not be considered as an investment, but rather as a visa. In my case, we needed a EU residence and PGV was the easiest route (non-habitual residence option, visas for parents, etc). I consider my investment a cost that I paid for the residency, not as an investment. One could find much better options in terms of making profit.

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Hi,
thank you for sharing this interesting and finally frustrating experience.
I am working on developing a freedom position from Germany.
My current approach is to establish my financial freedom platform
based on the structures provided by the Estonian eResidency,
in combination with the status as a permanent traveller.
If you are interested in more details, just get back to me.
I am not selling any consultancy or legal or tax advice.
And I am also investigating the options of owning real estateat the Algarve,
based on the eResidency founded limited company (ltd. = OÜ).
My bank accounting necesseties I see best served with the new Revolut Bank.
Getting an account was a process of minutes, all via smartphone,
at an airport. I was looking for a way to gain access to a lounge,
due to a flight delay. That is why I remember quite clearly how
swift it was. Online id check, loading up money from another CC,
receiving a new virtual VISA card, and entering a lounge at the airport in Lisbon.
That`s app banking! (I noticed the existence
of Revolut in Feb. 2020, as they reached a valuation of 5 bn.
And for frequent travellers -
you get interbanking exchange rates.
Sorry for the long answer, yet I got carried away by
the advantages I enjoy with my decision.
If you are interested in a further exchange of
experience with a variety of apporaches - me to.
All the best
Henry

Thank you much for your well explained info & feelings, I appreciate your time…well wishes on your future global endeavors.

I’d love a recommendation as well as just getting started and doing research right now to see if this is worth it to me. Thanks!