Spain’s Golden Visa is ending soon… maybe

April 8, 2024

Hey hey!

Big news today.

Pedro Sánchez, supreme leader of Spanish socialism, President of the most feminist government in history, etc, has just announced that they’ll soon be ending the Golden Visa. Sort of. Maybe.

The story as I understand it so far: Spain’s Golden Visa gives people a couple of options for how to get residency. There’s the option to buy a million euros in Spanish stocks, or two million euros in government bonds – those aren’t too popular, from what I’ve heard.

Far more popular is the option to buy a house worth at least 500,000€. The government now wants to eliminate this real estate option, leaving the others untouched… in other words, getting rid of the low end of the Golden Visa options.

golden visa in spain
A view from Montserrat, Catalonia.

This will probably mess up more than a few people’s plans. But it’s not quite final yet. I’ll keep you updated, whatever the result.

For now, let’s look at some of the data…

Some facts about Spain’s Golden Visa

Spain’s “Golden Visa” scheme was introduced in 2013 by the government of Mariano Rajoy. This was during the Great Recession – the real estate market had been tanking for years, by then, with no apparent end in sight.

I remember being somewhat shocked by the amount of 500,000€ for a house when the law was first passed. That’s a lot of money! Well beyond the budget of a normal family.

People actually living in Spain were suffering a lot at that point: unemployment was over 20%, a lot of businesses were closing up, and tons of people were under water on their mortgages… meanwhile, the government was going to start selling residence permits to wealthy foreign investors?

Turns out, only about 10,000 Golden Visas have been approved in the 10 years that the law’s been in force. That seems like a pretty small number to me, but both La Vanguardia and El País agree, basically. They also say that 94% of those visas were given out via the real estate option.

Now Sánchez is claiming that eliminating the Golden Visa is about promoting access to housing for regular Spanish people – the government’s objective being that “no citizen should have to spend more than 30% of their income” on a home which is (in his words) “digno, adecuado y de calidad”.

Kind of a random collection of adjectives if you ask me, but whatever.

Spain’s big real estate problem

In any case, I’m not the first to point out that in a country where a whole lot of people earn 16,000€ to 18,000€ annually, that’s just not going to happen: real estate prices in Spain are way out of line with salaries, and either salaries need to double or real estate needs to crash again if anything is going to change there.

That’s why a lot of Spaniards live with their parents until well into their 30s, for example: the math on home ownership just doesn’t work. (Good luck getting together a 20% downpayment when you’re making 1300€ a month, and paying rent, and buying food, and living your life, etc. It’s rough.)

Not a joke: this house in Houston was made out of aluminum cans.

Meanwhile, in many of the major cities, construction isn’t keeping up with demand. In Barcelona, for example, there were fewer than 2000 houses built in 2023 – according to City Hall’s own statistics, in fact, the number was just 1865 new homes completed.

At the same time, the local population has increased by at least 40,000 people in the last year – quite possibly more. And these are not new trends: add up many years of population growth in big cities and the fact that there just hasn’t been a ton of construction since the 2008 crisis, and you’ve got a problem that’s getting worse and worse.

So there are a lot of factors contributing to this whole housing situation. And large-scale government incompetence is surely one of them. But that’s not something ol’ dirty Sanchez is likely to admit.

Are foreign millionaires pricing the locals out of their homes?

My wife Morena and I recently bought a flat here in Barcelona… and guess what? We weren’t in a bidding war with members of the Saudi royal family, and we didn’t have to fight off any Russian oligarchs to get the place. We paid a good bit of money for a two-bedroom flat in a working-class neighborhood, and that’s it.

The sellers were some old Catalan people, who’d inherited the place when their mother died. Rather rent it out, they decided to sell it for a chunk of change, pay the inheritance tax and move on.

And I’d like to propose that this situation is normal for people buying (or selling) average-priced houses in unglamorous towns and neighborhoods around Spain.

I don’t believe for one second, in other words, that a few thousand wealthy foreign investors are moving the median value of homes at all. They may be affecting the luxury real estate market, but that’s not my problem… and it’s also not the problem of your average Spanish family who’s trying to make ends meet on a couple thousand euros a month.

(I’m trying to find an adequate metaphor here. The best I’ve got so far is this one: if I can’t afford a new pair of Nikes, it’s not because rich people are walking around in 1000€ Prada loafers. They are, of course, and that fact might annoy me, but it doesn’t affect the price of mass-market running shoes.)

Housing in Barcelona: still cheaper than staying at the Bellagio in Vegas.

It’s also worth mentioning that a lot of wealthy foreigners don’t need visas at all: people from around the European Union can move to Spain and (in many cases) reduce their cost of living even while paying more than the average price for a house. Those 10,000 Golden Visas are a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of people from around Europe who have every legal right to pop over to Spain to buy a second home, or move here permanently.

Two of our three landlords here in Barcelona have been from Northern Europe. There’s nothing stopping (relatively) wealthy Europeans from coming and driving up the prices in your neighborhood. In fact, many of them are already doing so – and paying in cash.

So is the end of the Golden Visa really going to help your average person?

Meh. I doubt it.

Other visa options for moving to Spain in 2024

I wrote in a previous article about how laws are made in Spain: the media reports these things as if they’re a done deal, but in reality they often take two years of negotiations in parliament. Does the same process apply if they’re just changing or repealing laws that are already on the books? Maybe. I guess we’ll find out. In any case, for now this is just a proposal, and not a done deal.

The European Commission has been encouraging EU member states to kill these golden visa programs for a number of years now, citing dangers like security and money laundering. What exactly is the European Commission and how fast are governments supposed to act on its encouragement? I don’t really know.

The exact words on their website ec.europa.eu are “In a recommendation issued today, the Commission is urging Member States to immediately repeal any existing investor citizenship schemes…”

That’s from March 2022 – over two years ago. So if I understand this correctly, Sánchez and Company have all the time in the world to act on this “recommendation”… or not. We’ll see what they decide

In the meantime, have you heard about the Digital Nomad Visa? That might be more your style, if you work online. Or there’s the Non-Lucrative Visa, which is for people who have enough money in the bank (or pensions, or passive income) to live on, but which doesn’t allow you to work.

You still have options for moving to Spain, in other words.

Yours,

Daniel AKA Mr Chorizo.

P.S. I go into more detail about the various kinds of visas in my article on working in Spain. But really you should talk to a good lawyer about these things. The laws change, and I’m just some guy with a blog trying to keep up with it all. Anyway, leave me a comment below with your thoughts on the Golden Visa… thanks!

P.P.S. These days, whenever Sánchez or one of his cronies in government says anything about “ciudadanas y ciudadanos” I immediately consider the fact that although I’ve been in Spain for almost 20 years, that statement does not include me. This may change at some point, if they accept my application for nationality, but my lawyer says I should be patient and I’m not (as the saying goes) going to hold my breath.

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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