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Residency vs Citizenship

Hannah Mejorada

Hannah Mejorada

Last updated: December 5, 2023

Residency vs Citizenship


What is the difference between residency and citizenship?

Citizenship is a legal status of personhood and membership in a sovereign state. Citizenship grants rights, privileges, and protections to individuals within a country and state. Citizenship is permanent. Residency, on the other hand, is a permit that allows an individual to reside in a specific country with conditions that must be adhered to. Residency can be either temporary or permanent.


During the early stages of researching options, applicants will come across programs that are similar, but different. Understanding the slight nuances associated with each program is critical. When looking at the programs offered by our firm, applicants will see two types of programs: citizenship by investment programs and residency by investment programs, whereas the latter is often referred to as Golden Visa programs.


Though there are a lot of commonalities between these two options, there are important distinctions to understand. With a deeper dive, understanding the difference between citizenship and residency programs is a breeze.


What is a Golden Visa Program?


Golden Visa Programs offer investors a chance to gain residency in another country through various investment channels. Residency can come with many benefits for investors, but it is not the same as citizenship in another country. The difference between citizen and permanent resident status can be confusing, but a golden visa program offers residency, not direct citizenship.


Currently, investors can choose between the European countries of Portugal, Spain, Greece, and Latvia if becoming permanent residents by investment is the desired outcome. Golden visas usually offer benefits such as the ability to live and work full-time in a country, the ability to conduct business in the country, access to social services, and, potentially, a path to citizenship. However, obtaining a permanent residence permit doesn’t mean investors can participate in federal and local elections or enjoy other benefits of the citizenship status.


What is Citizenship by Investment?


Citizenship by investment programs, on the other hand, allow investors to gain citizenship immediately after approval. With a new passport in hand, investors and their families can reap the benefits of full citizenship in another country without navigating a permanent residence program first.


Today, we work with 9 countries to offer citizenship by investment to our clients. The countries available for this type of investment are St. Kitts & Nevis, Vanuatu, St. Lucia, Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Malta, Montenegro, and Turkey.


Benefits of Golden Visa Programs


Despite not granting investors citizenship immediately, golden visa programs are rich with benefits. The major benefits found in most golden visa programs are:


Impressive Travel Access


Getting to travel freely throughout the European Union’s Schengen Zone can be extremely difficult for investors from many places in the world. These countries have strict travel requirements and tight limits as to how long visitors can stay, but with a golden visa, many of these restrictions melt away. Participants in a European residency by investment program can travel through Schengen countries at their leisure and without any additional visa requirements.


Social Benefits


Being a lawful permanent resident in Portugal, Spain, and Greece comes with impressive social benefits. World-class healthcare and education are two of the main social benefits that come with golden visa programs. Most of the time, investors and their families can enjoy premium education and healthcare at little to no cost to them. For investors with families, this benefit is especially important, as they seek to build a better future for the people they love most.


Business and Professional Perks


Once the application process is complete and a golden visa permanent residency is granted, investors can enjoy a plethora of business benefits. Being able to work and conduct business in the target country is a major deciding factor for many permanent residents, but some programs even offer tax incentives to golden visa holders, making it even easier to do business in a new country.


Eventual Path to Citizenship 


Investors will not be granted citizenship in any of these countries after completing the golden visa application process. Instead, applicants and their families will be granted residency in the target country. Once their applications are approved, investors are often given the chance to apply for permanent residency status, followed by citizenship at a later date. Though it can take 7-10 years to achieve full citizenship, this is the clearest path to citizenship for foreign nationals offered by these European countries.


Golden Visas are NOT Citizenship by Investment Programs


Many of the benefits offered by golden visa programs are similar to those offered by citizenship by investment programs, but the two are not the same. Citizenship by investment programs grant full citizenship to applicants once the application is approved, providing the same benefits that a natural-born citizen of that country would receive.


Golden visas provide investors with a permanent residency permit issued by another country that does not give them the same rights as complete citizenship. As detailed, after holding golden visas for a certain time period, many countries allow investors to start the path to citizenship with a separate application process.


The Path to Citizenship for Golden Visa Holders


Once investors have received their golden visa and permanent resident card, many are interested in pursuing citizenship in that country. Though each country will have its own nuances when applying for citizenship, at a high level, the process is fairly uniform.


To hold and maintain a permanent residence, investors are not required to abide by any residency requirements in the target country. However, if citizenship is the goal, most countries will require that investors and their family members reside in the country full-time for a certain number of years. If that requirement is met, applicants move through the process to achieve citizenship. Usually, citizenship status will require that individuals pass a series of language, history, and cultural exams, as well as hold resident status for a specific number of years prior to applying for citizenship.


Golden Visas: Accessing the European Union


There are not many countries in the EU that offer any type of citizenship by investment or residency by investment, but golden visas are the main exception. The European Union is a highly sought-after spot for immigration, largely due to the partnerships that exist in the EU and all of the benefits associated with living in an EU country. If an applicant is trying to build a better life for their family, golden visas are an exquisite option.

Need help?

Navigating through golden visa & citizenship by investment programs can be complex and overwhelming, regardless of the country or program you’re interested in. If you’re struggling to find clear, accurate information, you’re not alone. Our team is here to offer you clarity and reliable advice across a wide range of immigration programs.

By scheduling a consultation, you’ll receive personalized guidance tailored to your unique situation. We’re dedicated to helping you understand the details of various immigration programs, making them more straightforward so you can proceed with confidence.


During our call, we will:

Here is what to expect from a call with our advisory team:


We’ll answer your questions about the program and the application process, providing you with the clarity you need.


We’ll break down each stage of the immigration process, ensuring you know exactly what to expect.


We’ll help you determine if the chosen program is the right fit for you or suggest alternatives that may better align with your goals.


Gain access to our network of recommended local lawyers, as well as providers of eligible investment options.