‘Golden visas’: How multi-millionaires are ‘buying’ Swiss residency permits

A little-known article of the law allows wealthy foreigners from outside Europe to move to Switzerland. It is becoming increasingly popular with Chinese arrivals.

'Golden visas': How multi-millionaires are 'buying' Swiss residency permits
Wealthy Chinese like to move to Switzerland. Photo by AFP

Normally only people from the EU / EFTA nations are entitled to move to Switzerland, thanks to a treaty called the Free Movement of Persons Agreement. 

However, the little known and rarely used Article 30 of the Federal Aliens Act enables foreigners from outside Europe to move to Switzerland —but only if they are sufficiently wealthy, which means they can prove that they have sufficient financial means to live in Switzerland without having to work or resort to welfare benefits.

Based on this law, cantons can issue residence permits B to these people, if local authorities deem that there is a “significant fiscal interest” in such a move.

For more information on how to get such a visa, please click the following link. 

KEY POINTS: What you need to know about golden visas in Switzerland

What exactly does “significant fiscal interest mean?”

This term is defined by each canton.

For instance, the lowest annual tax rate for a non-EU foreigner is 287,882 francs in Valais, 312,522 francs in Geneva, and 415,000 Vaud. 

Every year, around 40 to 50 people ‘buy’ their way into Switzerland this way, as reported by TagesAnzeiger, which used the numbers published by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM)

A total of 352 foreigners with this special permit now live in Switzerland. They come mostly from Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Brazil.

However, people from China are now making up the largest proportion of special-permit foreigners, according to SEM.

A total of 34 Chinese nationals came to settle in Switzerland in the last four years.

“Coincidence or not, the increase is occurring in parallel with the increasingly totalitarian course of the Beijing regime”, TagesAnzeiger said.

READ MORE: IN NUMBERS: How Switzerland’s population is becoming increasingly multilingual

Cantons don’t release the identities of these wealthy foreigners, justifying the lack of information with data protection laws.

What is known about this select group of people is that most of them live in canton Geneva. Next are Ticino, followed by Vaud, Zug and Bern. 

Seen as safe and secure, “Switzerland is the Rolls-Royce of destinations. These rich foreigners want a country that has good health infrastructure”, said Enzo Caputo, a Zurich lawyer specialising in permits and tax packages.

Another advantage of a B-permit is that it allows third-nation citizens to move freely throughout the Schengen area.

In all, just over 2.1 million foreign nationals live in Switzerland, accounting for 25.1 percent of total population. 

Member comments

  1. I am a foreign nation in Switzerland. I have been here on a C permit for almost 20 years. I did not support Brexit until after the vote Given the majority of voters in the UK I changed to support the majority. I am now disappointed that someone in my position could not get a residents permit in Switzerland. I have together with my companies contributed more then CHF 100,000 average annually to the Swiss revenues.
    Can’t Swiss have an agreement with the UK for this and v.v for Swiss wanting to go to the UK.

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Six interesting facts we’ve learned from Spain’s latest foreign population stats

Spain’s Ministry of Inclusion has just published its latest report on the country’s foreign resident population in 2020, showing a new record, rises in the country’s British and Italian population and insight into where foreigners like to move to in Spain. 

Six interesting facts we've learned from Spain's latest foreign population stats
A crowd gathers in Alicante in pre-Covid times. Photo: Lucas Davies/AFP

Spain has its highest number of foreigners on record

As of December 31st, 2020, 5,8 million foreigners resided in Spain, according to the Ministry of Inclusion’s Statistics of Foreigners Residing in Spain in 2020 report

That’s 137,120 more than in 2019 – the highest number in Spain’s history – and despite the difficulties the pandemic and travel restrictions on mobility have had. 

However, 2020’s figures do represent the lowest year-on-year increase since 2016.

Spain’s accumulated growth of foreign resident population in the last ten years is 19 percent, 16 percent in the last five, so most of the influx of foreigners has taken place in recent years.

Italians are falling increasingly in love with Spain 

61 percent of the 5.8 million foreign residents living in Spain are from the EU/EEA.

Romanians make up over one million of them but Spain’s Italian population grew by 5.6 percent in 2020, consolidating itself as the second biggest EU population group in Spain with 350,981 residents.

Italians are choosing to move to Spain due to the comparatively lower cost of living and their love of Spanish lifestyle among several other reasons, with one 2018 article in El Confidencial quoting an Italian resident saying that Spain was “the epicentre of a Mediterranean utopia”.

Bulgarians (200,468), Germans (179,437), Portuguese (176,772) and French nationals (176,488) are the other largest EU population groups in Spain.

Brexit has pushed thousands more Britons to register

The number of Britons who became residents in Spain went up by 6 percent last year, with 381,448 registered by December 31st 2020, the end of the transition period. 

This means UK nationals continue to be the third biggest foreign resident population group in Spain after Romanians and Moroccans. 

In 2019, there were 359,471 Britons with Spanish residency, which would mean 21,977 UK nationals obtained a green residency document or a new TIE card last year (now only the biometric TIE card is issued).

These are the latest figures from Spain’s Ministry of Inclusion which were last verified at the very end of the year, whereas according to the 2020 stats by Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE) the total of UK nationals last year was 262,885, without specifying if this takes into account the full twelve months. 

There’s also the fact that INE uses primarily local census information from the town halls (padrón address registrations, birth, deaths etc) rather than migration documents which could account for the stark difference.


BREXIT: How many Brits have left Spain and how many are staying?

Most of Spain’s foreigners are in four regions

Two thirds of resident foreigners live in four autonomous communities: Catalonia, Madrid, Andalusia and the Valencia region. 

Out of these, seven provinces are particularly popular with extranjeros (Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Alicante, Malaga, Valencia, the Balearic Islands and Murcia), which account for 57 percent of the total and all have more than 225,000 foreign residents.

However, if the percentage of foreigners out of the total provincial population is analysed, Almería, the Balearic Islands, Lleida, Girona and Alicante are the provincias with the highest proportion of foreigners among their inhabitants.

Ministry of Inclusion map showing foreign population numbers in all of Spain’s provinces

Valencia needs its foreigners for its population not to decline

In December 2020, the Mediterranean region had 773,010 foreign residents out of its total population of roughly 5 million. 

Romanians (156,400), Britons (104,650) and Moroccans (77,900) are the three biggest population groups

As the Valencian Community’s vegetative growth (the difference between births and deaths) in 2020 showed a decrease of 6,815 –  largely due to Covid-19 –  but the positive migration balance ensured the region didn’t lose population. 

The same has happened in other regions of Spain such as Castilla-La Mancha and Galicia where depopulation has been a problem for decades, as young people head off to big cities such as Madrid and Barcelona for career prospects, causing in the process an ageing of the population. 

Venezuelans appear to have arrived en masse in 2020

The number of Venezuelan nationals who obtained residency in Spain shot up by 53 percent in 2020, far ahead of the 6 percent rise in resident Britons and 5.6 percent increase in Italians who’ve made Spain their home. 

They now number 152,017 according to Spain’s Ministry of Inclusion, many of whom have arrived in the last few years fleeing the economic and political divides as well as the massive scarcities their home country is struggling through currently.

But there’s an explanation for the spike in new residents in a year governed by travel restrictions: in February 2019 Spain authorised temporary residency for this non-EU group for humanitarian reasons, which accounts for the sharp increase.

The exodus of Venezuelans to Spain mimics that of thousands of Spaniards to Venezuela over the first half of the 20th century, who left impoverished regions such as the Canary Islands and Galicia to find a better life in the then blossoming Latin American country.