Bulgaria: The latest Bill(s) and legal amendments of the Bulgarian Citizenship by Investment program. Read more.
"If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare me a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German, and Germany will declare that I am a Jew." - Albert Einstein
We believe that everyone should be allowed unrestricted travel to any country in the world. We believe that everyone should be allowed to choose his residence anywhere in the world. We believe there should be no borders or entry visa restrictions, but there are. Living standards differ from country to country and hence many governments are restricting access to their soil one way or another. Citizens of the less fortunate countries suffer from discrimination and their travel rights are being violated, even suspended completely.
Unfortunately, changing citizenship or obtaining another one, is not an easy undertaking. Usually, the western countries, which in general enjoy the best travel privileges worldwide, require a lengthy legal residency period (usually 10+ years), comprehensive language and history exams, etc. in order to accept citizenship applications. Even then, the process of approving these applications takes another 2 to 5 years, making the total waiting period, in the majority of the cases, more than 15 years. Bulgaria, as full EU member, makes no exception of this rule for its standard citizenship procedures. To become Bulgarian citizen (through the standard procedures), one should live constantly in the country for 5 years, then he needs to obtain permanent residency and wait another 5 years and only then, after at least 10 years, the citizenship application can be submitted. In order for the application to be approved, the candidate should pass comprehensive language test, cancel (not always possible) his existing citizenship(s) and go through a number of other procedures before his application will be eventually approved. Achieving all that would be at least feasible, if the western countries were issuing easily residency permits (in order to start the counting clock for the required residency term). Unfortunately, this is definitely not the case.
Especially, if you are financially independent person with sustainable and successful career or business model, you simply can’t afford your travel privileges to be restricted. If you have accumulated certain wealth, you can’t accept any constraints to be imposed on you and your family as to in which country you will spend your life or retire.
So is there a way out of this situation? There certainly is!
The ultimate solution, which is now being utilized by a steadily rising number of people from around the world, is to acquire citizenship of the "right" country in order to obtain better travel rights and freedom of settlement (among other things). Different countries from just about every corner of the world are offering some kind of "Citizenship by Investment" initiatives. From Saint Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean to Vanuatu in the South Pacific, there are different citizenship alternatives. But can they even compare to a full EU passport and Bulgarian citizenship?
In the EU itself, Bulgaria’s fast-track citizenship program is not the only one. Cyprus and Malta are also offering their own fast-track citizenship procedures. But is there even a place for comparison? We strongly recommend you reading the Bulgarian fast-track citizenship vs other countries investment citizenship programs to find out why the Bulgarian citizenship simply stands out and has no alternatives, neither within the EU nor worldwide.
We will outline below, why the "Bulgarian Citizenship by Investment" program is one of a kind and what the main advantages of holding Bulgarian passport are. We will also explain how the program works and how you can benefit today from an unique life changing opportunity.
The advantages of the "Bulgarian Citizenship by Investment" program
Unlimited residency, working & political rights EU-wide (and beyond)
One of the major innovations established by the Treaty of Maastricht on European Union is the creation of European citizenship over and above national citizenship. Every citizen who is a national of a (EU) Member State is also a citizen of the Union (EU). This citizenship vests new rights in Europeans, viz.:
The implications of the above rules are immense. EU citizens enjoy unprecedented rights within the whole Union and even beyond (i.e. Switzerland, EU overseas territories, etc.), something unseen anywhere else.
- the right to circulate and reside freely in the Community;
- the right to vote and to stand as a candidate for European and municipal elections in the State in which he or she resides;
- the right to protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of a Member State other than the citizens Member State of origin on the territory of a third country in which the state of origin is not represented;
- the right to petition the European Parliament and to submit a complaint to the Ombudsman.
One of the most important values and principles of the European Union is the unrestricted and unconditional freedom of movement of its citizens. These rights apply to all EU persons and are one of the cornerstones of the EU. No other national, of any other country in the world, has the freedom to reside, work, study, retire, just name it, in more than 30 countries - all EU members states plus other European countries, such as Switzerland and Norway, who have also signed agreements with the EU for free movement of their citizens. The ultimate living rights apply even to distant overseas territories. Did you know that for example, as Bulgarian citizen, you can live without any restrictions or formalities in Martinique in the Caribbean?
As Bulgarian citizen, within the EU and most other European countries (ie Switzerland), you don’t even need carrying your passport. ID card is sufficient to cross any order via the express "EU only" gates (available at all EU airports). While in the Schengen area, you won’t be even bothered showing your ID.
The fact that everyone with Bulgarian (or other EU) citizenship can freely decide on where to reside, without any formalities, is something many foreign nationals consider to be "too good to be true". But it is true – being Bulgarian citizen, you can live in Paris, Rome, Berlin, Zurich or Geneva – anywhere you wish. Historical Prague, beautiful Greek island or ice-cold Finland – you have full rights, as EU citizen.
Visa-free travel with your Bulgarian passport & EU diplomatic protection
Alongside the unlimited living and working rights within the EU, being Bulgarian citizen allows travelling to almost any country worldwide visa-free. At the moment, Bulgarian passport holders enjoy visa-free travel to about 150 countries1. And the list expands constantly, mainly because of the EU common visa reciprocity policy2. Be it Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong, just name it – Bulgarians travel freely worldwide without the need to obtain visa.
1 It is extremely difficult to determine the exact number of visa-free countries for any particular passport holder. For the sake of accuracy, when determining which country provides visa-free access for certain nationals, it needs to be taken into account the different visa regimes in existence, such as "visa on arrival", "free transit visa for extended period", "electronic visa waiver", "e-visa", etc. Bulgarian citizens are currently ranked number 10 in the world by most current statistical data, based on number of countries that provide visa-free entry to Bulgarian nationals.
2 The European Parliament and the European Council have adopted a Regulation 1289/2013 with the aim to apply full visa reciprocity mechanism for the EU member states. The visa reciprocity is a legal mechanism aiming to achieve completely visa free travel for citizens of all (EU) Member States to every non EU country whose citizens can travel visa-free to the EU.
Many countries around the world provide dedicated EU citizens only gates at their airports, welcoming EU nationals to pass faster and with fewer formalities. Border checks are being simplified and transit times shortened – all because of the prestige of the EU citizenship.
Another advantage of holding EU citizenship and in particular Bulgarian one is the diplomatic protection that the EU is providing to all of its citizens worldwide. The rule is that each EU citizen has the right of diplomatic protection from any EU diplomatic or consular authority worldwide (when there is no such authority from the home country of the EU citizen). Bulgaria, as relatively small country, although having large network of consular and diplomatic missions, is obviously not represented in every country around the globe. No more worries in these cases – the citizens of Bulgaria have the option to chose any other diplomatic EU mission (i.e. Germany, France, etc.) to protect their interests while abroad.
Low taxation, access to EU healthcare and social security system, right to own real estate in the EU
Although the EU has common legal system, shared values and principles, the taxation rates differ between the member states. Bulgaria is enjoying the lowest tax rate in the whole EU – 10% flat on both personal and corporate profits. As an additional advantage, many types of profits are completely free of tax in Bulgaria, i.e. profits from shares, bond coupons, investment funds, etc. This is another advantage of the Bulgarian citizenship as it provides extremely favorable business opportunities to the Bulgarian nationals as well as perfect capital preservation climate.
EU citizens have access to the social security and medical system in all member states, depending on their choice of residency. As Bulgarian citizen, you and your children will also have full access to the best schools and universities in all member states. Additionally, if there are scholarship fees, you will be charged at "domestic EU rates", rather than "international fees", which are much higher. Student credit facilities are also being provided to EU citizens at preferential conditions.
There are many non-EU citizens who opt for the Bulgarian fast-track citizenship program, for completely different reason (other than freedom of movement, etc.) – namely, to obtain the legal right to invest in real estate properties that are only available to EU citizens. These are in general either exclusive properties with extremely high investment potential (including land plots) or historical (heritage) properties. Either way, there is a very good reason why the EU is restricting the sale of these estates to non-citizens.
How the "Bulgarian Citizenship by Investment" program works
The first stage – the preliminary due diligence process
So, you have decided to go ahead and change your citizenship status. Then lift your sails and prepare yourself to explore a whole new world of opportunities. But first things first – the preliminary due diligence.
We, as your consultant and legal advisor in the process of obtaining Bulgarian citizenship, will need to verify the legal feasibility of your application first. People with criminal background, unclear (suspicious) source of funding or any other irregularities will be rejected by the Bulgarian government and will not be able to obtain citizenship. Here is where our assistance proves to be invaluable. Our estimates show, that without the adequate initial legal support and advice, more than 85% of all applications would have been rejected by the state straight away. Not because there would have been something wrong with these candidates, but because the foreign citizenship applicant would not be simply able to present his case and background in a proper way. Source of funds is of extreme importance for example, but stating simply "personal savings" doesn’t do the job in Europe anymore. We are proud to confirm that we have never had a single rejection in cases where our preliminary due diligence conditions have been successfully met. We strongly advocate against practices, where the client is guaranteed successful outcome from the beginning without any preliminary due diligence and feasibility assessment. If you are ever assured that your application will be approved, while you haven’t even provided copy of your passport, then we advise you to walk away from any such offers.
The second stage – your first investment and the permanent residency status
Under the fast-track citizenship program, the applicant has to invest initially an amount, equivalent to 512 000 EUR, in order to obtain permanent residency status. It is worth noting that permanent residency is the highest grade residency status in Bulgaria and it provides many rights and privileges to its holder. It is often being confused with the long-term residency, which is completely different and of much lesser value.
In order to obtain the permanent residency, the applicant, according to art. 25, par. 1, p. 6 and p. 7 of the "Law for the Foreigners in Bulgaria" has to invest the aforementioned amount in one or more of the following instruments:
- Shares of Bulgarian listed companies on the Bulgarian Stock Exchange;
- Bulgarian state bonds (Sovereign bonds, Eurobonds), Bulgarian municipal bonds or their derivatives;
- Trust account with Bulgarian bank.
There are also other investment options, such as state properties or shares of privatized companies, but these have proven to be overly complicated and we are not recommending them to our customers anymore.
From the available investment options, the most widely used is the investment in Eurobonds (Sovereigns). The government bonds provide absolute protection and peace of mind. Such an investment is much more secure than bank deposit (bank account). Owning Eurobonds means that the whole amount is unconditionally guaranteed by the state. Bank deposit accounts in EU are guaranteed by the state for up to a maximum of 100 000 EUR. There is no upper limit for the Eurobonds though. Another great advantage of the bonds is that they can be denominated in Euro, thereby eliminating both eventual currency fluctuations and any currency exchange fees. The investment grade credit rating of Bulgaria by all major agencies, such as "Standard and Poor’s" and "Moody’s" is additional layer of protection and peace of mind for the investor in Bulgarian government bonds.
Opting for investment in Bulgarian shares on the Bulgarian Stock Exchange can be a little spicy for the ultra conservative citizenship candidate. Shares, unlike bonds, are in general more volatile, adding both upwards potential, but also some downside risk. Still, Bulgarian shares have provided sustainable and above the average (compared to other EU shares indices) return during the last years, so they can be the ideal choice for applicants with somewhat longer investment horizon and higher risk tolerance.
Lastly, the investment in trust account with Bulgarian bank is suited for investors who want to diversify their portfolio internationally. This option provides the opportunity to invest in virtually any financial instruments – worldwide (the Bulgarian bank only acts as custodian). The option may look like the ultimate choice, because of its widest investment choices, but if we apply the wisdom of the saying "When in Rome, do as the Romans do", then why not choose the Bulgarian shares or bonds instead of investing in something that you may find everywhere.
It is also very important to know that whichever investment option you choose – it will always remain on your account in your name. We will never ask you to transfer it to any third party. It is your ultimate protection and if you are ever been asked or offered to invest by transferring the investment amount to someone else, we urge you to immediately seek legal advice. You can also read the word of caution section for additional information.
It is also very important to comprehend, that the investment required for the Bulgarian fast-track citizenship program is extremely liquid and comes with virtually no costs involved. Nothing like investment in real estate (as in Cyprus for example) with 20 to 40% spread between buy and sell prices and 19% VAT.
Last, but not least, the investment is held segregated from the bank’s own assets, meaning that in the unlikely event of the bank failing, your assets will still be fully protected.
The third stage – your second (final) investment, your Bulgarian citizenship and EU passport
The fast-track citizenship program foresees that 12 months after the permanent residency status has been granted, the applicant can invest another 512 000 EUR (making the total investment equal to at least 1 024 000 EUR) and can then apply immediately for Bulgarian citizenship. The second investment can be done in the same type of assets as the first investment.
In other words, the law foresees that the citizenship can be obtained in only 12 months from start to end. Of course this is technically not possible as there is always some extra processing time for due diligence procedures, document preparation, etc. You will find further down below the detailed timeline of the program so you can calculate for yourself when you can expect to become EU citizen if you start right now.
Once the second investment tranche has been effected, the process enters its final stage. Our lawyers are lodging formal citizenship application with the Ministry of Justice. Consequently, a citizenship decree is being issued by the vice president through the office of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria. It is worth stating that the fast-track citizenship program doesn’t require the candidate to pass any language, history or other tests, nor to surrender his existent citizenship(s). It also doesn’t require actual stay (residency term) in Bulgaria in order for the citizenship to be granted.
And that’s it – you are now officially Bulgarian and EU citizen. Your citizenship is unconditional and for a lifetime. Your dependants, their dependants and so on, they are all considered to be Bulgarian citizens as well (see Citizenship by Origin). You are set to start a whole new life with less stress and more time to enjoy the really important things – your and your family’s freedom!
Some more information about the fast-track citizenship program
The timeline of the citizenship application process
Our clients are constantly asking us to provide clear timeline of all stages during the citizenship application and all processes prior to its submission and approval. While no two cases are the same, below is the average processing time, showing the different (main) stages.
|#Month||Description of the procedures|
|1st||Preliminary due diligence. Personal meeting with the client (in cases when the client requires in-depth legal consultation or when the preliminary due diligence can not be completed otherwise), either in our offices or visit to the client’s home country. Account opening with the selected Bulgarian bank. Selection and purchase of the initial investment of 512 000 EUR. Preparation of the legal citizenship file. Obtaining investment certificate.|
|2nd||Obtaining investor visa "type D" (legally required). We provide full support through the Bulgarian diplomatic missions so the visa is issued in the shortest time possible.|
|3rd||Application for permanent residency (personal presence of the applicant in Bulgaria may be required). Registration in the municipality and in the register. Obtaining permanent residency permission and Bulgarian ID card.|
|4th||Application for permanent residency for the main applicant’s family members (if applicable). As all our clients are registered in pre-approved regions of the capital Sofia, family members can obtain residency status almost instantly.|
|15th||Effecting the second investment tranche by the client in order that the total invested amount to reach 1 024 000 EUR. Certification procedures. Submitting the application for Bulgarian citizenship.|
|17th||Citizenship application approval and issuance of the citizenship decree.|
By the Bulgarian citizenship law, in case of investment in Bulgarian shares or bonds, the positions should be held for at least 2 years after the citizenship decree has been signed. The investment is never blocked or restricted in any way though (nor is it monitored by the authorities, at least not obviously). This is probably the reason why many unregistered and not licensed agents are advising liquidating the investment right after the citizenship has been acquired. As legal conformity is our top priority, we strongly advocate against such practices and warn that the investment should be held as explained above.
The semi-fast-track citizenship by investment option
While we firmly believe that the ultimate goal for everyone should be the full EU citizenship status, there are some cases when the applicant is content with Bulgarian permanent residency. Some clients from certain countries (with favorable visa-free travel possibilities) are often utilizing the semi-fast-track citizenship option in order to relocate to Bulgaria or to obtain much more favorable tax status than in their own country. For example, there are more and more US citizens that apply for the semi-fast-track option and obtain full Bulgarian citizenship at a later stage.
A provision in the Bulgarian citizenship law exists that allows the applicant to effect only the initial investment of 512 000 EUR and to obtain immediately permanent residency status, as explained above. Rather than increasing the investment to 1 024 000 EUR after one year, as with the standard fast-track option, the applicant can opt not to make any additional investment tranches in which case he will be able to apply for and obtain Bulgarian citizenship after a period of 5 years. The citizenship will be granted without any language or history exams and without the requirement to surrender any existing citizenship(s).