Obtaining Bulgarian Citizenship through Investment in Bulgaria: The Fast Track Legal Option
Obtaining Bulgarian Citizenship through Investment - the “Law for the Foreigners in Bulgaria” and the “Law for the Bulgarian Citizenship”. What are the requirements and what choice has the applicant in terms of the required investment. Why is the investment Program completely safe and unique in the European Union.
The “Law for the Foreigners in Bulgaria” provides different opportunities for a “person who does not have Bulgarian citizenship” (the legal term for a “foreigner” under the said Law) to reside in the country. While, as a full-fledged EU member, Bulgaria has imposed a number of restrictions for foreigners from third countries to establish legal presence in Bulgaria, the legislation has left the “Golden Gates” open for those, who can qualify under the “State Investment Immigration Program” (the “Law for the Foreigners in Bulgaria” and the “Law for the Bulgarian Citizenship”). When one hears about any Investment Program, an immediate correlation is made with some compulsory requirement for investments in non-liquid, low quality, high risk instruments. Luckily, this is definitely not the case with the Bulgarian “State Investment Immigration Program” (the term used to unify the relevant articles of the two cited Laws above). In our opinion, both from legal point of view and also by judging the financial opportunities that the Program provides, this is by far the most favorable legislative incentive (for legal immigration and citizenship) in the new history of Bulgaria.
So what does the Program offer under the terms of the “Law for the Foreigners in Bulgaria” and the “Law for the Bulgarian Citizenship”?
As a first step (there is more later so please bear with us), the “Law for the Foreigners in Bulgaria” (art.25, par.1, p.6 and 7) provides the applicant the opportunity to obtain “permanent residency” (we want to stress on the legal meaning of “permanent residency”, more on that later) if an investment of 1 million Bulgarian Lev (511 292 EUR) is done in either of the following:
a) Shares of Bulgarian Companies traded on the Bulgarian Stock Exchange (BSE).
We believe this to be a very good opportunity. Not only the regulations on the BSE provide for maximum protection of the investor, but the client can diversify his or her portfolio in order to fully meet its investment goals. The shares listed on BSE are traded every working day and have proven track record. The applicant has the opportunity to check his portfolio value in real time, thereby ensuring maximum transparency.
b) Bulgarian state and municipal bonds, as well as their derivatives, with remaining maturity of not less than 6 months.
This is another good opportunity in our opinion. Bulgarian state and municipal bonds have relatively good ratings both by “Standard and Poor’s” and “Moody’s”, and above the average returns in comparison to their EU peers. Diversification could provide additional layer of security for the investor, as is the case with every investment generally.
c) Acquisition of property off a state owned company with 50% or more state or municipal ownership according to the “Law for privatization and post privatization control”.
This is an option, which we consider as being simply too “comprehensive”. Unless the applicant really knows what he or she is doing, we wouldn’t recommend this alternative for the “average” type of applicant or investor.
d) Shares, property of the state or the municipalities, in a Bulgarian Company as per the “Law for privatization and post privatization control”.
This is another “comprehensive” alternative. We would pretty much prefer recommending the investment in shares traded on the BSE instead.
e) Bulgarian Intellectual Property and similar rights covered and protected by Patent.
This we consider to be interesting option, especially for these applicants whose business activities are related to Property Rights. Intellectual Property value however lacks the transparency and liquidity of the earlier mentioned investments (i.e. shares and bonds) and is also much harder to evaluate in order to use it for the purposes of the “Law for the Foreigners in Bulgaria”.
f) Rights under concession contracts in the territory of Bulgaria.
We see this option as ideal for these applicants, who seek business expansion into Bulgaria rather than a passive portfolio investment.
Additionally, the amendment of the “Law for the Foreigners in Bulgaria” (State Gazette, nr.108 of 2013), added another important investment opportunity, namely:
a) Investment in Bulgarian licensed credit institution (i.e. Bank) under management (trust) agreement for a period of not less than 5 years.
In our opinion this may be considered as the most transparent and probably most efficient investment option. It basically unites all other investment opportunities and while it ties the investment for 5 years, it provides first class customer service (provided by the Bulgarian bank or other financial institution, which will be managing the portfolio) and investment choices. Diversification is another key issue and a great advantage under this option.
So basically, this is the first step of the immigration and naturalization Program. Once the above investment is done, the applicant is eligible for “permanent residency” in Bulgaria. We want to stress out that “permanent residency” is the highest “grade” of residency status in Bulgaria (not counting the citizenship of course). It should be not mistaken with the “long term residency”, usually granted to spouses of Bulgarian citizens, high net worth retirees, etc. “Permanent residency” provides much more rights to its holder than the “long term residency”, both in Bulgaria and the EU. With the “permanent residency” under the belt, the investor can enjoy Bulgarian state healthcare benefits, the lowest personal and corporate taxation in the whole EU and much more, not forgetting the above the average returns on his or her investment under the Program.
The next step is obtaining citizenship (and Bulgarian/EU passport). Usually, citizenship eligibility is enforced only after 5 years of legal residency in Bulgaria, subject to different conditions. However, there is a very important article in the “Law for the Bulgarian Citizenship”. Art 14a, par.1, p.1 states that:
a) A foreign person can obtain Bulgarian citizenship, subject to compliance with art.12, par.1, p.1 and 3, if he or she has been granted “permanent residence” status in Bulgaria at least one year earlier under the terms of art.25, par.1, p.6 or 7 of the “Law for the Foreigners in Bulgaria” (these are the investment terms and options that we have outlined above) and has, under the same terms, increased his or her investment to an amount of at least 2 million Bulgarian Lev (1 022 584 EUR).
In other words, making another (second) investment of 1 million Bulgarian Lev (511 292 EUR) on top of the initial investment (of the same amount) will qualify the applicant for full Bulgarian citizenship (Bulgarian passport) only one year after his “permanent residence” status has been arranged. Additional benefits under this Program are that the applicant will not be required to pass a comprehensive Bulgarian language test, his or her family members will receive a more favorable treatment and he or she will be not required to renounce his or her present citizenship (this may be very important in certain situations).
While the terms and conditions of the Law, concerning this Program, are quite favorable, the amount and the nature of the legal work requires special attention. If not addressed professionally, the process can have serious implications. The procedure starts with the applicant’s background being checked, as well as the source of the funds. Both of these checks are subjective, to some extend, and it is essential that the application has been filed professionally in order to maximize the chances of fast approval and virtually eliminate the risk of refusal. Subsequently, the applicant is granted the investment certificate and then the immigration visa type “D” is granted, the permanent residence card follows and ultimately the full Bulgarian passport is issued.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.