The 10 most common misconceptions about the fast-track Bulgarian Citizenship by Investment Program.
MYTH #1: “YOU CAN BUY BULGARIAN PASSPORT”
This is the most common misconceptions about the Bulgarian fast-track citizenship program. Before explaining any further, lets make it clear – no, you can not buy Bulgarian passport! Bulgarian citizenship is not for sale, has never been and will never be (this principle is backed by the constitution of Republic of Bulgaria and by the relevant citizenship and naturalization laws). Bulgarian (as well as other) passports are “up for sale” in many places though (even on the internet). Prices range anywhere between 500 and 25000 EUR, the citizenship is granted in a week or two and you will be often warned not to use the passport to enter Bulgaria (in all honesty, we can never beat this “offer“). No need saying that all these passports are fake and buying, keeping or using them, is a very serious criminal offence. Please be warned – if you are ever offered to buy Bulgarian passport, please walk away and inform the authorities immediately.
Legally, Bulgarian citizenship can be obtained by ancestry (art.8 and art.9 from the “Law for the Bulgarian Citizenship“), by place of birth (art.10 and art.11 of the said law, under some very restrictive conditions) and by naturalization (art.12 to art.19 of the said law). The Bulgarian Investment Citizenship Program is constituted to provide fast-track citizenship by means of naturalization. It is not a passport for sale program! A “sale” is exchange of goods for money. You can buy a “ROLEX” from Geneve, but you can not buy Bulgarian passport from Sofia. You can buy the latest “iPhone”, but can never buy Bulgarian citizenship. The Bulgarian fast-track citizenship program doesn’t require you to pay for the passport – the required investment of 2 million Bulgarian Leva remains yours at all times as well as all profits (interests, dividends, etc.) from it.
The problem with fake passports is a very serious one. According to some estimates, about 50% of the exotic countries passports that are being offered through different “legal” channels in Europe are counterfeited. And that is the problem with these nationalities – imagine you obtain a passport from Vanuatu or Dominica through your European “agent”. How do you check its legitimacy? Do you know the state institutions in Vanuatu? Do you know the legal system in Dominica and how to verify your passport’s legitimacy? Sadly enough, many of the new passport holders end up finding the truth the hard way – being detained at some checkpoint or at the airport.
But if the Bulgarian passport and citizenship is not for sale, are there any citizenships for sale at all (legally)? Certainly there are! And we don’t have to cross the oceans in order to find them. Malta for example does require a payment for its citizenship program. And a hefty one – you will need paying 650 000 EUR irrevocably to the Maltese government and then even more costs will follow. In our opinion, the Maltese program can qualify precisely for the term “passport for sale” scheme. Because Malta is an EU member, the European Union authorities are not very happy about such a program and are keen to take actions in order to amend it accordingly. You can read more details about the Maltese citizenship investment program.
Why is there such a misconception about the Bulgarian citizenship program then? In our opinion, it is mostly, because our foreign “colleagues” who offer their “legal” services in order to obtain Bulgarian citizenship, don’t really know the Bulgarian laws. We often see articles on the internet and even in respected printed media about “Bulgarian citizenship for sale“. If we read further, we almost always read information which is simply ridiculous. On many instances, where a respected media is concerned, we contact the editorial and try to explain them the legalities. In 99% of the cases the articles are either taken down or never released again, but the misinformation has already reached thousands of readers.
MYTH #2: “THE REQUIRED INVESTMENT AMOUNT OF ONE MILLION EUR UNDER THE CITIZENSHIP PROGRAM IS THE IRREVOCABLE FEE FOR OBTAINING THE BULGARIAN PASSPORT”
People often ask us: “How is it possible that the conditions of the Bulgarian program are so advantageous and what is the financial interest of the Bulgarian state?“. The people often think that if there is no direct (monetary) interest for the Government (as is the case with Malta, where one will start by paying 650 000 EUR to participate in the citizenship program) then there is something dodgy and then most probably the required investment in Bulgaria is a non-refundable fee rather than an investment. Well, fortunately, this isn’t true. The required investment of 2 million Bulgarian Leva is not a fee and it is not something you throw down the pipe. On the contrary – the amount remains on your name at all times and you enjoy the benefits of the returns (dividends, interests, etc.). Once the citizenship is acquired and the legally required term passed, you are free to do with your money anything you wish to do. Still, most of our customers don’t withdraw their investment, but keep on holding it as the conditions provided by the Bulgarian banks are often much better than the conditions of the banks abroad (ie Switzerland). Of course, in case that the new Bulgarian citizen needs the funds for other purposes (ie purchase of real estate, payments, etc.), he or she can withdraw it or transfer it to his or her bank account anywhere in the world.
To cut the long story short, as explained above, the Bulgarian passport is not being sold and the applicant doesn’t pay hefty government fee. The applicant makes refundable investment on his/her name and after the naturalization process completes, the applicant is free to use the funds as he or she wishes.
Bulgaria is relatively small country. From nine million thirty years ago, the population has dropped to about seven million now. The Bulgarian state needs new citizens to fight the demographic slowdown. Why not take advantage of this unique opportunity and get EU citizenship now.
MYTH #3: “THE BULGARIAN CITIZENSHIP/PASSPORT IS SORT OF GOLDEN VISA OR PERMANENT RESIDENCY”
Frankly speaking, we think that the term “GOLDEN VISA” is some sort of oxymoron. “Visa” is a restrictive measure, imposed by certain countries to the citizens of other countries, thereby preventing them free entry into their territory. So how can such “restrictive measure” be at the same time a golden one? Sort of a “golden cage” maybe. Visa is something that one needs in advance, it comes with tons of restrictions, it costs money (a lot), it provides virtually no rights, it needs to be regularly extended and it can be cancelled by the issuing authority at any time. Even worse, visa does not guarantee even an entry for the visa holder. Visa, in other words, is a sort of preliminary approval by the issuing authority to allow the holder entry (or limited residence) into the country. It is limited in time, in number of passages and it can be withdrawn or not honored at all at any time. Visa is most often valid for one country only (with the noble exception of the Schengen visa).
Many countries provide “golden visa” in return for hefty investment or payment of a fee to wealthy individuals. These countries (ie Portugal) offer good climate, safe environment and even access (only for tourism) for the golden visa holders to the other Schengen countries. Unfortunately many of our customers don’t quite understand the difference between a golden visa (you can call it a platinum visa, or even a diamond visa if you prefer) and citizenship. The Bulgarian Citizenship by Investment program is not a golden visa! The Bulgarian program grants full EU citizenship! And the difference between these two is huge. Let’s give an example. Suppose you hold a golden visa from Portugal. In that case, you can live temporarily in Portugal for as long as you comply with the conditions of the program and you can travel freely to the Schengen countries in Europe for tourist purposes only. You are not allow to work in any other country than Portugal, you can’t vote, can’t access EU universities at preferential rates etc. If you hold Bulgarian passport however, you can live unlimited not only in Bulgaria, but in any other EU country (not only the Schengen countries), you can vote in Bulgaria, work anywhere in the EU, access Medicare and preferential rates of EU universities and much, much more. And all that, with your Bulgarian nationality – guaranteed yours forever. Your children will be Bulgarian citizens, same as their children and so on. Golden visa in contrast is temporary and for you only. Do you understand how big is the difference now?
MYTH #4: “YOU NEED RESIDENCE PERMIT TO LIVE IN ANOTHER EU COUNTRY IF YOU ARE BULGARIAN CITIZEN”
No, you don’t! Bulgarian citizenship is EU citizenship. With your Bulgarian passport you can live wherever you want to within the EU (and of course travel freely to) – Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Brussels, just to give some examples. Unlike many residency programs from other countries, the Bulgarian program provides the applicant with the highest legal status – full EU citizenship. You don’t even need your passport to travel within EU – you only need showing your ID card (credit card format) in the rare occasions when there will be a border check. Even in countries outside of the EU you can get along with your Bulgarian ID card only – Macedonia, Serbia, etc. You will never get any stamp anywhere in the EU. You will be free to choose any country to live in and work there without any formalities.
In short – being Bulgarian citizenship provides you the full and unconditional right under the EU laws to settle down in any of the EU countries, to work and live there, take part in the local social security and medical system, attend school and universities and so on. And these rights are for lifetime. Fair enough.
MYTH #5: “YOU CAN LOSE YOUR BULGARIAN CITIZENSHIP IF YOU DON’T HOLD YOUR INVESTMENT FOR LIFE (AS IS THE CASE IN CYPRUS)”
Your Bulgarian citizenship is for life! The only legal requirement for your citizenship to become fully irrevocable is to maintain your investment for two years after your citizenship has been granted. From that moment on, your citizenship is permanent and forever. Why do we stress so much on this advantage of the Bulgarian fast-track naturalization program? Because not all countries provide such luxury. In Cyprus for instance, in case you don’t hold your personal real estate property valued at at least 500 000 EUR perpetually, or if you rent it out, you will lose your citizenship on the spot! We don’t consider such an arrangement to be a fair one.
We don’t even consider such citizenship to be a real citizenship at all. We are not playing rough on the Cypriot program, but we just wouldn’t feel comfortable to hold a passport that can be cancelled at any time if we sell or rent out our own home. To us, this seems like a big obstacle and we can be only happy that the Bulgarian program doesn’t put such constraints.
So to resume – you can withdraw your investment in Bulgaria at any time and keeping it for two years after you get your Bulgarian citizenship is the only condition the Bulgarian state puts on you. From that moment on, you have the same rights as all Bulgarian nationals and you don’t have any further financial obligations whatsoever. You can read more about the Cyprus citizenship investment program.
MYTH #6: “THE EU IS PRESSING BULGARIA TO STOP ITS INVESTMENT CITIZENSHIP PROGRAM”
No, the EU is not pressing on Bulgaria to stop or alter its fast-track citizenship program. We will try to explain why. Currently, there are only three countries in the EU who provide fast-track citizenship by investment – Bulgaria, Cyprus in Malta. But let’s see what makes Bulgaria different from the other two.
First of all, Bulgaria is the only “normally sized” country. Bulgaria’s population is 7 times more than that of Cyprus and 15 times more than Malta. The EU Commission will certainly judge by the percentage of new citizens before making any attempts to intervene. Imagine how many applications Bulgaria should process before it shows on the radar, compared to 15 times smaller Malta and 7 times smaller Cyprus.
Secondly and more importantly, Bulgaria is the only country from the three that really doesn’t sell its passports and the government doesn’t in any way receive direct monetary benefits from the program. Malta for instance is charging immediately 650 000 EUR up front – direct contribution. Cyprus, although not requiring irrevocable substantial fee, does charge huge VAT on the purchased under the qualifying under the program real estate properties. The EU Commission doesn’t favour programs that benefit financially its national budgets by granting EU citizenship.
Last, but not least, is the fact that Bulgaria requires one year transition time before the citizenship is granted. Cyprus’s legislation foresees only 3 months with similar term in Malta. While it may look like disadvantage to Bulgaria, the Bulgarian conditions are much more to the liking of the EU Commission as they are more or less limiting the ultra fast citizenship seekers (often with controversial background). The extremely short periods in Cyprus in Malta have led to great criticism of the EU and that has forced Cyprus to apply unofficially an extended period of 6 months and Malta to seek from the applicant to establish artificial “links with the country” by donating funds, participating in charities, etc.
All of the above points to the fact that the Bulgarian program is much more sustainable and better accepted from the EU authorities.
MYTH #7: “YOU CAN GET FAST-TRACK BULGARIAN CITIZENSHIP IF YOU HAVE SERIOUS CRIMINAL BACKGROUND“
The Bulgarian Citizenship Investment Program requires that the applicant can produce a clean criminal record for certain serious crimes. Failure to do so will most certainly result in the application being refused. Still, the Bulgarian due diligence procedure is somewhat less comprehensive than the procedures in other countries such as Mata and Cyprus. That is most probably the reason as to why many of our customers keep on thinking that in Bulgaria, one can qualify with heavy criminal past. This is fortunately, not the truth. We don’t have to forget that Bulgaria is full EU member and the country has to abide by the EU rules. While it may stick to its national laws, some of the EU directives have predominance and they need to be fully implemented.
So in short, no, you can’t get Bulgarian fast-track citizenship if you have criminal record for serious violations. If that is the case, please let us know in advance so we can tell you, under Bulgarian law, when these will be considered as legally expired so you can eventually submit your application (these will still need to be mentioned, but they will have no legal effect).
MYTH #8: “YOU HAVE TO LIVE IN BULGARIA IN ORDER TO RETAIN YOUR CITIZENSHIP”
Citizenship obtained through the Bulgarian Investment program is for life! You don’t have to live in Bulgaria even a single day in order to keep your citizenship. You can reside anywhere in the world with your Bulgarian passport. You will enjoy consular protection not only by the Bulgarian, but also by the other EU diplomatic missions in the country where you are, in case there is no Bulgarian embassy or consulate present. Your Bulgarian passport (in case you opt to live abroad) will be your perfect travel document, allowing you visa-free travel to most countries worldwide.
To summarize – once your citizenship is obtained, there is absolutely no requirement whatsoever to reside in Bulgaria. It is your unconditional right, but not your obligation, not in the slightest.
MYTH #9: “YOU HAVE TO PASS BULGARIAN LANGUAGE TEST IN ORDER TO BECOME CITIZEN UNDER THE INVESTMENT CITIZENSHIP PROGRAM”
Normally Bulgarian citizenship is granted after passing comprehensive language exam. The exam is often major concern for the applicants and it is often the case when for someone, even after having resided in the country for more than 10 years, passing the language exam is a mission impossible. Most other countries also require language exam in order to grant citizenship. In general we believe this is a fair requirement as each citizen has to at least speak the language of his “home country”.
The Bulgarian Citizenship by Investment program is an exception by the general rule though. The legislation foresees that the citizenship under this program is granted without passing a language test. So to make it very clear – you will be not required to pass any language, history or other exams in order to obtain your Bulgarian citizenship and passport under the terms of the Bulgarian fast-track citizenship program.
MYTH #10: “THE BULGARIAN INVESTMENT CITIZENSHIP PROGRAM IS IMMATURE, UNCLEAR AND UNRELIABLE, BECAUSE THE PROGRAMS OF MALTA AND CYPRUS ARE MUCH MORE ADVERTISED AND WELL KNOWN”
This misconception is very common and can be explained easyly. To put it simple, the Bulgarian citizenship by investment program is not marketed at all by the Bulgarian government and is not as widely advertized by the private agencies as are the programs of the “competing” countries. While Cyprus and Malta, being island nations, have long traditions in offshore services, real estate development tailored exclusively at foreigners, residency and citizenship schemes, just to name a few, Bulgaria (being much bigger mainland country) has always counted on its mainstream economic activities – agriculture, industry, tourism. While the Maltese program gets immediate first step only non refundable contribution from the citizenship applicant of 650 000 EUR on the spot and Cyprus pockets in even higher indirect contributions in the form of VAT on the required investment, the Bulgarian citizenship program doesn’t provide the Bulgarian government with any direct financial benefit.
As a result, the Bulgarian program is not being advertised as aggressively as its peers. In our participations in international investment and immigration conferences around the world, it is often the case when we are the only company offering assistance under the Bulgarian Investment Citizenship Program. At the same time, there are often more than ten Cypriot agents and also many of Malta. Cypriot and Maltese citizenship provide colossal financial benefits for their authorities and agents alike, while the Bulgarian program is more of a tool of our Government to give a boost to our demographic decline. Hence, you are much more likely to hear about the Cypriot or Maltese citizenship “for sale” than for the Bulgarian one. Still, the Bulgarian program is in our opinion much more robust and with much stronger backing and approval by the EU Commission!