A renewable 5-year residence permit open to non-EU nationals with €250,000 spare, Greece’s Golden Visa is one of Europe’s most successful residence-by-investment schemes, offering the coveted privilege of being able to travel freely throughout the 27-member European Union.
Athens has long laboured under the stereotype that it is smog-filled and chaotic. Li Xia, who has lived in the Greek capital with her husband and 10-year-old son since they acquired a flat in the leafy northern suburb of Maroussi three years ago, would wholeheartedly disagree.
She considers the city to have a cleaner natural environment than her native Beijing, coupled with a better quality of life and international schools that are more multicultural.
“Greek people are less anxious than the Chinese. People enjoy a more active social life, which does not simply entail dinners together,” Li says.
“I see my son spending more time with friends and playing sport than staring at a screen. When he is in school, I have ample time to read, go shopping, visit friends and cook, in addition to running my e-business in China.”
Lake Vouliagmeni is a popular attraction at the heart of the Athenian Riviera. Photo: Discover Greece
For years, starry-eyed Chinese couples would hotfoot it to Santorini for a picture-perfect wedding atop the Cycladic island’s famed caldera cliffs, complete with serenading local musicians.
Today, you are more likely to see affluent Chinese singles, couples and young families with toddlers in tow strolling along a beach on the southern Athens coast – dubbed the Athens Riviera – a stone’s throw from their newly bought, luxuriously appointed, sea-view flat.
The reason is Greece’s Golden Visa programme, considered among the most successful of its type in Europe. Open to non-EU nationals, those who invest €250,000 (US$293,000) or more in Greek property are granted a renewable five-year residence permit, which in turn gives them the coveted privilege of being able to travel freely throughout the 27-member European Union.
The Imara development in central Athens offers luxury residences finished with curated furnishings and art pieces. Photo: Greece Sotheby’s International
Li is one of 5,770 Chinese investors who have secured a total of 17,475 residence visas for themselves and immediate family members since the Greek government launched the programme in 2014. Chinese nationals make up about 70 per cent of successful applicants. In the case of her family, the residence permit was “one of the advantages but not our main concern”.
“We could easily obtain a long-term visa for Europe, the US or Australia. We travelled a lot,” Li says.
Overseen by Enterprise Greece, the state agency responsible for investment promotion, the scheme has raked in more than US$2.3 billion for the country’s real estate market in the past six years.
Following a decade-long economic crisis during which property values suffered a devastating decline, Greece is on a gradual road to recovery which has involved serious efforts to reach out to foreign investors.
Herbs and baskets for sale at a neighbourhood store in Naxos. Photo: handout
Athens, in particular, is considered hot property for several reasons. Firstly, it serves as a convenient hub with excellent air links to the rest of Europe, as well as Asia and the US.
Enterprise Greece CEO Georgios Filiopoulos says that, while real estate prices have risen considerably in recent years as the Greek economy returns to growth, assets in the Mediterranean country remain undervalued.
“This makes real estate an excellent investment in Greece, quite apart from the Golden Visa programme,” he notes.
Secondly, life in Athens can be compared to that of cities such as Rome and Paris, but with less congestion. Prices for a two-bedroom flat in the capital start at around US$290,000, while buyers can expect to pay a minimum of US$1.2 million for a villa.
The vibrant city of over four million people, where English is widely spoken, offers a safe environment, temperate climate and contemporary living amid a wealth of inspiring ancient sites, says Georg Petras, who brought global premium real estate brand Engel & Völkers to Greece.
Quality private medical facilities, formidable dining and nightlife, and easy access to mainland and island destinations make it one of Europe’s most appealing and up-and-coming metropolises.
Li’s flat, purchased through Chinese-owned Atlas Investments, looks out over Athens’ Olympic Stadium and is close to the city’s most upscale malls. She says they found what they were looking for in the high-end residential complex, which provides 24-hour security and efficient building management services.
“Our neighbours are from all over the world – diplomats and executives from international companies. We made friends quickly,” she notes. Li also points out the mutual respect that the Chinese and Greeks have for one another.
“Greece is a country that has experienced many ups and downs throughout its history. China shares this spirit of staying strong in the face of difficulties,” she says.
Quintessential Greece – bathed in sun, awash in history. Photos: handout
IQI Global Group CEO Kashif Ansari, whose company Juwai IQI assists Chinese HNWI in buying luxury real estate in key markets like Greece, says the country offers the most attractive investment visa in Europe due to its price, ease of application, benefits and investment options.
He says a key factor attracting investors is the perception that Greece is on an economic upswing of historic proportions. “Greece’s active participation in the Belt and Road Initiative reassures Chinese investors that the market is safe and likely to benefit from being the most important gateway between China and Europe in the years to come,” Ansari says.
The opportunities for investment in upmarket property across the country range from chic flats in the capital to large, beautiful waterfront properties on the islands and rural mainland, Ansari says. And while the city’s metro area, particularly property in the vicinity of the ancient Acropolis, is the focal point for most Chinese investors, the Riviera – where a series of multimillion euro redevelopment projects are under way – is drawing significant interest.
Further afield, Greece’s islands – 227 of which are inhabited – are a tempting option for a holiday home.
Rovinia beach is a major tourist draw on the holiday isle of Corfu.
For about US$1.5 million, a secluded stone-built traditional country villa with a sprawling terrace on the aristocratic Cycladic island of Syros can be yours.
On Zakynthos island, an elegant, light-filled villa with views of the turquoise Ionian Sea and a pool is available for some US$3.5 million.
Property developers might consider a 100-room hotel with a rare private beach on popular Ionian holiday destination Corfu, priced at about US$11.7 million.
Even in the midst of the pandemic, Chinese appetite for investment in Greece has remained robust. Petras says the government’s relatively competent handling of the health crisis has shaped a positive image of the country – a haven in a world of uncertainty.
“Clients are looking for stable and safe options for buying a new home … 2020 is a year of opportunity for all investors who would like to own property in Greece,” he says.
In a bid to overcome the hurdle of needing to be physically present to purchase property, the state has introduced a range of measures for investors in recent months to facilitate Golden Visa applications, Filiopoulos notes.
“For example, biometric data of Golden Visa applicants can be provided at a later stage, if necessary,” he says.
Echoing a common sentiment among her compatriots that Greece is the friendliest of all Western nations towards the Chinese, Li has this to say: “China may now have the best infrastructure, especially in its major cities, but here we feel closer to our fellow humans and nature.”