For most European countries, there are three main ways to become a naturalised citizen. The first is naturalisation by birth, in which one gains citizenship in the country of birth. In the case of naturalisation by descent, citizenship is claimed by descent from a nation's citizen. The third main type of naturalisation is by residence, in which one gains citizenship after living in a nation for several years.
The fourth method of citizenship for prospective Bulgarian citizens is naturalisation by investment. This process is sometimes compared to the “Golden Visa” because of its monetary investment.
The process is somewhat complicated, but ETIAS will provide a step-by-step analysis. We will explore the reasons to consider Bulgarian citizenship and explain the process of citizenship by investment.
Why Should I Consider Bulgarian Citizenship?
There are a variety of benefits to gaining Bulgarian citizenship. These are as follows:
An EU Passport provides free movement among all European Union countries. Though a member of the EU, Bulgaria is not presently part of the Schengen Area.
Some family members will also be eligible for citizenship under investment-based naturalisation. These include spouses of over five years and children under 18 years old.
Dual citizenship is permitted with investment. In many other naturalisation cases, Bulgaria requires forfeiture of non-EU or EEA citizenship.
Bulgaria features favourable tax rates compared to many other nations. For the most part, this is a simple flat 10 percent tax rate on all personal income. There are some small exceptions, primarily regarding capital gain and investment income.
Bulgaria features one of the most rapid pathways to EU citizenship. This is under the accelerated pathway toward investment, which we will discuss later.
It offers special access to government-approved investment opportunities.
There are, of course, other, more personal reasons why one would want to obtain Bulgarian citizenship. The above are simply the practical considerations behind applying for it. With these out of the way, it’s now time to explore what citizenship by investment is.
What Is Citizenship by Investment?
Citizenship by investment is an option in which an individual invests a significant amount into the Bulgarian economy. In exchange for making an investment and maintaining it, the individual can gain Bulgarian citizenship. For those with capital, this is a relatively expedient and easy way to attain citizenship.
The current amendments covering citizenship by investment were both passed last year. The earliest coverage allowing citizenship by investment was the Bulgarian Immigrant Investor Programme in 2005. In 2013, the Fast Track program was introduced. Concerns about abuse of the program and money laundering have led to greater security and the modern program.
The prerequisites to begin the process are fairly simple. For the most part, they are standard requirements for any application. Before applying for citizenship, foreign investors must first apply for an investor visa. The investor visa allows you to gain permanent residency ahead of formal citizenship.
The requirements for applying for a foreign investor visa are as follows:
Applicants must be 18 years of age or older and not a citizen of any EU nation. EU citizens can freely move about nations without requiring a specific visa. This makes this step of the process a moot point.
Applicants must have a clean criminal record and be in good personal health. This ensures the moral health of the individual and that one will likely remain healthy enough to complete the process.
Investors must have the assets on hand needed to complete their investment.
At this point in the process, a background check is conducted to assess that all of the above is true. The Bulgarian Investment Agency performs this to safeguard against issues with money laundering. Once these are met, you can truly begin the process.
Citizenship by Investment: How and How Much?
To be eligible for citizenship by investment, you must donate one million Bulgarian Lev. It uses the currency code BGN and is tied to the euro. Presently, this means an investment of roughly €512,000. How you can invest is restricted by government approval.
There are six approved ways in which you can invest to attain citizenship:
Invest one million BGN in investment funds. This investment can be in either publicly-traded ETFs or alternative investment funds. The investment must be focused primarily on Bulgarian companies. This type of investment can involve private equity, hedge funds, venture, or a combination.
Invest one million BGN in the capital of an existing company. In this case, that investment must create at least ten full-time jobs. The Ministry of Economy must then verify this.
Make an initial investment of one million BGN in the capital of a newly-formed company. In this case, the investor must be both a shareholder and maintain most of the company's capital.
Invest one million BGN under the acquisition of rights under concession agreements.
Invest at least two million BGN in shares of an existing commercial company. This must be done as a priority investment project. These are monitored and verified by the Ministry of Economy.
Invest at least six million BGN into a Bulgarian company not listed on the securities market. This method is significantly more costly but has a wider umbrella of investment opportunities.
After the investment, the investor must maintain their holdings for several years. Whether one chooses a fast or ordinary track, this requirement exceeds naturalisation. In either case, one must maintain their investment after receiving citizenship.
What Is the Timeline for Obtaining Bulgarian Citizenship?
The first step in obtaining citizenship is to go through the pre-approval process. The Bulgarian Investment Agency will verify the information we stated above and check for legitimacy in funding. Proof of identification, background information, proof of funding, and information on the source of funding are needed here. All of this takes place in the first month of the process.
The next step is to invest. This capital can be self-financed, financed externally, or financed via the Bulgarian government. This takes up the second month of the process. After this, you can gain a certificate from the Bulgarian Investment Agency. This document proves your right to apply for and obtain an investor visa.
During the fourth month, you can acquire your investment visa by visiting any Bulgarian embassy or consulate. It's recommended that you start gathering the necessary documentation to apply for a permanent resident card. In the fifth month, you can submit the paperwork and if everything goes smoothly, you'll receive your permanent resident card and Tax Identification Number.
Your family will be able to join you soon, but the process may take a few months. The family reunification process should be completed within eight months of your application. Keep in mind that additional fees may apply if you are applying for familial citizenship.
Once that is done, you will need to fulfil the financial obligations of your investment. The ordinary track and fast track processes have different requirements, which we will explain in the next section.
Fast Track vs. Ordinary Track
The process outlined above remains the same for all applicants. Permanent residency is granted after only six months. However, fast-track investors can increase their investments to streamline the process of becoming citizens.
On the ordinary track, an investor makes one of the abovementioned investments. They maintain their holdings for 78 months and receive citizenship after 66 months.
On the fast track, the initial investment is doubled after a single year of permanent residency. When this is done, investors can gain citizenship in as little as 24 months. In addition, investments made within the process only need to be held for 48 months.
This process will not affect the way spouses and dependents are treated. Spouses and dependents that meet previous requirements may gain citizenship immediately following the applicant's naturalisation.
Finding More Information on Travel Within Europe
Gaining citizenship in Bulgaria is not something to be done all at once. The process takes time, and life will proceed as usual during it. Still, the fact remains that Bulgaria, for the right individual, has several benefits among EU countries for naturalisation.
ETIAS provides information regarding all aspects of travel authorisation throughout Europe and the Schengen area. Visit the ETIAS FAQ for more information on what to expect when travelling within Europe in 2025 and beyond.