Located in the Balkans, Bulgaria was a member of the Eastern Bloc and a socialist republic until 1990. It joined the European Union in 2007, but its application to become a member of the Schengen Area was rejected following concerns regarding corruption. It is also not a member of the Eurozone, although the nation’s currency – the lev – is pegged to the Euro. Bulgaria is the EU country with the lowest personal income tax rate and one of the lowest corporate tax rates. Even though average wages are the lowest in the EU, the economic outlook for Bulgaria is relatively optimistic, particularly as IT services, tourism, and manufacturing continue to grow and provide employment.
The Bulgarian Immigrant Investor Programme (BGIIP) was created in 2009 with an amendment to the Foreigners in the Republic of Bulgaria Act. Designed as a quick route to citizenship via a period of nominal permanent residence in Bulgaria, the BGIIP does not require the investor to physically spend time in Bulgaria while waiting for citizenship to be issued. This feature makes the BGIIP one of a handful of European citizenship programmes where prior physical residence in the nation is not compulsory.
There are two investment options under the BGIIP, the first leading to citizenship in five years, while the latter doing so in three years. Under the first option, the applicant must make a BGN 1 million (€512,000) guaranteed investment in government bonds, whilst under the second option the applicant must make a BGN 2 million (€1,024,000) investment in government bonds or in a Bulgarian company. Either investment must be retained for a period of five years, after which time it is returned to the investor without any interest that may have accrued.
Applications under the BGIIP are first submitted to a local Bulgarian consulate, which redirects them to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and issues a first-stage visa for the applicant to enter Bulgaria and file for permanent residence. Thereafter, processing is conducted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These entities do not test applicants on their knowledge of Bulgarian or of local culture, nor do they assess applicants through interviews.
The BGIIP is only available to non-EU nationals, who must make two formal trips to Bulgaria; once to file for permanent residence, and once to register permanent residence and receive the relevant identity documents. Permanent residence may be expected within six to nine months of submission, while citizenship rests on the option selected by the applicant.
The benefits of Bulgarian citizenship include free movement rights throughout all the member states of the European Union. Starting 1 December 2017, citizens of Bulgaria were granted the right to travel visa-free to Canada for up to six months, provided they obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). Bulgaria has yet to join the Schengen Area, although it is taking steps towards membership. Dual citizenship is allowed.