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Three countries South Africans can move to without buying property.

Residence – and citizenship-by-investment (RBI and CBI) programmes are familiar to South Africans who don’t have ancestral ties to other countries but would like residency or citizenship in a European country, and access to visa-free travel anywhere in the EU. Unfortunately, these ‘golden visa’ schemes are beyond the means of most South Africans. However, there are now much more affordable residency options opening up around the world, according to Leana Nel, head of international sales and relocations for the Chas Everitt group.

“The most popular are those generally termed ‘retirement visas’, which are aimed at people who have a certified monthly pension or annuity income sufficient to live on in the country of their choice,” she says. “Applicants can continue to work remotely and, unlike the current RBI and CBI schemes, they don’t have to buy real estate.”

Considering the European Union Commission on Citizenship plans to phase out all CBI programmes by 2025, with stringent new rules in place for countries that continue to offer the RBI schemes, these retirement visas offer exciting options to people previously unable to consider such a move. Nel says the top three choices for South Africans who would like to acquire permanent residency by applying for a ‘retirement visa’ are Mauritius, Portugal and Panama. We look at the basic requirements for these countries in order to secure a retirement visa for permanent residency.

Mauritius offers a 10-year occupation or residence permit to so-called retired non-citizens over the age of 50 who are able to open a Mauritian bank account and make an initial deposit of $1,500, followed by $1,500 a month (or $18,000 a year) for the duration of the permit. Authorities require evidence of deposits every year.

After three years, those who hold one of these occupation or residence permits can apply for a 20-year permanent residence permit. You don’t have to buy property to get the initial retired non-resident occupation permit, and the spouse, parents and dependent children under 24 of permit holders can be included. Retired non-citizen permit holders can also invest in a business in Mauritius although they cannot manage the business, be employed by it, or draw a salary. There is no restriction on remote work. 

Portugal offers the D7 residency visa to retirees or income holders who want to live in Portugal and have sufficient passive foreign income to qualify. The D7 visa grants non-habitual resident status, which includes exemption from tax on certain foreign income and access to Portugal’s public health system. In addition, those with a D7 visa can, after five years, apply for citizenship or a Portuguese permanent residency permit valid for 10 years.

Family re-unification can be carried out in terms of this visa, but requires an additional application and approval by authorities. Applicants need to open a Portuguese bank account and be able to deposit a minimum of €8,460 per person per year or €12,690 per couple per year to qualify for the visa. Although not required at first, applicants can buy property in Portugal if they want to, as long as they also have a rental agreement for at least 12 months. After this, their application will be considered by the Portuguese Consulate before they are granted a four-month visa to visit Portugal and finalise the residency process with the immigration authorities. 

Panama offers the ‘pensionado visa’ to applicants who have a guaranteed income for life of at least $1,000 per month, to be deposited into a Panama bank account. This can be a State pension, or a certified annuity from a bank, business or insurance company that has been accepted by the Panama Consulate.

Spouses and dependent children can be included in this visa, at an additional monthly income requirement of $250 per person. Children aged 18 to 25 need to be full-time students to qualify. Once approved for a visa, applicants will immediately be issued with a temporary residence card and then, four to six months later, with a permanent residence card that is valid for life and gives them access to Panama’s public health system, as well as many other pensioners’ benefits. 


The assistance of immigration and relocation professionals is required – and often mandatory – to obtain any of these visas, as the paperwork is considerable. “Fortunately, we are connected to a global network of trusted legal, financial and real estate experts,” says Nel. “This is especially important when one is dealing with banking and other legal documentation such as a property lease in a foreign language. “In addition, we have more than 25 years’ experience helping people to relocate internationally and offer a turnkey service that encompasses everything from assistance with the compilation and processing of the necessary documentation to assistance with shipping, currency transfers, business establishment and tax matters. We also help our emigrating clients to sell their properties here.”

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