This article is an overview of Turkey's citizenship by investment program, focusing particularly on real estate investments. This article is not intended as specific legal advice and each investment application should be reviewed by an attorney.
Immigration investment programs are a very popular source of foreign investment in countries ranging from Portugal to Greece, and Grenada to Moldova. Some programs focus on investments that result in residency permits (e. g. Portugal and Greece), while other programs result in citizenship (e. g. Caribbean nations and Cyprus). Turkey's immigration investment program provides a very direct and quick path to citizenship, which makes it particularly attractive to citizens from emerging economies looking for a passport will allow them to travel more easily than their current passport. As of 2019, Turkish nationals enjoy visa free or visa-on-arrival status to over 110 countries or territories including Singapore, Japan, Ukraine, Malaysia, Korea, South Africa, Mexico, most of Latin American and the Caribbean. Turkey's immigrant investor program is also popular with many Middle Eastern nationals (particularly Iraqis and Iranians) who were already investing significantly in Turkish real estate over the last several years.
Turkey's regulations since January 2017 have allowed several categories of investments to qualify for pursuit of Turkish citizenship, including capital investments, government debt instruments, investing in a business that employs at least 50 Turkish nationals, venture capital investments, and other categories. However, in September 2018, the required investment threshold amounts were significantly lowered across these categories. For real estate, investments of $250,000 USD now qualify for the citizenship by investment program. Investment in real estate has captured the most international interest of Turkey's immigration investment program as the threshold amount is lower than the majority of other countries' citizenship by investment programs.
For a real estate investment of $250,000 to qualify for the citizenship by investment program, several important restrictions apply:
- the applicant cannot sell the property for at least three years.
- If the real estate is subject to a mortgage, the mortgage amount will be deducted from the sales amount in determining if the amount will qualify.
- The value stated on the official deed cannot be lower than the amount listed in the official valuation report.
- Applicant must show official bank receipts showing the transfer of sale price.
- The real estate must be registered in the name of the applicant (foreign real person, may include spouse or minor children).
- The real estate must not have been purchased by the applicant prior to December 1, 2017 for either program (ie. earlier higher monetary thresholds). If the purchase was prior to September 18, 2018, the old regulations and thresholds apply.
The process of citizenship by investment is governed by the Foreign Investor Citizenship Application Special Joint Office (FICO). FICO is a new government agency under the Ministry of the Interior, with representatives from the Populations Registry Directorate, Migration Directorate, and the Land Registry/Cadastre Directorate. FICO currently has offices in Istanbul and Ankara, with additional offices opening in other locations around Turkey soon. FICO offices coordinate with representatives from each of the Directorates listed above in order to facilitate case processing from start to finish.
Citizenship by investment is a five-step process, consisting of the following: 1. Obtaining a Valuation Report, 2. Issuance of a Certificate of Compliance, 3. Filing a Residence Permit application, 4. Filing address registration, and lastly, 5. Filing a citizenship application. Note that those foreigners who already lawfully reside in Turkey may have already completed steps 3 and 4, and therefore should experience a quicker process.
- VALUATION REPORT
Applicants must first have the property intended to meet the citizenship application threshold be officially assessed for fair market value. This can only be done by a valuation firm authorized by the Capital Markets Board.
The valuation report can be issued before or after the acquisition of the real estate. If the valuation report is completed after purchase, it is sufficient to request a report with a copy of the deed. If the valuation report is conducted before the purchase, the valuation firm will need the consent of the property owner in order to study the property (site review).
- CERTIFICATE OF COMPLIANCE
Once the valuation report is complete and assuming it meets the regulatory financial thresholds, the applicant must then seek a Certificate of Compliance (CoC) from the Foreign Services Department of Land Registry and Cadastre Directorate ("Foreign Cadastre"). The valuation report, title deed, and proof of funds transfer to the seller are presented by applicant to the Land Registry office that has jurisdiction over the location of the purchased property. The Land Registry office scans and transfers the documents to TAKBİS (Land Registry and Cadastre Information System) via EBYS (Electronic Document Management System). The Foreign Cadastre will then issue a CoC to the applicant if all the criteria are met. Processing time is approximately one week to receive approval electronically.
- APPLICATION FOR RESIDENCE PERMIT
Presuming the applicant does not already have a residence permit, applicant and his/her dependents may now apply. Upon issuance of the CoC from the Foreign Registry, they may apply for a special Residence Permit with a validity of one year. Normally, the Migration Directorate (MD) requires several steps to book appointments for filing residence permits. However, FICO's Migration Directorate desk will allow qualified applicants and his/her dependents to fast track this process. The MD desk will require most of the documents typical for a tourist residence permit, but for this special investor residence permit, they will also require a copy of the CoC. Qualified applicants will be issued special category residence permits however note that this category of residence card does not permit the applicants to work in Turkey.
- ADDRESS REGISTRATION
When the residence card has been processed, applicants will also have to register their address at the Populations Registry desk at FICO. This is a procedure in which applicants officially register their place of residence in Turkey. The original copy of the title deed (or other residential lease agreement) must be provided to complete the address registration process. Applicants will then be issued written confirmation of the registration of their residential address in Turkey on the same day.
- APPLICATION FOR TURKISH CITIZENSHIP
Once the applicant's and his/her dependents' residence permits are approved and the address registration completed, they may move on to the final step: filing citizenship applications. Aside from the standard citizenship application documents, investment applicants must additionally present the CoC and title deed of the property.
The Populations Registry desk at FICO will send the citizenship application file to the General Directorate of Population and Citizenship Affairs. This Directorate will then conduct a background check, which will particularly focus on national security and public order considerations. Note that the Directorate has the discretion to waive an interview if applicants were interviewed previously for their residence permit applications.
A commission has been established within the Ministry of the Interior to monitor the progress of investment citizenship applications. Upon clearing the background check, the application is forwarded from the Ministry of the Interior to the Office of the President. The citizenship application is then granted upon the decision of the President. Following presidential approval, the Ministry of the Interior returns the approved application to the General Directorate of Population and Citizenship Affairs for final processing. Applicants are then invited to the Population Directorate to be issued their Turkish identity cards and apply for passports.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.