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  • Writer's pictureTelmo Ramos

Portugal's NHR Program: From Inception to Gradual Phase-Out

Portugal's Bridge

An Overview and the Transition Ahead

Over a decade ago, amidst a global financial crisis, Portugal introduced the Non-Habitual Resident (NHR) tax scheme. This initiative has become increasingly famous and controversial, undergoing numerous changes and sparking extensive debates. As of now, Portugal has closed new applications for the NHR program, except for a defined transition period, marking a significant shift in policy as the country reevaluates its strategy to attract foreign high-net-worth individuals.

The Inception of Portugal's NHR Scheme

The NHR program was devised during a tough economic period with the aim of attracting foreign talent, investors, and retirees to Portugal. It offered enticing tax incentives such as a 10-year exemption from Portuguese taxes on foreign and passive incomes, including dividends, interest, royalties, and capital gains. Certain professions benefited even further, enjoying a capped income tax rate of 20%, significantly lower than Portugal's top personal tax rate of 48%. Eligibility required becoming a tax resident and not having been a resident in the preceding five years.

Motivations Behind the NHR Scheme

The NHR program was primarily introduced to stimulate the Portuguese economy, which was suffering from the mass exodus of skilled workers during the financial crisis, and to attract foreign investment and wealth. The tax incentives were designed to draw individuals to Portugal, injecting spending and economic stimulus during the downturn.

Evolutions of the NHR Program

Since its launch, the NHR program has seen significant changes. Initially introduced with the law Lei n.o 249/2009, de 23 de setembro, it faced criticism for being overly generous, particularly concerning tax exemptions on pensions, which led to some countries terminating tax agreements with Portugal. In 2020, the program was amended to tax pension income at a 10% flat rate and reduce the list of high value-added jobs. As of 2023, Portugal announced the closure of new applications, transitioning towards phasing out the NHR by 2024, although existing beneficiaries may still enjoy a grandfathering period.

Impacts of the NHR Regime

Since 2009, the NHR program has been a significant draw for foreign direct investment, attracting professionals, investors, and high-net-worth individuals, and boosting the economy and employment. However, the tax incentives have also led to issues such as gentrification, housing unaffordability, and local frustration. Cities like Lisbon have seen housing demand surge, causing prices and rents to skyrocket and displacing lower-income residents.

Challenges and Perspectives on the NHR Transition

The proposed NHR phase-out brings several uncertainties. It could disrupt economic and real estate markets, risk the departure of international stakeholders and companies, and challenge the crafting of policies to sustain growth post-NHR. Stakeholders have diverse views on this transition. While the Portuguese government seeks a gradual wind-down to avoid economic shocks and regain control over taxation, citizens largely welcome the phase-out due to the inequalities it has created.

The Road Ahead

As Portugal transitions away from the NHR program, policymakers face the challenge of driving growth in a more balanced manner through strategic tax incentives, streamlined visa and residency policies, and stronger urban planning. Enhancing public services such as healthcare, education, and housing assistance will be crucial to shield ordinary citizens amid these economic changes.

Final Thoughts from a Native Tax Advisor

The journey of transitioning from the NHR scheme and instituting new policies is undoubtedly complex. By integrating a consultative approach, Portugal can steer towards an inclusive, sustainable growth path. The upcoming presentation of the 2024 budget law marks the next crucial phase in this process. Adapting policies to maintain Portugal's attractiveness without relying heavily on tax incentives will be key to achieving a balanced and sustainable economic future.

For more information or guidance during this transition period, please feel free to get in touch.


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