Do you qualify? The latest on new startup visas in France, Portugal and Estonia

At Dispatches, we tend to work on multiple posts simultaneously, and it’s that time of year for our annual “Best Cities for Expats” list. In the course of that research, we noticed data showing that more people are using the proliferating startup visas across Europe. (And, by the way, with Brexit looming, we can see by our analytics that a LOT of people are considering all options.)

For example, Estonia has seen almost 1,000 people move to this Baltic tech standout since it introduced its startup visa program two years ago.

Now, the no-BS nitty-gritty: Most expats don’t use these programs. Our experience after visiting multiple ecosystems across Europe is that most highly skilled internationals move to a second country to attend university or take a job, then they get involved in the local startup scene.

But we can foresee startup visas accelerating (that’s a pun) the startup process for teams who need to find cities with talent and capital.

Be forewarned: Sorting through the details of these programs can be confusing and contradictory. Be sure to set aside the time to make notes while making sure you understand all the requirements.


Estonia’s Startup Visa was launched in 2017, and since then, the program has attracted 1,108 team applications, with  931 individuals altogether including 281 founders who actually relocated, or who have received the immigration status to do so, according to Startup Estonia.

Next-door neighbors the Russians lead the list with 25 granted 5-year visas, followed by Turkey (11), India (9), Iran (7) and Ukraine (6).

The goal was to attract at least 50 companies. Instead, they attracted 300 the first year. Which tells you something about the efficacy of these visas.

Like every other advance company, Estonia needs more talent. So you can go to the Startup Estonia page and apply for a job. (There are 550 listed!)

If you’re a founder, you can find out here whether your startup is eligible to apply for Estonia’s startup visa.

Check out NimblefFin’s list of the best countries for startups, which has Estonia ranked at No. 5.


Back in 2017, about the time Estonia debuted its startup visa, President Emmanuel Macron announced France would become a “startup nation.” Macron’s plan included tax incentives, startup visas and a 10 billion euro fund. We checked at the time, and the effort hadn’t launched yet.

So, what happened?

Well, Macron was as good as his word and France has emerged as the United Kingdom’s main tech rival, that’s what. The shift has been so dramatic that only one person saw it coming, and that was John Chambers, former CEO of Cisco, the San Jose-based networking hardware giant. Oh, and Apple iPhone team leader Tony Fadell, who moved his offices to Station F.

France has a lot going for it including Station F, the largest startup hub in Europe. More importantly, it’s dropping the barriers to our Dispatches’ audience, highly skilled internationals who want to start a company.

Basically, getting a startup visa to move to France, then getting integrated into the dynamic French ecosystem depends on your having some resources, and your getting accepted into an approved French Tech Ticket incubator or accelerator.

There are more than 140 listed in every sector from aerospace to health and wellness. And we’d like to note this is a better system than here in Dispatches’ HQ in the Netherlands, where you have to find essentially a sponsor … which, like Bigfoot, we’ve heard tales about, but aren’t sure even exist.

You can see the full French Tech Visa instructions here.


The big news since we last looked at European start visa trends is that Portugal’s Tech Visa – part of the StartUP Portugal program – took effect 1 January 2019.

The Portuguese Tech Visa was created with the aim of ensuring that “highly qualified staff, especially from the technological area from outside the European Union” can have fast-track access to jobs with Portuguese companies, according to the Tech Visa website.

This is a certification program for tech/innovation companies that can culminate in visas or residence permits for highly qualified third-country nationals wanting work for a Portuguese company including startups.

Those eligible for the overall startup program itself include:

• entrepreneurs who intend to develop startups in Portugal, even though they might not have started the business yet; ie, you have a really compelling idea and the skills to make it into a business;

• an entrepreneur who has already launched a startup in his/her home country, but wants to move it to Portugal;

• people who have not had regular residence in the Schengen area in the recent past;

• aspiring entrepreneurs who have at least 5,146.08 euros for 12 months (per person);

You also have to demonstrate that:

• your project/startup is focused on tech;

• your startup shows potential to create jobs beyond your initial team;

• your startup has the potential to generate at least 325,000 euros per year in top-line revenue and/or assets valuation of more than 325,000 euros per year, within five years after the start of the contract with your chosen incubator;

Like in France and other EU countries, getting a long-stay visa to start your business in Portugal involves getting accepted to an incubator/accelerator. And of course, Portugal has vouchers and other programs to help defray startup costs.

In the overall network, there are 150 incubators/accelerators now from which to choose.

Okay, if you checked all the boxes, you’re ready to apply here.

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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