Global pursuit of talent: Portugal, France and Estonia up the ante with new startup visas


note: We have a current post documenting where the startup programs stand now in Portugal, France and Estonia.)

Back in 2015, we’d sold our first digital media company and were scouting places in Europe to start what is now Dispatches when I read about the then-new Dutch startup visa.

It was an aha! moment.

We decided to at least check out the Netherlands, including Eindhoven, where – as fate would have it – we ended up basing our expat media company.

But, the Dutch startup visa turned out to be a major disappointment for us for many reasons, the main one being that the Dutch American Friendship Treaty (DAFT) has far better terms for American expats.

Still, Eindhoven might never have been on our radar without that tempting option.

In myriad conversations with Dutch immigration officials, attorneys and economic development executives, the Dutch startup visa was always meant for non-EU citizens from Eastern Europe or from the Developing World. And we can’t think of a better weapon to attract the best and the brightest from talent-rich countries such as Egypt and Bosnia in the global war for talent.

Not surprisingly, every other country in Europe is following suit, introducing startup visas as a way to refresh its talent pool.

Let’s start with the new ones:


Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 10.16.57 PM

Sunny Portugal is working on creating a new startup visa for Indian entrepreneurs. (Okay, freeze in Sweden or go for the beach in Portugal? Oh, wait!)

The idea is to get Indian entrepreneurs, increasingly in demand globally, to come to Portugal including highly skilled internationals such as engineers and ICT professionals.

Portugal increasingly is the super-hot destination for international talent, not just for travelers and retired expats. Last year, the Web Summit moved from Dublin, Ireland to Lisbon … and apparently, government officials were inspired by the fact that 700 people came to Lisbon for that event.

This is from a post, “Forget Berlin: Portugal wants to become the startup capital of Europe” we reposted from Reuters reporter Axel Bugge:

Because the startup sector is so new and most companies remain small, data is still scanty. However, there are signs of rapid growth, albeit from a low base, including plans to create office spaces for up to 3,500 tech workers. Also, when the government offered to co-finance startups this summer, venture capitalists pledged over 500 million euros ($550 million). The government is still evaluating the proposals and it is unclear how many will bear fruit, but the sum far surpassed official expectations.


This one is really interesting. Estonia has always punched above its weight, as they say in the American startup culture. Estonian engineers were famously the brains behind Skype technology.

Now, the little Baltic country has launched a new expat-friendly immigration policy that allows non-EU nationals to go to Estonia and work in startups, relocate an existing startup (including all the employees!) or start a new startup.

And being true to their totally innovative culture, the Estonians have really thought this out. Applicants are vetted by the Estonian startup community, not immigration officials. Which is sort of a good news/bad news situation.

If they pass muster, founders have a choice between applying for a one-year visa with the option of extending it for another year, or a permit for startup entrepreneurship for five years.

From the actual government news release:

“Compared with most of the other startup visa programs, the Estonian one differs by offering preferential terms for obtaining a visa or a permit for both the startup entrepreneurs who wish to set up or relocate their company to Estonia as well as employees seeking to work for Estonian startups,” said Mari Vavulski, one of the initiators of the new programme and the head of Startup Estonia, a governmental initiative aimed to supercharge the Estonian startup ecosystem.

“Furthermore, it offers the option for both a short-term stay on a visa or a stay for up to five years with a temporary residence permit. I hope that the new startup visa programme encourages Estonian startups to pursue hiring more foreign employees, thus contributing to the community with new valuable members,” Vavulski added.

Here’s the Startup Estonia

 website, which has detailed info. This could be the best option of them all, though Estonia is woefully short of  Portugal-style sunny beaches and palm trees.



France has had a startup visa in the works for a while. According to the French Tech Visa website, it will be launching soon.

The French Tech Visa is part of the Passeport Talent initiative, which was launched in 2016.
From the website:

The French Tech Visa aims to attract foreign tech talents:

  • foreign start-up & scale-up founders and employees,
  • foreign talents joining a French start-up or scale-up,

General features:

  • Validity: Four years, on a renewable basis.
  • Family: “Talent Passport – Family” residence permit granted to the spouse of the main applicant, guaranteeing identical family treatment and automatic labor market access (as an employee, business founder, etc.).
  • No work permit is required for any work performed as an employee.
  • Upon certain conditions, a fast-track procedure will be provided.

The French Tech Visa website is really well done and includes information about other benefits of the visa including the dope on the French Tech Ticket, a 12-month seed accelerator program designed for international entrepreneurs.

Wired has an updated post, again related to a major overall startup effort.

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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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