This article explains Turkey’s ‘Citizenship via Investment’ programme, specifically with regard to foreign nationals acquiring real estate in Turkey.

By: Maria Celebi, Tuğçe  Işıkara and Gökçen Aydin

Firm: Bener Law Office

Immigration investment programmes have become very popular as a source of foreign investment in real estate in countries from the US to Greece, Grenada to Moldova. Some programmes focus on investment resulting in residency permits (e.g. Portugal or Greece) and others on investment resulting in a passport or citizenship (e.g. some Caribbean nations and Cyprus). Turkey’s investment immigration programme focuses on citizenship and is likely to particularly attract those citizens from emerging economies looking for a passport that allows them to travel more easily than their current passport. As of 2018, Turkish nationals enjoy visa-free or visa-on-arrival status in over 100 countries or territories including Singapore, Japan, Ukraine, Brazil, Korea, Mexico and many countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. Turkey’s programme is also likely to be popular with many Middle Eastern nationals who have already invested significantly in Turkish real estate over the last few years.

As of January 2017, Turkey’s citizenship regulations allow several categories of investors to pursue Turkish citizenship, including those making capital investments, investing in government debt instruments, investing in a business that employs 50 Turkish nationals, making venture capital investments, and others. However, in September 2018, the threshold amounts required were significantly lowered, and with regard to real estate, investments of USD 250,000 now qualify. Clearly, investment in real estate has captured the most interest internationally as the threshold amount is lower than in the vast majority of other investment citizenship programmes internationally.

In order for a real estate investment of USD 250,000 to qualify, several restrictions apply. First, the purchase must have occurred after the change in the regulations (see specifics below). Additionally, the applicant must not sell the property for at least three years. Note the following additional restrictions for real estate investments:

  • If the real estate is subject to a mortgage, this will be taken into consideration by deducting the mortgage amount from the sale price to determine the value.
  • The value stated on the official deed cannot be lower than the amount listed in the valuation report.
  • The applicant must show official receipts (from a bank) showing the transfer of the sale price.
  • The real estate must be registered in the name of the applicant (a foreign individual; this may include a spouse or minor children).
  • The real estate must not have been purchased by the applicant prior to 1 December 2017 for either programme. If it was purchased prior to 18 September 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 special new government agency under the Ministry of the Interior that joins representatives from the Populations Registry Directorate, Migration Directorate and Land Registry/Cadastre Directorate. FICO is currently established in Istanbul and Ankara and will be rolled out in other locations around Turkey soon. FICO offices are arranged with representatives of each of the Directorates to facilitate processing of cases from start to finish.

Citizenship by investment is a five-step process:

1. Obtaining a valuation report.

2. Issuance of a Certificate of Compliance.

3. Filing a Residence Permit application.

4. Filing address registration.

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 will enjoy a smoother and quicker process.

Step 1: Valuation report

Applicants must first have the real property intended to meet the citizenship application threshold officially assessed for fair market value. This can only be done by a valuation firm authorised by the Capital Markets Board (a list of authorised firms is published on the Capital Markets Board website). The valuation report can be issued before or after the acquisition of the real estate. It is sufficient to request a report with a copy of the deed. The valuation firm will need the consent of the property owner in order to study the property (conduct a site review) for the valuation report.

Step 2: Certificate of Compliance

Once the valuation report is complete, assuming it meets the regulatory financial thresholds, 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 transfer of funds to the seller are presented by applicant to the Land Registry office that has jurisdiction over the location of the property purchased. The Land Registry office scans and transfers the documents to TAKBİS (the Land Registry and Cadastre information system) via EBYS (an electronic document management system). The Foreign Cadastre will then issue a CoC to applicant if all the criteria are met. Processing time is approximately one week to receive approval electronically.

Step 3: Application for a Residence Permit

Once an applicant is issued a CoC from the Foreign Registry, they may apply for a special Residence Permit for themselves and their legal dependents. Normally the Migration Directorate (MD) requires several prior steps before booking appointments for filing residence permits. However, FICO’s Migration Directorate desk will allow a qualified applicant and his or her dependents to streamline this process. The MD desk will require most of the documents typically needed for a tourist residence permit, but for this special investor residence permit, it also requires a copy of the CoC.

Qualified applicants will be issued with special category residence permits valid for one year. Note that this category of residence card does not permit the applicant to work in Turkey.

Step 4: Address registration

Upon processing of the residence cards, applicants will also have to complete address registration at the Populations Registry desk at FICO. This is a procedure by which applicants officially register their place of residence in Turkey. The original of the title deed must be provided to complete the address registration process of the applicant and his or her dependents. Applicants will then be issued written confirmation of the registration of their residential address.

Step 5: Application for Turkish citizenship

Once an applicant and his or her dependents’ residence permits have been approved and address registration completed, they may move on to the final step: filing citizenship applications. Aside from the standard citizenship application documents, investment applicants must also 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. The Directorate will then conduct a background check and research (particularly related to national security and public order considerations). Note that an interview is not necessarily required if applicants were interviewed previously for their residence permit applications.

A commission has been established within the Ministry of Interior to monitor the progress of investment citizenship applications. In the event that applicants clear background checks, the application is forwarded from the Ministry of Interior on to the Office of the Presidency. The citizenship application is then granted upon a decision of the President. Following a grant of citizenship, the Ministry of 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 with their Turkish ID cards and apply for passports.

Please note that this article is not intended as specific legal advice and each investment application should be reviewed by a legal advisor.