By EB5 Investors Magazine Staff
If you’re seeking a magnet for foreign investment, you can find one in the eastern Mediterranean. The small island of Cyprus offers a Citizenship by Investment program pulling in Chinese, Russians and other wealthy people interested in the program.
The citizenship and permanent residency package – Cyprus’ version of the U.S. EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program – has generated billions of dollars over the past three years, almost a fourth of the country’s gross domestic product, according to the Cyprus Interior Ministry.
“For such a small country, that’s quite impressive,” said Lefteris Eleftheriou, a senior officer at the Cyprus Investment Promotion Agency.
And participants say the program is running efficiently.
“It's very clear, very transparent,” said Alexander Petrosov, director of the Cyprus Developers Alliance, which oversees 43 developers and 5,000 properties. “People are making money and getting citizenship."
To qualify for the citizenship plan and get a European Union passport, investors need to pay 2 million euros or $3.2 million, said Alexia Polyviou, marketing and PR officer at Cybarco Development, one of the Cypriot real estate firms bulging with foreign investment.
The location comes with English-speaking good schools, a solid health care system, reliable transportation and one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the EU, 12.5 percent, she said. In addition, the value-added tax on property purchases in the citizenship program is 5 percent.
The island country of 1 million people is ranked as the fifth best relocation destination worldwide by the 2013 Knight Frank Global Lifestyle Review, while Limassol, the second biggest city in Cyprus, has been ranked the fourth best retirement destination globally.
However, the country has also experienced significant losses in the financial crisis a few years ago but the economy recovered, said Tasos Stavrou, Aristo Developers’ general manager of group sales in China and Asia. “Annual capital appreciating and yields from rentals are consistent. If you invest wisely, you can do well."
Cyprus might be a pearl by the sea, but it’s also just 60 miles across the waves from war-torn Syria. It has been frugal accepting migrants.
"The area around Cyprus is somehow like a fire,” said Stavrou. “But Cyprus itself is not one. It's part of Europe and one of the top five countries as a retirement destination.”
As for the tension since 1974, when Turkey invaded and took over the northern third of the country, leaving the rest to the Greek Cypriots, that issue might be resolved soon since Turkey wants to get into the EU.
“It’s not really a major matter,” he said. “We tell our clients about it. But once they go to Cyprus and see the situation, they’re put at ease.”
Trisokkas echoed that sentiment.
“Clients might ask about Turkey and that Cyprus is too close to Syria and the Middle East, but when they come here, they’re not worried anymore as they witness the security and the hospitality of Cyprus,” he said.
Investor Turned Developer
One Brit sold on Cyprus is Barry Winter, who moved from Bournemouth in the south of England in 2005. He traded in his 24 years in the printing business and moved to the island with his wife, where they bought a property. Winter ended up working for Pafilia Property Developers, one of the island’s real estate developers, and serves as its director of Southeast Asia where he has raised awareness of the Cypriot property market and immigration since 2011.
Pafilia Property Developers is among the top four Cypriot developers along with Aristo, Leptos Estates and Cybarco, he said.
Joining that quartet among heavyweights in the citizenship project are SkyPrime Group and A. Athanasiou Group, said Yiannos Trisokkas, managing partner at Henley & Partners, a Cypriot firm that advises clients interested in coming from afar.
“These companies have been in business for a number of years,” he said. “They have the prime locations for the citizenship program.”
Other program stake holders include Giovani Developers, Imperio Properties, Karma Developers, Lanitis Development, Pandomus Property Developers, Prime Property Group and Property Gallery Developers & Constructors.
And make no mistake, said Trisokkas, “the Cyprus citizenship program is real estate driven,” with top selling points of an attractive tourism industry, oceanfront locations and properties that draw rich potential buyers, so prices are rising.
Winter noted that Pafilia is particularly finding wealthy fund sources in China, landing 450 permanent residence applications and 100 passport approvals over the past four years. The company also draws business from Russia, the Middle East and India, with interest from South Korea, Japan, Bangladesh and Africa.
When you add it up, that citizenship and permanent residence program is the backbone of real estate in Cyprus, said Winter.
“You’re looking at a good 75 percent of the development picture,” he said. “It’s very high. Since 2008, if not for the visa program, a lot of the smaller developers would be going out of business.”
And the cost of the visa is often no deterrent.
“First, especially from the communist countries, people are looking for safety and security for their families,” Winter said. “This is a plan B for their family. They want to leave their home country should something happen that would put them at risk by staying.”
Cyprus is also a retirement and tax haven, since foreigners pay no tax on rental property, he said. “It’s simple and easy to acquire.”
“Most potential clients are cash rich and time poor,” he said. “The EB-5 program in the U.S. takes a number of years to gain citizenship. Gaining Cyprus EU citizenship takes a number of months. That’s important to them. People are investing, not donating, their money and getting this added value – citizenship.”
How the Cypriot Program Works
To gain permanent residency in Cyprus, the cost is 300,000 euros to buy something newly built, plus 30,000 euros that go into a fixed deposit bank account for three years. The application is approved within two months from submission.
For permanent citizenship, which comes with an EU passport, the cost is 2 million euros to buy residential real estate. After the three-year investment, you can sell 1.5 million euros worth of the property, but must always keep a minimum of 500,000 euros worth of the real estate. As an alternative, the buyer can purchase a commercial property for 2 million euros and 500,000 for a residential place. The passport will be approved in three months, with the passport arriving three months after that.
There is also no requirement to reside in Cyprus.
Aristo Developers, deeply into China, where Stavrou doubles as the Cyprus government and Chamber of Commerce’s representative, is busy pitching Chinese and others on 54 developments going up and for sale on the Mediterranean island. The company is one of the largest property developing companies and land owners on the island with more than 30 years of experience. It is also a member of the Dolphin Capital Investors Group – the largest institutional investor in the holiday home sector in south-east Europe.
One of Aristo Developer’s projects is Eagle Pine Golf Resort in Limassol, completed with luxury villas and apartments and Poseidon Grand Marina of Paphos featuring villas.
Stavrou knows all about Paphos. He works in the west coast city, home to Aristo, when he’s not traipsing the globe.
“Wherever Aristo has an office and associates,” he said by phone from Jakarta, Indonesia, “I have an office.”
Pafilia Property Developers
Pafilia Property Developers is one of the biggest companies in Cyprus, with 200 employees worldwide. It has 15 to 20 projects going at any one time, two of which are especially sharp developments, he said. The first luxury property, which is called One, boasts a 37-story structure by the water in Limassol, scheduled for completion in December 2018. It will be the tallest seafront residential tower in Europe.
Apartment prices start close to 1.9 million euros. Another development by Pacilia is Minthis Hills in Paphos, a city that houses Pafilia’s complex of 400 villas, ranging in price from 800,000 euros to 3 million euros. The luxury homes are built to order and are constructed within 18 months.
A neighbor in Paphos, home to Cyprus’ second biggest airport and an international school, is Leptos Estates, a leading developer in Cyprus.
Andros Kourounas, the company’s overseas business development director, knows plenty beyond Cyprus’ coasts. After growing up near Nicosia, he attended Southern Illinois University for his Master of Business Administration. Moving to Israel, he ran a real estate firm and introduced clients to Cyprus, where he returned in 2004 and joined Leptos Estates.
Leptos Estates got off the ground in 1960 and has continually drawn clients to Cyprus, which has a reputation to be a destination among people in Europe and the U.K. for holiday homes or permanent homes, said Kourounas.
“They look to leave the cold and for a place in the sun," he said.
Over the decades, Leptos has developed 350 projects, expanded to offices in London, Moscow, Beijing, South Africa, Dubai and Athens and built a clientele of 26,000, 95 percent of whom are foreigners, said Kourounas. Historically their makeup was mostly British, but now Chinese are the number one, with Russians right behind.
Leptos puts its spotlight on two Paphos properties, including the Adonis Beach Villas, which will be completed in a couple of years, and Kamares Village overlooking the sea, with many villas available now and more to come.
Quality Group Developments
On the opposite end of Cyprus sits Larnaca, where Quality Group Developments digs for property and looks for investors.
"Very, very deep,” said Yiannis Theodorou, Quality’s immigration investment director, about his firm’s visa participation. “We have been in the developing industry more than 20 years and in the citizenship legislation from the start of our company."
How deep? Of Quality's business, 90 percent has to do with the citizenship scheme, said Iraklis Zavos, Quality’s chief operating officer.
That’s thanks in part to Cyprus improving the concept that started in the 1970s. Years-long delays are over. The quick process especially attracts Chinese, said Theodorou.
Even family members can get involved, with children up to 25 years old for permanent residence, up to 28 for citizenship, plus parents of the main applicant.
Quality Group started selling the citizenship scheme in the Middle East and South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt. Now most investors come from Asia, especially China.
Two developments underway by Quality Group Developments include the dorms on the campus of the University of Central Lancashire Cyprus in Larnaca. The 438 apartments will be completed in three years and will attract a growing number of students, currently 1,500 but could reach 10,000 in seven years.
"It's guaranteed rent" for foreign investors, said Zavos.
Another project is the Radisson Blu Hotel & Residence in Larnaca, a joint venture with a Chinese firm, to be completed in early 2018. Investors can buy shares for 2 million euros and suits for 500,000 euros.
Zourides Property Direct
Larnaca, the third largest city in Cyprus, is also home to Zourides Property Direct, a real estate firm that welcomes 20 clients a month interested in the citizenship program.
"The demand for investment properties is coming from many places," said Costas Zourides, who joined the agency in 2012, a decade after his sister started it.
He notes that Limassol especially attracts Russians, with Chinese trending toward Larnaca, especially with the city's emphasis on education, reflecting a country that boasts high-level schools, along with five private universities and three public colleges. Zourides is keeping up, expanding beyond its three offices in Larnaca by aiming for space in Paphos and Ayia Napa.
SkyPrime Group draws most of its long-distance investors from Africa, Russia and the Middle East, with others from China, Vietnam and Japan, said Andreas Christou, general manager of the company.
Christou feels right at home at SkyPrime headquarters in Ayia Napa. He comes from the eastern town and loves the beach resort.
"I'm always on a working holiday,” he said. "We don't just offer citizenship. The clients we have are lifestyle people and investment educated. We offer good properties that they will enjoy with their families and in which they'll enjoy capital growth."
SkyPrime has invested in vast stretches of waterfront land and is focusing on luxurious beachfront developments, focusing on service when it comes to planning, construction, management, rentals and even concierge.
And right in the company’s backyard is its new development in the Cape Greco area, lush with private-garden villas a few steps from a sandy strip leading down to the sea.
Henley & Partners
Making sure such developments work for investors is Henley & Partners, a global business in residence and citizenship planning. Managing partner Trisokkas handles clients from his office in Limassol, an hour west along the coast from his birthplace, Ayia Napa.
Trisokkas’ DNA fits with his business. Ayia Napa is a tourist hub. And his background is in real estate. So he’s comfortable explaining to investors the highs and lows of spending serious money in a country wildly popular with foreigners. How popular? The country expects a record number of tourists in 2017, leaping 5 percent over the 3.2 million merrymakers of last year, reported the Cyprus Tourism Organization.
Henley & Partners chaperones investors before investing. The company represent buyers and makes sure the companies they acquire real estate from are trustworthy, Trisokkas said.
“Potential clients would like to get professional advice and thorough due diligence for their real estate acquisition,” he said. “We make sure they follow the steps provided by the relevant ministries and that the property and price are right. We give an independent opinion and make sure the potential applicant is protected.”
It’s important for the client to develop an exit strategy in three years since some potential clients may be sellers at that point, he said.
Most Henley clients come from Russia, fewer from China. Also in the mix are investors from the Middle East, America, Japan, South Korea, Southeast Asia and Africa.
Michael Kypriannou & Co
Yiannis Fanides of Michael Kypriannou & Co. a firm that specializes in immigration and citizenship, is familiar with the market as well.
He received his degree in the U.K., helped by the fact that Cyprus is part of the British Commonwealth, then returned to his hometown of Paphos, where he lives, works and takes jets to Malta, Greece, Ukraine, Russia, China and the Middle East, the last three of which have especially heavy hitters in the citizenship program.
"I'm a mobile lawyer," he said.
It’s paramount to protect investor interests with due diligence during transactions involving the Cyprus Citizenship by Investment program, he said.
"As the citizenship scheme goes along, more and more people are coming,” he said. ”Cyprus has become an international business center and a transport hub. The need to service people who want visas so they can travel all over Europe plus 150 other countries is increasing every year.
However, challenges include foreign countries' bank restrictions regarding money transfers.
“With the proper due diligence, we help find the most convenient way to transfer money," he said.
Fidescorp is another Cypriot company handling clients focused on the Citizenship by Investment scheme. British-educated Savvas Poyiadjis incorporated the Nicosia firm – bustling with fellow accountants along with lawyers - in 2010 and opened for business in 2012.
"We find and advise high-net-worth individuals,” he said. “The key is to also match them with reputable companies that have the right projects. Due diligence before the investment is critical. You must trust the right people."
Fidescorp's legal and financial advisors help investors all over the field, including the tax maze, business setup and banking administration. Most clients come from Asia (beyond China) and Russia.
"We want a consistent number of clients, but we want to know them all, as this is critical,” said Poyiadjis. “We limit the number of engagements for better relationship management and more personalized service."
Sales Director Yiorgos Georghiou underscores that his company, Cybarco, a luxury property developer that has been in business in Cyprus since 1945, also follows a path of due diligence.
“We have 70 years of history on the island,” he said. “We have contacts all over the economy and have made major deals with harbors, airports, schools, roads and highways. We built refugee camps after the 1974 invasion. We help make a good quality home for foreigners who want to live in Cyprus.”
However, before the company sell property, they make sure to sell Cyprus, he pointed out.
“We want people to be happy to be part of our country, with our culture and ideals,” he said. “When you buy Cyprus, you buy the lifestyle, the way of living here. Then you buy the property."
Georghiou works at Cybarco’s headquarters in the No. 1 population center of Nicosia, where he grew up before attending Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, working at AT&T in New Jersey and then returning to Cyprus to join the transaction firm NCR and getting aboard Cybarco.
Two of Cybarco’s developments include the Oval, a Limassol office building shaped like an Oprah logo, wrapping up this spring, and Limassol Marina, which offers apartments, villas and commercial space, 95 percent done and almost sold out.
"We sell luxury properties that coincide with the citizenship program,” he said.
(Editor’s Note: Chinese translations may vary slightly as published.)