Despite Ukraine’s deep economic crisis in 2014-2016 and its de-facto war with Russia, foreign nationals from all over the world, including from the US and EU countries, are increasingly choosing to reside in Ukraine temporarily or permanently.
Ukraine attracts expats with its huge economic potential, developed infrastructure, heartwarming people and, of course, its relatively low cost of living. Many foreigners see Ukraine as an attractive place for starting a business. Ukraine has relatively mild taxation for small and medium businesses and also lots of government programs for stimulating business activity in certain sectors. In recent years Ukraine has made great strides towards implementing e-government programs, and increasing the transparency of administrative services; however, many areas still need to be reformed.
There are business opportunities in Ukraine in almost any sphere that you could think of. The IT sector, manufacturing, agriculture, marketing, advertising, and other services. As an employer you can benefit from Ukraine’s rich and underutilized labor pool--higher education is available to all citizens and education is compulsory here. At the same time, Ukraine is a desirable destination for global nomads who work remotely and can do their job wherever they choose, such as IT workers, designers, translators, consultants, copywriters, etc. Many of these expats can earn a good salary from serving Western clients and then take advantage of Ukraine’s low-cost of living to enjoy comfortable lives here.
So, How Expats Can Stay in Ukraine Legally?
Citizens from a long list of countries can enter Ukraine without a visa: citizens of EU states, the USA, Great Britain, Canada, Georgia, South Korea, Japan and some other countries can stay in Ukraine for 90 days in a six-month period. In the case of a violation of this rule, a foreigner who overstays in Ukraine can be punished with “illegal status” and thus become unable to use government services, notaries and other official services. For example, foreigners who have overstayed their time in Ukraine cannot obtain a Ukrainian tax ID, get married, nor are they able to give a power of attorney to a lawyer. A foreigner who breaks the 90-day stay rule can also be punished with a fine (as per article 203 of the Code of Ukraine on Administrative Infringements) or he or she could even be banned from entering Ukraine for a period of 3 months to 3 years. Of course, such inconveniences can greatly disrupt the business activity or the personal life of a foreigner who has been residing in Ukraine.
Official Employment in Ukraine
There are several ways for an expat to avoid such inconveniences and stay in Ukraine legally for a continuous period of time. The most common and transparent way is official employment in Ukraine. Any foreigner has a right to be employed in Ukraine if he or she obtains a work permit in accordance with the legislation of Ukraine. After getting a work permit a foreign citizen is eligible to apply for a temporary residence permit in Ukraine for 1 year (for the employed owners of business in Ukraine the term may be up to 3 years) with the unlimited right to extend it (and the work permit) each time.
Recently, the procedure for getting a work permit in Ukraine became easier to understand. The list of required documents no longer includes diplomas, criminal records and medical documents, making the permit easier to obtain. An employer now has the option to choose the term of a work permit's validity (up to 1 year for “regular employees” and up to 3 years for owners of a business).
Being an Employee versus Registering One’s Own Business
Using employment at a company as a means of legalizing one’s stay in Ukraine does have certain risks because an expat is dependent on his or her employer and could lose his or her residency right in the event that he or she is fired from his or her position. By contrast, using employment to legalize one’s stay in Ukraine is much easier and safer for expats who register their own business in Ukraine and become the director or a deputy director of their own company. Potential investors and foreigners who want to run a business in Ukraine (no matter how big or small) won’t have any problems maintaining temporary residence in Ukraine for as long as they need, if they use this method. Moreover, such owners of the business can obtain temporary residence status for up to 3 years.
It’s worth noting that with the recent changes to work permit procedures, an employer in Ukraine now has relatively high expenses when employing foreign citizens as “regular employees”: the monthly salary of a foreign specialist has to be not less than 10 minimum salaries as established by the legislation of Ukraine (currently this figure is 32,000 UAH or about $1,200) plus taxes, calculated on this amount. At the same time the owner of a business can have a minimum salary of 3,200 UAH (or about $120).
Family reunification is also grounds for issuing a temporary residence permit. This can include reunification with one’s parents, a spouse who is Ukrainian and with those who have already obtained a permission to stay legally in Ukraine. For instance, if a foreigner has started a business in Ukraine, received a work permit and temporary residence permit, then all his family may join him and also acquire legal status in Ukraine without needing to obtain a work permit or some other legal basis for staying in Ukraine. Applicants for residence permits on the basis of family reunification just need to apply for a Type D visa and after that – for temporary residency. This is how family reunification works.
It is much easier to obtain residency if you have some family connection in Ukraine: for example, marriage to a Ukrainian, having a child who is a citizen of Ukraine or having relatives who are (were) Ukrainians or who were born on the territory of Ukraine.
However, getting married to a Ukrainian citizen it does not automatically grant you permanent residency: you need to prove that your marriage lasted for more than 2 years, otherwise you can only apply for a temporary residence permit.
Being an “Overseas Ukrainian” is another efficient mechanism that gives foreigners who identify themselves as Ukrainians, have a blood relationship with Ukrainians or someone who was born on the territory of modern Ukraine. This special status gives foreign citizens the right to obtain a long-term 5-year visa free of charge, the right to get an immigration permit and thus, apply for a permanent residence permit, the right to work in Ukraine without obtaining a work permit and thus, apply for a temporary residence permit (Law of Ukraine No. 4381-VI On Overseas Ukrainians, Law of Ukraine No. 5067-VI On Employment of Population).
Permanent Residence Permit for Ukraine
Ukrainian legislation sets out the grounds for issuing a permanent (lifetime) residence permit. They include the following:● Marriage with a citizen of Ukraine for more than 2 years,● Being a parent of a citizen of Ukraine● Being a child of a citizen of Ukraine● Being born on the territory of Ukraine
The aforementioned grounds are unconditional. But Ukrainian legislation also recognizes some grounds for issuing an immigration permit (and, therefore, a permanent residence permit) within the annual government-established quotas. These quotas are used in the following cases:
● Investors, who invest at least 100,000 USD in the Ukrainian economy are permitted to apply for an immigration permit and thus receive a permanent residence permit;● Scientists and cultural activists, in whose immigration Ukraine is interested;● Brothers, sister, grandparents or grandchildren of Ukrainian citizens;● Parents, spouses, and minors of immigrants to Ukraine;● Highly-qualified specialists in professions for which Ukraine has a need.
Additionally, Ukraine currently supports repatriation processes and provides possibilities for acquiring special status for those foreigners who were citizens of Ukraine in the past.
To acquire residency in Ukraine (temporary or permanent) foreign citizens need to obtain a type D visa at a Ukrainian consulate abroad. This is one of the steps to obtaining a residence permit. The cost for such a visa differs depends on your country and is based on the principle of reciprocity (i.e., the cost of visas in your country for Ukrainian citizens). Exceptions to this requirement, include citizens of Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Armenia and Russia, who do not need to obtain a type D visa for residency.
The good news is that obtaining a temporary or permanent residence permit provides you with almost the same scope of rights and duties that a Ukrainian citizen has. Those expats who obtain a permit may stay within the territory of Ukraine, leave and re-enter the country within the validity term of their permit, work, study, and obtain government services. But foreign citizens who aim to acquire legal status in Ukraine need to remember that any violation of the laws of Ukraine related to the legal status of a foreigner (including overstaying in the country, providing of forged documents or false information) may result in forced expulsion from Ukraine and a ban on re-entering.