If the idea of obtaining a second passport without a lengthy immigration process appeals to you, citizenship by investment could help you accomplish your goal.
Having a second passport affords you both financial freedom and peace of mind. It allows for visa-free travel, provides tax advantages and other financial options, and gives you and your family a second home in the event of political unrest.
But traditional pathways to citizenship can take years. Citizenship by investment programs, also called golden visas, allow you to expedite the process and grow your money at the same time. Here’s everything you need to know about what citizenship by investment is and how it works.
What is citizenship by investment?
Citizenship is a legal status that allows you to live in a country and enjoy certain rights and privileges. Most people earn citizenship by being born in a country or having parents who are citizens, but immigrants can also obtain citizenship through naturalization. Naturalization typically requires many years of residency in a country, marriage to a current citizen, or service in the country’s armed forces.
However, some countries offer citizenship by investment programs to attract foreign dollars. These programs can allow you to get a second passport in just a few months. They typically require you to buy or invest in real estate, make a donation or contribution, purchase a business, or some combination of these actions.
These programs also give you more benefits than regular residency, which typically requires you to stay in the country for a minimum number of days per year. For example, you’ll be able to vote, access healthcare and education, and get a passport, usually without a minimum residency requirement.
How citizenship by investment works
With citizenship by investment, you’ll make a donation, contribution, or investment and obtain citizenship in as little as three months. Minimum investment amounts range from $100,000 in some Caribbean island nations to millions of dollars for certain European countries. Some European countries have a residency requirement in addition to the investment before you can achieve citizenship.
Most commonly, citizenship by investment requires an investment in real estate, but some countries also allow you to purchase a business or simply make a large donation. For real estate investments, countries typically require you to choose a government-approved project. These projects are often shares in a resort property or a single unit in a resort. While you usually won’t be able to live in the property year-round, you can potentially earn a varying rate of return on your investment based on the property’s rental profits.
Every country has different options and requirements, but in addition to making an investment or donation, you’re also typically required to have a clean criminal record and prove your investment funds were legally obtained.
Pros of citizenship by investment
- Travel mobility: With a U.S. passport, you can already travel visa-free to most countries, but citizenship by investment could offer you even more travel freedom. For example, Malta citizenship, which has an initial residency requirement, allows you to live in the European Union. Without an EU passport or a Schengen Visa, you can only stay in the Schengen Area (26 member states in Europe that allow for free movement across national borders) for 90 days. Another example is Grenada citizenship, which offers visa-free travel to China. Plus, all programs offer you the opportunity to stay in the country where you get your citizenship indefinitely.
- Access to education: Citizenship in another country means access to that country’s schools at a reduced cost.
- Access to healthcare: Healthcare in the U.S. is astronomically expensive relative to other countries. Citizenship in another country may provide you with more affordable healthcare or long-term care solutions.
- Tax advantages: If you live in the country where you obtain citizenship, you may be able to reap some significant tax benefits. For example, some countries don’t charge income or capital gains tax, and you may be able to exclude some of your foreign earnings from taxation in the U.S. as well.
- Business and employment opportunities: It can be difficult to get a job in another country without a work visa, but citizenship could open the door to additional employment opportunities not available in the U.S. You’ll also be able to conduct business freely in another country once you acquire citizenship.
- Retirement options: If you’re picking a place to retire, and looking for somewhere with favorable taxation, lower-cost healthcare, and beautiful scenery, citizenship by investment could afford you that opportunity.
- Benefits for family members: Most citizenship by investment programs provide citizenship to family members of the applicant, so your children can enjoy the benefits as well.
- Peace of mind: If a natural or political event were to happen in your home country, you could quickly and easily relocate without becoming a refugee.
Cons of citizenship by investment
- Can be costly: Unlike many other investment opportunities, you can’t start small with citizenship by investment. The minimum investment is $100,000 for some Caribbean nations and is much greater for other countries. You may also be required to make a donation in addition to your investment.
- Can’t have a criminal record: Most countries require a criminal background check for both residency and citizenship. Some countries may overlook petty offenses far in the past or allow you to establish residency rather than granting immediate citizenship, but it varies.
- May require a medical exam: Some countries have health requirements for applying for citizenship. For example, Grenada requires a medical exam and HIV testing. You typically need to pay for the exam, and certain health conditions may cause your application to be denied.
- May require biometric data: Some countries will fingerprint you when you apply for citizenship.
- Limited investment options: Each country has a different minimum investment and rules for which assets you can invest in. In many cases, you’ll need to invest in a government-approved real estate development rather than purchasing a single-family home.
Citizenship by investment countries
Countries use money from foreign investors to develop real estate and business opportunities, create jobs, and diversify the economy. Some countries also require donations from investors hoping to gain citizenship to certain funds, which are used for a variety of purposes. Citizenship by investment programs therefore have a positive impact on these countries’ economies.
Some countries have residency requirements in addition to the initial investment in order to gain citizenship.
Here’s a list of countries currently offering a path to citizenship through investment and the requirements for each program:
- Antigua and Barbuda: One of the most cost-effective second passports requires only a donation of $100,000 to the Antigua National Development Fund plus taxes and fees. Alternatively, you can make a $400,000 real estate investment ($200,000 for connected investors) or invest $1.5 million in starting a business. You’ll get visa-free travel to more than 150 countries, and Antigua does not charge income tax. The application process takes three to four months and you must reside in Antigua for at least five days per year for the first five years.
- Grenada: You can either donate $150,000 (more with additional family members) or invest $350,000 in a government-approved real estate project ($220,000 for connected investors) and keep the investment for five years. You’ll get visa-free travel to more than 140 countries, including China. The approval process takes about four months.
- Dominica: Choose between a $100,000 donation or a $200,000 minimum investment in approved Dominican real estate. You’ll get visa-free travel to more than 138 countries and the process takes just 60-90 days.
- St. Lucia: Either make a minimum donation of $100,000 to the Saint Lucia National Economic Fund ($140,000 for a married couple or $150,000 for a family of four) plus $30,000 in fees or invest at least $300,000 in approved real estate. You may also opt to invest in government bonds ($500,000 for main applicant) or the COVID-19 relief bond ($250,000 for the main applicant). The COVID-19 relief bond option is available through December 31, 2021. You’ll get visa-free travel to more than 142 countries, no income tax, and quick processing in less than three months.
- St. Kitts and Nevis: In addition to fees, you’ll need to make at least a $150,000 donation to the Sustainable Growth Fund (more for your spouse or dependents), invest at least $400,000 in a government-approved property and hold the investment for five years, or invest $200,000 in an approved luxury resort and hold the investment for seven years. You’ll get visa-free travel to more than 152 countries, no income tax, and quick processing in less than four months.
- Vanuatu: Economic citizenship (without voting rights or political involvement) requires only a $130,000 donation plus fees ($150,000 for a couple). You get visa-free travel to more than 127 countries and the process takes 30-60 days.
- Montenegro: In addition to a 100,000 euro donation, you’ll need to invest at least 250,000 euros in real estate in an undeveloped region or at least 450,000 euros in a developed region. You’ll get visa-free travel to more than 120 countries. Residency is granted within three weeks and citizenship can be obtained within six months.
- Turkey: To become a Turkish citizen, you can either make a $250,000 real estate investment or a $500,000 bank deposit or capital investment. You’ll need to hold the investment for three years. You’ll get visa-free travel to more than 106 countries and the process takes three to six months.
- Malta: Perhaps the most attractive second passport, Malta citizenship offers visa-free travel to more than 180 countries and the opportunity to live and work in the EU. It also requires the largest investment and has a residency requirement. You’ll need to contribute at least 600,000 euros to the national development fund and prove 36 months of residency (or 750,000 euros and 12 months of residency). In addition, you need to invest 700,000 euros in real estate or enter a rental agreement worth at least 16,000 euros per year for five years. An additional 10,000-euro donation to an approved organization of your choice is also required.
Residency by investment programs
A variation on citizenship by investment is residency by investment. Countries with these programs allow you to stay in the country without a visa. In some cases, there’s no actual residency requirement to obtain a residence permit. A few of these programs allow for the freedom of travel across the Schengen Area, and some of these countries also offer a path to citizenship after a period of permanent residency.
The countries with such programs include:
- Cayman Islands
- Hong Kong
- United States
- United Kingdom
Which is the best country for citizenship by investment?
That depends on what benefits you’re looking for and how much time and money you have to invest. Maltese citizenship provides you with the ability to live and work in the EU, but it’s also very expensive and requires you to reside in Malta for at least 12 months. Dominica offers the cheapest options: you can either donate $100,000 or invest $200,000 in an approved real estate project. And Grenada is the only citizenship by investment program that will grant you visa-free access to China.
How much do you need to invest to get citizenship?
Every citizenship by investment program has different requirements, but you’ll need at least $100,000 to take advantage of any of them. There are typically additional administrative fees associated with the application process as well. Also, you’ll usually need to pay for a medical exam if one is required.
What is the cheapest country to buy citizenship in?
Dominica offers the least expensive citizenship by investment program. You can choose to donate $100,000 or invest $200,000 in an approved real estate project. The application process is quick; you can receive citizenship in as little as 60 days.
If you want a second passport and a home where you can live and work freely without having to meet strict requirements or spend years as a resident, a citizenship by investment program could be a good option for you. Starting with a resident by investment program may also be a good alternative if you want a more gradual commitment.
If you’ve been wondering how to invest money, many of these second citizenship programs offer smart investment opportunities in addition to the other benefits they provide. For example, when you decide on how to invest in real estate projects in the Caribbean, you could earn high annual returns as well as a tidy profit when you sell. That said, citizenship by investment is just as risky as regular investing and can be subject to shifting international regulations.
But if you love travel and have been looking to invest, a citizenship by investment opportunity could be a good fit to help you make moves toward both goals. Now you just need to pick the best citizenship program for you.
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