Normally, obtaining a permanent residency status or gaining citizenship in a foreign country is quite a daunting task, if not impossible. Places like Austria require residents to live in the country continuously for 15-30 years. Germany is not far off, requiring individuals to live in the country for at least 8 years. Not to mention all the bureaucracy that comes with it.
For those individuals who want a fast second passport, citizenship programs offer the option through which wealthy persons can acquire second citizenship in a relatively quick time frame in exchange for investment.
Emerging world citizens are the primary investors in such programs as the cost is greatly outweighed by increased travel benefits, adding value to their passport portfolio.
Citizenship by investment is also popular among business owners who are seeking a “Plan B”. This is especially true for tech entrepreneurs who earn immediate ROI (return on investment) and may need a second passport to continue with their ventures. Those earning six or seven-figure salaries may find that buying citizenship is the easier and cheaper route over time.
In this article, we will outline all the available citizenship by investment programs in the market this year. But first, let’s go over the basic terms…
What makes a citizenship program ‘the best’?
Most people have the opinion that the number of countries your passport allows you to visit defines the quality of the passport. However, most industry experts conclude that a passport is not characterized by its visa-free travel privileges alone. Many other factors come into play.
The best citizenship by investment program is one that allows you to conserve your capital while accomplishing your goals sensibly.
Having said this, besides considering the list of countries that you would be able to travel to visa-free, you should also examine other benefits, such as, tax efficiency, higher standards of living, increased options for children’s education, personal and physical security, as well as access to new opportunities to name a few.
Residency vs Citizenship by Investment
Although the two terms are often thought to be similar, the rights and obligations under each vary, depending on the country.
In areas such as technology and gaming, having a second passport is worthwhile for anyone doing business or investing. As laws continue to evolve and new legislation emerges around the world, they may prove to be useful.
Therefore, having second citizenship is most suited to individuals who have a pressing need for tax optimisation, business or travel. Citizenship grants individuals with the full set of rights and privileges that apply to the citizens of that same country.
The residency differs slightly. These programs are still favourable options in terms of tax efficiency or for a plan B passport. You may still enjoy the ability to live, work, study and travel as a regular citizen. Obtaining a second residency is less costly, yet this privilege may be revoked under extreme circumstances.
Let us look at the programs…
Best Citizenship by Investment
All the programs listed in this article include swift processes and are legal in the country itself. They are also commoditized, have a clear path to citizenship and are open to (almost) anyone with a clean criminal record.
Now, let us compare the countries offering legitimate citizenship by investment programs ...
European Citizenship by Investment
Currently, there are three economic citizenship programs in Europe. These options offer the ‘best of the best’, and if you are willing to do the proper tax planning, it can be treated as the most advantageous of options.
Two of these countries are located within the European Union; therefore, by obtaining citizenship in these countries, you will also benefit from an EU citizenship.
MALTA Citizenship by Investment
Malta is the ONLY citizenship by investment program that has access to both the European Union and the Schengen Area. It is also the only passport that offers visa-free access to all six big-English speaking countries; the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Malta immediately sounds like a great deal for most people, and getting a Maltese Citizenship is a relatively quick process. You will be required to spend some time on the island while the passport is issued.
The Maltese Citizenship by Naturalisation for Exceptional Services by Direct Investment is an exclusive path to citizenship by naturalisation.
Below are the details about the new Granting of Citizenship for Exceptional Services Regulations (S.L. 188.05)
Under the new route, applicants are offered residence in Malta, leading to citizenship by naturalisation which can be achieved in either of two ways.
An individual can either choose to apply for citizenship after one year (12 months) of being a resident of Malta with the contribution of €750,000 payable to the government of Malta; OR
Pursue the path of Maltese citizenship after three years (36 months), of course with a difference of €150,000 in the contribution fees at €600,000.
The granting of Citizenship for Exceptional Services Regulations will be limited to a maximum number of 400 successful applicants per year and is capped at 1,500 for the entire regulations.
Verdict: Malta is a viable option with a lot of potentials. Besides the enviable geographic location of this small island, the quality of life that it offers is unparalleled. Listed as #7 on the Passport Index, this is a great program that covers all bases.
CYPRUS Citizenship by Investment
Unlike Malta, it is not part of the borderless Schengen Area.
The Cypriot Citizenship can be obtained with an investment of €2 million in real estate, government bonds, a bank deposit in a Cyprus bank or investing in a new company.
This option is on the higher end, and there is a small catch; you must own a €500,000 home in Cyprus forever. Most likely a tactic to ensure a real presence in the country.
A less encouraging admonition is that your home purchases are contingent on VAT. So, although this qualifies as an investment, you will still have to pay between 5-19% in “sunk costs”. (In layman’s terms it means: a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be redeemed).
Verdict: While Cyprus does offer EU citizenship, it is not part of the Schengen Area and will not grant you access to the USA. Furthermore, according to the Passport Index, this ranks lower than Malta. However, if it is primarily for tax reasons, then it is worth considering.
MOLDOVA Citizenship by Investment
A newer program on the market, this option is suited to those individuals with a lower budget when compared to the other two European options.
In comparison to Malta and Cyprus, Moldovan citizenship does not grant visa-free travel to the United Kingdom or Ireland. However, it does offer visa-travel to Europe’s Schengen Area and Russia.
To be eligible for this program, you must either donate €100,000 plus pay a government fee, or invest €250,000 in approved real estate.
In comparison to the due diligence present in a Citizenship by Investment program such as Malta’s, there is much more leniency. Similar to the competing Caribbean options, it raises a few questions when any Russian oligarch can buy his way in.
Verdict: In relation to the first two choices, this is significantly cheaper, yet it comes with a much lower return on investment. If an individual is interested in purchasing more than one passport to add to their portfolio, it might be worth it to gain access to Russia. If that’s not you, then it would be better going back to the first two Citizenship by Investment programs, i.e. Malta and Cyprus.
The requirements to obtain such a passport include an investment of €220,000 worth of real estate, which is to be kept for a minimum of three years.
It sounds simpler than the other programs; however, it’s proven to be more complicated even though the process is over a shorter time. One caveat is that all the properties need to be purchased on the same day and titled in the same office to qualify.
Alternatively, you may deposit an amount of €450,000 in the bank for three years in bonds or as venture funding in a working company. A tip to boost your qualifying status is to hire fifty Turkish citizens.
Targeted mainly at Arabs seeking a safe haven, it is nonetheless interesting to individuals who are not able to opt for the premium passports. One thing to keep in mind is if you plan on passing the citizenship to your children, there is mandatory military service.
Verdict: Like the program that Cyprus offers, Turkish Citizenship is an interesting opportunity, in terms of economic profitability. Again, when compared to that of Malta, it would serve more as part of a passport portfolio, as it may not be sufficient on its own.
Caribbean Citizenship by Investment
ST.KITTS AND NEVIS Citizenship by Investment
Established in 1984, this Passport program is the original. Among the other Caribbean citizenship schemes, this island nation likes to credit itself as the “platinum program”.
As with the other Citizenship by Investment schemes, the prerequisites are simple. Common with the rest of the programs we have listed so far, you must either make a donation to a government development fund or acquire approved real estate.
The donation was reduced notably after hurricanes struck, and what started at €220,000 decreased to €130,000. This program also entitles you to visa-free travel to Russia.
When it comes to real estate, the minimum investment is €175,000. Technically, there are no strict laws that prevent you from selling the property after a few years. However, it is doubtful that you will receive full compensation. You also have the added government fees, over and above the cost of the property itself.
If you are seeking a rushed approval, St. Kitts and Nevis can speed up the process to just 45 days, provided you have a valid reason for needing such a request.
Verdict: In the beginning, when it was the only one of its kind, it was a great option, especially as until 2014 they had visa-free access to Canada. Since losing that privilege, the program has lost its shine and is overpriced compared to other programs.
DOMINICA Citizenship by Investment
Years ago, this republic offered the lowest-priced passport “for sale” on earth. What started as a sum of €35,000, the program is now attainable for €90,000, still relatively cheaper than the rest of the Caribbean crew.
Similarly to St.Kitts and Nevis, this passport’s privileges are almost identical, with the exception of Russia.
The program does require basic knowledge of English and the fine print states that certain countries, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan or Yemen, are subject to extra scrutiny.
Verdict: If you are budget conscious seeking a “budget passport” then this program is worth considering. Otherwise, for the full privileges and travel benefits, this might not be the one for you.
GRENADA Citizenship by Investment
What sets this Citizenship by Investment program apart from its neighbours is the fact that it is the only Caribbean island that is part of the United States E-2 treaty program. What this means is that you can live part-time in the US as a business owner.
Another attractive feature to consider, especially if you are a business owner, is the benefit of visa-free access to Russia and China, further adding to its lustre.
The donation amount needed in exchange for citizenship has been recently reduced to €130,000 for a single applicant and €175,000 for a married couple. Alternatively, you can buy €300,000 worth of approved property, which is enticing.
Verdict: With access to the United States, Russia, and China, the premium you would need to pay is justified. As a Caribbean contender, this merits consideration. Yet, side by side with a European passport such as Malta, these benefits fail to measure up.
ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA Citizenship by Investment
The Citizenship by Investment program offered up by these islands has been around for the past seven years. Unlike the other options in the Caribbean Sea, one of the qualifications is unique and easy to meet. Citizens must live there for 35 days out of the first five years.
As with the other Caribbean passports, Antigua’s investment options are standard. You must either make a donation to the government of €110,000, or purchase real estate worth €350,000, or invest €1.3 million into a business venture.
An alternative they put forward is to join with other applicants to form a business enterprise that would collectively amount to at least €4.5 million.
Antigua offers an excellent option for families, as the price for a family of four is equal to that of a single applicant. Another perk is that it offers visa-free travel to South Africa. Otherwise, there is nothing distinguishable about this program.
Verdict: Depending on whether you are single or married; will define the value of this scheme. For single applicants, this option might be less alluring.
ST. LUCIA Citizenship by Investment
New on the block, St. Lucia’s Citizenship by Investment program is the most recent of its kind. Comparable to Dominica, the donation option costs €90,000. St. Lucia offers other options besides a donation, which include investing in real estate or starting a business.
While there are three routes, the cheapest way is by donation to the government. To purchase a property, the minimum spend is €275,000. As for the third option, this requires €3 million in investment and the creation of at least three jobs.
The donations and fees for families prove to be reasonable, and as an added benefit, the program allows dependent parents to be included in the application.
Verdict: St.Lucia is a worthy rival to Dominica, ever since it reduced its donation targeting the more value-conscious westerners searching for a second passport.