Just about any country you can think of offers some sort of residency permit in exchange for investing in the country and in this ultimate guide on citizenship by investment we will cover a multitude of questions and answers on this subject.
In the world market, most countries are either trying get ahead or stay ahead. And the governments know that a big step in doing this is boosting their economies on a local and national level.
So if you’ve got the money to offer, they’re happy to let you come and live in exchange for the investment.
But some places are easier than others.
The EB-5 Program in the United States is like the crown jewel of residency through investment programs, but it’s also (arguably) the most difficult. And it’s suffered in the wake of some recent high profile mishaps resulting in the U.S. congress being split on the viability of the program continuing.
But other countries have programs that only take $300,000 and six months or less before you’re a full-fledged citizen… with a second passport to boot.
But the “problem” with these programs—no matter how easy, difficult, long, or short the process is this: even though these countries want to offer them to wealthy foreign investors, they’re also on high alert for protecting their nation from crime, foreign invaders, and terrorism.
So even if you’re a Buddhist monk who’s taken a vow to never even step on an ant, you’ve still got to prove yourself. You’ll need to go through extensive pains to prove there’s absolutely nothing bad about you, your background, your family’s background, or where your money came from.
Not to mention making sure the investment you make in the country is actually financially beneficial for you and your long-term goals.
So in this guide, I’ll walk you through the different types of country-based citizenship by investment programs, the types of investments you can make in exchange for residency, what it means to be a resident vs. a citizen, why you might want to consider citizenship over residency, and the long-term goals these programs can fulfill for you (hint: it’s not all about finances).
Types of Citizenship by Investment Programs
No single country program is like the rest. In fact, no matter how similar they are, there’s always some fundamental difference that will throw off the ability to filter countries through clean and dry categories.
So in this section, instead of giving you one category, a description of it, and listing out countries that fit under it, I’ll give you the main types of categories that are important for consideration in moving abroad, or obtaining a second passport, via an investment program.
Sometimes, one country will fit in multiple categories, but those intricacies are too much to discuss here. However, you will get a very good idea on the program types and a tight grasp on the types of programs that would work best for you.
The finer details are better saved for when you’re actually working with a company to guide you through the process. (Yes, you can technically do this on your own, but many people who’ve gone through the process have likened it to performing open heart surgery on yourself: really hard, nearly impossible, painful, and something you’re better off asking for help with.)
Citizenship by Investment Disconnected from the Immigration Office
In a lot of countries that offer residency or citizenship in exchange for investment, you’re allowed to invest wherever you like as long as the entity or department receiving the funding meets the government-defined regulations.
While this sounds incredible for those of us who love to do things our own way, it involves a lot of work, risky chances, and headache that most individuals with a high net worth seeking a second passport would rather not have to deal with.
While on paper it’s 100% possible to make these investments work, if you want them to count towards your immigration status, there are tons of difficult rules and regulations that you must comply with or your investment will be nothing more than an overseas portfolio diversifier.
The reason this is so hard is because the exact investments that count usually aren’t specifically defined by the government, so it opens you up to potential fraud and scams looking to prey on people who aren’t acclimated to local markets. (Not to mention your own honest human error that we all run into sometimes.)
Sometimes, bogus businesses will run away with your money. Other times, entities will claim that they’re eligible even though they aren’t. So while you might make returns on those investments, you’re swindled out of the opportunity to immigrate or obtain a second passport based on them.
If you decide to go this route, do whatever you can to do meticulous background checks and ask for references from people who’ve gained residency through investment in that country before you.
Government-Approved Citizenship by Investment Programs
On the opposite spectrum of the investment opportunities of the country programs discussed above are these.
In this scenario, your visa application, passport application, and your investment application are usually one and the same, and they are controlled by the government entity designated by the country you are interested in.
If you’re after an easier-to-obtain residency, citizenship, or second passport to ease your travels around the world, this is often the hassle-free (or as hassle-free as it can be) way to go.
Basically, when you apply for your residency permit or visa, you also submit the money you want to invest and your paperwork for that to the government of that country.
It all goes through at the same time, and you know that the money you’re investing will count towards your residency efforts.
The downside, though, is that you can only choose the kinds of investments within the parameters of the government’s program.
So if residential real estate is the only option that makes sense to you, but that option costs far more than the alternative offered under the program, you need to think long and hard about which option makes the most sense for you.
It’s a small problem in the scheme of things, because some governments will let you sell your investment again after a certain number of years, but the rules the country has around what you can do with your investments once they’ve been made is something to seriously think about in this situation.
Countries that offer government-regulated investments include St. Kitts and Nevis, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Portugal, Hungary, and the UK, among others.
Citizenship Programs Requiring Long-Term Residency
Let’s take the United States for example.
When someone gets a temporary green card—it’s their way of showing the government their wish to reside in the country long-term.
And even after you get a “permanent” green card after two years of residency, it’s advised to stay in the country for at least six months each year if you want citizenship. This doesn’t technically show your intention to the government, but most immigration lawyers suggest it.
If you’re out of the country for more than six months, you may be required to do more tough paperwork proving that you haven’t abandoned your intent to live in the US long-term.
Basically, if you want to live in these countries, you need to commit yourself to the idea that you’ll have to base the majority of your life from that location rather than your current home.
This works for people who truly want to move from one place to another, but can be a hassle for people who just want a second residency for the passport and tax benefits.
As a rule of thumb, it’s larger, richer countries that do this. Since there’s a higher demand and desire to live there, they can afford to be pickier and put people through the ringer to test their dedication to their new country of residence.
You can expect this kind of requirement out of countries like the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia.
Quick Citizenship by Investment Tracks
On the other hand, and for people who don’t have a desire to live in a new country full-time, there are other, smaller nations who make the road to residency and citizenship quick and easy. (And who make maintenance of your citizenship or residency even easier.)
For example, if you choose to get residency in St. Kitts & Nevis via investment, you can donate $250,000 to the Sugar Industry Diversification fund, or make a $400,000 investment in real estate.
These investments process through the country’s immigration office, and you can have full-blown citizenship in six months or less as long as all of your paperwork is up to scratch.
In Cyprus, once you obtain citizenship and a second passport, you only need to visit the country once every seven years to keep your citizenship alive and viable.
Typically, the countries that are a little more lax on the amount of time you actually spend on the ground in the country before full citizenship or residency is granted are smaller nations after the outside financial boost you will provide as a wealthy individual. Such as:
- St Kitts & Nevis
- Saint Lucia
Types of Citizenship and Residency Investments
In talking about the investment processes above, I’ve briefly mentioned a few types of investments available to you as a high-worth individual seeking residency abroad.
But I want to do a little bit more of a deep-dive into what each of these investments typically involve.
Keep in mind that no matter what investment you make, you’ll usually be required to stick with it for a certain amount of time—if not indefinitely—so it’s crucial to make the right decision for your goals and go for something that’s less risky.
Residential Real Estate
On the surface, purchasing residential real estate as your investment to help you gain citizenship elsewhere seems like an incredibly practical choice, and for some people, it is.
Some countries, like Cyprus, require a purchase of real estate in addition to another investment, but others, like St. Kitts & Nevis will let you immigrate via an investment in only a private residence of a certain value.
The purchase required is usually for a value a lot more than a one bedroom apartment in the center of a small city, but if you’re planning to move abroad with your family, you’ll want more space than that anyway.
And even if you don’t want to live there, there’s usually no rule stating that if you purchase the property, you have to reside in it or use it yourself. You can always rent it out to locals or as a vacation property. You’ll have to make sure you’re within government guidelines, of course, but this is usually possible without any problem.
Just like any investment in real estate, you’ll always have to pay property tax, pay for upkeep and repairs, and if you want it to turn a profit for you, you’ll have to put a fair amount of time into it.
Even if you do just buy the property and decide to sell it a few years later, its work that you have to be willing to commit to… it all just depends on your personal preferences and goals.
Commercial Real Estate
Commercial real estate, on the other hand, is almost always a direct investment since it’s not a piece of property you’d live in.
You can purchase a building outright, or put your investment towards an overall fund to develop a piece of commercial real estate that will boost the economy.
Purchasing something outright gives you more control over how quickly that investment starts paying you back, but contributing towards funding a bigger project as a partner is often more affordable and is sometimes easier.
For example, if you bought a building with three different office spaces, you could market it and make the building an attractive place for local companies to work out of. The only downside, though, is that you might have to spend more than the minimum to purchase the full building or spend some money updating it as its new landlord before it becomes profitable.
But if you invested in a hotel project like this family did, you could invest the minimum amount required and still be able to immigrate.
The only problem with this investment strategy, like the idea of investing in residential real estate, is that it requires a lot of work to maintain that investment to keep it going and eligible for your immigration status.
If that’s something you want to do, that’s great. But if you’re looking for a more hands-off solution, sinking your money into an investment like this could come back to bite you in the long run.
Loaning money to the government of the country you want to gain second citizenship in to is often a safe bet, because as a loan, you’re guaranteed to get the money (or its future value) back after a set number of years.
When you loan the government money, you usually don’t get any say in what they use that money for, but you do help them advance their programs with it until it’s time for them to pay you back.
If you’re looking for a quick solution to a second citizenship and passport, this can be a great strategy, especially since as a rule of thumb, the countries that offer this are also the ones that have a faster permanent residency process.
Also, once the loan amount is returned, you get to keep your residency status without the requirement for continued investment in the country’s government or economy. (Again, this is for most countries offering this program. There are always exceptions to the rule.)
If a country has a program or an important industry that really needs support, they may allow you to donate to that industry or cause in exchange for residency.
St. Kitts & Nevis, for example, lets you invest in the country’s sugar industry via donation.
This is often a popular choice for investors with lower available funds than some of their even wealthier counterparts, but the drawback is that you don’t get the money back.
But when you consider you can invest $250,000 instead of the €5 million other countries and investment programs require, if the location, and/or the country’s passport and visa-free access is ideal for you, it’s a very affordable option by comparison.
Business or Industry Investment / Entrepreneurship
These programs are usually based on your potential to employ local workers both now and in the future.
If you’re an entrepreneur seeking out a new business venture anyway, this can be one of the “easiest” ways to align your dreams of business success with your desire to live abroad in the country you want to be successful in… especially if you were already planning on building a large company that would employ a considerable number of people.
Normally, if you’re starting a business, you have to prove you’ve got funds to get it up off the ground, or that you’ve got promised funds pending your ability to get into the country with permission to work there long-term.
If this is the case, you’ll usually be held up to certain standards to maintain your residency… like employing a certain number of people full-time or part-time by certain dates, and/or profiting a certain amount in revenue every year.
But if you’re not starting a business and just want to get your money into a local business market that’s booming at the moment, a lot of countries have programs that will let you do that too.
For example, Lithuania allows foreign business people to immigrate into the country if their shares in a company’s capital equal approximately $19,000, you’re present in the country, and the company starts paying taxes one year or less after it starts.
In France, you can immigrate if you make a €10 million non-speculative investment in commercial assets or industry, or if a company you own at least 30% of makes the investment on your behalf.
Some countries will place limits on the industries you can invest in, limiting it to those that need the most help and attention at the moment. But for those who are interested in immigrating via business-based investments, the opportunities are huge and promising for a good ROI into your bank account.
Truthfully, this strategy only applies to a very small number of people seeking residency and citizenship abroad, just because the regulations and requirements around it. (Like the amount of money required upfront, the salaries that need to be paid, or the taxes you’ll be responsible for as the business grows, for example.)
Long-Term Goals These Residency Programs Can Meet
Alright, now that we’ve talked about the mechanics and legalities of what your options are, let’s talk about why you’d want to do this and what additional benefits this financial move could provide for you in addition to your access to a new country to live and do business in.
A Place to Live Overseas
Some of the biggest reasons high net worth individuals seek out residency via investment programs are for security, opportunity, access to good education for their children, and more reliable banking systems.
Maybe you’re tired of your country’s lackluster infrastructure in areas you care about. Or maybe it’s the fact that the economic climate is a bit shaky and you’re afraid of an impending crash in a few years.
Or, it could just be that you’d prefer to live somewhere safer or you feel like all of your business opportunities there have been worn out.
Or maybe your personal beliefs don’t match the local culture, and you’d like to live some place where you feel more comfortable and accepted.
Whatever the cause of it is, it’s a great reason to seek residence abroad in another country whose culture, economy, and political climate are more favorable for you.
Expanding Your Business Opportunities
After being in business for a while, you may have started to realize that expanding your business—especially if you expand it overseas—will be one of the best ways to boost your profitability.
Or maybe you have an incredible idea, but you know you need a smaller market with less competition so your idea can gain traction and take off. (And possibly with lower labor costs.)
Gaining residency and becoming a citizen in another country gives you full freedom to work there and start a business there, expanding your current operations.
If you get to a point—or you feel a point might be coming—where you can’t feasibly live in your home country anymore, gaining a second citizenship is a great way to protect your wealth and your assets.
By gaining citizenship in an EU state like Hungary or Bulgaria, you’ll have the ability to bank not only in your country of choice there, but also anywhere else in the EU.
When you open up that opportunity for yourself, it’s a huge burden off your shoulders should your local economy start to dwindle.
Gaining Access to the EU
This obviously works for people emigrating to European countries that are a part of the EU, but the EU is a huge alliance that holds a lot of economic power and personal possibilities.
Further, if you go beyond residency and gain full citizenship somewhere within the EU, it gives you access to live, do business, and go to university within the entire European Union. (You and your children, by the way.)
So if you aren’t an EU member by birth or marriage, gaining residency and/or citizenship in just one EU country is enough to give you all the access you want to the rest of it.
A Second Passport
Again, if you go beyond simple residency and go for full-blown citizenship (which is much easier via investment than other naturalization methods), you’ll be issued government IDs from your new country—including a passport.
On average, second passport holders gain visa-free travel access to 100+ countries, meaning that if you travel a lot for business or pleasure, your life would become so much easier around trip-planning and departure paperwork.
You’ll no longer have to ship your passport off to the consulate and wait indefinitely to travel while they wait, wait, wait, and finally decide to return your passport to you.
Instead, you can just book a ticket and take off to your country of choice with your new (visa-free) passport in hand.
The Process of Gaining Residency and Citizenship by Investment
For every country, the process of gaining residency or citizenship by investment is different.
But there’s some basic steps almost all countries follow in the same order, so we’ll outline those here. (This isn’t to make the process sound overly easy or smooth—because it’s usually not. Don’t let the ease of this list fool you. Many times, the paperwork items glazed over below can be brutal if you don’t have help filling them out or uncovering the information.)
- Once you decide on your country, investigate their different residency or citizenship by investment options and choose which one makes the most financial sense for you.
- Prepare your funds and uncover your source of funds via paperwork. Often, you have to go three to four degrees back of where the money came from.
- Choose exactly what you will invest in. Shop for your specific piece of real estate, market fund, or government bond.
- Make your investment pending your immigration approval.
- Obtain an in-depth police report that also shows your family and financial history.
- Fill out the immigration application, submit your investment paperwork, source of funds, and police reports.
- Arrive in your new country to begin the permanent residency or citizenship paperwork.
Final Note: Residency vs. Citizenship
And just to be clear on one thing: legal residency does not always equal citizenship, but citizenship does equal legal residency.
Just because you become a legal resident somewhere doesn’t mean you’ll have the right to become a citizen. And even though you can live there, you may have limited rights that citizens enjoy full access to.
But, if you pursue citizenship, you will by definition have the right to live in your new country, and enjoy the rights of full citizenship.
There’s plenty of programs to fit your needs and desires, and citizenship almost always comes with more benefits that you can bank on now and in the future… even if you’re not planning on using them yet.
Take the First Step Towards Residency & Citizenship: Request Some More In-Depth Information on Your Specific Goals
Do any of the investment types or country immigration programs appeal to you? Is there something else you are looking for?
Are you someone who’s seeking residence for a long-term place to live? Or are you more about the economical insurance aspect of it?
Do you know what kind of investment you’d like to make so you can gain residency or citizenship elsewhere?
Fill in a sentence or two in the form below to let us know more about your goals, and we’ll get back in touch with some more in-depth information for you to read through so you can start your decision-making process.