Several countries offer citizenship-by-investment (CBI) programs that provide easier and faster processes for becoming global citizens. High-net-worth individuals looking to improve their global mobility, explore education opportunities outside the U.S., or retire out of the country may consider applying to a citizenship-by-investment program.
Dual citizenship provides many benefits to individuals and families alike, but acquiring citizenship through traditional immigration processes can prove challenging and time-consuming. Citizenship-by-investment programs (also called economic citizenship programs) provide a way to become a citizen through investing.
What Is Citizenship?
Being a legal citizen of a country means having the right to exercise certain rights within that country, such as getting a passport, accessing education and healthcare services, and getting lawful employment.
People become citizens of countries in various ways, including:
- Family: Some countries grant official citizenship to citizens’ family members (descendants). For example, a person born outside of the U.S. whose parents are U.S. citizens also gains citizenship at birth.
- Birth: In some countries, a person automatically becomes a citizen if born in the country. For example, people born in the U.S. obtain citizenship by jus soli.
- Marriage: Many countries offer citizenship to people who get married to current citizens. Specific rules on time and relationships vary, but this has been common practice since World War II.
- Naturalization: Naturalized citizens may have arrived in the country as refugees or legal residents and then pursued citizenship. The naturalization process often takes years and includes a comprehensive test regarding the country’s language, culture, and laws.
- Citizenship-by-investment programs: Countries benefit significantly from foreign investment, so they actively seek foreign investors through these citizenship schemes. These programs often offer much faster timelines than alternative citizenship programs like naturalization.
In this article, we explain citizenship by investment, why people pursue it, how it works, and the most popular programs available in 2022.
What Is Citizenship by Investment?
Becoming a naturalized citizen of a foreign country often requires an extensive time commitment. For example, countries like Spain and Andorra require residents to live in the country for one to two decades before applying for a change in citizenship status.
Citizenship-by-investment programs allow high-net-worth individuals to skip the arduous naturalization process and gain citizenship through an investment transaction.
These programs grant citizenship in exchange for a significant monetary contribution to the country. This legal process involves different requirements and offers various advantages based on the country in question.
To apply for citizenship-by-investment programs, an individual must be at least 18 years old, have a clean criminal record, have the necessary funds to support themselves, and have a clean bill of health, among other qualification requirements.
Why Consider Citizenship-by-Investment Programs?
Citizenship-by-investment programs appeal to wealthy individuals for many reasons. These include but are not limited to the following:
You may need a visa to travel to certain countries, even with a United States passport. People who want to live and work outside their home countries can benefit from citizenship-by-investment programs, allowing them to travel, work, live, and retire in foreign countries.
For example, St. Kitts and Nevis grants citizens-by-investment second passports that allow visa-free access to more than 100 countries.
Obtaining citizenship in another country can open many doors for business owners and entrepreneurs looking to access a new pool of customers, new business partners, and emerging markets. Global citizens can scale their companies to the international level.
Many wealthy individuals pursue citizenship-by-investment programs to provide educational opportunities for themselves or their children. Several countries offering these CBI programs boast excellent educational systems, including top-ranked schools. You can avoid expensive international tuition fees by gaining global citizenship.
U.S. citizens must pay taxes to the IRS regardless of where they live. To cease these tax obligations, people living and working abroad may decide to renounce U.S. citizenship after gaining citizenship by investment in another country.
Renouncing citizenship may also help investors avoid a double inheritance tax or other taxes.
Having alternative citizenship provides more security for the future of individuals and their families.
Market crashes, civil unrest, and other factors may cause a person to want to leave their home country and live in a more stable environment. If their home country allows dual citizenship, they can always return down the road once the country regains stability.
Second citizenship may provide the resources you need if you want to travel the world and experience new cultures. Becoming a global citizen through a citizenship-by-investment program can help you broaden your worldview and help you gain knowledge you would never have by remaining in your home country.
These are just some of the reasons why wealthy individuals may consider alternative citizenship through citizenship by investment.
Choosing the Right Citizenship-by-Investment Program
Some may pursue second citizenship in a particular country due to a specific business opportunity that exists there, while others may not know where they want to end up.
Each country with a citizenship-by-investment scheme has a unique culture and economy with differing laws and potential advantages. Choosing the right one depends on your intentions for your new citizenship.
What type of culture do you see yourself living in? Would you prefer a culture similar to that of your home country, or do you want to experience a place with entirely different traditions? What kind of culture complements the lifestyle you’re seeking?
Visa-Free Travel Locations
If traveling ranks high on your bucket list, research which countries’ passports allow you to travel without a visa. Visa-free travel remains one of the most significant perks of dual citizenship and getting a second passport, especially for those who want to visit new places around the world.
You may consider getting a second passport that allows visa-free travel to countries your home country doesn’t offer. A second passport has great value when it enables you to travel to previously restricted countries without a visa.
Geopolitical climate may affect which country you choose. Many people seeking second citizenship by investment want to find safer and more secure environments for their families, so they prioritize citizenship by investment in countries not involved in global conflict.
Investment Options for Economic Citizenship
Different citizenship-by-investment countries offer varying options. The most common options for foreign investors to gain citizenship by investment include the following:
Government Fund Donation
Many countries accept government fund donations for citizenship. They use these funds for education, healthcare, and infrastructure projects, among others.
Donations to government funds often represent the cheapest citizenship-by-investment option. However, governments don’t offer refunds for donations, so some investors may prefer another option, such as purchasing government bonds.
A minimum government donation may range from a low $100,000 to six times that amount, depending on the country.
Government Bond Purchase
Citizenship-by-investment applicants can sometimes purchase government bonds to gain citizenship.
This option appeals to some because they get their money back following a hold period of several years. However, this type of investment does not provide returns and relies on the bond remaining solvent.
This option typically requires an investment amount much greater than a fund donation, but these costs have recently decreased in some countries due to the introduction of bonds for COVID-19 relief.
For example, the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia typically requires a minimum bond purchase of $500,000, but COVID-19 relief bonds start at half that cost until the end of 2022.
Approved Business Investment
Some countries with citizenship-by-investment programs allow foreign direct investment in government-approved businesses.
Investing in a business may provide a more significant ROI than government bonds and funds, but this option also involves more risk. Successful investors must consider these business deals carefully to avoid losing their investments.
Minimum business investments range between hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, depending on the country, so this represents one of the more expensive options.
Approved Real Estate Investment
Many people opt to invest in local real estate to gain citizenship in another country. A real estate investment can also provide decent returns if the housing market does well in the time before the investor can sell the property, which usually ranges between three and seven years.
Investors may also earn rental income on their properties. Real estate investment tends to cost more than other investment options, but recent years have seen a decrease in the minimum investment for citizenship programs.
Hybrid Investment Programs
Some countries require not one but several qualifying investments for second citizenship. This is especially true for investors seeking EU citizenship.
For example, investors seeking citizenship in Malta must do all of the following:
- Donate to a government fund
- Purchase government bonds
- Rent or buy a home
- Live in Malta for a minimum of one year
How Do Countries Benefit From CBI Programs?
Countries claim many benefits from citizenship-by-investment programs, including:
- Global talent: These programs draw wealthy individuals from around the world, flooding the country with new global talent that enriches the economy.
- Donation and investment funds: The donations and investments collected help fund business growth, real estate development, and more throughout the country.
- Job creation: More development leads to job creation and a more stimulated economy.
Applying to a Citizenship-by-Investment Program
The application process to become a global citizen depends on the country and program you choose.
Many countries manage applications through government entities called Citizen-by-Investment Units. The public interacts with these units through partnered authorized agents, who vet applicants and guide them through the citizenship application process.
To apply for citizenship-by-investment programs, investors must first choose an authorized agent and file an application. The country’s CBI unit vets the applicant through various channels, including the JRCC and Interpol.
Once cleared, applicants make the necessary donations or investments to gain a certificate of citizenship and a passport.
Documents that you will likely need for your passport include:
- A copy of your birth certificate
- Your health certificate
- Copies of your other passports
- Police clearance documents
Of course, the country may deny the application. Malta has a particularly high refusal rate that may go as high as 30%.
Citizenship-by-Investment Fee Breakdown
Acquiring citizenship through CBI programs doesn’t just involve the cost of the donation or investment. They also charge additional fees, including the following:
- Due diligence fees: CBI Units conduct due diligence checks on all applicants to investigate investment risks and vet investors to ensure clean criminal histories, stable income sources, and verify other eligibility requirements. Applicants pay due diligence fees (often thousands of dollars) for themselves, their spouses, and their dependents included on the application.
- Processing fees: Applicants also pay processing fees for everyone listed on the application.
- Application fees: Some countries charge small application fees separate from the processing fee.
- Passport fees: Countries may charge a passport fee for each issued passport.
Applicants must figure these fees into their investment budgets before applying for a citizenship by investment program. Consider the associated costs if you plan to bring your family with you.
Some countries may provide more affordable options, depending on how many family members you include on your application.
Which Countries Offer the Best Citizenship Programs?
The Caribbean two-island nation of Saint Kitts and Nevis established the first citizenship-by-investment program in 1984. This program requires a donation to a government fund called the Sustainable Growth Fund or the purchase of a real estate investment, although many applicants opt for the first option because it tends to be cheaper.
Since the 1980s, many countries in and out of the Caribbean have created their own programs to grant citizenship to foreign investors.
Let’s review the primary requirements and benefits of some of the most popular citizenship-by-investment programs:
Saint Kitts and Nevis – Best for Fast Track Citizenship
Saint Kitts and Nevis citizenship program offers investors a fast and trusted method for gaining Caribbean citizenship. Wealthy individuals can gain citizenship in as few as 60 days through the fast-track application option.
This two-island country offers citizenship to individuals and their families who meet one of the following two requirements:
- A donation of at least $150,000 ($195,000 for a family with up to four members) to the Sustainable Growth Fund
- A capital investment of at least $50,000 in shares in a joint investment real estate project held for seven years or $400,000 in a real estate property held for seven years
Citizens are not required to reside in the country for any amount of time, making this the perfect option for those seeking second citizenship but not a permanent residency in a new country.
Saint Kitts and Nevis citizenship includes a passport valid for 10 years that allows visa-free access to 154 other countries across the globe.
All applicants must pay the following fees:
- $7,500 main applicant due diligence fee
- $4,000 due diligence fee for each dependent over 16
- $250 application form fee per set of forms
Applicants making real estate investments or purchasing property must also pay these additional government fees:
- $35,050 government fee
- $20,050 government fee for the applicant’s spouse
- $10,050 government fee per dependent
- 0.002% residential and 0.003% commercial annual property taxes
The accelerated application process costs an additional fee of $25,000, $20,000 per dependent over 16, and $500 per dependent under 16.
Dominica – Most Affordable for Individuals
Dominican citizenship by investment offers one of the cheapest options for gaining Caribbean passports. The country introduced its CIB program in 1993 and has ranked as the top option on the CBI Index for five straight years.
The process only takes two to three months to complete and offers one of the best values for the price of citizenship.
Applicants must make either a donation or an investment. Eligible investments for Dominica’s citizenship-by-investment scheme include the following:
- A $100,000 minimum donation to the Economic Diversification Fund
- A $200,000 minimum investment in real estate held for three years
Like Saint Kitts and Nevis, Dominica does not enforce a residency requirement, so citizens may live in other countries if they choose.
The Dominica passport, valid for 10 years, grants citizens visa-free access to more than 100 countries.
Both options offered by Dominica’s citizenship-by-investment program include the following fees:
- Due diligence fee of $7,500
- Due diligence fee of $4,000 for dependents over 16
- Certificate of naturalization fee of $250 for each person on the application
- Processing fees of $1,000
- 4% stamp duty for real estate purchase
- Expedited passport fee of $1,200 per passport
Applicants who choose to invest in real estate must also pay government fees:
- Single applicant: $25,000 or
- Family with up to four members: $35,000 or
- Family with up to six members: $50,000 or
- Family of seven or more people: $70,000
Applicants who include siblings on their applications will pay an additional $25,000 for a sibling under 18 or $50,000 for a sibling between the ages of 18 and 25.
Antigua and Barbuda – Best Citizenship for Families
The Caribbean country of Antigua and Barbuda is a popular choice for investors who want to extend citizenship to their families. This island paradise introduced its citizenship-by-investment program in 2013 and grants citizenship in three to six months.
This country offers four options for investments and only requires one investment or donation:
- A donation to the National Development Fund of at least $100,000
- A real estate investment of up to $200,000 held for five years
- A donation to the University of West Indies Fund of at least $150,000 (for families of six or more only)
- An investment in a business enterprise of at least $1.5 million.
Antigua and Barbuda have a somewhat strange residency requirement. Although applicants do not need to have resided in the country, they must have lived there for at least five days within the first five years at the time of passport renewal.
The Antigua and Barbuda passport gives holders visa-free access to 151 countries but has lost value since losing its access to Canada.
The fees associated with Antigua and Barbuda’s CBI program include the following:
- $7,500 due diligence fee for the main applicant
- $7,500 due diligence fee for the spouse of the main applicant
- $4,000 due diligence fee for each adult dependent over 18
- $2,000 due diligence fee for each dependent aged 12 to 17
- $30,000 processing fee for a total of up to four family members for National Development Fund donations and real estate investments ($15,000 for additional dependents) or
- $15,000 per additional dependent (not including six family members) for University of West Indies donations
- $100 application fee
- $300 pass fee per person
Saint Lucia – Best for Visa-Free Travel
Another country offering affordable Caribbean citizenship-by-investment options is Saint Lucia. Launched in 2016, this program grants citizenship in two to three months with no temporary or permanent residency requirement.
Investment options to qualify for Saint Lucia citizenship include the following. Investors must choose one:
- A donation of at least $100,000 to the National Economic Fund
- A real estate investment of at least $300,000
- A business investment of at least $3.5 million
Saint Lucia grants citizenship to the investor, their spouse, and their dependents, including parents over the age of 55. Dependents may also include unmarried siblings under the age of 18.
The Saint Lucian passport offers visa-free access to more than 100 countries and expires after five years.
Applying to Saint Lucia’s citizenship by investment program includes the following fees:
- Main applicant due diligence fee of $7,500
- Due diligence fee of $5,000 for each dependent over 16
- Main applicant processing fee of $2,000
- Processing fee of $1,000 per dependent
Real estate fees include:
- 10% property transfer tax
- $30,000 government fee for a single applicant
- $45,000 government fee for applicant and spouse
- $10,000 government fee per dependent 18 and over
- $5,000 government fee per dependent under 18
Married couples applying with five or more dependents pay $10,000 per person.
Malta – Best for European Citizenship
Investors and business owners seeking European citizenship should consider Malta. The country’s latest citizenship-by-investment scheme in 2020 allows 400 investors yearly quota and a 1,500 investors cap.
This program includes strict requirements and high costs but offers European Union membership, U.S. visa waivers, and other benefits.
Malta’s citizenship-by-investment requirements include all of the following:
- A government fund donation of at least €600,000 with a three-year residency or €750,000 with a one-year residency and
- An additional donation of €50,000 for each dependent or
- A home purchase of at least €700,000 or a rental agreement worth at least €16,000 annually
Applicants must also donate €10,000 to an approved Malta nonprofit organization. Before applying for citizenship by investment, applicants must have resided in Malta for one to three years.
Malta doesn’t offer the fastest option for citizenship by investment but does offer a 10-year passport with visa-free access to 183 countries.
Applicants to Malta’s CBI program must pay the following fees:
- €15,000 due diligence fee for main applicant
- €10,000 due diligence fee for each dependent
- €15,000 due diligence fee for each sponsor or benefactor
- €1,000 application fee
*All fees listed above may be subject to change.
Other Countries With CBI Programs
- Grenada: Except for Dominica, Grenada has the only passport with visa-free access to China
- Montenegro: This citizenship program includes high costs but offers great opportunities for real estate investments.
- Turkey: Many foreign investors choose Turkey for the low investment minimums for Turkish citizenship and easy access to the U.K and the U.S.
- Vanuatu: A country in the Pacific Islands, Vanuatu offers affordable citizenship by investment, but requirements change often.
Countries cancel and establish citizenship by investment programs quickly, but all information provided above is accurate at the time this article was published.
Citizenship-by-investment programs aren’t your only option if you wish to invest abroad. Many countries offer investment-based residency programs, often called golden visas.
Some of these golden visa programs can help you gain permanent residency and citizenship. For example, investors can gain Bulgarian citizenship through a hybrid golden visa program.
Permanent residency by investment programs appeals to immigrant investors who aren’t necessarily looking for a second citizenship or don’t need a second passport.
Portugal represents one of the most popular countries for instant residency. Canada is also popular, but the country is not currently offering Canadian citizenship by investment due to a program review of the Quebec Immigrant Investor Program.
Other Options: “Digital Nomad” Visas
Many countries have recently offered what is unofficially called a “digital nomad visa,” the conditions varying from country to country. The concept is to allow foreigners who are gainfully employed and work remotely to live and work in the host country under a legal arrangement that extends their ability to stay in that country longer than a passport-permitted or tourist visa would. The host country benefits from the nomad’s economic investments into the local economy.