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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.
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:
In this article, we explain citizenship by investment, why people pursue it, how it works, and the most popular programs available in 2022.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Different citizenship-by-investment countries offer varying options. The most common options for foreign investors to gain citizenship by investment include the following:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Countries claim many benefits from citizenship-by-investment programs, including:
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:
Of course, the country may deny the application. Malta has a particularly high refusal rate that may go as high as 30%.
Acquiring citizenship through CBI programs doesn’t just involve the cost of the donation or investment. They also charge additional fees, including the following:
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.
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 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:
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:
Applicants making real estate investments or purchasing property must also pay these additional government fees:
The accelerated application process costs an additional fee of $25,000, $20,000 per dependent over 16, and $500 per dependent under 16.
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:
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:
Applicants who choose to invest in real estate must also pay government fees:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
Real estate fees include:
Married couples applying with five or more dependents pay $10,000 per person.
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:
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:
*All fees listed above may be subject to change.
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.
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.