For several years now, one of the major buzz-phrases in international business, especially among high net worth foreign investors is “Citizenship by Investment”. Citizenship by Investment is literally what it says it is; an individual can acquire citizenship to a second country other than their own by virtue of making a specific, substantial financial investment to that country. For the investor, the result can be game-changing, and occasionally even life-saving.
More and more of the world’s business elite are legally acquiring a second or even third passport simply by following the correct investment and residential protocol set out by countries offering Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programs. More and more countries are opening new programs, and nations who currently have programs already are as varied in size as they are in location. They include Russia, Austria, Cyprus (whose CBI program advert is pictured below), Malta, St Kitts and Nevis and Guatemala.
It’s not only wealthy businesspeople and commercial investors who are benefiting from these opportunities. High net-worth asylum seekers from the Middle-East, Africa and Asia are grabbing the chance to own the citizenship and passport of a safe, democratic country by means of its Citizenship by Investment program.
What Is Citizenship By Investment?
Citizenship by Investment is the legal practice of an individual making a real estate investment into a country, normally in the form of a real estate purchase, and in return being granted the citizenship and passport of that country.
At its most basic level, Citizenship by Investment is exactly what it says it is: If you can come up clean on a detailed and thorough background check, and you have enough funds to make a significant financial investment to that country, you will receive citizenship and a passport within months. Some programs are more expensive than others, and some will require that the investor either purchases an existing business or establishes a new one, so as to employ several local citizens as part of their investment. Other programs require that the investor physically resides for a specific time period in that country, even learn the language.
The Caribbean islands of St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Lucia and Dominica are among the easiest countries to acquire citizenship to as their programs are relatively inexpensive (compared to those of the EU) and residential requirements are a minimum.
Buying Citizenship In The Caribbean
It may sound somewhat controversial – and the governments of China, the USA and many EU countries would agree – but buying citizenship in the Caribbean is a self-sustaining industry, and is used primarily by wealthy businesspeople who are tired of their home nation’s heavy taxation and transparent banking. Since the early 1980s, the Caribbean has been synonymous with highly discreet banking and ingenious tax shelters, and since St. Kitts and Nevis launched the very first CBI program, the three benefits of the Caribbean – second citizenship, offshore banking and real estate investment have worked extremely well as a mutually beneficial package.
The amount of money that wealthy company owners and executives from around the globe have banked in the Caribbean has become the stuff of myth and legend. As recently as 2013, The Economist and Forbes placed a conservative estimate of $20 trillion, but agreed that it could be much more. Many of those investors spend so much time in the Caribbean that it makes perfect sense to own both a passport for one of the islands, as well as some real estate. Not surprisingly, CBI is now St. Kitts and Nevis no.1 export, and as long as you can prove you have no criminal record and you have the funds to purchase some real estate or make a charitable investment, you are in business.
An initial interview is required on the actual island of Dominica when applying for Dominican citizenship, but that is not the case with other Caribbean CBI programs. St. Kitts and Nevis for example allow for the initial interview between investor and official to take place in a St. Kitts and Nevis embassy or consulate anywhere in the world. After that, you are not under any obligation or requirement to set foot in St. Kitts and Nevis again, you will retain your new citizenship passport regardless. That said, few investors who acquire CBI to a Caribbean island paradise like St. Kitts and Nevis can stay away for long!
Other Second Citizenship Programs
The larger the country – in terms of either size or economic standing – the more complex and expensive its Citizenship by Investment program usually is. Austria, for example is not a large country, but it is one of the most respected cornerstones of Europe. Austria is a full EU member state, which means its citizens can live and work in any European Union country they choose to, without limitation or restriction. The Austrian passport is the fifth most powerful in the world, with visa-free access to 173 countries worldwide. The Austrian CBI program is renowned for its fast delivery of its citizenship and passport to a successful applicant that has made their investment.
Austrian and Russian Second Citizenship Programs
Investors who choose the Austrian CBI program need deep pockets, as the options are either a non-refundable €2-3 million charitable donation to the Austrian economy, or a €10 million recoverable real estate investment. Ouch! The Austrian CBI program is considered the Rolls Royce of the citizen by investment industry, and each successful applicant has their citizenship countersigned by every serving member of the Austrian parliament. Like anything in life, if you want the very best, you have to pay for it.
Russia introduced their own Citizenship by Investment program in 2015, and an investment of just €100,000, which makes it one of the better value programs on the market, and has already proved a hit with Chinese investors. The only major requirements aside from the financial investment are that the applicant must spend at least three months of their first year living in Russia, and the applicant is expected to learn basic Russian.
While the UK and US do not offer Citizenship by Investment programs in the strictest sense, both countries have investor visa programs that can eventually lead to the attainment of citizenship and a passport. While neither country denies applicants the right to dual citizenship, both nations expect successful applicants to virtually make their new countries their homes, by tying them down to five-year minimum investment and residency programs.
Benefits For Business People
The benefits of a second passport in business are many, although freedom of travel and taxation are the primary reasons.
Taxation And Banking
Even if you live in the West, chances are your native country will hammer you with taxes – both corporately and individually. Another recent – and unwanted – trend in the West is the practice of “transparent banking” where every transaction no matter how small must be accounted for and made public record.
It therefore makes perfect sense to procure the citizenship of another, more tax friendly country that will give you the opportunity to utilize their banking systems and tax shelters. The Caribbean island nations who offer CBI programs – St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada and St. Lucia – are providing investors with the perfect offshore alternative to safeguard their assets.
United States citizens in particular who are looking to be creative with their finances may have experienced the indignity of having their American passport rejected when trying to use a foreign banking system. Should they try again with an EU or Caribbean island passport, they are likely to find those doors suddenly flung wide open.
Best Value Options
More and more nations are reputedly considering creating new Citizenship by Investment programs including Ireland and Turkey. They would be welcome additions to what is already a highly completive market. To be successful, they will need to offer value for money and ease of access, which is something the following three programs deliver in abundance:
- St Kitts and Nevis Citizenship: An excellent passport that grants its holder access to a world of discreet banking and private tax-shelters, zero income tax and no residency requirements. St Kitts and Nevis were the first nation to open a Citizenship by Investment program, doing so in 1984. Over the ensuing decades they have modified to keep it relevant, and the St. Kitts and Nevis CBI program is still the best in the Caribbean
- Greece Citizenship “if Austria is the Rolls-Royce, the Greek passport is the Toyota Corolla; it’s cheap, it’s basic but it gets the job done, i.e. access to 171 countries visa-free and freedom to live and work anywhere in Western Europe. Plus, a Greek passport will set the buyer back approx. one 20th of the cost of the Austrian equivalent.
- Dominica Citizenship: Similar benefits to St. Kitts and Nevis but for a third of the price. If you need a location where you can get discreet, flexible and creative banking, pay next to no taxes and have the chance to invest in prime local real estate, you can do a lot worse than Dominica. Remember, Caribbean citizenship grants the holder automatic membership of CARICOM (the Caribbean Community) which is similar to the EU, and means one is free to live and work without restriction in any CARICOM country
- Guatemala Citizenship: It’s not quite a Caribbean island, but the Central American republic of Guatemala is a beautiful country in its own right with plenty to see and do for the tourist/holiday maker. In addition, Guatemala offers the same discreet banking and favorable taxation as does its Caribbean rivals, but its Citizenship by Investment program is both the cheapest and the fastest to obtain on today’s market
Cheapest Citizenship By Investment Programs
Freedom To Travel And Work
Another benefit of second citizenship is visa-free travel. A passport’s power can be judged by the amount of countries one can visit as a holder, visa-free. Currently, of nations that have a Citizenship by Investment program Germany leads the way with access to 177 countries, followed by Sweden (176) and then the UK, Spain, Finland and France (175). The more countries a passport holder can visit visa-free, the greater credibility that passport holder has with the banks of those countries.
All EU passport holders can travel unhindered throughout the 28-nation Schengen Area of Europe, and are free to live and work in any European country of their choosing for as long as they want, with the same rights as local citizens.
Many high net worth individuals who target ownership of an EU passport hail from some of the most restrictive nations in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. These ambitious business people are used to having to apply for a visa every time they wish to travel to a foreign country. For them, an EU passport with be a game-changer, and would streamline the way they could travel and do business dramatically.
Very Best Second Citizenship Programs
If money is not an option and you can afford the very best, these CBI programs deliver EU citizenship and a powerful European Union passport quickly, and with a minimum of residency requirements.
- Austria Citizenship: The Gold-Standard of Citizenship by Investment programs. If you can afford anything from €2 million to €10 million, the Austrian route is the fastest way of gaining an E.U passport, and there aren’t even any residency requirements. If you have the yacht, the Lear Jet and the Bugatti, why not go for the Austrian passport?
- Malta Citizenship: Do you want the chance to become part of the E.U and the Commonwealth in one fell swoop? Malta is currently one of only three Commonwealth countries in the EU, the others being Cyprus and the UK, and with Great Britain’s imminent departure from the European Union, there will soon be only two. Malta may be one of the smallest countries in Western Europe but don’t be fooled “its passport packs as much of a punch as those of its biggest neighbors.
- Cyprus Citizenship: In 2016 Cyprus announced it was lowering the price of its CBI program from €5 million to €2 million. It’s still the second most expensive Citizenship by Investment program on the market, but if you want EU citizenship, a powerful passport plus the added bonus of membership of the British Commonwealth, the Cyprus CBI program is cheap at half the (original) price. Literally.
Citizenship By Investment Programs
Benefits For Asylum Seekers
The benefits of Citizenship by Investment for asylum seekers are obvious; by definition some asylum seekers are fleeing their country of origin because they fear for the lives of themselves and their family. This is usually due to a bloody civil war or a particularly oppressive regime, or the rise of extremist organizations, or, as in the case of Syria, all three.
Second citizenship and a new passport for a person living in this kind of climate can be both life-saving and life-affirming. Often the asylum-seeker is fleeing the land of their birth, and will have no qualms about making the country they choose to invest in, their new permanent home.
Most asylum seekers choose Western Europe, or if they are fleeing an oppressive regime in Asia, Russia is now an excellent and affordable option. Make no mistake, Citizenship by Investment by its very nature will be way out of reach for the rank and file of asylum seekers scattered in camps around Europe.
However, for those with the necessary financial assets, it will mean that they will be starting afresh in a new, fantastic, exciting free and democratic country with the same rights as everyone else, quite possibly with a ready-made business or at least some investments to focus on.
Life doesn’t get much better than that!
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