About the show

Each episode on the investment Immigration Podcast by Uglobal.com, host Salman Siddiqui sits down with leading professionals, attorneys, thought leaders and government officials to discuss the latest developments impacting citizenship and residency by investment. Whether you´re someone who takes part in cross border transactions, works in the investment immigration community or are personally interested in participating in citizenship or residency investment, tune each week to the Investment Immigration podcast to stay up to date on what´s happening in the investment immigration world.

About the host

Salman Siddiqui is the host of Uglobal’s Investment Immigration Podcast series. Siddiqui is a versatile storyteller and embodies the spirit of a true global citizen. His own immigration journey took him to many places around the world, including the UK, Cyprus, Turkey, and Qatar. He has written dozens of in-depth articles and features on global investment immigration programs for the Uglobal Immigration Magazine and website. He is a journalist and creative content editor by training. He earned his master’s in arts degree from SOAS, University of London. He is currently based in Berlin, Germany.

Salman Siddiqui

Episode Transcript

Philippe: There are many reasons to choose the South American country as a home, but at the forefront you have the ease of processing and application. You don't need tons of documents like in the USA or in Canada. The lifestyle is very pleasant and it's a peaceful region. There is no conflict at all. And moreover, the required minimum capital amounts are rather moderate as compared to many other destinations in North America, in Europe, even in Central America. So many reasons why to go for those countries.

Salman: Welcome to the investment immigration podcast by Uglobal.com With weekly in-depth interviews with the world's leading investment immigration professionals. Hi, everyone. This is the Investment Immigration podcast, and I'm your host, Salman Siddiqui. This week we are going to talk about the investment immigration options in South America. Specifically, we're going to talk about Paraguay and Uruguay. Now, not many people know this, but South American countries like Paraguay and Uruguay offer permanent residency and citizenship options to investors from around the world, and many people opt for it as a second residency and passport destination. But why should anyone consider these countries, given that there are so many other investment immigration options around the world? To help us answer this question and many more questions about investment immigration in South America this week, our guest is Philippe May. He's the CEO of EC Holdings and he is currently based in Singapore. Welcome to the show, Philippe.

Philippe: Thank you for hosting me.

Salman: Great. So, Philippe, let's get into the heart of the matter. Tell our listeners why should investors seriously consider South America as an investment immigration destination?

Philippe: There are many reasons to choose decent South American country as a home, but at the forefront you have the ease of processing and application. You don't need tons of documents like in the USA or in Canada. The lifestyle is very pleasant and it's a peaceful region. We now see war in Europe. We see disturbances in the Middle East all the time, in Asia there are tensions as well, only in South America. There is peace. There is no conflict at all. And moreover, the required minimum capital amounts are rather moderate as compared to many other destinations in North America, in Europe, even in Central America. So many reasons why to go for those countries.

Salman: Okay, but I'll make a little bit of pushback there. So South America's reputation generally in Europe and in America is not as a beacon for peace. The perception of that region is actually the total opposite of what you just said. People think about economic hardships there. They think about political turmoil there when they think about any country in South America. So given this perception, what you're saying would come across as a big surprise to our listeners in the US. So what would you say to them? Like is what they are hearing from the media is all wrong? Is that what you're saying?

Philippe: Absolutely. Seeing is believing. And all I can say is that South America is an entire continent. It's as big as North America. And you have more than ten countries there. I don't deny that some of the countries suffer from bad governance, from hyperinflation. Some of them maybe the majority is even affected by the effects of drug trafficking and other criminal activities. But within this huge continent, there is also beacons of stability and peace. So at EC Holdings, we have carefully chosen the countries that do not only offer a smooth immigration process, but also a high quality of life. Look at Uruguay. Uruguay is called the Switzerland of South America. Nowadays, maybe we should call it the Singapore of South America because Switzerland is on the way and Singapore is on the upsurge. So is Uruguay. In Uruguay, traditionally a lot of wealthy Argentines have taken residence, but also Chileans, Brazilians, Europeans, some North Americans. That trend has accelerated in recent years. And since the end of the pandemic, Uruguay has not had any civil war for many, many years. In Uruguay, you don't find the usual problems that are associated with large mega metropolis in Latin America.

Philippe: I wouldn't want to leave myself in a big city like in Sao Paulo or in Mexico City. But Montevideo in Uruguay is a totally different kettle of fish, similar Paraguay. Paraguay is about the size of Germany or Japan, yet it has only 6, 7 million residents. It's a rural country. It lacks those huge cities and the crime associated with them. It is peaceful and a lot of foreigners enjoy the lifestyle there, which cannot be said of all other South American countries, of course. So I back to distinguish and to not treat all the countries in one region the same as one. It's the same in Southeast Asia. You have civil war in Myanmar, you have a lot of armed insurgency in the Philippines, but Singapore is perfectly safe. Same in the Middle East, UAE totally safe. Qatar, as we can see, totally safe. So same in South America. The media in the US may not give a very nuanced picture about Latin America, so the perception is often wrong.

Salman: Okay, point well noted. But then why is it that most people don't think about that part of the world, like countries like Uruguay? You mentioned Paraguay. You mentioned when it comes to investment immigration, do you think the problem then is is just a lack of awareness or poor marketing of those regions?

Philippe: Different reasons, of course. One reason is the marketing. These countries are small and have limited resources. They have limited budgets for investment promotion overseas and also a limited diplomatic and consular network to promote themselves overseas. Moreover, these countries do not require a real estate investment from immigrants, which means that there is no real estate developers like, say, in Spain or in Portugal or in Greece who have a big budget to go out and promote the destinations. And of course, the countries are relatively far away from the rest of the world. They are Spanish speaking, which makes it slightly more difficult to promote than if you are an English speaking country. Look at Malta, very small, very tiny island in the Mediterranean, but big in promotion because the English speaking, yes, that's an advantage. But the fact that they are far away may be an advantage for some. The fact that they don't speak English doesn't mean you have a problem going there. English is not the official language, but especially in Uruguay, lots of people speak English. In Paraguay, you will get around and Spanish. Language can be learned quite easily, but it's not the condition to go there. So these are the reasons why the countries are overlooked.

Salman: And do you think there's also partly the blame also goes to the government policies in those countries like Paraguay and Uruguay, who haven't perhaps thought much about this, about how to promote their countries or their policies are not that developed yet. They still need perhaps thinking on that front.

Philippe: Well, these countries do not have citizenship by investment programs, so they do not go out on roadshows to promote their immigration programs like, for example, St Kitts and Nevis is doing or Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean. Even in Portugal, you do not have an investment promotion agency which is as active as, say, the one in Malta. Malta residency is very active. They have the budget for it. That's not the case in South America. But these are internal matters. They do not mean that the residency there is any less attractive. It just explains why there is less people going for it.

Salman: I see. Okay, good. And thanks for mentioning all of that. Now let's talk a little bit about the advantages for investors. And I'm particularly talking about American investors in South America. So if somebody from the US, you're trying to sell them the idea that they should consider an investment immigration option in Uruguay or Paraguay, what would you tell an American investor and what advantages do they have?

Philippe: Well, different strokes for different folks at EC Holdings, we deal a lot with high net worth individuals who typically look for tax friendly places of residence. In the US, you have the unique situation that taxation is based on citizenship. So an American investor will need to renounce his US citizenship first before he can improve his tax situation. However, this is possible in both countries. Uruguay and Paraguay do offer citizenship to residents who have been in the country for only three years. So American high net worth individuals can achieve this goal. Of course, they could also acquire an economic citizenship in the Caribbean at a much faster pace, renounce their US citizenship, and then go on to move either in the Caribbean itself or if that's not where they like to be in a place like in South America, the two countries have a lot of. Lifestyle advantages over many other countries. They have huge land available. They have a lot of nature. They have a healthy lifestyle. They have food security. There is no pollution from big industry. There is no communal violence. There is no problems like you see in a lot of ghettos of big US cities.

Philippe: So people can enjoy a good, peaceful life, can raise their children, can go to walk in the nature, walk on the beach undisturbed. Things which maybe in the US are not possible everywhere because the density of the population, because of the general level of crime. I'm not saying it's impossible anywhere in the US, but you have to be more picky. In Paraguay, Uruguay, you can go wherever you want and you are fine. So I would say the lifestyle is an advantage. Besides the possibility to acquire citizenship and also remember, these countries are on the southern hemisphere. So you have immigrants who occasionally want to go back home to their country of origin, and they can do that easily, like how is it called like a bird? So in the wintertime when it's cold in the northern hemisphere, they go to South America. And when it gets colder down there in July, August, they may want to go back to visit their friends and relatives with direct flights, of course. So quite an attractive proposition.

Salman: Right. And you mentioned something about the tax benefits. And from what I understand a little bit about it is that especially for Americans, it's much more complicated once they are deciding to move to another country. The second they are concerned whether their income will be taxed twice, how exactly does it work for them in Uruguay or Paraguay? If you could talk a little bit more on that.

Philippe: Well, EC Holdings is not a tax advisory firm, so we cannot go into details. What I can share with you is the following. While Uruguay has regular tax rates in Paraguay, the maximum tax rate on local income is 10%. So if someone is looking for a tax efficient residence from day one, Paraguay is definitely attractive. But the catch for any US person is definitely to get rid of the US person status. Now, if that's a holder of a green card or a foreigner living in the US, it's easy. They just move and they are out. If they are a US citizen or if they are born in the US, which makes them a US citizen too. It's a bit more complicated and they will have to go for citizenship. But Paraguay and Uruguay offer it within only three years. In other countries, even in Latin America, it's longer in Panama, which is very popular among Americans. It's five years in Brazil, it's usually five years in Costa Rica, it's seven years. So these two relatively small South American countries are very attractive for those Americans who want to start a new life.

Salman: Okay. And let's now talk about the bureaucracy that one would have to deal with when applying, for example, for permanent residency in Uruguay or Paraguay. So for the benefit of our listeners, could you tell us about the process, what it's like, what kind of bureaucracy? Because I've interviewed many people from different parts of the world and I've heard horror stories, even from some countries in Europe, about how the delays are basically ruining their timelines of investors. So what is it like in these countries?

Philippe: So the timeline is different in Paraguay and Uruguay. Let's start with Paraguay. Applicants need to provide civil documents with Apostille or if they are from a country that does not issue Apostille. Their civil documents need to be attested by the Paraguayan embassy in charge. They visit the country, submit their applications within usually a few days. The relevant meetings can be arranged and then they will have to wait for their approval and for the issue of an ID card. Of course our staff at EC holding. These people will walk them through the process to make it as painless as possible. But once all the meetings are done, they will need to wait about 2 to 3 months until they get the documents at hand.

Salman: That sounds so bad!

Philippe: That's not bad at all. In Uruguay, it's different and it's even better. Again, documents need to be apostille or attested. Usually approve of income has to be provided again with an attestation. And then we welcome the applicants in Montevideo at the airport or at the port or wherever they enter the country, Walk them through the process with the authorities. Usually in Montevideo, but can be in another city as well. Takes a few days and within about ten days only they will get a temporary residence card, although they apply for permanent residence, but they will get a temporary residence card which looks more or less the same, like a national ID card or a permanent residence card. It's only on the back which says it's temporary. While the authorities are examining the application more thoroughly, they can use the temporary residence card. And after around 6 to 8 months, a permanent residence card will be issued to them. So they go back to the ID card office and convert the card. But in the meantime, they already have a temporary residence card, which allows them to do pretty much the same like anyone else.

Salman: Right. So investors, they need to visit the country or they can start the process by appointing a lawyer on their behalf.

Philippe: It's absolutely essential for every applicant to visit the country in person. That includes even spouses or children who are included in the application. Of course, we at EC holding collect all the documents first, so we get the civil documents, the birth certificate, etc. with the relevant attestations or apostille in advance. The client should send them over about three four weeks before so that we can work on them. But then, yes, they have to go to the country in person to do the necessary there. We will handhold them throughout the process, but nothing difficult at all. You couldn't do it on your own, but with our help it's quite easy. So a few days in the country are actually sufficient to submit all these documents that are required.

Salman: Right. And talking a little bit more about the criteria that one has to meet. So, for example, for permanent residency, is there a requirement that you have to stay in the country for minimum number of days?

Philippe: It depends, in Uruguay. You are supposed to stay in the country for a minimum number of days in Paraguay. That's not really the case. So investors typically do spend some time in the country, but it's always up to them how much they want to be there. We do not require them to spend more or less time. They can choose whichever lifestyle they want to live, so they may stay there full time, they may stay there part time. That is up to them. But the application is always for a permanent residence, so the clients do not have to make a loop of the temporary residence for a too long time. In Uruguay, they get this temporary residence card first. During that process, they should stay there. In Paraguay, there is no such thing as a temporary residence until recently, so people usually get the permanent residence. Recently there was a change. So there are two options either to get a permanent residence right away. Again, for those who set up a company or to get the temporary one first, which can then be converted to permanent after two years. But time to citizenship is always three years, regardless of what you have first in both country and time to citizenship starts from day one when applicants arrive in the country.

Salman: Right. And you know about the timeline for the citizenship? Actually, I've read different articles on that point. For example, I read that maybe in two or three years you can file your application for citizenship, but the time that you actually get your citizenship in countries like Paraguay or Uruguay could take much longer. Is that.

Philippe: True? No, not longer than that. But of course, if you submit an application for citizenship after three years of residence, you won't get it a week or two later. The process takes several months. That's clear. In the case of Paraguay, the timeline is three years for everybody. In the case of Uruguay, the time of residence required for married people who live in Uruguay with their spouse is three years. For single applicants, it's five years. That's to be taken note of. But typically, yes, an application for citizenship takes several months. Every case is different. Individually, it depends on the person, on the person's background, on the person circumstances, sometimes on the place of application. So you are not going to walk away with a passport three years after you arrive. It's more something like three and a half years or in that range.

Salman: I see. Okay. Thank you for clarifying that point. Now let's also talk about the minimum investment thresholds that one needs to meet in Paraguay and Uruguay. So if you could also talk about that.

Philippe: Again, different sets of rules in different countries. In Paraguay, you have the possibility to set up a company which will need to invest 70,000 US dollar within the first ten years. Or alternatively, you can use your existing income as proof of independent means. In Uruguay, normally applicants, they show a proof of income from overseas in the range of $1,500, $2,000 per month and up. So they would have to provide an accountant letter that is again apostille or attested which states their income so that it can be made sure that they have sufficient means on their own to stay in the country. But an investment is not required.

Salman: I see. Okay. That's very interesting. And let's talk about the options. As for investment, like, for example, in most countries, especially the Golden Visa countries in Europe, they offer several real estate options. One can buy houses or even commercial entities. So what kind of options are we looking in? South American countries like Uruguay and Paraguay.

Philippe: Both countries are open for business, so foreigners can own real estate, can buy land, and the tax rates are no different for them and for local citizens. So it's not like in Singapore where foreigners have to pay higher tax rate when they purchase real estate and where they are banned from buying land property usually. So foreigners can buy pretty much anything they like at the same rates. Like locals. Real estate is one option. It can be residential, it can be commercial or what is also very attractive in these countries. Agricultural real estate in both countries. There is a lot of cattle farming. There is also production of soybeans. And in the case of Uruguay, there is also production of wine, olives. So many ways to get hold of real estate and to make use of it in Paraguay. The yield on residential property, the rental yield tends to be a bit higher than in Uruguay. On the other hand, we see a very dynamic property market in the region of Punta del Este in Uruguay, which is a hotspot for tourism. Personally, I believe that real estate prices will go up much more there because if you compare the prices of condominium or of a house in Punta del Este and you compare it to the prices in other tourism hotspots like in Miami, in the US or in Marbella, in Spain, let alone in Monaco, it's still lagging very much behind. So real estate properties probably a good option for investors. Corporate investments are as well, there is fewer restrictions for foreign ownership on local companies and what they can do with the company. So foreigners can set up the company own 100% of the shares, can be director, can run the company by themselves. Very little discrimination, very little problem in running such companies and very few restriction. As for the sectors, for the industries where they can get involved in.

Salman: Right. And you mentioned one place where tourism looking up and you think real estate is going to pick up there. So, for example, if an American investor wants to perhaps buy a hotel there or maybe build a hotel there, how would that work? Is it even possible to do that?

Philippe: Absolutely. In Punta del Este, which I mentioned earlier, there is a Trump Tower and a lot of real estate in Uruguay, particularly in the coastal area around these tourist resort towns, is owned by foreigners, not from the USA, but mostly from Argentina. The law, however, does not make a difference in Westerners from USA or elsewhere, are just as welcome as Argentines. So no problem at all in this sense.

Salman: Okay, great. And let's now talk about the trends that you're seeing in those countries from which countries usually the investors are coming from when they are opting for countries like Uruguay, like you mentioned, like, well, the Argentinians are going there, but are there people from other parts of the world also coming? What are you noticing?

Philippe: Interesting. In Latin America, you have four or five countries which are very much slated for immigration, especially wealth migration. This is besides Uruguay and Paraguay. Panama, probably the most famous. You have Costa Rica, very popular among North Americans for retirement and probably the Dominican Republic. Other countries are open to immigration as well, but not as popular for various reasons. So the situation in Uruguay and Paraguay is such that traditionally the bulk of wealthy migrants come from Argentina and from Brazil. The patterns, however, are changing in the sense that the immigration becomes more diversified. You have more and more North Americans and Europeans moving for various reasons again, be it that they don't feel well at home where they are, be it that they are looking for a different lifestyle. You have had immigrants from East Asia in Paraguay for a long time, not in large numbers, but still there is a sizable community of South Koreans, of Chinese from Taiwan and Japanese in Paraguay, in Uruguay. There is much less Asian folks, but recently there has been an influx of Indians from the IT sector particularly. So we are seeing more people looking at these countries and considering going there. Panama may be a bit overrated. They have changed their programs recently. It's very difficult to get citizenship after five years of residence. Even so, we may also see a shift from Panama to South America. I believe the two countries are still underrated big time, and we'll see more people coming, particularly from Europe and from Asia, from the neighbor countries. Immigration has always been there, will always be there obvious, similar with US, Canada, but there will be more Europeans going further away than just to Spain or Italy who want the inverted seasons. And there is more investors from Asia as well.

Salman: Thank you for sharing that. And we are coming to the end of our show. And before I go, I'll give you a few more moments to talk about why investors should seriously consider Paraguay and Uruguay and if you have to sell a destination there in, say, 30 seconds, how would you do it, Philippe?

Philippe: Well, at EC Holdings, we deal with direct citizenship programs in the Caribbean. That's not the case here. We deal with programs in Europe like Latvia, where you probably never, ever get your citizenship, but you get the residence fast. We deal with programs like Portugal where you need to be resident for five years to become a citizen. The cost is all in the six digits. So Uruguay, Paraguay is somewhere in between. It's not as costly as the others. It's not a direct citizenship yet. The timeline is not as long as, say, in Portugal or not to mention Spain or Italy. So it's something in between.

Salman: Thank you so much, Phillippe, for sharing that with our listeners. And you were great in making us aware about so many opportunities there. And I'm sure a lot of listeners will look it up and see what they can do there. So thank you again. And I want to finally say a shout out to our listeners that please stay tuned. There will be more episodes about programs from around the world, so keep listening. Thank you. You've been listening to the Investment Immigration podcast by Uglobal.com. Join us again soon for more in-depth conversations exploring investment, immigration opportunities from around the world.

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