By Uglobal Staff
One lesson the post-pandemic world has taught wealthy individuals and investors, it is the fact that one citizenship or a single passport, even if it is from a powerful country like the U.S., might not be enough, especially in times of crisis.
Here’s one heartwarming story of one such American, whose life journey as an immigrant took him from his birthplace of Belarus to Moscow for higher studies and then for work in the U.S., where he became successful and eventually an American citizen. Later, as time passed and his children grew up and moved to Europe, he felt the need for acquiring a European passport as well, and this time he settled for the CBI route and narrowed down his options to the Bulgarian citizenship program. This is Oleg Sherbakov’s story, who successfully managed to get Bulgarian citizenship in three years despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, allowing him to not worry about the process, and as he put it, just “go out and ride my horse” on his ranch in the U.S. while professionals took care of his dual citizenship aspirations.
Who is Oleg Sherbakov and what is his life with his family like in California?
My name is Oleg Sherbakov, and we are the happy family living on 13 acres of a farmland ranch in California, with 2 horses, 6 goats, 11 alpacas and llama, just 25 minutes drive from the heart of the Silicon Valley (Intel, Cisco, Google). Almost all my professional life I worked as the consultant/contractor in designing and programming Audio DSP/Embedded systems. Some of my designs are in your iPhones, iPads, in Samsung, Xiaomi, Oppo, LG phones.
How did you end up gaining multiple citizenships?
I was born in Minsk, Belarus, was really into Chemistry and Physics, so in 1975 was accepted to Moscow State University, Physics Department. Since graduating from Moscow State University in 1982 with M.Sc. degree in Physics, I was working on my Ph. D. at the MSU Nuclear Physics institute. Then in 1986 Perestroika happened, I left university and with three friends we started our own consulting company, Infotech, working on computer design and programming. In 1989, I started consulting for KDS International from Berkeley, California, and they invited me to come and work for them in the U.S. I received an H-1 visa and came to USA in September of 1989, just before the big 6.9 magnitude Loma-Prieta earthquake hit the Bay Area! That was the welcome mat rolled out by California for me! My family joined me on an H-4 visa later on in 1990. After that, I accepted another job and received another H-1 visa, and finally in 1992 received the green card. In 1998, our family became American citizens.
I did contracting and consulting jobs for companies like Adobe, Apple, Microsoft, KLA-Tencor, Mitsui Comtek, DTI, Advanced Signal, Maxim Integrated, and others.
Why did you feel the need to acquire another passport when you already had a powerful one from the U.S.? What was your motivation?
I am very happy with all the benefits my U.S. passport provided for international travel, both for pleasure and business, but after my children graduated from colleges and started working, we all noticed that something was missing. Every year, our whole family used to go and travel to Europe, South America, Asia etc., so it was no accident that my children grew up very international. After graduating from Stanford, William and Mary University, UC Berkeley and UC San Diego, some of them took jobs in Europe, so at some point three out of all four children were working and living in the EU. And that’s when it became clear to me and them that we should do something, and to find a better solution than renewing a working visa every year, tracking and following the 90/180 rule, and even doing visa-runs. Additionally, I was beginning to plan for my retirement sometime in 2025-2026 and wanted to have the ability to spend my time roughly equally between the U.S. and Europe, without any extra visa headaches. And, also, for all my children to enjoy the same benefits and opportunities of being both USA and EU citizens.
Why did you choose Bulgaria to gain a passport from a European country via investment? What did you invest in?
So I set up these objectives:
- Receive either EU permanent residency or EU citizenship, so I will not be limited by the 90/180 rule.
- To have clean and well-defined path to permanently settle anywhere in Europe for the retirement, if needed.
- Allow my children to receive the same unlimited travel, work and residency benefits in the EU.
After all, I am a scientist by education, so I contacted some immigration attorneys in Europe, and asked them what is the best way to achieve my objectives. Some consultations were free, for some I paid the fee as requested.
After contacting companies and individuals, I began to understand much better the processes and all complexities of achieving my objectives. Then I discovered the Bulgarian citizenship program and contacted Alex Dobrinov from VD&A [Vasilev – Dobrinov & Associates]. My questions were answered, I visited Sofia and talked to Alex, and decided to go ahead with the Bulgarian citizenship.
There are three big benefits of the Bulgarian citizenship program for me:
- There are no non-refundable donations to the government; all the money you invest are yours to keep, and you can take them back after two years when the citizenship is granted.
- All your children, of any age, even older than 18 years old, are eligible and can apply for Bulgarian citizenship once you receive yours.
- The process of receiving full citizenship can be pretty short, in theory 18 months (1.5 years), practically, 2.5-3 years.
As for the investment selection, I chose the safest option, the Bulgaria 3,125% 26/03/2035 Bonds, XS1208856341.
After March 2021, by making changes to the Citizenship law, the Bulgarian government removed the bonds option, and created new ones (mutual funds, stocks, etc.), so, it is better to contact VD&A Alex Dobrinov and discuss with him what options are now available. My reasoning for selecting the government bonds was really simple: I don’t want to wake up every morning and check how my company, investment project, stock or the mutual fund is doing, I just want to go out and ride my horse.
How long was the process to acquire the Bulgarian citizenship/passport for you and your family?
Let me give you my timeline:
July 2018: I contacted VD&A and received all consultations, we signed the contract.
August 2018: I flew to Sofia and opened the Bank account (need to be in person).
September 2018: Transfer 520,000 euros to the bank, bought Bulgarian bonds.
October 2018: Received certificate from Bulgarian Investment Agency that the investment satisfies conditions for permanent residency.
November 2018: Applied and received Type-D visa from the Bulgarian consulate in Los Angeles.
December 2018: Flew to Sofia to apply for permanent residency permit (need in-person interview).
February - March 2019: The Permanent Residency Permit is approved and issued (must receive in-person).
March 2020: Another transfer of 530,000 euros to the bank, purchased additional bonds to double the investment.
April 2020: Scheduled appointment with the Ministry of Justice for my citizenship application; due to COVID-19 all appointments were cancelled - bummer!
September 2020: Appointment at the Bulgarian Embassy in Washington D.C. for the interview and to submit the documents for the Bulgarian citizenship.
November 2020: Ministry of Justice in Sofia received documents from the Embassy and started processing, assigned case number to check online.
December 2020: Ministry of Justice requested the original birth certificate and restarted the process.
May 2021: Documents reviewed by the Citizenship Council and I am waiting for the presidential decree.
September 2021: Waiting for vice presidential decree following positive review by the Citizenship Council; once decree is issued, I expect to receive my ID and passport within three days.
So, as you can see, the whole process from start to finish was for me about three years.
There was no obvious “red tape” there; the delays were in permanent residency approval, and during documents transfer from the Embassy to the Ministry of Justice. The biggest delay was due to COVID-19, from April to September 2020, when it was not possible to have any in-person interview and documents submission anywhere.
Some extra info: as usual, I investigated multiple companies that convert and transfer USD - EUR, and out of many, including Transferwise, MoneyCorp, XE and Currencies Direct, I choose and am still very happy with Wise (former Transferwise).
How would you describe your experience working with the firm to acquire your Bulgarian citizenship? How did they help you?
Very positive experience: Alex Dobrinov takes the client’s needs close to his heart, and stays on top, pushing and prodding Bulgarian bureaucracy to keep the process going. Clean financial arrangements, good contract, full support when I was in Sofia.
Can you describe the feeling when you got your American and Bulgarian citizenship? What did that mean for you?
I feel that I am very lucky, and have the best of both worlds: as a U.S. citizen, I enjoy all the benefits of this great nation; opportunities, inclusion, mobility, free pioneer spirit, fast pace and security. And as a Bulgarian citizen, I can find the enjoyment for that part of my personality that likes to slow down, take pleasure in great food, wine and conversations, to explore beautiful Bulgaria.
What advice would you offer to other foreigners like you who are looking to acquire a second citizenship in Europe?
Set up the goals and the end state you want to achieve: is it for you and your active business, or for you and your children, for your retirement, and so on. What is your timeline? Two-three years for the fast track, or you can wait five-six years for regular naturalization. Based on that, select the program. My personal journey toward the Bulgarian citizenship was a clean and enjoyable one.
Tell us about your life in the U.S. and your plans for the future?
I think that I am pretty well settled in the U.S. After all, I have lived here for 32 years, and my life path was a very satisfying one. When I came to the USA, it was just the beginning of the computer era, and I am so glad that I witnessed it. It still amazes me and brings a smile remembering those days in 80s and 90s, when you can expect to wake up and hear something really fantastic and new just happened in computers, almost every week. I still remember the free-for-all parties that Microsoft, Borland and Watcom were throwing at Marriott’s Great America in Santa Clara, when they were introducing their new Visual C/Turbo C compilers, other products. Microsoft’s Bill Gates schmoozing at the tables, and Philippe Kahn from Borland playing saxophone at the party, and “Wine Trail” party at Watcom…
Well, different things for different seasons. Nowadays, I am pretty happy on my ranch, riding horses almost every morning, slowing down and looking forward to start traveling and spend more time in Europe. Bulgaria looks perfect for that, just between France and Italy, where my children live, so I can spend as much time as I want shuttling between them.
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