By Uglobal Staff
High net worth individuals looking to obtain citizenship in a second country based on investment have a wide array of options. However, before leaping into what rankings and other investors consider the “best” program, you first need to determine what is most important to you in a citizenship-by-investment program.
After all, if your colleague is raving that Singapore’s program is the best, note that it will require you to renounce your primary citizenship and compel any sons to serve two years in the uniformed services when they turn 18. Plus you’ll have to fork over at least $1.8 million. Good with that?
If not, advisers recommend setting down your priorities.
Do you want to relocate or merely invest? Do you want to buy real estate, invest in bonds, start a business or fund a national initiative? Are you comfortable with another language? Are you in a hurry or do you have time to wait? How will the tax laws affect you? How important is the cost of living? These are some factors to consider, according to the Global Residency & Citizenship Report 2016 by Montreal-based Stephane Tajick Consulting.
The results of a survey of 213 high-net-worth individuals who migrated from their countries of origin, acquired new citizenship or planned to do so, found that 79 percent of those who applied for an additional nationality, or intended to do so, said favorable capital requirements were an important factor in their choice of destination country, according to the “The Wealthy Migrant report” by Arton Capital. Fully 77 percent cited favorable time requirements. The general ease of obtaining citizenship, such as a clearly defined application process, was a priority among 69 percent, while 74 percent said access to a wider range of clients or customers mattered to them. Access to a wider professional market was an important factor for 61 percent and 72 percent said they valued access to better financing options.
A migrant’s choice of country is also influenced by its possible role as a safe haven in case of war or unrest in their home country. Almost two-thirds of respondents consider safety and security.
The 2017 Global Residence & Citizenship Report says many investors’ priorities are simple: “First, someone will look if it provides access to the U.S. and then Europe. The U.S. comes before the EU – not because it’s more important, but because if a passport provides visa-free access to the U.S., it’s likely that it also provides access to over 170 other countries, including the EU.”
Jon Green, partner at Henley & Partner Canada, offered additional advice.
“Individuals interested in Caribbean programs are typically driven by the increased travel freedom and global mobility these programs provide, in addition to the educational, tax and succession planning benefits offered,” he said. “Those interested in European programs are motivated by the safety, security and stability that European countries provide, as well as the increased travel freedom across the EU.”
There are differences in the price tags between European and Caribbean programs.
“With regard to European programs, the minimum capital requirement for single applicants ranges from 880,000 to 2 million euros, while the minimum capital requirement for Caribbean programs for single applicants ranges from $100,000 to $250,000,” Green said.
Investors also have their eye on the calendar. “Generally speaking, the process can take anywhere from six months to three years for European programs, while the Caribbean programs typically have processing times of three to four months,” he said.
A United States passport is the goal of many high-wealth investors to live the American dream.
The country continues to be the most popular for citizenship, accepting almost 10,000 applicants a year through its EB-5 visa, launched in 1990, which provides a green card that allows an investor and immediate family to live, study and work anywhere in the country.
The program calls for an investment of at least $1 million ($500,000 in a targeted employment area) in a business venture that creates or preserves at least 10 full-time jobs.
New York jumped nine rungs to reach second place in the 2017 Global Residence & Citizenship Report, propelled by growth in the survey’s economic power, safety and luxury categories. Weaknesses include cost of living and real estate, as well as taxation.
The U.S. taxes its citizens on their worldwide income, even if they don’t reside in the country. Green card holders are taxed on their worldwide income and can still be liable for income tax in the U.S., even years after they forfeit their green card.
“U.S. taxation is particularly painful to the HNWI holding a green card or citizenship,” says the report, but the country offers the best potential to grow their wealth. “If moving to New York will enable you to significantly increase your wealth, it will offset the cost of heavy taxation.”
According to the survey, the U.S. also has the drawback of long processing times for Chinese applicants, who remained the majority in fiscal year 2016, with 7,516 EB-5 investors, followed by applicants from Vietnam, South Korea, China Taiwan-born, Brazil and India.
The biggest draws for investors in the U.S. are a better lifestyle; business, travel, education and health care opportunities; and a better future for their children, said James Bowling, chief executive of South Africa-based Monarch & Co. There is a waiting period of approximately 24 months to process conditional green cards, he said.
According to Monarch & Co., benefits include:
- One of the fastest methods to gain permanent residency in the United States for the investor, his or her spouse and unmarried children under 21.
- Freedom to live and work anywhere in the U.S., including in states such as Florida or Texas with no state income tax
- Access to public elementary, middle and high schools and lower cost in-state tuition at public colleges
- No visa sponsor requirements
- No H-1B work visa needed for employment
- In the event of a political change or significant event in the investor’s home country, immediate entry to the U.S.
- Potential for U.S. citizenship after five years of permanent residency.
Because English is the universal business and computer language, other programs in what’s sometimes called the Anglo 5 – U.S., Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand – are also highly popular.
Cyprus lands at the top of several lists of the best citizenship-by-investment programs, partly because it provides fast-tracked EU citizenship with no physical stay requirements, said Monarch & Co.’s Bowling.
Most passports – some 2,000 since the program began in 2013 – are issued to nationals of Russia, China, Ukraine, and Syria and other Arab countries.
Investors must put at least 2 million euros into buying or developing real estate (including land). The process takes approximately three months. According to Bowling, benefits include:
- The right to live and work anywhere within the 28 countries of the European Union
- Visa-free or on-arrival travel to over 180 countries or territories
- The right to attend schools and universities within any EU country for free or at heavily subsidized rates
- World-renowned health care facilities in the EU
- Short investment period of only three years (but must retain a property with a minimum value of 500,000 euros indefinitely)
- No wealth, inheritance, gift or dividends tax
- No language tests
Similarly, the Malta Individual Investor Program has a lot of fans, earning the top rank among citizenship-by-investment programs in the 2016 Global Residence and Citizenship Programs report.
Among European programs, only Malta’s provides a passport with visa-free access to the U.S.
According to Identity Malta, the government regulatory body that administers the program, the MIIP’s advantages include:
- Citizenship in an EU country that is stable, neutral and highly respected.
- Visa-free travel to more than 160 countries.
- The right of work and establishment in all 28 EU countries.
- Possible tax-planning benefits
- Dependence on more than one passport
- Personal security
- A stable political system
- Good quality of life
- Better education
To qualify for citizenship, the main applicant must be a resident of Malta for 12 months and meet the following investment requirements:
- Buy real estate worth at least 350,000 euros and hold it for at least five years; or
- Lease a property for five years at an annual rent of at least 16,000 euros; and
- Make a contribution to the National Development and Social Fund
- Invest in stocks, bonds or special-purpose vehicles for at least 150,000 euros and hold the investment for at least five years.
Applicants must have a clean criminal record, show they do not suffer from any contagious diseases and be covered by an international health insurance policy. They must contribute to the National Development and Social Fund: 650,000 euros for the main applicant, and 25,000 euros each for a spouse and minor children.
Other well-regarded citizenship programs in Europe include Austria and Portugal. For a minimum investment of 350,000 euros, investors and qualifying dependents can apply for residency in Portugal and later fully-fledged EU citizenship with no physical stay requirements, making it a good value for the money, says Monarch & Co.’s Bowling.
Grenada’s citizenship-by-investment program, launched in 2013, has been awarded Best International Citizenship Program last year. Investors look to the Caribbean island nation for tax benefits, travel benefits, access to U.S. to live, work and study on an E2 Investor Visa, and a sound investment pegged to the U.S. dollar, according to Bowling. Minimum investment is $350,000 in a qualifying real estate deal.
According to Monarch & Co., benefits include:
- Fast processing (within three months) with inclusion of dependent children below 26
- No physical residency requirements
- No requirement to travel to Grenada during the application process (or thereafter)
- No interview, education or management experience required
- Visa-free or on-arrival travel to over 145 countries or territories, including the UK, Schengen member countries and China
- Entry into the U.S. through an E2 investor visa
- Short investment period of only three years
- No tax on worldwide income, capital gains or inheritance tax
This Caribbean island nation requires a $100,000 contribution to a government fund for the main applicant, $175,000 for the main applicant and a spouse; and $200,000 for a main applicant and three dependents.
According to Monarch & Co., benefits include:
- Lifetime citizenship, even after the applicant sells his/her interests in a real estate project
- Visa-free travel and visa-on-arrival travel to over 152 countries, including the 26 member states of the Schengen area, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea
- No capital gains tax, global tax, or inheritance tax. Income taxes are applicable only on incomes derived in Dominica.
- Low-cost: Donation cost of $100,000 or a minimum investment of $200,000 in real estate
- Applicants can apply with multiple dependents – children under age 28, and parents/grandparents over age 55.
- Three-month process that never requires an applicant to reside in Dominica or visit Dominica. No interview or language requirements. No requirement that applicants demonstrate any minimum net worth.
- Checks that prevent misuse of funds: Funds invested into real estate projects in Dominica are kept in an escrow account accessed only by the government and the developer. Funds released to the developer must be approved by the government for work actually completed.
- Allows dual citizenship
- Right to resell investment
- Access to quality education. Dominicans are eligible for scholarships from Ross University School of Medicine, whose graduates are known for scoring high on the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination.
Other well-regarded citizenship programs in the Caribbean include Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Lucia.