By Salman Siddiqui
American citizens have one of the most powerful passports in the world, and yet, for many investors, it simply does not serve all their needs.
This is the journey of American investor Douglas Spencer who searched for the right country for his second citizenship that would fit him and his wife, who is from Africa. Their story is intertwined with his tale of many adventures and romance which led them to find a two new passports for the price of just one in the Caribbean.
Spencer works as a Linux DevOps engineer with Toptal and is also building a startup company, but he’s much more than that. Here’s his story:
Please tell us about yourself. Who is Douglas Spencer, what is his life like in the U.S.?
I was born in the USA, grew up on a farm in Minnesota, developed an early interest in science and technology, and became a self-taught computer programmer starting in the 1980s. I would check out stacks of books from the local library and absorb everything I could learn about computers, programming, and technology before the Internet was commonly available. Technology was an escape from the long winters and boredom of living in Minnesota. I later moved to Chicago, took flying lessons, became a pilot, and flew myself across the USA, from Provincetown, MA to Catalina Island, CA. Eventually, it seemed like I had run out of new places to visit in the USA, so I tried something different.
In 2016, I applied and was accepted as a volunteer bush pilot for Remote Area Medical to help people in need of medical services in the Amazon Rainforest in Guyana. I had the honor of flying with Stan Brock before his passing at 82 years old. Stan was the co-star with Marlin Perkins of the old popular Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom series. Stan had sold everything he owned from his television and movie star career to start Remote Area Medical to help the indigenous people of Guyana to get access to medical care. Stan's life of adventures, simplified living, helping people, and freedom appealed to me very much.
I later traveled throughout South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Africa. The more I traveled and experienced other countries, the more adventures I had, the more people I met, the more comfortable I felt with outside the USA. During my adventures, I met an exceptional software engineer from Kenya who was also traveling. It was as if we had known each other for a lifetime, we became very close, and she became my wife.
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?
As someone who works with technology, I try to always have a backup and as a software engineer, my code has to anticipate and handle exceptions. This has carried over more recently to citizenship. I didn't want any single entity to have a monopoly on my freedoms, my ability to travel, or on where I can live in the world.
USA citizenship provides a great passport, but it also brings a lot of reporting and compliance hassles, especially for citizens living abroad. I'm constantly astounded by the potential pitfalls of being a US citizen abroad, such as potentially not being able to contribute to a retirement account while working from another country, or that power of attorney for your spouse may make their bank accounts subject to FATCA and FBAR.
The thing that really solidified St. Kitts and Nevis was the Limited Time offer for a family to get citizenship for the same price as an individual. St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship provided a great opportunity to quickly acquire a second citizenship, with a good passport for travel, and opportunities for my wife and I to live together in St. Kitts and Nevis or multiple OECS and CARICOM countries. St. Kitts citizenship also enables me to visit Kenya, without needing to apply for a visa, something my US passport doesn't provide.
You mentioned your visa situation as being more complicated because your wife is from Kenya. What did you mean by that?
Many countries are not as straightforward as the USA to request documents required for a citizenship or residency application. As an example, I was able to request my FBI report online and go to a post office to send my fingerprints electronically to receive the report quickly. To request a similar report from Kenya required filling out paper forms and finding someone to take physical fingerprints which were then sent to the Kenya Embassy in Washington DC to be processed. The turnaround time was much slower. We encountered a few issues that slowed the process, but Stacey [Ann Aberdeen – a St. Kitts and Nevis local agent who is an attorney and founder of Aberdeen Law] was able to ensure that everything moved ahead, despite with COVID restrictions and delays.
There are many citizenship by investment routes offered by many countries. How did you end up choosing St. Kitts for your second passport/citizenship?
St. Kitts and Nevis has been a CBI that has interested me for a long time. They offer great travel freedom, at a reasonable price with a CBI program that is the longest running in the world and very well respected. The due diligence that St. Kitts requires helps to increase visa free access, which reflects in the fact that they are now tied with Barbados for the best visa and visa on arrival access in the Caribbean.
I considered Puerto Rico, with Act 20/22and 60 while also having warm Caribbean weather, but I would still have a lot of paperwork requirements and other restrictions like I have as a USA citizen. With St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship, I have the freedom to live life with more freedom and less paperwork.
I will have the ability to apply for Kenyan citizenship after 7 years of marriage, but their passport only has access to 69 countries, so we would be very limited in our travel and living options. Vanuatu has a CBI program that is fast, but is not well respected and their travel and financial opportunities may suffer in the future. St. Lucia and other Caribbean countries were options I considered, but the family discount offered by St. Kitts and Nevis put them as #1.
What did you invest in St. Kitts for your citizenship?
I contributed to the Sustainable Growth Fund for my citizenship. I like the simplicity of it versus buying qualifying real estate.
How long was the process to acquire the St. Kitts citizenship/passport for you and your family?
It took us about 9 months to be issued our St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship certificates and about 12 months to receive our passports.
Much of this time was due to getting paperwork from Kenya for my wife, with COVID restrictions slowing the process. For example, Kenya requires physical fingerprints for their police clearance certificate, but most police stations in the USA were not doing fingerprinting, due to COVID. This took over a month to get the results.
About a month of the delay was also due to my USA based bank freezing my checking account while they investigated the ~$150,000 international wire transfer I had requested to the Sustainable Growth Fund. The bank's security and fraud investigation person had never heard of Citizenship by Investment anywhere, didn't believe that anyone would choose to invest in another citizenship when they were already a US citizen, and didn't believe it was a legitimate and legal purpose. I made calls every day to follow up, and eventually had to provide documentation of source of funds and information about the purpose of the funds.
This is one area where opting for the real estate purchase may have been easier than the SGF route, since banks understand sending large wire transfers for domestic and international real estate purchases. They don't understand sending large sums to acquire personal freedom and travel options with a new citizenship.
How would you describe your experience working with Stacey’s firm to acquire your citizenship? How did they help you?
I had initially talked on the phone with one of the big firms that processes CBI for multiple countries about applying for St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship. That experience seemed like talking with a used car dealership, they were very secretive about the requirements, and their quoted fee for representation in the process was very expensive, but "negotiable." I decided I didn't want to work with lawyers who are supposed to represent me, but expected me to bargain with them first to get a fair price, so I continued looking.
I initially contacted Stacey by email and that was a completely different experience. She responded quickly and sent me a checklist of everything that is required, what the costs would be and when they need to be paid, and she was very knowledgeable and open about the process. She quoted a reasonable fee for her firm's services, and I felt like our interests were aligned in making sure we would be able to complete the process successfully before starting and committing funds. I also liked that she actually lives and works in St. Kitts and Nevis.
Stacey's firm helped us in countless ways. Making sure everything was completed on time, making contingencies in case the timelines could not be met, making sure all documentation was in the form required for CBI, and being very responsive to concerns and issues. Most of the process was done remotely, which helped greatly during COVID restrictions. We only met one time during the process.
Can you describe the feeling when you got your St. Kitts citizenship? What did that mean to you?
Receiving St. Kitts citizenship was a very happy occasion. My wife and I both gained new freedoms to live in multiple countries long term and travel visa free as a family, while avoiding hassles, expenses, and requirements that living in the USA would entail. As a US citizen, I gained a new freedom to choose to renounce and opt out of piles of paperwork, pitfalls, and needing an international accountant and lawyer on retainer to make basic decisions. I have not renounced my US citizenship, but it feels good to have that ability.
What advice would you offer to other foreigners like you who are looking to acquire a second citizenship in the Caribbean?
Do a cost/benefit analysis of what you want to accomplish and consider how you will fund it. Find a firm that will work with you to understand the process from the start and doesn't just see you as a big paycheck.
For US citizens who are primarily seeking to lower their taxes, Puerto Rico Acts 20/22/60 may be a good option in the Caribbean.
For people who are invested in cryptocurrency, there are Caribbean CBI countries that accept cryptocurrency as a funding source. St. Kitts and Nevis doesn't currently allow cryptocurrency to fund their CBI. I was able to utilize my bank accounts, 401(k) from when I was living in the USA, and investment accounts to raise funds. You may be able to get a low interest rate loan against your 401(k) or a margin loan to fund CBI.
Tell us about your life in the U.S. and your plans for the future?
I sold my house and belongings in the USA and plan to live internationally. My wife and I are making plans for the future, which will primarily be outside the USA.
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