Reporting from: Bangkok, Thailand
While not my favorite cup of tea, Thailand is a great place to live for many. It’s got all of the things people talk about when they’re trying to sell you on where they live: the big city, quiet towns, amazing beaches.
One thing is for sure: Thailand is not a place for getting a second passport. For one thing, you can’t. And if you could, they don’t allow dual citizenship.
Since we talk about the concept of “flag theory“, I wanted to do a remedial course today and discuss second passport strategies you should be aware of in case you do live in a place like Thailand, but want a passport in another country.
How to get a second passport is an area of intrigue to many. But like many of the issues we talk about here, it’s actually relatively straightforward when you cut through the clutter.
I recently read an article where the author called second passports a bunch of “scam artist bull”. He said that if you qualify for a second passport, you’d “likely already know it” and you wouldn’t need sites like this to help you.
This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth. Consider just how statistically small the group of us who realize the importance of having a second passport is, and you’ll quickly realize there are likely a lot of people who have “unclaimed winnings” in the form of another citizenship somewhere.
Let’s address a few myths brought up by the nay-sayers…
Myth #1: You have to live in another country for a “REALLY, REALLY long time” to get second citizenship there
This is hard to define; with more than 200 sovereign countries and territories, there is obviously no hard and fast rule. In general, however, this doesn’t have to be true; getting a second passport is all about planning.
Yes, there are countries that have extremely long residence periods before one becomes eligible for naturalization. In Andorra, the wait is twenty years… if you have the low six figure deposit to get residency there in the first place.
Heading to central Europe, you may remember seeing earlier this year that Tina Turner renounced her US citizenship after obtaining Swiss citizenship, a process that takes at least twelve years of on-the-ground residence.
However, if your goal is to obtain a second passport, you would be ill-advised to move to these places in search of one. While you might love Switzerland, Belgium is also a nice place to live – and much less expensive. The naturalization timeline in Belgium is now anywhere from five to nine years, and you will still enjoy free access to the entire Schengen area of Europe in which to travel while you wait.
Also in Europe, Ireland offers residency to investors and entrepreneurs, with the promise of a passport (or at least the chance to apply) after five years.
In Paraguay, the timeline to naturalization is just three years, making it the fastest country to get citizenship right now. The Paraguay government seems to like that distinction. Meanwhile, Uruguay offers citizenship after four years.
No, you can’t get a passport after living somewhere for six months – but did you really think you could?
The most common exceptions to this waiting game are countries that allow their citizens to bring a non-resident spouse into the country as a legal resident, which can sometimes shorten the period required for citizenship.
For example, non-resident spouses of Belize citizens can enjoy a shortened waiting period of only one year rather than the usual five.
Similarly, Brazil is one country that offers fast-track citizenship to those “responsible for a Brazilian child”. That’s why my friend Neil Strauss wrote about “Why you should knock up a Brazilian chick” in his excellent book, Emergency.
The biggest problem with the waiting game is that countries like Singapore are realizing what they’ve got and making it harder to obtain a passport. That’s why I’m always on the look for the “next big place” where you can get in before the government gets uppity.
Anyone can tell you how great Singapore is these days. Duh.
If your goal is to get a second passport, your best bet is to establish a second residence now, as desirable countries keep making it harder and more expensive to claim their citizenship.
I expect that to continue as more and more wealthy Chinese and Russians build escape hatches from their countries.
Gain independence from your government.
Get our Freedom Seeker's Guide to Second Passports.
Myth #2: Canada has an economic citizenship program
This is an important distinction that many people don’t understand. At one point, Canada had an immigrant investor program whereby you could start a business or effectively loan money to the government in exchange for residence.
After several years of living in Canada 75% or more of the time (they rigorously count every day), you could apply for citizenship.
Such second residence programs are not the same as economic citizenship programs where you get a passport. Economic citizenship programs are run by smaller countries, such as St. Kitts and Nevis, who accept a donation to the government in exchange for citizenship (after a background check).
You don’t have to live there, or in the case of St. Kitts, even set foot there.
Canada has no such program. It’s important to know the difference between relatively instant economic citizenship opportunities and immigration programs where you get to live in a country by starting a business or buying bonds.
Merely being a resident, or even a permanent resident, of a country does not guarantee citizenship.
Myth #3: Having a second passport is all about ease of travel
While everyone’s reason for having a second passport varies, I believe it is a great diversification tool. After all, your home government effectively owns your citizenship. They decide if you’re eligible for a passport to even leave in the first place.
Imagine being a German Jew during the Holocaust and wanting to get out of Dodge. Bad idea.
Yes, it’s best to get a second passport that offers great travel opportunities. Last month, I wrote about the Cambodian second passport and how, while it may be useful for making investments in Cambodia, it’s less useful for traveling the world. That is, if you can even get it renewed (Cambodia has no official law allowing for citizenship by investment).
Cambodians enjoy visa-free travel to very few countries, which means using that passport to travel will have you spending a lot of time waiting for bureaucrats to issue you a visa.
That said, having a “Plan B” – the very reason to obtain a second passport in the first place – isn’t all about the value of a travel document. If you can get a legal, white market passport in a less than desirable country, do it so long as it doesn’t require you to renounce other citizenships or cause you undue harm.
In short, get the best second passport you can, and get any that are available to you. Even passports offered to those with ancestors from a country can be rescinded at any time.
Then, you’ll know you have another passport to protect yourself and your money from whatever comes down the pike: capital controls, high taxes, lack of freedom of movement… you name it.
Myth: You’ll be looked down upon for having a second passport
I have no idea where this one came from.
But honestly… who cares?
While I can’t speak for the loonies in Washington, DC who believe that anything you do to escape their grasp is “unpatriotic”, I can tell you that the rest of the world doesn’t really care what nationality you are.
Americans make up about four percent of the world’s population, and not being one doesn’t really matter to most people.
I constantly hear from expats who trip over themselves to tell me they “used to be from America”, as if it’s an impressive feat.
I frequently tell people I’m Norwegian or Lithuanian. It started as an interesting social experiment to see what people would say and have some fun claiming my ancestral ties. At 6’4″ and with blond hair, I could easily pass as Norwegian or Lithuanian. However, I’ve started pushing the envelope a bit and telling people I’m “from Malaysia”. No one bats an eye.
Because they don’t care.
When it comes to investing and banking, the doors will open much wider for you if you’re NOT an American. The US government has made so many laws – de facto capital controls, really – that a lot of foreign businesses would rather avoid doing business with US persons entirely.
Myth #4: A US passport is the most valuable passport in the world
Statistically speaking, this is untrue. The most valuable passport in the world is actually from Finland.
Like many other measures, American propaganda has made it seem as if the United States is number one, when in reality it’s actually tenth or twenty-third or thirty-second.
Yes, having a US passport gives you the ability to travel visa-free to many countries. However, it also excludes you from several countries and could put you in greater danger during an emergency.
More importantly, though, it limits your overseas investment opportunities. If you’re content to invest in a stock market driven up by funny money, run a business that plays by a laundry list of regulations, and pay half of your income in taxes to fund overseas wars, then by all means, stay in the United States.
If you believe the US government is your best ally, you may not want a second passport.
But if you want to take advantage of economies growing at a faster clip than 1%, that US passport may deprive you of the chance. Peter Schiff, who is speaking at my Passport to Freedom event in January, has a private investment he can’t even discuss with Americans because the government won’t allow him to.
Having a second passport is about scamming people or being a criminal
The point of a second passport is about international diversification and minimizing sovereign risk. It’s getting harder to get one in some countries because countries are trying to kow-tow to Big Governments like the US and keep certain nationalities – especially from the Middle East – out.
While I don’t suggest you take out a full-page ad promoting your newly-obtained second passport, there will be times when you may have to disclose it to certain agencies. And I don’t suggest you lie.
Getting a second passport isn’t about being Jason Bourne (sorry, Tim Ferriss) and breaking international law.
Rather, it’s about having a legal escape hatch that allows you to leave your own country when the stakes get too high.
Myth #5: Only “banana republics” issue second passports
This is false. The cheapest way to get a second passport is through your heritage. Plenty of European countries offer ancestral citizenship for filling out some paperwork and paying some fees. Yes, it’s a bureaucratic process as with anything else involving government. But it’s worth it.
If you have Irish, Italian, Polish, Lithuanian, or British ancestry, or are Jewish or have a Jewish parent, you could qualify for some of the most common citizenship programs right now. Spain and other Latin countries have made similar offers on a limited-time basis before, as well.
I wouldn’t exactly call Ireland a “banana republic”. The fact that there are more than 14 million Irish passports in circulation, despite a much smaller population in Ireland, speaks to the fact that it is possible to get citizenship through your ancestry.
Unless, of course, your ancestors are from a banana republic, in which case I can’t help you.
Beware of black market passports and gray market second passports
One thing I should clarify is that, while there is a lot of nonsense circulated by haters, there are some second passports you want to avoid. As they often say, if it’s too good to be true, it often is.
I cover most of the typical scams you’ll deal with on our Second Passport page, but it’s worth reviewing two of the most common here:
1. Gray market second passports aren’t likely to come with a naturalization certificate.
Passports don’t grow on trees, and they’re not just handed out like Halloween candy. You have to earn one, either by donating money to a government that offers economic citizenship, living in a country long enough to qualify for naturalization, or claiming a passport you’re entitled to through your family tree.
While there are shortened timelines in some countries for those who are married to local citizens or have children born in the country, you still have to be naturalized. And that process leaves you with a naturalization certificate.
When you purchase a passport from someone who sells them in the back room of a bar, you’re asking for trouble. Gray market passports are “real” passports issued in an illegitimate way by corrupt officials who won’t guarantee you’ll be able to renew their gray market second passport – or even leave the country with it.
2. A black market second passport is likely to land you in jail.
A black market passport is a passport that is either counterfeited or manufactured from lost or stolen blanks. Thieves who steal purses and wallets naturally have passports in their possession, which they can “bleach” and “re-issue” as a new passport. The problem is, most passports these days employ biometrics, and you’ll be caught and possibly thrown in jail the first time you use one.
Spy agencies, the Mafia, and terrorist groups all trade in black market passports. [UPDATE 4/15/14: Several of the suspicious individuals on board Malaysian Air flight 370 had stolen passports.] This is why black market passports have been available from countries such as Canada and Belgium.
You can avoid gray and black market passports by steering clear of nebulous offers that are too cheap or too anonymous. If you don’t know exactly where your passport is coming from, stay away.
That said, don’t fall for the mainstream media myths that seeking out a second citizenship is some kind of fool’s errand.
Gain independence from your government.
Get our Freedom Seeker's Guide to Second Passports.
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