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How to get a second passport by marriage

If you’re single, it may be possible to obtain second citizenship by marrying the love of your life

Last updated July 21, 2017

Dateline: Tokyo, Japan

For years, the stereotype of marrying a foreigner for a green card has been prevalent in the Western world. In modern Western culture, it is assumed that someone from an emerging economy marrying a US person or other Westerner is merely seeking a life of opportunity.

Now, I’m not going to argue that position one way or the other. Nor do I particularly recommend seeking out foreigners for citizenship status. Heck, with so many tax requirements, who wants to acquire US citizenship (or even a green card) anyway?

However, the stereotypical process of marrying someone for a visa or a green card can go both ways. There are countries around the world that offer expedited naturalization to those who want citizenship by marriage and the second citizenship that comes with it.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you find some random floozie to marry exclusively for the purposes of obtaining citizenship. However, our adage of “go where you’re treated best” can apply just as much to dating as it does to legal tax reduction, and it’s only reasonable to think that a global citizen would consider potential partners from countries outside of their own.

One common misconception is that marrying a foreign gives you citizenship immediately: this is only true in rare cases, and generally only in random countries.

Instead, marrying a citizen generally gives you the ability to obtain residency in their country. In the wealthiest countries, such as Canada and Ireland, marriage only gives you a reason to live in the country and become naturalized the same way as everyone else. This can mean years of maintaining a substantial presence in the country and likely paying taxes, which means that marrying someone with a “Tier A” passport may be good for citizenship but not good financially.

In some other countries, however, marriage to a local offers a fast track that reduces the timeline to naturalization. You generally still need to put in some time there, but it could be far less substantial and may not even require you to pay a lot of taxes.

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Here a few of the best ones:

1. Brazil

With a relatively unpublicized residency by investment program, Brazil offers foreigners a bureaucratic, yet straightforward process if you have some money to invest in the country. As a permanent resident of Brazil, you can apply for naturalization after four years of “uninterrupted residence” and strong ties to Brazil. However, those who have a Brazilian spouse qualify to apply for a second citizenship after just one year of uninterrupted residence in the country.

My friend, Neil Strauss, who wrote the book Emergency, has talked about “knocking up a Brazilian woman”. Classy, right? Not only does having a Brazilian child help, but the process is the same for a spouse.

Simply being married to a native Brazilian can be equally beneficial for claiming a second passport. Brazil has been noted for not extraditing its own citizens while they are on Brazilian soil, however this only applies to natural-born Brazilians (in case you’re a criminal). Brazil is a diverse melting pot that allows dual citizenship for naturalized spouses as of 2016, and its passport offers excellent visa-free travel, including to Russia.

2. Israel

While some say it’s just good common sense to marry a Jewish girl, marrying a Jew has other benefits. Israel’s Law of Return is somewhat complicated, but allows Jews and their descendants to obtain permanent residence in Israel rather easily.

An Israeli passport does restrict you from traveling to most of the Middle East, Malaysia, and Indonesia, and living in Israel comes with a high tax burden. However, it is an above average travel document for the right person.

3. Spain

There’s no need to invest a bunch of money into Spain’s residence by investment real estate program. I’m not bullish on any asset class in Spain, for obvious reasons. Legal residents of Spain are subject to the same type of colonoscopy-by-the-taxman charade that US citizens are, and becoming a naturalized Spaniard through residence is a pain.

Naturalization in Spain is a highly bureaucratic process and usually requires ten years of solid residence in the country. The tax burden for those ten years could be quite high. However, those married to a Spanish citizen are able to apply for Spanish citizenship after just one year of tax residence in the country. And a Spanish passport is an excellent travel document offering freedom of movement in the EU.

4. Portugal

As in neighboring Spain, Portugal requires those who obtain Portuguese residency to live in the country for at least six years before applying for a passport. However, those married to a Portuguese citizen can apply for naturalization more quickly.

The process doesn’t even require you to actually spend time on Portuguese soil, meaning you could live overseas with a Portuguese spouse and still qualify. However, while the process is often easier on foreigner spouses, naturalization does require you to learn some of the Portuguese language and have ties to the country.

5. Mexico

While you can’t obtain Mexican citizenship through any of the economic citizenship scams, you can shave three years off the normal naturalization process and obtain a Mexican passport through marriage. As the spouse of a Mexican, you are entitled to apply for naturalization after just two years of living with that spouse in Mexico.

While the United States government and many US persons may have convinced you that Mexico is a dirt poor country everyone is clamoring to get out of, plenty of people are moving there, including many US persons. The Mexican passport is a pretty good travel document, ranking as one of the 25 best passports in the world with visa-free access to 133 countries, including the entire Schengen Area of Europe.

6. Ireland

Don’t have Irish heritage to claim Irish citizenship by descent? Those married to, or in a registered civil relationship with, an Irish citizen can apply for an Irish passport after one year of “reckonable residence” in the European country, provided they have been married or in a civil union with their partner for three years. Unlike some other countries, Ireland now recognizes gay marriage, so your sexual orientation won’t hold you back from a passport.

The residency requirement prior to naturalization means you’ll be on the hook for the country’s high income taxes for at least one year, and you’ll need to spend a good amount of time in Ireland for at least two years to qualify. Once you have the Irish passport, you’ll be able to live anywhere in Europe and travel almost anywhere on earth. Corporate taxes are quite low, too.

7. Poland

Similar to Ireland’s program, Poland allows those with a Polish spouse to become a naturalized citizen after three years of marriage and two years of uninterrupted residence in the country. Unlike Ireland, Poland is a conservative country that does not recognize gay marriage or civil unions, so you will need to be legally married.

In addition to being married for three years, you must actually spend the majority of two years in Poland. While the country’s presence in the Schengen Area means you may be able to sneak out, the Polish government actually wants you to live in their country. Your year of residence will incur tax on your worldwide income at rates of 18-32%, although if you have an offshore company there may be ways to legally reduce your income. That said, this is still one of the more difficult citizenships to get by marriage.

There is no technical language requirement to obtain Polish citizenship by marriage, which is surprisingly as the government has nearly mandated that citizens by descent speak Polish. However, two years of living in Poland should help you learn some of the language.

8. Colombia

Colombia is the second freest economy in South America, a continent with endless opportunity. And, in my opinion, the place is perhaps the biggest hidden gem in all of the Americas, so much so that I’m personally obtaining residency by making an investment there.

However, you can speed up the 5-10 year-long process by marrying a Colombian citizen. By marriage, the timeline is shortened to only two years to obtain Colombian citizenship. The only faster way to get your hands on a Colombian passport is if you’re from another Latin country, in which case the timeline is one year.

9. Switzerland

Perhaps one of the most sought after second citizenships (or first citizenships, for that matter) on earth, Switzerland offers those married to Swiss nationals a “simplified naturalization” process.

You may remember that Tina Turner recently relinquished her US citizenship to become Swiss after fulfilling a rather long twelve year residency requirement. Getting a Swiss passport through permanent residence alone is a slow process.

However, the simplified naturalization process allows for spouses of Swiss nationals to apply for citizenship after five years of marriage, so long as they live in the confederation. You don’t even need to speak German, French, or Italian; but you should show integration into the Swiss way of life. That means no more being late for meetings.

It is also possible to qualify while residing outside of Switzerland, but that process takes an extra year. Under this option, you can apply for citizenship after six years of marriage, as long as you can demonstrate some evidence of “close ties” to Switzerland, such as frequent visits during your marriage.

10. Belize

Belize has several second residency programs, including a popular QRP program for “retirees” forty-five and over that does not lead to citizenship. If you’re a bit younger and find yourself married to a Belize citizen, however, you can apply for naturalization after just one year of legal residence in Belize.

A Belize passport doesn’t offer excellent visa-free travel, but it does fill in the gaps that many other Tier B passports don’t have, such as the UK, Ireland, Mexico, and South Africa. Belize is also an English-speaking country and has a low population count, meaning you can easily pass as Belizean when traveling.

11. Serbia

Even been to Belgrade? Walk around for an hour and you’ll realize that some of the most beautiful people on earth come from Serbia and the Balkans. Not only that, but everyone I’ve spoken to has been very warm and approachable. Not only that, but Serbia is one of my “hidden gems” for lower-cost living in Europe and has the world’s fastest improving passport.

So, how do you become a Serbian citizen through marriage? Quite simply, you must have been married to a Serbian for three years, maintain permanent residence, and sign paperwork claiming that Serbia is “your country”. As with many such countries, the rules on how much time you actually need to live in Serbia are rather nebulous and not always enforced, but they are generally less strict than western countries that count every day.

12. Ukraine

I’m adding Ukraine because more than one guy has emailed asking “What about Ukraine?” since this article was originally published. While Ukraine is well-known for its “mail order bride” industry, you can find plenty of normal, attractive people the old fashioned way: actually going there.

Ukraine has a fast track naturalization process for foreigners married to Ukrainian citizens, reducing the timeline to citizenship from five years to only two. However, Ukraine technically does not allow dual citizenship, meaning you are likely to be asked to renounce your current citizenship before claiming a Ukrainian passport.

If you’re a US citizen looking to ditch your US passport anyway, this might not be a bad option, especially if you have another more secure second passport already. Of note, however, should be the slow speeds at which many citizenship applications are processed. As always, the quoted timelines are the requirements to APPLY, not to be approved and handed your new passport.

Other Citizenship Options

If you don’t qualify for citizenship by marriage, or you want more information on second passports in general, you can learn more here.

I wouldn’t rely on marrying someone to get a passport, perhaps because changing such an intimate part of my life isn’t something I’m willing to do just to get a passport. However, citizenship could be a nice cherry on top of an otherwise fulfilling relationship with someone you met in your Nomad lifestyle.

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Andrew Henderson

Andrew Henderson

Andrew has been internationalizing since 2008, and has learned what works and what doesn't work when it comes to reducing taxes, increasing personal freedom, and creating wealth. Click here to work with him personally.
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