Last updated April 8, 2017
Dateline: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Getting a second passport is perhaps the most important step in flag theory for attaining greater freedom. However, to become a citizen of another country can require incredible time commitments for many people.
Here in Malaysia, for example, it takes at least twelve years to become a citizen, and dual nationality is forbidden.
If you don’t have a second passport, the urge to get one can be intense. Having dual citizenship (or even multiple citizenships) gives you freedoms to travel and invest that having one citizenship alone cannot grant.
It’s understandable that someone looking for a second citizenship would first want to determine in which countries they can obtain citizenship the fastest. After all, we frequently discuss the idea that citizenship is rather fungible; plenty of people are born with citizenships for countries they’ve never lived in and couldn’t care less about.
Like so many other things, citizenship is somewhat of a commodity. Which passport you carry determines where you can live, where you can travel, and — in the case of many restrictive emerging markets — where you can invest.
Most westerners aren’t in a rush to obtain Cambodian citizenship in order to buy cheap land in the country, but practically everyone in Iran would jump at the chance to have another passport. For instance, Iranians have a heck of a time traveling to most countries, let alone becoming a resident or opening a bank account in one, all thanks to US sanctions against their home country.
When determining which second passport is best to pursue, there are several points to take into consideration. These include your current tax situation, where you need to travel, and even your job prospects.
For example, high-income US citizens, who are required to pay tax on their worldwide income even if they don’t live in the US, may want to speed up the process of obtaining another nationality in order to renounce US citizenship and avoid the ongoing hassles and expenses of paying tax to a country they don’t live in.
On the other hand, a European citizen who can more easily become “tax non-resident” and pay low or zero tax somewhere else, may be more willing to wait a little longer to obtain a better citizenship.
Similarly, someone from a country that forbids dual citizenship, but who wants a second residency that can lead to citizenship as an insurance policy, may be even less concerned with the timeline.
I have private clients from emerging countries who have had to turn down lucrative job offers merely because they can’t travel to certain countries or can’t obtain visas quickly enough to satisfy the new employer.
If being a citizen of a country with poor visa-free travel is costing you $50,000 a year, you have an even greater desire than many US citizens to find the fastest countries to become a citizen.
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The fastest ways to become a citizen and get your second passport
Before we review a few specific countries, let’s discuss each of the fastest ways to obtain citizenship…
1. Citizenship by descent
If you have ancestors from Europe, you may be able to obtain a second passport very inexpensively. The process is called citizenship by descent and usually takes anywhere from six months — if you’re really lucky — to 1-2 years (seeing as most countries that offer it have substantial bureaucracy).
2. Make an investment
It goes without saying that if you have significant cash to invest, the passport process can be sped up. We won’t be discussing the process of citizenship by investment in this article, but you can read this article to learn about the various citizenship by investment programs, which start at $45,000 per person, or $100,000 per person for a halfway decent passport.
3. Marry a foreign national
If you are lucky enough to fall in love with someone with a great passport, it’s possible you could be a naturalized citizen of their home country. Foreign spouses often qualify for a shortened waiting period for naturalization, although language requirements sometimes exist. Few countries still offer instant citizenship for foreign spouses, but there are still a few attractive options.
4. Receive special treatment
If you are an exceptional artistic or athletic talent, or if you invest enough money, some countries allow the President to waive naturalization requirements (including language requirements) and make anyone a citizen. Examples include Albania, Qatar, and Singapore; Poland’s former president used to do this, but the current party does not.
Special treatment is also the basis for Austria’s alleged economic citizenship program, but it is rarely used and most people who would want an Austrian passport wouldn’t qualify on the basis of “not seeming Austrian only”.
Now, let’s review citizenship options that don’t require a lucky genealogy line or a lot of cash. The following is a list of the countries where it is the easiest to become a citizen.
The fastest countries to become a citizen through residency
Back when I actively chased as many frequent flier miles as possible, I would sometimes take flights solely for the purpose of getting miles. More miles meant higher status with the airline. We called these “butt-in-seat miles” because you had to actually fly to get them.
Similarly, the fastest way to get a second passport for most people is to spend “butt-in-country time”. Becoming a resident of a foreign country and starting the clock ticking on naturalization is the easiest way to go if you don’t have the benefit of luck or substantial wealth.
Macedonia (1 year)
Macedonia offers the best of both worlds: the benefits of Europe and visa-free access to the Schengen Area, but none of the nonsense associated with being a part of the European Union. Located south of Serbia in the Balkans, Macedonia is one of the many business-friendly countries in eastern Europe. Tax rates for both companies and individuals are a flat 10%, and the government is efficient.
If you’re willing to start a business and hire local workers, you can become a Macedonian citizen in less than one year. In fact, Macedonia has the least talked about economic citizenship program in the world, targeted specifically at entrepreneurs who can invest at least 400,000 euros into a real business.
Similar to Portugal’s Golden Visa program for entrepreneurs, Macedonia requires you to tie up your capital , but gives you citizenship in as little as 6-12 months. There is no straightforward way to start the process unlike in other European countries, although I have excellent contacts in the region who can help. Macedonia also no longer requires you to live there for six months in most cases.
Dominican Republic (2 years)
Not to be confused with the island nation of Dominica (which allows for nearly instant citizenship in exchange for a six-figure donation), the Dominican Republic claims to offer second citizenship to foreigners with cash in as little as two years. This doesn’t always work in practice, but rather in theory.
While the Dominican Republic passport is of rather poor quality, it does offer access to some highly livable “usual suspect countries” that let practically anyone in as a tourist.
One way to speed up the naturalization timeline is to invest $200,000 in real estate or a business; (Colombia similarly offers a faster citizenship route for investors with this amount of cash.) However, those who can prove they have a steady income and are willing to spend some time in the DR can waive the investment requirement.
Nevertheless, I know people who qualified for citizenship in the Dominican Republic in two years but have waited far longer to get it. So, as with any country, the letter of the law may not always prevail.
Paraguay (3 years)
One of the easiest countries to get citizenship in has been Paraguay. While many would be hard pressed to locate it on a map, the country has a rather good travel document that offers visa-free travel to Europe and all of South America. But, I can argue that in some cases fastest is not always the best.
In theory, you could become a naturalized citizen of Paraguay in just three years. However, there are challenges that in my opinion make this option not so appealing anymore. You can read more about it here.
Uruguay (3 years*)
If you are part of a family unit actually living on the ground in Uruguay, you can apply for citizenship after three years, so long as you can show substantial ties to the country. That’s what the asterisk means; if you’re single and your family stays at home, the wait is extended to five years. However, “family unit” does not only refer to a spouse; for instance, a single child can live with a parent, and still qualify.
Owning real estate, renting a real apartment, being a member of social clubs, and having a local doctor all count. Claiming Uruguayan citizenship has become extremely difficult in recent years for this reason. I generally recommend against Uruguay partially because of this difficulty, but also because of the opportunity cost. There are simply better options unless you really intend to become Uruguayan.
Russia (3 years)
If you are willing to start a business or move your existing business to Russia, you may be able to obtain Russian citizenship within three years by merely paying taxes you would have had to pay anyway. While we often talk about low or no-tax offshore strategies for entrepreneurs, paying 13-19% in Russia may be worthwhile if you would have purchased economic citizenship from another country instead.
You can learn more about Russian citizenship for entrepreneurs here. Russia’s passport does not offer access to Europe, but many successful Russians have long-term Schengen visas or merely obtain European residency from countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy, Latvia, and others.
Options that No Longer Exist
It’s important to note that Argentina does NOT offer citizenship in two years, despite what some might say. The Argentina citizenship process requires you to live there for two years to obtain permanent residency, and then three more to become a citizen.
Similarly, I occasionally still see someone suggest that Belgium citizenship can be had after three years. As of 2013, however, Belgium extended their naturalization timeline to a minimum of five years.
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Other fast ways to get citizenship
As mentioned, several countries allow the President or Congress of the country to waive naturalization rules and make anyone a citizen, even one day after they obtain residency. In principle, this option usually takes at least one year. However, if you’re willing to consider countries off the beaten path, this may be an option to consider.
Some countries, such as Austria, charge a lot of money for this special citizenship process, which is why many call it an economic citizenship when in actuality it is not. I’m aware of four smaller countries that also offer fast-track naturalization for “persons of economic interest” to the country, sometimes with a rather minimal investment.
These fast-track programs aren’t really “programs” at all because there are no specific criteria (ie: “donate $100,000” for Dominica, or “live here for five years” in Brazil).
Anyone who promises you they can get you a citizenship with 100% success in these countries is not telling the truth. “Economic interest” citizenships are merely a matter of proving to the country that you’re valuable to them as a citizen, perhaps because of your business background or an investment you can make in their country. Each case is taken on an individual basis.
These fast citizenship programs are more difficult for citizens of emerging world countries, but might be perfect for some Americans, Canadians, Europeans, etc.
In any of these cases, if you need help to quickly become a citizen of another country and want to get the process started, you can apply for a call with me to build your own Nomad Strategy (including passports) by clicking here.
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