Having a second passport can dramatically increase your personal and economic freedom. Having dual citizenship or multiple citizenships is an important step in achieving internationalization. No one should be forced to be a slave to one government merely because of their birth in that country. Throughout history, governments have used citizenship as a tool of economic enslavement, rather than a cherished gift.
Among other reasons, some Americans consider obtaining a second citizenship to prepare for future expatriation, since the United States is the only country on earth to impose worldwide taxation based not on residence, but on citizenship.
Most people carry only one citizenship and one passport, leaving them vulnerable to capital controls or restrictions of their movements. By acquiring a second passport, you can achieve the peace of mind that you always have another place to turn to.
Imagine: your country’s currency collapses thanks to bad decisions by your government. Inflation runs rampant. Looters and rioters take to the street, forcing an ongoing state of emergency to be declared. Soon, martial law prevails and the government lowers the boom.
If your country is in a period of chaos, you may not be able to travel. Who will give you refuge? With a second passport, you have more options.
One of the greatest examples of this is in Nazi Germany when Jews had their passports stamped with large “J”s to make them easily identifiable by officials. Some Jews were able to get second passports through offshore connections, but most were left with few options. Recently, citizens of Arab Spring countries attempted to escape the chaos around them, but were turned away from most safe havens because of where they were coming from.
When things heat up at home, many other countries won’t want to help you. Like anything, it’s better to be prepared than to seek preparation once it’s too late.
The history of passports – and why it’s getting harder to get a passport
It used to be a passport was a tool of convenience. Your ruler gave you a set of papers to show to another rule to ask for your safe passage. Now, passports are just another form of government identification. If your government takes your away, you might as well just lock yourself in your house. So you might as well have at least two of them.
The United States government is even making it harder to get their passport if you’re a citizen. Owe a small balance to the IRS, for example, and they may put the kibosh on your passport – or not even issue one to you at all. The proposals that have floated around Capitol Hill to effectively limit freedom of movement among US citizens are mind-boggling.
In fact, a US passport can even be a strike against you in a tough situation. Not only could having only one passport limit your travel options in an emergency, but citizens of the United States, United Kingdom, and select other countries are more likely to be a target in attack. Even in times of peace, have fun getting into Iran with a US passport, and forget doing business there.
First things first – Don’t fall for second passport scams
There are a lot of myths about second passports. Unfortunately, the increasing desire for second passports by Americans, Russians, and Chinese in particular have created a cottage industry of scammers and misinformation peddlers.
If someone tells you they can obtain a “diplomatic passport” for you in a month, or citizenship in some far-flung place for $10,000, they’re either lying or severely mistaken. Passports aren’t just available for the taking to anyone with a small roll of bills.
So just how to get a second passport? You have three main ways:
How to Get a Second Passport #1 – Economic Citizenship
Also called “citizenship by investment”, this is usually the fastest and easiest way to get a second passport. The process is straightforward: a country will confer citizenship upon you in exchange for an investment in the country or purchase of real estate.
There used to be a number of countries offering such programs; even Ireland had an economic citizenship program. In the late 1990s, several of the programs went away thanks in part to bullying by the US government. After 9/11, most of the rest followed.
Today, several countries offer economic citizenship programs “off the rack”, with several other countries offering more tailored options. The most common second passport countries are St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Grenada, Malta, and Cyprus. Most of these countries are small islands located in the West Indies, while the other two are in southern Europe.
St. Kitts and Nevis has the longest running second citizenship program in the world, in operation since 1984. To get a St. Kitts passport, you have two options. The first – and more suggested – option is to make a donation of $250,000 or $300,000, depending on family size, to the government’s Sugar Industry Diversification Fund. This fund was established to help the workers who lost their jobs when the sugar industry became unviable. The second option is to purchase at least $400,000 in “government approved” (read: overpriced) real estate. Both options require various fees.
The Dominica passport program is cheaper, but available only as a donation. Your total cost will still be in the six figures; expect around $130,000 for an unmarried applicant.
Nearby Antigua and Grenada are both finalizing details on their own citizenship by investment programs, with prices set to be (much) higher than the last time their passport programs were in place. In general, prices for these programs go up over time.
The European programs in Cyprus and Malta are the most expensive. While it has been long rumored that Austria has an economic citizenship program, it does not have an official one. Malta and Cyprus remain the official programs offering citizenship for sale in Europe.
The Malta second passport program costs close to $1 million with fees. The Cyprus program costs several million dollars (unless you lost enough money in the Cypriot bank fiasco) to qualify for one for “free”.
A common question asked is “Are economic citizenship programs worth it?” In fact, there are far cheaper ways to get your second citizenship if you’re willing to be patient, or have a little luck on your side.
How to Get a Second Passport #2 – Naturalization
This is where you spend time on the ground, build up residence in another country, and eventually apply for citizenship as the “payoff”. The same way you’ve seen immigrants attending ceremonies to become naturalized as United States citizens, you can become a naturalized citizen in another country if you’re willing to be patient.
Choosing the right country to become naturalized in is a difficult decision. Many countries are increased the time from which you immigrate to when you apply for citizenship. In some wealthy countries like Andorra, the wait can be up to twenty years. Tina Turner had to live in Switzerland for at least twelve years before being eligible for citizenship.
Other countries might offer citizenship more quickly, but with a caveat. While Singapore no longer offers a quick timeline to citizenship, they may require you to enlist in their National Service for two years. A number of countries – Singapore included – don’t allow dual citizenship and will require you to relinquish your current citizenship.
While I talk extensively about why some US citizens may want to expatriate, giving up one citizenship for the next doesn’t exactly meet the standards of a “second citizenship”.
There are, however, places where you can obtain citizenship rather quickly. Some of these countries, like Canada, have strict requirements for physical presence in the country. For others, you may only need to set foot in the country once or twice a year. It’s possible to get a second passport from one of these countries in as little as three to four years if you’re willing to do the paperwork and wait it out.
Fastest countries to become a naturalized citizen
There are some countries that, no matter how long you live there, won’t make you a citizen. Other countries require you to obtain temporary residence privileges, before becoming a permanent resident, before applying for citizenship.
Belgium used to offer a chance at naturalized citizenship within three years of claiming residence. In rare cases, it could happen even faster. However, Belgians complained the it was too easy to become a Belgian citizen, and the government responded by raising the minimum timeline to five years. Living in Belgium for five years, however, does not guarantee citizenship. It is more likely that your application will be successful after seven or nine years.
Paraguay in South America offers a straightforward permanent residency program that allows you to apply for citizenship after as little as three years, provided you make some form of economic investment in the country. This can be as simple as opening and funding an offshore bank account there, starting a small business and paying yourself a taxable salary, or investing in Paraguayan stocks.
There are other countries that allow you to obtain residence there by making an investment, starting a business, or paying a small fee. It’s important to know which of these programs can lead to eventual citizenship and the accompanying passport… and which don’t.
How to Get a Second Passport #3 – Citizenship by Descent
If you’re lucky, you may be eligible for a second passport right now without even knowing it. Certain countries offer ancestral citizenship to those who can prove family ties to the country.
The most common example of this is Ireland. While barely four million people live in Ireland, there are more than 14 million Irish passports in circulation. The rules to obtain an Irish passport are pretty straightforward: if you have a parent of grandparent who was born in Ireland, you qualify. All you have to do is fill out the forms.
Other European countries like Italy and and Lithuania have similar versions of this program, but they are not as easily navigated. Spain offers citizenship to Sephardic Jews as their way of making amends for expelling them from the country under the reign of King Ferdinand. Spain also offers a reduced naturalization timeline for South Americans of Spanish descent (but not those who acquire citizenship in South American countries through naturalization).
If you are Jewish, you are eligible to live in Israel under the Law of Return. While citizenship isn’t conferred instantly, the timeline is rather quick. However, Israeli citizenship carries with it a requirement to serve in the military. Even if you are able to avoid this, your children – male and female – will be subject to it.
And an Israeli passport isn’t exactly the best thing to keep you safe or open doors. Even some moderate Muslim countries flat out reject Israelis from entering.
Lastly, you can obtain a fast track to citizenship by going the other direction on the family tree. Brazil offers a one-year timeline to citizenship for anyone who has “financial responsibility” for a child born to a Brazilian parent or within its borders.
Learn More About Second Passports
Having a second passport and second citizenship could come in handy should an economic collapse or political turmoil strike your home country. In Argentina, for instance, citizens have been subjected to remarkable capital controls, limits on their movement, and social unrest. Everyone I talked to there said they wished they had an escape hatch to bypass their own government’s tyranny.
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