How to get a Second Passport and Second Citizenship
Having dual citizenship can help protect your freedom, expand your investment horizons, and even save your life. In an era when governments are imposing more and more draconian regulations on their citizens, a second passport is “citizenship insurance”.
Having a second passport can dramatically increase your personal and economic freedom. Having dual citizenship – or even multiple citizenships – is an important step in internationalizing your life so that no one government owns you.
Not only can a second passport help enhance your freedom, but it can help you leave a better life for your children and their children, by giving them citizenship in the best countries possible.
Among other reasons, some Americans consider obtaining a second citizenship to prepare for future expatriation, as the United States is the only country on earth to impose worldwide taxation based not on residence, but on citizenship.
Today, Americans are being excluded from lucrative investments and even the ability to open foreign bank accounts just for carrying a US passport.
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. It gives you an escape hatch in times of economic or political chaos.
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 will have more options. While some might suggest that having more than one passport makes you a slave to more than one place, a second passport actually allows you to engage in what I call “government arbitrage” – pitting governments against each other to compete over you.
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. Game over. 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. As with anything else, it is 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 that a passport was a tool of convenience. Your ruler gave you a set of papers to show to another ruler in asking 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 about doing business there.
Countries around the world know this. Places like Switzerland and Singapore have made it harder to get a second passport from them because the worldwide demand for second passports is increasing. Wealthy Chinese, Russians, and Middle Easterners realize the value of diversifying beyond their own countries, and many Americans overseas are learning the hard lesson of just how much a government can limit your options. A Swiss businessman could literally outpace an American business just in being able to do business in more places around the world, and with fewer restrictions.
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 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.
There are several second passport scams:
- Diplomatic passports. No, even some banana republic is not going to make you part of their diplomatic corps. Diplomats are subject to certain standards around the world, and even countries with looser standards wouldn’t want to give away such a high honor in their country. And certainly not for $7,000.
- Cancelled economic citizenship programs. While there are new countries starting to offer citizenship by investment programs, others no longer exist. For instance, Ireland once offered citizenship in exchange for investment in the country. While Ireland now offers residency and the potential for future naturalization to those who invest in Irish businesses or government bonds, they don’t have an instant passport program. Belize also used to have a program that no longer exists.
- “Camouflage passports”. Camouflage passports were initially offered to Americans working in high-risk places. They are passports from countries that no longer exist, like British Honduras or Rhodesia. However, some scam websites claim you can become a citizen of a country that changed its name years ago – and never offered second passports.
- Gray market passports. This is where someone bribes a guy in the immigration department to take some passports and put their clients’ names on them. Promoters will refer to their “special friend” at the immigration office. Sure, the passport itself is “real”, as much as a framed photograph of the Mona Lisa is “real”. Gray market passports may or may not be entered into the official system, and they may be canceled if the government official taking bribes is found out, or if a future government decides to take action against “foreigners”.
- Black market passports. Black market passports are always illegal. They are the domain of scammers and are not legitimate in any way. They could be stolen or counterfeited. They could also be as simple as cutting someone else’s picture and information to and putting yours in.
- “Banking passports”. Some promoters offer “banking passports” which they advise you not to travel on; the idea is that immigration officials would discover their fraud and throw you – the passport holder – in jail, while a bank would not.
Using an illegitimate passport could cause you a world of trouble. Not only are these scam passports difficult or impossible to renew, but you’d be silly to think you could get away with using a fraudulently issued passport forever. Governments use linked systems to determine which passports are legitimate, and an illegitimate passport could be cancelled at any moment, leaving you in hot water the next time you cross a border.
What is the best second passport?
Which second passport is “best” is a hard question to answer. The reality is that in today’s era of greedy governments gone wild, almost any “backup” citizenship can potentially save your life. When considering your passport options, consider:
- The quality of the travel document. Of course, passports vary widely in their usability around the world. Get a Chinese passport and you may open plenty of doors for investment in Asia, but you’ll enjoy visa-free travel to very few countries. The best passports in terms of visa-free travel come from Europe. Finland, Norway, the United Kingdom, and most European Union countries enjoy visa-free travel to the United States and many other countries – and, of course, all of Europe. Coveted passports can be hard to obtain unless you are born in such a country or have ancestors from there.
- Financial opportunities. While a United States passport allows you to travel to many countries without a visa, it is increasingly closing doors for investment overseas. Each month, more offshore banks decide to shut out Americans in order to avoid compliance with laws like FATCA. Additionally, American investors are precluded from many international investments because the US SEC has made it clear that they will pursue investment funds that allow US citizens to participate. Make sure your second passport offers you financial flexibility to spend and invest your money as you please.
- Civic obligations. Some countries, such as Singapore and Israel, require military service of their citizens.
- Tax obligations. Ideally, you should be able to be a citizen of a country but not live there and not have to pay taxes or even file a tax return there. The United States is essentially the only country that taxes it citizens based on their worldwide income. Even if you never lived in The Land of the Free, you may be required to pay taxes if you obtained American citizenship at birth. While no other major countries have established such citizenship-based taxation yet, it is possible that large yet bankrupt countries may seek to do the same in the future. On the other hand, Paraguay is unlikely to decide to impose such laws on its citizens, not does it likely have the resources to do so.
- Respect for the issuing country. While an American passport is good for a lot of things, it may not be your first choice to have if you are stranded in a situation where Americans are a target. The same goes for Israeli passport holders. Liechtenstein, on the other hand, is likely to raise anyone’s ire. The goal is to find the best blend of respect (or indifference) for the issuing country.
- Ability to hold multiple citizenships. A Singapore passport is an excellent travel document and its holders enjoy excellent tax laws. However, Singapore forbids dual citizenship and requires you to renounce any existing citizenship before becoming Singaporean. It also terminates Singaporean citizenship if you obtain another passport thereafter. This can cause problems when trying to achieve true internationalization because it once again limits you to once country. The ideal passport allows you to keep your existing nationality as well as obtain additional citizenships later.
There are three ways to obtain a new citizenship
The easiest country to get citizenship depends on your bank account, your desire to live abroad, and your family tree. Here are three ways to get a second citizenship…
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.
These countries typically don’t require you to be a resident there. Sometimes, you don’t even need to ever visit! There used to be a number of countries offering such programs; even Ireland once 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. In general, prices for economic citizenship programs go up over time, with an occasional new player offering a lower price.
Examples of countries with this option include:
St. Kitts and Nevis This is 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 suggested – option is to make a donation of $250,000 or $300,000, depending on your 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.
Dominica This Caribbean country’s passport program is cheaper, but only offers a donation option. That means your entire “investment” will not be recovered. The total cost will still be in the six figures, although Dominica offers the most affordable passport program at around $130,000 for an unmarried applicant.
Antigua and Barbuda Antigua used to offer an economic citizenship program, and recently reinstated it with much higher costs based on the St. Kitts model. There are three options under Antigua’s passport program. The first is to pay $250,000 as donation – and toward government fees – to the National Development Fund, as well as around $50,000 in legal and other fees. The second option is to purchase government-approved real estate valued at $400,000 or more, and to hold that real estate for at least five years. You must also pay nearly $100,000 in legal and government fees per adult, and about $50,000 per child. The third option for Antiguan citizenship is to invest in a local business or businesses with a minimum investment of $1.5 million. The first Antiguan economic citizen invested millions in tourism projects.
Grenada Grenada also resurrected its former economic citizenship policies in 2013, offering a real estate investment option that requires a $500,000 investment. However, that investment must be made in only one government-approved development, and obtaining a second passport in Grenada comes with a residency requirement – you have to actually live there much of the year.
Cyprus After confiscating money from Cypriot bank accounts in the “bail-in” of 2013, Cyprus offered those who lost millions in their banks a second passport. Now, anyone can get a Cyprus passport – which come with the added bonus of European Union status – if you’re willing to invest. The first option is to invest 2,000,000 euros into Cyprus businesses, with at least 500,000 euros of that going as a donation to the government’s Research Fund. If you don’t want to make a donation, you must invest 5,000,000 euros. Applicants may also deposit 5,000,000 euros in a Cyprus bank for three years.
Austria and others Countries like Austria do not have official citizenship programs, but high net worth individuals can negotiate with the government to make an investment of roughly 10,000,000 euros or a donation of roughly 2,000,000 euros to obtain Austrian citizenship. Austria forbids dual nationality, and a strict background check and an applicant’s ability to “act Austrian” are considered. Malta started a citizenship program which cost nearly $1 million with fees, making it the cheapest legitimate economic citizenship in the European Union, although there has been controversy surrounding the program.
A common question asked is “Are economic citizenship programs worth it?” They can be, especially if you need fast citizenship. However, 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 American/British/Canadian/etc. citizens, you can become a naturalized citizen in another country if you’re willing to be patient.
Of course, each country has its own time table for offering naturalization, and choosing the right country to become naturalized in is a difficult decision. Many countries have increased the time from which you immigrate to when you apply for citizenship. In some wealthy countries European 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. For instance, countries like Paraguay allow for naturalization after three years of permanent residence.
A number of countries 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 have the right contacts.
First, you need to get second residency in the country. You will never qualify for a second citizenship if you’re not a legal resident; that means simply staying in a country on tourist visas won’t help you. Getting second residency in a country can be as easy as depositing a few thousand dollars in a local bank account, or as hard as investing millions of dollars into local projects.
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.
Here are the some of the easiest places to become a citizen through “boots on the ground” second residency. In general, it is easier to get residence – and an eventual citizenship – in countries within the Americas, namely in Central and South America. Some European countries offer easy residency to wealthier investors.
Nestled next to Argentina, Uruguay is one of the most developed countries in South America, with a high standard of living. Uruguay is easy to get second residency in, and you can apply for citizenship in as little as three years if you’re married (singles can apply after five years). However, you should actually live in Uruguay for the first year or so after applying for residency in order to show that you are serious and make sure your future citizenship is attainable.
Brazil offers one of the best travel documents in South America, and the country itself offers every type of landscape and lifestyle you can imagine. Anyone can be Brazilian, no matter what color they are. While Brazil is part of the embattled BRICs, you can become a Brazilian citizen in as little as four years if you’re willing to start a business there or make an investment of roughly US$75,000 or more. There are a number of companies offering investments that qualify for residency and eventual citizenship. Brazil is also unique in that it does not extradite its citizens from Brazilian soil.
This emerging South American country 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 bank account with as little as $5,000. You can also start a small business and pay yourself a taxable salary, or invest several thousand dollars in Paraguayan stocks. Paraguay is an open place where everyone is welcome, and it is one of the freest countries on earth.
Panama’s Friendly Nations visa program makes it extremely easy for citizens of over forty countries to get residency there with a $5,000 bank deposit and one other “economic tie”, such as ownership in a Panamanian corporation. Once you are legally resident in Panama, you can get citizenship in as little as five years.
Believe it or not, Canada offers a fast timeline to naturalization. The country recently abolished its Immigrant Investor Program, which means you’ll likely have to have a job in order to move there. However, once you have official residence, you can apply for citizenship after just four years. You are required to spend all but a few months of that time in Canada, a rule immigration officials will strictly enforce.
Countries that used to offer fast naturalization
You can still find websites that tout countries that no longer offer fast naturalization timelines as attractive second passport options. The reality is, policies in each country change all the time, so it’s important to take action when you find an option you like or qualify for.
Belgium used to offer citizenship after just three years of living there and having some economic activity in the country. However, getting naturalized under that system was far from guaranteed, and the Belgian government changed the law on citizenship over a year ago to make residents wait at least five years to be naturalized.
Some websites will claim you can apply to become a citizen of Singapore after just two years of residence, but this too is untrue. Not only is Singapore making it dramatically harder for entrepreneurs and other “global talent” to get residency in the country, but it now takes seven years of living in Singapore to qualify for a passport.
Countries like Singapore and Israel also share the likely unenviable position of requiring military service for all citizens. This requirement would also pass on to any children you pass your citizenship to.
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.
This means you may be able to hit the dual citizenship jackpot. Some people can even claim multiple second citizenships using the ancestral method. Beyond your family tree, there are several other ways to use your family ties to obtain citizenship.
Brazil is one of the best passports in the Americas to have. In fact, Brazil does not extradite its citizens from Brazilian soil; never. Brazil offers a one-year pathway to citizenship for anyone who has “financial responsibility” for a child born within its borders. That could even mean giving birth to a child on Brazilian soil.
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. If you’d rather have a lawyer help you, our contact can usually do so for well under $1,000.
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.
If you have any Italian bloodlines, the government already considers you an Italian citizen. All you have to do is fill out the paperwork and deal with some bureaucracy.
Italy is unique in that they allow you to go as far back in your family tree as you like, so long as you can prove Italian heritage. Paperwork for Italian citizenship is a bit trickier and less streamlined, but you can do it yourself, or have our lawyer help you for barely $1,000. Often, the entire family will qualify for Italian passports under this passport.
Lithuania has a citizenship by descent program that allows those with Lithuanian heritage to go as far back as their great grandparents to obtain citizenship. However, the program is not as straightforward as, say, the Irish program, and may require relinquishing your existing citizenship depending on when and why your ancestors expatriated.
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).
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.
Each year, I travel to dozens of countries and meet hundreds of experts to show you the latest ways to get second residencies and second citizenships. For a more in-depth look at the best second passport for you, sign up for my free Offshore Crash Course below and get an insider’s guide to second passports.