Dateline: Brussels, Belgium
Despite all the talk against European-style socialism and high taxes, Europe has gained increased respect from me lately for one reason: it’s one of the easiest places to visit.
We frequently talk about the idea that a country’s culture dictates its future economic prospects. A country that closes people out, limits immigration, and assumes all visitors are criminals may get along for a while, but it won’t do well forever.
On the other hand, countries that open their doors to foreigners for both tourism and immigration are likely to be economically successful. In today’s age, the only potential risk in doing so is the competition from so many countries opening up to foreign travel and investment. Still, there are countries that do close their doors on most of the world.
To understand the consequences, let us consider two countries: the United States and Singapore.
Singapore vs. the United States
Singapore is a multicultural mecca of people from around the world. Originally, Malaysian-Chinese moved down to Singapore to avoid perceived persecution from Malays in what was then Malaya, but Singapore’s government realized early on that remaining a strictly Chinese enclave would be a recipe for disaster.
Today, Singapore is about as much of a melting pot as you can get, with people speaking English, as well as an array of other languages. Politicians don’t complain about “press 2 for Chinese”; rather, they embrace diversity and realize that their success is based on a diverse group of people and a top work ethic.
Citizens of most countries can visit Singapore without a visa, and the few countries that can’t are eligible to apply online for an e-visa. It’s extremely efficient, and almost no one has to ever set foot in a Singapore embassy.
On the other hand, countries like the United States have engaged in a brisk business of making it next to impossible to get in. I have friends from Norway, Germany and the UK who tell stories of immigration officers saying “it was a Merry Christmas before you foreigners arrived” and similar stories.
While there are no doubt plenty of pleasant people working in US immigration, the overall culture of the country is to keep foreigners out.
“Foreigners are taking our jobs.”
“We need to stop Chinese and Indian kids from taking our tech jobs.”
“We need to build a wall.”
“Why should I press ‘1’ for English in ‘my’ country?”
“They’re coming here to rape and sell drugs.”
In contrast to Singapore, citizens of fewer than 40 countries can enter the United States without a visa (technically, they have to pay $14 and undergo ESTA pre-clearance, which requires as much effort as getting a visa from some countries).
US immigration is quite suspicious of foreigners who arrive. Even Europeans get heckled and subjected to lots of questions. But the United States is not the only country to do this.
As a US citizen, I’ve experienced less discomfort in entering the country than others. It’s often an unpleasant experience, but they have to let me in. On the other side of the ocean, I have experienced delays in entering the United Kingdom on two occasions due to heightened screening; and I have friends who experienced the same in Canada and Australia.
That’s how I came up with the idea of CUUNA.
CUUNA: The Most Difficult Countries for Immigration
What is CUUNA? It’s my “PIIGS” or “BRICS”-style acronym for the five most difficult countries to enter as a tourist, or from which to obtain a visa.
They are Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia.
These countries have a few things in common:
1. They make life difficult for tourists. If you plan to renounce your current citizenship and become Dominican or St. Kittsian, these countries may read you the riot act if you try to visit.
2. They have higher investor visa minimums, if they have an immigration program at all. If you want to obtain residency in these countries, you should have at least USD$1 million. Most of the countries have very unclear or difficult immigration regimes for entrepreneurs wishing to start a business there.
3. They tend to be more hawkish. While countries like Switzerland prefer to remain neutral, these countries tend to send troops into whatever latest mission is going on in the Middle East.
4. For whatever it’s worth, they are all English-speaking. This is perhaps the most troubling for native English speakers because it limits our options. (Ireland is the most notable English-speaking country not on this list.)
Sadly, Canada is starting to become rather difficult. Starting next year, Canada will join the United States as the third country (I’m aware of) that requires foreigners with visa-free access to go through an online pre-clearance before entering the country. I hear it will also abolish “sterile transit”.
Obtaining a tourist visa to visit Canada is an even more byzantine process than obtaining a US tourist visa. Foreigners have long complained of intrusive questions about their work and financial history, as well as being asked to remember every address where they have ever lived. Even Americans frequently have trouble entering Canada; George W. Bush once had trouble entering the country due to a past DUI conviction.
While Quebec still has an investor visa program, Canada did away with its national program — the answer to the American EB-5 visa — a while back, leaving tens of thousands of Chinese applicants in the lurch.
U: United States
I avoid flying through the United States because of the delays and frustration involved. Even if you’re only connecting in the US, you must go through the rigors of TSA security, as well as customs and immigration.
There is no “sterile transit” in the US, meaning you are treated as if you are visiting the country just by having a connection. That means foreigners must have a tourist or transit visa, which requires a visit to a US Embassy for an interview. And your time at the airport could last hours as you pass through immigration and customs.
Those wishing to immigrate to the United States face similar challenges due to all of the anti-terrorism measures and other procedures.
U: United Kingdom
In some ways, the UK is the most friendly country on this list; you can obtain a business visa with a mere 200,000-pound investment, and the uber-wealthy can enjoy “non-dom” status that allows them to pay a flat fee and live in London without paying any income tax.
However, the UK has been among the biggest countries to crack down on immigration procedures, especially in the wake of the refugee crisis. While that may be reasonable, I found it odd to see so many Americans, who were obviously in town for an NFL game, being grilled by immigration officers.
The United States has a history of letting no crisis go to waste, and the UK appears to be taking that tack now. The UK also maintains a list of people barred from entry into the country; most of them are terrorists, but US talk show host Michael Savage is also on the list, purportedly for his “incendiary rhetoric” against… well, the other people on the list.
While a few commonwealth countries that don’t have visa-free access to Europe do get access to the UK (Dominica fell into this category until recently), Britain excludes citizens from a number of countries from visiting the UK through Europe.
N: New Zealand
New Zealand is perhaps the most welcoming of the five, although its visa process is rather cumbersome and confusing. This is problematic because New Zealand grants visa-free access to so few people.
Like most other CUUNA countries, New Zealand also has a rather high barrier to entry for its investor visa program. If you’re over 65, you can all but forget about moving there.
I’ve often surmised that United States foreign policy is enabled by being a relatively isolated nation of people who don’t travel that much. Here in Belgium, on the other hand, it’s practically impossible to NOT visit another country or speak another language. Using the isolation test, Australia takes the cake.
Australia also requires all tourists to obtain e-visas, even those from wealthy countries. Additionally, most nationalities require a visa to visit Australia. I see a healthy amount of anti-immigrant sentiment coming out of Australia now that the mining boom is over.
For one thing, I don’t see the country allowing a continued influx of wealthy Chinese into the country, but I do foresee increased government presence in the name of “security”.
My friends in Australia frequently speak of how the place is becoming less and less free. If any country will become the next United States in terms of high taxes, high authoritarianism, and anti-immigrant sentiment, it could well be Australia.
What CUUNA means to you
Here’s the good news: if you’re a citizen of a wealthy country, you likely don’t need to migrate to Australia or Canada. While citizens of wealthy countries can be delayed by immigration officers asking a lot of questions, it’s rare for a Western citizen to actually be denied entry to these or any other countries.
Additionally, these countries are so far removed from the places our type of reader may want to live that it doesn’t really matter. I like Canadians, but I’ve never had a huge interest in seeing much of Canada. Meanwhile, flying to New Zealand has always seemed like a real pain.
If you’re looking to lead a truly global lifestyle, you can avoid CUUNA relatively easily, and without a significant lifestyle impact.
Here’s the potentially bad news: if you are not a CUUNA citizen, but want to live in a big, well-developed country with high taxes, you’ll have a lot harder time doing so when compared to Spain, Belgium, Malaysia, Panama, or any number of other countries.
This extends to folks looking to renounce US citizenship, but who still want to live in an English-speaking country. If that’s you, your best bet might be Ireland, where both an entrepreneur visa program and an investor visa program are straightforward and easy to qualify for.
Continental Europe has become so much more open to foreigners than English-speaking CUUNA countries. You should consider that when planting your flags.