Dateline: Warsaw, Poland
I often get phone calls and emails from people looking to get the quickest second citizenship and passport possible.
What they’re looking for is the world’s fast track option to a second passport: citizenship by investment.
I have written before about whether or not economic citizenship is the right choice for you. If you’ve read my advice and believe that pursuing an economic citizenship program is a fitting solution in your situation, this article will cover the fastest programs out there.
Realize, most citizenship by investment programs can offer you two of the three things most people are looking for in a second passport: a fast timeline, a low price, and a powerful travel document.
We’ll start by looking at the passports that provide a fast and affordable pathway toward citizenship.
Fast and affordable citizenship by investment programs
This African island nation is currently selling their citizenship for just $45,000 (up from $40,000 about a couple months ago), qualifying it as the cheapest economic citizenship program out there.
The process requires very few government fees and can get you a second passport in a matter of two to three months. Unfortunately, with this passport, you’ll get what you pay for.
A Comoros passport grants you visa-free (or visa on arrival) access to a grand total of 44 countries, placing it just one spot away from being in the bottom ten passports of the world. Plus, of those 44 countries, most are located in Africa.
Even worse, having a Comoros passport can get you branded as a terrorist in some places. You can see why I don’t recommend going for the cheapest option out there.
Dominica’s economic citizenship program is a big leap forward in terms of the reputability and quality of the passport you would get out of the deal. Dominica’s passport is ranked 41st in the world, with visa-free access to 119 countries, recently adding Europe’s Schengen Area to the list.
Because of this, the price tag for citizenship by investment in Dominica will rise from $100,000 to $175,000 (plus government fees) in August 2016. If you are interested in Dominica, start now before the price goes up.
In all, the timeline for citizenship in this Caribbean nation is just six months.
Another benefit of the Dominican passport is that, as a commonwealth, citizens enjoy special rights for travel to the UK. You will also have easy access to most of the Caribbean. However, you will have to apply for a visa for anywhere in North America.
In 2013, the zero tax island nation of Grenada reinstated its citizenship by investment program. With a one-time donation of US$200,000 to the National Transformation Fund (NTF), you can be approved within 60 days of submission and qualify for citizenship in just over 12 months.
Plus, there is no requirement to travel to Grenada to qualify.
While your investment into the NTF is a non-refundable contribution, you can also be granted citizenship by investing at least US$350,000 in approved real estate with a good possibility of making a return on your investment.
You would not be able to sell your property within four years (if you do, you would lose your citizenship). Including government fees, your total investment would come to US$434,000.
The Grenadine passport is a step up from the passport of Dominica, ranking 39th in the world with visa-free access to 121 countries.
4. Antigua and Barbuda
Antigua and Barbuda offers a similarly priced citizenship by investment program, with a much shorter timeline. For a donation of US$200,000* to the country’s National Development Fund, you can submit your application for citizenship and be approved in an average of three to four months.
Like in Grenada, if you’re willing to invest substantially more, you can purchase real estate or invest in a local business. An investment of at least US$400,000* in an approved real estate project or a joint business investment (totaling US$5,000,000) in which each individual invests at least US$400,000* can also qualify you for a second passport.
The passport of Antigua and Barbuda is ranked 30th in the world, permitting visa-free access to 134 countries, including Europe, much of the Americas and other developed countries.
*Under each option, there are several fees, including a government processing fee of US$50,000.
5. St. Kitts and Nevis
Just slightly more expensive than the Antigua and Bermuda or Grenada programs, St. Kitts and Nevis will exchange a one-time contribution of US$250,000 to the Sugar Industry Diversification Fund for citizenship.
As the original citizenship by investment program, now running for 30 years, St. Kitts is regarded as having a well-run model with an average processing time of four to six months.
The real estate option is almost identical to the other Caribbean programs mentioned, with a US$400,000 price tag and the stipulation that your property cannot be resold until five years after purchasing.
Unfortunately, St. Kitts passports have been targeted by the US government after an Iranian national managed to purchase one without his former nationality on it. Canada has also cancelled visa-free access for St. Kitts nationals, and it has been rumored that Europe’s Schengen area may be next.
Even so, the St. Kitts passport was ranked 32nd in 2016 allowing visa-free access to 132 countries.
Fast and powerful citizenship by investment programs
If you have more money to invest, you can get a second citizenship in a European country at record speed.
Cyprus holds the record for the fastest economic citizenship program in the world, with the quickest processing time documented at 58 days. In general, the process takes three months.
After the Cypriot financial crisis, the Cyprus government decided to offer Russian investors who had lost more than three million euros a consolation prize in the form of citizenship.
Simultaneously, the government determined that they would make several important changes to their “off the shelf” citizenship by investment program.
Investment options include the purchase of government bonds or other financial assets; investment in a Cypriot business; or the financing of commercial, residential or infrastructure real estate projects.
All options must now meet a minimum qualifying investment of five million euros. A combination of any of these investments will also qualify you, as long as the total amount invested meets the five million minimum.
The route that most people take, however, is through the Major Collective Investment (MCI). This option requires a collective investment (in any of the previously mentioned categories) of at least 12.5 million euros, with at least five different contributors investing a minimum of 2.5 million euros each.
It is important to note that — under any of these options — you must maintain a personal residential property of at least a €500,000 value at all times, regardless of whether or not you eventually sell your other investments.
Cyprus citizenship comes with the ever-valuable EU citizenship and the Cyprus passport is among the most powerful travel documents in the world, ranking 17th and allowing visa-free travel to 159 countries.
You can get an even more powerful passport for a smaller price tag, but longer timeline in yet another Mediterranean EU country.
The requirements for economic citizenship in Malta include a one million euro contribution to Malta’s National Development and Social Fund and an investment of €150,000 in government-approved financial instruments (that must be maintained for a period of at least five years).
You must also maintain a residence in Malta for at least five years. You can either purchase a property with a minimum value of €350,000 or lease a property with an annual minimum rent of €16,000.
Following a year of residency, you can apply for citizenship, after which the process takes approximately six months. In all, you should plan on a total timeline of 18 months to acquire your Maltese citizenship.
Malta is in a prime location, with quick flights to continental Europe and Northern Africa, making it a virtual stepping-stone from continent to continent and placing business opportunities within short reach.
Even better, Malta’s passport is among the top ten passports in the world, ranked at number nine, with a total of 168 visa-free destinations available to Maltese citizens — including the almighty fortresses that are the US and the UK.
Instant citizenship for high-income investors
If you are contemplating investing considerably more in a country, there is a good chance you can be granted citizenship in any number of countries.
People have long talked about Austria’s “citizenship by investment” program as if it were a real economic citizenship program. But it’s not.
Nevertheless, if you aren’t opposed to spending the next three years going to every Viennese ball, courting the Austrian nobility, and pretending your white and blond, then, by all means, I guess it’s possible.
In my opinion, it’s like going after a white unicorn.
Here’s the reality: if you want to invest a hundred million dollars, there are a lot of countries that will find a way to throw you a bone. Austria’s “program” is not a true economic citizenship program. Yes, they have the fifth most powerful passport in the world with visa-free access to 173 countries, but it’s not the best option for your money and it’s definitely NOT fast.
The difference between a place like Malta and Austria is that the Malta’s of the world have formal programs, while Austria is simply known for handing out citizenship to a grand total of three people a year that have made substantial donations and whom they personally like.
That is completely different from a real economic citizenship program.
The truth is, a country like Austria doesn’t need anybody. And they’re going to be very particular, especially in the post-Paris/Belgium/refugee age. They’re not letting anyone who doesn’t look them in. It’s just how it works. They don’t need you. They don’t need your money. They’ll be just fine.
There are other countries that give the president or congress the power to naturalize people. They may even be a better or easier option than Austria. In fact, if you’re willing to invest millions and millions of dollars somewhere, I would suggest that you hire a consultant to shop it around for you.
Just make sure you are staying legal. Be careful and understand how the process works.
However, the real question is, what are you trying to accomplish? If you are trying to figure out the best program for you, there might be other options out there that will work for you that don’t require mega-million dollar investments.
Even if you’re willing to make them.
To put it clearly, the average person should not be looking at Austria, and instead should look at established (even “off the shelf”) economic citizenship programs.
If you want to get out of your home country (for the food quality, safety, etc.) but you don’t hate the country and you don’t hate your passport, then you have the luxury of time. Instead of looking for the fastest passport, get started with the best residency that you can. Find the best citizenship out there and pursue that.