Last Updated: June 17th, 2019
Dateline: Tivat, Montenegro
As those of you who are regular readers know, I use what I call the “trifecta strategy” to stay globally mobile while establishing bases in certain countries.
While I’m only in my mid-thirties, I sometimes joke that I’m already an old man. I just can’t handle the perpetual traveler lifestyle that I lived in my twenties.
So, I decided to pick a few of my favorite places and settle down, and that meant getting a couple of easy second residencies.
One of the places that I decided to do this was in Montenegro. Here, I was able to get a residence permit simply by buying property where I could then live during the pleasant summers here, and because the cost of living here is so low, I was able to get a nice place and a residence permit for well under $100,000.
You see, one of the easiest ways to establish residency in a country is to invest in real estate, but not all residency and citizenship by investment programs are created equal.
You might be able to get cheap real estate and an easy residence permit in a country like Cambodia, but if you’re anything like me, then you’re probably looking for a place that’s much more developed.
On the other hand, you can get residency by investment in much more livable countries through programs like the EU’s Golden Visas, but those programs can be expensive and inefficient. In fact, a growing number of Nomad Capitalists are trying to avoid the EU altogether thanks to its high taxes, onerous regulations, and high cost of living.
Unless your heart is set on an EU residency, then you’ll find much better options in emerging countries in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Asia. For example, why invest 250,000 euros in bankrupt Greece just because it’s an EU country when nearby Montenegro offers residency for a fraction of the price?
So, if you’re willing to venture off the beaten path, then you may want to consider the residencies in this article. There are plenty of “hidden gems” around the world with lower investment minimums and shorter application processing times, and some of these countries offer the chance to obtain a second passport through naturalization, too.
As you read through this list, however, keep in mind that the landscape is always changing in the realm of second residencies and citizenships, and as a result, some of these numbers may change. In fact, since I originally published this list in 2017, Georgia upped its minimum investment from $35,000 to $100,000.
The world of second residency is always in flux, so my team and I will do our best to keep abreast of any changes to these residency by investment programs.
So, in this article, we’ll discuss why you should consider getting residency by investing in cheap real estate as well as 12 countries where you can do that rather easily.
The Benefits of Residency by Investment in Cheap Real Estate
If you’re looking for a place to live, a place to invest, or a way to boost your tax strategy, getting an easy second residency by investing in cheap real estate can surely benefit you.
Whether you’re trying to escape high taxes at home or you’re a perpetual traveler looking to slow down, getting a residence permit with a cheap real estate investment is a solid strategy for quickly establishing a home base in another country.
You see, investing in real estate is one of the easiest ways to get a residence permit. You won’t need to find a job, enroll in school, or wait until you’re retired – you can have your residency within months simply by buying an apartment and filling out a bit of paperwork.
Investing in cheap international real estate is also a great way to boost both your tax strategy and investment portfolio.
In many countries, foreign real estate is considered a non-reportable asset, which means that you won’t need to pay tax on it unless you sell or rent your property. Additionally, becoming a resident of a tax-friendly country can help you reduce your tax burden by allowing you to become a tax non-resident at home, or if you’re a US citizen, then it can help you claim Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.
Your investment will also help you enhance your wealth by taking part in the growth of another country. Many of the up-and-coming countries on this list have rising real estate markets that will allow you to earn rental yields and appreciation returns that you couldn’t even dream of in more established markets.
Finally, getting an easy second residency can often lead to citizenship. Many countries will allow you to naturalize after living there for a few years, so getting a residence permit can be an important first step in the process of getting a second passport.
12 Countries Where you can get an Easy Second Residency through Cheap Real Estate
Now that you understand the benefits of getting an easy second residency through cheap real estate, let’s dive into the countries where you can do just that.
While this list isn’t exhaustive, these countries give you the best value in the world of residence by investment. For the most part, these countries are well-developed and quite livable, yet they still allow you to become a resident by investing in cheap real estate.
However, as you’re reading, I urge you to keep your goals and long-term strategy in mind. For instance, not all countries on this list offer a path to citizenship, so if you’re looking to eventually get a second passport, then you may want to rule those countries out.
With that said, here are 12 second residency and citizenship options available to anyone willing to buy cheap real estate.
Minimum Investment: $0*
Albania offers temporary residency to any real estate investor who purchases a habitable property for their own use. The good news is that there are a wide array of incredibly cheap condos on Albania’s central and southern coast with prices starting around 20,000 euros.
I’ve always found Albania to be more bureaucratic than its neighbors, and I find that it has less to offer. Don’t believe rumors that Albania will somehow join the EU; that’s quite far away – if it’s in the cards at all. Quite frankly, Albania’s beaches simply don’t compare to those in Montenegro or Croatia, and Albania’s passport is the worst in the region next to Kosovo.
Minimum Investment: $160,000
There is chatter on the internet of Brazil offering an “economic citizenship program,” which could not be further from the truth. Economic citizenship means that you make an investment in exchange for citizenship immediately; often, it’s actually a donation or at least a really bad investment. Brazil has no such program, requiring anywhere from one to five years to be naturalized.
It is possible, however, to invest in Brazil real estate to the tune of 500,000 reals – about $160,000 – in exchange for what’s called a permanent visa. The process involves forming a Brazil company, sending your money in, and then making investments as you please. It’s rather flexible, but it’s also among the most bureaucratic programs on earth. That said, Brazil is a huge country with no shortage of properties to purchase to suit your lifestyle or business needs.
Minimum Investment: $23,000*
South America is one of the most welcoming places for foreign investors – even if the bureaucracy has me doing far less there than I have in the past. Colombia is one of the world’s hidden gems, and plenty of expat forums and newsletters have discussed buying property there – particularly in Medellin real estate.
If you want to get a Colombian residence permit, then the minimum investment that you can make is about $23,000 in a Colombian business. However, if you want to invest that little money, you’ll likely be buying a parcel of what somebody else is doing, and sadly, many of these investors end up making ridiculous “investments” at the hands of fellow expats selling overpriced property or franchise shares. And if you’re looking for a second passport, then investing that little will increase your timeline for naturalization to ten years instead of five.
So, if you plan on going it alone, I suggest that you buy property in your own name in a place like Bogota or Medellin. Colombia offers a lot of promise if you know what you’re doing, and investors can get instant permanent residency with about $165,000 in real estate.
Then, that residency will lead to citizenship after five years provided you spend one day in the country every six months. The Colombian passport is rather good since it now offers visa-free travel to Europe as well as all of Latin America. If you’re willing to learn a little Spanish and put in the time to manage your property investments in a bureaucratic country, it’s worth considering.
Minimum Investment: $100,000
While Georgia’s residency by investment program is still one of the easiest in the world, quite a bit has changed since I first published this article in 2017.
First, I’ve become a bit more confident in Georgia’s real estate market than I was in the past. I’ve always been bullish on Georgia, but not always on Georgia real estate. While I have now found plenty of opportunities to buy cheap real estate, it can be hard to tell which deals are good and which aren’t. Having done more than one dozen deals in Georgia, it’s taken me a while to tell the difference.
Georgia’s investment minimum has also nearly tripled over the past two years from just $35,000 to $100,000. While I personally think that this is a bit high, you can get quite a lot for your money considering how cheap real estate is in the country, and you can also get a sizable return on your investment. In fact, I recently worked with someone who manages eight properties in Georgia, and he’s currently getting about 13.3% rental yield on his investments.
That’s certainly on the higher end of what you can earn here, but regardless, Georgia is a great place to go if you’re looking for a good return on your investment – especially considering that it has no property taxes and a low rental income tax.
Getting a one-year residence permit through real estate here actually involves a few more steps than residency for someone hiring local workers, but the process is still fairly straightforward. Upkeep on your residence permit is minimal, and citizenship is possible after six years.
Minimum Investment: $70,000*
Malaysia is one of my favorite countries in Asia, and while the property market is rather saturated, a weaker ringgit makes it an interesting lifestyle investment destination. Malaysia doesn’t offer a real estate residency per se – and nor is it possible to become a Malaysian citizen – but there is a “workaround” of sorts.
Malaysia’s MM2H program allows anyone of any age to “retire” to Malaysia and obtain a ten-year social visit pass by depositing 300,000 Malaysian ringgit in a term deposit account. (The amount is halved if you’re over 50.) That money can’t be withdrawn for as long as your residence permit is valid, but you can withdraw half of your deposit after one year in order to purchase a home. That means that anyone under 50 can essentially open an interest-bearing foreign bank account and keep $35,000 there long-term while putting the other $35,000 toward real estate.
Almost all states in Malaysia limit foreigners to only buying real estate valued at 1 million ringgit – or about $230,000 – or more, meaning your total investment will be higher, but the program offers many of the lifestyle benefits of European countries with better weather and a more friendly territorial tax system.
Minimum Investment: $0*
As a Montenegrin resident, I can tell you that the country is relatively easy to deal with but does make you cross your t’s and dot your i’s. The country is among the most friendly to investors in Europe, but I can also tell you that having the right support on the ground in Montenegro or any other country is essential; my process was extremely short and simple thanks to my Montenegro team.
Montenegro residency can be obtained in a similar fashion to neighboring Serbia, which you can read about below. Basically, you need to buy any habitable property, and you should have at least 12 square meters of space for each person in your family (if they also plan to get a residence permit). A decent, small apartment near the sea will cost from $30,000 to $75,000, and it will likely need a little renovation work. New projects targeting the jet set can start in the mid-six-figures and go up from there.
Once you have title to a property in Montenegro, you can go through the procedures to obtain a one-year temporary residency permit. However, while business residency can lead to citizenship after ten years, real estate residency never leads to citizenship – don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.
Minimum Investment: $30,000
Like many of its Latin American neighbors, Nicaragua offers residence permits to foreigners willing to invest in a local business or property, and as one of the safest and most affordable countries in Central America, it’s no wonder why this residency by investment program is becoming increasingly popular among expats.
You can find out more about getting a Nicaraguan residence permit here, but to summarize, you can get Nicaraguan residency by investing $30,000 (or more, depending on how you structure your investment) in an employment-generating business or in real estate. Given that the cost of living in Nicaragua is so low, you can find excellent properties in the country for remarkably little money.
However, while getting residency in Nicaragua is more straightforward than in many of its neighbors, you’ll still have to deal with a bit of bureaucracy, and you’ll likely need a lawyer to help you secure your residence permit. Nicaragua also requires you to stay in the country for at least six months out of the year to maintain your residency, and while citizenship is possible after five years, it often takes longer.
Minimum Investment: $5,000 (Friendly Nations)/$60,000-$80,000 (Other Residency Programs)
If you’re searching for a nomad-friendly second residency, look no further than Panama. This small Latin American country’s territorial tax system, good offshore banking options, and low cost of living make it an excellent place to get a second residency, and to maintain your Panamanian residence card, you only need to visit the country for a couple of days per year.
Panama offers a wide variety of residency options, including the Friendly Nations Visa, which allows citizens of certain countries to become Panamanian residents by depositing $5,000 in a bank account and creating a Panamanian company. However, if you don’t qualify for the Friendly Nations Visa, then you can still become a Panamanian resident by investing $60,000 in agricultural land or companies, $80,000 in land for reforestation projects, $160,000 in a Panamanian company, or $300,000 in a term deposit account.
The only drawback to Panama is that it isn’t your best option for getting a second citizenship. Panama does not allow dual citizenship, and while you can technically get your Panamanian passport in as little as five years, that’s not always the case. In fact, I know people who have been living in Panama for 15 years and still have not been able to get a Panamanian passport.
Minimum Investment: $0*
Serbian residency is straightforward: buy a property, get a residence card. Getting your Serbian residence permit involves about 27 steps from buying health insurance to obtaining the right kind of title, but if you know what you’re doing, the entire process is relatively quick.
Technically, there is no minimum investment to obtain Serbian residency. You can invest as little as $1,000 in real estate and be approved. There is a catch, however: you need to live in the property for at least one month with few breaks while the police check your presence there. While it’s technically possible to buy homes in northern Serbia for $5,000 to $10,000, you would need to spend enough time there for the neighbors to recognize you, which might not be ideal.
Given that you’ll actually have to live there for a good amount of time, you’ll likely want to move to a larger city like Belgrade, where decent properties start at $50,000 and desirable ones typically go for at least $100,000.
The other issue is that while you may obtain Serbian citizenship after five years of real estate ownership, you’re supposed to live in the country for the majority of that time. Quite frankly, Belgrade is an excellent place to live, but I wouldn’t count on a passport if you’re living nomadically.
Minimum Investment: $300,000
Although it’s one of the more expensive residence by investment programs on this list, I decided to add Thailand due to its popularity among the Nomad community. Thailand also has one of the most straightforward real estate residence programs in Asia – a region that’s known for making it difficult for foreigners to buy property.
To get a Thai residence permit, you simply need to invest 10 million Thai baht – roughly equivalent to $300,000 – in real estate, and you can get a long-term residence card. You can also choose from other options like bank deposits or government bonds, but if you’re looking for any kind of return on your investment, then buying a condo or apartment is going to be your best bet.
However, as with most Asian countries, there are restrictions on the types of properties that you can actually buy, and in Thailand, foreigners can only buy new real estate to qualify for residence by investment. While this does limit your options, you can find plenty of new condos in cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Returns here aren’t going to be as high as in neighboring Cambodia, but you can still find good investment opportunities – especially if you’re willing to look at up-and-coming areas.
Minimum Investment: $0* (Residency) / $1 million (Citizenship)
Turkey was long the investment darling of wealthy Middle Easterners who viewed it as a secular Muslim safe haven for their cash. Despite a string of terror attacks, the Turkish lira held up well and property prices remained steady. That couldn’t go on forever, though, and now the Turkish lira is at an all-time low and property prices have stabilized.
Noting that, the Turkish government introduced a citizenship by investment program that allows anyone willing to invest $1 million in real estate to obtain immediate citizenship so long as you hold the investment for three years or more. According to the Turkish Airlines in-flight magazine, that could be as simple as buying a condo at SeaPearl in Istanbul as indicated by the heading, “Get a Turkish Passport!”
If you don’t want to tie up $1 million, you can buy any habitable property, which will start around $50,000 for our standards. However, the Turkish government has been cracking down on families who cram nine people into a one-bedroom apartment to get nine residency cards due to a large influx of Syrian immigrants into areas like Esenyurt in Istanbul. However, it is still possible to bring your entire family (provided you have the space for them), and if you like the beach, Bodrum and Antalya are worth considering.
Turkish citizenship can be obtained through naturalization, but it’s a difficult process and requires you to actually live in the country over five years, which naturally includes being a tax resident. Turkish residency is interesting as a unique residency for your portfolio, but citizenship isn’t particularly attractive.
12. United States
Minimum Investment: $500,000
This last country may come as a surprise to many of you – especially if you’re familiar with my blog. However, you can become a permanent resident of the United States by investing $500,000 or more in certain types of real estate.
Granted, this one isn’t so cheap – nor is it desirable from my view – but it’s far cheaper than it should be. And, there’s a bonus: you can get US citizenship after five years. Please wait while I remove my tongue from my cheek.
Most of our readers are seeking to leave the high-tax, high-regulation environments of western countries, but if you’re trying to move to a developed English-speaking country, then the US can be the lesser of all evils. It’s perhaps the easiest country in the Americas – and certainly the easiest in the developed world – to get residency and citizenship in, and while you’ll need to lock yourself into the US tax system, taxes in the US tend to be a bit lower than in other developed countries.
So, if you want to become a resident or citizen of a western country, then the United States offers the least expensive permanent residency program. The United States is the home of cheap real estate in the western world, and unless you’re from India or China, then you won’t need to wait terribly long for your green card.
The US EB-5 program allows foreign investors to insert either $500,000 or $1 million into the US economy as either a direct investment or through a regional center program, and some of those regional center programs involve real estate deals. While you may not be able to invest directly into a property you can live in now, your money would support a real estate project, which may be a more comfortable investment than other EB-5 deals out there.