Dateline: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Just the other day on the Nomad Capitalist YouTube channel, we talked about what it means to be a Nomad Capitalist and how it is different from being a digital nomad or expat. The truth is, while Nomad Capitalists do many of the things that other nomads, businesspeople, and investors do, they have the distinct advantage of doing all of them together, and each with their own international twist.
For example, the typical investor will create an investment portfolio with a wide range of asset classes from stocks to government and corporate bonds to treasury bills, real estate investment trusts (REITs) to exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds to certificates of deposit, and physical commodities such as real estate to hard assets like gold.
A Nomad Investor will take a slightly different approach, perhaps choosing to avoid some of the less profitable investments popular with investors in their home country in favor of international investment opportunities that allow them to go beyond simple asset diversification to obtain geographical diversification and higher yields.
I have shared my personal asset allocation strategy for foreign investment before, highlighting the important differences between Nomad investing and regular investment strategies. One thing we have not discussed, however, is the importance of creating a Nomad passport portfolio.
There are a number of reasons to build a passport portfolio. My reasons may differ from yours in some ways, but there is always a good reason for a Nomad Capitalist to build a solid, diversified passport portfolio.
For me, this is stuff that I geek out about. I am always testing out new programs to be able to speak from experience when advising the people who come to me for help to get second residencies and citizenships. I know what works and what does not, and I have found several countries that offer the whole package – efficient government processes combined with a location that can easily become your home.
But building a passport portfolio serves more purposes than satisfying my inner passport geek. If structured properly, your passport portfolio can free you from heavy tax burdens, give you greater travel opportunities, allow for increased privacy and investment opportunities, and even permit you to hand down the benefits of your portfolio to your future (or even current) children.
As with any passport portfolio, the key is diversification. A smart strategy is to diversify over a wide range of various country factors to ensure that your portfolio contains each necessary component for a full and free international life. Here are some of the most important factors to take into account when considering which passports to add to your portfolio.
Filling Travel Gaps
A guy came to me recently who was buying two Caribbean passports by investment. I actually see this quite a bit when guys with money decide to just go out and buy multiple Caribbean citizenships thinking that two extra passports will obviously be better than one. The problem with this particular strategy is that it is not well diversified.
For one, with two passports from the same area of the world, you are not getting much additional visa-free travel. In the case of the guy who came to me for help, his second Caribbean passport got him visa-free travel to only two extra countries. Is visa-free travel to two extra countries (one of which has an easy visa application process) worth the $200,000 you will pay for that second citizenship? Probably not.
On a more strategic level, for someone who was born in the United States and who is considering the pros and cons of citizenship renunciation, having a passport portfolio can remove many of the issues that can present themselves upon renouncing. For example, if your goal is visa-free travel, it is hard to beat an American passport. However, I have found that I can get almost US passport-level travel (and even better in some cases) by building a passport portfolio.
Even if you are going to keep your US citizenship, having a second passport can fill in the travel gaps of a US passport. I had another fellow come to me a few months back and tell me that he was tired of getting visas to go to Russia to visit his wife’s family. So, we sat down and examined the list of citizenships that could get him into Russia, visa-free. Besides becoming a citizen of Russia itself, Armenia, Serbia, Vanuatu, and others can all give you visa-free travel to Russia.
If you do plan on giving up your US citizenship, though, you will likely need to fill in some of the travel gaps on your second passport. For example, many people ask me why I got a Comoros passport. For one, I geek out at this stuff and it was fun. So… why not? But the more important reason behind my decision was to fill in some of the travel gaps from my other Tier B passports.
The Comoros passport is not a powerful travel document, but it does give me visa-free access to places that I want to visit in Asia, like Hong Kong and Singapore, that I do not have access to with my other passports. In that sense, Comoros offers access (or backup access) to some of these places. It is a gap-filler passport.
In most cases, the proximity game is one of the most effective ways to fill in all possible travel gaps. A country like Armenia may not have great visa-free travel, but the Armenian passport can give you visa-free access to all of its neighbors, from Georgia to Iran to all of the “stan” countries and other difficult-to-enter countries in the region. (Look up visa-free Armenia, but I believe they can go to Ukraine and the Stan countries).
There are a few exceptions (like the US, Australia, or occasionally countries with crazy neighbors), but generally speaking, having passports in different parts of the world can give you access to places that you would not have access to otherwise. They can even create a more welcoming experience for you as you will be visiting as a neighbor and not a stranger from halfway across the world.
Another issue that my client who wanted to buy two passports in the Caribbean had was that his particular passport portfolio was not geopolitically balanced. Both countries that he was considering were tiny little islands in the sphere of the United States that do not have many ways to stand up for themselves.
And, even though these countries have been running their passport programs for years without many problems and have generally been left alone, their passports do not give you the benefits of diversification. There is little difference between the two Caribbean countries in terms of travel benefits, geopolitics, geography, the size of the countries, or the power of the governments in control.
On a larger scale, you can run into similar problems by filling your portfolio with passports from countries that are too similar. The six big, developed, English-speaking countries are generally all the same geopolitically speaking, and in the event of some catastrophe will likely all be treated the same.
I imagine that most western citizens of war-friendly countries would receive the same reception in Iran, for example… or even more liberal countries in the Arab world. Having geopolitical balance can be an important part of a second passport portfolio.
For example, take two countries where I am spending the summer: Serbia, and Montenegro. Until recently, the two were the most similar in the Balkans, with Montenegro being the only country to support Serbia in the (name this) war and the last state to declare independence from the old Yugoslavia.
However, Montenegro recently joined NATO and invoked the ire of its one-time pals in Russia, who declared that tiny Montenegro was on a “hostile course”. Suddenly, Montenegrins were viewed as the enemy by many Russians, and my real estate friends have told me that many Russians have stopped buying property in Montenegro as a result.
While Montenegrins still enjoy visa-free travel to Russia, Montenegro is now definitively a “western” country in line with the United States and other countries in the West. That may also mean that the United States will exert more influence over Montenegro.
Serbia, however, has always been very friendly with Russia. Walk by the Serbian Parliament in Belgrade and you’ll see huge banners proclaiming ire toward NATO and “Albanian terrorists” thanks to US support for Kosovo during the war. As a result, Serbia may be European but can’t be deemed “western” in a geopolitical sense.
In addition to having the world’s fastest improving passport, Serbian citizens can visit Russia visa-free and I don’t expect that to change. Serbia’s ties with Russia are so strong that a popular video made for Donald Trump suggested, tongue-in-cheek, “America First, Russia Also First, and Serbia Second.”
If you are a western citizen from the United States or elsewhere, a Serbian passport would provide some geopolitical balance to both the west and the old east. Becoming a Serbian citizen takes five to ten years and requires some level of investment, making it less than ideal for many readers, but you get the idea.
I like to be diversified. I like to have a passport from a pro-Russia country, an anti-Russia country, and a country that is neutral. You want to be welcomed in as many places as possible.
For instance, I have friends from Egypt, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia who all feel uncomfortable going to Israel. While whatever passport they have will always say where they were born, having a passport from somewhere else that is a bit lower profile can improve their situation when entering Israel.
Whatever your situation may be, playing the geopolitical game is important when it comes to ensuring that you will be welcomed in more places.
Another important factor to take into account is the stability and diversity of the different governments in each country that you include in your passport portfolio. You should work to include a variety of kinds and sizes of countries and governments.
Many years ago, when I was still running businesses in the US and only beginning to dabble in the offshore world, I called a big company to discuss some business details with the manager who is now one of my good friends. When we had gone over our business, we delved into offshore topics as my friend wanted to pick my brain.
When I jokingly said that I was going to become Dominican and renounce US citizenship, my friend asked why I would give up one of the world’s best passports to become a citizen of a banana republic. I told him that I actually liked some banana republics, especially when it came to including them in my passport portfolio.
What’s wrong with a banana republic? I would like to be left alone, and becoming a citizen of one of these banana republics gives you both government diversity and privacy. If you are a US citizen, becoming a Russian citizen does not really help you. If you have a passport from a big country, you want your second passport to be from a small country. If you have a small country passport, go for a big country.
Personally, though, I like small countries because they are nimbler. Many times, they are easier to get into and you can also just do more without the government breathing down your neck. Smaller countries are more interested in having good immigration programs than in reading your emails.
And I just like the feel of small countries.
However, if I were from a small country, I would want to diversify and get a passport from somewhere bigger. In Georgia, everyone wants to go to the United States. They want something big and developed. I want a nice mix of different places in the world, some that are developed, some that are undeveloped, some that are big, some that are small, and some that are something in between.
Obviously, you have to consider the stability of the government as well. You don’t want the possibility that an unpredictable government could cancel your passport or have some wild guy who comes in and says that anyone not born there will have their passport canceled. The good news is that I don’t know too many places where that has happened.
A Note on Privacy
While privacy has much to do with the size and type of government where you choose to become a citizen, citizenship isn’t always the issue when seeking greater privacy. If you can become a resident of a country that does not participate in information sharing, you can gain greater privacy without having to become a citizen of another country.
This rule doesn’t apply to Americans because they are subject to information sharing no matter where they are and should follow FATCA, FBAR and other reporting requirements. However, if you are from anywhere but the US and you don’t want to be a part of the new CRS information sharing, get a residence (and, in some cases, a citizenship) and you could avoid having your information shared.
Privacy can also play a role in your passport portfolio. Some countries are just more private than others. That is one of the things that Vanuatu markets for their citizenship by investment program. I’m not in love with their program, but they do offer greater levels of privacy to their citizens and residents.
Another thing I look at when building my passport portfolio is natural resources. What’s going to be one of the most valuable commodities in coming years? Water. Countries that have big supplies of fresh water are particularly important to keep in mind. Europe has large amounts of fresh water. Another location where people are heading, for this reason, is New Zealand.
Oil is another valuable resource, although if a country is not exploiting its oil already, you may need to question why. I also like to look for countries with large amounts of livestock and good grazing lands. As the world population expands and the quality of life goes up, more people will demand resources such as water and oil, but they will also be looking for good quality beef and other luxuries that come with a higher standard of living.
If the right fundamentals are in place, I would like to be a citizen of countries that have these resources. However, you will want to avoid the types of countries that are going to let millions of people flood their small population and overrun the resources that are available.
New Zealand is a popular location for many people to obtain a second citizenship for more reasons than the country’s natural resources. They have clean water, but they also have other resources, it is far away from everything else, the government is stable, and though the taxes are high, people feel that in a time of crisis it is so far away that they’re not going to be competing with hordes of migrants trying to get into the country.
You’re not going to have diseases either and everything is going to be under control because it is a small, orderly country where you could basically survive on your own if world conditions ever demanded it. I’m not a doomsday guy, but it is good to be aware of what to do and where you can go for safety in case of natural disasters.
In this regard, many people say that being in the southern hemisphere is important, so you may want to consider having a southern hemisphere citizenship in somewhere like New Zealand. The countries of Australia, Brazil, and Indonesia make up most of the population of the southern hemisphere. Roughly 88% of the world’s population lives in the northern hemisphere, so by heading south of the equator, you can avoid most of the confused masses in the event of large-scale natural disasters, and perhaps even the worst of nuclear catastrophes.
The question to ask is, where would you be safe from diseases, criminals, and unchecked hordes of people flowing in if there were a disaster? Having a passport from a place that is going to be safe and secure from geological and political unrest is smart diversification when it comes to building your passport portfolio. Sure, you could try and head to New Zealand on a tourist visa and just overstay and hope to never be found out or reported, but you could also just get citizenship there now and know that you have a spot guaranteed.
More Than Passports
Not too many people give much thought to the importance of obtaining a second passport, even fewer approach the process in an effort to build a diversified passport portfolio. This is just one of the many reasons why Nomad Capitalists are in a league of their own.
But creating a diversified passport portfolio and living the Nomad Capitalist life isn’t just about spreading your risk across different countries, it is about finding the places where you feel truly at home.
One of my proudest accomplishments from all of the time I have spent advising people seeking to create their own Nomad Strategy has been introducing them to countries that they thought were just means to obtain second passports that they ended up really loving. They fell in love with the place and wanted to spend time there. They fell in love with the culture and the people and ended up making friends. In one case, one client met his girlfriend in the country he originally chose just to give him greater diversification.
That is one of the most rewarding parts of the work I do. Being a Nomad Capitalist is so much more than having various travel documents stashed in your bag. It is a lifestyle that grants you greater freedom in as many ways possible as you can imagine.