Dateline: Mexico City, Mexico
The government of the Pitcairn Islands is looking for a little help with their dwindling population. They’ve been looking for ways to encourage immigration for years and stumbled across an idea a few years ago that sounds like a very tempting offer:
They’ll give you free land.
This could be attractive for someone looking to make their first baby steps out into the world of becoming a global citizen, but, as is often the case, you get what you pay for.
And only a very specific audience of people are going to be happy about that.
The Pitcairn Islands consist of four different islands, of which only the volcanic outcropping of Pitcairn is actually inhabited. While there is evidence of Polynesian tribes living on all four islands before the British, Pitcairn as we know it now is made up entirely of the descendants of British mutineers from the 1790s.
Led by Fletcher Christian, around twenty-five men of the HMS Bounty’s crew mutinied against their captain William Bligh and set him adrift. Part of that crew fled to Tahiti where they were later caught and arrested by the crew of the HMS Pandora. Those that weren’t caught, including Fletcher Christian, escaped the Pandora and the British crown by sailing out with some Tahitian natives on the Bounty to what we know now as the islands of Pitcairn. They scuttled the ship after landing.
Mutiny, sunken ships, deserted islands. With a little bit of buried treasure, it would be a real pirate story.
By the time Sir Thomas Staines found the islanders in 1814, alcoholism, murder, and disease had killed almost all of the original mutineers. Only a small population remained on the island, but that population eventually grew to a peak of somewhere around 250 in the 1930’s.
Just in time to be drafted into WWII.
Since the 1940’s, the population of the island has been plummeting in part because many of the young men who left to fight in the British military had never been off the island before that point. A little bit of wanderlust took them. Now the population sits around 50.
And that 50 isn’t getting any younger. A 2014 report showed a grand total of 7 people living on the island between the ages of 18 and 40. Re-population is starting to look like the only way to keep Adamstown from turning into a ghost town.
So far, however, their offer of free land hasn’t brought much attention. Close to 700 people reach out to Pitcairn for information each year, but no one has actually gone through the process to settle there.
In this article, we’ll cover the pros and cons of Pitcairn’s offer as well as other, potentially better ways that you can grow your wealth, live the lifestyle you want, and go where you’re treated best.
Pitcairn Island – The Benefits
If the idea of moving to the world’s most remote island is something you dream about, then the Pitcairn Islands’ offer of free land might be just what you’re looking for. You’ll be more isolated from the rest of the world than Napoleon in exile!
The islands are in the absolute middle of nowhere.
Pitcairn Island is a beautiful little place, partly because of its remoteness, but also because of government protection. The Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve was established to preserve the pristine condition of the ocean surrounding the island chain. It takes in the entire exclusive economic zone surrounding the island. This allows the island chain to be a breeding place for humpback whales that come every winter.
The weather is warm year-round, perfect for long walks through the beaches and trees. During the summer/rainy season of November through March, temperatures hover between 77-95 °F with humidity levels often above 95%. During the winter, temperatures drop between 63-77 °F.
If you find yourself wanting to get off Pitcairn and do some exploring, the other islands in the chain could be interesting to visit. Henderson island, for example, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, preserved for scientific research and nothing else. If you like birdwatching, tripping around the four islands will give you the chance to see a few species of birds that are unique to the area.
For those worried about running into a cultural or language barrier, Pitcairn’s British heritage makes it very accessible to westerners. The island’s official language, Pitkern, is a creole language with roots in both Tahitian and 18th-century English. However, regular English is also taught at the island’s only school. You won’t have problems getting access to services on the island, either (the few of them that exist as you’ll see later in this article).
There are also some tax benefits to living in Pitcairn as well. Other than a minimal land tax, you won’t pay anything in taxes on the island. Zero.
Being on Pitcairn will also make paying taxes back home much easier. The island is so remote that you will not have a hard time proving that Pitcairn is your tax home. Depending on where you’re from, this can allow you to legally reduce the amount that you pay in taxes each year. If the island itself isn’t attractive to you, next to non-existent taxes should be.
But, that’s about as far as we go with the benefits… except, of course, the fact that they’ll give you free land. Here’s what you have to do to get it:
The Application Process
The application process to eventually get residency on the island is fairly straightforward, even if it isn’t as free as the offer makes it sound.
There is very few criteria whatsoever. It starts with an online application that will cost you $500 (NZD). Once you fill it out and they accept, the government of Pitcairn requires that you spend six months living on the island before they will give you the land. That six months is for you and the government to decide if life on Pitcairn is really right for you.
Now, what you do during those six months is up to you. It’s not like they have a St. Regus you can check into. If you figure that out and all goes well, then you’ll receive your free land.
Once you have your land, you can build a little, $150,000 house in the small-town, remote-island setting that you always hoped for. You can bring in a company from New Zealand to get the house built, but there’s also an experienced builder on the island who can help you get set up. Staying local will end up saving you the few extra hundred-thousand-dollar cost of importing a labor force but will mean keeping construction simple.
Building your new home on Pitcairn gets you a residence permit that’s good for two years. You won’t have to go through the application process again when the residence expires, but you will have to go through a review process when you renew. The key is to prove your intent to not only be a resident but to permanently live on the island.
If you can do that, they’ll finalize what is, essentially, a short-term lease on the land. They’ll make it permanent and deed the land to you.
And that’s it. Congrats! You might be the first if you apply fast enough.
Pitcairn Island – The Problems
You now know the good things about Pitcairn and even how to get there if you want to. Keep all that in mind, but here’s our opinion:
Pitcairn isn’t going to be a good option for most people when it comes to going where you’re treated best.
At Nomad Capitalist, we want our clients and readers to develop more financial freedom, become global citizens, and create wealth. In one way or another, all three of these goals are hindered by choosing Pitcairn as a part of your personal financial strategy and nomadic lifestyle.
As Pitcairn’s immigration website itself says, “Life on Pitcairn will not be for everyone.”
The government of this little volcanic outcropping is looking for a very specific kind of people. They want to attract young, able-bodied couples with young children who’ll be able to help them build up and maintain the island. People who will be able to handle the physical and emotional challenges that come with living on a tiny island on top of a fault line in the middle of the Pacific.
Here are some of the things you could be missing out on if you go to Pitcairn:
Lifestyle and Services
Living on Pitcairn is going to be a little bit of a challenge.
The government is looking for young, able-bodied couples because of the amount of work and maintenance the island needs to function. The population of the island is entirely responsible for maintaining the little infrastructure that exists, repairing homes and buildings after storms, working the land, and serving on fishing ships.
As a resident of the island, you’ll be required to give voluntary labor each year wherever Pitcairn needs it the most. It isn’t going to be a tax haven to retire in. It’s going to be a physically demanding challenge for people looking to live somewhere very different.
The one ship designated to make the two-day trip between New Zealand and the island only does so every few months. Which means that once you’re there, you’re stuck. The same goes for mail, food, and anything else that can’t be produced on the island.
There are other tropical paradises in the world that are much easier to get into and out of.
That being said, living on Pitcairn doesn’t entirely cut you off from the world. The island has a cell tower that you can connect to by purchasing a plan in New Zealand before you come across.
Residents also have a satellite connection to the internet. It was set up by American researchers who needed a way for their equipment to remotely report measurements of seismic activity in the area. Adamstown has access to the bandwidth this equipment doesn’t use, which isn’t much.
The island does have access to some healthcare. There is always a doctor contracted out to the island by the British government that can handle everyday medical issues. Anything serious or life-threatening means leaving the island and getting care in New Zealand.
There’s a school there that runs on the same curriculum as New Zealand does, but if you want to try setting up in Pitcairn with your family you may have a little bit of trouble. A series of sexual and child abuse charges against men on the island over the last few years have created a policy that potential immigrants need to obtain special permission to bring over children younger than 16.
It’s a policy that doesn’t help attract many of the young families Pitcairn is looking for.
Pitcairn and British Citizenship
Part of developing an international strategy is finding places where you can benefit from obtaining a second residency or citizenship. A second citizenship can help you protect your assets, decrease your tax burden, and even protect you from political instability if things become difficult back home.
If you have a second citizenship, you always have somewhere else to go.
For this reason, some people look at the offer of free land as a means of getting that second residency and even a UK passport. While this is technically possible, there are a lot of caveats.
Pitcairn is one of a few different countries known as British Overseas Territories. Citizens of these countries are British citizens, but they do not have the same rights as someone born or naturlized directly in the UK.
As a Pitcairn citizen, you can obtain a British passport and receive both assistance and protection from all UK consulates and diplomatic posts, but you will still be subject to immigration controls when you enter the UK and will not automatically have the right to live or work in the UK.
The EU will not recognize you as a UK national, either. And though you may have similar access to visa-free travel around the world, some countries will only grant visa-free access to a British Overseas Terrioties Citizen (BOTC) if their passport has an endorsement stating their right of abode in the UK.
Citizens of the Pitcairn Islands do not have this endorsement.
However, as a BOTC, you could technically become a citizen of the UK through another process, but the requirements to go from one citizenship to another would be difficult to meet if you’re hoping to create a life of global citizenship. These requirements only get more difficult in a place like Pitcairn where a badly timed tropical storm can leave you trapped in New Zealand long enough to disqualify your application and start the years-long waiting time over again.
It’s a lot of work and risk to get a passport that might not be worth it in the end.
In fact, by our standards here at Nomad Capitalist, a British passport isn’t as desirable as you might believe. Our Nomad Passport Index measures a passport’s value based on a unique formula of criteria. While other indexes look purely at the visa-free travel each passport provides, we’ve added international taxation, perception, dual citizenship, and personal freedom to determine which citizenships and passports will provide the best opportunities for people looking to diversify their lives.
Our most recent report ranked the UK as 27th in the world, with one of the country’s biggest downsides being the high taxes. So, even if the Pitcairn Islands could offer you a straight path toward British citizenship, there are better and easier options than hoping everything pans out in Pitcairn to get you a UK passport.
But, what about a British Overseas Territories passport? A BOTC passport has similar travel privileges as a UK passport without the taxes that would come with it. While there may be situations where this could conceivably be a good option for you, residency in Pitcairn doesn’t give you a chance for this citizenship.
Pitcairn just doesn’t offer that as a possibility.
In the history of the island, only one outsider couple has been able to obtain citizenship through the island. Since this happened in 2005 and no one has immigrated since then, you could potentially become another exception to the rule, but I don’t know if I would sink several years and several hundred thousand on a remote island for a chance at becoming another exception.
There are many more attractive tropical paradises in the world where you can get citizenship.
Pitcairn and Wealth Creation
With how little there is in the way of services on Pitcairn, it shouldn’t be surprising that you won’t find a branch of an international bank there. It’s not a question of whether the island is a bad option for running an offshore company or bank account, it simply isn’t an option.
The infrastructure just isn’t in place.
On the other hand, countries like Georgia, Mongolia, Belize, and even the Cayman Islands have great services that will allow you to legally keep more of your wealth and grow your business. Setting up bank accounts in these places will allow you to diversify your life and protect your assets in case of an emergency.
Of course, remote banking is an option. But it isn’t a good option. The idea of setting up a bank account from your new porch overlooking the ocean around Pitcairn may sound like a great idea, but even remote banks require you to fill out a mass of paperwork and send sensitive documents.
Convenient banking isn’t convenient when you’re waiting three months to send a letter.
The same problems come up when you start looking at running an offshore company. There are all kinds of benefits to running a company outside of your home country. Many of our clients have found new opportunities that have allowed them to make real and sustainable growth.
You’ll have a much simpler time getting those benefits if you go somewhere besides Pitcairn.
And in some of these countries, your business and investment will earn you a second residency or citizenship with more value. Places like Malta, Panama, and several countries in the Caribbean allow you to obtain residency or citizenship through investments in local businesses and real estate.
If you’re looking to create wealth then you’ll most likely find better options out in the world, including fast-developing regions like Eastern Europe.
Who Should Go to Pitcairn?
Realistically, the type of person that will want to seriously consider Pitcairn is someone who isn’t concerned about the financial aspect of becoming a global citizen.
The island should be an option for someone looking to get away from (quite literally) everything. Someone young who finds the idea romantic, likes working hard, and has enough money saved up to support themselves out there for a while.
Because, as it turns out, there isn’t much in the way of jobs on an island of 50 people. Until you obtain that residency, what jobs do exist aren’t even open to non-residents. And, even if you do get that residency and that job, it isn’t a for sure thing that you’ll be around long enough to benefit.
All in all, I’m not surprised that there aren’t many takers.
If Not Pitcairn, Where?
This particular offer probably won’t work in your situation, but it isn’t the only one out there.
If you’re new to Nomad Capitalist, the words “offshore” and “second passport” might bring up memories of the spy flicks you’ve watched – bad guys moving wealth where no one can find it and assassins going through boxes of fake passports.
The reality is much less mystical. Most westerners have a lot to gain by legally setting up companies and bank accounts outside of their home country.
Many people get trapped in the idea of staying just where they are. They put up with a high tax rate and a high cost of living because they think that home is the only place to be. This just isn’t true.
There are countries that are actively taking steps to make themselves more attractive to foreigners. They tax less and reduce regulations on corporations to bring in entrepreneurs and bolster their economy.
If the idea of land in a tropical paradise is what got you interested in Pitcairn, it could be worth looking into the Caribbean.
This is, stereotypically, the area of the world people associate with offshore bank accounts. What doesn’t come up as often is how great the Caribbean can be for picking up a second citizenship.
Many of the islands allow you to gain citizenship through investment in real estate or business. Real citizenship with a passport that allows decent travel privileges instead of a hope of a shot at residency in Pitcairn. And with that second passport comes opportunities for personal economic growth and lower tax rates.
If you’re an entrepreneur, investor, or emerging world citizen, getting a St. Lucian or Dominican passport will be a much better option than looking into Pitcairn, even if it does cost significantly more.
The Caribbean is a great place to begin building your passport portfolio.
When the everyday person thinks of going offshore, the country of Georgia might not be the first that comes to mind.
But Georgia and some other European countries can be great candidates for business and residency. Georgia is a fantastic place to bank, buy real estate, and do business. Romania has incredibly low tax-rates for small businesses. And Bulgaria has a flat tax rate on personal income of 10%, the lowest in all of the European Union.
It’s a different kind of beauty from the remote island in the middle of the Pacific but living and doing business in and around Europe comes with all kinds of benefits and opportunities. Getting residency in the right places in Europe could mean having more income available for visiting a remote island paradise.
All this without sacrificing the conveniences of a modern lifestyle.
Thailand and the many other countries in Southeast Asia might seem like ideal locations for a vacation but they also provide some great opportunities for designing an international lifestyle.
Living and doing business in Southeast Asia gives you access to a similar quality of life to what you might be used to in western countries with fantastic food and a greater amount of personal freedom. Visas are easy to come by and there are plenty of places looking to make it easier for entrepreneurs to come and set up their business.
Because of government regulations, Penang in Malaysia is a great place to set up a physical business or remote work location. Bandung in Indonesia has aspirational goals of becoming Southeast Asia’s answer to Silicon Valley. Chiang Mai in Thailand is an epicenter for digital nomads looking to make a profit while going where they’re treated best.
If you’re looking for a place to invest in real estate and were drawn in by the chance of turning a profit on Pitcairn’s free land, Southeast Asia can be a great place for real estate investment. I’m currently making double-digit yields in Cambodia.
Don’t expect any yield from your new home in Pitcairn.
You’ll be able to find the ruggedness or whatever else you may have been looking for in Pitcairn in Southeast Asia, but with efficient travel to and from the region instead of a two-day boat ride. And that ruggedness will be a choice instead of a necessity.
Overall, Southeast Asia is a much better option.
While the offer of free land on Pitcairn Island sounds enticing, setting up shop in the countries and regions we’ve mentioned will leave you with more money that you can use to further grow and strengthen your business.
There are many places in the world that want to treat you and your business better than your home country does. And, in almost all of these places, you’ll have to make fewer sacrifices to your quality of life than you would in Pitcairn. In Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, you’ll find plenty of culturally diverse cities with all the amenities you’d expect back home.
While each individual situation is very different, there is always a better way to live the life you want and go where you’re treated best. Take our advice and pass on the free land. Once you start saving on taxes and the cost of living in places like Malaysia or Montenegro, your new home will practically pay for itself.