Dateline: Baku, Azerbaijan
No matter where you obtain a second passport, your place of birth will always matter. I don’t mean this in a sentimental way, but rather as an admission of the limitations that come with obtaining a second passport.
For the most part, immigration officials and bank workers in countries all over the world focus on the country that issued you your passport.
However, there are still situations in which your birthplace can make a difference — whether you are still a citizen of that country or not. Your birthplace stays with you even if you acquire more passports, and it might affect your travel plans. So much so that some people scout for the best countries to give birth and get citizenship for their kids.
One of the most drastic examples of this occurred just a few years ago when, in 2014, Canada removed visa-free access for all passport holders of the Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis. I’ve mentioned this incident before, but we’ve never taken the time to really analyze what it means and how it affects you and the choices you make when it comes to your second passport.
Very few economic citizenship passports give you visa-free access to Canada. Besides European citizenship by investment programs in Malta and Cyprus, St. Kitts and Nevis used to be the only Caribbean economic citizenship program to offer visa-free access to Canada until Antigua obtained it in 2013.
The US and Canada are typically off-limits for the economic citizenship program, so the visa-free access to the country was a travel privilege and a big selling point for the St. Kitts citizenship by investment program as a second passport.
However, St. Kitts lost the visa-free access to Canada privilege due to an incident in which they let an Iranian obtain one of their passports and they didn’t list his place of birth. The man then traveled to Canada and requested an audience with the Prime Minister on a diplomatic mission on behalf of the government of St. Kitts and Nevis. You can certainly understand why Canada reacted the way it did, but it’s unfortunate that it ends up controlling what everyone else does with their passport.
Compliance Is Key in Second Passports
The US government has long insisted on implementing a system around the world so that no one from a sanctioned country can go and hide or pursue ulterior motives by obtaining a second citizenship. One of the keys to this system is the requirement on all passports to list your place of birth.
It sounds simple, but this is an important thing to keep in mind when you’re looking at any second passport, especially second citizenship. Compliance is important. The issue is that some of these smaller countries that offer the economic citizenship program can be pushed around. They’ve got to do what the US government wants.
This just means that it can often take more than renouncing being a US citizen to free yourself from the reach of the US government. If you don’t want your second passport to be from a country that can be bullied by the US, then you’ll want to make sure that you’re in a good country’s program.
If you have the money, it makes the most sense to get Malta’s economic citizenship program, or even Cyprus if you want to invest. If you have 10 million dollars and you want that second passport then I would just go for the best.
If you have the money and you want to go through the citizenship by investment process, then I wouldn’t be jerking around with Dominica. Dominica is a great value — if you have a million dollars, $100,000 plus some fees isn’t a big deal. But if you have ten million, then $800,000 (since you get part of your $1 million investment back), plus some fees aren’t a big deal either.
If you can afford the best second passport, then go for the best second passport. Otherwise, you’ll be dealing with limitations that you can actually afford to live without.
Now, I don’t think it’s a huge issue with the Caribbean economic citizenship programs, but don’t think that you can change your identity. Your passport is going to say where you were born.
These countries require you to list your birth country because they have to comply. If the US says “do this” they have to do it because if they don’t then the US government convinces other countries to limit travel, let alone visa-free access privileges from their passport holders.
Getting a second passport from a country that doesn’t comply means you’re never going to be able to travel anywhere.
So compliance is important.
Stating Your Birthplace in A Second Passport
For some, this can be a difficult thing to deal with. During Trump’s Muslim ban a French citizen was detained upon entry into the United States. Though a citizen of France, the man’s passport indicated that he was born in Egypt.
Consequently, he was interrogated for ten hours and was about to be deported as an illegal alien. It was only because he was going to speak at Texas A&M University that the president of the university was able to help get the situation sorted out at the airport in Houston.
And here’s the most ironic part of the story, the man is an acclaimed Holocaust historian and a Jew. Not only was this man not from the country that was on Trump’s banned list, but he wasn’t even Muslim. They just assumed that he was Muslim because he was born in Egypt, which is something his passport conveniently communicated to the overzealous airport officials.
On the other hand, you have some individuals who will benefit from their place of birth. I have a friend who is originally from France, but he is a naturalized US citizen. If he were to ever give up his US passport, all the passports that he gets after that will say “Born in France” and he won’t have to deal with any issues from being a previous citizen of the United States.
On the flip side, there is one benefit from being from the US instead of France: French citizens cannot apply for Comorian citizenship due to a dispute over France stealing their fourth island.
Permanent US Indicia
But here’s the bottom line, your passport is going to say where you were born. If you were born in the United States, your passport is going to say the USA for the rest of your life.
And what that means is that you have US indicia. So when you go to open a bank account in some country that doesn’t take Americans, like Switzerland, they might well say “Prove that you are no longer a US citizen.” And you’re going to have to bring in the paperwork from the Secretary of State that says you are no longer a citizen, your certificate of loss of nationality.
There may be an occasional time where someone who is uneducated about the policies at a bank will say, “We don’t really care, it says the USA, we can’t help you.” That is definitely a possibility.
It shouldn’t happen, it’s not in any of the policies. If you’re not a US citizen, you’re not a US citizen. But they have to check anyone with US indicia, which means anyone with a US address, phone number, birthplace, passport, green card, etc. You may occasionally run into someone who’s not fully aware of the policies and they will give you problems.
Here’s the other issue: If I have a passport that lets me go to Iran visa-free, will my birthplace still affect my travel options? Iran is saying that they’re not letting any Americans in as long as Trump is being difficult.
Will they let an American in who was born in the United States, but has a different passport? Who knows. Am I going to be subject to the same nonsense and the way they would treat other Americans where I might have a problem? Who knows. That’s definitely something to keep in mind.
Avoid The Nonsense, Play by The Second Passport Rules
Now, we’ve discussed before that there are some tricks that people use to get around the challenges of listing their birthplace. For instance, I met a guy who, on his Irish passport, put the name of the county where he was born in the US that had the same name as a county in Ireland. I guess that’s a cute way to do it.
It might work, but here’s the deal: sure, if you renounce your US passport and you ask Ireland and they say it’s okay, great. What I wouldn’t do is try and do it as a way to get around rules that are in place.
They asked me when I went through the Comoros process if I wanted to put something that was less identifiable and I told them I didn’t want to pull any nonsense. I’m not trying to hide anything.
And, quite frankly, even if I went somewhere with a second passport and they didn’t identify me as a US citizen because my passport didn’t say it, I would still report that bank account to the United States.
As a US citizen, you’re still liable under US laws, no matter what your other passport says. The US government doesn’t care. You still have to fill out your FBARs, tax returns, report your foreign companies, etc. whether the people who are setting those things up for you know you’re a US citizen or not.
So all the cute little tricks that people try to use to change their name and everything else aren’t a good idea in my book. In fact, I recently heard a story of a guy who got indicted for doing that.
Don’t do it.
Which Second Passport to Choose
If you’re from a country that already has a bad reputation, don’t get Comoros’ economic citizenship program. If you’re from one of those countries, it might be better to either get an economic citizenship program in Europe or get a residency and move around in Europe for five years while you wait to be naturalized and then get a passport. It’s sad but true.
I don’t know if being a South Sudanese guy who gets a Dominican passport is going to help you much. It might help you with some travel because they’ll let you in, but I think you will be stopped and questioned at certain banks and other places. So it’s a bit more of a gamble.
If you’re a US citizen it’s not a gamble, just know that people at certain banks are going to ask you to prove that you’re no longer a US citizen if you plan on renouncing. Just understand that there will be examples, like Iran, where there’s still a little bit of risk.
Thank the US government for implementing this program.
But, wherever you’re from, people are going to know it and some guy at a bank who doesn’t know the rules or some authoritarian guy at a border crossing is going to give you grief. Sorry to say it. We can only help you do the best you can.
The Vetting Process for Getting Second Passports
Generally, these second passport programs pre-screen the data you send in with the application we’ve discussed here before. And this doesn’t just apply to Comoros, it applies to all citizenship through investment programs.
For the most part, they are looking for three key things:
- Are you a criminal?
- Are you a terrorist?
- Are you a public health hazard?
Let’s go through those, one by one.
Can Criminals Get Citizenship through Investment?
Generally, if you have a big criminal issue they’re just not going to take you, to begin with. The people that you’re going to work with — the channelers you work with to submit your application — are just going to stop you cold.
I’ve had a few people who’ve come to me over the years looking for second passports who had a criminal record. In fact, that is now one of the questions on our online application. For some, this isn’t as big of a deal as it is for others. For example, one guy had been in jail for child support issues. But we see all kinds of stuff.
The bottom line is that if you’ve got big criminal problems like sexual assault, forget it. I don’t think too many people want to sell you a passport.
You may be able to slide through on some kind of residency program where they do a light check of your criminal background, but regarding citizenship through investment, you’re probably not going to get it.
The big takeaway here is that if you have serious criminal issues you should start working on finding a program that will accept you now so you can eventually fix your tax issues, because it may take a while.
Hopefully, none of you reading this have big criminal issues, but considering the extreme popularity of our tongue-in-cheek article on non-extradition countries, there are probably one or two bad apples out there. Just know that if you do have a criminal record, you’re probably not going to get through.
That said, they’re going to double-check all three of these items, even if you do get through the application process in most of these programs. The Caribbean programs are going to REALLY double-check it. And Malta and Cyprus are going to use Interpol, so you’re really going to be vetted.
How Does Citizenship By Investment Check for Terrorists?
I cannot speak for every country, but many of the countries that offer citizenship by investment will not take anyone from a country on the OFAC list. Plus, if you are specifically on the list of sanctioned individuals in the US then most countries won’t take you either.
Are you a health hazard?
The third problem is the big one for some of the people who come to us on occasion. It’s not because they’re criminals or terrorists, but because they have a health issue. I had one guy come to me about a year ago who explained that no one will take him because he has HIV.
For the most part, countries that are selling their citizenship are not going to want to trade a passport for a health hazard.
In order to determine who’s a threat, most citizenship by investment programs will require a medical exam. That’s the one big thing I had to do for Comoros, I had to take an HIV test.
However, it was really simple. I was in Tbilisi at the time so I just popped over to one of the hospitals — MediClub — I went in, paid the money, took the test, came back the next day, got a sheet in one of those plastic folders they use here and it said “Negative.” I don’t even think I had to get it stamped, quite frankly. I certainly didn’t have to get it apostilled.
They took that result and simply said “Great!” Before you ever submit your application, the channeler will look through your medical exams. If my results had said “Positive” they would have said “Forget it, we’re not even going to bother. You’ll be rejected.” While the channeler checks before submission, during the waiting period those running the citizenship by investment program will check again.
I don’t know of any citizenship by investment programs that will let you in if you don’t have a clean bill of health. HIV is the big disease they all check for, but most will also check tuberculosis and hepatitis. Some will ask for even more, but even the most lenient programs will check for HIV.
To that point, there are even some countries in the world that won’t even let you visit if you have HIV. For the most part, this holds true in Arab countries and some of the “cleaner” countries in the world such as Singapore.
The easiest place for people who have health problems is actually Europe. I’m not saying that that’s a good thing, and I’m not trying to give people advice, but most European countries don’t really do a test for residence or citizenship. It’s the countries that are so rich that sometimes don’t even test. Now, that’s not an instant passport, but it could be a residence permit.
These European countries, like Portugal, sometimes require you to start a business in exchange for residence. There’s usually a medical test for most investment programs, but some of the entrepreneur visas don’t require much in terms of getting a medical checkup. And I’m not aware of too many countries that require you to take a medical test to become a citizen, other than these economic investment programs where you skip all the steps of naturalization.
So those are the three things that they’re checking. In the case of Comoros, they can check it pretty quickly because they’re not looking for a ton of things. Plus, since they’re not under the thumb of the US, they’re not worried about losing visa-free access, allowing Comoros to be just a little more laid back.