Updated September 16, 2020
Dateline: Brussels, Belgium
Despite all the talk against European-style socialism and high taxes, Europe has gained increased respect from me lately for one reason: it’s one of the easiest places to visit.
We frequently talk about the idea that a country’s culture dictates its future economic prospects. A country that closes people out, limits immigration, and assumes all visitors are criminals may get along for a while, but it won’t do well forever.
On the other hand, countries that open their doors to foreigners for both tourism and immigration are likely to be economically successful.
In today’s age, the only potential risk in opening yourself to foreigners is the competition from so many countries also opening up to travel and investment. Still, there are countries that do close their doors to most of the world.
To understand the consequences of being one of the hardest countries to immigrate to, let us consider two countries: the United States and Singapore.
SINGAPORE VS. THE UNITED STATES
Singapore is a multicultural mecca of people from around the world. Originally, Malaysian-Chinese moved down to Singapore to avoid perceived persecution from Malays in what was then Malaya, but Singapore’s government realized early on that remaining a strictly Chinese enclave would be a recipe for disaster.
Today, Singapore is about as much of a melting pot as you can get, with people speaking English as well as an array of other languages. Politicians don’t complain about “Press 2 for Chinese”; rather, they embrace diversity and realize that their success is based on a diverse group of people and a top work ethic.
Citizens of most countries can visit Singapore without a visa, and the few countries that can’t are eligible to apply online for an e-visa. It’s extremely efficient, and almost no one has to ever set foot in a Singaporean embassy.
On the other hand, countries like the United States have engaged in a brisk business of making it next to impossible to get in. They actively work to be one of the hardest countries to immigrate to.
I have friends from Norway, Germany, and the UK who tell stories of immigration officers telling them, “It was a Merry Christmas before you foreigners arrived” and similar stories.
While there are no doubt plenty of pleasant people working in US immigration, the overall culture of the country is to keep foreigners out.
“Foreigners are taking our jobs.”
“We need to stop Chinese and Indian kids from taking our tech jobs.”
“We need to build a wall.”
“Why should I press ‘1’ for English in ‘my’ country?”
“They’re coming here to rape and sell drugs.”
In contrast to Singapore, citizens of fewer than 40 countries can enter the United States without a visa (technically, even citizens from these visa-waiver countries have to pay $14 and undergo ESTA pre-clearance, which requires as much effort as getting a visa from some countries).
US immigration is quite suspicious of foreigners who arrive. Even Europeans get heckled and subjected to lots of questions. But the United States is not the only country to do this.
When I was a US citizen, I experienced less discomfort in entering the country than others. It’s often an unpleasant experience, but they had to let me in.
On the other side of the ocean, I have experienced delays in entering the United Kingdom on two occasions due to heightened screening; and I have friends who experienced the same in Canada and Australia.
Surprisingly, the United States is not the only country that´s lining up for the top spots on the list of the hardest countries to immigrate to.
While you may not run into as many problems getting into these types of countries if you have a passport from the European Union, Japan, or another English-speaking country, just about everyone else in the world is going to have issues getting into a select number of countries that I have dubbed the CUUNA countries.
And, if truth be told, you are better off without them.
CUUNA: The Hardest Countries to Immigrate To
What is CUUNA? It’s my “PIIGS” or “BRICS”-style acronym for the five hardest countries to immigrate to or enter as a tourist.
They are Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia.
These countries have a few things in common:
- They make life difficult for tourists. If you plan to renounce your current citizenship and become Dominican or St. Kittsian, these countries may read you the riot act if you try to visit.
- They have higher investor visa minimums – if they have an immigration program at all. If you want to obtain residency in these countries, you should have at least USD$1 million. Most of the countries have very unclear or difficult immigration regimes for entrepreneurs wishing to start a business there.
- They tend to be more hawkish. While countries like Switzerland prefer to remain neutral, these countries tend to send troops into whatever latest mission is going on in the Middle East.
- For whatever it’s worth, they are all English-speaking. This is perhaps the most troubling for native English speakers because it limits our options. (Ireland is the most notable English-speaking country not on this list, but you can check out other English-speaking countries here.)
Sadly, Canada is starting to become rather difficult. Canada has recently joined the United States as the third country (I’m aware of) that requires foreigners with visa-free access to go through an online pre-clearance before entering the country.
I hear it will also abolish “sterile transit”.
Obtaining a tourist visa to visit Canada is an even more byzantine process than obtaining a US tourist visa. Foreigners have long complained of intrusive questions about their work and financial history, as well as being asked to remember every address where they have ever lived.
Even Americans frequently have trouble entering Canada; George W. Bush once had trouble entering the country due to a past DUI conviction.
While Quebec still has an investor visa program, Canada did away with its national program a while back — its answer to the American EB-5 visa — leaving tens of thousands of Chinese applicants in the lurch.
U: UNITED STATES
I avoid flying through the United States because of the delays and frustration involved. Even if you’re only connecting in the US, you must go through the rigors of TSA security, as well as customs and immigration.
There is no “sterile transit” in the US, meaning you are treated as if you are visiting the country just by having a connection. That means foreigners must have a tourist or transit visa, which requires a visit to a US Embassy for an interview.
And your time at the airport could last hours as you pass through immigration and customs.
Those wishing to immigrate to the United States face similar challenges due to all of the anti-terrorism measures and other procedures.
U: UNITED KINGDOM
In some ways, the UK is the most friendly country on this list; you can obtain a business visa with a mere 200,000-pound investment, and the uber-wealthy can enjoy “non-dom” status that allows them to pay a flat fee and live in London without paying any income tax.
Or, you can simply get a Caribbean passport for as little as $100,000 that has visa-free access to the UK and consider yourself free to travel to England.
However, the UK has been among the biggest countries to crack down on immigration procedures, especially in the wake of the refugee crisis. While that may be reasonable, I found it odd to see so many Americans (who were obviously in town for an NFL game) being grilled by immigration officers.
The United States has a history of never letting a crisis go to waste, and the UK appears to be taking that tack now.
The UK also maintains a list of people who are barred from entry into the country; most of them are terrorists, but US talk show host Michael Savage is also on the list, purportedly for his “incendiary rhetoric” against… well, the other people on the list.
While a few commonwealth countries that don’t have visa-free access to Europe do get access to the UK, Britain excludes citizens from a number of countries from visiting the UK through Europe.
N: NEW ZEALAND
New Zealand is perhaps the most welcoming of the five, although its visa process is rather cumbersome and confusing. This is problematic because New Zealand grants visa-free access to so few people.
Like most other CUUNA countries, New Zealand also has a rather high barrier to entry for its investor visa program. If you’re over 65, you can all but forget about moving there.
I’ve often surmised that United States foreign policy is enabled by being a relatively isolated nation of people who don’t travel that much. Here in Belgium, on the other hand, it’s practically impossible to NOT visit another country or speak another language.
Using the isolation test, Australia takes the cake.
Australia also requires all tourists to obtain e-visas, even those from wealthy countries. Additionally, most nationalities require a visa to visit Australia. I see a healthy amount of anti-immigrant sentiment coming out of Australia now that the mining boom is over.
For one thing, I don’t see the country allowing a continued influx of wealthy Chinese into the country, but I do foresee increased government presence in the name of “security”.
My friends in Australia frequently speak of how the place is becoming less and less free. If any country will become the next United States in terms of high taxes, high authoritarianism, and anti-immigrant sentiment, it could well be Australia.
WHAT CUUNA MEANS FOR YOU
Here’s the good news: if you’re a citizen of a wealthy country, you likely don’t need to migrate to Australia or Canada. While citizens of wealthy countries can be delayed by immigration officers asking a lot of questions, it’s rare for a Western citizen to actually be denied entry to these or any other countries.
Additionally, these countries are so far removed from the places where our readers generally want to live that it doesn’t really matter. I like Canadians, but I’ve never had a huge interest in seeing much of Canada. Meanwhile, flying to New Zealand has always seemed like a real pain.
If you’re looking to lead a truly global lifestyle, you can avoid CUUNA relatively easily, and without a significant lifestyle impact.
There are simply so many other places to visit!
If these countries are places you would like to visit, there are still plenty of passports that can get you in. If you assemble a strategic passport portfolio, you can still get in tonearly any country you might want to go to. Even if they are one of the hardest countries to immigrate to, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
And if a visa is required to enter as a tourist, that’s not the end of the world.
Here’s the potentially bad news: if you are not a CUUNA citizen but want to live in a big, well-developed country with high taxes, you’ll have a lot harder time doing so when compared to entering countries like Spain, Belgium, Malaysia, Panama, or any number of other places.
This extends to folks looking to renounce US citizenship who still want to live in an English-speaking country. If that’s you, your best bet might be Ireland, where both an entrepreneur visa program and an investor visa program are straightforward and easy to qualify for.
Or, if time is of the essence, you can always apply for citizenship by investment in Malta, which is the one economic passport with visa-free access to the United States (although Cyprus is about to join them).
You can also look into your possibilities to qualify for citizenship by descent in a European country with a Tier A passport. Or, if you have the time and money, consider a Golden Visa that will qualify you for naturalization down the road.
Continental Europe has become so much more open to foreigners than English-speaking CUUNA countries.
But one way or another, you should consider whether being able to visit these five countries is that important to you when planting your flags. Do you really need access to every country in the world?
There are ways to maintain your access to CUUNA, but if you´re trying to keep things economical as a Nomad Capitalist, consider whether you actually need to have visa-free access to these countries or if it’s merely for your ego.
Whatever you decide, the CUUNA countries are the hardest countries to immigrate to, hands down. they are the ones you will likely have issues with when you are in a renunciation situation or if you have a less-powerful passport, to begin with.
If you want help creating a passport portfolio to ensure you have access to the right countries, feel free to reach out to our team. We can help you determine whether it’s worth the hassle to take on the hardest countries to immigrate to or if you can go where you’re treated best without them.