Last updated February 10, 2021
Dateline: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Malaysia is a melting pot of people from around the world – Malay, Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, and more. While many of these people are Malaysian citizens, there are also quite a few expats here who hold any number of different passports.
We talk a lot about second passports both here on the blog and on our YouTube channel, and we frequently have to address the various scams and myths that plague the offshore industry.
Today is no different.
Too many people believe that getting a second citizenship is as easy as walking to the corner store and swiping your credit card, but nothing could be further from the truth.
One path to a second passport that’s been floating around the internet for year and that succumbs to this erroneous belief is what is known as a diplomatic passport.
Do diplomatic passports exist? Yes.
Are they legitimate? Yes.
Do they have extra benefits beyond a regular passport? Maybe.
But can you go out and buy your way into a diplomatic passport? Not really. At least not the way most people on the interwebs would have you believe.
The idea of becoming a diplomat and having a diplomatic passport is one of those James Bond-like things of intrigue in the offshore world for many folks. But that sense of intrigue is largely misplaced.
WHAT IS DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY?
People frequently ask us about diplomatic passports, and not just our readers, viewers, and clients. Not too long ago, a reporter from The Guardian asked me about “diplomatic passports for sale” when they interviewed me for an article on the topic.
While The Guardian certainly misrepresented my quote and confused citizenship by investment with a diplomatic passport (among other mistakes), they did a good job of explaining diplomatic immunity.
Essentially, diplomats who are given diplomatic immunity cannot be charged for crimes committed in other countries.
The Guardian illustrated this with the story of Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a US diplomat stationed at a US intelligence base in Northamptonshire in the UK. She was driving on the wrong side of the road one night and hit a British teenager riding a motorcycle.
She hit and killed him, then got on a private jet and flew back to the United States. To this day, she refuses to take responsibility and the US government has said that they aren’t going to extradite her – the first time the US has ever refused an extradition request from the UK.
Now, the media has alleged that she is actually a part of the CIA and that is why they won’t turn her over. But it is believed that she has been given some sort of diplomatic status.
Whatever the situation is going on with Anne Sacoolas, it is important to note that diplomats don’t necessarily receive automatic diplomatic immunity. It doesn’t always go hand in hand. But if diplomatic immunity is granted, you could potentially commit a crime such as this one and get away with it.
Why someone would want to go out and live in another country and commit crimes – from traffic violations to running someone over – without consequence is beyond me. But even with a diplomatic passport, you may not even have the privilege of sidestepping the law unless you are specifically given diplomatic immunity.
IS A DIPLOMATIC PASSPORT A LEGITIMATE SECOND CITIZENSHIP?
But let’s put the questionable reasons as to why you would want diplomatic immunity to the side for just a moment and ask another important question: are diplomatic passports even legitimate?
To be honest, most of the information online about second passport programs is either incorrect or a scam. Even some relatively legitimate individuals will try to tell you that they’re the only people in your area who are licensed to help you with the passport process.
On top of that, dozens – probably hundreds – of second passport providers have come and gone.
Diplomatic passports are some of the most common offerings from these fly-by-night passport companies. So, are they legitimate?
Obviously, the concept of diplomatic passports is legitimate. Such travel documents are provided to the bureaucrats who travel on official state business and even get their own line at immigration. Their diplomatic passports are usually a different color than traditional passports, too, with black being the most common color.
I guess embassy workers traveling the globe on Big Government business need to feel special.
Oftentimes, diplomatic passport holders even receive a waiver on visa fees. Their entire families can get diplomatic travel documents as well, as was the case with Anne Sacoolas who received her diplomatic passport through her diplomat husband.
As you can imagine, there’s no way you can get this kind of passport from your home country if you live in the western world, short of swallowing your dignity and getting a job at the State Department. Even then, you’d have to be posted overseas or travel on diplomatic business.
However, it has been put forward by some sellers of second passports that there are smaller nations willing to make anyone a “diplomat” – complete with the appropriate passport – for as little as a few thousand dollars.
Obviously, this is a giant second passport scam. No nation – even some banana republic – issues normal second passports, let alone diplomatic ones, to any Tom, Dick, or Harry without a background check.
And even if they did, they certainly wouldn’t do it for one “low price” of $2,995.
Consider the few legitimate citizenship by investment programs offered to the general public. St. Kitts and Nevis has the longest-running program of this kind, now almost forty years strong.
St. Kitts would certainly fit the bill as the kind of small, impoverished country the second passport scammers would have you believe will dole out diplomatic passports to anyone with a pulse. Of the nation’s two islands, the larger one (St. Kitts) is home to all of 53,000 people, while Nevis houses only 12,000. Pretty small, right?
The nation’s economy is the 184th largest in the world. Also small. On top of that, St. Kitts was traditionally dependent on the harvesting of sugar cane, a crop that has been devastated on the islands as world prices plummeted.
However, St. Kitts shows just how valuable the second citizenship market is. Even after a sizeable discount in recent years, a donation to the country’s Sugar Fund starts at $150,000.
You read that right: $150,000 US dollars.
That’s a lot higher than the few thousand dollars the murky passport purveyors online are promising. And that’s just for a regular passport. St. Kitts doesn’t issue diplomatic passports, although I suppose they might knight you if you paid enough on top of the initial “donation.”
It’s Better to Play by the Books
The “too cheap” second passport offer is something to watch out for. When you’re planning your personal sovereignty – and possibly your expatriation from your home country – “cheap” isn’t a word that should be entering your mind. You want to do the process correctly, which is why I recommend using a real attorney to either handle or at least supervise the process.
And unless you’re using a real, licensed attorney in a western jurisdiction, I wouldn’t even consider getting a passport from a country that isn’t listed as being available to the general public.
You can read our overview of the best citizenship by investment programs, which include countries like St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Malta, St. Lucia, Montenegro, Grenada, and others.
You can also get second citizenship via your ancestry, marriage, or naturalization after a period of residence. There are countries like Cambodia that offer second passport programs that aren’t technically citizenship by investment programs and don’t fit the other traditional ways to get a second citizenship like those already mentioned but are still legitimate.
In many cases, the ability to offer second passports to foreigners will be written into the laws of the country.
It’s possible to get a passport from a more developed country like Austria, and we have gotten people legitimate passports in similar countries after long negotiations. However, this route is one that will cost you millions, occasionally even tens of millions of dollars.
And if it is cheaper, it’s going to be in the hundreds of thousands range like in St. Kitts and Nevis, not a mere $5,000 like the scammers will promise you. And remember, these types of second passport deals aren’t going to get you a diplomatic passport. They’ll get you a regular passport with no special diplomatic immunity.
On top of the price of getting a legitimate second passport, you will also be required to submit extensive paperwork. The diplomatic passport scammers will often claim that you can have the FedEx man dropping off your new passport by the end of the week, but no country – I repeat, none – is going to give anyone a passport without a background check.
Do you really think any government wants to make its travel document a completely useless piece of rubbish by handing one out to everyone who has $5,000? That country would see the rest of the world shut it out in every way. No country wants that.
WORKING FOR YOUR DIPLOMATIC PASSPORT
There’s a contingent of people in countries like the US who don’t like the rich. Whatever the rich are doing or whatever they have access to, it must be bad.
And there are certainly folks who give them ammunition for such dislikes.
In the United States, if you bundle $250,000 in contributions for a presidential candidate and that person becomes president, there have been a number of presidents throughout history who would give you some kind of throwaway diplomatic post.
There was a video on YouTube of John McCain in the Senate pounding on Obama’s appointee to be the ambassador to Norway who didn’t even know where Norway was. He was just a guy who raised money for the president. I guess that’s a relatively common practice in a lot of places.
Can people become a diplomat in certain countries by putting a bit of money in an envelope? The answer is, on very rare occasions, yes.
We’ve seen a couple of scandals where there were some suspicious dealings going on. The Guardian reported on some insider gossip of Nigerians getting 50 diplomatic passports for their family members so that they could go do whatever they want in New York.
But generally, you can’t buy a diplomatic second passport. This idea that you’re going to pull through the drive-thru and get your diplomatic second passport is ridiculous. No country is doing that.
What I think is more likely to happen is that you become a citizen of a country and you actually do some kind of diplomatic work, spend some time on the ground, meet some people, and if you have something to offer you could potentially receive a diplomatic post.
I’ve talked to folks about this. I know folks who are in the diplomatic corps, who are honorary consuls, etc. These diplomats are pretty straight-laced people.
Sometimes, honorary consul positions lead to citizenship. For instance, you’re a citizen of one country, and you’re an honorary consul for another. You serve in your own country and you can eventually get a second citizenship in the other. So, there are legitimate ways to do this.
I spoke with a lawyer once in a country where I hold citizenship and he told me that “The government would actually be interested in having you work in the diplomatic corps. They’re not going to make you an ambassador but they would probably be interested in having you serve in some kind of business function and you’ll get a diplomatic passport.”
The rub here is you actually have to go and do the job. For me, and probably for most of you, if you are a successful entrepreneur, you’re probably not going to give up on a multi-million dollar income to go and work for $21,000 per year hanging around an embassy.
For some of us, the answer could be, “Maybe in the future.” If you could actually do something good for a country that you like, that’s welcomed you in, and it’s a country you believe in, that’s not a bad thing to do. Certainly, people do go from business to politics.
But that’s the only real, legitimate path to a diplomatic passport that I can see for Nomad Capitalists looking to build a passport portfolio as part of a holistic offshore strategy.
AVOID THE SHADY BUSINESS OF DIPLOMATIC PASSPORTS
The idea of a diplomatic passport also makes me uncomfortable for an entirely different reason. Consider for a moment just who would be looking for such programs besides the straight-laced folks who actually go about getting one the right way.
Yes, the idea of being a diplomat may sound cool, but what practical purpose would it really serve? Yes, there are the stories of diplomats running innocent people over in their BMWs and leaving them for dead – and never even being arrested – but is that your goal?
The people looking for diplomatic passports are the same people looking for second passports along with a name change, anonymous bank accounts, and other shady offshore practices that are long dead.
These are the kind of people running from the law.
Whether I pass judgment on those kinds of people or not, I certainly don’t want to get wrapped up in some scammy program with them, lest I open myself up to being fingered as a criminal as well.
When it comes to a second passport, make sure you’re getting one for the right reasons.
Diversification can be a great tool for legitimate users, but you don’t want to get immersed in some shadowy underworld. That includes second passports from countries that no longer offer citizenship by investment programs (like Belize), countries that no longer exist (like British Honduras, now known as Belize), and so-called “World Passports” for stateless individuals.
Your government may want you to think that getting a second passport is the height of treason. The fact is that it’s not, and maintaining dual citizenship – even if you purchased one of your citizenships – is your right.
Just don’t get sucked into the second passport scams from shady dealers online. The internet is littered with people who sent their cash to some far-flung “lawyer” only to never hear from them again.
Common sense is your best weapon.
And if you want help doing things the 100% legal way, reach out. We’re here to help people set up holistic offshore strategies – the right way.