Dateline: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysa
In light of market conditions in the world, people have been asking if citizenship by investment programs are going to offer discounts.
Are fast-track naturalization programs going to be more flexible?
Are more countries going to open up their residence and citizenship options?
Whenever there is chaos in the market, people want to know whether they can get a deal. And with the amount of concern in the world right now, people are also realizing that being tied to just one country is not a good idea.
Most people from non-western countries have known this for a long time because they or their parents have seen adversity in their lifetime. People from the West, on the other hand, assume that their country is going to protect them, even when there’s a pandemic, or the stock markets start plummeting.
But this time around, there are those who are questioning this belief. In times of crisis, they’re looking for a Plan B.
And, naturally, many want to know if they can get a deal on that Plan B by getting a discount on a second passport.
At the same time, many countries have been hit economically because of the coronavirus, seemingly creating the perfect conditions for a price drop in the citizenship by investment industry.
But will prices actually drop?
There’s one region of the world where they already have: the Caribbean.
In this article, I’ll share my thoughts on Caribbean citizenship by investment programs as not only a consumer but a practitioner. We’ll discuss how citizenship prices have changed in the Caribbean Islands in recent years and why you should consider obtaining a Caribbean passport before 2020 passes us by.
Temporary Caribbean Citizenship Discounts
Every once in a while, something happens that causes Caribbean citizenship by investment programs to engage in price wars, following each other down a path toward lower price tags on their passports.
It happened for the first time just a couple of years ago in mass following an especially destructive hurricane season that devastated that part of the world.
Now, we’re seeing more price reductions in Caribbean citizenship by investment programs in response to COVID-19.
But it’s not what you think.
When the hurricane season came through the Caribbean, these island nations needed to raise relief funds, fast. So, they lowered the price of their donation options for single applicants to get dual citizenship in the Caribbean.
For example, St. Kitts and Nevis had long offered citizenship in exchange for a $250,000 sugar fund donation. But in 2017, they offered a limited-time $150,000 donation for a single applicant to deal with the impact of the hurricanes.
But three years out, that “limited-time offer” has managed to stick around on a more permanent basis.
In that vein, some of the discounts we’re seeing today are being pitched as limited-time offers, but we’ll see if their longevity outlives the crisis.
From my perspective, many of the changes these Caribbean citizenship programs are making are well past due. The donation option has long been the only real sensible choice for investors, but now these countries are tightening up their programs and increasing the competitive nature of their investment options.
However, this time around, there aren’t really any discounts for single applicants. The least expensive programs are still $100,000. That price floor hasn’t changed in years and likely won’t be going away anytime soon, if ever. There is too much demand in the market to expect prices to drop below that threshold going forward.
What these countries have been doing, however, is encouraging people to bring their families. Here is how the discounts break down for each Caribbean citizenship by investment program:
ST. KITTS AND NEVIS
St. Kitts and Nevis started these price reductions a couple of years ago. As mentioned, the temporary $150,000 price for a single applicant they came up with back in 2017 is now essentially permanent, as other countries followed them down to that lower price.
The new 2020 discount means that, for that same $150,000, you can now get citizenship for a family of four. And you can add additional dependents for just $10,000 per person.
The family option used to be $195,000. This puts it far more in line with other programs and their prices.
The definition of family at that price point has not been expanded. This is for spouses and children, you can’t bring your sister.
The offer is good until the end of 2020. If you are interested in saving $45,000 with this particular Caribbean citizenship by investment discount, you can learn more about the St. Kitts and Nevis program here.
I have personally been through St. Lucia’s citizenship by investment program and can now claim that I am a St. Lucian. Right now, they have done a couple of things in response to COVID-19.
First, they lowered the price for adding a spouse, which used to be $65,000 (added to the $100,000 for your single applicant donation) to $40,000. Now, instead of a total donation of $165,000, they brought it down to $140,000 plus fees.
Interestingly, there was already a policy in place that allowed those who became St. Lucian citizens as single applicants and then later got married, as I did, to add their spouse for $35,000. The new change brings you closer to that scenario right off the bat.
Second, they also introduced a 50% discount on their bond investment option. Instead of the original required investment of half a million, you can now immediately qualify for this Caribbean citizenship by investing just $250,000 in government bonds. The bonds don’t pay any interest, but you’ll be able to recoup the money after a holding period.
The investment amount goes up to $300,000 for a family of five, plus an additional $15,000 for each dependent added on after that. The holding time will also vary depending on how many people you have on your application and how much you invest. In general, your holding options are between five and seven years.
They also slashed the application fee for the bond option from $50,000 to $30,000.
If you are a couple, you could make the $140,000 donation and be done. Or, you could put the $250,000 in bonds, tie it up for about six years, pay $30,000 in processing fees and you would save $110,000.
You can learn more about St. Lucia’s citizenship by investment program here.
Dominica has expanded its definition of family. They have raised some of the age limits on who can qualify so you can include your older children on your application.
They have also lowered the spouse price from $75,000, which was not a competitive option, to $50,000. It’s still $100,000 for a single applicant.
You can learn more about Dominica’s citizenship by investment program here.
ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA
This is an interesting program. They’ve got a number of different options that no one ever talks about.
Their business and real estate options were hardly used. So, they’ve lowered the price of their real estate option by letting you buy with other people. They also slashed the processing fees for these little-used options by $20,000 so your sunk cost is now only $30,000.
Conversely, they have raised the price of applying as a family. It used to be a $100,000 donation plus a processing fee of $25,000 for a family of four. That has now increased to $30,000. The definition of a family of four remains pretty basic; you can’t add your parents if they aren’t dependent on you, it’s a nuclear family definition.
The discount for families in Antigua and Barbuda really comes with its new university donation option. If you contribute $150,000 to the University of the West Indies, you can add up to six applicants (+$15,000 for each additional family member) and one member of the family will receive a one-year scholarship to the university.
So, if you have a larger family, that option may be interesting. For most of us, the extra cost likely won’t be worth it.
You can learn more about Antigua and Barbuda’s program here.
Grenada is the one island that, as of right now, has not responded to the coronavirus with any discounts.
What Grenada has done, however, is make their rules more liberal. They’ve been the most aggressive over the last year or so in expanding the definition of a family outside that of the nuclear family. You can add your parents to your application, as well as other extended family members who are not necessarily dependent on you.
That may be why they haven’t been as aggressive in lowering their price point. It remains at $150,000 for a single applicant and $200,000 for a family of four.
The other reason they may be holding out on their prices is that they are the only Caribbean citizenship by investment country that has visa-free access to China as well as access to the US E-2 investor visa.
You can learn more about Grenada’s program here.
How Do Caribbean Passports Compare?
Discounts aside, should you get a passport from the Caribbean?
In the past, people may have cared about where your citizenship was from, but they don’t seem to care as much these days. Most passports are viewed as neutral.
And Caribbean countries are about as neutral as they come. They aren’t bombing other countries or starting a turf war and they aren’t known for committing financial crimes. Compared to having US citizenship, this could be an advantage of having dual citizenship in the Caribbean.
One drawback many point out with Caribbean citizenship programs is that they are too close to the United States, both geographically and politically. The US has tried to strongarm these countries in the past to remove their programs.
So far, they have been unsuccessful, but other similarly cheap island citizenship by investment programs like Vanuatu have capitalized on this concern and have tried to sell their isolated location (and distance from the US) as an edge.
Vanuatu has a program on par with the Caribbean programs. And even though the visa-free travel isn’t as good as some of the Caribbean programs, their argument is that Vanuatu’s citizenship is unique because it is located in the South Pacific.
But there’s nothing that really stands out about that program. Plus, if the Solomon Islands rolls out a program, they can say the same thing. And it’s not really something anyone cares about anyway.
The only countries that are going to judge you based on where your passport is from are the wealthy judgemental CUNA countries. And those are the countries you are probably trying to get away from anyway.
Do Caribbean Passports Have Good Visa-Free Travel?
Much to my chagrin, many countries market their passports by highlighting visa-free travel to Europe. Everybody wants a citizenship that’s going to give them visa-free travel to Europe.
This might be something that holds you back from certain citizenship programs, but it won’t be an issue with Caribbean passports. All five countries have visa-free access to Europe’s Schengen area.
On top of that, many of them offer access to unique, even hard-to-get countries like South Africa, Russia, and even China. Which one you choose may be influenced not just by the price tag but by the different visa-free options that they offer.
None of them, however, offer visa-free access to the US. And none will be able to go toe-to-toe with a US or other western passport in terms of the number of countries you can travel to visa-free.
One option to circumvent this issue is to create a passport portfolio. You can get a Caribbean passport almost immediately and start working on another passport that you can get a few years from now. It’s our classic belt and suspenders strategy.
This combination of citizenships can be strategically arranged to give you as many travel options as possible.
Caribbean Citizenship is the Cheapest in the World
I don’t see many opportunities under the $100,000 price range anymore, but there are several Caribbean countries where you can buy citizenship for this price.
Years ago there was a Comoros program for $45,000. There were also rumors that there would be a program in Armenia for $50,000.
Comoros and Armenia do not have visa-free travel to Europe, so the cheaper price was partially due to the fact that these passports are less interesting to many people looking for a second passport.
Even then, I think those prices would be too low in today’s market
In Cambodia, their prices have gone through the roof. While you can invest in real estate and get a good deal, I don’t know many people who are taking them up on the offer. They don’t want a relatively bad passport for $250,000.
The European citizenship programs are all much more expensive (think hundreds of thousands, if not millions of euros) and require complicated hybrid investments including donations, real estate, and more.
Other programs are not competitive. They are overpriced. The Caribbean and Vanuatu have some of the most competitive prices for relatively good passports.
Don’t Miss Your Opportunity
Buying a Caribbean citizenship is going to be one of your fastest and cheapest options. If you’re looking for citizenship options for a family, the time and place to get them is here and now.
Countries are tightening up the investment options in their programs that weren’t as competitive before, making these programs more attractive now than ever.
But there’s no guarantee that these discounts will be around for long. You need to act now or you will miss this opportunity.
If you need help navigating your Plan B and coming up with a citizenship plan, you can contact us here.