Dateline: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Last year, I received a call from a frantic family that claimed they needed to get second passports very quickly.
The husband explained to me that they had been oddly rejected for one of the Caribbean economic citizenship programs, and that they had been in contact with someone in Serbia who claimed he could get them naturalized in two months for a mere 100,000 euros.
Ultimately, we decided that this family wasn’t a good fit for me not only because of the uncertainty around their previous rejection, but because of their desire to focus on shiny objects rather than solutions. The family insisted they would go forward with Serbia with or without me.
This call made me want to do in-depth research to ensure that no one else had to suffer the same fate. That’s because Serbia doesn’t have a citizenship by investment program.
In fact, any method of obtaining citizenship in such a short time is almost always due to some sort of illicit activity or bribery.
There are rare exceptions to this; Steven Seagal was naturalized by presidential decree in both Serbia and Russia, giving him instant citizenship and multiple passports. However, this sort of “citizenship by exception” is generally rather rare, and doesn’t require a donation.
Here’s the cold, hard truth: there are a seemingly endless number of likely fake economic citizenship programs where promoters promise fast passports for low levels of investment. But as they say, if it’s too good to be true, it usually is.
Think you can become Norwegian in three months? Or Polish merely for donating $100,000 to some mysterious “government” fund? It all sounds promising, but anyone telling you it’s possible is quite simply scamming you.
Think about it; why would Norway – one of the wealthiest nations on earth – hand out citizenships to anyone who asked in exchange for a small donation similar to that charged by tiny Caribbean countries? The average Norwegian pays as much in tax each year as the amount one website – since taken down – claimed you could donate in exchange for citizenship.
Some of these outfits make claims that don’t even make sense, as I’ll explain below.
I recently scoured the internet looking for any and all non-existent citizenship programs being promoted in an effort to document them all in one “master” round-up article.
While I am always hesitant to use the word “scam”, many of these programs invariably are scams. In fact, I can’t find any basis in law for almost any of these programs, and the few that I can find a basis in law for, the promoters are vastly confusing how the law actually works.
Here is my list of 19 fake citizenship programs that are being falsely or naively promoted as pathways to quick passports.
It shouldn’t take much to understand that Germany – holding rights to one of the best passports in the world, and among the wealthiest countries in Europe – doesn’t need to sell its passport for any donation, let alone a paltry 350,000 that would peg it at half the value of Malta. No, no, no. If you want to become a German citizen, plan to move there, pay taxes, and speak German.
Despite the fact that Hungary just once again re-elected a proud nationalist who built a wall to keep migrants out and promotes Hungarian jingoism. Budapest is the most uncomfortable city I’ve ever been in; the racism is palpable, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the country got tossed out of the European Union. (I can’t say I’d shed a tear for anyone there.) My thoughts aside, Hungary recently shuttered a residency by investment program whereby one could obtain residency and future Hungarian citizenship by purchasing bonds. Even one promoter of the scheme suggested the government might stiff investors and keep their “investment”. With all of that, the totally bogus offer of Hungarian citizenship in mere weeks for a sub-$100,000 is laughable. And it doesn’t exist.
Greece offers a fully legal residency by investment program; I covered it in a video here. However, Greece has a spotty record naturalizing those not of Greek origin, so I would treat it as a permanent visa into the European Union with any future second passport being a bonus. However, one website suggests that Greece decided to sell passports for 95,000 just to be nice, claiming that the country realized “some people would rather not wait for their passport”. Well, I’d rather not wait for my winning lottery ticket, but some things require waiting, and the idea of a Greek citizenship by investment program is laughable.
I actually know an attorney who attempted to create an Iceland citizenship by investment program during the height of the economic crisis there; he was ultimately unsuccessful. These days, with direct flights from everywhere from Kaunas to Kansas City flying into Reykjavik, Iceland doesn’t need the paltry 100,000 euros one website suggests you can invest to become a citizen. If you really want to become an Icelandic citizen, I’d suggest learning Icelandic and getting used to darkness at noon.
There was a big scandal involving one guy who claimed to sell Mexican citizenship, offering it in as little as a few weeks. Those claims are of course outrageous; the fastest citizenships in the world take about two months to approve, and issuance of an actual passport takes a bit longer. A more recent offer claimed to sell Mexican passports for 80,000 euros, which is also bogus. The fastest way to become a Mexican citizen is to have a Mexican family, namely giving birth to a child born of their soil. Short of giving birth for citizenship, you’ll have to wait five years to become a Mexican citizen. No fast-track naturalization or economic citizenship program exists in Mexico.
At first blush, you might say “why would I want Guatemala citizenship?” You might be surprised to learn that most Central American countries sport rather good passports for visa-free travel, offering access to Europe and the elusive United Kingdom and Ireland, among others. But you can’t buy a passport there. One website claims you can become a Guatemalan citizen within a matter of months for a donation of $75,000 or an unspecified real estate investment. While obtaining residency in Guatemala is relatively straightforward, you’ll need to actually put time in there to become a citizen and claim your second passport.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Nicaragua and think it offers a lot of potential. As with Guatemala, its passport is relatively good, and offers visa-free travel to Russia, making it an excellent Tier B passport to hold as an alternative to your western passport. The same website peddling fake citizenship in Guatemala also claims to offer Nicaragua citizenship within 90 days for a $100,000 donation. If this were true, it would be a decent offer: a “real” country offering similar visa-free travel to the nearby Caribbean citizenship programs would be quite a deal considering it’s “under the radar” and politically neutral. Nicaragua has no such legal program, however. I’ve been through the Nicaragua residence program and you need to actually spend time there to become a naturalized citizen.
8. Costa Rica
You may be seeing a pattern here: most Central American passports “for sale”, not surprisingly by the same website. No, you can’t donate $85,000 and become Costa Rican in a matter of weeks. Heck, I have friends with Tier A passports who had trouble getting Costa Rica residency, let alone the citizenship that requires time on the ground.
Panama is among the mostly widely promoted second residency programs thanks to the Friendly Nations Visa for westerners and numerous other programs like the reforestation visa program. Many in the “fast, easy, and cheap” passport crowd have heralded it as the be-all and end-all… which it isn’t. It normally takes five years of legal residence to become eligible for naturalization in Panama, but many expats living in Panama City and Boquete have told me their applications have gone nowhere for years. While Panama is very open to immigration, I was skeptical about a program that offered Panamanian citizenship in two months for $100,000, because the program is bogus. So, too, are some of the fast-track residency offerings. Panama has many legal immigration options, but you need to be aware of which are real and which aren’t. Simply put, don’t expect a fast passport in Panama.
I haven’t seen this one offered online in awhile, but it still exists very much offline. At one point, there was a scam offering Venezuela citizenship for $40,000; I talked about it and why to avoid it here years ago. Venezuela is widely known for corruption; I have two Venezuelan friends who have told me about all of the tricks people use to get citizenship and I’ve interviewed Venezuelans about the disastrous economy on this blog. In a recent visit to Colombia, I met one of the many Venezuelans in exile who told me how you can get practically anything back home for $2,000. The bolivar is so weak that low-level elected officials will do almost anything just to eat. But paying a few bucks for a fake passport does not a citizenship make; not only do my citizenship expert friends expect to see Venezuela’s travel privileges clipped, but you might not even be able to use such a fraudulent passport to travel.
I found this deal on Instagram of all places, with ad promising “No regrets!” if I called today. One of my team members got in touch with the outfit promoting this passport scam, and it turns out that for $15,000 they will hook you up with their “inside man” in the immigration office. The guy we chatted with asked why I needed a second passport, then suggested that I could get “new dates”. He was offering to change my identity, a tactic that – along with name changes – is rarely practiced anymore because it’s really scammy. Then came the best part: he promised that I could become a Bolivian citizen in just “two weeks”. When I asked how this could happen so fast, he offered other South American passports with similar speed, then explained that there are “some tricks” to bypass the five-year naturalization window. “The guy from immigration will just put you in the system”, he said. Ummm, no thanks.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Serbia and have a lot of Serbian friends, including second-generation lawyers and well-connected people at high levels. Much of my staff is Serbian, and I’ve gotten to know the place well. For some time, I had heard about a scammy second citizenship program whereby one could donate 100,000 euros or invest as much as 500,000 euros in a business to become a Serbian citizen. The program seemed designed to look like a typical Caribbean citizenship program with numerous options, but in reality it was merely a scam. Serbia offers a residency program, but it’s not as easy as some others. The fastest way to become Serbian – besides buying a fake passport from some website – is to marry a Serbian and live there for three years. With plenty of would-be supermodels roaming the streets of Belgrade, this might be the “easiest” way to get a second passport.
About a year ago, I actually spent quite a bit of time and some money working with the top lawyer in Albania to see what citizenship options existed. It turns out the government wasn’t very motivated, even to naturalize Americans. Apparently, the same website offering Serbian citizenship was able to claim until recently that you could become an Albanian citizen for a slightly reduced donation of 90,000 euros. No such naturalization program exists.
As frequent readers of this site know, I spend a lot of time in Georgia, own a bunch of properties there, and have a lot of friends there. Recently, I was tipped off to a website offering Georgian citizenship by donation. My lawyer’s first response was that emoji with shocked eyes; no such program exists. What was odd about this scammy offering was that they were offering Georgian citizenship like day-old bread, claiming to “hurry” before the government’s “half price” donation offer expired. While some of the Caribbean islands reduced their prices to seek hurricane relief funds, most governments don’t sell their citizenship like last week’s meat.
Turkey actually has does have a legitimate citizenship program; I would consider it a hybrid between the commoditization of a citizenship by investment and the hands-on restrictions and approvals of a citizenship by exception scheme. By investing in real estate, anyone can become a Turkish citizen, although there is a certain order to follow if you want to do so as affordably and easily as possible. However, one scammy website suggested that – merely because some people preferred to make a donation rather than tying up cash – the Turkish government was willing to mint anyone a citizen in exchange for a 75,000 euro donation. That is false.
There are lots of questionable citizenship offers online
I will do my best to update this list if new programs become available, or if new details are available. And, of course, if you’re one of the promoters of one of these programs, I would love for you to contact me and point to the specific law that authorizes what you’re offering. You can contact us by clicking here.
This list excludes the most obvious (and, for many, useless) passport programs like those in African countries that are more often used by Chinese citizens. I highly doubt you were considering a Guinea-Bissau passport, even despite their weird approval for visa-free travel to Serbia last year. Nor do I expect anyone reading to be in search of a Gambian passport.
The point is that there are plenty of fuzzy or downright illegitimate offers for second passports. As someone who has spent more than a decade traveling the world to learn the true story and obtain multiple citizenships in a legal way, I can tell you that internet research is often more harmful than helpful.
There are a number of ways to get legal second passports, which I cover here, and I strongly suggest you follow those, even if they seem less sexy, easy, or cheap.
If you’d like some help to discover the best legal citizenship programs, including some lesser-known ones, feel free to reach out for help.