Dateline: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Last year, we received a call from a frantic family that claimed they needed to get second passports very quickly.
The husband explained to us 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 us 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 us 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 citizenship through an investment program.
The fake citizenship by investment program the family was offered simply does not exist.
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 citizenship by investment 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 all non-existent citizenship programs being promoted to document them all in one “master” round-up article.
While we were always hesitant to use the word “scam”, many of these programs invariably are scams. We can’t find any basis in law for almost any of these programs, and the few that we 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 by investment programs that are being falsely or naively promoted as pathways to quick passports.
19 Fake Citizenship by Investment Programs
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, you either get Germany citizenship by descent, or you should plan to move there, pay taxes, and speak German, not put your money into some fake citizenship by investment program.
Although 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 we’ve ever been in; the racism is palpable, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the country got tossed out of the European Union. (I can’t say we’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 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; we covered it in a video here. It does also allow Greek citizenship by decent. However, Greece has a spotty record naturalizing those not of Greek origin, so we would treat it as a permanent visa into the European Union with any future second passport being a bonus. However, one website suggests that there is Greek citizenship by investment program for 95,000 just to be nice, claiming that the country realized “some people would rather not wait for their passport”. Well, we’d rather not wait for my winning lottery ticket, but some things require waiting, so this alleged offer is fake citizenship by investment program.
Poland does have citizenship by descent program, citizenship by exception potential when you have a great connection to Poland, but there certainly isn’t a Poland citizenship by investment program.
The country does present interesting investment opportunities being one of the most undervalued real estate markets in Europe, but you can’t have fake citizenship by investment out of it.
We’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 we’ve gotten to know the place well. For some time, we 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 fake citizenship by investment program 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, we 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 naturalized Americans. 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, we spend a lot of time in Georgia, own a bunch of properties there, and have a lot of friends there. Recently, we were 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.
One of the programs Brazil offer is the very popular second residency program which is one of the top 5 second residency programs in Central and South America. Is it bureaucratic? Yes, probably the most bureaucratic country in South America but it certainly does have a great passport.
A passport you can’t acquire by a fake citizenship by investment though. If you want to have a Brazilian passport you can get it through marriage.
What’s also worth noting is that it’s one of the best countries to give birth and get citizenship.
I found this deal on Instagram of all places, with an ad promising “No regrets!” if we 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 we needed a second passport, then suggested that we 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 we could become a Bolivian citizen in just “two weeks”. When we 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 haven’t seen this one offered online in a while, but it still exists very much offline. At one point, there was a scam offering Venezuela citizenship for $40,000; we talked about it and why to avoid it here years ago. Venezuela is widely known for corruption; we have two Venezuelan friends who have told us about all of the tricks people use to get citizenship and we’ve interviewed Venezuelans about the disastrous economy on this blog. In a recent visit to Colombia, we met one of the many Venezuelans in exile who told us 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 fake citizenship by investment program is not legit; 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.
11. COSTA RICA
You may be seeing a pattern here: most Central American passports are “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, we have friends with Tier A passports who had trouble getting Costa Rica residency, let alone the citizenship that requires time on the ground.
We’ve spent quite a bit of time in Nicaragua and think it offers great 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 by investment 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. We’ve been through the Nicaragua residence program and you need to spend time there to become a naturalized citizen.
At first blush, you might say “why would we 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 put the time in there to become a citizen and claim your second passport.
Panama is among the most 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 us their applications have gone nowhere for years. While Panama is very open to immigration, we were 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.
15. EL SALVADOR
El Salvador is one of the very few countries in the world with no property tax and no capital gains tax. There’s no wonder people, especially crypto investors, are flocking there.
They do have a residence by investment program, and the bill for their newest citizenship through investment has passed. It is only permissible if you pay your investments in Bitcoin, the country’s legal tender as of September, 2021. This has been particularly encouraging for crypto investors who were excited to hear about the program.
El Salvador has not activated the program yet, though. Don’t be fooled.
If you see a detailed program ready for you, it’s fake citizenship by investment.
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.
I 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, we’d suggest learning Icelandic and getting used to darkness at noon. Any alleged program you stumble upon on some shady website is offering you fake citizenship by investment program.
Your permanent residence in Ireland can lead to citizenship, but there’s no way to purchase an Irish passport by investing in the country. So no, there is no Ireland citizenship by investment program.
Turkey actually does have a legitimate citizenship program; we would consider it a hybrid between the commoditization of citizenship through investment programs and the hands-on restrictions and approvals of citizenship by exception scheme. By investing in real estate, anyone can acquire citizenship by investment in Turkey, 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, we would love for you to contact us 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. We highly doubt you were considering a Guinea-Bissau passport, even despite their weird approval for visa-free travel to Serbia last year. Nor do we 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 obtained multiple citizenships in a legal way, we can tell you that internet research is often more harmful than helpful.
There are a number of ways to get legal second passports, which we cover here, and we 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.