Last updated June 19, 2017
Dateline: Bucharest, Romania
In the movie The Thomas Crown Affair, the art thief for whom the movie is titled claims to be returning a highly valuable Monet to the museum from which he is alleged to have stolen it.
The detective on the case is watching closely and identifies Thomas Crown as a man in a dark suit wearing a bowler hat and carrying a briefcase. Thinking she has him, she moves in for the arrest.
However, it only takes a moment before Crown appears and hands his briefcase off to another man… in a dark suit and a bowler hat. Within mere seconds, the museum is filled with lookalikes exchanging briefcases, allowing Crown to escape.
As the decoys are rounded up, it is discovered that their briefcases ironically contain copies of René Magritte’s painting, The Son of Man.
With the world of second passports constantly changing and expanding, plenty of illegitimate second citizenship programs have managed to slip through the cracks practically unnoticed.
For every new legal citizenship program, there are seemingly several new decoy programs that cause chaos and confusion among those seeking a second passport. We’ve long discussed the many second passport scams to avoid here.
After all, if you don’t obtain a real, legitimate second passport, there’s no point in having one. I wish I could be amused when I hear other sites offering passports from excellent countries… only to tell you not to use your new passport to enter that country.
That’s a big red flag.
Is economic citizenship in Venezuela even possible?
The latest passport program under the microscope is one that claims to offer Venezuelan citizenship. Several years ago, I investigated whether there was any legal method to obtain citizenship there in any of the four ways to become a citizen.
At first glance, citizenship in Venezuela appears to be a great opportunity. In fact, it ticks several boxes that I think are important:
- Excellent visa-free travel. For as bad of shape as Venezuela is in, its citizens can travel to 131 countries and territories without a visa, including all of South America with just an ID card. That makes the Bolivarian Republic’s passport the 25th best on earth.
- The country is off-the-radar. While US citizens are facing new hassles traveling to places such as Brazil, and US and Israeli passports invoke ire among many in the world, Venezuela isn’t a huge threat to most people outside of The Land of the Free. Nor is it a threat to many offshore bankers.
- Enforcement is lax. While I always recommend following the law, I can’t say I’d be particularly worried about reporting any offshore accounts or investments I had to the Venezuelan government if I didn’t live there.
On top of that, the place has some new beauty pageant practically every day. If you’re a single man, you could do far worse.
But wait… Venezuela is a war zone
Of course, the political situation in Venezuela has become a total disaster as of late. There’s no denying that.
However, being a Venezuelan citizen doesn’t mean you have to actually live there. I, for example, am a citizen of a country I’ve never even been to.
I recently had dinner with a Venezuelan guy whose parents are solidly upper-middle class. They instilled the principles of “go where you’re treated best”, and today he lives abroad and is doing well for himself. There are plenty of wealthy Venezuelans living in up, even within the country. while their countrymen suffer. Having a country’s passport doesn’t have to mean living there and suffering with the masses, which is part of what makes Venezuela’s passport as a travel document so attractive and potentially salable.
While Venezuelans have a nearly impossible time visiting the US, or even Canada, they can freely visit Europe’s borderless Schengen area as often as US or Canadian citizens. And, because the country has different allegiances, they can also visit countries like Russia with ease.
Sure, Venezuela is an economic basket case where people are lining up to buy toilet paper.
However, an economic citizen of the country surely wouldn’t face those challenges because, not only would he or she have sufficient means, but it is doubtful anyone who bought a Venezuelan passport would actually live there.
In fact, any economic citizenship program worth its salt knows that the people buying their passport have no interest in ever living there. The bureaucrats for some of these programs actually get insulted when you try and play to their nationalism by saying you can’t wait to move in and become an active St. Kittsian or Antiguan.
So, what’s the problem with Venezuela’s economic citizenship program?
For one thing, Venezuela forbids dual nationality, at least in practice.
For another, economic citizenship in Venezuela doesn’t exist.
What does exist, it was revealed in 2017, was a multi-year scheme by corrupt diplomats – and allegedly even the Vice President – to sell Venezuelan identity cards and passports to anyone with $15,000. This was recently revealed in any expose by CNN and other media outlets when the US and UK governments complained that Middle Easterners were using Venezuelan passports to enhance their visa-free travel.
Of course, those Middle Easterners weren’t really Venezuelan, nor did they live there long enough to naturalize. As the story is told, they got visas in their home countries of Iraq and Syria, then flew to Caracas only long enough to get a black market passport.
The passport itself was real because someone shady put them in “the system”. But they were no more Venezuelan than you or me.
The sad part is that Venezuelan citizenship was briefly marketed to westerners a few years back. What most of those Americans seeking tax freedom and greater privacy didn’t know was that it’s quite possible the channels used to get their phony documents were being run by the friends of terrorists.
How to get a second passport
If you read our site, you should know that there are basically only four ways to get a second citizenship anywhere:
- By descent, based on your ancestry.
- By naturalization, typically based on living in the country for a certain amount of time.
- By contributing to the economy as an economic citizen (in rare cases, politicians in countries without such programs will grant citizenship to those who make “exceptional contributions”).
- Through a special order of the President (in some countries).
The fourth one is worth noting because, while the first three methods are cut and dry, the fourth is largely up in the air. There are several countries where you can apply to become a citizen at any time… merely by pleading your case.
If the President of any halfway stable country signs your naturalization certificate with his own hand, I’d put a decent amount of faith in it, even if his country didn’t have a formal passport program.
Of course, citizenship is very rarely granted this way. One or two exceptions come to mind, but chances are, if you could afford to impress the President, you could much more easily afford to simply buy an off-the-rack citizenship program in a European country like Malta and be done with it.
The truth about obtaining citizenship in Venezuela
I asked a friend of mine who speaks fluent Spanish to skim through the citizenship law section of the Venezuelan Constitution. We couldn’t find any concrete, specific example of citizenship being offered through this method.
That means, quite simply, that it’s likely that any passport obtained in Venezuela — other than through meeting the country’s normal naturalization requirements — is the result of some under-the-table activity.
While I’d be relatively confident in a passport handed to me by the country’s President, I’d lack all confidence in a passport obtained through some murky “connection” in a visa office.
Anything short of Presidential approval or an act of Congress is not good enough.
In countries like Venezuela, corrupt bureaucrats have a cottage industry providing pretty much whatever you want. That includes passports that may or may not even be entered in the system.
Imagine trying to cross a border with your new Venezuelan passport and being told the thing is merely a blank document with your name stamped in it. You’d soon find out just how much fun jail can be.
That’s why obtaining a passport through a method that has provable validity under the law is important. Anyone with access to a printing press can hand you a “passport”. However, “passport” isn’t the key word in “second passport”, but rather the citizenship that such a passport should confer.
If you don’t have tangible evidence that you are a citizen of a country, such as a certificate of naturalization, you probably aren’t one.
I can’t comment on the methods various passport promoters use, but any time you see a passport offering that is “exclusive” to one company or another you ought to be prepared to run the other way.
If you want citizenship in Venezuela for your children, you can obtain it simply by giving birth there. Citizenship is conferred “of the soil”, rather than by blood.
Short of an exercise in birth tourism, the only way I can tell to obtain naturalization in Venezuela is to live there for five years as a legal resident. Good luck with that.
If you are interested in more viable second citizenship options, you can find more information about second passports and citizenship here.