Updated October 17, 2020
Dateline: Yerevan, Armenia
With a new administration in power here in Armenia, the previous government’s all-but-finalized citizenship by investment program is (at least for now) dead.
I’m here helping an ethnic Armenian obtain citizenship by descent, an option that will allow them to add a rather unique passport to their portfolio, one of the only free passports available to folks these days. But if you’re not an ethnic Armenian, you will have to wait for your chance at Armenian citizenship (and it won’t be free).
I share this because it illustrates how the second passport landscape is ever-changing; options come and go all the time. For Nomad Capitalists looking to obtain a second citizenship, this can pose a real challenge.
If you’re looking to get a second passport, you no doubt understand that there will be costs involved. Free passports are few and far between. And in many cases, those costs can never be recovered, especially if a residence by investment program is canceled before you can put in your time and qualify for the second citizenship that motivated your investment in the first place.
Many people tell me that they delayed their second passport goals simply because they didn’t have or didn’t want to spend the money. And with the level of risk that certain countries would cancel their programs before they could capitalize on the citizenship opportunity, they were even less motivated to put their money on the line.
But here’s a reality check: paying for a passport (or a residence that leads to one) is not your only option.
Too many folks believe that citizenship by investment – where you make a donation, usually to a Caribbean island – is their only option. While paying $100,000 to quickly become a citizen of another country can make sense for some folks, it is definitely not the only option.
How much you should spend on a second passport depends on your needs and the options specifically available to you.
If you’re a US citizen being gouged on taxes and want to renounce quickly, it probably wouldn’t make economic sense to pay $5,000 in legal fees for Paraguay residency and wait three or four years to be naturalized. Sure, you would save the costs of a more expensive, faster passport, but you could easily pay much more in taxes while you wait.
This falls under the penny-wise, pound-foolish rule: you should spend what it takes to solve your problems.
But what if you could get free passports?
Even better, what if there was a way that you could actually get paid to obtain second citizenship?
What if you could bypass the costly donations, bureaucratic stacks of paperwork, and long wait times of expensive economic citizenship programs and slow naturalization options?
The truth is, this is possible. In this article, we’ll show you how you can not only get free passports but also to make a profit from investments that will qualify you for second citizenship.
HOW TO GET FREE PASSPORTS
Most second citizenships aren’t free.
Truly free passports are the ones you get by being born a naturalized citizen on a country’s soil, or by being the descendent of someone who was.
We recently began offering a new service that helps people claim citizenship by descent, which is the closest that second citizenship seekers will come to getting free passports. Of course, there is a low government fee… and a lot of backbreaking paperwork to produce and bureaucracy to wade through.
That’s why we’re offering our expert help to handle all that for you because it’s worth taking all the free passports that are available to you.
But just like the Paraguayan paper residence that could eventually turn into a passport somewhere down the road, citizenship by descent can take years to obtain. And all that time waiting for your free passport could translate into even more taxes.
So, what I like to help my clients see is not just how they can get free passports but how they can actually get paid to get a second citizenship.
We have talked before about how to maximize the return on your second citizenship investment. We are all businessmen and investors, so it should come naturally to think about how you can get a second passport in a financially efficient way.
But focusing on profitable passports doesn’t come naturally to most folks.
However, this is usually through no fault of their own. Believe it or not, profitable passports are not widely promoted. There are a few reasons why:
• Most citizenship firms focus on their own profit, not yours, which means they tend to promote either commoditized citizenship by investment (CBI) programs or cheap but slow naturalization programs in their own country. They rely on a simplified work-flow (i.e., churning out applications for Dominican citizenship, or handling Panama residency because that’s where they’re licensed to practice law).
• It’s a lot easier for these firms to sell what is easy rather than spend over ten years jet setting to some of the (sometimes rather ugly) places that I’ve visited in my research flushing these options out.
• Citizenship by investment (CBI) programs often include a real estate investment option, but the government-approved properties are usually overpriced and come with a higher price tag than the minimum investment amount required to qualify for citizenship. Due to these and other factors, these investments are not profitable. That is why most folks go for the simple donation option and why we do not regularly recommend the real estate investments offered by traditional CBI programs.
• Some countries are willing to extend citizenship to a limited number of favorable investors but don’t want to offer a commoditized citizenship program to the general public for image and political reasons.
• Many of these countries are also not equipped to deal with the logistics challenges of processing hundreds, if not thousands, of citizenship applications a year. Almost all global immigration is consumed by Chinese citizens who want “Tier A” passports in western countries. So, when these western countries do offer residence and citizenship programs, they come with high fees that reflect the logistics costs of running a program available to the masses. And since these programs are offered in western countries, the investments there have low yields that don’t pay for the high fees.
The bottom line is that, despite all of this, there are countries where it is possible to obtain legal second citizenships by making REAL investments – NOT donations or bad “approved” investments – that are profitable AFTER taking into account all legal and government fees.
You just don’t hear about them.
Free Passports vs. Profitable Passports
As just stated, a profitable passport is a legal second citizenship obtained by making an investment that is not only profitable in and of itself but can also pay for the legal, government, and maintenance fees involved in the actual investment and citizenship application.
So, while not technically considered free passports due to the upfront investment costs, you’ll actually come out ahead with profitable passports vs. free passports because your investment will make a considerable return and you will get a second passport in a much shorter timeline.
While most of the mainstream residence and citizenship offerings currently on the market would not fall under the definition of profitable passports, some of the newer citizenship by investment programs (mainly Turkey) and many lesser-known fast-track naturalization programs do.
What is a fast-track naturalization program, you ask? It’s kind of like a private, non-commoditized citizenship by investment. But let me explain:
Most governments have goals and priorities for what they want to develop within their country. In one country, the focus may be on agriculture and rural development. In many Asian and Middle Eastern countries, they want to promote sports and the arts. Others need to boost their real estate markets and others still look to raise capital for various projects via government bonds.
The list of needs goes on and on.
Within the legal framework of many of these countries, there are provisions that allow the government – whether it is the parliament, the president, or the Sultan – to grant citizenship via naturalization to individuals who they deem have qualified themselves for such a privilege.
In most cases, making contributions toward one of the previously mentioned national priorities via an investment will deem you worthy of the honor and will likely fast-track your naturalization timeline considerably.
And as previously mentioned, because of image, politics, and logistics, these programs are not widely promoted and are often only open to certain nationalities. You are at an advantage if you’re from a country like the US, Canada, Australia, or the UK. Unfortunately, if you’re from Iran, India, or China, you’ll likely be passed over.
Since we work mostly with westerners here at Nomad Capitalist, it’s easier for us to get into these programs. But more on that in a minute.
The key is to determine that everything is legal and set out in the country’s laws. If you can confirm that, you can make an investment that will not only qualify you for citizenship but also help you turn a profit as well as boost the country’s economy.
After all, they wouldn’t be offering such a great deal if it didn’t help them out too.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Now that you have a general idea, let’s look at a specific example of how this would play out.
First, we’ll assume for the sake of our example that you have a western passport. Now, let’s say that the country you are working with is trying to develop its tourism industry.
You work with the lawyers and government officials and determine that you will invest $100,000 in a hotel project in the country. As part of the agreement, you will maintain that investment for five years and the developer will pay you 4% a year.
At the end of the five years, they will refund your investment in full. With simple interest, you just got a $20,000 return, which will likely cover the costs of the legal fees of setting up your residence permit and then fast-tracking your naturalization.
But how fast will you be naturalized, you ask?
Remember, these programs are not commoditized, which means there is no official guarantee or exact formula. That said, you will likely be granted citizenship somewhere between a few months (similar to a true economic citizenship like St. Kitts and Nevis) to one or two years (similar to a fast-track naturalization program) after making your investment.
Each country has its own specific rules. For example, some require you to obtain residency first, while others don’t and will grant you citizenship within six to twelve months after making your investment.
How long it takes for the investment to become profitable is another question entirely. This also varies from country to country and person to person, but I would generally ensure that the maximum time for return on capital is five years. In some cases, it can be as little as one year, with a likely average of three.
Of course, the actual investment you choose will also impact the repayment timeline. In some cases, you may want to keep your money invested longer than five years.
While the process can be a little slower than a traditional citizenship by investment program, when you consider that you can come out making a profit rather than giving away $100,000, it may be worth it to wait six months longer to get that coveted second passport through a lesser-known fast-track naturalization program.
And if you are like me and want to build a full passport portfolio, you could actually harness your profitable passport to get another “free passport” out of the deal. You can achieve this by first doing the program that will make you a profit. You can then take this money and use it to buy a passport in the Caribbean and now you have two passports and it cost you nothing.
This is an especially interesting option if you’re considering renouncing your US citizenship and want to create a great portfolio of passports that can double or triple your options. And maybe you don’t make a huge profit but you come out not spending anything after all is said and done.
How to Find Profitable Passport Opportunities
What I want to be very clear about is that this is not one of those deals you might see online. Anyone who tells you that they can get you a second passport in 14 days “because they know someone” is running a scam.
But if there is a process in the law that allows for a government body such as parliament or the president to approve your citizenship, then you can feel confident that you have found a legal profitable passport.
We find the legal ways to do this by going all over the world and talking to people in the government like ministers of finance and others and asking, “What would help you? If people wanted to come to your country, is there a way that they could get citizenship?”
I call this “legal arbitrage”; taking advantage of laws that many lawyers don’t even know that their own country has. Once there, you can find investments in residential real estate, commercial developments, or businesses.
But you have to be picky about which program you select. Just because a country offers a profitable passport doesn’t mean that it will be the best use of your time and money. To explain, let’s look at two examples: Turkey and Austria.
Turkey’s Commoditized Citizenship by Investment
Turkey has offered a commoditized citizenship by investment program for several years now. It functions a bit differently than the Caribbean programs, with no donation option and several investment options.
But the best investment option is – hands down – the real estate investment because the fees are low and there are few restrictions on how you can invest. There are no overpriced, government-approved projects, just a few basic rules and hundreds of great deals for you to choose from.
While Turkey originally pegged the minimum investment at a steep $1 million, they have now reduced that figure to a more manageable $250,000.
We have a full-time person on our team who actually speaks Turkish who goes through all the best property deals in Istanbul (as well as other markets around the world) and analyzes what they would sell for.
You could literally buy a nice pied-a-terre in Istanbul and sit on it for the minimum three-year holding period and then sell for a profit. And if you buy correctly, historical trends show that you could make as much as 15-25% in simple interest via rental yields, even after subtracting out the legal fees and the cost of getting the passport and maintaining the property.
With 15% simple interest on your initial $250,000 investment plus some appreciation, you will likely be able to cover the costs of getting Turkish citizenship. We’re doing this program for several people right now and the costs are less than their potential profits.
Sometime in the second year, you’re going to break even. Then, by the time the three years are up and you are allowed to liquidate your investment, you’re going to be ahead of the game. You didn’t spend $100,000, you actually made money.
You essentially got paid to get a passport.
Imagine getting a 15% return on an investment that you made – not because it was your #1 investment of choice but because you wanted a passport – and you still ended up making money!
The downside? With visa-free access to roughly 110 countries, Turkey’s passport isn’t very powerful.
Austria’s Exceptional Citizenship Program
On the other side of the coin, Austria has one of the strongest passports in the world and has long been rumored to grant citizenship to those who invest 10 million euros or more in the country.
Very few people have actually been granted Austrian citizenship this way, and the country is extremely picky.
Sadly, if you’re Chinese, Indian, Bolivian… forget about it.
What Austria has is a citizenship by exception program; the government – by law – can naturalize anyone it wants if they invest enough money AND meet the social criteria.
In theory, you could start a business that invests in tangible assets for a profit, become a citizen, and then close the business eventually.
Technically, it could be a profitable passport… but at what cost? Even if you will eventually come out ahead, do you really want to invest 10 million euros to get an Austrian passport when you could invest in the low six-figures and get another European passport through the same process?
Think of all the other investments you could make with all that extra cash! The opportunity cost of the millions you would be tying up for the period of the investment is enormous.
Plus, if you go for another program, you won’t have to focus all your attention on rubbing elbows with all the right people in Vienna to prove that you can fully integrate into Austria’s high-brow society.
The Best of Both Worlds
The key to finding profitable and not just free passports is to look for the countries in the middle that offer the best of both worlds. While Austria has an excellent passport, most of us don’t want to invest 10 million euros or spend our time hobnobbing with Austrian high society at ball season.
And while Turkey is great for filling in gaps in a passport portfolio, it wouldn’t be my first choice for a western citizen, especially if you’re a US citizen looking to renounce. Being exclusively a Turkish citizen probably isn’t the best strategy, especially if you plan on having children and don’t want them joining the military.
There are countries in between that do offer legal second citizenships to foreigners who invest.
In one example I saw recently, a friend of mine was set to earn about 20% per year for two years. On his $200,000 investment, that would easily pay for the upfront legal and government fees and earn him a profit of about $45,000 in two years… on top of the Tier B citizenship he received out of the deal.
I work with people privately on some of the fast-track programs where you can invest about $250,00 and turn that into roughly $300,000.
I ran the numbers for another program with a client and we determined that if he invested half a million, he could make about 24% a year over the next two years and then get a passport.
I am also working with attorneys in a country in Europe where you can get a citizenship by investing about $300,000 and you can get that passport in as little as two months.
Again, the issue is whether you can invest that money correctly. This particular country will not see as much growth as other markets, but you could make about 2% a year and rent properties out and make 7-9% a year in yield plus appreciation.
And if you were to really focus on it and make that your full-time job in maximizing your return, you could probably get a 12-13% total return.
The point is that you have options. You don’t just have to fork over your money and consider it a sunk cost. There are places where you can make profitable investments and be rewarded with a passport.
This is something we specialize in here at Nomad Capitalist, finding the opportunities that are less commoditized but more profitable through our one-of-a-kind, boots-on-the-ground research approach.
Expand Your Options with Free Passports
So, where can you find a list of every country that will allow you to turn a profit on becoming their citizen? For all intents and purposes, you can’t.
For one thing, the list would be different for each person. Because there is no formula for these programs, so much depends on what you have to offer and what different countries need at the time.
Most folks do not have all the necessary connections or time it takes to pull off such a monumental effort anyway.
I do keep a list of programs that I believe anyone could use to successfully turn a profit, but I don’t share it. This is where the tough love comes in.
The idea behind this article is to open your eyes to the idea that these profitable passport opportunities exist… not to hand them to you on a silver platter. To be blunt, if you spent thirteen years of your life and over $1.2 million bumming around the world to create this list, you wouldn’t hand it over to just anyone, either.
Nor would it be fair to the people who have paid me to help them, who I imagine enjoy having passports that aren’t discussed in every “armchair expat” forum on the internet.
Nor would some of the countries want the publicity.
But I want you to be aware that these programs exist. You don’t have to throw your money away on an expensive and unprofitable second residence or citizenship program. Nor do you have to wait years to get free passports via paper residence or citizenship by descent.
There are situations where any of these options may be the best solution to your specific set of needs, but they are not your only options.
If you are considering getting a second passport, think about how you can get paid to get it. Consider the different ways that you can invest so that the money will come back to you in the future in the form of assets that YOU control and that YOU choose.
Realize that it is possible to go out into the open market and find investments of your choice that you can put your money into for a certain amount of time, take out with a profit, and use to easily pays for the cost of the administration and legal fees to get your second passport.
If you are an investor, this is a possibility.
Turkey is the most commoditized example, but we’re always looking for ways to do this legally in other countries.
The important thing is that no money is getting exchanged under the table. Yes, you’ll pay the lawyer who helps you do everything legally and you’ll pay whoever is receiving your investment funds, but if someone in the government is getting paid, that’s where you should start seeing bright red flags.
But if you can find arms’-length investments in the right countries, you’re well on your way to getting not just a free passport but a profitable one.
We’re constantly working to find these opportunities for you.
If you’d like our help obtaining one or more profitable passports, we would be happy to help you determine the best strategy for your situation and then execute it. Click here to learn how that process works.