Dateline: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
For most people, the idea of creating a passport portfolio is as foreign as the countries where they could potentially gain a second citizenship.
But for more and more internationally-oriented Nomad Capitalists, collecting multiple passports is key to establishing citizenship insurance and opening up business, investment, and travel opportunities around the world.
We have spoken at length about the many ways to obtain a second passport, as well as how to access residence programs that allow you to live, work, and invest in certain countries.
In many cases, the goal in doing these citizenship programs is the passport itself. Other times, the citizenship or residence program is merely a tool needed to do business in a certain region of the world, access banking and investment opportunities in countries that offer higher yields, establish tax residence in a low- or zero-tax jurisdiction, or simply live and spend time in a country.
Most of our clients are leaving the United States for the opportunities available overseas; sometimes even renouncing their US citizenship after building up a solid passport portfolio to replace the travel privileges they will lose by handing in their US passport.
But many falsely believe that they are also handing in their ability to invest, do business, or even visit the United States after renouncing their US citizenship.
Thanks to the E-2 Visa, this doesn’t have to be the case.
Unlike some countries that offer citizenship to individuals who make a large enough investment in the country, the US will take your business and investment dollars and, in return, do you the favor of not making you a resident or citizen.
As you probably already know, the US has high taxes and is one of the only countries in the world that taxes based on citizenship, meaning that no matter where you go, you will always have to report and pay taxes to the US government.
So, for high-net-worth individuals looking to invest in the United States, being or becoming a US citizen can actually be a liability.
Enter the E-2 visa.
Officially known as the E-2 Treaty Investor Visa, it allows certain foreign investors to circumvent citizenship-based taxation and many (but not all) US reporting requirements by granting a non-immigrant visa to investors that never leads to a Green Card or US citizenship.
It will, however, allow the applicant to live in the US for part of the year as well as invest and do business in the country.
It is an attractive program for many reasons that we’ll cover in this article, but it is an especially good opportunity for US entrepreneurs who want to renounce their citizenship and all the obligations that come with it without losing the privilege of spending time and doing business in the US.
So, if you want to renounce but still have business interests in the US, consider adding an E-2 Treaty country to your passport portfolio.
In this article, we’ll walk you through how to do exactly that. Here’s what we’ll cover below:
- What is the E-2 Investor Visa?
- How to Get an E-2 Treaty Investor Visa
- The Step-by-Step E-2 Visa Application Process
- The Pros of the E-2 Visa
- The Cons of the E-2 Visa
- Is the US E-2 Visa For You?
The US E-2 Investor Visa
When doing business abroad, paying US taxes and dealing with the rusty American bureaucratic machine can become a huge waste of time and money. Many entrepreneurs would rather not deal with the stress, paperwork, or taxes.
But what happens if you still run businesses in the US or plan to open a business there in the future?
Usually, a treaty trader visa or a treaty investor visa, like the E-1 and E-2 visas, are your best options. Today, we’re going to focus on the E-2 visa because it is open to a wider variety of entrepreneurs.
The E-2 Treaty Investor Visa allows an investor to live and do business in the US in exchange for a “significant investment” made to the country’s economy.
Technically, there are no restrictions on the type of business you can purchase or start as an E-2 visa applicant. And you can often get away with making a much smaller initial investment than you might with other programs like the EB-5 immigrant visa.
This is yet another reason the E-2 visa is often preferred.
That being said, the visa does require active effort on your part. The E-2 visa is designed for those who have active business interests in the US that require their presence. But you will want to be careful of how much time you spend in the US actively managing your business.
While it is a non-immigrant visa (which means you’ll never get a passport or Green Card, so only your US income will be taxed), in some cases, you may end up being taxed on your worldwide income anyway if you exceed the Substantial Presence Test.
What Are E-2 Countries?
In order to apply for an E-2 visa, you must hold citizenship in a country that has signed an E-2 Treaty with the US, also known as a commerce and navigation treaty.
Plenty of these countries have programs that will lead to citizenship, whether it is through citizenship by investment (CBI), residence by investment, citizenship by descent, marriage, or some other means.
But when it comes to the E-2 visa, not all citizenship programs are created equal.
Each of these countries has signed different agreements with the US, so the amount of time you can stay on an E-2 visa varies by country. Whether or not you can renew your visa and how many times you can do so will also differ.
For example, one of the strongest options is a Grenada passport, which would allow you to stay in the US for five years under the E-2 visa. It would also grant you the opportunity to renew as many times as you’d like.
Theoretically, as an American, you could get citizenship by investment in Grenada within a few months and then renounce your US citizenship as a Grenadian citizen. You would then be able to apply for an E-2 visa, which would allow you to conduct your business interests in the US indefinitely while avoiding paying US income tax on your worldwide income.
However, be aware that not all citizenship by investment programs are going to be worth the effort. Of the Caribbean countries with CBI programs, only Grenada has an E-2 visa agreement with the US.
Citizenship to Grenada will cost you a $150,000 donation; not the most expensive option out there, but also not the cheapest.
On the other hand, citizenship from a country like Armenia or Bangladesh will only grant you three months in the US and two renewals, so as far as this discussion goes, they may not be the best option.
While you can see the full list of E-2 countries on State Department website, here are the best countries to add to your passport portfolio that have an E-2 Visa with the United States:
Don’t Forget Citizenship By Descent
If you decide to work with a company that basically sells passports, they’re going to get you to shell out tens of thousands of dollars for citizenship to one of the E-2 countries without thinking about your other options or how that citizenship fits into your holistic offshore plan and passport portfolio.
At Nomad Capitalist, we are a bit more strategic than that. Once we delve into your family background, we might find that you’re already entitled to citizenship by descent to one of the E-2 countries through one of your parents or grandparents.
Obtaining citizenship by descent will cost you a fraction of what you would pay for citizenship by investment. The paperwork can be much more extensive, though, and the wait time is unpredictable. In some cases, you might have your second passport in a few months… or a few years.
For that reason, we have set up a service that can walk you through the entire process and handle all the bureaucracy for you.
How to Get an E-2 Treaty Investor Visa
One of the best and worst things about the E-2 visa application is that not all of the requirements are set in stone. That means that there is a lot more flexibility in the kind of entrepreneurs who can apply, but also a lot of guesswork.
Luckily, we’ve been helping entrepreneurs apply for this visa for years, so we have plenty of insights that should provide you with more clarity.
Let’s delve into some of the requirements for this visa.
The main requirement for this visa is, of course, to hold a passport from an E-2 Treaty country. You can learn more about where and how to obtain citizenship in one of these countries above.
The second requirement is to invest “a substantial amount of capital” in a business enterprise in the US.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) isn’t exactly clear about the exact dollar amount they require.
They do, however, give a few guidelines to help you determine how much you should invest. Mainly, the amount should be enough to demonstrate your financial commitment to the business endeavor.
Basically, your investment should show that if the business fails, you’re going to feel the sting and, therefore, have the incentive to make the enterprise financially viable. The invested amount must also be enough to show that you will “successfully develop and direct the enterprise.”
While there’s no official minimum investment, in our experience working with investors, $200,000 seems to be the magic number for this visa.
But ultimately, it depends on what kind of business you’re starting. If you’re launching a startup, you need to have enough to cover the cost of launching a new enterprise.
Third, your reason for entering the US must be to “develop and direct the investment enterprise.” To establish your commitment to your investment you must prove that you hold at least a 50% ownership stake in the business or demonstrate that you have significant operational control of the business.
While some investment visa programs allow you to make a philanthropic investment into an NPO or NGO, that is not the case with the E-2 visa. Your investment must be made with the intention of generating a profit and with the possibility of financial loss for the investor should the enterprise fail.
In addition, the business you’re launching should ideally provide employment for US citizens. You should also be able to demonstrate that the business will provide a minimal living for you and your family. The enterprise doesn’t necessarily have to generate that income at the time of investment, but it should be able to generate enough income within five years’ time.
Finally, your business should boast a profit margin beyond just covering your living expenses. The USCIS wants to see that your enterprise can provide an economic benefit to the US. If you can do all that, you may just qualify for the E-2 Investor Visa.
E-2 For Employees
If you want to bring employees with you to the US to work in your enterprise, the E-2 visa process can cover them as well.
Here’s the catch: any employees who want to simultaneously apply for an E-2 visa, must be of the same nationality as you, the investor.
An employee you bring with you on an E-2 visa must serve in a supervisory or executive role within the company, or hold special qualifications that make the employee essential to the operation.
In essence, you should be able to prove that there is a valid reason to bring said employee with you and that he or she possesses skills not readily available among American workers.
Other Business Interests
Can you engage in other business interests while in the US on an E-2 Visa?
Under an E-2 visa you are only able to work within your approved enterprise. The situation is slightly different for employees who are potentially permitted to work for subsidiaries or the parent company of the original enterprise.
If you’re an American entrepreneur considering renouncing your US citizenship who already has a successful business venture in the US, your standing business venture may already qualify you for an E-2 visa, so this is something to keep in mind.
The Step-by-Step Application Process
The first step to apply for the E-2 visa is filling out the non-immigrant visa form, also known as DS-160, online and uploading a passport photo. The application must be filled out entirely in English. You will also be asked to pay the application fee and print the receipt.
When you are finished with the online application, you will receive a digital confirmation. Print this page out and bring it with you to your visa interview at the American embassy or consulate. The confirmation page should have a barcode on it, which the immigration official will use to locate your application.
The next step is to contact your nearest US consulate or embassy to schedule an interview. Each particular embassy/consulate may have additional application requirements, so check with them for a more detailed understanding of which documents to bring with you.
In some cases, you will also need to print and fill out the Nonimmigrant Treaty Trader/Treaty Investor Application, which allows you to explain your investment and business plan before your interview.
1. Gather Your Documents
When filling out the Form DS-160 online, you will need to have a number of documents and information nearby, including your passport, travel itinerary, dates of your five previous trips to the US, and any previous US visa applications.
If you’re a former US citizen, gathering the dates of your previous five trips to the United States may be difficult, a professional can help you determine how to handle it.
You will also need to provide a copy of your latest resume or CV, which should demonstrate your business experience. You will also need to prove that you own at least a 50% share in the business venture and provide a business plan.
Which documents you need for your visa interview will vary depending on the consulate you are applying from and your nationality. The immigration official also reserves the right to request any additional documents they may deem necessary.
The general documents everyone needs at the interview are a passport, the confirmation of your non-immigrant visa application, the actual nonimmigrant Treaty Investor Application, and the application fee receipt.
You will also need to present not only proof of funds but also their source. This is pretty commonplace for most investment visa programs since no country wants to welcome criminals.
Unlike some countries that do not permit investors to use funds that were inherited towards their investment, your investment funds can come from inheritance, lottery winnings, gifts, and basically anywhere so long as the funds were not obtained in an illicit fashion.
Finally, you may also be asked to submit documents proving your intent to leave the US once your visa has expired and your ability to cover the cost of the trip.
Attend the Visa Interview
At the interview, the immigration official will determine whether you are a good fit for an E-2 visa. He or she may request more documents from you or indicate that your application needs additional administrative processing. If this is the case, any issues will usually be resolved within 60 days.
Be sure to triple check your application before submitting it and making your appointment for an interview. If you’ve made any errors filling out your application, you may be asked to leave, try again, and schedule another appointment – obviously, an enormous frustration and waste of time.
Trust us, you do not want to go through security at an American consulate or embassy more than you absolutely have to.
While there’s no saying how long the US bureaucrats will keep you waiting, if all goes well, the interview itself should only take a few minutes.
If your spouse and children over the age of 14 are applying as well, they will also need to come with you to the consulate or embassy for an interview at the same time. Your embassy/consulate may require them to sit for an interview as well, which can cause abundant scheduling problems.
Being Approved for an E-2 Visa
If your application is approved on the spot, you’ll be fingerprinted and asked to leave your passport at the consulate/embassy, as will your spouse and children.
You will also have to pay an additional fee to cover the visa. The immigration official will let you know whether you will be expected to pick up your passport and visa in person or whether it will be couriered to you.
If you thought being approved for the visa was your golden ticket to the US, sorry to tell you that it does not technically guarantee your admittance to the US. Once you arrive, you can still be rejected at the port of entry by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official.
The vast majority of the time, you won’t have too much to worry about though, so long as you don’t bring with you any agricultural goods or any other banned or illegal items.
If you are allowed entry, your passport will be stamped which means your visa period has begun. Unless you apply to extend your stay, staying in the US beyond your vise period can result in serious consequences, including ineligibility for future visas.
The Pros of the E-2 Investor Visa
The E-2 Investors visa is a really solid option for those who want to do business in the US, especially for those with no interest in US citizenship and its tax burdens. Let’s take a look at some of the more specific benefits.
Fast processing time: You might imagine that applying for anything in the US would take years to process, but that’s not always the case. While the popular EB-5 Immigrant visa for investors can take a few years to process, the E-2 visa only takes a few months.
More control over your investment: While the E-2 visa does require a lot more work on your part as far as the business goes, it gives you much greater control over your investment.
In comparison, for both the Canadian federal investor visa program and the American EB-5 immigrant visa, you must release your funds to be invested by a third party. Not only are you not guaranteed that you’ll ever see that money again, but you may be required to invest upwards of $1 million USD to qualify.
The E-2 investor visa, on the other hand, usually requires a much smaller investment and you are fully in control of your funds; it’s up to you to determine whether you’ll see a return on your investment.
Bring the whole family: For Nomad Capitalists with families, the E-2 visa will include your family. Your spouse and any unmarried children under the age of 21 will be permitted to join you when you relocate to the US.
Your spouse may then apply for work authorization. If granted, there will be no restrictions on where your spouse can work. Your children will also be able to attend school in the US. If they go to a state college, they’ll be eligible for in-state tuition.
Travel flexibility: One of the biggest benefits of the E-2 visa over the EB-5 program is the travel flexibility.
For Nomad Capitalists, the need to travel internationally for pleasure or to follow up on other business interests makes many investment visa programs impractical. Since the E-2 is a non-immigrant visa and you will never be applying for citizenship, you don’t have to meet stringent presence requirements.
In fact, in order to avoid being taxed on your worldwide income, you’ll need to be out of the US for 245 days of the year.
The Cons of the E-2 Investor Visa
Working is required: As mentioned, some visa programs allow you to make a passive investment or even donation to a non-profit in exchange for the right to live in your country of choice. This is not the case with the E-2 investment visa.
You will need to actually work in the US and prove that you are doing so. This will mean that you will have US income which will be subject to tax. It will also mean that this might not be the right option for you if you’re looking for a beach vacation.
No path to citizenship: Though it may be a benefit for some, this visa does not present a clear path to citizenship. If your intention is to eventually become a US citizen, look into other options, like the EB-5 immigrant visa. The E-2 visa is best for those who travel often, have business interests elsewhere, and want to avoid pesky US tax laws as much as possible.
Renewal fees: While the legal fees for the E-2 visa tend to be lower than for the EB-5 visa, you have to consider that you will have to renew the E-2 visa every few years, depending on which E-2 country you hold citizenship to.
Not suited to every business: The E-2 visa is geared more towards domestic businesses. If you’re looking to undertake an imports/exports enterprise, you should check out the E1 Treaty Trader visa instead.
Is the US E-2 Visa For You?
While dealing with the bureaucracy of US immigration is rarely a pleasant experience, you can probably tell that the E-2 visa process is generally more simple than some other options out there.
That’s largely because the E-2 visa is a non-immigrant visa.
For those who do dream of US citizenship, this probably isn’t the visa option for you, but if you’re an American who decided to renounce citizenship or you already hold a stronger passport and simply want to do business in the US, the E-2 visa could be a good option.
To summarize, the process for an E-2 visa is as follows:
- Obtain citizenship to one of the E-2 countries through descent, marriage, residence and naturalization, or investment (if you don’t already have it)
- Apply for an E-2 visa online and pay the fee
- Check out the US Embassy website to make an appointment at a nearby consulate
- Inquire about the specific documents they will require for your case
- Show up for your interview with all required documents and hope they don’t ask you to come back
- Get fingerprinted and pay the issuance fee
- Wait a few weeks for your passport to be returned with the E-2 visa inside
- Enter the United States
- Launch your business enterprise and live the American dream, but for no more than 120 days per year to avoid triggering the Substantial Presence Test and taking on the full brunt of US income taxes
From our perspective, the E-2 visa application is not the most rigorous or costly, but it does require careful planning. There may be other options that allow you access to the United States without undergoing a business investment or employment.
Rest assured that at Nomad Capitalist, we’ve helped plenty of entrepreneurs through this process. Actually, some of us have even been through similar processes ourselves.