One of the biggest concerns we hear from US citizens looking to get a second citizenship is that they want to be able to return to the United States to visit. For many people, the idea of not being able to return to their place of birth is scary.
The truth is, there are several options that make obtaining another citizenship worthwhile, even if you intend to live in or spend time in the United States after getting it. If you’re reading this, chances are you understand at least some of the reasons for having a second passport. Having dual nationality or even multiple citizenships means that no one government can shut down your freedom to travel or control your life.
The pathways to second passport options, especially Golden Visa options, are changing and even vanishing. Apply to become a Nomad Capitalist client, and we will help you make the most of current citizenship opportunities that may not be available in the near future.
Second Citizenship For Dual Citizens
It is possible for US citizens to maintain other citizenships so long as they enter and exit the United States using their US passport. You can obtain citizenship through your ancestry, such as in Ireland or Italy, through a residency program and subsequent naturalization, such as Panama, or by making a donation to an economic citizenship program, such as in St. Kitts or Dominica.
Merely obtaining a second citizenship doesn’t mean that you are no longer a US citizen. The United States does recognize dual citizenship. So long as you carry a US passport, you can obviously enter and exit the United States whenever you please, and you will also continue to be responsible for filing taxes and reporting your foreign bank accounts.
For Americans who prefer to keep their US passport and have no intention of renouncing their citizenship, the best second passport is one that is easy to obtain, even if visa-free travel options aren’t as great. In this case, the US passport will always be available for travel, while the second passport will serve as a “Plan B.” US citizens, even dual nationals, must still file and pay US income tax on their worldwide earnings and investments.
As mentioned, merely having a second passport doesn’t invalidate the tax and filing requirements of this US passport. Each country will still consider you a citizen. In addition, there are a number of costly regulations applicable only to US citizens, including dual nationals, such as Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).
Traveling To The Us After Renouncing
Increasingly, we are contacted by people who want the best of both worlds: the ability to renounce their US citizenship without giving up the ability to visit family and friends in the United States.
This is inherently tricky; even as record numbers renounce their US citizenship, there is a remote possibility that the government can bar a former citizen deemed to have expatriated for tax reasons from entering the country again. The US government rarely, if ever, enforces that clause, partially because it would involve even more bureaucracy and partly because most people don’t come out and say, “I’m renouncing to avoid paying taxes.”
On top of that, you can’t simply renounce US citizenship and then come back full-time. As a best-case scenario, anyone spending 183 days per year on US soil must pay taxes and comply with all resident and citizen regulations. If you do plan to renounce US citizenship but want to return to visit later, you will fall into one of two camps: someone who needs a visa and someone who doesn’t.
If you hope to visit the United States after renouncing your US citizenship, you’ll likely need a visa. Unlike somewhere like Malaysia, where practically anyone can visit as a tourist, the United States is one of the most difficult countries in the world to visit. Now, that doesn’t make it impossible. Unless you have a criminal conviction or got a second passport from a country with a high visa-refusal rate, there are ways to visit the US.
The easiest passport to travel to the US is a Canadian passport. Canada is the only country that has actual visa-free travel to the US. When Canadians show up at the border with their passports, they usually only have to answer a few questions.
Other countries around the world have “visa-free” access to the United States because they belong to a Visa Waiver program. If you have a passport from the UK, Australia, or one of the other countries listed later in this article, you will need to get pre-authorization through a process called ESTA, which costs $21 and is good for a couple of years.
Other countries, like Canada, are now copying this, essentially imposing a soft visa requirement on citizens of even “the best” countries. For many of the people we speak to, the second passport they qualify for does not allow for visa-free travel to the United States simply because so few countries can enter without a visa. If you renounce US citizenship on a passport that falls into this camp, you will need to make an appointment at the US Embassy where you legally reside and apply for a visa like everyone else.
This doesn’t mean that getting into the US is impossible if you’re from a developed country like Argentina or Malaysia that doesn’t belong to the Visa Waiver program.
The key to getting a US visa is a lack of “immigration intent.” In other words, it should be clear that you are a bona fide tourist with ties to home and the intent to return. For example, a single guy living the nomad lifestyle might have trouble proving a lack of immigration intent, as officials would argue he has no ties keeping him somewhere else and might decide to become an illegal immigrant by overstaying his tourist visa.
Overall, suppose you want to avoid the song and dance of applying for a US tourist visa even for merely transiting through a US airport. In that case, you’ll need to obtain a second passport from a country that is a member of the Visa Waiver Program.
Traveling Under The Visa Waiver Program
The 40 Visa Waiver countries that are allowed to visit the United States for tourism, business, or merely for transit. These countries are Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.
Additionally, the United States is currently reviewing several “road map” countries with low visa refusal rates for possible inclusion within the next few years. These countries include Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Romania, Turkey, and Uruguay.
If you can obtain a passport from a Visa Waiver Country, you’ll enjoy excellent visa-free travel around the world as well as the ability to visit the United States. However, only US citizens have guaranteed admittance upon arrival; even foreigners who pass ESTA may be denied at their port of entry.
Second Passports From Visa Waiver Countries
Let’s review all of the Visa Waiver Program countries where obtaining citizenship is reasonably possible. This list does not consider countries that offer citizenship by marriage.
While Australia may be just as bad as the US in terms of flag-waving and declining freedoms, skilled workers in high demand may be able to obtain residency in Australia, where the naturalization period is four years.
While immigrating to Belgium isn’t cheap, it is possible to do so by starting a small business, securing employment, or proving that you have a substantial net worth and independent means. You will need to have an actual residence in Belgium during your entire residency period, but you don’t need to spend all of your time there. Five years from the date your residency starts, you may apply for Belgian citizenship, so long as you can speak French or Dutch.
Canada isn’t actually a Visa Waiver Country, as Canadians have exclusive privileges among foreigners to enter the United States. If your parents are Canadian, you can apply for Canadian citizenship on that basis. You can also invest C$1.2 million in a provincial government investment program such as Quebec’s in order to obtain residency. After spending 1,095 days of physical presence in the previous five years in Canada, you can apply for naturalization.
If you have six months to spend on the ground, Chile is an interesting option. You can become a resident by showing yourself to be self-sufficient or by running some form of small business in Chile. Once approved, you must spend 183 days in your first year physically present in Chile, just enough to be deemed a tax resident. You only need to spend one day per year to keep your residency active. After five years, you can apply for Chilean citizenship.
Estonia is a decent option if you are an entrepreneur and don’t mind the cold. The Estonian government aims to be the least bureaucratic country on earth and welcomes foreign investment; corporate taxes on undistributed profits are zero. Most Westerners can obtain Estonian residency by starting a business with a low-five-figure sum. The downside is you must stay in Estonia for six months per year in order to apply for Estonian citizenship after eight years. While you might get away with living in a nearby European country, you’d still have to pay tax to Estonia as a tax resident.
Greece offers a citizenship by descent program to those with Greek ancestry. They also offer one of Europe’s cheapest Golden Visa, and you can work towards citizenship by spending seven consecutive years in Greece. Although, they may not make it easy to obtain citizenship for people who don’t have familial or ethnic ties with Greece.
As with a lot of European nations, ethnic Hungarians can apply for citizenship by descent. Hungary offers a residency by investment scheme by which any foreigner can invest €155,000 in real estate to obtain Hungarian residency. Entrepreneurs also have the option to start a small business in Hungary. Either way, residents are eligible to apply for citizenship after eight years, provided they speak Hungarian.
If you have parents or grandparents who hold Irish citizenship, you can apply for Irish citizenship by descent, and the process is straightforward and affordable. Otherwise, you can apply through the STEP program designed for High Potential Start-Ups, which requires €50,000 in funding for the start-up and €30,000 for any subsequent entrepreneurs involved in the venture. You may be eligible for an Irish passport through naturalization after five years of continuous residence and meet the requirements, but it is not guaranteed.
If you have ancestors, even great-grandparents, who held Italian citizenship and did not renounce it at any point, you qualify to be an Italian citizen by descent. The process is more bureaucratic than in Ireland but is relatively straightforward. Alternatively, you can obtain a residency permit to live in Italy by showing a mid-five-figure bank balance and apply for naturalization after ten years.
Latvia allows foreigners to become residents in one of three ways and apply for Latvian citizenship after ten years of residence. You may choose to purchase real estate valued at €250,000 or more, make around €300,000 term deposit in a Latvian bank, or start or invest in a Latvian business that generates substantial jobs and tax revenue.
Lithuania has a rather complicated citizenship by descent program, allowing you to return to the third and fourth generations. It is also possible to start a business and be naturalized, although dual citizenship is unlikely and only allowed for exceptional cases.
Malta offers a citizenship by investment program which involves a donation to the government and the purchase of real estate and government bonds, with a total investment of around $750,000. A one-year residency period is required before Maltese citizenship is granted.
Non-EU citizens can acquire permanent residence and potentially citizenship in Portugal through the D7 visa once they meet the passive income requirements. Now, the best option for investors, entrepreneurs, and retirees is to get a Portuguese passport after five years.
If your parents are Korean, you may apply for South Korean citizenship even if you previously gave it up when the government forbade dual nationality. Foreigners can make a mid-six-figure investment in Korea in order to obtain residency and then apply for citizenship after five years.
While Spanish citizenship offers excellent visa-free travel, it may not be the best second passport option. A Golden Visa for Spain requires investing €500,000 in real estate, starting a small business, or simply showing you can support yourself. That said, the tax requirements are just as bad for Spanish residents as they are for US citizens.
Even with citizenship in one of these Visa Waiver Countries, you will still need to apply online for a $21 ESTA visa.
Your Second Passport
The bottom line is that visiting the United States isn’t an automatic right for any foreigner and will be harder for those who renounce US citizenship on a passport from Panama, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, or any other country that does not have a Visa Waiver status.
As of 2024, US citizens will lose visa-free travel rights and must undergo a visa application process before traveling to Europe, including the Schengen Area.
If you are seriously considering renouncing or relinquishing your US citizenship, make sure you know what you are getting into if Disney World or family visits are in your future travel plans.
Do you have European ancestry? With the Nomad Capitalist Citizenship By Descent CBD Eligibility Checker, you can easily discover if you can secure a second passport that lets you visit the United States.