Today we reveal untold issues with Golden visas and citizenship by investment, each has advantages and disadvantages. We reveal several issues with citizenship and residence by investment schemes in several countries. Foreign investors applying for CBI/RBI schemes have to be careful with these investment options to protect their investment.
Over 85% of applicants chose donation or contribution route to government fund to buy a CBI/CIP passport. Dont forget that it is donation, this means once you take the passport, the entire investment is gone and not-recoverable and wasted. If you value your hard earned money, it makes sense to invest in government bonds or real estate but again these options are expensive. You get to decide – Do you want to donate or want your money back. Donations are 50% cheaper and real estate costs double compared to donation.
In most countries, properties are sold to for foreigners in Europe and Caribbean at inflated prices and these commissions are taken by agents (especially chinese). When buyers find out they have been sold at vastly inflated prices than locals, this leads to disappointment and causes problems. Many CBI agents have hidden fee and do not reveal the full costs (transfer fee, stamp duty etc) associated with buying property for citizenship. Buyers have to do own checks on per square meter prices from neighbors or nearby developments.
Many unlicensed agents promote scams through zero buyback shares, which is only on paper and actual development never takes place. There are no government discounts and buyers must check CIU websites and check the minimum qualifying investments to qualify for citizenship. Properties can also be purchased jointly to qualify for citizenship
Those who buy caribbean passports through donation or real estate investment, do not visit or live in the country as resident and do not get their passports printed with local address in the caribbean. This is very important because unless you have local address, you cannot prove genuine link to the country. Thus your bond between the state is weak. This sometimes may cause problems at the border, because the passport issuing country is different, place of birth is different not from passport issuing country, address is outside the country and the person looks like non-native born citizen. This may open to confusion and questioning. The place of birth field never changes no matter how many passports you have. People from sanction countries (eg. Iran) try to evade sanctions by changing their passports.
Real estate option may the best compared to donation option when it comes to CBI passport in the Caribbean. Yes it is expensive but i would get a CBI passport with genuine ties to the country being a permanent resident with a registered address. Watch out for real estate scams. Dont trust developers outright. Do your own checks.
Many who invest in property in Europe for golden visa do not live in the country and prefer to rent it out through Airbnb or tenants. There has been criticism that 90% of CBI citizens and golden visa holders do not live in the country and do not contribute to society and country.
One other issue is the void caused by CBI programs in real estate sector. The properties purchased by CBI citizens usually rented out or used for Airbnb for income and managed by brokerage firms. Because a number of foreigners buy properties, this causes dramatic surge in property prices making it difficult for locals to buy homes, even renting makes it hard for locals. This is one of the side effects of CBI schemes.
Non interest bearing Government bonds option is the safest investment option for CBI/Golden visas as the full amount is refunded after five years without interest. You still get to keep residency/citizenship indefinitely even after withdrawing the investment. Recently Ireland announced they will revoke visas of investors who funded by loans or debts. Spain, Italy, St.Lucia, Turkey, Latvia currently offer citizenship or residency through government bonds. St.Lucia bonds has the lowest threshold, which is set at $300,000
Antigua is the only country in the Caribbean that residence requirements (five days) for CBI passport, as an additional layer of security check. If you dont visit Antigua for 5 days, your passport will be canceled. It is impossible to become a citizen in Europe without living atleast 5 years. One exception is Malta which requires atleast one year of living, if you contribute about 750K euros. Spain, Greece have 1 day residence requirements.
Dont be fooled believing that you will get citizenship in EU country without speaking local language. Most golden visa countries except CBI jurisdictions (except Malta and Cyprus) require you pass local language test. You need to also fully integrate into their culture else no citizenship.
Understand the full difference between temporary residence permit (short term validity from one to five years) and permanent residence permit (indefinitely valid).
Currently Malta and Greece are the is the only countries that offer permanent residence permit golden visa scheme valid for five years. All other golden visa countries including Portugal, Spain issue temporary residence permit valid for one, two or three years. This means you have to go through bureaucratic process of renewing your residence permit once every two or three years. The process thats 3-4 months and you have to be in the country during that time.
Don’t be fooled by scams with enticing cheap offers or discounts offered by companies and agents undercutting or offering prices below $100,000. Be wary of agents offering discounts and cheaper rates, often they are blacklisted by CIP units. Any government would like to see granting citizenship only those who can afford and contribute to the development of state and people. Always check with the official government websites for investment requirements. Deal only with trusted companies, lawyers and agents.
Real Estate Scams
Several corrupt agents try to offer discounted pricing to investors by offering a zero share option and faking papers. This is a well laid trap for those who look for cheap deals. As per CIU rules discounts are illegal not allowed. Unaware of this many investors apply for citizenship and later realize that their application is not processed, money is gone and government revokes their passports for participating into illegal schemes.
The plot works like this. Agents sell $200,000 zero buyback estate share only on paper plus pay due diligence and other government fees totalling less than $100,000. The investor gets zero control of property. The problem with this no real estate projects ever go into development and government and people get nothing.
Always check the official government website that you meet all the investment requirements. We have compiled an article how to protect yourself from passport scams here
E-2 investor visa
Grenada, Moldova and Montenegro are the only CBI countries that have E-2 visa treaty with United States. E-2 visas are non-immigrant visas only available with treaty countries. Becoming a citizen of these CBI countries will not make you eligible for E-2 visas only if you live for 3 years. Acquiring financial citizenship in Turkey, Grenada, Macedonia will give you this visa eligibility.
The US embassy tightened the rule subjecting extra scrutiny for those who acquired financial citizenship through investment, requires you to become permanent resident live atleast 3 years and have local registered address to be eligible to apply for E-2 visa to US. You may be asked to appear for interview.
OECD has come hard against CBI and RBI schemes. Now because of the agreements between 100+ countries, the tax residence is automatically shared between OECD member countries. Banks may force you to declare all citizenships and residencies abroad when you open or maintain a bank account abroad.
Don’t ignore dual citizenship. This is perhaps most important part. Many CBI companies will not properly advise you on dual citizenship matters which is very important and must not be overlooked. When you take a citizenship or passport in a foreign country, make sure your home country does not prohibit dual citizenship and you do not automatically lose your citizenship. If suddenly a CBI jurisdiction revokes your passport or citizenship for any reason, you become stateless. Be careful!
China does not recognize dual nationality., this could have lot of implications. The government has cracked down on dual citizens, encouraging the public to report people secretly holding two passports, more than 1 million people were caught and were asked to give up hukou, which will end all rights in china including property.
Golden visa Residence by investment (RBI) schemes is a much better choice if you come from a country that does not allow dual citizenship.
China, India, Saudi Arabia do not allow dual or multiple citizenships. Don’t show your foreign passport in these countries with border. Some countries like Russia, South Africa require you to obtain prior permission before becoming a foreign citizen.
Another problem is with Arab countries which dont allow dual citizenship. If you are rich, what is the point of having CBI passport from a EU country, which you dont visit or live at all and the country you currently live dual citizenship is prohibited (eg Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain etc). This is risky and causes problems both ways. Holding two citizenships is illegal. It is better off apply for residency programs or even a multiple entry visa is better for stays upto 90 days.
Here is another story: A number of bidoons (stateless people in UAE) took comoros citizenship and passports to avoid being stateless. The UAE government deported them to comoros. As long as they were stateless, the UAE government couldnt deport them legally. They are better off living a comfortable life in UAE being stateless.
Evaluate your options carefully and do meticulous planning. Citizenship is a sensitive matter, dont lose everything.
Given that 90% of CBI citizenship do not live and rarely visit the country, risking the citizenship in country where you call home (like to live, family, business) is not worth in exchange for some new foreign citizenship. Remember a new country, new life takes years to get used to and adapt, which is why many very rich families do not move or immigrate to foreign country.
Think twice! Be sure to consult a lawyer for legal advice before becoming a dual citizen.
Threat to CIPs
Swindlers take the money and run, they tend to use dirty money to apply for second passports well ahead of time, which hurts the reputation of CBI and Golden Visas. They tend to pass all background checks and vetting. When you do the due diligence/KYC at the time of application all looks good but after couple of years they are on wanted list by international law enforcement agencies.
Restricted Citizenship Rights
Despite becoming a full citizen, some countries such as Antigua, St Kitts have restricted citizenship rights, politics or work for public office. You will not be able to vote in elections. This restrictions apply only for economic citizens.
CBI is no longer a safe haven for criminals. CBI jurisdictions can revoke citizenship anytime for false information, wanted persons, or incarcerated or if you are on wanted list anytime. Malta will revoke citizenshp if you have been jailed abroad for more than 12 months or cause disrepute to Malta. Bulgaria has revoked passports of some 20 investors for not maintaining investment. Cyprus also has revoked for many oligarchs. So far St Kitts has revoked several passports, Vanuatu over 30 passports and St Lucia 6 passports obtained under citizenship by investment program for illegal activities.
It is important to note, that if the principal applicant is stripped of citizenship, all family members collectively lose citizenship and passports tied. to.
Blacklist and Sanctions
Most CBI countries do not accept nationals from countries that are subjected to US/EU embargo or OFAC sanctions. For example, Malta does not accept applications from these countries where sanctions or US travel ban apply (Russia, Belarus).
- North Korea
OECD is concerned about tax avoidance with CBI/RBI jurisdictions has advised banks to check for tax residence if clients from CBI/RBI jurisdictions. Some 16 countries are in the list, while biggest golden visa schemes offered by Portugal, Spain and Greece are not on the list.
If you open a bank account in a foreign country, you will be asked to declare all citizenships and tax residence to banks.
Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA)
Like US, Canada, Europe and United Kingdom will be imposing electronic travel authorization to visa waiver countries except EU/EEA citizens. UK announced plans to impose ETA post Brexit, while EU ETIAS is starting on or after 2024.. All the big economy countries are tightening their borders with ETA’s. With this the freedom of movement traveling with just a passport is pretty much over. CBI passport holders from Caribbean and other others will also be subjected to ETA’s in the future.
HNW and UHNW Investors
HNW/UHNW investors from China prefer these big three exclusive countries to immigrate through investment. The main primary reasons for choices of these countries are safety, stable currency, education and high standard of living and protection of their wealth from erosion
- United States ($500,000 EB-5)
- Canada ($1.2 million)
- Australia (A$ 1.5million)
- New Zealand (N$ 3 million)
These countries also offer one of the best and highly respected passports in the world.
The high volatility of bitcoin makes it difficult to accept as a payment for CBI/RBI schemes. Some real estate developers and CBI agents still accept it but Governments do not. Antigua announced they will accept but the proposal still in the pipeline. If you pay with bitcoin, be prepared to explain the source of bitcoin funds and you are not holding illegal laundered funds. The bottom line is no government officially accepts bitcoin or crypto as passports investment.
US is undoubtedly a dream country for super rich, offering plethora of opportunities and expand wealth. The EB-5 program is the most popular investment immigration program, but the recent frauds and extremely long waiting times (over 5 years) for green card, makes it more frustrating making the US less attractive and many HNW are looking the other way for alternative countries. The US has also tightening immigration rules after Trump become president and in a latest survey many americans believe immigration has reached its breaking point and many are turning towards Australia and New Zealand.
Lisbon requires €280,000 real estate investment for golden visa. The property prices in Portugal in 2018 is on upward trend in Lisbon and coastal areas. Buying properties is now banned for Golden visa.
Portugal is a schengen country, and you will be given residence permit valid for entry/exit through any member state in EU. No requirement to live in Portugal. You might want to come to Portugal for fingerprinting once in a year or two years. Foreigners After 5 years Permanent Residency and after that +1 year, you can apply for Portuguese citizenship (means 6 years total) in a warm and sunny western european country. Recently Portugal have had problems with issuing residence permits to chinese investors, caused delays, but seem to be on the track now. For those from Portuguese speaking countries (eg. Brazil), citizenship reduced to 2-3 years. Portugal also offers a special non-habitual tax regime a perk unknown to many HNW.
Australia is the new popular destination for immigrant investors who over excess of millions in assets. Australia requires AUD 1,500,000 in an Australian state or territory and maintain business and investment activity in Australia. Aussie citizenship after four years of living and holding investor stream visa for two years. Australia has seventh powerful passport in the world with visa free travel to 183 world countries.
New Zealand offers investor visas to exclusive UHNW investors. New Zealand offers Investor 2 Resident visa seekers must have NZ$ 3 million (approximately $ 2 million USD) invested in New Zealand for four years. It is possible to become permanent resident after three years and Kiwi citizen after five years .
Canada reopened quebec immigrant investor program with increased investment of CAD$ 1.2 million and also personal net worth of C$2 million. Canada also struggles with slow processing times of applications.
Spain has €500,000 golden visa program same like Portugal with real estate option. But the problem is you will get spanish citizenship only after 10 years of living. 10 years is a very long time for investors who come from non-spanish speaking country. There is no point in buying a real estate if you cant get EU citizenship quickly. The spanish golden visa program is a favorite destination for Russians, Americans buying property.
Greece has much cheaper €250,000 euro real estate investment program. It has become very popular after Portugal restricted restricted GV properties for foreigners. Greece has the highest debt in Euro zone, despite this the property prices is still low for foreigners compared to other EU countries. Greece is a a cheaper option. Greece program is also hit by bureaucracy and their application process takes six months or over is not smooth enough!
Netherlands has €1,250,000 euro foreign investor program (business or bonds) but i believe no real estate option. This money is such a big money unless of course you do serious business in Netherlands. This program has received poor response from the investors because of the high amount. There are also high taxes in Netherlands (38%), also netherlands prohibits dual citizenship. This program is closing in Jan 2024.
Hungary launched Guest investor golden visa to property investors. You can immediate 10 year PR against €250,000 purchase of Hungarian real estate. This program will be ready in mid-2024. You will only get Hungarian citizenship after 8 years (still too long) of living by Naturalizing (no faster way). Hungary has the lowest cost of living in Europe and property prices relatively low and still rising.
Hungary previously operated a residency bond program until April 2017. .
Latvia has €250,000 euro real estate investment program and after buying the property you will be given a temporary residence permit which then will be converted to permanent after 5 years of living. Latvia also offers a cheap golden visa for EUR 100,000 and the advantage is it is a schengen country. The problem is Latvia, first is a very cold country. There is no point in buying a property investing that much money, if you hate cold and cant live comfortably. Most latvian cities are usually small and the Riga is not really a bigger compared to major western european cities like Paris or Berlin. You also have remember that you will get citizenship only after 10 years of living (such a long wait). This is despite buying real estate. I have visited Riga personally, i wouldnt certainly live there (my opinion).
Austria has no program running with them. They has provisions in citizenship law, that they can award citizenship to persons who have made exceptional service to the country (includes economic investment option. There are reports that if you invest over 10 million euros in Austria, you may get their citizenship quickly). But there were news reports that nobody was awarded exceptional citizenship since 2014. No golden visa or citizenship program officially exists in Austria. Yes, you can naturalize in Austria after 10 years of residence. Austria prohibits dual citizenship
Bulgaria has €500,000 golden visa program and this money has to be invested in a business or government approved bonds (this option is removed) and you will be given residence. But Bulgaria is not even a schengen country, yet Bulgarian passport is very valuable considering in 2017 Bulgaria qualified for visa waiver with Canada through electronic authorization. Bulgaria is a full EU member state and its passport offer full rights as any other EU citizen. Bulgarian citizenship is possible after 20 months if you invest EUR 1 million in bonds or bank deposit.
Malta will give you direct citizenship (EU passport) against €750,000 (approx). Remember it is a donation to the country, not even an investment. Yes, Malta is a schengen country, that is great. All in all, you will be throwing away your money.. Real estate prices are very expensive in Malta (€600,000 and upwards).
But, for all that sacrificies, Malta will give you full EU citizenship (with passport). With this you can visit UK, USA, live and work any EU member states (Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland etc..). If you have the money, you should go for it because Malta program wont be open too long and they will close in a year or two. Malta has very high rejection rates, around 25% applications rejected. They are super strict and wont hesitate to reject dodgy.
Malta still publishes names of IIP citizens in Gazette to public every year. This long list is kind of obscured list mixed with naturalized citizens and IIP citizens shows first name and last name to public. Many agents dont advise you on this. If you value privacy of your citizenship, then Malta is not for you. All other CIP’s do not publish names in public. Montenegro may publish names of citizens to public in the future.
Cyprus has €2 million euro real estate investment program which is permanently closed now due to the scandal. Only 300,000 euro golden visa program through property route exists. But….
First, Cyprus is an EU country but not a schengen country. This means only with Cyprus passport you become EU citizen and go visa free. Other types of visas issued by cyprus will not allow you to visit Schengen countries.. Secondly, Cyprus banks collapsed a few years ago and many people have lost their money in their bank accounts. No other investment is safe other than government bonds or real estate investment in Cyprus (best time to buy real estate with prevailing low prices) in Cyprus
Turkey launched a new citizenship by investment program in 2018, reduced its prices by 60% from $1m to just $400,000 (property). People from countries geographically close to Türkiye and global investors show significant interest in the citizenship program While buying property, foreigners are restricted buying land (freehold) are forced to buy apartment buildings. Turkey is a great country to live (i personally visited Turkey many times and love the country) but its Turkey passport has one of the worst passports. Turkey does not have visa free access even to EU schengen states, UK or Ireland, despite spending that much money.
Vanuatu citizenship contribution/DSP program ($130,000) offers one of the best valuable passports from a pacific country. Not bad for such a small country. The passport offers visa free travel to EU schengen states, United Kingdom, Russia, Ireland etc. The only problem is Vanuatu is a bit more expensive than caribbean passports. If you dont know where Vanuatu is the country is far away in the south pacific and has a big population of 270K spread across islands. You wont be able to travel to UK and Schengen countries anymore flashing the Vanuatu passport.
Belgium has no official golden visa program. It has only business program and you wont be able to buy residency in Belgium just buying a real estate. To run business in Belgium it costs approx 100,000 euros every year and first year costs will come 200,000 euros. After 5 years of living in Belgium you can get citizenship.
France is a great country to live, but there is no official golden visa program running in France. You can buy your way into french residency through business investment, but the problem with France is, taxes are extremely high (taxed over 40% to 50%) on wealthy.
Switzerland has business program which requires CHF 1 million or more turnover in Business. Another option is if you dont intend to work, you can get residence in any swiss canton by paying a lump sum tax (CHF 250,000) every year, plus you should rent or buy a house to live.
The problem with Switzerland is, yes beautiful country to live, very expensive, PR only after 10 years of living and Swiss citizenship after 12 years of living (very difficult to get swiss citizenship too). Swiss taxes are very high too for the rich!
Germany has no golden visa program yet but it is possible to receive residence permit based on business investment of EUR 250,000 or more.
Italy has launched a new golden visa scheme in 2017. Italy requires EUR 250,000 investment in startup businesses or EUR 2 million investment in italian government bonds or treasury bills. Dont forget that Italy also offers a special tax regime, advantageous for tax planning of HNW. Italy golden visa scheme is great but the problem is foreigners must live 10 years and speak italian to qualify for citizenship.
Slovenia have provisions in their citizenship law to award direct citizenship based on economic investment. Officially no other programs run Slovenia.
No known programs run in Slovakia. Slovakia has provisions in their citizenship law to directly award citizenship based on the economic investment.
Singapore is one the great countries to live, work and do business for HNW investors in Asia. Singapore offers a global investor program for S$2.5 million. The only problem with Singapore is takes ten years to become a citizen and passport. Singapore also does not allow dual citizenship which is another problem for HNWI
Now we move on to Caribbean nations, where they sell their citizenship based on the donation or real estate investment. Most of the Caribbean nations have visa waiver agreements with UK, Schengen states and few other South American countries.
Caribbean passports have their own disadvantages and not known for good reputation worldwide. In my opinion, i would rather take residence in EU country and will patiently wait for a good EU passport after some years. This way it is cheap and i dont need to spend a quarter million euros. We expect the prices to double in Caribbean on or after 2024.
St Kitts and Nevis
Saint Kitts requires just $250,000 donation, plus there are various charges and they will give you instant passport in about 4 months. St Kitts also reduced real estate investment to $400,000 must the property cannot be sold for 7 years. Real estate in St kitts is overpriced which are sold over 800,000$.
Saint Kitts is popular but they have lots of problems with Canada and USA. In 2023 Canada relaxed visas for SKN nationals, now for those who already have US visa, can apply for ETA. Canada canceled visa waiver agreement with St Kitts citing St Kitts selling passports to Iranians and Syrians. In 2014, US has accused St Kitts of facilitating financial crimes from passports obtained through Citizenship by investment program. Over 90% of passport buyers prefer donation option because it is cheap, best and fastest route. They dont want to buy real estate from a far away country they dont know, wasting so much money buying real estate. St Kitts also the only country that does not require oath of allegiance.
St Lucia has launched a newly opened citizenship program in 2015. It can be the cheapest investment amount is $100,000. St Lucia CIP processing is fast requires 2-3 months. St Lucia has unique bond option, capital returned by government after 5 years, interest from bonds goes to the development of the country. St Lucia offers maximum privacy and a complete CBI program, well worth your money.
Dominica can citizenship program as it costs only little over $100,00 but it takes over 6 months wait to get the passport. Yes it is cheap, Dominica passport was recently given schengen access, and their passport is as good as those of St Kitts or Antigua. Dominica does not have white blue beaches, as the country is full of tropical forests and mountains. You cannot travel to UK with Dominica passport anymore. One other issue with becoming a citizen of Dominica, is your name is published in their paper gazette which is available for public.
Antigua has beautiful white beaches and turquoise waters. They give you citizenship for $100,000 donation one time payment within 3 months. Antigua is the only country that has visa free access to Canada. Real estate $400,000 is sold over priced to citizenship buyers.
Grenada has a newly launched citizenship program costs $150,000 donation and $200,000 for real estate. Grenda passport is the only country that has visa free access to China. E-2 visas are eligible with this passport, but rules tightened, you cant get unless you live as a resident in Grenada for 3 years. You still can’t go to US and Canada without visa.