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'Golden Visas': How Much Coveted Citizenships Can Cost

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Loving senior couple dancing in balcony at home
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Whether to avoid high taxes, to escape quarantines and skirt travel bans, to increase travel options, or just for the prestige, wealthy people have been jumping through hoops to secure a second passport. Pre-pandemic, there was no shortage of countries offering residence and citizenship by investment — a legal and lucrative industry. And when countries began shutting their borders, limiting the spread of disease by allowing in only citizens and residents, many people questioned the idea that one passport was enough. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt reportedly applied last year for citizenship in Cyprus — for $2.5 million. Here's what it takes to essentially buy a passport in countries from Antigua and Barbuda to New Zealand. (All amounts were converted to U.S. dollars using current exchange rates at the time of writing.)


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St. John's, Antigua and Barbuda
Sean Pavone/istockphoto

Antigua and Barbuda

From $100,000

Fancy buying an island home in the Caribbean and getting a second passport in the process? Sounds nice, but consider that July through October is hurricane season — if you had a home in Barbuda in 2017 when Irma blew through, it's likely not there anymore. Some will fork out the $200,000 for an approved real estate project anyway, or donate a nonrefundable $100,000 to the country's National Development Fund for this passport. 


What's the draw?

Citizens of Antigua and Barbuda enjoy visa-free travel to more than 150 countries including the United Kingdom and freedom of movement in countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and Russia. This is offered to the applicant and three family members (although there are additional fees charged separately). That makes it a value in the citizenship-by-investment world, and applications take just four months to process. Applicants must spend five days in Antigua and Barbuda over five years — not a hardship considering the 365 beaches and many luxury resorts to enjoy.


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Scotts Head, Dominica
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Dominica

From $100,000

This tiny Caribbean island has had an economic citizenship scheme running for the past two decades and is known to be one of the fastest countries for processing applications — the estimated timeline is under four months. Because a $200,000 investment in real estate (not including fees starting from $25,000) must be held for at least three years and could run into delays, the easiest path to a second passport is a nonrefundable donation of $100,000 (or upward of $175,000 to include a spouse and children) to a government fund.


What's the draw?

Citizens of Dominica enjoy the privilege of visa-free travel to 137 countries, including the European Union and the United Kingdom, and dual citizenship is allowed. Also, global income is not taxable here and Dominica does not require physical presence to hold on to a passport. Another attractive factor: Citizenship can be passed to children. 


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St. Lucia
Flavio Vallenari/istockphoto

St. Lucia

From $100,000

Like its Caribbean cousins, St. Lucia offers a competitive citizenship scheme for $100,000 and processes applications in under four months. While the sum goes to the country's National Economic Fund (in other words, applicants don't get any return on their donation), there are other avenues to consider: real estate worth at least $300,000, a five-year $500,000 purchase of non-interest-bearing government bonds, or a $3.5 million corporate investment that creates at least three jobs.


What's the draw?

To become a citizen, there's no requirement to ever set foot on this tropical island — but that would be a shame. Dual citizenship is allowed, and a St. Lucia passport allows visa-free access to 146 countries including Hong Kong, Singapore, the U.K., and the Schengen Area of 26 European countries. There's no global income, wealth, or inheritance tax, and applicants can include a spouse, children under 31, siblings under 18, and parents 56 and over (for a fee, of course). 


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Santorini sunset at dawn village of Oia Greece
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Greece

From $305,263

There's a big catch with Greece's "golden visa" scheme: It offers the chance to live in Greece but not to work. (Setting up a business gets the green light from authorities, though.) For retirees, this may not be a deterrent. Under a proposed bill, individuals who transfer their tax residence to Greece will pay just 7% on all their foreign income, regardless of the amount. This alone may be attractive enough to exchange more than $300,000 for a piece of real estate — or $488,500 in mutual funds, state bonds, or a bank deposit — and get a residence permit, with a possibility of citizenship in seven years.


What's the draw?

The timeframe of just two months from application to approval might be reason enough to choose Greece. There's no residency requirement, investment property can be rented out, and the application covers a whole family, including parents. A Greek passport allows for free movement around the EU and visa-free access to 114 countries. And for those with no pressing need to become a citizen, the residence permit never expires. 


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Porto Portugal Old City
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Portugal

From $305,263

Applying for this passport can be confusing. There are various ways to invest, starting from support of the country's arts, culture, or heritage sector at just over $300,000 (nonrefundable) to a $1.2 million deposit in a Portuguese bank account. Essentially a five-year residence-by-investment program, it leads to citizenship — but there are stipulations: Applicants need to eventually prove ties to Portugal and be able to utter more than just "ola" and "amor." Unlike Greece, Portugal has a residency requirement of one to two weeks a year. But seeing how lovely the Algarve is during the summer, this should not be a deal breaker.


What's the draw?

Portugal's high quality of life and relatively low taxes make it a go-to for anyone looking to live somewhere warm with a decent work-life balance. This residence permit/passport means free travel around Europe's Schengen Area and visa-free travel to over 100 countries. It also allows for family reunification, and Portuguese passport holders don't have to renounce their original citizenship. 


Related: 15 Countries Where You Can Live Comfortably on Social Security

Aerial View of Old Marina of Girne (Kyrenia), Cyprus
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Cyprus

From $365,205

While Cyprus has terminated its citizenship-by-investment program, which reportedly issued thousands of passports unlawfully, there's still a residency-by-investment scheme. The investment sum is now capped at $365,205 (applicable to commercial and residential property) and the program requires annual income of at least $36,638, increasing by just over $6,100 for a spouse and $9,800 for every additional child.  


What's the draw?

When a billionaire such as Eric Schmidt opts for a Cypriot passport, it warrants some looking into. Cyprus is an underestimated gem of the Mediterranean, considering its relatively low cost of living, lack of inheritance tax, and quality health care. Overall it's an attractive Plan B. 


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Sveti Stefan and mountains
Kateryna Kolesnyk/istockphoto

Montenegro

From $427,368

To buy into the Balkans, prospective applicants have to rustle up the paperwork fast: The Montenegrin government is ending its passport program this year, and it has a cap of just 2,000 applicants while already being popular with Russian, Pakistani, and Chinese nationals. In return for a European passport, there's a requirement to invest between $305,000 and $549,500 in real estate, make an additional $122,000 government donation, and spend five days there over five years.  


What's the draw?

It's one of the faster passports for purchase, taking just three months to approve. It may soon include EU privileges if a plan to enter the union in 2025 succeeds. If not, the relatively low cost of living, visa-free travel to 124 countries (including the Europe's Schengen Area, Singapore, and Russia) and a low tax rate (about 9%) might be reason enough. 


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Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain.
MasterLu/istockphoto

Spain

From $610,525

Spain's Residence by Investment program provides a residence permit with a pathway to permanent resident status in five years, and citizenship after a decade — and it's not the easiest to navigate. The program costs a minimum of $611,000 as a real estate investment, or a $1.2 million to $2.4 million investment in a Spanish company or government bonds. It's renewable every two years. Those who want to bid for full citizenship need to speak the language and pass a culture and history examination. And American citizens who want a Spanish passport must renounce their U.S. citizenship.


What's the draw?

The initial application takes at least three months to process. If successful, it entitles the applicant (and family) to a Spanish residence permit. There's no stipulation to live there, but the cost of living is marginally cheaper than in other European countries. The investor visa allows free movement within the EU Schengen Area and visa-free or visa-on-arrival privileges in 188 countries, which for some can be worth the hefty price tag. 


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Sailing yacht in the Crystal lagoon, Comino - Malta
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Malta

From $899,000

There's no shortage of applicants for Maltese citizenship despite its sticker price. The EU is clamping down on member states issuing passports for investment, and this is currently the only one offering applicants all the rights of EU citizenship at a fraction of the daily cost of living elsewhere. It's a privilege derived from a confusing mix of philanthropic donation, direct economic investment, and real estate. In return, citizenship is in the cards after 36 months of legal residency — although a recent investigation found that exceptions and loopholes are rampant, and regulations could change in the near future.


What's the draw?

Malta's year-round warm climate is already a big plus, but its passport allows visa-free travel to more than 180 countries, including within the EU Schengen Area. Spouses, children under 26, and parents over 55 can be included. Health insurance coverage of up to $61,000 is required, but property taxes and stamp duties are minimal, and the country has no inheritance, gift, or wealth tax.


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Cliffs of Moher in Ireland
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Ireland

From $1.2 million

Qualifying for Irish residency takes more than just being able to scull pints of Guinness. It costs at least $1.2 million for people with clean records and $2.4 million in assets. Expect Immigrant Investor Program administrators to do their due diligence on the source of that money, too; it must be from business and investment activities, deeds of sale, inheritance, or divorce. Applicants are expected to spend at least one day a year in the country, and Irish citizenship and a passport are possible only after being present for five years within an eight-year period.


What's the draw?

Ireland has a low corporate tax rate (12.5%) and is generally business-friendly — it's why such big names as Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Microsoft, and Pfizer have headquarters there. With visa-free access to 186 countries and territories, including the United Kingdom, it's a powerful passport to hold. Applicants also get a $61,000 discount incentive from the cost to send their children to one of its top-ranking universities. 


Related: 30 Free Things to Do in Ireland

View from above, stunning aerial view of the skyline of Singapore during a beautiful sunset with the financial district in the distance. Singapore.
Travel Wild/istockphoto

Singapore

From $1.9 million

This city-state knows the strength of its passport, so getting one through the Global Investor Program doesn't come cheap. The application fee alone is around $7,600 and requires an investment of $1.9 million in a business or approved fund, or toward setting up a family office with at least $151 million in assets. The approval process takes nine months to a year and, for a start, offers only permanent residency. Citizenship in Singapore is potentially attainable after two years, but a list of strict conditions must be met. While residency is extended to a spouse and children under 21, male dependents must serve two years of national service, and all other passports must be renounced.


What's the draw?

The stakes may be high, but that hasn't put off billionaires such as Facebook cofounder Eduardo Saverin. Ranked the world's second-most-powerful passport in the 2021 Henley Passport Index, the Singaporean passport allows visa-free access to 120 countries, and Singapore's geographic location makes it easy to travel to Australia, Asia, and Europe. The quality of life is high, and the tax system — the highest income tax rate is 22% — makes it business-friendly. While housing and car ownership are pricey, the crime rate is low and the education and public health system are world class. 


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Top view of sea, waves and road.
nazar_ab/istockphoto

New Zealand

From $2.2 million

Unless you're billionaire Peter Thiel, who (under exceptional circumstances) was granted citizenship in New Zealand after spending just 12 days in the country, a passport here is a long-term project. It takes at least five years and a cool $2.2 million investment for people who pass a points-based approval system. They need to spend at least 1,350 days over five years in the country, and at least 240 days a year; be under 65 years old; and speak English. There's also a program in which no business experience or English proficiency is needed, but it costs $7 million, held for three years. For this small fortune, a spouse and dependent children 24 and younger can be included with additional processing fees. 


What's the draw?

New Zealand is a billionaire's pandemic escape choice, thanks to its remote location and unspoiled natural surroundings. A high standard of living, stable government, low population density, subsidized health care, and free education make it an all-around attractive location. Passport holders can enter 180 countries visa-free, which isn't too shabby. 


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Houses of Parliament with Big Ben and double-decker bus on Westminster bridge at sunset, London, UK
Vladislav Zolotov/istockphoto

United Kingdom

From $2.8 million

With its recent exit from the European Union, you would think a U.K. residency visa would be less desirable. But the Tier 1 Investor visa still requires a $2.8 million investment over five years. Eligibility conditions are stringent, ranging from English proficiency and proof of business experience to a residency requirement of up to 180 days in 12 months. Approval is valid for just three years and four months, after which a two-year extension applies, and citizenship requires additional applications (and conditions) after at least six years. 


What's the draw?

In the post-Brexit era, the allure of a U.K. passport may have dulled. Still, it's one of the financial capitals of the world, and British citizens enjoy visa-free access to 139 countries. A visa is required for trips longer than 90 days in the Schengen Area, but the country's tax-friendly approach to the wealthiest will ensure someone is always keen to add this passport to their collection.


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Stunning spring landscape with Santa Maddalena village, Dolomites, Italy, Europe
Janoka82/istockphoto

Austria

From $3.7 million

An Austrian passport costs a pretty penny — and even then, there's no guarantee. Austria doesn't have an official citizenship-by-investment program, but those willing to invest $3.5 million into a government development fund or put $11.7 million into a business that creates local jobs or new export sales may be granted citizenship. The process takes between 24 to 36 months and is at the sole discretion of government officials.


What's the draw?

An Austrian passport is powerful. Not only do residents of Austria sit at the foot of some of the world's best ski slopes, but they're able to live and work anywhere in the EU and travel visa-free to 177 countries and territories. For the privilege, though, applicants have to relinquish their existing passport and be prepared to pay income tax of 55% should they earn more than $1.2 million annually. 


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Sydney waterfront at night
JulieanneBirch/istockphoto

Australia

From $3.9 million

The Aussies know they're onto a good thing, so those who want to move freely Down Under have to jump through some hoops. The Significant Investor Stream is by invitation only and requires a multimillion-dollar, four-year commitment, along with a stipulation to live in the state or territory that puts up the nomination. That may bring a provisional visa (limited to four years and three months) with an option to apply for a permanent resident visa that'll lead eventually to citizenship. Unlike in other countries, there's no set time frame, and fees are hefty. Sometimes, an official can cancel a visa "if we find out you were engaged, married, or in a de facto relationship" and only certain family members are eligible to ride on the application.

 

What's the draw? 

Blessed with stunning beaches and gorgeous countryside, Australia is a highly desirable place to reside, despite income taxes that can go as high as 45%. Visa-free access to 160 countries with an Australian passport, an accessible and affordable health care system, and a generous 18 weeks of paid parental leave help tip the balance.


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