These days, the best investment you could make might just be a new citizenship.
First introduced by St. Kitts and Nevis, citizenship-by-invest makes previously inaccessible benefits yours for the taking. Today, several countries and areas hand out similar programs, including Australia, Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, and the Caribbean Region. A second passport guarantees you a fast pass for travel, business, and education, and acts as a safety net for the future. But it comes with a hefty price tag.
How to apply
Like any application, countries will request documents. These may include a valid passport, birth certificate, police clearance certificate, marriage certificate, and a detalied biography.
Several multinational immigration and business law firms make it easier for potential investors to apply for investment citizenship or permanent residency, some specializing in more programs and countries than others. These firms take care of the application process and assist investors and their families after they get approved. One such firm is the Harvey Law Group.
“We help them—[the] clients and their kids—to find the right schools and everything," says Jean-Francois Harvey, worldwide managing partner of the group. "It’s a process, but we’ve been doing it for years.”
The process is often compared to obtaining a visa. The application process starts with a look into the investor’s criminal records and background, to see if he/she is eligible.
“[Once the application is submitted] it goes through Homeland Security and Interpol, and other intelligence agencies,” says Harvey.
A look into the client’s needs determines a country that would be the best match. If approved, the investor will get the passport depending on the country’s processing time. For Caribbean territories, this could take weeks. For countries such as the United States, Canada, or Australia, it could take years. Most countries only allow you to invest after you get the acceptance letter, but America requires a $500,000 fee right off the bat (which you can refund, if denied, but not without difficulty).
Interested parties may look into the process without a firm’s help.
“It’s definitely possible. Still, when you look at a government’s website, while it looks very simple, there are a lot of non-written rules, because each unit has its own way to process,” says Harvey.
He cites the submission of a certified birth certificate as an example. It takes weeks for a country to review it, and may take more weeks if it needs to be sent back.
“Like Cyprus, it looks simple when you look at the website, but they want everything to be certified by their own consulate and there’s no Cyprus consulate in the Philippines,” says Harvey.
Shopping for passports
Visa-free travel is the number one benefit for investors. There's also healthcare, which includes emergency fees, vaccination fees, and periodic health examinations. Where education is concerned, investors' children are eligible for free schooling, and in Canada, their tuition fees will be equal to what a Canadian citizen would pay. As for business opportunities, countries in the Carribean territories offer attractive tax regimes.
The cost depends on what country or area you choose. In the United States, the EB-5 immigration program requires an investment of $500,000 to $1 million (P25-P50 million). Canada, on the other hand, offers several programs, all with different benefits, such as the Quebec Immigrant Investor Program where you're required invest $800,000 (P30 million) in government bonds. Quebec's entrepreneur program dictates that you invest $100,000 (P4 million) in any Quebec based company and own at least 25 percent of shares.
The most popular choice
Investors regard Cyprus’ program as one of the best, and it's also the fastest and simplest to get. The country is the fifth safest in the world, and has the lowest crime rate in Europe. It’s also located at the crossroads of Africa, Asia, and Europe. Cyprus’ citizenship-by-investment can be obtained within six months, and has very favorable benefits: dual citizenship is allowed, the whole family gets a passport (children up to the age of 28) and even the investor’s parents, visa-free travel to over 158 countries, and it's valid for life. Unlike other countries that require residency, Cyprus only requires investors to visit the country once every seven years. Perhaps one of its biggest selling points is that investors can live, work, and get an education in any country within the European Union.
Its tax programs are unmatched: no withholding tax on outgoing payments, zero inheritance tax, 12.5 percent corporate tax, no capital gain tax on sale of properties, zero transfer fees for properties, 5 percent VAT rate for a property acquisition, and 50 perfect tax exemption for newcomer employees with an annual salary of less than 100,000 euros.
To get a Cyprus passport, you need to invest at least two million euros (P120 million) in any Cyprus property, which can be a single property or a portfolio. The main investment may be sold after three years, but investors need to maintain a property of at least 500,000 euros.
Now, your only problem will be where to visit next.
*This story originally appeared on TownandCountry.ph. Minor edits have been made by the Preview.ph editors.