There are basically three ways that you can become a citizen of a country, namely through birth or ancestry, prolonged residency and by donation or investment.
Of course, these aren’t the only ways. You could for example be the greatest Olympic athlete and have countries courting you for your services with offers of citizenship and a passport. But how many of us will ever be in that position?
To be born in a country or to have parents or grandparents from any particular country is nothing over which we have any control. If your fortunate enough to be born a citizen of the US, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand or Japan you have already won the citizenship lottery. You live in a country with a passport that historically allowed you to basically travel wherever you want, and whenever you want. You are in the fortunate ten percent of all people on planet earth. For the other 90 percent, the burdens and barriers of even getting a passport, accessing visas, showing sufficient funds and proving that you don’t have “immigrant intent” when you want to take your kids to visit Disney World can be nothing short of debilitating.
The current coronavirus pandemic has made it nearly impossible for almost everyone, even the citizenship lottery winners at the very top of the passport pyramid to travel internationally. This, in turn has caused many people all around the world (including the top ten percenters) to look for options to be able to better travel, live and work wherever they most want to be.
For those whose parents, grandparents and even great grandparents migrated from Europe, the ability to claim ancestral citizenship (if all the country’s conditions are met), is the fastest, cheapest and easiest option. Effectively, with an ancestral claim, rather than APPLYING for citizenship, you are taking the position that you were ALREADY a citizen at birth and now you are asking the State to simply RECOGNIZE your citizenship. This is actually a different procedure than “applying” to become a citizen through any type of naturalization process.
Some European countries limit this type of ancestral citizenship solely to children, while others look at grandchildren and even great grandchildren children.
The UK for example allows for citizenship applications from grandchildren based on something called “double descent”. That law can be interesting for some grandchildren of UK citizens, although the law is still rather discriminatory in several applications where the claim is based on a female rather than a male.
In my own personal situation my grandmother with British. She was born British, never obtained any other citizenship (although she was a US Greencard holder) and died British. My mother was born in the United States and was never naturalized as a British Citizen. I was born a US citizen.
If it had been my grandfather who was British rather than my grandmother, I could now qualify for British Citizenship under the concept of “double descent”)
But alas, I do not. Life’s not always fair and ancestry citizenship is a bit quirky. Unless you fit the mandates of the law explicitly, you probably won’t obtain citizenship that way.
If you can access citizenship through ancestry, then thank your forefathers because you just won the citizenship lottery a second time. Now you just need to fill out some paperwork and go pick up your prize.
For everyone else, acquiring a second residency or citizenship is controlled by the laws of the particular country where you’d like to live. And while these laws vary widely from country to country, they can basically be divided up into two basic routes to citizenship that I like to call “the slow, cheap method and the fast, expensive method”.
The slow, cheap method entails meeting the basic residency requirements of the particular country in order to move there. This could be for educational purposes, work, to start a business, or for retirement. The slow, cheap method doesn’t generally require any type of investment or significant payment at the outset, but rather that you simply live, work and become a full time resident and taxpayer of that country.
After some defined period of time, generally five years but in some cases as long as twenty years (see Andorra for example), you can apply for permanent residence and then naturalization and citizenship. Again, the cost of this type of application is nominal, but it does take a lot of time. Remember, however that by becoming a resident in that country, you will also be subjecting yourself to taxation in that country and that will have a cost as well.
In an effort to attract foreign investment, nearly all countries around the world have enacted various forms of incentives that reduce, change or eliminate the time requirements necessary to become a citizen. These programs are referred to as Citizenship by Investment Programs ( or CIP for short).
They vary in cost depending on the developmental stage of the country and value of the citizenship. The US EB5 Investor Visa, for example requires an investment of $1.8 million for a fast track green card. Cyprus requires a minimum real estate purchase of $2.2 million dollars but citizenship can be granted in as quickly as 90 days. The Caribbean islands such as St. Lucia, Grenada and Dominica have donation programs of as little as $100,000 to become a citizen there, while Austria requires an investment of €7 million. It’s really an amazing spectrum of options, choices and costs.
In part two of this post, I’ll walk you through my favorite European residence by investment (leading to citizenship) program, namely the Portuguese “Golden Visa” program. Follow up to see how you can actually get “paid” to become a European resident and citizen through this program.