One of the newest and perhaps best values in second citizenship / passport programs has recently been established into law by Bulgaria. Although some view Bulgaria negatively as a former Soviet Bloc satellite country, the reality could not be further from the truth.
Sofia has become a trendy hotspot for European backpackers and budget travelers. Ranked as one of the least expensive capital cities in the Western World, Sofia and the fashionable Black Sea resort town offer apartments, houses, hotel rooms for twenty cents on the dollar when compared to London, Paris, Berlin or Rome.
Bulgaria’s new second citizenship / passport program is a similar twenty cents on the dollar when compared to other programs in Europe such as Malta and Austria. A recent member of the EU, Bulgarian Nationals travel with the 21st ranked passport in the world with visa free travel to 152 countries. This places Bulgaria a bit behind Malta and Austria, but ahead of virtually all of the Caribbean passport programs such as St. Kitts, Granada, Dominican Republic, St. Lucia and Dominica.
The Bulgaria program requires an initial investment of €511,000 (Euro) (1,000,000 BGN, which is the Bulgarian currency, now fixed to the Euro, but to be phased out as Bulgaria moves toward implementation of the Euro). This investment will give an investor permanent residency in Bulgaria in approximately three months. Once you have PR status, you can do nothing and wait for five years for your PR status to automatically be converted into citizenship. Alternatively, you can make another €511,000 (1,000,000 BGN) investment and thereby get fast track status to Bulgarian citizenship in one year instead of five years.
There are multiple methods to satisfy the Bulgarian investment requirements including starting your own company or investing in a list of approved projects such as large ticket hotels in Sofia or the Black Sea. For me, the easiest way to qualify is simply to purchase Bulgarian Government investment bonds. These bonds are bbb rated which are investment grade and pay between 1.75% - 2.00% interest. The interest, however is waived by the investor as the “cost” of the program. Meaning you invest your 2,000,000 BGN (€1,022,000) over five years and then simply get it back without interest.
Compare these numbers to Malta, for example, where you will pay €1,000,000 in costs plus buy or rent expensive real estate, plus pay expensive program fees to the Government agents authorized who handle the program. Austria is even more expensive with a minimum of €3,000,000 – €5,000,000 investment and €250,000 in total fees. Other programs such as Portugal take a minimum of 5 years to attain citizenship, after residency has been attained with no “fast track” option.
Bulgaria is presently experiencing somewhat of a Renaissance with a simplified tax code (10% corporate and individual taxes and 5% dividends tax) and with investment pouring in from all over Europe, especially Germany. Bulgarian officials are also eager to attract North Americans to the program as a diversification to the significant number of Russians and Turks trying to access the EU through Bulgarian citizenship.
To keep out unsavory folks, the program has strict qualifications including a criminal background check, proof of financial credentials, professional and personal references along with copies of birth certificates, marriage certificates, and diplomas. They will not take just any anyone who can pay the fees, but rather only folks who have clean credentials and will not cause Bulgaria’s neighbors in the EU to demand that the program be eliminated. Bulgaria sees this as a long term engine of economic development and they do not want unsavory characters to use the program to undermine the Bulgarian passport in Europe or around the world. The program takes the strict features that other European programs have incorporated (such as Malta, Austria, Belgium or Portugal) and simply used lower investment requirements (than Malta / Austria) and shorter waiting periods (Belgium / Portugal) to make it accessible and more attractive to more people who could not otherwise afford to spend millions of dollars to acquire a European citizenship / passport.
For my money, Bulgaria offers a strong, high value passport which can be obtained in as little as 15 months for much less than the established European passport programs. It is comparable or cheaper than most Caribbean programs and offers visa free travel to more countries than even the most established Caribbean program (Nevis & St. Kitts) making it the best value in a second passport.
Joel M. Nagel is an international lawyer and entrepreneur focusing his practice in the area of asset protection, cross-border transactions, and global investment. He serves on a number of international bank boards as well as other financial institutions. He speaks all over the world on the topics of asset protection, global banking and investment, and international legal compliance. He has also recently been named Ambassador to Austria and the United Nations by the Government of Belize and represents Belize at various United Nation and other multinational institutions based in Vienna.
Joel has written articles and has been quoted by Forbes, Fortune, Live and Invest Overseas, Hemispheres Publishing, International Living, Sovereign Society, Sovereign Man, Stansberry Research, Oxford Club, Pirate Investor, True Wealth, Islands magazine, Business Times, Physician’s Money Digest, and the Simon Letter. Joel can be reached at Nagellaw@aol.com or 001-412-749-0500.