Citizenship by Investment Comparison Guide

What is citizenship?

What exactly does citizenship mean? You are given citizenship by a state and are therefore automatically entitled to a number of rights and privileges you wouldn’t normally have. 

This includes:

  • The right to live and travel freely in the country, as well as in other countries with which the nation has special agreements with
  • The right to vote
  • The right to work 

In return, you accept the responsibility of complying with the laws and rules of the respective state.

What is citizenship by investment?

Citizenship by investment (CBI) is a process by which an individual obtains a second passport and second citizenship by investing in the country ― usually in the form of property investment. Depending on the country, there are specific requirements for the investment you can make, and different benefits associated with the passport you acquire.

Can I buy a passport?

Often when people talk about how you can buy a passport, they talk about citizenship by investment or CBI. However, no one can “buy a passport” legally, but with citizenship by investment programs you can ultimately obtain a second passport more quickly and easily than through other immigration methods.

 

Citizenship planning

Let’s face it, not everyone has the need nor the finances to seek economic citizenship. Citizenship planning takes time, money, resources, and effort. However, the rewards surpass the challenges, particularly if you have a weak-ranking passport, are in immediate or imminent danger, or are simply looking to protect your wealth and assets and safeguard your family members’ personal freedoms. 

In a globalized world, the importance of citizenship planning is paramount and is not to be underestimated. Obtaining a second citizenship can be extremely rewarding, opening up countless opportunities for yourself and your family members. However, obtaining the wrong citizenship can cost you. 

If you plan well, passport by investment offers safety, infinite possibilities, and unparalleled freedoms. Some key questions to bear in mind before you even begin to consider pursuing citizenship by investment (CBI) are the following:

  • What am I looking to get out of my investment?
  • How much money do I want to invest to acquire citizenship?
  • Do I want to include my whole family in the application?
  • Do I care more about obtaining a powerful passport, or am I ok with an ok-ranking passport that provides other perks?
  • Do I want to relocate to the country I invest in?
  • How much time can I set aside to dedicate to the application?
  • Do I want to do this on my own or enlist the help of a qualified professional?
  • Should I apply for citizenship or residency by investment program? (more on residency by investment programs further in the article).

These are just some of the questions that you should be asking yourself before choosing a country or program. It is also worth thinking about the benefits to family members, for example. Having the answers to these questions will ultimately help you decide which citizenship by investment (CBI) scheme to go for. A residency by investment program may also be better suited to you, so do some research into a residency by investment options available to you. An important piece of advice is to take your time. If you ever feel conceded, conflicted, or undecided, research all the possibilities and, if needed, ask a qualified industry expert.

 

Citizenship by investment overview

Let’s go back a few steps. What even is citizenship? Put simply, citizenship is a social contract between the individual and the state to work together to accomplish mutual benefits. It is a symbiotic relationship, where the citizen accepts legal responsibility and, in return, the state grants them rights to fully function and grow in society. 

Naturally, a passport is an extension of this. Basically, a stamp of sorts that provides the citizen with the right to enter and leave the country freely and travel visa free to certain countries. Each passport varies in strength and desirability, although the general principle is the same. The passport provides the holder with evidence of their citizenship status and provides a myriad of opportunities for the person to travel around the world somewhat freely. 

So, what about citizenship by investment? Traditionally, citizenship has been granted through birth, naturalization, and marriage. However, as mentioned, these are no longer the only options. Now, there is another pathway to secure citizenship, which is called citizenship by investment (or passport by investment). In essence, the investor will invest a lump sum of money into a country’s economy and, in return, they are rewarded with citizenship. 

These are called citizenship programs. Citizenship by investment (CBI) programs have become increasingly popular, with several countries now offering some form of program. Each citizenship program will have its own specific criteria set forth by a government through which an individual is able to “apply” for and, in return obtain the nation’s citizenship via an investment for themselves and family members (for example into real estate, a capital transfer, an investment fund or through a donation into the development in a certain area). It is quite simple, really. You make an investment and you can obtain citizenship. Obviously, there are eligibility criteria, certain time processes in place, and other nuances, but this is the gist of it.

Considering not every citizenship by investment (CBI) program is the same, there is often confusion about which program legitimately provides direct citizenship versus residency by investment programs that allow citizenship through naturalization further down the line. 

Don’t worry, you can get fully up to speed on the differences between residency and second citizenship here.  

What citizenship by investment is and isn’t

What it is:

  • A structured application process
  • 100% legal and backed by international law
  • Fastrack to citizenship

What it isn’t:

  • A scam
  • A way for an investor to avoid tax responsibilities
  • A way to “buy citizenships”

 

Why Do People Invest in a Second Citizenship?

Never has freedom of movement been so great. With travel and global mobility in its prime years, second citizenship is increasingly valued for the wealth of advantages it brings.

Second citizenship essentially offers twice the opportunities, including the right to travel, live, work, and study in two countries. It provides security — a ‘plan b’ — in times of insecurity and reduces your family’s exposure to personal and financial risk. Dual citizenship opens up doors to more visa-free travel, provides twice the social and tax benefits, as well as offering the ability to diversify your assets and acquire residency in a low-tax paying nation.

Key benefits include:
Optimize your tax planning and even save up on tax in certain countries that offer great tax benefits.

Tax planning

Optimize your tax planning and even save up on tax in certain countries that offer great tax benefits.
Have greater freedom of mobility and pursuit. Become a global citizen, with access to visa-free travel.

Travel planning

Have greater freedom of mobility and pursuit. Become a global citizen, with access to visa-free travel.
Dual citizenship offers a ‘plan b’, a second opportunity to relocate freely in times of instability.

Citizenship insurance

Dual citizenship offers a ‘plan b’, a second opportunity to relocate freely in times of instability.
Pass down your citizenship to your children and grandchildren so they can have double the opportunities to live, study, and work in two countries

Family security

Pass down your citizenship to your children and grandchildren so they can have double the opportunities to live, study, and work in two countries

Which countries offer citizenship by investment?

There are many countries around the world that offer citizenship by investment (CBI) programs. By investing in these programs, the investor can obtain citizenship not only for themselves, but also for their dependents, including their parents, children, stepchildren, and grandparents.

Citizenship by investment countries

Here are some countries with popular citizenship by investment (CBI) programs:

For more information, check out our curated citizenship by investment list.

Another country that offers a citizenship by investment (CBI) program is Montenegro. Montenegro offers the Montenegro citizenship by investment (CBI) program. The Montenegro program was launched in 2019 and is open until the end of 2022. If you are interested you should begin the process now. This is a unique investment migration scheme where the applicant can secure Montenegro citizenship to 2,000 investors for a qualifying minimum investment of €350,000.

 

Requirements for citizenship by investment programs

Each country has a different set of requirements that investors must fulfill in order to obtain citizenship. For example, some programs request medical exams which require candidates to prove they are in good health, others do not.

The vast majority of countries do however demand the following:

  • That you are over 18 years old
  • That you have a clean criminal record
  • That you have a good character
  • That your investment funds come from a legal source

Citizenship by investment options

Transfer of funds or government bonds

A transfer of funds or government bonds is usually the fastest way of becoming a citizen by investment. The benefit of this method is that if your application is unsuccessful, your money will be returned.

Real estate investment

Investing in real estate can in some cases be more costly and involve more paperwork and bureaucracy. However, at the same time, depending on which country you choose to invest in, an investment in real estate can bring in considerable returns.

Donation

In exchange for a subsequent and qualifying donation, you can acquire a second passport.

Best European citizenship by investment programs

IMPORTANT UPDATE: It’s official, Cyprus has closed its popular citizenship by investment program on 1 November 2020. What this means is, investors will no longer be able to acquire a Cypriot passport by investment.

Looking to secure European citizenship? Malta offers a direct investment route to a Maltese passport. Click here for more info.

Malta vs Cyprus citizenship

There is a lot to consider when determining which European country is best suited to your citizenship needs. Malta and Cyprus both offer competitive citizenship by investment programs, albeit with key differences in the program requirements.

Citizenship application time

Applying for Maltese citizenship can take up to 36 months while applying for Cypriot citizenship can take up to 6 months.

 Freedom of travel

Both Cyprus and Malta offer extensive travel benefits. Citizenship in Malta allows for freedom of travel to 183 countries (including the US, Canada, and Australia), and citizenship in Cyprus allows for roughly 170 countries, excluding the US.

Schengen limitations

Malta is part of the Schengen area meaning that holders of Maltese citizenship are able to travel freely within these borders. While Cyprus is a part of Europe and the European Union, it has not yet joined the Schengen zone.

Citizenship program restrictions

Cyprus allows for an unlimited number of investors to apply for its program and citizenship. Malta limits the number of eligible participants. As of January 2021, the number of participants is of 400 per year, until the program reaches its cap of 1,500 successful applications.

 Residence requirements

During the first year, Malta requires applicants to spend 183 days in the country to develop a genuine connection. There is no such requirement for Cyprus.

Still unsure about whether to pick Malta or Cyprus’s passport-by-investment programs? Take a look at our Malta vs Cyprus citizenship comparison guide.

Best Caribbean citizenship by investment programs

Looking for a new lifestyle or simply a second home? Caribbean citizenship programs are extremely popular due to offering the quickest, cheapest, and most straightforward way to obtaining a second passport. While there are many Caribbean citizenship by investment programs, here are some of the most popular Caribbean programs that you should be aware of.

Dominica citizenship by investment

By far, the Caribbean island of Dominica offers the cheapest and fastest way to get a passport by investment. Starting from $100,000,  you and your immediate family can obtain passports in four short months. Dominica’s passport ranking is 37th in the world, due to the passport offering visa-free travel to over 130 destinations, including Europe’s Schengen Area.

Antigua and Barbuda citizenship by investment

The Antigua and Barbuda citizenship program offers a second passport to qualifying investors for this Caribbean island. There are three investment options to choose from, including paying a minimum of $200,000 into the National Development Fund, buying property, or investing in a business.

As with other Caribbean passport-by-investment programs, both processing and due diligence fees apply to any type of investment. What makes Antigua and Barbuda an attractive option is that it’s ranked as the safest country in the Caribbean for relocation. Also, it’s made up of 365 islands, with crystal clear blue waters, stunning scenery, and a relaxed pace of life. As a haven for sail-boating and scuba diving, Antigua and Barbuda remains a popular citizenship by investment option.

Saint Lucia citizenship by investment

As a tropical Eastern Caribbean Island with a high earning population, good safety records, and a variety of landscapes to soak in, Saint Lucia has everything, including a competitive citizenship by investment program. The application process is straightforward and quick, with the overall process of citizenship taking four months.

The requirements of this Caribbean island include a due diligence check and a clean health record, along with donating to one of the following investment paths: St Lucia National Economic Fund, government bonds, real estate projects, or investment in enterprises.

Citizenship by investment vs residency by investment

There are two different investment routes to citizenship, which usually varies depending on the country of choice.

You can get European residency in a country that can eventually lead to European citizenship. You can do this through an initiative called residency-by-investment, also popularly referred to as the Golden Visa Program. The Golden Visa gives you the option to obtain a higher-ranking second passport, but usually at a bigger cost. You often receive the passport in five years or more.

Golden Visas are not the same as citizenship by investment. It is a residency program that can eventually lead to citizenship through naturalization, provided that you fulfill the Golden Visa investor requirements first.

Best citizenship by investment comparison: why invest in a second passport?

There are a number of different reasons why you should invest in a second passport:

  • As security against political and economic instability
  • Increase your business options
  • To protect your assets against excessive taxation
  • Reduce your fiscal obligations
  • Visa-free travel to more countries around the world
  • Residency in the country for you and your familiy

The benefits of a second passport through citizenship by investment

There are a number of benefits in obtaining a second passport through a “Golden Visa” or citizenship by investment program, some of which are:

  1. Live in a European country without a visa
  2. Travel freely to more countries
  3. Access to national services
  4. Access to education
  5. Investor tax benefits
  6. Entitlement to a pension
  7. Enhanced business opportunities
  8. Better quality of life
  9. Your family members also have the right to citizenship

How to choose the best citizenship by investment program

Your choice of citizenship by investment program will depend entirely on your circumstances and requirements, however, there are some investment programs that are more popular than others. We’ve compiled a comparison of some of the most successful programs for you to compare.

Citizenship by investment comparison table 2021: most popular programs

CountryMinimum investmentType of investmentStay requirementTime until citizenshipEase of process
🇦🇬 Antigua and Barbuda$132,850Transfer of funds5 days per year7 monthsEasy
🇨🇾 Cyprus€2,000,000Real estate and other optionsn/a9 monthsMedium
Curacao$280,000Real estate, business, or securitiesn/a5 yearsMedium
🇩🇲 Dominica$262,550Real estate and other optionsn/a6 monthsMedium
🇰🇳 St. Kitts & Nevis$150,000Real estate or government donationNoneFast track option 2 monthsEasy
🇬🇩 Grenada$150,000Real estate or government donationNone3 monthsEasy
🇱🇨 St. Lucia$100,000Real estate & other optionsNone4 monthsMedium
🇲🇹 Malta€1,460,000 0r  €690,000Investment and donationsn/a12 or 36 monthsEasy
Turkey$250,000Real estate, bonds, bank deposit, capital investment, business investmentn/a4 monthsEasy

Factors that can influence your decision are whether you intend to relocate or not, equally the type of investment you intend to make is important, and can require a thorough examination of potential returns.

Golden Visa Europe comparison

Spain vs Portugal Golden Visa

By far, Spain’s Golden Visa and Portugal’s Golden Visa program offer the best advantages for non-European nationals looking to invest and acquire European residency.

With golden beaches, enticing foods, and excellent weather, both Spain and Portugal offer safe and stable lifestyles in the heart of Europe and straightforward ways to obtain temporary residence permits. However, key differences between the two programs exist and it’s important to know what these differences are.

The main benefit of the Portuguese Golden Visa program in comparison to the Spanish one is that investments can be made for a lower investment amount, starting from €280,000.  Investors in the Portugal Golden Visa can also obtain a European passport in just 5 years, whereas investors in the Spanish Golden Visa must wait 10 years.

Another key difference is that the Spanish Golden Visa has no “stay requirement” (number of days required to spend in the country) to maintain residence whereas the Portuguese Golden Visa requires that applicants spend 7 days per year in the country for 5 years.

Portugal Golden Visa: the ideal choice for those looking to relocate to Europe

Portugal’s Golden Visa program (officially known as the “ARI” Autorização de Residência para Atividade de Investimento) is one of the most popular citizenship by investment programs in Europe. This is largely due to the high standard of living, stable economy and government, as well as the potential for high returns on investments.

Benefits of the Portugal Golden Visa program:

  • Freedom of movement across 26 European countries
  • You can apply for a Portuguese passport after 5 years
  • You can also obtain residence permits for your family with a single investment
  • You only need to spend 7 days there per year to maintain residency
  • You can also take advantage of the non-habitual tax regime (which can entail substantial tax reductions or even total exemption over a ten-year period)
  • There is a range of different investment options available, many of which are relatively inexpensive and can result in high returns.

Greece vs Portugal Golden Visa

The Golden Visa Greece Program has rivaled Portugal in recent years in terms of the most popular citizenship by investment programs in Europe. This is largely due to the two programs being similarly priced and having similar requirements. There are however some key differences between the two.

The Portuguese real estate market has grown at a stable rate over the past few years, while the Greek real estate market is still experiencing a period of stagnation which began with the global financial crisis. Real estate markets are a very popular route for citizenship by investment. 

The Greek program also requires that applicants spend 183 days per year in Greece, for 7 years in order to get a European passport. The Portuguese program only requires applicants to spend 7 days per year in the country, and investors can obtain a European passport after just 5 years.

Portuguese real estate investment outlook

Portuguese real estate prices are projected to continue growing in the coming years, therefore presenting a much more stable and secure investment than purchasing Greek real estate. The Portuguese economy has also been bolstered by a surge in tourism and shored up by an increase in tech companies and startups in Lisbon.

Global Citizen Solutions is here to help you

Global Citizen Solutions is a boutique consultancy firm with years of experience delivering bespoke residence and citizenship-by-investment solutions for international families. With offices worldwide and an experienced, hands-on team, we have helped hundreds of clients from around the world acquire residence permits or homes while diversifying their portfolio with robust investments.

We guide you from start to finish, taking you beyond your citizenship or residency by investment application.

Frequently asked questions about citizenship by investment comparison

Which is the best country for citizenship by investment?

The best country for citizenship by investment depends entirely on your circumstances and your family circumstances. It can help to get in touch with a specialist to discuss your requirements and the options available to you.

How long does it take to get citizenship by investment?

It depends on which program you choose. Some of the fastest programs are in countries such as Cyprus and Barbuda, which take less than a year.

Which programs offer the highest returns for investment?

Real estate investments in countries such as Portugal and Greece have offered high returns in the past, particularly on rental properties in popular vacation spots.

What is citizenship by investment?

Citizenship by investment is a process by which an individual obtains a second passport and second citizenship through investment in the economy of the country. Depending on the country, there are usually specific requirements for the investment you can make, and different benefits associated with the passport you acquire. Family can also benefit from the program, as alongside the investor, family is also included in the application in many cases.

Which countries offer citizenship by investment?

Some countries which offer the opportunity to obtain citizenship by investment are Portugal, Greece, Malta, Spain, St Kitts and Nevis, Cyprus, and Grenada. Countries such as Domina, St Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, and Saint Lucia offer very fast citizenship by investment (CBI) programs to obtaining a second passport. Take St Kitts and Nevis as an example. After six months you can secure a passport from St Kitts and Nevis. So, if you are looking to have a quick route to second citizenship, St Kitts and Nevis, or other quick-processing programs may be suited to you.

Note that while some countries do not have citizenship by investment programs, they may offer alternative investment routes to live in the country. Take the United States EB5 and E2 programs. Here, you can ultimately gain United States citizenship by naturalization. 

You can see more about the United States EB5 Visa here

You can see more about the United States E2 program here

The United Kingdom also offers a pathway to citizenship by investment, which you can learn more about here. In essence, the United Kingdom offers its own version of a “United Kingdom Golden Visa” inviting high net worth investors the right to obtain residence in the United Kingdom, with eventual citizenship possible, in exchange for an investment into the country’s economic prosperity.  

Another example is Hong Kong, which, although it does not have a citizenship by investment (CBI) program, there are various routes to residency for entrepreneurs, professionals, and talent. This is worth bearing in mind if you have a particular country in mind.

What are the requirements for citizenship by investment?

It is usually required that you do not hold a criminal record and that your funds are acquired from a legal source. Some programs also request medical exams and language proficiency tests.

Do you need to relocate to get citizenship by investment?

No, in many cases you do not have to relocate in order to obtain citizenship by investment. In some cases, you have to spend a short time in the country each year in order to maintain residency but the residency requirement will be different for each program. Regardless, you and your family may need to travel to the country to supply biometrics (note that family members under a certain age may be exempt).