It is essential to know the various immigration options and the differences between a US permanent resident vs citizen when one chooses to immigrate to a foreign country. Read our guide to learn more about the difference between a citizen vs permanent resident and how residency vs citizenship by investment programs for Americans stack up against each other.

Resident versus Citizen

difference between us citizenship and residency

US permanent resident status is the final step before Citizenship. It allows individuals to reside in the US permanently but not with the same extent of rights as US citizens. Here’s a comparison of permanent residency vs citizenship and how they impact an individual’s privileges and obligations.

Voting rights: US citizens have specific privileges like voting in elections, which permanent residents don’t have. Political participation is a fundamental aspect of US citizenship, enabling citizens to shape US policies and directly influence the direction of the US economically and socially.

Passport Eligibility: US citizenship grants a US passport, while US permanent residents keep the passport of their home country. US citizens can access all US passport visa-free countries and receive consular assistance overseas.

Deportation Security: US citizens cannot be deported and have the right to reside in the US without the risk of removal. However, lawful permanent residents are subject to specific conditions and may face deportation if they violate immigration laws or commit certain crimes.

Economic Benefits: Americans have access to a wider range of job opportunities and training programs as citizens. Non-citizens may face restrictions on certain jobs, education, and property ownership in some countries.

Family Members: US permanent residents have the right to apply for residency for their family members. Many countries allow citizens to file a petition for eligible family members to gain citizenship. The children of citizens in most countries can obtain citizenship by descent directly.

Requirements

A valid Green Card is ongoing and does not have a set expiration date. However, an essential distinction between US PR and citizenship is legal permanent residents are subject to certain conditions to maintain lawful permanent resident status. In the United States and many countries, the criteria for permanent residence includes:

Maintaining a specified period of residency: In the United States, for example, holders of Green Cards are considered lawful permanent residents (LPR); however, they are restricted to stays of no more than a year outside the United States. Stays can be extended to two years, but they must obtain a re-entry permit before departing the US. Should Green Card holders violate their stay requirement, they may be stripped of their permanent residency status.

Furthermore, an individual with Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK or a US Green Card holder must prove to immigration authorities why they should be allowed to retain their lawful permanent resident status before spending a period outside the country beyond what is permitted with their permanent residency status.

In contrast, US citizens are not restricted on the time they can spend outside the United States; neither is their citizenship status affected by permanent living in a foreign country.

Obtaining a re-entry permit: In certain nations, an extended stay overseas necessitates a re-entry permit, while in others, permanent residents are obligated to secure re-entry permits for any duration spent abroad. Singaporean permanent residents are required to hold valid re-entry permits before leaving the country for any reason, and failure to do so results in an automatic loss of their lawful permanent resident status.

Point of Distinction

US Citizenship

US Permanent Resident Permit

Ability to apply for a Passport

You can apply for a US passport

US permanent residents do not have the right to apply for a US passport

Mobility

The benefit of traveling US passport visa free countries

Disadvantage of not having travel access available to Americans

Working and studying abroad

Enhanced options of choosing from various US institutions and organizations

US permanent residents have more limited prospects of working and studying in the United States

Protection

The right to US consular assistance overseas

No assistance from the US government when traveling abroad

Voting rights

US citizens have the right to vote in federal and local electrions

Green Card holders do comprehensive voting rights

Residency

US citizens maintain citizen status regardless of time spent abroad

US permanent residents are limited in the time they can spend abroad and require a re-entry permit, depending on how long they spend overseas

Ownership

Citizens can own any type of property or commodity

Residents may be restricted in the types of property they own or may be limited to ownership in specific areas

Applications for Residency and Citizenship

Permanent residency application:

  • Generally, it requires three years of residency, which is less than the five years required for citizenship.
  • Documentation includes proof of identity, background checks, and evidence of financial stability.
  • Applicants retain their original citizenship, so there is no requirement to take an oath of allegiance to the United States.
  • Processing times are usually shorter than US citizenship applications and are normally processed within a year, depending on the applicant’s nationality.

Citizenship application:

  • It involves meeting stringent eligibility criteria, including a three-year residency period after obtaining permanent resident status.
  • Requires submission of detailed documentation, including proof of identity and criminal record certificates, and proof of continuous residence.
  • Involves an interview and citizenship test to prove knowledge of the US history and customs and proficiency in one of its official languages.
  • Processing times take at least 18 to 24 months.

Residency by Investment vs Citizenship by Investment

Residency by Investment Program

Citizenship by Investment Program

Description

Through a residency by investment (RBI) program, foreign investors are granted the right to reside in the host country, usually temporarily or permanently.

Citizenship by investment (CBI) programs allow foreign investors to obtain citizenship in the host country and access the same rights as natural-born citizens.

Financial Commitment

The expense of applying for residence by investment varies considerably based on the country and region providing the program. Nevertheless, the financial commitment is typically lower, but so are the benefits associated with it.

CBI programs often involve a more substantial financial commitment than RBI programs, but they offer the advantage of obtaining full citizenship, including the right to vote and hold a passport of the host country.

Travel Privileges

Residency by investment does not come with travel privileges beyond unrestricted access to the host nation and, in some cases, its territories or other countries forming part of a regional coalition.

Citizenship by investment grants a new passport, offering new passport holders unrestricted access to their country of citizenship and other nations to which citizens enjoy visa-free access.

Limitations

There are often limitations on the duration residency permit holders can stay abroad while maintaining their residency. Additionally, they might be obliged to obtain a re-entry permit for returning after traveling outside the country.

Citizenship status does not change regardless of where the citizen goes or how much time they spend outside the country.

Duration

Residency by investment typically grants temporary residence in a country; although some residency programs offer permanent residency, it likely requires maintaining the initial investment.

Citizenship is a permanent status that stays with the holder for life and can be inherited by future generations.

Processing Times

processing time government jobs social security card permanent resident card travel freely several years other benefits income tax returns selective service offer citizenship married children permanent resident card federal and local elections certain government jobs permanent residence permit legal permanent resident immediate relatives state government grants reentry permit prior only a limited number valid green card same benefits certain crimes considered preference relatives permanent home right to vote limited number over a year removal proceedings preference relatives unexpired passport committed fraud unmarried children under age good moral character false claims state department hold citizenship green cards certain relatives spouse and unmarried children

Inviting a US citizen to contribute to your society and inviting them to become a lasting representative of your society are two vastly distinct concepts. Therefore, applying for citizenship involves a significantly more comprehensive application process and rigorous due diligence than residency.

Some countries establish specialized immigration authorities to handle residency by investment applications, leading to the issuance of residence permits within just a few weeks of an application’s submission.

In contrast, citizenship by investment applications may undergo multiple levels of government scrutiny for approval, necessitating additional documentation and steps as part of the due diligence process. Nonetheless, numerous CBI countries, particularly those in the Caribbean, have streamlined their citizenship by investment application process, granting citizenship to US citizens within two to six months.

What to Consider

Before deciding between citizenship and residency programs, it is essential to consider various factors carefully to determine the most suitable option.

Assess your long-term goals and intentions: Residency offers the opportunity to live and work in the country, while citizenship grants full rights and privileges, including the right to vote and hold a passport, without requiring the visa to be renewed regularly.

Evaluate the level of commitment required: Residency may have less stringent requirements, whereas citizenship often involves more comprehensive due diligence and longer processing times.

Take into account residency requirements: Depending on the country, a permanent residency permit can be voided if the holder remains outside the country for a prolonged period. For example, Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK can be revoked if you remain outside the country for more than two years. Residency requirements do not apply to citizenship.

Consider the financial investment and benefits: Residency by investment may necessitate a lower initial investment, while citizenship programs generally require a higher financial commitment. Additionally, the ability to travel visa free to other countries should be considered, as citizenship naturally facilitates expanded mobility through a second passport.

Residency by Investment Countries

Foreign citizens seeking residency in a second country can be granted residency by investment.

Some immigrant visas mentioned below are not directly associated with citizenship, but you can apply for citizenship once you have met the required eligibility criteria for naturalization.

Italy

The Italy Golden Visa is a renowned European residency by investment scheme due to its wide array of investment options and reasonable investments that suit investors. With the Italy Golden Visa, you are entitled to all the benefits of residence in the European Union.

Minimum investment amount: €250,000

Greece

The Greece Golden Visa is popular among investors for numerous reasons, from the mesmerizing beaches and tranquil coastline to delicious Mediterranean cuisine and profound Greek history. The region offers you flexible and lucrative investment options along with European residency.

Minimum investment amount: €250,000

Cyprus

The Cyprus Investor Immigration Permit is aimed to bring you various perks in addition to the country’s scenic beauty and high quality of life. Investing in Cyprus gives you the right to become a Cypriot permanent resident.

Minimum investment amount: €300,000

Malta

Malta’s Permanent Residence Program (MPRP) is a popular residency by investment program for its investment opportunities in addition to obtaining residence in a sought-after EU country. If you can make qualifying investments through a combination of real estate, non-refundable charitable donations, and government contributions, you can get permanent residence and more in return.

Minimum investment amount: €300,000 (or €16,000 annually for a five-year lease) plus a financial contribution

Additionally, the Malta Citizenship by Naturalization for Exceptional Services by Direct Investment program (CES) allows foreign nationals to qualify for Maltese citizenship by naturalization within 12 to 36 months.

Portugal

Since its introduction in 2012, the Portugal Golden Visa has emerged as the preferred choice for numerous foreigners seeking investment opportunities and residency in the European Union. The nation offers one of the cheapest costs of living in Western Europe and a low qualifying investment for eligible real estate investment. Investors can qualify for Portugal’s Golden Visa through a €250,000 investment in cultural projects.

Minimum investment amount: €250,000

It should be highlighted that the Portugal Golden Visa is currently under review, and there are talks about potential changes, including the exclusion of real estate as an investment option.

Spain

The Spain Golden Visa program is one of the most popular programs in Europe. With excellent investment opportunities, the residency program in Spain attracts many investors and expats.

Minimum investment amount: €500,000

United States

The United States EB-5 Visa Program is a preferred option among foreign entrepreneurs to obtain a Green Card and permanent residency status in the US. After fulfilling the program’s criteria and maintaining the Green Card for two years, an investor can apply to become a lawful permanent resident of the US.

Minimum investment amount: €800,000

Canada

The Canada Startup Visa is an innovative immigration program providing lawful permanent resident status to talented entrepreneurs who establish innovative and successful startups in Canada. To be eligible for permanent residence, entrepreneurs must have a qualifying business idea that a designated Canadian venture capital fund, angel investor group, or business incubator support.

Minimum investment amount: Requires endorsement and funding from a designated organization

Citizenship by Investment Countries

Antigua and Barbuda

The Antigua and Barbuda citizenship by investment program provides an opportunity to obtain dual citizenship after investing in the country’s economy.

Minimum investment amount: $100,000

St Kitts and Nevis

The St Kitts and Nevis citizenship by investment program allows investors to obtain citizenship and a second passport through foreign direct investment.

Minimum investment amount: $250,000

St Lucia

The St Lucia investment program offers citizenship in exchange for economic contributions made to the country. Contributions start from just $100,000.

Minimum investment amount: $100,000

Grenada

Enjoy a picturesque lifestyle and scenic views in Grenada, where you can also gain a passport and travel visa-free to 147 countries after successfully applying for the Grenada citizenship by investment program. Grenada is the only Caribbean country offering investors the opportunity to establish residency in the USA through the US E2 Non-immigrant Visa.

Minimum investment amount: $150,000

Vanuatu

With the Vanuatu citizenship program, you’ll access the fastest citizenship available of all CBI programs, granting passports within 60 days. You can enjoy visa-free and visa-on-arrival travel to 112 destinations by contributing to the Vanuatu local fund.

Minimum investment amount: $130,000

Dominica

Dominican citizenship can be easily acquired by contributing to economic growth in the country. Investment options include government-approved real estate.

Minimum investment amount: $100,000

To learn more about Caribbean citizenship investment programs, check out our Caribbean Citizenship by Investment Comparison Guide. [CTA]

Turkey

The Turkish government will grant citizenship to foreign investors who can fulfill one of several lucrative investment options, including a real estate purchase, a bank deposit, a contribution to government bonds, or creating jobs for Turkish residents.

Minimum investment amount: $400,000

Malta

Malta is the best EU country to obtain economic citizenship. Investors of the Malta Citizenship by Naturalization for Exceptional Services by Direct Investment program (CES) can gain Maltese citizenship by naturalization within 12 to 36 months and acquire a Maltese passport, providing visa-free travel and freedom of movement to other Schengen countries.

Minimum investment amount:€690,000

How Can Global Citizen Solutions Help You?

Global Citizen Solutions is a boutique migration 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 worldwide acquire citizenship, residence visas, or homes while diversifying their portfolios 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 vs Residency

Does residency or citizenship come first?

Foreign nationals must obtain a residence permit to move to a new country. After an extended period and following the rules, they can apply for permanent residence and citizenship status by fulfilling eligibility requirements, such as a minimum period of residence, language proficiency, and good moral character.

What is a non-resident citizen?

A non-resident citizen in the United States refers to an American citizen who resides outside the territorial boundaries of the United States.

Is permanent residency better than citizenship?

Choosing between permanent residency and citizenship depends on personal circumstances, goals, and preferences. Permanent residency offers limited rights, so it’s important to consider factors like long-term plans, mobility, desired privileges, and commitment to a country.

Does permanent residency mean citizenship?

Permanent residency in the US is the last status before an individual obtains US citizenship. In many countries, such as Italy and Spain, you must also obtain a permanent residency card before you’re eligible to acquire citizenship.

Are you a US citizen if you're a resident?

US residency and citizenship have different legal statuses. Residency permits living in the US temporarily, while citizenship grants full membership with all its rights, privileges and responsibilities.

Can residency be revoked?

Immigrant visas can be revoked for several reasons such as non-compliance with the minimum period of being physically present in the country, violation of immigration laws, fraud, misrepresentation, and criminal activity.

Do all permanent residents have a Green Card?

Many foreign citizens attempt to decipher the debate between a holder of a Green Card vs a permanent resident. In the United States, a Green Card is, in fact, a permanent residence card granted to foreign nationals, serving as proof of their right to live, work, and establish the US as their permanent home.

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