The difference between permanent residency and citizenship is a crucial aspect of global migration and identity. Permanent residents, often known as “green card” holders in some countries, have many of the rights and privileges of citizens, but they remain citizens of another country. On the other hand, citizens represent full integration into a country’s framework.

By exploring these differences, we gain insight into legal distinctions and the essence of what it means to belong to a community, society, and nation.

Permanent Resident vs. Citizen: What's the Difference?

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Residency refers to the permission granted to a foreign national to live in a country for a specific period. It may allow for work, study, and access to benefits, but does not grant full political rights. Residency can be temporary or permanent, depending on the immigration laws of the country. A residence permit, also known as a residency visa or residence visa, is an official document issued by a country’s government that allows a foreign national to legally reside within that country for a specific period of time, subject to certain conditions.

Citizenship is a legal status that gives individuals full political rights and responsibilities within a country. It can be acquired by birth or through naturalization. Once someone becomes a citizen, they have the right to vote, run for office, access government benefits, and enjoy legal protection.

Residency vs Citizenship in the US

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Specifically related to the US, here’s a comparison of permanent residency vs citizenship and how they impact an individual’s privileges and obligations:

Voting rights and privileges: US citizens have specific privileges, like voting in elections, which permanent residents don’t have.

Passport Eligibility: US citizenship grants a passport, while US permanent residents keep the passport of their home country.

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.

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 Reunification: US permanent residents have the right to apply for residency for their family members.

Residency 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:

Residency period: 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 U.S.. 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 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.

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.

It would be a near-impossible task to break it down for each country. Therefore, we’ll look at the various distinctions from a US perspective.

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


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


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


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


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

While it is similar in many countries, the applications for residency and citizenship in the US are broken down as follows:

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.

US 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


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.


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.


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

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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 applicants within two to six months.

Residency by Investment Countries

lisbon best neighborhoodsResidency by investment programs offer affluent individuals the opportunity to obtain residency status in a host country by making substantial financial contributions. These contributions can take the form of real estate purchases, business investments, or contributions to government bonds or funds.

Popular among high-net-worth individuals seeking benefits like visa-free travel, tax advantages, and improved lifestyle options, these programs are available in various countries including Portugal, Spain, Greece, and the Caribbean islands.

Each country’s program has specific investment requirements, benefits, and residency conditions, often leading to permanent residency and potentially citizenship after fulfilling certain criteria over a period of time. Countries offering residency by investment programs aim to attract foreign capital and boost the local economy.



Minimum Investment


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.



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.



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.



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.



Portugal's Golden Visa program, established in 2012, offers non-EU investors a fast track to residency in exchange for significant economic contributions. By creating jobs or injecting capital into specific sectors, participants can secure residency permits for themselves and their families.



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.


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.



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.

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Citizenship by Investment Countries

Citizenship by investment programs allow individuals to obtain citizenship in a country through significant financial investments, such as real estate purchases or contributions to national funds. These programs are attractive for securing visa-free travel, enhancing business opportunities, and accessing better healthcare and education.

Countries like Malta, Cyprus, and several Caribbean nations offer these programs, each with unique benefits and investment thresholds. Applicants usually undergo stringent background checks and must comply with legal and residency requirements to qualify.



Minimum Investment

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.


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.


St Lucia

The St Lucia investment program offers citizenship in exchange for economic contributions made to the country.



Grenada is the only Caribbean country offering investors the opportunity to establish residency in the USA through the US E2 Non-immigrant Visa.



With the Vanuatu citizenship program, you’ll access the fastest citizenship available of all CBI programs, granting passports within 60 days.



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



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.



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.


Residence versus Citizenship: Which is the better option?

When comparing citizenship and residency by route of investment, it’s not exactly fair to assume that one option is ‘better’ than the other, because their advantages depend on many contributing factors, including individual circumstances.

Consider different factors

When considering which option suits you best, you need to take into account factors such as family reunification, personal interests, terms of the countries involved, your worldwide income, tax benefits, the lifestyle provided, business enterprise opportunities, and so on.

Residency permits may expire

Residency by investment differs from citizenship by investment, as the former refers explicitly to a person’s visa status. RBI is issued for a particular period, after which it stops being valid or expires unless renewed.

Carry a second passport

Being a legally recognized citizen allows you to carry the passport of that respective country, which is ultimately a massive benefit for those who require constant international travel for leisure or business purposes.

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

What's the difference between residency and citizenship?

Permanent Residents and Citizens both have legal permission to live in a country, but they have significant differences in terms of rights, privileges, and obligations. Permanent Resident status allows for long-term residency but does not provide all the benefits and responsibilities associated with citizenship.

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?

When deciding between permanent residency and citizenship, consider 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?

In the United States, a Green Card is 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.

Why do people invest in permanent residency?

Investing in permanent residency offers numerous benefits, including the ability to live, work, and study in the country of your choice, increased mobility, and financial and personal freedoms. In most cases, your immediate relatives also qualify.

Who is eligible to apply for a residency program?

Eligibility requirements vary by country but typically include a clean criminal record, adequate health insurance, legal source of funds, minimum qualifying investment, foreign nationality, and passing biometric and regulatory checks.

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