Paths to Citizenship and Residency Abroad for High-Net-Worth Investors

Paths to Citizenship and Residency Abroad for High-Net-Worth Investors
  • 5 minutes
  • Feb 16, 2021

A residency by investment program from a given nation grants investors residency rights and freedom of movement to countries that accept that nation’s passport. An applicant that gets approved for residency in the Malta or Portugal permanent residency programs can move freely across 26 countries with minimal residency restrictions.

In addition to residency programs, there are investor programs that offer full citizenship. The first citizenship by investment program was first introduced by St. Kitts and Nevis in 1984. Now, in 2020, even some countries in the EU (e.g., Malta) have developed their own programs. Other Caribbean countries were not to be left behind, and Vanuatu and Saint Lucia have joined what is estimated to be a $5 billion industry.

A Golden Visa program refers to a program allowing applicants to acquire permanent residency in a desirable country through the purchase of real estate or investments in government-approved business entities.

The most significant difference between citizenship and Golden Visa programs is that the first confers permanent citizenship, while the latter simply provides temporary or permanent residency. Nonetheless, both allow investors access to a wide range of destinations in exchange for investing in their economies. This freedom of movement is one of the key reasons for the increasing popularity of these programs.

Residence Criteria and Investment Thresholds

Investment thresholds and criteria vary widely among the countries that provide Golden Visa and residency programs. Some countries do not have strict requirements for residency, and one can acquire residency without having ever lived in the territory. Some, such as the Portugal Golden Visa program, requires just one visit annually for an applicant to qualify. 

Some countries, especially in the Caribbean, may require an investment as small as $100,000 into government-approved investments or funds. In other countries, applicants do not have to invest in a government-approved business and may open business ventures of their own. Some nations allow for eligibility via the purchase of property for personal use, and most countries provide simple investment routes, such as cash donations to a national development fund or the purchase of financial instruments such as bonds.

Overall, countries with Golden Visa and permanent residency programs use them to boost government revenues, boost investment into local economies, and attract high-net-worth persons hoping that they will set up business inside the country, pay taxes, and spend money. It benefits them, but it benefits applicants, as well—as you will see below.

The Biggest Beneficiaries of These Programs

Many investors and business owners who have taken advantage of such residency programs have been from the Middle East, Gulf Cooperation Countries, China, Russia, and South Korea. Many of these applicants see the programs as an opportunity to permanently or temporarily establish their families abroad in the Commonwealth Caribbean and Schengen Zone countries in Europe. For some of them, a second home provides an insurance policy in the face of economic and political uncertainty in their home countries. The programs also allow them to take advantage of the greater mobility offered by visa-free travel with European and Commonwealth Caribbean passports.

Benefits of Economic Residency and Citizenship

For high-net-worth persons, with proven competence in the society, living in regions with a lot of political, social, and economic uncertainty such as the Middle East and North Africa, China, Russia, or South Korea, a Golden Visa or permanent residency provides a lot of benefits. Some of these benefits include the following:

  1. Visa-Free Travel and Greater Freedom of Movement – Permanent residency in Malta or a Golden Visa in Greece or Portugal provide one with visa-free travel within the Schengen area. Nevertheless, a European or Commonwealth passport allows visa-free travel to more than 160 countries including Schengen countries, UK, Russia, Hong Kong and Singapore.
  2. Protection from Political Uncertainty – A residency through the United States’ EB-5 program or the Portugal Golden Visa gives one a backup option in case of political upheaval in applicants’ country of origin. They can always move to their destination country to live and work without restriction until the situation improves.
  3. Dual Citizenship – Permanent residency or citizenship in multiple countries frees one from being shackled to a single country. For instance, Maltese citizenship makes one a truly global citizen who can make investments in international markets without much restriction.
  4. Better Social Services – European countries have top-notch education, welfare, and health care programs that the applicant gets to enjoy by becoming a citizen. Depending on the nation, applicants might even be able to enjoy these perks simply by obtaining permanent residency.
  5. Ease of Doing Business – Business is that much easier with EU residency or citizenship in the Caribbean or EU, as it frees the businessperson from the political and geographic restrictions that may come along with their original passport. Business incentives in the EU Golden Visa countries and tax breaks in the Commonwealth Caribbean countries also make those programs very appealing.


European Golden Visa and residency as well as Caribbean Commonwealth programs have become immensely popular in recent decades due to the many advantages they provide. Ranging from the right to settle in Schengen countries and travel freely to the option of having an offshore account and the accrual of tax benefits, a one-time investment seems like a small price to pay for a potential lifetime of benefits.