The easiest way to get the citizenship of a country is to be born within its borders. Other than that, attaining one is usually a long and cumbersome process. For example, in order to become a U.S. citizen you must first acquire a permanent resident green card (which is a process and a half in itself), then remain in the country for 3-5 years, meet a number of eligibility requirements, and finally go through a rigorous 10-step naturalization process.
Of course, there are always other countries, and some of them are significantly less strict about the process. In fact, there are many countries that are happy to throw a passport (or at the very least a permanent stay visa) as long as you are willing to throw some money at them. Let’s take a look at these strange countries, such as …
10. The UK
Wait, what? The United Kingdom? Great Britain?
Yes, indeed. It’s entirely possible to become a naturalized UK citizen with little to no effort, as long as your pockets are deep enough. The process starts with a Tier 1 Investor Visa, which you can get in as little as 10 weeks, provided you have enough money at your disposal. The sole requirement for this type of visa is that you’re willing to spend £2,000,000 ($2,549,800) of your or your spouse’s money on British corporate bonds, share capital or loan capital in active and trading UK-registered companies. In fact, applicants don’t even necessarily need their own money for this: Even students can apply for a Tier 1 visa, provided they have financial sponsorship and are already in the country with a lover tier visa.
While the Tier 1 visa is not exactly a citizenship and comes with a few technical limitations — for instance, you can’t directly invest in companies working in property business — it’s a virtually guaranteed road to the Golden Ticket of British visas, the ILR (indefinite leave to remain) visa, which in turn is the last stretch on the road to actual citizenship. To be fair, it still takes a few years to complete the full process, but throwing a few million in the system will considerably smooth things out and pretty much allow you to kick back and relax until the Life in the UK test is due.
Oh, Canada. You, too? Canada is just as eager as the UK to let you throw money in the system, but the process is a little different. Canadian officials are a little bit stricter about handing out full citizenships, what with their American neighbors’ history of crashing their immigration website with too many searches of “how to get Canadian citizenship”, but that doesn’t mean the axles of the machinery can’t be greased by sufficiently deep pockets. Business is the name of the game here, as the Canadian investor visa allows you to live and work in the country as you wait for the wheels of the citizenship machine turn … provided you meet a few minor financial and entrepreneurship requirements that require you to gain the support of local angel investors or venture capitalists to the tune of them financing your Canadian business shenanigans with up to $150,000.
While such an investment might seem unattainable to those of us whose best business idea is “a lemonade stand, but instead of lemonade it’s lukewarm chowder”, there’s another way to gain that sweet, sweet citizenship and access to free healthcare. Immigrant investor programs allow a wealthy wannabe Canadian who passes the country’s security, medical and linguistic criteria to score a citizenship with cold, hard business acumen and cash: By having sufficient (2-5 year) experience in successful business, a personal net worth of at least $1.5 million, and the willingness to invest $910,000 in the Canadian economy over the next few years.
European passports are extremely desirable in the global community, especially if they’re from countries that are members of the European Union and its comparatively free travel arrangements from member country to another. In 2018, investigators discovered that Bulgarian officials had happily abused this market by setting up a black market ring that sold technically official (if more than a little dodgy, since they were based on fake birth certificates) Bulgarian citizenships at $5,700 a pop.
While this particular enterprise by the employees of the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad has recently been shut down, the country is still considered a pretty safe bet if you want to buy a citizenship. The prices have gone dramatically up, though: In order to but a Bulgarian citizenship through legal routes, be prepared to invest around $600,000 in the country, or double that if you want to fast-track the passport process.
7. Spain’s “Golden Visa” program
The Spanish Golden Visa lets the applicants know by its very name that it’s not here to play, but to do business. It can be attained by meeting the usual “don’t be a complete monster” visa requirements and throwing a cool $570,000 in the country’s real estate, and it both gives you a residency permit and goes a long way toward running its holder through the (recently much simplified) hoops of scoring a permanent residency and a Spanish citizenship.
Though full citizenship can still take around ten years to attain, the Golden Visa still allows for an essentially guaranteed long-term residency in a major EU country, and that makes the deal sweet enough that 2018 saw a record number of applicants. In fact, their numbers have been growing since the system was introduced in 2013. Critics of the Golden Visa and its insufficient safeguard systems have pointed out that it leaves the doors of the countries that allow the practice uncomfortably open for money launderers and other unsavory elements. Still, the fact that the Golden Visa is making a lot of money for Spain makes it unlikely to go away in a hurry.
Some of the countries on this list will make you wait and jump at least some hurdles before slapping a passport in your hand. Austria, however, isn’t one for unnecessary pretense. For wannabe Austrians who are unwilling to wait for the ten years you need to continually live in the country to attain its citizenship the ordinary way, the country will happily sell a citizenship through its “Citizenship by investment” system … if the price is right.
Technically, there is no set price for a citizenship attained this way, but it’s generally agreed that a suitable figure is an investment of around $2,28 million. Even those who can afford that kind of money might want to keep in mind that this is not something that they will get back. Although the investment is tax deductible under Austrian laws, the country’s government makes it clear they view it as a donation rather than something you expect to make profit off of. But hey, at least that donation shortens the citizenship processing time to just … 12-18 months. Wow, you’d think that over two million greenbacks would be enough to buy a rubber stamp that’s faster to operate, wouldn’t you?
The small country of Malta is located between Africa and Sicily, and a member of the European Union. This makes it prime real estate for people looking to get a foothold in Europe, so when the country started selling citizenships in 2014, thousands of people jumped at the chance. The price tag (a cool $1 million, which rises with every additional family member and comes with some obligatory property purchase and/or renting requirements) means that it’s not exactly a poor man’s purchase, but those who can afford to become Maltese have virtually unlimited access to almost the entire Europe.
Oddly, a BBC report says that a lot of this is actually less suspicions than you might initially assume. Many of the people buying citizenships are genuinely escaping their countries’ political tumult or personal troubles, or merely looking to offer opportunities for their children.
The tiny Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus started its citizenship-selling investment program, which its critics call the “Citizenship for Sale Program”, in 2013. At the time, the country’s economy was in serious trouble. Recession and creditors made the country’s future prospects look pretty gloomy, but the Visa scheme proved to be a massive success that helped break the recession’s back.
The hefty price tag of their Golden Visa — originally an investment of $2.9 million in the country’s economy, but later changed to $2.3 million — also revitalized the real estate sector, as most people with the money and will to go for a Cypriot citizenship spent their investment money in huge, expensive residences on the beautiful island. Unfortunately, the program has also been heavily criticized for the way various intermediaries market the citizenships as the gateway to the European Union, which has ruffled more than a few feathers in other countries. The sustainability of this kind of development has also been called into question.
Cyprus has recently given in to the criticism by starting to modify the frenzied “come buy yourself an access to Europe” aspects of the program into something more manageable.
Being a relatively tiny Caribbean island nation, Grenada doesn’t have EU privileges or the benefits of a huge country to offer potential citizens with deep pockets. This makes its passport one of the more affordable ones on this list, while still allowing visa-free travel to over 143 countries and access to the USA E2 treaty investor visa, should the applicant so require.
Applying for Grenada’s spin on the Citizenship by Investment program involves either investing $200,000 as a donation (similar to Austria) or putting up to $350,000 in government-approved real estate projects (though they’re willing to settle for $220,000 if you have good enough connections). You’re also required to maintain the property investment in the country for at least five years.
2. Antigua and Barbuda
The West Indies commonwealth country of Antigua and Barbuda is similar to Grenada in its size and island status, so it makes sense that the latter has also launched its own citizenship for sale system. The program started in 2013, and is advertised as the best Caribbean passport program.
A lifetime citizenship in Antigua and Barbuda is a (relatively) affordable affair that requires either a $100,000 “donation” or a $400,000 real estate investment. One of its biggest selling points is the fairly fast processing time: You can get your passport within 3-4 months, and once it expires after five years, you can easily renew it at the cost of $350.
Dominica, which is yet another small island commonwealth in the West Indies, has been offering citizenships with fairly reckless abandon since 1993. Their passport has a fairly strong international reputation, and they don’t even require you to physically visit — let alone live — in the country to get your citizenship. Apart from that, the program has absolutely no language, business experience or education requirements, and you’re not even interviewed unless you absolutely want to. They even claim to have no age restrictions, though they do later specify that applicants need to be over 18 years old.
Even if your travels actually take you to the country, it’s far from a criminally poor backwood — in fact, Dominica claims to have one of the highest standards of living and the lowest crime rate in the entire region, not to mention solid economic security … which is no doubt at least partially supported by all those citizenships that they sell, starting at “only” $100,000.