Don’t Overlook This When Diversifying Overseas

Don’t Overlook This When Diversifying Overseas
Hungary is reopening its golden visa program. |©iStock/benedek

As I’ve written several times recently, the world of golden visas has been changing over the last 18 months or so. European countries are scaling back their programs, citing concerns about spiraling housing prices.

At the same time, however, other countries have stepped into the breach. New investment-based programs are popping up in other parts of the world, especially the Middle East and Southeast Asia. In Europe, Hungary is bucking the trend by reopening its own golden visa program despite warnings from the European Union.

Golden visas aren't the only way to move overseas, of course. In fact, there are far more visas available to people of independent means like retirees and digital nomads than golden visas.

But golden visas are attractive because in addition to residency, you get a valuable investment that can potentially earn a return. So as Europe phases out their offerings, should you be looking at alternatives elsewhere in the world?

Absolutely, yes: You should always look at as many options as possible. But as golden visas pop up in new places, it occurred to me that there's one aspect that's rarely considered in the mainstream migration press. It's something you should consider as you search for a second home abroad. I'm referring to the ethical aspect.

Let's face it: many countries who offer open arms to wealthy foreigners treat less-favored migrants—and even their own citizens—abominably. Sometimes that injustice is what enables the care-free lifestyle they offer to well-heeled foreigners.

Consider the Middle East. I'm not gonna name names… but it's no secret that some countries in that region depend on immigrant labor from South and East Asia to do all the manual work in their societies. By bringing in vulnerable foreigners who can be paid a pittance and tightly controlled, their governments can maintain a comfortable subsidized lifestyle for their own citizens and offer enticing attractions to potential foreign migrants.

Other countries that roll out the red carpet for potential immigrants tolerate and even encourage discrimination and oppression of minorities within their borders. Others criminalize and aggressively punish behavior considered fundamental human rights elsewhere.

As a seasoned global traveler—nearly 90 countries and counting—I've seen the impact of this sort of behavior first-hand. Back when I was working in the nonprofit sector, I’d visit squalid informal settlements on the fringes of glistening, rapidly modernizing citizens during the day, then attend fancy dinner parties with expats in the evening. I was always too polite to do so, but sometimes I felt like asking “Do you know where I've just been? Do you know what I've just seen?”

Now I'm not trying to make anybody feel bad. I don't judge. But from a purely practical perspective, I know that societies based on authoritarian government, economic exploitation, and repression inevitably end up in trouble. Sometimes a country that's got away with bad behavior for geopolitical reasons faces a crackdown when their support is no longer needed. Or the election results go the wrong way, and a populist government comes to power promising to kick out the foreigners. Or worse.

That's why I always advise people to consider carefully whether a potential second home is compatible with their own ethics… and even if so, to beware the potential consequences If things turn south.