When I was a kid, I had an abiding vision of the life I’d like to lead. It involved sailboats, sand, and palm trees…preferably cocos nucifera, a lovely pinnate-leaved palm common in the Windward Islands.
Yep, the Caribbean…that’s where I always thought I’d end up if I’d “had my ‘druthers’,”as they used to say on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. (I actually landed in South Africa, but that’s another story.)
The Caribbean islands hold a special fascination for many North Americans.
They’re beautiful. They’re relaxed and human-scale. Their people are tolerant and welcoming. And they’re close by.
And some of these charming islands offer something more to foreigners than sun, sand and sea…a passport for sale.
Indeed, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia and St.Kitts and Nevis will gladly make you a citizen for a financial contribution, or for an investment in real estate.
But why consider a second passport?
For one thing, it’s an excellent form of insurance. Although it’s hard for Westerners to imagine these days, 20th century European history provides numerous instances of restricted travel, immigration bans, and outright discrimination against holders of certain passports. Even today, citizens of many countries face daunting challenges to get a visa for the Schengen Area, or the United States. A second passport with visa-free access to such places obviates that problem.
Second, an extra passport means a second citizenship…and that means the right to live in another country, and to be protected by its government. Again, most people don’t see the need for legal protection, but it’s not hard to imagine situations where economic and political instability at home might make a second permanent home desirable.
Finally, a second passport reaffirms that you are you…a citizen of planet earth and not just someone who is forever limited by citizenship in one country. As someone who has a second passport (South Africa), I can tell you that’s a great feeling.
Despite these benefits, many people consider a second passport acquired by investment to be dodgy. After all, we’re raised to think of citizenship as a consequence of birth, or of a lengthy naturalization process. Anything less seems…wrong, somehow.
It isn’t. To understand why, consider why these little island nations do this.
Originally inhabited by native American communities, the Caribbean islands were quickly colonized by European powers after Columbus’ famous voyage. Most of them were chopped up into plantations—above all, for sugar. Slaves were brought over from Africa to work the cane fields.
When the global community finally decided that colonialism was a bad idea, most of the Caribbean islands opted for independence. To help them get on their feet, the European community gave these newly independent nations preferential access to the European market, allowing them to sustain their sugar industries.
Tourism soon began to grow alongside sugar exports as a source of income.
By the late 1970s, however, Europe had grown weary of doing special favors for the islands. (European sugar beet farmers had a lot to do with it.)
Unfortunately, their small size, isolated location and lack of local infrastructure made the islands’ sugar exports unprofitable without them. Lack of economic opportunity led to a significant exodus from the islands, particularly to the U.S. and U.K.
No economic base, declining population…but gorgeous, plenty of space, and ripe for tourism. What to do?
Starting in 1984 with St. Kitts and Nevis, the answer to that question was to offer citizenship to foreigners. The basic idea is the same for all the programs, and typically comes in two options:
1. By investment in real estate or an eligible business (preferably export-oriented). The most popular approach is for the government to solicit a developer to create a new residential development on the island, which is then marketed to prospective citizens. In some cases, it is possible to qualify by buying an existing home, but for the island governments, the combination of developer (taxes and jobs) and citizenship sales (income) is hard to beat.
2. By making a contribution to a national development fund or government bonds. This is usually less expensive than the investment option, but you don’t get any equity in a local development, and you’d have to buy a home if you wanted to live on the island.
What seems unsavory to some outsiders is really just simple economics.
The islands need money to survive. All they’ve got that’s competitive with the outside world is citizenship. So that’s what they sell.
Inevitably, there have been some problems with these programs. Some people have bribed their way past careful vetting, and unscrupulous local politicians have been accused of dipping into
the “national development funds” for unapproved purposes.
But with so much at stake, the islands always nip these problems in the bud very quickly. That’s because a passport from one of these islands—all of which are ex-British colonies—allows visa-free access to the Schengen Area. For some folks from problematic countries, that’s worth a lot. It adds enormous value to an island passport. So protecting Schengen access by remaining above board is the number one priority of every Caribbean government in the economic citizenship business. The same applies to travel to the U.S. and U.K.
Sadly, the hurricanes that ripped through the islands in late 2017 did enormous damage to some of the islands.
Those in the northern reaches of the lesser Antilles were especially hard-hit. To raise extra income to cope with this, three of the programs are offering short-term discounts or other concessions: Bear in mind that these are already among the most affordable citizenship-by-investment programs in the world, so a discount makes them very attractive indeed.
Like the ancient Greeks, I was always taught that “every crisis is an opportunity.” Perhaps this time, the opportunity is yours.
Let’s look at each program to find out (all prices in USD).
St. Kitts and Nevis
Until March 30, 2018, you can donate to the Hurricane Relief Fund for $150,000 for a single applicant, or a family of four including spouse and qualifying dependents, plus $25,000 for each additional dependent.
Alternatively, you can contribute to the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation Contribution.
Costs vary depending on the size of the applying family.
- $250,000: Main applicant.
- $300,000: Family with up to three dependents.
- $25,000: Per additional dependent.
- $7,500: Due diligence of main applicant.
- $4,000: Due diligence for dependent over 16.
- $4,000: Due diligence for financial sponsor (in situations where funding comes from a third party).
You can make a monetary contribution of $100,000 to the National Development Fund or an approved charity for a family of up to four persons or $125,000 for a family of five or more. Processing fees have been reduced to $25,000 for the main applicant and $25,000 for the spouse. You can add up to two other family members without any additional processing fees.
Alternatively, you may purchase property valued at a minimum of $400,000 in a preapproved real estate development area. The investment must be maintained for a minimum of five years.
Property registration, processing fees and taxes must be paid in addition to the property purchase.
Finally, you may invest a minimum of $1.5 million to establish a business.
Two or more applicants may make a joint business investment with an individual threshold of at least $400,000 and a total investment of at least $5 million.
A single applicant is required to make a nonrefundable contribution of $100,000 to the Government Fund.
$175,000 qualifies the main applicant and the applicant’s spouse and $200,000 qualifies the main applicant and up to three dependents. An additional $25,000 is required for each additional dependent.
Alternatively, you can purchase property valued at a minimum of $200,000 in a government-approved real estate development. The investment must be maintained for a minimum of three years. If maintained and sold after five years, the property qualifies the next buyer for citizenship as well.
Until March next year, there are numerous concessions on the inclusion of relatives, such as children up to age 30, parents, and even grandparents.
So, assuming you’d like to have a second passport, how do you choose which one? From my perspective, having seen them all, right now Antigua seems the best bet.
Besides the exceptionally low cost at the moment, Antigua is the most developed and globally connected of the three islands, with a large population of expats, numerous resorts and beaches, and a well-developed infrastructure. It suffered the least hurricane damage of the three; its recovery efforts are directed to its sister island of Barbuda, which was essentially destroyed by the hurricanes but has never been suited to expats.
My advice is to visit the islands to see which one strikes your fancy!
Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. Delivered straight to your door each month, we delve into the details you need to take action. We share our contacts. We lay out the pluses and minuses. And we keep you up-to-date on the latest developments with the best havens abroad, including…7 Great Retirement Towns You’ve Never Heard of…
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