At the end of June Saint Kitts & Nevis announced that they were extending their $25,000 discount for citizenship until the end of January 2024. Effectively this meant a price tag of $125,000 + fees.
Suddenly, last week, the government increased the price to $250,000 + fees with immediate effect.
The EU came out with a list of six demands that Caribbean citizenship by investment countries must follow so that they keep their visa-free access to the EU.
I invited over Laszlo, who has been in the citizenship and residency by investment industry for close to 30 years, for him to explain the six criteria. We then discussed new strategies to protect and enhance one’s travel freedom.
Visa-free travel to the EU is DEAD
Yes, starting from some time in 2024, the EU will launch ETIAS
What is it? Anyone with visa-free travel to the EU, such as Americans, Canadians, Brits, Australians, etc will have to fill out an online form prior to flying or showing up at the border. This online form will have a number of questions, as well as a fee of €7 (free for minors and for applicants over the age of 70).
On the face of it, it does not appear to be a big deal. But it is.
For example, the US has had ESTA for close to 20 years. Americans generally don’t know this but it costs $21. Any person with visa-free access to the US, except for Canadians, MUST fill out ESTA before flying to the US.
The issue with this is that gradually the US has added restrictions. If you traveled to Iran, Iraq, Somalia, or Syria for example you MUST declare it on ESTA. If you declare that you traveled to one of these countries then you must apply for a visa at a US embassy. Obama implemented these restrictions.
The result is that you can be a Swede, with theoretical visa-free access to the US, but because of a business or holiday trip to (absolutely stunning) Iran, you lose your visa-free access to the US.
The US is also one of the first countries to officially discriminate based on where you lived when you obtained a citizenship. Hungarians have visa free access to the US. But if you obtained Hungarian citizenship by ancestry, then you do not.
Just as the US seeks to restrict the travel freedom of people for political purposes, you can expect this to happen down the line with the EU.
My expectation is that down the line, even if these Caribbean countries follow the EU’s directives, and increase their prices, the reality is that ETIAS will make it too easy for EU politicians to start discriminating between naturally born citizens and citizens by investment.
What should people do?
A few options:
- Naturalize normally by spending time on the ground. There are many ways to legally move to the EU IF you actually plan on living there full time.
- Move there illegally. Millions of Africans, Middle Easterners, and South Asians are pulling it off and get free healthcare and housing as well. Jackpot.
- Simply ignore the EU. Start focusing on other parts of the world with higher growth and when you do want to go to the EU just apply for a visa. Again, the EU is quite arbitrary and political about visas. Before the recent Turkish elections the EU made sure to increase the visa rejection rates for Turks to put pressure on the Erdogan government. For people who don’t care about the West then Turkish citizenship is a good option, or Vanuatu.
- Buy the expensive Malta citizenship (Laszlo can also help with this. Feel free to reach out to him)
- Buy the Malta permanent residency (valid for life)
- Go for the Greek golden visa or the Hungarian residency by investment but these are not permanent. They work as long as politicians are fine with them working. I’ll publish good on-the-ground research on the Greek Golden Visa in a few weeks. I went to a Greek island with very cheap real estate that qualifies for the Golden Visa. The rental yields are not bad either.
Is all of this fair? No. But there will always be options.
To a World of Opportunities,
The Wandering Investor.
Other ways to get Golden Visas and Citizenships by Investment:
- Fastest way to get Permanent Residency in Malta
- Be careful when you buy a passport in the Caribbean
- Best Deal for the Citizenship by Investment in Turkey
- How to obtain Vanuatu Citizenship by Investment
- Saint Lucia Citizenship by Investment
- Invest in Lesbos Real Estate for the Greek Golden Visa
If you want to read more such articles on other real estate markets in the world, go to the bottom of my International Real Estate Services page.
If you want to discuss your internationalization and diversification plans, book a consulting session or send me an email.
Transcript of “Is Citizenship by Investment dead? Making sense of the recent changes”
LADISLAS MAURICE: Hello, everyone. Ladislas from thewanderinginvestor.com. So today, we’re going to be discussing a very important topic, is citizenship by investment dead? And essentially, why or why not? So I’m here with Laszlo, who has been in the high-end immigration game for close to 30 years, helping people obtain residencies by investment, and citizenships by investment. Laszlo, how are you?
LASZLO: Good, good. Thank you so much. I’m happy to be with you.
Why did Saint Kitts and Nevis raise the price of its passport to $250,000
LADISLAS MAURICE: So, St. Kitts and Nevis, in June, announced that they were extending their discount for their citizenship of $25,000 until the end of January 2024. So for a total $125,000 plus fees. And then, suddenly, last week, they announced change of plans with immediate effect, we are now at 250,000 US dollars with fees. Why?
LASZLO: The answer is not that complicated. In the last half a year or so, the United States and the European Union and the United Kingdom, partly, decided that they would talk to these five Caribbean countries who provide citizenship by investment programs, and they will try to force them a better due diligence procedure, certain requirements, which could really screen out the bad people or the people who were somehow against the policy, the immigration policy, especially, for example, in the United Kingdom. So they were planning to have certain rules.
And then the other side of the coin was that, yes, if you cannot affect those changes, then, unfortunately, you would lose your visa-free travel, which, by the way, happened when, around two weeks ago, the United Kingdom, as a warning, abolished the visa-free travel for Vanuatu and expressly for Dominican citizens. Dominica is one of the five countries which offers such a program. That was, according to my knowledge, a warning, otherwise, they would have banned all the five such countries. But that was a warning that, yes, by the way, Dominica that doesn’t have a very, very good reputation from the five countries. I do not want to badmouth any country. But at the end, their reputation was not really sterling at all.
And then, based on the agreement with the five countries in March this year, then the EU came out last week with the requirement, and the St. Kitts government immediately changed its rules and regulations accordingly.
The requirements imposed by the European Union on Caribbean countries for their citizenship by investment programs
LADISLAS MAURICE: So what are the requirements that the European Union has been banging on about?
LASZLO: The European Union wants, and that is the same for all the other countries, they want an enhanced due diligence to be done on the applicants and, again, try to screen out bad people. Then–
LADISLAS MAURICE: But they’re already doing this. So what’s the difference?
LASZLO: They are doing this. I wanted to say is I do not really see a big change in that because, at the end, all the Caribbean countries are appointing their due diligence agents abroad, usually big companies, to screen the applicants. So that is not really a problem, I think, because this has been going on. Now if they–
LADISLAS MAURICE: I’ll just add one thing. I’ll just add one thing here, Laszlo, which I found pretty disturbing, though it is, in practice, already happening. But one of the requirements is that the due diligence be done by companies located in either the UK or the European Union, so.
LASZLO: Those are multinationals, and they have all their branches or subsidiaries in the region. So I do not think that would be a problem. There are four or five such big companies existing all over the world. And because the work and the customers are coming from all over the world, they have their network of companies to deal with. I do not think that would be a problem to find two or three that should satisfy all these conditions.
LADISLAS MAURICE: It’s not about finding such providers, but it’s just more about the moral argument of the European Union telling Caribbean countries, for due diligence for new citizens, we must do it. I just found that a bit morally reprehensible. But anyways, we can move on to the next point.
LASZLO: Yes, so we cannot do anything with it. That’s the EU’s opinion. So either you take it or leave it. So, at the end, I do not think there is room for arguments by those five countries. Then the second one is a mandatory interview of all the applicants. And then the first question which came up, and I read this in the old US, in the March US requirement and agreement with the five countries on how is it done. And then I found out that the online interview is accepted. Now, if it’s accepted, okay, fair enough, then the government official would see would have a conversation for 5 or 10 minutes with that person, but, at the end, so what? That is not really a big change at all.
Okay, previously, no such meeting was required. But it is, I do not think it’s also a problem, except one small detail, that the client is not allowed to keep anybody else with him or her during that interview. And if they do not speak, let’s say, English, which is the main language of the all five Caribbean countries, then the country would, in this respect, it’s St. Kitts, but I expect all the five to do the same, then they would employ translators to translate what the client is saying so there is no helping hand for the clients, which probably means that they want to catch if somebody is lying, and so on, and so on. I do not think that would be a problem for anybody to do that. So all in all, that’s also a requirement, which can be easily kept, and I do not think that people would suffer because of that, okay?
Now, there is a quite interesting matter that it is not possible for the passports and the naturalization certificates to be sent to a third party, to the agents acting on behalf of the client, it cannot be sent to the postbox, it cannot be mailed. The clients have to go to pick it up at the respective Embassy or Consulate of that country. Okay, it’s one trip more for the client to go. All these countries have at least in United Kingdom, in the United States, they have ordering process, they have their representations. Beijing, also. So at the end, yes, it would be a little bit a hassle to go there personally, show that other passport, “Okay, here I am. I would like to take delivery of my passport.” It will be done, they sign a receipt. And that’s all. Also, I do not think it will be a big problem for them.
Then there is the stricter monitoring of the flow of funds. Now, two countries from the five doesn’t allow the money to come not from the client. So they insist that the money for the donation and for the government fees should come from the client’s personal bank account. Sometimes, trust accounts are accepted that we will see what will be the possibility for that. Three other countries, and it’s irrelevant which they are, allow the agent to take delivery of the money. And also, which has a big hole on the system, still exists but it will be closed soon, that for the donation, that was clear and straightforward, but for the property investments, several companies, property developers didn’t want to bring the money into the country where the property development happened. They kept it outside. And it was impossible to check whether really that money arrived or there was a fraudulent financing or loaning transaction.
And that is the reason why the EU insists on the money to be sent by the client directly to the country if it’s a donation, or the developer has to keep it in the country to see, and they will be able to check every single case that, yes, the full amount of money has arrived, and there is no playing with this amount of money. I would say that’s also for the people who wanted to keep the rules that is not really a rule which would influence their matters. For certain people who use the agent’s bank account to send the money because then they had, for example, foreign exchange controls and so on, yes, at the end, it’s not as convenient, but I do not think this will be also a real big problem, too, for the citizenship applications.
Now, there is also one which is, how should I say, a little bit understandable. This is what they forced on Malta also, which is a total ban on promotional materials that highlight the benefits of visa-free travel to the European Union. Now, that practically means that, yes, you cannot single out the EU. But I do not think that there is any problem with listing the biggest EU countries for which the Schengen visa-free travel exist. I do not think that they could fully ban mentioning, okay, visa-free list of the countries where the client could travel. That is a fact, that is not an interpretation, that is not marketing. That is simply stating that, yes, to those countries, you could go without a visa, to the United States, you can’t, and so on.
So at the end, yes, that is something which can be a regulation and the countries could force the agents not to mention, in their website, the EU, or the name of EU, or the flag of the EU, how it’s forbidden in Malta, for example.
LADISLAS MAURICE: It’s just like marketing, that’s not too important. And one last but important point as well?
LASZLO: Yes, that is a very important one, which, unfortunately, influences everybody, and I think that it will be a nonnegotiable condition, as we could see in St. Kitts, that the EU said that to avoid cheap people who are not really affluent, and who cannot afford, who are forced to use these kinds of fraudulent transactions to get the citizenship, the minimum donation should be 200,000 US dollars as for the single applicant. There is no indication that what about the family composition. Yes, St. Kitts and Nevis decided that because they have a very good reputation, they increased it to $250,000 instead of the $200,000 required by the European Union, but then probably they can get away with it.
And then they also changed the rules, St. Kitts, unilaterally, that was not demanded by the EU, that grandparents of the main applicant and siblings of the main applicants cannot be included in the application. So there are some small details, but the most interesting one, obvious and which influences the most, is the monetary threshold, from the $125,000 with the discount, current offer or previous offer of last Monday, then, suddenly, it increased to $250,000. What is interesting, and then $300,000 for husband and wife. So all in all, yes, that is considerable because it was $150,000. So they basically doubled the amount which is needed.
But I checked the really relevant my records, and I found out that, around five years ago, that was the price for St. Kitts citizenship, what they amended it to. So they have a discounting, discounting, changing competition, competition, competition, which pushed down the prices for all the five Caribbean countries. But five years ago, you had to pay the same amount of money as now it is the requirement, minus inflation. So at the end, I do not think that this is really the worst which could happen. Initially, people would say, “No, no, no, I’m not interested. It’s too much money.” And then they would really understand that for a Plan B, they have to do something. And one very important part of a plan B is second citizenship.
Therefore, I expect that, yes, after a certain lull, let’s say, the end of the year or next year, then the situation will definitely improve and people will come back.
Will some countries ignore the EU?
LADISLAS MAURICE: So essentially, what the European Union is saying is, if you do not follow these six points, we shall remove visa-free access to the EU for you?
LASZLO: That’s exactly the case, yes.
LADISLAS MAURICE: So of these Caribbean countries, do you believe that maybe one or two of them are going to say, “Actually, guys, we’re not going to play ball. We’re going to stay at $100,000. We’re going to go for a different market. We’re going to be more affordable. You guys can all chase the EU market, or people who want access to the EU, and we’ll just be happy to be a solid Plan B, much more affordable, respectable passport that just simply does not give you access to some of these western countries?”
LASZLO: Yes, but then don’t forget that there is the UK and there is the US. I’m 100% sure– Yeah, but if you calculate that is the UK, and the Commonwealth countries, and the European Union, and the US forcing their will on other countries, there will be hardly any big countries left, maybe Russia and China, where visa-free travel would be good. And at the end, I think they can make a very good calculation of where the clients are coming from. And the Schengen visa-free access, and also maybe on the same level, the UK visa-free access is a big, big, big marketing or selling point. So I do not think, by the way, maybe I’m wrong and who knows what would happen in one or two months, because I think that those countries have to decide very, very fast what to do.
And then because St. Kitts started it, it’s very hard to say, “No, we are thinking. Well, well, we are exploring the possibilities.” They have to make a decision. And I think they already made, it is just the pricing of how much they should price themselves, $200,000, $250,000, maybe $300,000, which probably will not be the case. But then which is remaining, I’m quite sure that all the five countries will do that. And the other country which would say, “No, I do not want to have this.” Yes, then that would be a problem. Especially, let’s not forget not for the new applicants, but the previous ones, for the thousands and thousands of families who, unfortunately, will not be able to use it in the meantime.
And that is a very bad thing for that country’s reputation that, yes, okay, now it has been cancelled, the visa-free travel possibility. Now what would happen? What else would happen? How would the EU or the US punish them, and so on and so on? It would be the four other competitors would definitely use this weapon. I would be doing that if I would be in the case. So, no, I do not think that there will be one missing and then all the five would keep these rules.
Impact of ETIAS and removal of actual visa-free travel to the EU
LADISLAS MAURICE: Because the EU is implementing the ETIAS in 2024. So essentially, it’s like ESTA in the United States. Even if you have visa-free access to the European Union, let’s say, you’re American, you’re Canadian, you want to go to the EU, before, you could just hop onto a flight. Now you’ll have to go online and fill out this form, pay €7 online, and then you get your authorization and you can fly, just like Europeans have had to do for the past 15, 20 years to get access to the US visa-free but we needed to fill out the ESTA, which is like, I don’t know, less than $20 or something.
But one thing that the United States has done with ESTA is just adding more and more questions over time. So for example, there’s a little part that says, have you traveled to Iran, Somalia, Syria, Iraq?
LADISLAS MAURICE: If you say yes, boom, you get rejected. So effectively, if you’re an EU citizen, and you typically have access, visa-free, to the US, just by going to Iran on vacation, you now do not have visa-free access to the United States anymore. And this form is being used to remove visa-free rights to people, essentially. Same thing with Hungarians, as you would know, Hungarians that received their citizenship essentially overseas, that are not naturally-born Hungarians, they lost their visa-free access to the United States.
So could the European Union, with the same form, which also Australia has, has had for a long time, start distinguishing between naturally-born citizens, and just asking a question when it says, what’s your citizenship? I’m from St. Lucia. And then a little pop-up appears, did you obtain this citizenship through an investment or a donation? And then you say, yes. Go to the nearest embassy. Is this a scenario?
LASZLO: It is definitely possible at the end. Now, if you asked me, what are the probability of that to happen? That’s a different question, if I may say so. Yes, it is possible that the EU, with this system, would try to put the people who had dual citizenship and obtain the citizenship this way for additional checks. That is possible that it will not be given out. But what happens if those are really clean person? I do not think that all of them will be forced to go to EU consulate, and which one it should be, and so on, and so on. Do not forget, the United Kingdom has the same problem, by the way, they are starting the ETA, because they call it as ETA, at the end of this year.
So the US, the UK, and the European Union, would all have nearly the same kind of setup. And I’m quite sure that there will be some kind of information exchange between them. Maybe yes, maybe not, but I suspect that there will be. And this ETIAS for the European Union, don’t forget that it has been postponed for three times now. So when I hear that, okay, it’s 2024, fair enough, I would say I will believe it when I see it. Because then, really, I think it was 2021 it was due, every year they postpone it, postpone, postpone. Now it’s to 2024. Who knows what will be really the end result. So it is, I cannot give you a proper yes or no to that question. It is possible that they would have due diligence checks, additional ones.
LADISLAS MAURICE: Yeah.
LASZLO: Things change. For example, date of birth, date of place, and so on, and so on, type of additional checks.
So what are the new solutions?
LADISLAS MAURICE: I kind of segment roughly the market into three. One is people from developing countries who have money and they want better travel opportunities. Specifically, they want access to the European Union, most of the time, and the UK as well. These passports will still be good options, but it’ll certainly be more expensive. For people who really wanted EU access, the Malta permanent residency is probably a better option, actually, than getting that second passport, because that will really guarantee them access to the European Union for life through the permanent residency. So I’d say that’s one thing that some people should consider that are thinking passport, but actually, maybe the permanent residency is all they really need if all they want is access to go to Paris, to go to Brussels, to go wherever.
Then I would look at Westerners that just want a Plan B. So whether essentially just another passport. So whether it has EU access or not, doesn’t really matter because they would still be traveling around the West with their Western passport. The Caribbean passport would just be a back pocket. So essentially, does it make a big change, or just becomes more expensive, and it just makes the Turkish citizenship by investment even more interesting, because you get you essentially invest 400K and you can potentially get 400K back later when you sell your real estate later on or a term deposit.
And then the third one, which is a growing market, is Americans who want to renounce US citizenship and want good alternative passports. So these Caribbean passports would still work for them. But to be safer, I would suggest that they add an EU permanent residency on top of it if they want access to Europe, and to also potentially get to not just renounce on a St. Lucia passport, but, yeah, get the St. Lucia passport, get yourself the Malta residency, the permanent residency as well if you really want guaranteed EU access long-term, and then potentially throw in a Turkish passport just for diversification.
I mean, generally, if you’re American and renouncing American citizenship, it means you can afford to make a few of these moves. I don’t know what your thoughts are. Am I missing a market segment here?
LASZLO: I think that I have to basically agree to what you said at the end. We, by the way, around two years ago, we started to quietly market Caribbean citizenship with Maltese permanent residency in one package exactly for the same reason as you describe. That’s why I agree with you. Okay, fair enough, it’s a higher amount, but then what can we do?
LADISLAS MAURICE: Yeah.
LASZLO: I mean inflation is inflation. Let’s not forget–
LADISLAS MAURICE: Yeah. I like Greek Golden visa as well. That’s another one.
LASZLO: I was always really wondering if anybody from the US who wanted to renounce their citizenship, really thought about, yes, what about my next citizenship, it’s issued by or granted by a small country? What are my possibilities in that small country if anything happens in the world? And that is one. Yes, those people who want to renounce and then, as you said, they have the money, then maybe it’s not just permanent residency, but a citizenship in Malta, which could be also a good solution, even though it’s very expensive, I fully understand, 1 million euros and so on. But at the end, that is where they would be, definitely. I think instead of the Caribbean, then that is what they have to consider. That’s my only additional remark to what you said. Otherwise, I totally agree.
LADISLAS MAURICE: Cool. Okay, fantastic. Great. Laszlo, thank you very much for your insight. So anyone, if you’re interested in a Caribbean passport at the new prices, unfortunately, Vanuatu passport, which is still a very affordable option, $130,000, right, but no EU access for now. That’s how it is, but at least it’s a lot more affordable. Malta permanent residency, etc., do get in touch with Laszlo. There are a few links below with more information on his services as well as his email. All right. Laszlo, always a pleasure.
LASZLO: Thank you so much.
LADISLAS MAURICE: Cheers.
LASZLO: Cheers. Bye-bye.