Where’s Citizenship for Sale? Huddled Masses Need Not Apply

Most countries offer citizenship (passports) the hard way. But 7 sell them outright, and 3 have “powerful” passports. “Citizenship Planning” is a thing.

For people who need a second citizenship and passport to dodge the long arm of their government, there is something called “citizenship planning,” similar to “financial planning.” But when it comes to just outright buying a citizenship and passport without having to languish for years as mere non-citizen resident, the Huddled Masses need not apply. And not any passport will do. In fact, there are only three for sale that are really good.

Which are the best passports to get?

There are quality standards for everything, especially if it’s costly. The most powerful passports are those that allow visa-free travel to the most countries.

There are other considerations, for example those that drive US citizens nuts when they live overseas, due to the US government’s onerous reporting requirements on them and on banks that do business with them, and due to US taxation of their worldwide income no matter where they live. Few other governments treat their citizens that way.

In terms of visa-free travel, here are the 25 countries with the most powerful passports, according to a new ranking by Henley & Partners, which is into “citizenship planning.” But among them is only – Austria – one whose citizenship can be bought (more on that in a moment):

  1. Germany: visa-free travel to 176 countries.
  2. Sweden: 175 countries
  3. Denmark, Finland, Italy, Spain, and the US: 174 countries.
  4. Austria, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, UK: 173 countries
  5. Republic of Ireland, Japan, New Zealand: 172 countries
  6. Croatia, Greece, Portugal, Switzerland: 171 countries
  7. Australia, South Korea: 170 countries
  8. Iceland: 169 countries.

And how do you get one of those passports?

In most countries, the hard way: Legally immigrate and obtain residency, and then fulfill the residency requirements to get citizenship and that second passport, which takes years. Most countries, including the US, have special programs for “investors” to obtain residency, such as a green card, essentially on the spot, but even then it takes years to obtain citizenship and a passport. If it’s possible at all, such as in Germany.

Then there’s the direct way: Buy a citizenship and the passport that comes along with it. These citizenship-by-investment programs are not for folks on a tight budget. According to Henley & Partners, only seven countries offer this convenient route, only three have powerful passports, and only one is in the top of the heap above.

Passports from EU countries are the best. If you’re from Russia or China or Iraq and become a citizen of one of the 28 EU countries, you’ll get a country-specific EU passport that allows you to live and do business anywhere in the EU. There are all sorts of offshore benefits. And travel around the world is a breeze.

But citizenship in most EU countries is not for sale. You can buy only residency, similar to programs in the US. But there are three exceptions:


Citizenship is almost impossible to get for normal foreigners already legally in Austria. But the super-rich and famous have a way. The government, through paragraph 10, section 6 of the Citizenship Act, can confer citizenship “because of the services already provided by the foreigner and the extraordinary achievements still to be expected of him in the special interest of the Republic.” This usually involves a big direct investments of unspecified magnitude plus some other “extraordinary” contribution, such as being famous or creating jobs. Few succeed. In some years, none succeed.

They’re playing hard to get. But the rewards are huge for the few that succeed, including an impeccable EU passport with visa-free travel to 173 countries.


In 2012, as the EU-part of the divided island was veering toward bankruptcy, it offered citizenship through a “fast-track” scheme to dodge the normal residency requirements. But the price tag was €10 million in direct investment. Too expensive for the average oligarch.

In 2013, Cyprus became desperate. Its offshore financial industry, the main breadwinner of the economy, had collapsed in a cesspool of corruption. The banks had taken much of the foreign money – particularly Russian money – down with them. Cyprus needed some moolah. It slashed the price of citizenship to €3 million of direct investment. Russians who’d lost at least €3 million in the collapse would also be eligible for citizenship.

Since then, the price was further slashed, to as low as €2 million. And it’s fast: about three months for citizenship and an EU passport, with visa-free travel to 159 countries. And that €3-million investment can be sold after three years. An adequate house would likely do.


The tiny EU member state with 417,000 residents spread over three islands is convenient for foreigners, with English being one of the two official languages. In 2013, during the still rough waters of the euro debt crisis, Parliament passed legislation that put Maltese citizenship up for sale at €650,000. A spouse costs another €25,000; unmarried children between 18 and 25 and dependent parents cost €50,000 each. There are no residency or investment requirements. The money goes into government funds.

This citizenship is a product to be marketed. If it sells 100 per year at €650,000 a pop, it would generate annual revenues of €65 million – or 1.75% of total 2016 revenues (€3.7 billion). Given the limits on budget deficits under EU Treaties, everything counts.

This Maltese product includes an EU passport with visa-free travel to 166 countries. Folks can stop by, jump through some bureaucratic hoops, pay, get their citizenship and passport, and settle in Germany or wherever. At the time, Simon Busuttil, leader of the opposition Nationalist Party, warned that Malta could end up being compared to shady tax havens in the Caribbean. And that’s our last stop.

Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia

These four countries in and on the edge of the Caribbean offer citizenship-by-investment programs and confer some tax benefits, but their passports can be a real hassle for travel purposes. A passport issued by Antigua and Barbuda allows visa-free travel to only 130 countries, not including the US; a passport issued by St. Lucia 127 countries; and by Grenada 124 countries. But hey, it’s a lot easier and cheaper than buying Austrian citizenship.

With impeccable timing, foreign investors descend on US commercial real estate, after a blistering 7-year price boom. Read…  Foreign Investors Pile into US Commercial Real-Estate Bubble

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  50 comments for “Where’s Citizenship for Sale? Huddled Masses Need Not Apply

  1. Tom says:

    How many of these passports would provide terrorists an easy entry into the US? Do we actually examine/vet passports from these countries?

    • Wolf Richter says:

      The vetting goes far beyond the passport. Every passport gives your place of birth. And these passports use your name as it is in your home passport, and the documentation goes all the way back.

      And don’t forget this: Timothy McVeigh was an American-born white Christian terrorist who used a truck bomb to blow up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. He didn’t need a passport. Or look at the school shootings in the US. Or look at the Saudis that hijacked the planes on 9/11. They didn’t have passports from any of these countries. Most of them had Saudi passports.

      • Stan the Man with the SHTF Plan says:

        You know, Wolf, one of those Saudi passports survived the fireball and landed on the streets of Manhattan…


  2. michael Engel says:

    Wolf, can you please check if the Treasury just paid current bills
    and we are half a trillion under the debt ceiling ?
    Did this money moved into the stock market, engineering the Trump
    rally ?
    Did the Donald just fell in love with Angela, forgetting her other suitor
    from the East Side ?

    • Wolf Richter says:

      As of the Treasury’s update yesterday afternoon, there are $19.845 trillion in US Treasuries outstanding. The balance has been in that range since last fall.

      The debt ceiling had been suspended but is now effective again. US debt is not over the ceiling, but near it. In that regard, this is what Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin wrote to the Speaker of House Ryan in a letter on March 16:

      “Yesterday at noon, in anticipation of being at the debt limit today, Treasury suspended until further notice the sale of State and Local Government Series securities.”

      For now, the US can only issue bonds to redeem maturing bonds, but it cannot increase overall indebtedness until Congress raises the debt ceiling, or until the Treasury runs out of “extraordinary measures” (robbing Peter to pay Paul) to keep the government funded and pay maturing Treasuries. This propitious moment – the out-of-money date – is expected to happen in the fall, unless the debt ceiling gets raised first, which it will.

  3. unit472 says:

    What about Monaco? I recall a Beatle or two took up residence back in the days of Harold Wilson and Ted Heath to escape British taxes. They didn’t become citizens but Monaco is an independent country and, I assume, the Grimaldi family which has run the place for 700 years can grant citizenship to whom they please.

    • Nick says:

      I suspect that citizenship in Monaco is one of the most difficult in Europe to obtain.

      • Wolf Richter says:

        I just looked it up: the residence requirement before someone can obtain Monegasque citizenship is a minimum of 10 continuous years since the age of 18. So that’s a long wait for someone in a hurry.

        • Nick says:

          I’m surprised there is even a route to citizenship — if there was anywhere in Europe that was basically citizenship-by-descent and nothing else (like the Arab gulf states, where generations can live as residents, but never become naturalized), I would have chosen Monaco.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Yeah, it surprised me too.

        • TJ Martin says:

          Switzerland has the same requirements . 10 continuous years of provable and ‘ definable ‘ residence before you are eligible for citizenship . With the added stipulation that only citizens may purchase property . As for becoming a CH resident whether the goal is citizenship or not : if you look at their embassy’s statements they are adamant that if you are from a 3rd world or underdeveloped country do not bother applying . FYI ; Despite my having family in CH [ Ticino since 1600’s ] the requirements are as stringent as they would be for you or anyone else .

          But Wolf … lets not forget we ( US ) have a ( relatively ) EasyPass for the rich as well . The EB-5 Investors visa .

        • Wolf Richter says:

          The EB-5 investor visa only gives applicants a path to a green card. From there it takes fives years to citizenship. So yes, like most countries, there are paths to citizenship in the US, but even for investors they take many years.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Yes, many countries offer residence to rich folks. But that doesn’t mean they get passports right away. After they fulfill the residence requirements, they can become citizens.

      My understanding is that the UK, like most countries, but unlike the US, does not tax your foreign income if you live overseas. Beyond that, I have no idea what the Beatles did to deal with their tax situations. They lived all over the place, including the US.

      • jm says:

        Regarding US taxation of citizens residing abroad, there is a deduction of about $100,000 allowed from gross income, or (and?) an income tax credit for income paid to the nation in which the person resides, so one pays US taxes only to the degree that US taxes are higher, or (and?) on a much-reduced gross income. (I’m not sure whether you can take both the deduction and the tax credit, but anyone with an income less than six figures, or even low six figures, is not going to find the US tax burden onerous.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          First: you have to file in the US even if you live overseas and earn all your money overseas. So you’re filing two tax returns, and that’s a huge hassle. Of the major developed countries, only the US has this system in place.

          Second, yes, up to a certain limit ($100,000? I haven’t checked in a few years), your foreign income is exempt from US taxes. And you get a deduction (not a credit) for foreign taxes paid. So if you make $200,000 overseas, you pay all your foreign taxes plus some US taxes.

          Third, when we lived overseas (quite a while ago), the beloved Alternative Minimum Tax kicked in very nicely.

        • d says:

          “but anyone with an income less than six figures, or even low six figures, is not going to find the US tax burden onerous.”

          The cost and aggravation of filing it from a foreign nation is onerous enough.

          It is a stupid policy.

          It is part of the stupid US tax policy’s, that encourage those who can afford to avoid, to avoid, as much as possible.

  4. Nick says:

    It’s an interesting subject, citizenship — it’s often thought of as a privilege or an inheritance, but rarely as a resource. I married a woman from a country where foreigners don’t normally naturalize, and for various reasons we didn’t come back to the US — instead, both of us emigrated together to Canada, became Canadians, and now our kids have three citizenships. Just like a second language, it can be useful or it can just be this thing you got from your parents that you never use.

    I would personally love to have a EU passport, and all the freedom and choices that it would bring. Malta’s price, though, is a little steep . . . and just like college, emigrating is the kind of thing better left to the young.

  5. Lee says:

    If you really want to get a second passport I would really suggest that you look into Australia.

    Numerous ways to get into the country (legally) and then not so hard to get a passport – about 4 years after getting PR.

    And if you don’t like good ole Oz once you get PR here you can move to NZ and get automatic PR once you land there (For both Australian PR holders and citizens!!)

    But remember, you’ll need a bucket of bucks to support yourself as prices for everything are high here with the median price of a house in Sydney over A$1 million and Melbourne around the A$800,000 area.

    All that being said, I would never consider moving to Australia based on what the country is like now compared to the time I first came here on vacation…………

    • Maximus Minimus says:

      All that being said, I would never consider moving to Australia based on what the country is like now compared to the time I first came here on vacation…

      The same thing can be said about Canada as well as a lot of other countries. The globalists are determined to turn the whole world into one uniform swamp.

      • Cyrus says:

        Yeah, look at what they are doing to Europe. They are allowing the worst of the worst into Europe for a reason.

      • roddy6667 says:

        Where are you now? Is it any better? Is it getting better of worse?

  6. Petunia says:

    Another route to a foreign passport is having your baby in the foreign country. America is a haven for birth tourism. Florida hosts thousands of Russians every year that come for that purpose and then leave. Once those little American/Russians become of age they can request citizenship for their parents or at least legal residency. I hear the Chinese do the same thing on the west coast.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      That only gets you a green card, after you successfully jump through the hoops, which can take quite a while. After you get the green card, you have to wait for five years before you can even apply for citizenship. And then you have to jump through more hoops, including face-to-face interviews, where they ask you things like, “Who is your senator/congressman,” etc. This is a long process. It’s useless for people who need a quick second passport, which was the topic of this article.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Just to add to (and confirm) your point: A friend of mine is a US citizen because his parents, who are Taiwanese and were living in Australia at the time, came to the US to give birth, which gave him the right to US citizenship. He is a citizen of Taiwan, Australia, and the US – and now lives in Taiwan.

      • Lee says:

        Must be fun at tax time time to file all those forms – especially for the USA (including those bank/securities forms).

        And don’t forget once you do get US citizenship your estate will get whacked big time if you leave more than a certain dollar amount to a foreign national.

        Even Japan is no getting in on the act requiring people to file an assets form once your assets get over a certain amount – that includes assets overseas…….

        What a wonderful world we now live in.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          I met him when he was working in the US, just a regular fun guy. But now he is getting groomed to take over his father’s business, so I’m pretty sure he tells his people to tell their people to take care of those pesky tax and reporting issues.

    • Mary says:

      I may be wrong, but I don’t think most Americans understand why anyone born within the United States has the right of citizenship. It is a key portion of the 14th Amendment, designed as a means by which former slaves could acquire full rights as citizens. It served to counter the Dred Scott decision (Supreme Court, 1857) which declared that persons of African descent were chattel, meaning not fully human, and could never enjoy the rights and privileges granted by the Constitution.

      • unit472 says:

        Besides being a legal anomaly ( allowing a person who has no right or title to something ( citizenship) to bestow it on their progeny) the 14th Amendment is a legal bastard. It was passed without allowing the legislatures of the Southern states a vote on it and most of those Southern states had no representative in Congress being under military occupation.

        Its laughably flawed yetFederal judges solemnly invoke it when they aren’t simply making up law.

        • Nick says:

          Birthright citizenship is the norm throughout the Western hemisphere.

        • d says:

          “Birthright citizenship is the norm throughout the Western hemisphere.”

          Once it was, it is fast vanishing. To many “Anchor Babies”.
          The US is not the only country with an “Anchor Babbie” problem.

        • Graham says:

          “the 14th Amendment is a legal bastard”

          Isn’t that the same way the Federal Reserve Act in 1913 got into law?

          I suspect they did it as the Constitution effectively forbids a private bank renting out currency to the US: and a vote/debate would have derailed it.

  7. Nicko2 says:

    Nationalism is the hot political topic in many countries, but I think the trend of ever increasing globalization will win out; the advantages of free movement of people and capital are just too powerful to stop.

    I’m a Canadian, but live in Africa, own property in my home country and elsewhere. I’d never give up my passport, but resident visas are easy to come by, and given the advances with digital technology and international travel – one no longer needs to be physically attached to their home country.

    Still, having a Canadian passport is indispensable (sadly, due to nonresident status, I can no longer vote). I have quite a few acquaintances around Africa who have acquired Canadian citizenship over the years, they buy property there, raise their kids…most are professionals and relocate completely, yet just as many live and make their money elsewhere. Canada is a very successful safe haven for the globalized 21st century.

    The arrival of Trump has been a great boon to Canada. They couldn’t ask for a better advertisement of why it’s great to be a Canadian.

  8. Tinky says:

    Also worth noting that some countries allow descendants of citizens to gain citizenship, even if they have never resided there, or previously applied for citizenship. I believe Irish citizenship is one of the easiest to obtain in that manner, and I have personal experience with Poland.

    I wouldn’t describe the latter as “easy”, but with the help of a good, persistent, specialist attorney in Warsaw, and some documentation that my father had retained (including his mother’s original passport), I was able to ‘confirm’ my status as a citizen, and now have a Polish passport.

    • VegasBob says:

      Hungary has provisions to grant citizenship to certain individuals with Hungarian ancestors, for which I would qualify.

      If I weren’t seriously ill with cancer I’d be out of the US in a New York minute.

      • Wolf Richter says:

        “…seriously ill with cancer”

        Very, very sorry to hear that. My thoughts are with you. And I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

      • Silly Me says:

        Actually, buying Hungarian citizenship is one of the cheapest, if not the cheapest. Lots of Ukrainian gangsters have done it recently…

  9. Mary says:

    Just goes to show that even the so called progressive countries are not a big fan of welfare recipients sucking on the public purse. They rather want the rich, the successful.

    Essentially, citizenship is a political construct. This is an example of political concepts being overwhelmed by capitalism. The next step could be involuntary nullification of citizenship based on lack of income, wealth etc. No one wants a loser after all, even those who do say they care.

    • d says:

      “Essentially, citizenship is a political construct.”

      No it’s a “Robber Barons” construct just like ALL tax, particularly Border taxes.

      Borders are also “Robber Baron” constructs, today they aid only criminal’s, and the state administrator’s (legalised Criminal’s).

      Border taxes, have their roots in good old fashioned Extortion.

      To cross what I say is my land, you pay X says the “Robber Baron”.

      The only difference between State (country) administration’s, and a “Robber Baron”.

      Is that States have law’s, that make their extortion legal, in that state.

      • Maximus Minimus says:

        They build a road that you do not need.
        They displace you so you get on the road.
        They make you pay for the road.
        Circular logic.

  10. Sporkfed says:

    There are a lot of officials in the U.S. Government with dual citizenship
    and I don’t believe that’s a good thing.

    • Lee says:

      A little off topic from the original article, but related to your post.

      Another sector of the ‘new elite’ in many countries are those with some type of security clearance. Even here in Victoria at the State level there are now many positions that require a full background investigation which eliminates many people from consideration.

      There are various types of clearances and many people can get a ‘bottom of the barrel’ level clearance regardless of their background.

      The ‘new elite’ are those than get one of the higher levels which allows them to work for the government or a company that has contracts with a government (Snowden is an example.) and can work for some huge salary.

      For example, in the USA that would be a Top Secret clearance with access to Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) with additional codeword access. Common codeword access programs are SI, TK, and G.

      A SWAG would be that hundreds of thousands of people or even millions have had access to that type material.

      These type clearances look at everything and many include a polygraph.

      There are numerous websites that can explain all that stuff now and not much is “secret” about it – only the content. It isn’t like the good ole days when saying “NRO” would have gotten you thrown into the klink.

      Others are very limited programs with only a few people having access. This is where the really cream of the intelligence community lies.

      So far none of the huge leaks have released this type of material and I doubt that much would ever be released in the future as the leaker would be able to be identified quite quickly. Also the secrets in these very limited access programs can die as the people that had access retire and die.

      When I die much of the stuff I worked on will never be known…………..

      But to bring this to your post about dual nationals. Yes, there are many in the US government that have dual citizenship and these are civilian workers. Los Alamos is a good example where there are these types of people working.

      I find it unreal that any of these types can get a high level security clearance. In the military many officers have had their careers cut short by marrying a foreign national.

      In fact given the background of the former occupant of the White House had he been in the military he wouldn’t have even been considered for a position of trust and responsibility.

      If you are a US citizen try and even get a job with the new so called “Department of Homeland Security” if you have been outside the USA……………….

  11. Michael Mulligan says:

    It’s actually cheaper to get a “green card” on Cyprus. All you have to do is deposit 30,000 Euros in a Cypriot bank and buy a new home/apartment worth 300,000 Euros or more and they put you to the front of the line for a permanent resident card. You can qualify for full citizenship down the road but the Cypriot ID card allows you free access to all of the EU and Cyprus. Malta, Portugal and Greece have similar programs.

  12. Pavel says:

    Wolf, you confused Croatia and Canada. There is no way Croatia is on 6th place :)

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Croatia is an EU member – so its passport is an EU passport.

      Oh, and its in 21st place, not 6th place, since a number of countries share the 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th positions.

      Canada is right up there with the top countries. It just missed the cutoff for the top 25. It’s in 28th place, just behind New Zealand, Japan, and Ireland (25th)

  13. Meme Imfurst says:

    Wolf, I don’t want to get some people angry here, but after reading all of your comments on comments, I do not understand what all the fuss about for Mexicans and others ( including Europeans) getting fast tracked to citizenship.

    5 years, 10 years, a child born here and you need to X to get status…why have so many done nothing to get citizenship after all these years? Taxes? Lazy? Indifferent? OK living that way? Going home? What? I know people who have been here for 30 or more years and done nothing to become citizens or even learn the language and don’t mind taking assistance either. Their status has never been threatened publically out loud.

    I don’t need to be called names here, but I do have questions. There is no way I could go to the Bahamas or Mexico and work without being turned in…I know this from PHYCIAL experience. You can’t even go there and hide without a citizen turning you in within a few months of your presence. You either go the formal route, or in Mexico they jail you, and the Bahamas they deport you.

    So I return to my question. If the so-called illegal immigrants have been here long enough to have kids in school and grown, why did they sit on their butts and avoid citizenship.

    I will add here that in Florida I get a bit angry at the flood illegals getting public assistance and going to schools that I pay for. I have a big helping liberal heart but I have had enough when more teachers are needed because the rooms are over crowded, the hospitals need state money for support, and my tax money ( from 3 jobs) is talked about to build shelters when we didn’t do it for all the Americans who lost their homes in 2007. Citizens are one thing I have no issue with what-so-ever but charity begins at home and I am tired of being media bullied.

    What say you Petunia? Wolf?

    • Petunia says:

      I’m with you all the way on this and I am a Latina.

      What is not often talked about is that there is an illegal immigrant “underground” that is very profitable and comfortable in immigrant communities. I saw it in my own Latino communities, and even in the Irish communities in New York. They use false identities, collect benefits under these identities, work and own businesses under these identities, and it is a very profitable system. When things get bad, they shed that identity and move on.

      Sanctuary cities are a magnet for these people. They create a total disregard for the laws of the country. Once you commit the “original sin” and get away with it, the rest of them don’t matter.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Let me just say this without wading into the debate, concerning your question: “So I return to my question. If the so-called illegal immigrants have been here long enough to have kids in school and grown, why did they sit on their butts and avoid citizenship.”

      Under US immigration law, if you are in the US illegally, you cannot apply for any kind of visa, green card, or citizenship. The Obama administration carved out some special rules for those who arrived illegally as little kids and have been here all their lives. But beyond that, if you’re illegally in the US, you must leave the US first, and apply for whatever legal way you seek outside the US. And once granted, come back into the US with the legal documents.

      If you’re illegally in the US, and even if you marry an American to get the green card, you must do this outside the US, so get married outside the US and apply for the green card outside the US, and lie on the application saying that you’ve never been illegally in the US. This is hard to pull off. Immigration officials aren’t stupid. And the law is strict.

      So if you have lived in the US illegally for 10 years, it’s almost impossible to get legalized, get a green card and eventual citizenship except by something like amnesty.

  14. prepalaw says:

    As Wolf said, the topic is instantaneous new citizenship.

    And, for what purpose. You will need friends and allies in your newly adopted country to help you there.

    This brings to mind an old song:

    Oh, sinnerman, where you gonna run to?
    Sinnerman where you gonna run to?
    Where you gonna run to?
    All on that day
    We got to run to the rock, ETC.

  15. d says:

    You can get a better deal in portugal with less residency restrictions for less.


    Slightly out of town in the Aveiro and Porto districts that sort of money can buy a lot.

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