Buying citizenship of another country

If you’ve ever wanted to escape South Africa’s shores but have been unable to get the necessary visas to immigrate permanently, it is possible to buy your way into another country, finds Angelique Ruzicka.

If you only have a South African passport and no family ties to any other country then you may have found it hard to move to another country on a permanent basis. People with family links to other countries such as the United Kingdom and other European countries have had the ability to gain citizenship through ancestral visas, while others have been able to gain citizenship through marriage.

It is possible, however, to buy your citizenship through various investment schemes and a number of South Africans have chosen to go this route. However, up till now this avenue has only been accessible to high net worth individuals but as more countries realise the economic benefits of allowing foreigners to buy citizenship, these programmes have reduced in cost.

Here is a round up of just five citizenship programmes on offer through companies such as Henley & Partners (H&P) and Monarch & Co:

  1. Dominica

Dominica offers one of the ‘cheapest’ citizenship programmes.
The cost: The Antigua and Barbuda Citizenship-by-Investment Program requires the lowest overall investment. Currently the regulations allow a married couple to gain citizenship for a total of US$265,600 (R2, 941639) plus application fees. This breaks down into a donation of US$200,000, (R2, 215089), US$50,000 (R553, 772) in government fees, US$15,000 (R166, 131) in due diligence fees, and $600 (R6, 645) for two passports. Instead of the US$200,000 (R2, 227 899) donation, you can opt to buy a government approved property to the value of at least US$400,000 (R4, 455 799). This property may be re-sold after five years from the issuance of citizenship.
Where can you travel to? Holders of the Antiguan passport enjoy visa-free travel to approximately 130 countries, including the UK, Canada and the countries of the Schengen area.
(Source: H&P)

  1. Grenada

Grenada’s citizenship through investment programme is relatively new and was created in 2013.
The costs: You can gain access by making a real estate investment from as little as US$311,750 (R3 472 738).
Where can you travel to? You are able to travel to around 115 countries globally, including the UK and 26 Schengen member countries in Europe, visa-free.
(Source: Monarch & Co)

  1. Cyprus

Often referred to as the ‘Jewell’ of the Mediterranean – Cyprus got its independence from the United Kingdom in 1960, where it created a constitutional republic.
The cost: You can citizenship by being a property owner. However you need to buy a permanent privately-owned residence in Cyprus with a purchase price of at least €500, 000 (R7, 119 075). Alternatively, there are a variety of investment options available to you such as direct investment, mixed investments (which includes a donation to a state fund), bank deposit and through starting a business which contributes at least €500, 000 to Cyprus per annum. Certain bank deposits also qualify as do investments into collective investment vehicles.
Where can you travel? You can enjoy visa free travel to over 160 countries worldwide. You also have the right to live and work anywhere within the 28 countries of the European Union (EU).
(Source: Monarch & Co)

  1. Malta

According to Monarch & Co, Malta (pictured) offers various benefits to those who decide to acquire citizenship in Malta, including low cost of living (30-4-% lower than mainland Europe), no rates and taxes on property and no estate duty to mention but a few. It’s an English speaking island, has a pleasant climate, and is safe and hospitable.
The cost: You need to make the following contributions: The principal applicant needs to make a €650,000 (R9, 254 797) investment to the Maltese National Economic and Social Development Fund. If they bring a spouse they need to pay an extra €25,000 (R355, 953) and an extra €25,000 for each applicant under the age of 18. You can also purchase immovable property for €350,000 (R4, 983 352) or lease it for at around €16,000 (R227, 810) per annum. The Malta Individual Investor programme stipulates that you need to invest €150,000 (R2, 127 697) in either stocks, bonds or debentures.
(Source: Monarch & Co)

  1. Portugal

The Portuguese Citizenship programme, also known as the Golden Residence Permit (ARI) has attracted many investors because the climate and lifestyle that the locals enjoy are similar to those experienced by South Africans, particularly Capetonians.
The cost:
You can make a capital investment of€1,000,000 (R14, 184 650) into a Portuguese private or public listed company or into your Portuguese bank account for a period of five years. Alternatively you need to create jobs for a minimum of ten local people. Monarch & Co say this is quite an onerous process and that there have been no applications for this option to date. You can also gain citizenship by purchasing property valued at least €500,000. This is by far the most popular option. You can purchase more than one property which can all accumulatively reach the required €500,000.
Where can you travel to?
You have all the benefits of Schengen visa holders, which means you are able to travel to 26 nations within the EU.
(Source: Monarch & Co)

Overall costs

Buying into citizenship programmes has become easier and ‘cheaper’ but it’s not a walk in the park and is still only really accessible to the high net worth and ultra-high net worth individuals.

Note that the investment costs outlined above are just the basic costs associated with gaining citizenship. There are other costs that you could incur including admin fees, banking fees, exchange control fees, legal fees and other citizenship-programme related fees. It’s important when making an application for citizenship that you get the right legal expert to help you make sense of it all and to find out the costs right up front so that there are no surprises.

Remember too, that South Africa’s exchange control laws are still quite stringent and you are only entitled to take R1 million out of the country per year without any permission needed from the South African Reserve Bank (Sarb). You can invest up to R4 million but you need a special tax clearance certificate for that. Investments or withdrawals of R4 million or more can be made but it can get very tricky to get this amount of money out and it can take months if not years to organise.

Legal fees can be steep too. H&P typical fees for a single applicant range from US$10,000 (R111 521) for the Hong Kong residence program, to €70,000 (R992, 262) in Malta. “We swiftly acquire legal residence and a residence card for each client, then lodge the citizenship case, and work on the fulfilment of citizenship at the end of the 12 months.

“The billing of an immigration lawyer varies as some lawyers charge by hour while others charge by case. It should be noted that billing also varies depending on the program, complexity and size of the family,” explains H&P.

It is possible to apply for citizenship through some countries without the help of legal experts but H&P point out that: “This varies depending on the country’s regulations. Citizenship Planning involves not just legalities, major financial investments, and unique regulations, but careful following of the correct processes.” It advises investors to only deal with reputable international companies who specialise in Citizenship Planning and who are up-to-date with the latest offerings, global trends and government legislations.