Forget yachts and private jets. The new status symbol in today’s world is a second passport, or at least a second residency abroad.
For wealthier individuals in countries with few visa-free travel options, it can mean far more freedom to travel, live, and earn more abroad. For example, my friends from South Africa can visit only 100 countries without a visa, whereas I can visit 184 as an American. Worse, they received roughly half the paycheck my wife did for the same job with the same employer.
Americans may not need a second passport for visa reasons, but many love the idea of living in Europe or elsewhere abroad. For instance, you can live overseas with a work visa sponsored by an employer. That’s how my wife and I lived in Abu Dhabi for four years and currently live in Brazil.
If you don’t want to get a job abroad or you’re self-employed, independently wealthy, or retired, you have a wide range of options to “buy” residency or citizenship abroad. They range from cheap (under $20,000) to outrageously expensive (over $1,000,000), and European countries tend to require more than Asian and Caribbean countries. You can buy residency in English-speaking countries such as the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand for high sums.
Here’s what you need to know about elite residency and citizenship by investment programs around the world, whether you want to take advantage of the low cost of living in countries where $2,000 buys the good life or simply jet-set around Europe in your retirement.
Residency vs. Citizenship
The distinction between residency and citizenship is an important one to know as you explore these programs.
Residency allows you to live in the country. It’s required for you to move to a new country.
Residency is temporary and can be revoked at any time through a change in policies or laws. Often, residency is contingent upon you meeting certain criteria, such as maintaining a full-time job in the country or paying an elite residency fee every few years and spending a certain number of days each year in the country.
Residency does not pass down to your children like citizenship. Your children must either be included as dependents under your residency visa, or they must secure their own residency visa as adults.
By contrast, citizenship cannot be revoked unless you’re found guilty of obtaining it fraudulently. It passes to your children and their children after them.
Citizenship nearly always comes with full civic rights, such as voting and due process under the law. While rare, it can also come with obligatory requirements such as military service.
Both citizenship and residency usually come with tax responsibilities as well. In some cases, residents must pay taxes even on income earned in another country.
Finally, you need citizenship to be issued a passport for visa-free travel.
Countries Where You Can Buy Residency or Citizenship for $100,000 & Under
Elite residency abroad doesn’t have to cost six figures. But keep in mind that the countries with the cheapest residency visas typically either don’t offer citizenship or require nonrefundable fees and “donations,” rather than minimum investments you can receive back.
Before buying any of these, visit the country at least once to make sure you truly like it. I recommend spending at least a few weeks traveling the country to get a sense of its various regions and cities and at least a month living in your chosen city as a trial run.
Thailand offers seven different elite residency options, which range in cost, duration, and perks. Couples get a discount (800,000 baht total for the two of them), and each dependent costs another 300,000 baht.
At the high end of the residency program, you can buy a 20-year elite residency for 2.14 million baht, which comes with perks such as exclusive airport services, like lounge access, and government concierge services that let you streamline your interactions with government bureaucracies and your entry into the country.
Plan a trip to Thailand on a budget to get a sense of just how much this lush, friendly paradise offers. Just don’t blame me when you fall in love and decide to move there.
Currency: Thai baht
Reasons to Move to Thailand: Aside from the cuisine, which is globally renowned, Thai people are also extremely warm and welcoming. The cost of living remains low, and residents benefit from easy, cheap travel across Asia and Oceania. Thailand offers something for everyone, from gorgeous beaches and modern nightlife to jungle trekking and ancient temples.
While Montenegro technically doesn’t offer an elite residency program, they do allow anyone who owns residential real estate to apply for a residence visa. That means you can theoretically buy an inexpensive home for $50,000 and secure residency in this beautiful Balkan nation.
It comes with a few downsides, however. First, you must renew the visa every year, and if you leave the country for more than one month per year, you have to inform your “immigration inspector.”
After five years under an annual temporary residency visa, you can apply for permanent residency. This only needs to be renewed every five years and doesn’t require travel notifications.
You can buy citizenship in Montenegro for a significantly steeper sum. The two options include investing €250,000 (roughly $275,000) in a government-approved development project in the northern, undeveloped region in Montenegro or €450,000 in the developed southern region. There’s also an additional €100,000 nonrefundable application fee payable to the government for good measure.
Bear in mind that Montenegro is not a member of the European Union. Even with citizenship, you don’t gain open travel across Europe’s 26 Schengen Area countries.
Reasons to Move to Montenegro: This small European nation offers both beaches and the rugged Balkan mountains, with plenty of history and culture to boot. Small medieval villages dot the landscape, and outdoor enthusiasts can explore the country’s glacial lakes, ancient forests, and limestone peaks. When you’re ready to adventure beyond the country’s borders, it affords easy travel to anywhere in Southern, Eastern, and Western Europe.
Latvia offers four ways to buy residency:
- €50,000 (around $55,000) invested in a Latvian small business (under 50 employees), plus a €10,000 application fee to the government and up to €30,000 in additional legal fees and security checks
- €250,000 invested in residential real estate, plus 5% in government fees and a 2% stamp duty for title registration
- €250,000 invested in government bonds, plus €38,000 in government fees
- €250,000 deposited with a Latvian bank and held for at least five years, plus €25,000 in government fees
Unlike Montenegro, Latvia is a member nation of both the EU and the Schengen Area. With a residency visa, you gain visa-free access to all other Schengen Area countries.
Latvia also offers a path to citizenship, but it’s more a marketing gimmick than a true opportunity. It requires fluency in Latvian, a near-impossible task for non-native speakers. Stick with the residency visa, which allows you the benefits of free travel across the Schengen Area, and save yourself the headache.
Reasons to Move to Latvia: Latvia offers a low cost of living, rich history and architecture, and plenty of natural beauty. In fact, it’s one of 11 European countries to visit while they’re still cheap. As you explore this small Baltic nation, start with Riga’s cobblestoned streets and art nouveau buildings. Then, venture further afield to visit the country’s castles, beaches, waterfalls, and national parks.
Several Caribbean countries offer elite residency or citizenship by investment programs, starting with Dominica. This island nation allows full citizenship for as little as $100,000.
A “donation” (read: fee) of $100,000 to the government-operated National Transformation Fund buys you full citizenship. You can buy citizenship for a family of four for a $200,000 donation.
Alternatively, you can invest $200,000 in Dominican real estate. Given its location in the hurricane-prone Caribbean, be sure to price out homeowners insurance premiums before writing a check to buy property.
As a citizen, you get a passport to show off to your friends. But it allows fewer visa-free countries than a U.S. passport, so curb your enthusiasm unless you have a specific need for a second passport.
Language: Caribbean Creole French
Currency: Eastern Caribbean dollar
Reasons to Move to Dominica: Dominica serves as a health and wellness destination, with rainforest-coated mountains, clean air, and water you can drink directly from mountainside springs. It also offers adventure travel such as rappelling down waterfalls, scuba diving, and hiking the geothermally heated Boiling Lake. Best of all, it’s not overrun with tourists, making it a breath of fresh air in the region.
4. Saint Lucia
Another tropical island destination where you can buy citizenship affordably, Saint Lucia offers a similar program to Dominica’s. There are three ways to buy citizenship:
- A $100,000 nonrefundable donation to the Saint Lucia National Economic Fund (this fee rises with additional dependents)
- A $300,000 investment in an approved real estate development project (you might see this investment come back, perhaps even with a profit)
- A $3.5 million investment in an approved enterprise project
This country is better-known and more tourist-trodden than Dominica but remains a far cry from the extreme tourism of the Bahamas. With its white sandy beaches, Saint Lucia better conforms to the average American’s assumptions about what Caribbean islands look like.
Language: Caribbean Creole French
Currency: Eastern Caribbean dollar
Reasons to Move to Saint Lucia: Besides the beaches and water sports, Saint Lucia offers mountains, rainforests, and live volcanoes you can explore. The water is clear, the weather is beautiful, and the scuba diving is excellent.
5. Antigua & Barbuda
Before visiting the two-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, get the pronunciation right: An-tee-gah (no “w” sound).
Like Saint Lucia, this tiny country offers three avenues for buying citizenship:
- A $100,000 donation to the country’s National Development Fund
- A $400,000 investment in local real estate
- A $400,000 investment in a newly created local business
Antigua spans only 13 miles at its widest point and totals a mere 108 square miles in area. But despite its diminutive size, it boasts 365 distinct beaches, enough to visit a different beach every day of the year. The sister nation of Barbuda is even smaller and more pristine, accessible only by boats leaving Saint John’s harbor.
Language: Caribbean Creole French, English
Currency: Eastern Caribbean dollar (although the U.S. dollar is also widely used)
Capital: Saint John’s
Reasons to Move to Antigua & Barbuda: In addition to their famed beaches, this pair of islands offers spectacular diving, snorkeling, and rainforests. They banned plastic bags in 2016, making the islands and surrounding waters cleaner than ever before. But what the country is best known for is its sailing and historic Nelson’s Dockyard, particularly during the annual Sailing Week festival.
Countries Where You Can Buy Residency for $101,000 – $200,000
None of those options strike your fancy? Never fear. There are plenty of other countries lined up to welcome you — if you’re willing to pay for them.
6. Saint Kitts & Nevis
Yet another Caribbean nation offering citizenship by investment, Saint Kitts and Nevis recently adjusted their program to attract more foreign money after a particularly costly series of hurricanes.The Saint Kitts and Nevis passport now offers visa-free travel to 154 countries after the nation went out of its way to sign additional treaties over the last few years. This makes it one of the better Caribbean passports to hold.
You four options to buy full citizenship and a passport are:
- A donation of $150,000 to the Saint Kitts and Nevis Sustainable Growth Fund (plus $25,000 for a spouse and $10,000 for each dependent)
- A donation of $250,000 to the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (or $300,000 for a family of four plus $25,000 per additional dependent)
- A minimum real estate purchase of $200,000 held for at least seven years
- A minimum real estate purchase of $400,000 held for at least five years
As a real estate investor myself, it seems like a no-brainer to me to take the real estate route. You can buy a residence to live in or buy a vacation rental as a source of passive income.
Language: Caribbean Creole French (English is also widely spoken)
Currency: Eastern Caribbean dollar
Reasons to Move to St. Kitts & Nevis: It boasts beaches and a wealth of historic sugar plantations, many of which now serve as inns. Amidst the cloud-draped mountains on larger Saint Kitts, the dormant Mount Liamuiga volcano features a crater lake, a web of hiking trails, and an abundance of green vervet monkeys to keep you company.
A series of Caribbean islands surrounding the main “Spice Isle,” named for its nutmeg plantations, Grenada offers a similar citizenship by investment program.
To buy in, you have one of two options:
- A $150,000 donation to the Grenada National Transformation Fund
- A real estate purchase of at least $350,000
A Grenada passport carries some weight, although less than the Saint Kitts and Nevis passport. Grenada’s passport allows visa-free travel to 142 countries.
Language: English, Caribbean Creole French
Currency: Eastern Caribbean dollar
Capital: Saint George’s
Reasons to Move to Grenada: Like its Caribbean neighbors, Grenada offers abundant beaches and gorgeous diving and snorkeling. Capital city Saint George’s features colorful houses, vibrant history, and a scenic harbor, all overlooked by a fort dating back to the early 1700s. Festivals such as Carnival and kite-flying competitions add to the local flavor and culture, and outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy plenty of hiking trails, many featuring waterfalls, such as the Annandale just a short drive from Saint George’s.
In vast Oceania lies the archipelago nation of Vanuatu, made up of roughly 80 islands spread over some 800 miles.
That acreage leaves plenty of beachfront to choose from if you opt to buy citizenship here. The Vanuatu Contribution Programme costs a combined $155,000: a $130,000 donation, plus a $25,000 “processing fee.” Also, applicants must have a net worth of at least $250,000.
While citizenship scores you a passport, the country doesn’t allow new citizens inducted through this program to vote or participate in Vanuatu politics. Also, Vanuatu’s passport only allows visa-free travel to 130 countries. But with thousands of miles of coastline to explore, you may never want to leave, anyway.
Language: English, French, Bislama
Currency: Vanuatu vatu
Capital: Port Vila
Reasons to Move to Vanuatu: Vanuatu remains less tourist-trodden and more authentic than Pacific island chains like Fiji. The diving is spectacular, with options ranging from coral reefs to undersea caverns to wrecks like the USS President Coolidge dating back to WWII. Enjoy hiking the volcanoes, adventure travel such as bungee jumping, “abseiling” (rappelling) down waterfalls, and rich local culture unblemished by too much international influence.
Nestled between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova is not currently a member of the European Union, but it has a travel treaty with the EU and hopes to become a member over the next decade.
Citizens of Moldova can spend up to three months out of six in Schengen Area countries. To live in one permanently, they must obtain residency through the host country.
While Moldova doesn’t offer a backdoor to live in a Schengen Area country, it makes for an appealing European country in its own right. It also offers a relatively affordable citizenship by investment program.
To buy citizenship, you must donate €100,000 (around $110,000) to the country’s Public Investment Fund, plus a series of nonrefundable administrative fees. These include €35,000 in service provider and agent fees, due diligence fees of €6,000, another €5,000 in government fees, and €300 for the passport itself. The total comes to €146,300 (~$161,000) in total nonrefundable fees.
Language: Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Gagauz
Currency: Moldovan leu
Reasons to Move to Moldova: From ancient forests and monasteries to vineyard-lined hillsides, Moldova’s landscape is tranquil and scenic. The wine is surprisingly delicious and only minimally exported, perhaps because they hoard it in the world’s largest wine cellar (the mind-boggling 125-mile long cellar at Mileștii Mici). But wine isn’t the only thing that comes at a discount in Moldova. The low cost of living means your U.S. dollar stretches far for an excellent quality of life.
Countries Where You Can Buy Residency for $201,000 – $300,000
At this price level, aspiring expatriates have several more options. Whether the residency justifies the cost depends on how badly you want to live in one of these specific countries.
Unlike its eastern neighbor Thailand, Cambodia offers a citizenship option, not just residency. However, it charges nearly 15 times the cost of Thailand’s program.
Cambodia offers two paths to citizenship by investment:
- Donate 1bn Cambodian riels (around $245,000) to the Cambodian government
- Invest 1.2bn Cambodian riels (around $294,000) in a local investment approved by the Cambodian Development Council or the Royal Government
Applicants must pass a language test and a test demonstrating knowledge of Khmer history. They also must visit the country in person to obtain a health, police, and “good behavior” certificate and to sign an oath of citizenship.
Currency: Cambodian riel
Capital: Phnom Penh
Reasons to Move to Cambodia: Rich in history, culture, and ancient temples, Cambodia is an exceptionally friendly and welcoming country. It also offers pristine beaches, jungles, and remote islands, plus an affordable cost of living.
Straddling the European and Asian continents, Turkey — and particularly Istanbul — also straddles Europe and the Middle East culturally.
Turkey offers five options for citizenship by investment:
- Invest at least $250,000 in Turkish real estate and hold it for a minimum of three years
- Deposit $500,000 with a Turkish bank and hole it for at least three years
- Invest $500,000 in Turkish government bonds and hold it for at least three years
- Invest $500,000 in fixed capital in Turkey
- Create at least 50 jobs in Turkey
Having visited Istanbul recently, I can attest to the city’s successful blend of history and cosmopolitan modernity. It balances East and West, tradition and progress, all with an air of inclusivity. It’s a stunning city with something for everyone.
Language: Turkish (though English is widely spoken in Istanbul)
Currency: Turkish lira
Reasons to Move to Turkey: Turkey has served as a seat of power for nearly every great empire in the region’s history, from the Greeks and Romans to, most recently, the Ottomans. It retains architecture and influences from each, making for a medley of traditions and culture. The landscape is varied, with abundant shoreline, mountains, plains, and rolling green hills. If all that wasn’t enough, the food is equally varied and delicious.
Greece offers both residency and citizenship programs for foreigners. To buy into Greece’s Golden Visa program, you must invest at least €250,000 (around $275,000) in Greek real estate.
That may prove more challenging than it sounds, given how affordable Greek real estate remains. Fortunately, you can spread those funds over multiple investment properties plus a home.
Once a resident, you can move freely around the Schengen Area, of which Greece is a member nation. You don’t even need to spend any time in Greece; the Golden Visa program does not include a time-in-country requirement.
If you want a Greek passport, though, prepare to learn the Greek alphabet and pass a proficiency test.
Reasons to Move to Greece: Often hailed as the birthplace of Western civilization, Greece is affordable, sunny, and surrounded by roughly 6,000 islands in the Aegean and Ionian Seas. It offers a rich history for enthusiasts, abundant beaches for sun worshipers, and internationally renowned cuisine for foodies.
Countries Where You Can Buy Residency for Over $400,000
You can buy your way into wealthy English-speaking countries like the U.K. for a cool £2 million (around $2.5 million). If that’s a bit rich for your blood, explore these alternative countries for lower costs of living and entry.
Island nation Cyprus offers both residency and citizenship by investment, although the latter costs dramatically more money.
To buy residency, foreigners must meet all three of these requirements:
- Invest at least €300,000 (around $330,000) in real estate (specifically, a new property in a government-approved development)
- Deposit at least €30,000 in a Cyprian bank account, locked for three years
- Earn at least €30,000 annually from a foreign source
If the residency requirements sound daunting, consider the requirements for citizenship, of which you only need to choose one:
- Invest at least €2 million (around $2.2 million) in real estate (not subject to the same limitations as the residency application)
- Invest at least €2 million in Cyprian businesses
- Invest at least €2 million in purchase units from Alternative Investment Funds
While Cyprus is an EU member nation, it is not a member of the Schengen Area, so Cyprian residents cannot live indefinitely in other Schengen states.
Language: Greek, Turkish (although English is widely spoken)
Reasons to Move to Cyprus: Warm, sunny, and more economically stable than its northern neighbor Greece, Cyprus offers a laid-back Mediterranean lifestyle. It’s relatively affordable for a European country and features beachfronts, mountains, and history in equal measure.
Portugal has a lengthy list of options to qualify for residency under their Golden Visa program, and none of them are cheap. Options involving capital investment include:
- Depositing at least €1 million (around $1.1 million) in a Portuguese bank or approved Portuguese investment
- Investing €350,000 (around $395,000) in research under the national science and technology system
- Investing €350,000 in cultural heritage or artistic projects
- Investing €350,000 in approved Portuguese venture capital funds, held for at least five years
- Investing €350,000 in properties at least 30 years old or designated in an urban regeneration zone
- Investing €500,000 in any real estate
Aspiring residents can reduce the real estate requirement by 20% if they buy in low-population areas. That effectively means non-coastal areas.
Alternatively, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists can choose from the following two options:
- Investing €350,000 in a Portuguese company for a minimum of three years and leading to the creation of at least five permanent jobs
- Creating a minimum of 10 permanent jobs
As an additional requirement, new residents must spend at least seven days in the country during their first year and 14 days in the country every two years after that. That’s hardly an onerous requirement, given the country’s pleasant weather and landscape.
Portugal is a member of both the EU and the Schengen Area, so residents gain free access to roam most of Europe. Residents can also apply for citizenship after five years, although to obtain it, they must pass a Portuguese history test in Portuguese.
Reasons to Move to Portugal: Renowned for its long coastline and beaches, Portugal also offers rich cuisine, wine, and history. Its cities and towns ooze charm, from the abundant castles and cobblestone streets to the houses’ rustic terracotta tiled roofs. The country gets plenty of sunshine and has a surprisingly diverse terrain.
While Bulgaria requires greater investment than most countries offering golden visas, the low cost of living helps offset the high investment requirement. Bulgaria offers full citizenship, not just residency, with no language or history tests required.
Bulgaria’s citizenship by investment program requires an investment of 1 million Bulgarian lev (around $560,000) in five-year government bonds. The goods news is that the government guarantees repayment. The bad news? They don’t pay you any interest on the bonds.
You receive permanent residency roughly six months after your investment and citizenship when your bonds mature after five years.
Alternatively, Bulgaria offers a fast-track option to receive citizenship in two years. It requires more money, to the tune of another million lev invested by the second year of residency.
Bulgaria does not impose a time-in-country requirement. Note that Bulgaria is not a member of the Schengen Area, although it is a member of the EU.
Currency: Bulgarian lev
Reasons to Move to Bulgaria: From friendly people to a low cost of living to surprisingly good wine, there’s a lot to like about this under-visited country. Bulgaria is not yet overrun with tourists, despite its many subtle charms. It offers skiing at a fraction of the cost of Western Europe’s slopes, quirky beach towns along the Black Sea, rolling vineyards, and rich history from the Romans to the medieval Bulgarian kingdom and beyond.
While by no means an exclusive list, these 15 countries offer the most reasonable residency and citizenship programs. You might even get your money back if you choose a country that allows investment rather than “donation.”
Before choosing a country, make sure you fully understand its requirements. The last thing you want is a nasty surprise after you’ve shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Most of all, get crystal-clear on why you want a second residency or citizenship. Flashing a second passport to your friends may be briefly gratifying, but think twice if you don’t actually plan to live in your second country because the process costs significant time, money, and headaches to complete.