High-net-worth individuals looking to establish citizenship outside their home country should look to the Caribbean, according to an index from Professional Wealth Management, a Financial Times publication.

The index identified 12 countries with citizenship by investment programs and ranked them based on seven key factors. The top five countries are all in the Caribbean, where some of the longest-running programs are based.

“Considering the stability and longevity of the programs in the Caribbean, it is no surprise that the Caribbean jurisdictions ranked in the CBI Index’s top five positions,” according to the index.

(Related: Top 10 Most Business-Friendly Countries: 2017)

Citizenship by investment (CBI) programs give individuals a way to establish citizenship in a country in addition to their home country that is easier and faster than traditional paths to citizenship, and give host countries a way to attract capital and build up their economies.

For example, International Monetary Fund data shows that the CBI program in St. Kitts and Nevis, a pair of islands in the Lesser Antilles, accounted for 12% of national GDP in 2015, and helped cut the national debt to 68% of GDP, from 159% in 2010, according to the index.

“The trend will accelerate to attract those with capital, in need of stability or simply not wishing to be subjected to the whims of their own government,” Natacha Onawelho-Loren, head of Legal, Trust and Fiduciary at the Salamanca Group in Geneva, said in the report.

Emmanuel Nanthan, ambassador and head of the Citizenship By Investment Unit in the Commonwealth of Dominica, noted that “obtaining a second or third citizenship does not necessarily change one’s identity, but rather it broadens the opportunities available to a person, whether it be venturing into another market or calling a new place home.”

St. Kitts and Nevis established the first CBI program in 1984, according to the index. Austria created a program the following year, but CBI programs were relatively rare until 2008, when eight new countries established their own programs.  

Although Canada started offering investor visas in the 1990s, it ended its program in 2014. The United States gives foreign investors resident status under the EB-5 program if they invest at least $500,000 in a business that creates or preserves at least 10 jobs, but stops short of granting citizenship.

The index ranked programs based on seven factors, awarding a maximum of 10 points in each category:

  • Freedom of movement, which considers how many countries and business hubs the passport gives the holder access to. European programs dominated in this category.
  • Standard of living, although it’s important to note that not everyone seeking a second citizenship would move full time to the new country. This measure also considered a host country’s “ability to promote freedom, and to protect the rights of individuals to act and to express themselves without undue constraints.”
  • Minimum investment outlay. There are big differences in the minimum investment required to qualify for CBI programs. The index didn’t consider application and due diligence fees that investors may incur, which can be considerable and increase with spouses and dependents.  
  • Mandatory travel or residence. HNW individuals may not have extensive time to fulfil minimum stay requirements. Programs with few restrictions on in-person application or residence requirements received a higher score.
  • Timeline to acquiring citizenship. Some countries offer faster turnaround times on applications and were rated more favorably.
  • Ease of processing. Some countries required language fluency or familiarity with local history and culture as part of the approval process.
  • Due diligence. The report noted that CBI programs have the potential for abuse from people looking to escape money laundering or terrorism financing laws. The index measured a program’s due diligence process in weeding out applicants with those connections.

Best Countries for Investment: Caribbean Countries

English Harbor bay in Antigua.

Dominica

Total points: 63

The best country in the index for investors interested in dual citizenship, Dominica launched its program in 1993. It scored 10 out of 10 points for minimum required investment (a $100,000 contribution to the Government Fund, or a $200,000 investment in designated real estate), mandatory travel (there isn’t any), ease of processing (the application process is fast and transparent) and due diligence (officials use “unique data collection and due diligence features” to vet applicants).

If investors do choose to spend time in Dominica, English is the official language and the currency is pegged to the U.S. dollar.

St. Kitts and Nevis

Total points: 61

With a total score of 61 out of 70, St. Kitts and Nevis came in just behind Dominica. The two countries tied in freedom of movement, mandatory travel, ease of processing and due diligence. However, the St. Kitts program is more expensive at $250,000, and the standard of living is slightly lower.

Grenada

Total points: 60

Investors can qualify for Grenada’s CBI program by making a $200,000 contribution to the National Transformation Fund or a $350,000 investment in a government-approved real estate project.

The program, established in 2013, boasts one of the simplest approval processes, with no interview or mandatory travel, no business experience and no language requirement, according to the index. English is the official language.

Antigua and Barbuda

Total points: 55

The former British territory gives investors three ways to become citizens: through a $200,000 contribution to the National Development Fund, a $400,000 investment in a government-approved real estate project, or a $1.5 million investment in a government-approved business project.

Investors must sign an oath of allegiance (though they’re not required to relinquish their original citizenship), and spend at least five days on either of the islands within five years of being granted citizenship.

Saint Lucia

Total points: 53

The youngest program in the index, Saint Lucia scored highly in minimum investment and mandatory travel. Launched in January 2016, investors may qualify with as little as $100,000. Application fees start at $50,000, and turnaround takes about three months, the index found.

Best Countries for Investment: European Countries

La Valletta, Capital City of Malta.

Cyprus

Total points: 47

The top European country in the index, the Cyprus program distinguished itself by attractive travel and residence requirements, according to the index. There’s no minimum residency requirement, and citizens can travel to 157 locations without needing a visa. However, with a minimum €1.5 million ($1.71 million) investment, it’s also one of the most expensive countries in the index.

Malta

Total points: 45

Malta requires a series of investments to qualify for its CBI program: a €650,000 ($741,000) contribution to the Malta National Development and Social Fund, a €350,000 real estate purchase (or a rental of at least €16,000 per year), and an investment portfolio worth €150,000 of government bonds or stocks. Investors have to hold real estate and portfolio investments for at least five years. They must also purchase health insurance, according to the index.

Once approved, though, investors with Maltese citizenship can live and work in any country in the European Union. The standard of living is among the highest of countries in the index, good news since applicants must show 12 months’ residence before being approved.

Bulgaria

Total points: 43

None of the European countries in the index scored above a 5 in the minimum investment category, though Bulgaria is the least expensive option of the group. Applicants can invest 1 million Bulgarian leva (€512,000 or $583,705) in government bonds for a five-year path to citizenship, or 2 million leva in bonds or a Bulgarian company for a three-year path. Either way, they must hold those investments for at least five years.

Austria

Total points: 38

The European and Mediterranean programs were marked by their relatively high cost, and Austria leads the way as the most expensive with between €8 million and €10 million ($9.12 million and $11.4 million) required to achieve citizenship. It also has the second lowest score to timeline to citizenship, taking about two years to complete, according to the index.

Best Countries for Investment: Asian, African and Oceanian Countries

Bayon Temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Vanuatu

Total points: 53

Vanautu comprises about 80 islands in the South Pacific, and, according to Citizen Lane, a Swiss consulting firm dedicated to helping clients with citizenship and residence by investment, is “one of the most important offshore financial centers in the world.”

Its CBI program is among the youngest in the index, having just been launched in 2015. It tied with Saint Lucia in total points, but beat the younger program in timeline to citizenship with a quick turnaround of one to two months.

Comoros

Total points: 46

The cluster of islands off the eastern coast of Africa is home to about 788,000 people, with a diverse African, Arabic and French population, according to the index. In addition to Comorian, Arabic and French are official languages.

Despite that diversity, travel freedom is limited to about 45 countries for Comorian passport holders, and the ease of processing and due diligence involved in getting a passport is low.

Still, it is the least expensive option for investors at just $45,000. The index found that investors in the Gulf States are key targets for the CBI program.

Cambodia

Total points: 37

Though Cambodia has had a CBI program since 2013, it’s a less appealing option than younger programs. Investors won’t find their Cambodian passport gives them a lot of additional travel freedom, and despite being relatively safe based on homicide rates, the country is the “least dedicated to the freedom of its people,” the index found.

The lowest ranked program in the index, Cambodia’s highest scores were in minimum investments and mandatory travel, with a score of eight in each category. 

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