Passports for sale have become a $2bn global business

Pedro Gonçalves
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Passports for sale have become a $2bn global business

A growing number of countries offer individuals passports in return for investment, and the wealthy have been taking advantage in increasing numbers. In 2014, the global rich spent an estimated $2bn acquiring a second nationality.

Selling citizenship and residency wrapped up as investment programs has become big business for many nations as some governments demand a hefty price for a passport and the privileges they come with.

The Caribbean is the global capital of "citizenship-by-investment" programs. A passport from Dominica can be had in return for a $100,000 investment. A $400,000 real estate investment or a $250,000 donation to a development fund will get you citizenship in St. Kitts and Nevis. Similar sums are required for a passport from Antigua and Barbuda, plus five days of residency over the first five years of citizenship.

Clearly, there is great – and growing – demand. As the market matures, it would therefore be appropriate for governments to adopt stringent criteria to guard against such passports being acquired for improper or criminal purposes"

Expect to pay $2.7m in the UK or $1.9m in Singapore, the two most expensive destinations for expats and their families.

Portugal sells residency for $500,000, while Canada sets a price of $600,000. The cost of a passport in Australia is $1.2m. In the US, wealthy expats have no wall to scramble over if they can afford to buy their way across the border for between $500,000 and $1m.

Cyprus offers citizenship in return for a minimum €2.5m real estate investment.

"There is the fear of terrorists being found to have travelled on a new passport before committing an atrocity. It is not hard to imagine how this could lead to governments being reluctant to accept ‘purchased' passports, restricting their use or denying access to those who bear them," said Knight Frank's Wealth Report 2018, which compiled the data about passports for sale.

Demand has been on the rise for a number of different reasons. Wealthy investors are seeking second passports in record numbers because they are fleeing domestic instability, whether war or political uncertainty and also to have added mobility as a British or American passport gives you access to 170 countries. 

Middle East unrest has been a driving factor in the popularity of economic citizenship program. Another reason wealthy investors might want to pursue economic citizenship is for tax purposes.

"Clearly, there is great - and growing - demand. As the market matures, it would therefore be appropriate for governments to adopt stringent criteria to guard against such passports being acquired for improper or criminal purposes."

The report explains that the wealthy are choosing where to live based on special offers rather than a desire to move to somewhere they want to live.

"Some take issue with the very notion of nationality as a commodity, with prospective customers choosing their new country based on price or features such as ease of travel, purchasing passports off the shelf and, aside from buying a property or handing over a fixed sum investment, making little real contribution to the host country," said the report.

 

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