Kathleen Peddicord, offshore editor of Live and Invest Overseas and author of How to Retire Overseas. LiveAndInvestOverseas.com
Dual citizenship can allow you to remain in a foreign country indefinitely and even earn a living there…eliminate the need to obtain certain travel visas…improve safety when visiting parts of the world where anti-American views are widespread…and provide access to a foreign nation’s public health system. Your dual citizenship also could make it easier for your descendants to become dual citizens—the right to work abroad might not mean much to you today, but it could one day expand the career options of your children or grandchildren.
And if there’s another global emergency, dual citizenship means there’s another place in the world that’s required to let you in.
Here’s a look at the three main paths to obtaining dual citizenship. Contact a nation’s US consulate or visit its official government website for more specific information about citizenship rules.
Citizenship by Ancestry
Many countries offer citizenship to the children of citizens, but a handful extend ancestry-based citizenship to grandchildren or beyond. Many countries that offer this are in the European Union (EU). EU passports are especially desirable, allowing visa-free travel within the EU and to many other countries. Citizenship by ancestry also tends to be less expensive than other citizenship options—perhaps a few hundred dollars in filing fees plus a few thousand for an immigration attorney and/or genealogy researcher. The process usually takes more than a year. Notable programs include…
Hungary. If you can identify at least one Hungarian ancestor at any point in history, you can apply for citizenship—if you also achieve proficiency with the Hungarian language. You also can qualify if at least one parent was a Hungarian citizen at the time of your birth, regardless of your language abilities. Hungary is a member of the EU. Washington.mfa.gov.hu/eng
Ireland. You likely can obtain an Irish passport if at least one parent was an Irish citizen at the time of your birth and/or at least one grandparent was born in Ireland. Ireland’s citizenship process can take as little as a few months, though the pandemic has caused delays. Ireland is part of the EU.DFA.ie
Israel. If you have a Jewish parent or grandparent, you could qualify for Israeli citizenship under its Law of Return—your Jewish ancestor need not have lived in Israel. You also could qualify if you are Jewish or are married to someone who is Jewish. www.Gov.il/en
Italy. You might qualify for Italian citizenship if you have one or more ancestors who held Italian citizenship and who did not die before March 17, 1861, the date of Italian unification. Italy is a member of the EU. Esteri.it/mae/en
Citizenship by Naturalization
Many countries will allow you to apply for citizenship if you first live there as a legal resident. The number of years of residency required before you can apply for citizenship varies—five years is standard, but some countries require as few as two while tiny Andorra demands 20. Some countries have additional requirements, such as learning the language or passing a test about local history. Notable naturalization programs…
Argentina. Two years of legal residency and proof of financial resources are required before applying for citizenship. Being able to speak Spanish also may help. Cancilleria.gob.ar/en
Ireland. Five years of legal residence is required before applying. Any five years during a nine-year period is sufficient, but spending more than six weeks outside Ireland during a year might disqualify that year. A retiree might be required to show that he/she has at least 50,000 euros in annual non-employment income…100,000 for married couples. At recent exchange rates, that’s around $60,800/$121,600. DFA.ie
Portugal. Five years of legal residence and proficiency in Portuguese are required before applying. Options for obtaining legal residence include making an approved real estate or other kind of investment—such as investing in the arts or a small business—through the country’s “Golden Visa” program. The investment must be between 250,000 euros and 500,000 euros (around $304,000 to $609,000). Retirees could qualify by showing passive income of at least 1,070 euros (around $1,300) per month. Portugal is a member of the EU. Imigrante.sef.pt/en
Citizenship by Investment
Certain nations, many of them in the Caribbean, will provide citizenship in exchange for an investment in or donation to the country. These pricey programs are primarily aimed at wealthy people hoping to escape political instability, travel restrictions and/or steep taxes in other parts of the world such as China and Russia. But they could be of interest to wealthy Americans who want to keep their options open.
Warning: These “investments” are rarely money-makers, have steep fees and taxes, and must be held for years.
Two of the best deals…
Antigua and Barbuda. A donation of $100,000 to the National Development Fund or an approved real estate investment of as little as $400,000 held for at least five years provides citizenship for the applicant and up to three relatives. It’s the world’s best citizenship-by-investment deal for families. English is widely spoken. CIP.gov.ag
Dominica. You can obtain citizenship by investing as little as $200,000 in an approved real estate project for as little as three years. If you hold it for at least five years, you can resell it to another investor entering this citizenship program, which can reduce your investment losses. It’s the best citizenship-by- investment program for single people. Alternately, you can make a donation of $100,000 for one person…$150,000 for a couple…or
$175,000 for a family of four. English is widely spoken. CBIU.gov.dm
Similar: Many countries, including Canada, Greece and the UK, have “Golden Visa” programs that provide residency in exchange for an investment or donation. Prices can be steep sometimes more than $1 million.
Dual Citizenship but Still 100% American
Americans do not lose their American citizenship or any American rights if they obtain citizenship or residency in a second country unless they intentionally renounce it. Countries that do not recognize dual citizenship—which likely would make it necessary to renounce US citizenship to gain citizenship there—include Andorra, the Bahamas, China, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, San Marino, Singapore and Ukraine.
Americans can receive Social Security benefits even if they live abroad, except in a small number of countries such as Cuba or North Korea.
Obtaining citizenship or residency is likely to provide you with access to that country’s public health-care system, if it has one, though some are not up to US standards and/or have long waits for care. Fortunately, most countries with public health systems also have higher-quality private health networks and health insurance for a fraction of the price of US care and coverage. Retirees who live overseas can maintain their Medicare so they can obtain care in the US for a major health problem.
The IRS still expects you to pay income taxes—but you can at least subtract taxes that you’ve paid to foreign governments.
Helpful: It can be useful to obtain “permanent residence” in a foreign country even if you don’t obtain dual citizenship. Details vary, but in most countries permanent residence conveys many of the same rights as citizenship, such as the right to work in that country, with a few exceptions—permanent residents usually can’t vote, hold that nation’s passport or expect protection from its consulates, for example.