The fastest countries in the world to become a citizen

The fastest countries in the world to become a citizen

Getting a second passport is perhaps the most important step in flag theory for attaining greater freedom. However, to become a citizen of another country can require incredible time commitments for many people.

Here in Malaysia, for example, it takes at least twelve years to become a citizen, and dual nationality is forbidden.

If you don’t have a second passport, the urge to get one can be intense. Having dual citizenship (or even multiple citizenships) gives you freedoms to travel and invest that having one citizenship alone cannot grant.

It’s understandable that someone looking for a second citizenship would want to first determine in which countries they can obtain citizenship the fastest. After all, we frequently discuss the idea that citizenship is rather fungible; plenty of people are born with citizenships for countries they’ve never lived in and couldn’t care less about.

Like so many other things, citizenship is somewhat of a commodity. Which passport you carry determines where you can live, where you can travel, and — in the case of many restrictive emerging markets — where you can invest.

Most westerners aren’t in a rush to obtain Cambodian citizenship in order to buy cheap land in the country, but practically everyone in Iran would jump at the chance to have another passport. For instance, Iranians have a heck of a time traveling to most countries, let alone becoming a resident or opening a bank account thanks to US sanctions against their home country.

When determining which second passport is best to pursue, there are several considerations. These include your current tax situation, where you need to travel, and even your job prospects.

High-income US citizens — who are required to pay tax on their worldwide income even if they don’t live there — may want to speed up the process of obtaining another nationality in order to renounce US citizenship and avoid the ongoing hassles and expenses of paying tax to a country they don’t live in.

On the other hand, a European citizen who can more easily become “tax non-resident” and pay low or zero tax somewhere else, may be more willing to wait a little longer to obtain a better citizenship.

Similarly, someone from a country that forbids dual citizenship, but who wants a second residency that can lead to citizenship as an insurance policy, may be even less concerned with the timeline.

I have private clients from emerging countries who have had to turn down lucrative job offers merely because they can’t travel to certain countries or can’t obtain visas quickly enough to satisfy the new employer.

If being a citizen of a country with poor visa-free travel is costing you $50,000 a year, you have an even greater desire than many US citizens to find the fastest countries to become a citizen.

The fastest ways to get a second passport

Before we review a few specific countries, let’s discuss each of the fastest ways to obtain citizenship…

1. Citizenship by descent
If you have ancestors from Europe, you may be able to obtain a second passport very inexpensively. The process is called citizenship by descentand usually takes anywhere from six months — if you’re really lucky — to 1-2 years (seeing as most countries that offer it have substantial bureaucracy).

2. Make an investment
It goes without saying that if you have significant cash to invest, the passport process can be sped up. We won’t be discussing the process of citizenship by investment in this article, but if you need a decent passport, one can be purchased in either the Caribbean (Dominica starts at $100,000) or in Europe (Malta runs closer to $1 million).

3. Marry a foreign national
If you are lucky enough to fall in love with someone with a great passport, it’s possible you could be a naturalized citizen of their home country. Foreign spouses often qualify for a shortened waiting period for naturalization, although language requirements sometimes exist. Few countries still offer instant citizenship for foreign spouses, but there are still a few attractive options.

4. Receive special treatment
If you are an exceptional artistic or athletic talent, or if you invest enough money, some countries allow the President to waive naturalization requirements (including language requirements) and make anyone a citizen. Examples include Albania, Poland, and Singapore. This is the basis for Austria’s alleged economic citizenship program, but it is rarely used.

Now, let’s review citizenship options that don’t require a lucky genealogy line or a lot of cash. The following is a list of the countries where it is the easiest to get citizenship.

The fastest countries to become a citizen by residency

Back when I actively chased as many frequent flier miles as possible, I would sometimes take flights solely for the purpose of getting miles. More miles meant higher status with the airline. We called these “butt-in-seat miles” because you had to actually fly to get them.

Similarly, the fastest way to get a second passport for most people is to spend “butt-in-country time”. Becoming a resident of a foreign country and starting the clock ticking on naturalization is the easiest way to go if you don’t have the benefit of luck or substantial wealth.

Argentina (2 years)
Despite the fact that the place is an economic disaster, Argentina has a great passport that grants visa-free access to Europe and 150 countries in total. That’s almost as good as some European passports.

Unlike Europe, where the fastest time to get a passport is five years, Argentina will naturalize you in two years if you’re willing to call it your home during that time. You will need to be physically present in Argentina for at least six months each year, as well as during the naturalization process, which can be rather bureaucratic.

Argentina has even naturalized some illegal aliens before; their Constitution is pretty open. While I don’t recommend sneaking into the country, Argentina is a worthy option if you don’t mind dealing with an insane government while putting in real, on-the-ground time.

Dominican Republic (2 years)
Not to be confused with the island nation of Dominica (which allows for nearly instant citizenship in exchange for a six-figure donation), the Dominican Republic claims to offer second citizenship to foreigners with cash in as little as two years.

While the Dominican Republic passport is of rather poor quality, it does offer access to some highly livable “usual suspect countries” that let practically anyone in as a tourist.

One way to speed up the naturalization timeline is to invest $200,000 in real estate or a business; (Colombia similarly offers a faster citizenshiproute for investors with this amount of cash.) However, those who can prove they have a steady income and are willing to spend some time in the DR can waive the investment requirement.

Nevertheless, I know people who qualified for citizenship in the Dominican Republic in two years but have waited far longer to get it. So, as with any country, the letter of the law may not always prevail.

Paraguay (3 years)
One of the easiest countries to get citizenship in is Paraguay. The South American country is open to all peaceful people, although it is often harder for Middle Easterners or Africans to apply for residency there.

By depositing $5,200 in a Paraguay bank account, foreigners can become a permanent resident of Paraguay and start the clocking ticking on naturalization and a Paraguay passport. While many would be hard pressed to locate Paraguay on a map, the country has a rather good travel document that offers visa-free travel to Europe and all of South America.

After waiting three years, residents can apply to become a citizen, followed by a process which usually takes another year or so. Paraguay offers a lot of personal freedom and the fact that a lot of people have never heard of it makes it more attractive to me. You can learn more about Paraguay residency here.

Uruguay (3 years*)
If you are part of a family unit actually living on the ground in Uruguay, you can apply for citizenship after three years, so long as you can show substantial ties to the country. Owning real estate, renting a real apartment, being a member of social clubs, and having a local doctor all count. Claiming Uruguay citizenship has become extremely difficult in recent years for this reason.

If you’re single, the timeline is two years longer, five years total. However, “family unit” does not only refer to a spouse; a single child can live with a parent, for instance, and still qualify.

Russia (3 years)
If you are willing to start a business or move your existing business to Russia, you may be able to obtain Russian citizenship within three years, merely by paying taxes you would have anyway. While we often talk about low or no-tax offshore strategies for entrepreneurs, paying 13-19% in Russia may be worthwhile if you would have purchased economic citizenship from another country instead.

You can learn more about Russian citizenship for entrepreneurs here. Russia’s passport does not offer access to Europe, but many successful Russians have long-term Schengen visas or merely obtain European residency from countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy, Latvia, and others.

Several countries allow the President or Congress of the country to waive naturalization rules and make anyone a citizen, even one day after they obtain residency. In principle, this option usually takes at least one year.

Some countries, such as Austria, charge a lot of money for this special citizenship process, which is why many call it an economic citizenship when in actuality it is not. I’m aware of four smaller countries also offer fast-track naturalization for “persons of economic interest” to the country, sometimes with a rather minimal investment.

These fast-track programs aren’t really “programs” at all. Anyone who promises you they can get you a citizenship with 100% success in these countries is not telling the truth. “Economic interest” citizenships are merely a matter of proving to the country that you’re valuable to them as a citizen, perhaps because of your business background or an investment you can make in their country. Each case is taken on an individual basis.

These fast citizenship programs are more difficult for citizens of emerging world countries, but might be perfect for some Americans, Canadians, Europeans, etc.

If you need helping obtaining second citizenship quickly and want to get the process started, you can learn more — as well as apply for my team to help you — on our second passport page.

Discover how to get a Second Residency and Passport

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