Unless you are the equal of the late Winston Churchill, who was made an honorary American citizen by act of the U.S. Congress, quick citizenship these days usually costs a lot of money.
All the same, as the author of The Passport Book, I am often asked: “Which country will grant me second citizenship and a passport fastest?”
And the answer is this: Few countries have laws that grant immediate citizenship to foreign nationals based solely on economic considerations.
Two of them are the eastern Caribbean nations — the Commonwealth of Dominica and Saint Christopher & Nevis (known locally as St. Kitts & Nevis).
You pay for what you get, and the price can be $200,000 or more.
Austria also has a similar, rarely used law that grants citizenship — but it can cost $1 million.
Several other countries, including Ireland, Italy and Poland, grant quick citizenship to the foreign children or grandchildren of their current and former citizens.
However, most countries require five or more years of residence before naturalization as a citizen.
Uncommonly Easy for Entrepreneurs
Other countries welcome foreigners by granting immediate residency, but citizenship is a process that will take several years. Such countries include Panama, Belize, Uruguay and Paraguay.
However, there is a little-known European exception, whose liberal laws make it uncommonly easy for entrepreneurs, self-employed individuals and investors, who are not European Union citizens, to set themselves up as immediate residents. Citizenship can follow in as few as three years.
The country is Belgium — that tiny nation wedged between France and the Netherlands.
The only thing most Americans might know about Belgium is that it is the birthplace of Agatha Christie’s best-selling detective, Hercule Poirot.
However, Belgium has been called the crossroads of Western Europe — and for good reason.
Most of the continent’s capitals are within easy striking distance of Brussels, which also serves as the official headquarters of both the European Union and NATO.
As a result, about 3,800 foreign diplomats are based in the Belgian capital, second only to New York City, which is home to the United Nations.
After several years of proven physical residency, there is an official procedure by which you can declare yourself a citizen.
The government is bound by law to accept that declaration unless there is an official statement giving a valid reason for denying citizenship.
Residency Permits are Issued Annually
Leaving aside reasons for obtaining residency and citizenship based on Belgian family ties, most residence applications come from those interested in doing business in the country.
Applications for work and professional permits must be obtained before applying for a residence permit. In most cases, residence and citizenship can also easily be extended to a spouse and children.
Non-EU citizens must submit a “long-stay visa application,” which is subject to case-by-case approval by the government.
U.S. citizens may enter Belgium for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
Upon arrival in Belgium, a foreigner intending to stay must report to the local authorities in the municipality where they are resident. Belgian law requires that everyone carry official identification at all times. This ID must be displayed upon request to any Belgian police official. U.S. citizens who are not residents of Belgium must present a U.S. passport.
For the first three years, residency permits are issued on an annually renewable basis and later an indefinite residence permit can be obtained.
The added attraction of Belgian citizenship and a passport is that it gives the right to live and work in any of the other 26 EU countries. Belgium allows dual citizenship, so new citizens can retain their original country passport.
Somewhat of a Tax Haven
The government denies it, but compared with other high-tax EU countries, such as France and Germany, Belgium is somewhat of a tax haven.
Even though a “tax resident” in Belgium is taxed on worldwide income, important exceptions apply, including:
- no tax on capital gains
- no wealth or net-worth withholding taxes
- maximum tax on dividends of 15% to 25%, depending on type of shares
- no tax on surplus value of private real estate, when owned for five years
- the possibility of paying no inheritance tax
One aspect to gain Belgian residency and eventual citizenship is that you must learn Dutch, which is spoken by the Flemings in the north of country, or French, which is spoken among the Walloons in the south.
While no one expects you to speak these languages perfectly, bolstering your linguistic skills may in the end be a small price to pay.
If you are interested in Belgian residency or citizenship, contact Henley & Partners Belgium for assistance.
P.S. If you’re serious about financial freedom, but you’re struggling to wrap your head around this challenging economy, and if you’ve been overwhelmed by the idea of going “offshore” and if you’re concerned about the future, then I urge you to read this.
How Will Obama React?
You are about to see a controversial new video.
It shows details of what will soon become the biggest political scandal of the Obama administration. Once it hits the mainstream media, millions of unprepared Americans will hit rock bottom.
How will Obama react? We’re not sure. Maybe you can tell us what you think once you see it for yourself.