Bulgaria: The latest Bill(s) and legal amendments of the Bulgarian Citizenship by Investment program. Read more.
"Asia is an entertainment, Europe is a dream, America is an imprisonment and Rest is a nightmare." - Santosh Kalwar
This is your ultimate guide and the whole truth about what really "Citizenship" and "Residency" is, about the difference between European and Offshore passports (you will also understand why you might need one asap, or maybe not...).
And let us be clear about one thing now: This is NOT the lame "How to get second passport" guide! Instead you will learn important "secrets" that are being shared only between the experienced professionals in the immigration and citizenship circles. You will find out how you – the client, are being often made to believe one thing, while the reality is completely different. You will, like in a magic show where the magician reveals some of his secrets, see a whole new picture of the realm of the booming "citizenship" and "residency" business.
You will find out whether you need another citizenship or you are just fine with the one you currently hold. You will be able to judge, which passport suits you best and whether opting for residency permit would suffice in the short term. Ultimately, you will find out how to obtain your second citizenship without paying a penny to an agent and do the whole darn work yourself (not a bad perspective, right?).
So let’s dive right in it.
So first things first... Why would someone need another citizenship (and passport that comes along)? Why would someone want to change his residency? The answers of these questions may seem, to many, quite obvious, but let’s differentiate the main categories below:
(Visa) free travel
This is, according to our research the main reason for 61% of all second citizenship candidates to go through the process of naturalization in another country. And indeed, for someone with the so called "low quality" passport (ie Pakistani, Indian, etc.), the world is not a welcoming place. It is indeed extremely annoying, degrading and costly for someone to have to arrange a visa prior to virtually each of his international trips. Worst of all, who said there is a guarantee that the visa will be granted in a first place? So, can one really do international business with a "low quality" passport? Maybe yes, but it will be like playing tennis against Rafa Nadal with your hands cuffed. Can someone with a "cursed" passport travel the world around holidaying? Have you (presumably that you hold a "high quality" passport) ever done business with people from the countries with "low quality" citizenship? You have probably witnessed how the business people from say India or Pakistan have one thing constantly in the back of their mind – how to first get visa in order to visit you in Europe or in the USA. While you have been thinking about your business expansion and profit making, these poor (not in the financial sense) people are obsessed mainly with their travel arrangements.
So is the visa-free travel a practical and logical reason for someone to pay the price for another citizenship and a passport (it can be expensive, in some cases very, very expensive)?
Definitely yes, but the price tag that it comes along has to be considered carefully. If you are currently holding a citizenship from a country with very low profile in terms of visa-free travel (low quality passport), then you are definitely a candidate for second citizenship. However, if your lifestyle and business activities do not require frequent international travel, if your financial status doesn’t permit you systematic holidaying abroad, then you can probably survive with your current citizenship.
We have been hearing people (mostly travel agents) saying that if one can get a Schengen visa through an agent for a price of 1 000 EUR, it absolutely not justified to pay a price of 100 000 EUR for citizenship that allows him visa-free travel to, among others, the EU countries. If we were to follow this logic, one would never buy a car, because he can use public transport for fraction of the price (and even free in many cases). What a nonsense. Life is about comfort, life is to be enjoyed, not endured. And if you are to spend 10% of your life waiting for the bus, and another 20% praying your visa to be approved, then you are simply not ready for the lifestyle of the "free man".
Is the number of visa-free countries one can visit with particular passport, the only factor to be considered? Here is what you should know, that the professionals in the business will not tell you.
Of course, the main factor to consider is the number of countries one can visit visa-free with his passport. But what is eventually even more important is the sustainability of this (current) visa-free regime. Not all visa-free agreements are the same from legal point of view. And not all visa-free agreements are equally sustainable. For instance, a citizen of Saint Kitts and Nevis (very popular choice for second citizenship and passport hunters) can travel visa-free to the EU countries. However, he might be rejected entry without even giving him a reason for the rejection. And if allowed entry, he may not stay for more than 3 months on EU soil. The person will need to wait at the cues for non-EU citizens and will be subject to special checks at the EU borders, especially if he doesn’t really look like a native citizen of the Island country (Russians, Chinese and others alike don’t really look like natives of the Saint Kitts and Nevis). What matters most though is that the visa-free agreement between such tiny tropical paradises and the EU are as fragile as you can imagine. Such agreements (with tiny tropical countries) may be cancelled with a press of the button and the news will not be even published in the mass media. A citizen of Canada however can be relatively certain of his visa-free entry into the EU, as Canada is an important partner to the European countries (the same applies to citizens of Japan, USA, Australia, etc.). The situation for a citizen of a small country in the middle of the ocean is completely different though.
In fact, the EU has already harshly warned on the visa-free regime with most Caribbean countries offering passports for sale (19.10.2018), and has in fact entirely diminished the value of the Citizenship by Investment programs of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and others alike. Canada has already suspended from the visa waiver program some of these countries so be certain that the EU will soon follow. So if you are looking for sustainable visa-free travel document, think twice before even attempting the "Island Route" (which is otherwise so actively advertized by the immigration agents worldwide).
Travel visa-free with residency permit (aka "Golden Visa") rather than with a passport. The "fool’s gold" or a real life opportunity?
Obtaining full citizenship becomes more difficult with the day. The more the world is in chaos (wars, unrest, political stand-offs), the more expensive the freedom of having second citizenship becomes. So, many agents are now actively advertising the so called "Golden Visa" residency programs as alternative. Let’s make one thing very clear – residency is NOT a citizenship. Residency is something temporary and it doesn’t provide full rights to its holder. Citizenship is forever and the citizen has full rights that are passed to his dependents. Residency (unlike citizenship) needs to be extended on regular basis, a process that is not only costly, but also quite cumbersome. You can read here about the main differences between residency and citizenship.
At the same time, the Schengen agreement in Europe does provide the opportunity for someone with long-term residency permit from one Schengen state to travel freely to the other Schengen countries (ie the residency program of Portugal). This is in fact a very useful way to utilize the rights that come within the Schengen area.
Another very important fact that is being disguised by the immigration agents is that residency permits come at a price. In fact they can be so costly that in some cases (for example in Switzerland), the annual expense can reach as much as 100 000 EUR and even more.
So the logical question that probably is already boiling in your mind is: Why on earth are the immigration agents offering (and actively marketing) residency permit solutions (aka "Golden Visa") rather than full Citizenship (by Investment)? The answer is two-fold. Firstly, the immigration and citizenship agents are capable of covering their own area only (with exception of the crooks, who cover the whole Galaxy until they get paid). An agent (or a lawyer) in Portugal is logically going to market the Portuguese "Golden Visa" program as he has no access (at least not a direct one) to the other countries’ (real) Citizenship programs. If the Portuguese agent is to offer the Bulgarian Citizenship by Investment program for example, he would need to contact us (or another licensed agent) in Bulgaria and at the end he would eventually lose his edge in competitiveness both in price and ease of communication. The other, and most important reason however, is purely financial. While obtaining full Citizenship is a one go effort (and one off payment for the agent), the "Golden Visa" arrangements are an annual source of (significant) income. The client, having signed up for the program, needs to renew his residence permit each year (and often even semi-annually). And guess what – this means more income, on regular basis, for the immigration agent.
Residency rights that come with certain citizenship + many other benefits
Citizenship is much more than a mere visa-free travel. Citizenship provides additional benefits as well and they are not restricted only to the right of living in the country that has issued your (new) passport. So let’s list them below:
The unrestricted right to reside, work, retire, have access to the social security system, medical assistance (and everything else you can think of) that comes with citizenship.
Citizenship provides the most important rights of all – the right to live (and be part of the local society) in the country without any further formalities. Here again, it is of extreme importance what passport one would aim at. For example, a passport of Vanuatu will provide residency rights on the beautiful island in the South Pacific Ocean, but will that be really your goal? We can guarantee you that in case you fancy a holiday there, no matter what passport you currently hold, the government of Vanuatu will not reject you entry visa (if you need one of course). On the other side, a passport of the USA will allow you living in the country – a benefit (for some, definitely not for all) that needs no further explanations.
One special case is the citizenship of the EU member states. During the years we have been taking part in countless immigration and citizenship symposiums around the world and have been always very disappointed from the attitude of some of our colleagues (and have harshly argued with them for that reason). We have seen so many immigration presentations, carefully drafted with beautiful pictures of tropical scenery from the Mediterranean, ski resorts and posh city settings, trying to compare which EU citizenship is the best, based on standard of life (in the specific country) factors. What a crap. Any EU passport provides unlimited living rights in all EU member states. So who cares what passport one holds (as long as it is an EU one). It is the same as to mind which US state has issued your passport – it’s all the same, USA passport gives the right of residency in any US state, same as an EU passport does. So next time when you are being offered a, say Austrian passport for an investment of 10 million Euro and waiting time of 5 years – think twice! The Austrian Alps are indeed beautiful, but you can live there the same as any Austrian can, with any other passport issued by another EU country.
Taxation – the most widespread delusion that comes with citizenship
Paying taxes hurts. Tax laws are complicated. Tax advice is expensive. Tax compliance requires effort. Consequences from not paying taxes can be disastrous. And for a fact, many unscrupulous citizenship agents are blatantly lying to their prospects. What they are basically saying is that once the client obtains an offshore citizenship, he won’t be liable to pay taxes in this jurisdiction. While this is of course true, it doesn’t mean that you will be relieved from taxes in the country where you reside (presumably you will not be living on that offshore island). Offshore island countries don’t usually have double tax avoidance treaties with other countries, so your tax status will not change at all. The story is different of course, if you hold citizenship of low tax countries in established jurisdictions, such as Bulgaria or Cyprus, as these have signed tax treaties with virtually all other developed countries. Still, even then, you might need to seek tax advice in order to seal your tax status legally.
How to get EU citizenship on your own?
So, is it feasible to apply for and eventually to even obtain EU citizenship on your own, without paying any agents fees whatsoever? The short answer is YES. The long answer is somewhat more unclear though. We will dive into the details of the Bulgarian Citizenship by Investment below. For other EU Citizenship programs, we recommend you visiting www.investment-citizenship.com/.
So what do you need in order to obtain Bulgarian Citizenship by Investment? Your first step is deciding on what type of investment you will be utilizing. The main choices here are to invest either in Bulgarian bonds, Bulgarian shares or open an account in Bulgaria and sign a trust agreement with the bank for a period of not less than 5 years. In order to do that you will need to be personally present in Bulgaria and undergo a comprehensive due diligence procedure that will be done by the bank’s security department. Please note that as of March 2018, the banks in Bulgaria are extremely reluctant to open bank accounts for foreigners. Using a licensed agent here will be of great value, but you can try it yourself too.
The bank is required by law to carry out a comprehensive due diligence in order to determine the source of your investment capital as well as the type of your business or source of wealth. While cutting costs is important, at this point we always recommend professional assistance as failing to pass the due diligence at this stage will jeopardize not only your Bulgarian citizenship application, but also may impact the outcome of any further citizenship applications EU-wide (in other countries).
The next step is selecting the exact type of investment. Bonds and shares are complicated instruments and their suitability under the citizenship program needs careful consideration. You can read about Bulgarian bonds here. Selecting a non suitable investment vehicle will lead to your application being stalled and to significant financial losses. In fact, here is where most Bulgarian citizenship applicants fail to comply with the local legislation, so what we suggest is employing licensed financial advisor who is aware of the Bulgarian immigration laws. The other option is to negotiate the bank a buy-back contract so in case the bonds you select on your own are not approved for the citizenship program, you can sell them back through the bank with minimal fees. As at that point, you will be not Bulgarian resident yet, you should consult your tax advisor about your tax status in case you make a fast resale of the bonds.
Once the bonds or shares have been successfully purchased, you need to apply first for bank certificate confirming the deal and then for special investment certificate from the Bulgarian authorities. Along with payment of the state fees, you will need to prepare all necessary forms, fill in the applications as well to present the required additional documents – police certificate for lack of criminal convictions, certificate of family status, etc. You will also need an official address in Bulgaria so you should opt to either buy a property in Bulgaria or rent one. We suggest renting as not all types of properties are available to foreigners (you are still a foreigner at this point) and the mark-up price and taxes that you may need to pay may be excessive.
Once all of the above is completed, your next step is applying for immigration visa type D at the Bulgarian embassy in your country. If there is no embassy present, you will be directed to the closest Bulgarian embassy or consulate in another country that is responsible and authorized to service citizens of your home country. You will need to attend an interview and if you are approved, your visa will be issued accordingly in the terms that are foreseen in the Bulgarian law.
With the visa D is in your passport, you will need to plan your trip to Bulgaria in order to apply for and obtain your long-term residency card. You should, unless you are using a licensed agent, plan a trip for at least a week in order to be able to prepare the documents. You should enquire what you need to present at the immigration office in Bulgaria as the requirements change frequently. You will need a translator in order to assist you with the local clerks. You will need to provide the police certificate and all other relevant documents along with your official address in Bulgaria. Once the card is issues, you should either return to Bulgaria or authorize by means of official legalized POA someone to pick it up for you and also enquire from your local municipality in Bulgaria (the relevant municipality to where your address in Bulgaria is) to register you in the residents’ address. This step is crucial as not all residential properties in Bulgaria are suitable as some may be registered with other inhabitants and the municipality will refuse further registrations.
12 months after the residency card is approved, you can opt for the fast-track option. If you are not ready to double your investment at that time, you will be eligible for Bulgarian citizenship after 5 years without any additional investment. In the first case, you will need to double your investment by repeating the steps above and once the second investment is legally approved, you will need to file your citizenship application with the authorities. If everything is done properly, you will be able to pick up your Bulgarian citizenship certificate, your Bulgarian passport and ID card shortly afterwards. Please note that you will need to file the relevant declarations for family status, the financial statements and police clearance again as well as prove your address from the municipality.
So what should your next steps be?
Whether you want to test the do-it-yourself route or you would like to employ professional consultant in the "second citizenship" field, we will be happy to assist you. Please contact us for any further information you might require. And don’t forget – the sooner you start the greater your chances are (as the citizenship and immigrations laws get stricter by the day).