How to Get a Second Citizenship

Doc's note: In today's issue, our international expert Kim Iskyan explains why you need to have a 'Plan Z' in place. The first step is getting a second citizenship, which isn't as difficult as you think...


In a world of uncertainty – of travel restrictions and social distancing, and where ICU occupancy and face masks and vaccines are topics of everyday conversation, and when the physics of airborne infection becomes a daily calculation of risk – it pays to have a "Plan Z."

That's when your "this is my life" plan stops working, your backup plan about how to work, travel, live, and thrive gets sand in its gears, and your other options look worse by the day. Plan Z is what you have in your back pocket when, for example, there's a global pandemic and economic depression, and you want a way out.

The good thing is that a lot of the ingredients of a robust Plan Z are the same ones you'd use while pursuing the broader goal of building a secure future... where you have maximum flexibility in deciding where and how you want to live your life. And where you've prepared yourself and your family for the unexpected.

A great start to creating your Plan Z is getting a second citizenship...

Why You Should Have a Second Citizenship

A second passport opens up new horizons for where you can live, work, travel, own property, study, open a bank account, and much more. Before coronavirus restrictions (more on those in a moment), an American passport was one of the most powerful travel documents on Earth, allowing American citizens visa-free entry to 184 countries.

Now is a better time to travel than you might think, as I wrote here. And to build out a Plan Z, the more options you have – beyond only visiting countries – the better.

An American passport doesn't allow you to live (for more than a few months as a tourist) in other countries. Working abroad – say, in Europe, and most other parts of the world – involves jumping through a lot of hoops that magically vanish if you hold a local passport.

And there's another side to it. When you're traveling in a country where Americans (or the policies of the American government) are actively and strongly disliked by locals there, it's often safer – and will give you some peace of mind – to use a non-U.S. passport to get around. That's not being disloyal to the stars and stripes... It's just being smart and avoiding unnecessary risks.

What's more, in the COVID-19 world, many countries have barred citizens of other nations even from crossing their borders. The mismanagement in the United States of the coronavirus has resulted in a lot of countries barring American citizens – those with only a U.S. passport, that is – from entering at all. (The U.S. has more cases than anywhere else and six times the number of cases per 1 million people than the global average.)

Today, Americans can travel visa-free to only 50 countries (that's a drop of 73% from January 2020). And many of those still have coronavirus testing requirements.

Four Ways to Get a Second Passport

A great way to expand your options – while laying a key foundation for your Plan Z – is to get a second citizenship. And there are four main ways to do this...

1) Citizenship by ancestry. If your parents or grandparents were born in a country where citizenship can pass down the genealogical line, you're in luck. A lot of countries – including many that offer coveted European citizenships – grant citizenship based on lineage, including Australia, Croatia, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Poland, and elsewhere.

Each country has its own particular requirements and will require a lot of paperwork (time to dig around in the family-heirloom, old-document treasure chest!). The best way to find out whether you're eligible is to visit the website of the country of your ancestors and see how to apply.

2) Citizenship by investment. If you didn't win the birth lottery to qualify for citizenship by ancestry, purchasing a passport is a relatively quick and easy (though not cheap) avenue. A number of Caribbean islands, including St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, and Grenada require a "donation" (passport-speak for a cash outlay) and or investment (which can be later sold) in real estate or other options of anywhere from $120,000 up to $500,000, depending on the program.

A handful of countries in Europe including Bulgaria, Malta, and possible future European Union member Montenegro, offer citizenship-for-investment programs. They're not cheap, starting at around $500,000, with a mix of investment and donation (and some require a period of residency as well). One of the best and most popular options is Portugal's Residence Permit Program – known as the Golden Visa Program. It offers residency with a multiyear path to citizenship, requiring an investment of the euro equivalent of between $320,000 to $600,000. (To eventually apply for citizenship, you'll need to speak basic Portuguese.)

3) Citizenship with time. Some countries around the world allow you to become a citizen via naturalization if you've been a legal resident and spent enough time in the country. However, you need a reason to be there, like employment or marriage. And you often need to show a specific minimum income and or a certain level of net worth. You'll have to learn the country's naturalization rules and be sure that you carefully document whenever you're in town. And you may need to make an effort to learn some of the local language and to become part of the business and social life of the community. If you have the time and flexibility, this is a great way to get a second passport.

4) Citizenship through the back door. In many countries, marrying a foreign citizen may grant you the right to become a citizen of your spouse's home country. Giving birth in Brazil, Argentina, and a handful of other countries – regardless of your nationality – may allow you and your newborn to become citizens. For example, with some conditions, converting to Judaism may help you become a citizen of Israel. These out-of-the-box approaches aren't for everyone... or many people at all. But depending on your objectives, they might work for you.

What option is best for you... and which second citizenship would best suit you? It entirely depends on what you're looking to use it for. Do you want to be able to travel more easily with your family? Are you looking for professional opportunities? Do you want to figure out a way for a nanny or house helper to move countries or travel with you more easily? Are you concerned about the trajectory of your home country and want a quiet place far away where you can settle down? Or do you want an easy way to travel to a certain country? For example, citizens of Grenada can go to China without a visa. Your objectives, needs, timetable, and how much you're prepared to spend will determine what's right for you.

Don't Worry... You'll Still Be American

And if you get a second passport, you can still hang on to your U.S. passport (in fact, even if you wanted to, the process of renouncing U.S. citizenship is difficult and expensive). The U.S. allows its citizens to hold two (or more) citizenships, and U.S. law doesn't require its citizens to choose between one citizenship and another. (Other countries have different rules, though... Germany, Singapore, and India don't allow dual citizenship.)

However... dual citizens still have to obey U.S. laws, adhere to the Constitution, and otherwise follow the rules like regular one-passport Americans. Don't think you can slap down your foreign passport as a "get out of jail free" card in the U.S. (or anywhere else, for that matter).

And as long as you're an American citizen, you have to pay taxes to Uncle Sam – regardless of where you're physically situated, or whether you're working for an American company or not. (The U.S. is one of two countries on Earth to require its citizens to pay income tax on global income. Most countries tax based on residence rather than citizenship. The other country? Eritrea, in Eastern Africa.)

Additional Resources

If you're interested in further exploring second-citizenship options, there's no shortage of online resources for insight on second citizenships and organizations eager to help you acquire one. Below are some of the best.

Latitude is a global residency and citizenship firm with 80 professionals across 14 offices globally. Their website is a great place to start researching opportunities, options, advantages, and costs of different programs. For more information, contact Managing Director Chris Willis at [email protected].

For holistic and bespoke expertise to work towards a Golden Visa in Portugal, you can get in touch with Alexandra Da Silva of A Lisbon Life, at [email protected]. She and her team will help you with everything you need to do in order to get on the path to a second citizenship in Portugal.

To learn about the travel power of different passports – that is, where you can easily (generally visa-free) travel with a particular citizenship – check out Henley & Partners' Passport Index.

Kim Iskyan

P.S. Do you have a second citizenship or are you trying to get one now? We want to hear your story... let us know at [email protected].