You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

In Search of a Second Passport? You’re Not Alone

Condé Nast Traveler logo Condé Nast Traveler 9/18/2020 Ashlea Halpern
a small boat in a body of water with Valletta in the background © Getty

Before the coronavirus pandemic, holding a U.S. passport granted visa-free access to 185 countries around the world. The American passport wasn’t the most powerful on earth (that honor belongs to Japan), but it still got most of us where we needed to go. Until now.

With current E.U. restrictions and other pandemic-related travel bans, there are currently much fewer places where Americans can go. Frustrated by this newly hampered mobility, some are seeking dual citizenship, often as an opportunity to reconnect with the country their parents or grandparents came from, or to reevaluate their careers and potential business opportunities overseas. Whatever the reason someone seeks a second passport, the process of obtaining one can be long and complicated. We spoke to travelers exploring their options, from buying real estate overseas to tracing their family tree.

Your grandparents could help with dual citizenship

The list of countries offering ancestral citizenship to foreign nationals who can prove family ties is enticing—with Canada, Ireland, the U.K., New Zealand, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Mexico, Vietnam, Israel, Brazil, Austria, Hungary, and Spain among them.

Tammy O’Hara, owner of Million Miles Travel Agency in Brooklyn, devoted part of her quarantine to gathering the birth certificates, photos, and affidavits she needs to apply for dual citizenship in Jamaica. Her reasons are both business and personal. “It will be more convenient to move around the different islands as a [Caribbean] citizen, with shorter lines and expedited customs,” says O’Hara. She also wants to diversify her income through overseas investment, have the flexibility to work remotely and retire outside the U.S., and get “more in tune” with her Jamaican ancestry. “I was born in the USA but grew up surrounded by Jamaican culture because of my family,” says O’Hara. “But sometimes I still felt different, like I wasn't a ‘real’ Jamaican.”

Alissa Musto, an American cruise ship entertainer who’s been out of work since March, began researching second passports before the pandemic for career reasons. Cruises in the Mediterranean and Europe are starting to resume, and jobs are cropping up at global theme parks and resorts. Yet with only an American passport, she can’t apply.

Having dual citizenship is not unusual in the cruise industry. “Most countries don’t make seafarers pay income tax, but the U.S. and the Netherlands still do,” says Musto. “It makes sense for American and Dutch ship workers to have their permanent addresses somewhere else: Aruba, England, Sweden.” Musto, who has both Italian and Czech ancestry, is now working with an immigration attorney to apply for ancestral citizenship in the Czech Republic.

L.A.–based immigration attorney Parviz Malakouti, meanwhile, is applying for both simplified Hungarian naturalization as well as a “Slovak Living Abroad” certificate, which bestows a record of nationality on people of Slovak descent who were born abroad. The former required hiring an amateur genealogist in Hungary to hunt down supporting documentation, including baptismal records from a 19th-century church. Malakouti is also teaching himself Hungarian, another requirement of naturalization. “I’m going through this to have ‘citizenship insurance’ and access to live, work, and open a business in the entire European Union,” he says. “It’s about having more options.”

a small boat in a harbor next to a body of water: Portugal has a program that allows applicants to live and work in the country for a minimum contribution of 250,000 euros. © Gonzalo Azumendi/Getty Portugal has a program that allows applicants to live and work in the country for a minimum contribution of 250,000 euros.

Falling in love with a foreign national 

Though Cape Verde is one of the only nations in the world that immediately grants citizenship to foreigners who marry nationals, other countries—like France, Serbia, and the U.S.—still expedite the naturalization process for spouses to obtain citizenship.

Robin Catalano, a Hudson Valley–based travel writer, married a Spaniard with dual American citizenship. Now she wants the same for herself. “We want another option should Trump get re-elected in November,” she says, adding that the pandemic, and the “huge holes it has exposed in our healthcare system,” have reinforced their decision. She’s already taken the first step: registering her marriage at the Spanish Embassy in Boston.

Buying your way in

Vanessa Gordon, publisher of East End Taste magazine, and her physician husband, Kris Gordon, live in the Hamptons, but have long discussed securing second passports via a citizenship-by-investment program (CIP), in Antigua and Barbuda. “We are doing this not only because we love the island, but it will make traveling that much easier,” says Vanessa. A second passport would grant the Gordons and their two children visa-free access to more than 120 countries. The application process involves a background check (“they want to make sure you have a strong net worth”) and the purchase of land and eventually a home.

With CIPs, an applicant invests a minimum amount of money in a sponsoring country—usually in real estate, commercial enterprise, development projects, or government bonds—in exchange for permanent residency, citizenship, or both. It’s one way high-net-worth individuals make Plan Bs if they don’t like the direction their home country is headed. Henley & Partners, a global citizenship advisory firm, reports that U.S. interest in CIPs jumped 700 percent in the first quarter of 2020 compared with the previous quarter.

The rules on CIPs vary by country. Malta boasts one of the world’s leading programs: For a minimum contribution of 1 million euros ($1.18 million), applicants gain Maltese citizenship and the right to live, work, and study in all E.U. member states. Other CIPs include St. Lucia (from $100,000 per person), St. Kitts and Nevis and Grenada (from $150,000), Montenegro (from 350,000 euros or $415,778), Cyprus (from 2.15 million euros or $2.56 million), and Austria (from 3 million euros or $3.56 million).

Renata Castro is an immigration attorney based in Pompano Beach, Florida. Before the pandemic, most of her clients were Brazilians itching to move to the U.S. But lately, it's the U.S. citizens who have questions about obtaining citizenship to other countries. “They’re tired of the political rhetoric here, and they’ve lost faith in the American system,” she says.

For Castro, the issue is personal. She’s an immigrant herself, with dual American and Brazilian citizenship. But she hopes to spend half of her retirement in Portugal, where the cost of living is lower and the quality of life better. For a minimum contribution of 250,000 euros (about $297,000), Portugal’s Golden Residence Permit Program grants applicants the right to live and work in the country and travel freely in Europe’s Schengen Area. After five years, they can apply for citizenship.

a large body of water with a city in the background: Attorney Renata Castro used to work mostly with Brazilians hoping to move to the U.S. Now, it's the other way around. © Getty Attorney Renata Castro used to work mostly with Brazilians hoping to move to the U.S. Now, it's the other way around.

The old-fashioned way

If you happen to be related to a high-ranking official, they could fast-track your naturalization. Likewise, if you’re a star athlete or scientist, authorities can usually get your paperwork rubber-stamped sooner. (Citizenship by exception is not uncommon with the Olympics, for example.) For everyone else, it's a long path toward building legal residence followed, ideally, by citizenship.

Olúmidé Gbenro, a Nigerian immigrant who moved to the U.S. at age 13, says he’s never felt as though he fits in. Now, the Bali-based founder of The Digital Nomad Summit is trying to secure residency via investment in Indonesia. He’s been living abroad for three years, but it wasn’t until the Black Lives Matters protests that Gbenro seriously reconsidered if he’d ever return to the U.S. Given his painful experiences with racism here, he’s decided that he “no longer feels an attachment to America.”

Asa Leveaux shared similar sentiments. A Black, queer entrepreneur coach living in Oklahoma City, he says he’s determined to get a Brazilian passport after falling in love with the country. “Being Black in Brazil is different from being Black in America—it’s an asset, not a liability,” says Leveaux. “In Brazil, they dance like me, they look like me, they laugh like me. Brazil is where Black joy abounds.”

Leveaux is moving slowly but deliberately. He’s studying Portuguese and formulating a business plan. He’s aware that Brazil ranks second in the world, after the U.S., for both confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. But he remains undeterred, saying, “There is no place without its challenges, so I’m choosing the place that makes my heart sing.”

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Condé Nast Traveler

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon