For any number of reasons, many people consider retiring in another country. A foreign country may offer a lower cost of living, which can be important to seniors with limited retirement savings. Some countries may have especially appealing climates. Or, people may simply have fallen in love with a country they once visited and vowed to themselves they would one day retire there.
For a person planning to settle down permanently in a foreign country, it is usually desirable to obtain citizenship there as it simplifies matters such as opening bank accounts and owning property. Some may choose to go for dual citizenship, obtaining a second passport, while others may prefer to dump their U.S. citizenship altogether and become citizens of their new home country.
Some countries allow dual citizenship and some do not. It is no secret that more and more wealthy Americans, feeling their fortunes threatened by oppressive U.S. taxation, have chosen to renounce their U.S. citizenship in favor of becoming citizens of nations such as Singapore or Chile.
There are a number of factors to consider in regard to obtaining new citizenship and a second passport. Among these are how readily your new passport allows visa-free travel, the taxes and other potential obligations, and financial freedom in regard to opening bank accounts or establishing businesses.
And there's the issue of whether your desired location is welcoming to expats who wish to become citizens. If you have not yet settled on an expat retirement destination, you may wish to consider one of the following five countries where it is relatively easy to obtain citizenship.
The Dominican Republic offers one of the least expensive and least troublesome avenues for retirees to obtain citizenship in a reasonably short period of time. The basic requirement is that the retiree must be able to document a stable retirement income of at least $1,500 a month from a source outside the Dominican Republic. Non-retirees have to show a minimum monthly income of $2,000 a month.
Provided this basic requirement is met, an individual can apply directly for permanent residency. After holding the permanent residency for two years, the individual can then apply for citizenship. The whole process takes about three years. The cost for a family of four (two adults and two kids below age 12) to purchase citizenship in DR costs $221,300 (government donation option).
The citizenship process also requires an interview conducted in Spanish (questions and answers can be reviewed in advance) and a medical exam. Dual citizenship is permitted in the Dominican Republic.
A person can qualify to become a naturalized citizen of Ireland by living there for one year, plus four years cumulative residency over the eight years preceding the one year.
The Irish government may even be willing to waive part of the residency time requirement if you can sufficiently document Irish ancestry or other associations with Ireland. If you happen to have a provable Irish grandparent, you may be able to become an Irish national by virtue of your ancestry. Ireland does permit dual citizenship. Keep in mind that obtaining citizenship does not automatically shield you from obligations of citizenship in another country (for example, paying taxes in both homelands).
Peru offers a two-year path to citizenship that requires minimal effort and a small investment. The cost of the two-year fast track to citizenship is $25,000. It may even be possible to make installment payments on the fee. It is advisable to go through one of a number of agents who can guide you through the process of applying for residency at a Peruvian embassy. Applications for residency are typically approved within three months, after which you have a six-month time period to settle your affairs in your current home country before moving to Peru to finalize your residency visa.
You can apply for citizenship after residing in Peru for two years. Citizenship requires taking tests in Spanish language and in Peruvian history and culture. However, if you tie the knot with a Peruvian spouse, you can bypass all that studying. You may also need to change your name to the Spanish style of having surnames from both your mother and father. Unlike some countries that require you to renounce your previous citizenship to become a citizen, Peru allows dual citizenship.
Singapore offers a simple route to citizenship. First, obtain permanent residency by establishing a business in Singapore, obtaining employment there or marrying a citizen of Singapore. After two years of residency, you can apply to become a naturalized citizen. Opening a business, however, can be a costly enterprise: check carefully for the latest financial requirements; it's not just simply depositing a certain sum in a Singapore bank.
Cautionary note: Singapore requires National Service from its male citizens. If you are of retirement age, you are likely safely outside the age window that obligates you for national service, but if you just won the lottery and are retiring at age 25, you might want to double-check just to make sure you do not have to join the Singapore army for a couple of years. A male permanent resident can also apply for citizenship after completing National Service. Singapore does not allow dual citizenship. You must renounce your prior citizenship to become a citizen of Singapore.
Canada also offers a simple path to citizenship. Unless you have a job in Canada, you need proof of other income to obtain residency. For example, an individual needs $12,669 (CAD), as proof of funds to immigrate as a skilled immigrant. After becoming a permanent resident, you can apply for naturalization as a Canadian citizen after four years. There are interactive questionnaires you can take to deliberate if relocating to Canada is right for you.
The Canadian immigration authorities are very strict about enforcing the requirement that you physically reside in the country before applying to be a citizen: "You must have been physically present in Canada as a permanent resident for at least 1,460 days during the six years immediately before the date of your application. You must also be physically present for at least 183 days during each of four calendar years that are fully or partially within the six years immediately before the date of application." Do not try hopping back and forth between Canada and the United States on a constant basis.
Other requirements include: If you're 14 to 64, you must send documents proving that you can speak and listen in English or French and you will need to pass a citizenship test. If you wait until you are older, these requirements don't apply. Canada does permit dual citizenship.
The Bottom Line
Try vacationing or staying on a short stay visa before applying for a residency visa. It is important to get a feel for a country and its expat community before committing to a big move.