If you’re a United States citizen and want to spend your retirement years in another country, you’re likely to find many countries welcoming you with open arms. According to Carlos Dias, Jr., founder and managing partner at Excel Tax & Wealth Group, “There are many countries that you can retire in without obtaining citizenship. Also, several countries, such as Ireland and Italy, offer ancestral visas leading to citizenship. A number of European countries – Portugal, Spain, Greece, Malta and Cyprus – offer golden visas through investing in real estate. An investment in a home purchase of €500,000 or more qualifies for a golden visa, giving a person the ability to travel the European Union and Schengen countries without applying for a visa.”
But that’s not the case in the United States. Unlike many other countries, the United States doesn’t have visa options that cater to retirees.
However, that doesn’t mean that your dreams are dashed. Many people still spend at least some of their retirement in the United States.
Why the United States?
Dias says that there are plenty of advantages. First, a number of states (Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming) don’t have state income tax. (In addition, New Hampshire and Tennessee tax interest and dividends, but not earned income.) Next, capital gains taxes are low, and the United States is a progressive income tax country. (For more, see The Best States To Retire For Tax Reasons.)
Also, the United States has every type of climate from the warmth of southern regions such as Arizona, Texas, Southern California and Florida to the cooler summers of Maine and Washington, and everything in between. If you come from a country that is notoriously cold such as Russia or hot like India, the climate options become very appealing.
Finally, cultural diversity. According to Dias, “Many of my Portuguese clients prefer to live near other Portuguese people. In Florida alone, any part of the state will accommodate that need.”
Types of Visas
Family-Based Immigrant Visa. If you have a family member who is a United States citizen, your chances of obtaining citizenship just shot up. You may qualify for a family-based immigrant visa if you have a qualified family member over the age of 21 who is willing to sponsor you. Sponsors have to prove that they have the financial means to support the applicant once he or she moves to the United States.
First, the sponsoring relative must file a petition on form I-130. After the petition is approved, the sponsor will be instructed to pay the appropriate fees and complete form DS-261 and later submit a visa application.
Once the application is complete, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate will schedule an interview with the applicant. Because these types of visas aren’t the majority of applications, they may take longer to approve, according to the U.S. State Department. If you are accepted, you will receive a permanent residency visa, also known as a Green Card.
B-2 Visa. If you don’t plan to remain in the United States permanently, a B-2 visa might be right for you. A B-2 visa allows you to visit the United States for up to 90 days for reasons such as vacationing, participation in certain events or enrollment in short-term schooling.
To apply, first schedule an interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate office. Wait times vary so apply long before your intended trip. Next, complete form DS-160 prior to your interview.
As part of the interview, you have to prove that your trip is temporary, you have the funds to cover your expenses while visiting the country, you have a permanent residence outside of the United States, and anything else the interviewer asks. Don’t book non-refundable travel arrangements until you receive notification of approval.
If you plan to conduct business, a B-1 visa is similar to a B-2 but you declare that you’re entering the country for business-related reasons and it's good for up to six months (see Getting a U.S. Visa For Entrepreneurs & Investors).
E5 Visa. If you want to make the United States your home and also want to run a business, you may qualify for an E5 visa. The State department makes about 140,000 of these available between October 1 and September 30 each year. To qualify, you must invest at least $1 million into a business that will create at least 10 full time jobs for U.S. citizens or immigrants qualified to work in the United States that aren’t part of your immediate family.
Or, invest $500,000 into a business residing in a high-unemployment or rural area considered a targeted employment area.
Your spouse and minor unmarried children, younger than age 21, may apply for immigrant visas. They will have to complete many of the same forms.
There may be other visa types, the E2 visa for example, that might apply to you.
Green Card Lottery. Since the U.S. has no retiree visas, the only way to get permanent residency in the U.S. is to become a Green Card holder. If you don't have family or a job to sponsor you, the process is much more difficult (click here for details). People seeking permanent residency in the United States often hire an attorney to help with the complicated process. They may be able to help you find other visas that apply to you. Expect the process to be lengthy so start early.
The Bottom Line
In Dias’ practice most of his clients have duel citizenship since the requirements for getting a permanent visa may be prohibitively costly without a close family member already holding U.S. citizenship.
You may find that the United States is not be your best choice after considering all options. Housing and healthcare are cheaper elsewhere. If you plan to work part-time in retirement, very few visas allow you to do so in the U.S. You might have more opportunities in other countries.