There is a whole new world in which countries are competing for more residents – and their tax dollars – by encouraging foreign nationals to establish residency.
The benefits of establishing residency include the ability to bank and conduct business in that country, as well as obtain health benefits there. The cost of living is lower in some countries and, depending on your idea of paradise, the weather may be more attractive.
While the lowest cost of living generally requires relocating to a developing country (see The World's Cheapest, Safest Retirement Countries and The World's Lowest Cost of Living For Retirement), many expats are more interested in establishing themselves in a first- or second-world country with a modern infrastructure and a reasonably stable political system.
While residency is easy in the developed countries listed below, citizenship is more difficult to achieve, although it is possible.
Be aware that setting up permanent residency or becoming a citizen may subject you to the taxes of your new country. If you hold dual citizenship – or have resident status in one and citizenship in another – you could owe taxes to two nations. One option to avoid the tax trap, according to many experts, is leaving the foreign country regularly and reapplying for a tourist visa. This has its own obvious hazards, of course – as well as raising the issue of whether you are permitted to work in your foreign home.
Needless to say, consult attorneys and tax advisors in both locations before making a decision. (For more information, see What Americans Need To Know About Living Abroad, Plan Your Retirement Abroad and Financial Implications Of Retiring Abroad.)
Here, listed in alphabetical order, are five developed countries in which establishing permanent residency is fairly easy.
If you live in Belgium for five continuous years and are a Swiss national or citizen of an EU/EEA country, you will automatically be given permanent resident status. If you aren’t a citizen of one of those countries, you have to apply.
Being a permanent resident of Belgium affords you the many of the privileges and rights of a Belgian citizen, such as voting, open access to employment, social programs (including welfare) and education. Becoming a citizen adds to that the ability to leave the country for more than two years at a time, but the requirements are much more rigorous.
The beauty and climate of Brazil makes it an attractive option for expats, though the cost of living is higher than you might expect and the crime rate makes security an issue. Retirees over 60 years of age with a verifiable income of $2,000 per month for the retiree and up to two dependents can establish permanent residency (additional dependents require another $1,000 per month). If you plan to invest at least $50,000 in a business or real estate in the country, you can apply for an Investor’s Visa.
Becoming a citizen of Brazil is another matter. Unless you marry a Brazilian citizen, you must have resided in the country continuously for 10 to 15 years. Foreign spouses may apply after one year of permanent residency.
If your response to France is, "je t'aime," that is another good choice. You can establish permanent residency or apply for citizenship after living in the country for five continuous years. A permanent residency is renewable after 10 years and allows you the right to education, healthcare and worker's rights at jobs, but doesn't allow you to vote.
Obtaining citizenship also makes you a citizen of the EU, which grants you the benefits of such. Immigrants applying for either permanent residency or citizenship must have proven language skills, proof of financial stability or a job, and must prove they have integrated into French society. For more, see The Best Places To Retire In France.
International Living ranked this country the world's best retirement haven for 2019. Its easy immigration system, as well as the climate and cost of living make Panama an attractive option. All you have to do is apply for the Pensioned Tourist Program and prove you have at least $1,000 or more per couple per month coming in from an approved pension.
You can’t hold a Panamanian passport on this visa, but it does allow you to establish permanent residency. If you’re too young for retirement and you are a citizen of one of 50 “friendly” countries – which include many European countries, Canada and the U.S. – you can apply for Panama’s "Friendly Nations" Visa.
This visa was enacted to attract a workforce to Panama; you must be willing to establish a business within the country or have a job offer from a company in Panama. Panama is also very welcoming to those who are wealthy and those who want to invest in deforestation programs.
Citizenship is a little more difficult to establish and may only be obtained after five continuous years of residency – three years for foreign spouses of Panamanian citizens. Read about Panama City in What Does Retirement Abroad Cost?
Singapore is one of the easiest countries in which to establish permanent residency. All you have to do is apply for an employment pass, be the spouse or child of a Singapore citizen, or plan to make an investment in the country.
Becoming a citizen of the country is also fairly simple; you just have to be a permanent resident of the country for two or more years.
The Bottom Line
Depending on each nation's rules, a permanent residency visa generally solves most of the day-to-day issues expats face. Taking the next step of becoming a citizen of another country – especially if it means renouncing your own, rather than taking on dual nationality – is a profoundly serious step. Think through the implications for yourself and for your family. Even if your own country permits dual nationality, and the United States does, your new home may not. For more on this issue, read Renouncing Your Citizenship: Madness Or Sanity?