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, 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.
Your Options Abroad
While residency is easy in the developed countries listed below, citizenship is more difficult to achieve, although it is possible. The United States has particularly stringent requirements. Monaco, comparatively, is not as difficult.
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. When considering dual citizenship in terms of tax planning, research what foreign tax credits are available in both countries. For example, the United States allows taxpayers to reduce the taxes they owe in the U.S. by the amount they paid in another country. Another 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, and raises 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.
Below, listed in alphabetical order, are five developed countries in which establishing permanent residency is fairly easy.
As a non-EU citizen, you will need to have lived in Belgium for at least five years before qualifying for permanent residency. Citizens of EU countries, Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland are given permanent residency automatically after five years. But non-EU citizens must submit an application, which includes proving you haven't left Belgium for more than six months during your qualifying five-year period.
Permanent residents enjoy similar rights as Belgian nationals. This includes access to employment, education, and welfare benefits, along with the right to vote. Citizenship grants additional rights, such as the ability to leave the country for up to two years without losing your status.
The beauty and climate of Brazil make it an attractive option for expats, though the cost of living is higher than you might expect, and a U.S. Department of State travel advisory might give retirees pause. To qualify for a retirement visa, you must provide documented proof of at least R$6,000 in income per month (or $1,300 as of February 2020). If you are accompanied by more than two dependents, you will need an additional R$2,000 per month from the third dependent on. If you plan to migrate on an investment visa, be prepared to spend R$500,000 buying or setting up a new company.
Becoming a citizen of Brazil is another matter. You must first be a permanent resident with proof of at least four years of uninterrupted residence. You must also be able to read and write Portuguese. Otherwise, you must have lived in Brazil for more than 15 uninterrupted years before qualifying for citizenship.
How does the thought of retiring in France appeal to you? If you are a non-EU citizen, the first step to immigrating to France is to obtain a long-stay visa. This visa can only be obtained at the French Embassy of the applicant's home country and is a requirement for any person planning to stay in France longer than three months. From there, prospective migrants can apply for temporary residency (valid for one year and renewable), or a residence permit (valid for ten years and renewable).
You must live in France for five years to apply for the residence permit. Five years of residence also qualifies you for French citizenship. Both residency and citizenship provide access to education, healthcare, and other benefits. However, only citizens can vote. As a French citizen, you would also become a citizen of the European Union and would enjoy the ability to move about freely through other EU states.
International Living ranked this country as one of the world's best places to retire for its sunny climate, low tax burden, large English-speaking population, and use of the U.S. dollar as its currency. To retire there, U.S. citizens must submit their application through a lawyer and prove they have at least $1,000 per month in retirement income (such as a from Social Security, pension, or other plan), and another $250 per month for a spouse or each dependent.
If you are too young to retire, another option is to obtain a "friendly nations" visa if you are the citizen of one of 50 qualifying countries. Applicants must have professional or economic ties to Panama, which is defined as setting up or buying a Panamanian corporation, or being employed by a Panamanian company.
Investors with $80,000 to spare can obtain a Panama Reforestation Investment Visa. Under this program, prospective migrants must purchase a minimum of five hectares of a government-certified reforestation project or plantation. For a spouse or each dependent, investors should increase their commitment by $2,000.
Citizenship is more difficult to establish. Permanent residents must establish at least five years of residency. If you are married to a Panamanian citizen, or have a child with a Panamanian parent, the permanent residency requirement is three years. Applications can take up to five years to process.
Singapore is one of the easiest countries in which to establish permanent residency. To apply, you must be the spouse or child of a Singapore citizen or permanent resident, the aged parent of a Singapore citizen, the holder of an employment pass or "S" pass for mid-range skilled workers, a student studying in Singapore, or a foreign investor.
In most cases, permanent residents can apply for Singapore citizenship after two years. Students applying for citizenship must have three years of residency in the city-state (of which at least one as a permanent resident).
However, there is one major caveat. Under Singapore law, all male citizens and permanent residents are required to enlist in the military and fulfill two years of active duty. Afterward, requirements include 40 days of service per year for officers up to the age of 50, and 40 days of service per year up to the age of 40 for other ranks.
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.