Expat Adventures

Dying to Escape the USA? Dual Citizenship May Be Your Way Out

by Pavia Rosati
Fun Photo by mana5280 / Unsplash.

In the depths of a year of chaos and lockdown, disease and denial, political unrest and social protests, travel bubbles and travel bans, is it any wonder that many Americans are looking for an escape hatch, wondering how they can be anywhere but here?

Securing dual citizenship through a country of their ancestry may be the answer — the key to life and a career in a new country.

Imagine: With dual citizenship — and a magical second passport — you could live and work abroad and gain access to countries that may have restrictions against Americans. According to the 2020 Henley Passport Index, a global ranking of passports and their powers, the U.S. passport is in seventh position (alongside Belgium, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom), behind fifteen other countries like Japan, Italy, France, Germany, Ireland, and Portugal. 

You may just want a second passport because you feel strong ties to the country of your heritage.

The process, however, of securing that dreamy dual citizenship can be daunting, to put it mildly. Reams of paperwork to complete and process; embassy appointments to secure. And good luck finding your great-great-grandfather's birth certificate to prove that you really do have roots in that tiny Austro-Hungarian hamlet waaaaay up in the Alps.

Jack Ezon, founder of Embark Beyond (Fathom's partner travel agency), has launched a program to help eligible Americans through the dual citizenship application process for many European and a few Caribbean countries. In addition to having a strong understanding of current laws, restrictions, and opportunities, Ezon and his team can help with everything from securing the right certified documents to assisting with genealogy research.

While claiming dual citizenship through heritage may be the most obvious way to secure it, another way is to buy it through investment in a foreign country. More on that below.

Let's break it down.

Is this even legal?

It is. According to the U.S. Department of State, "U.S. law does not mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one nationality or another. A U.S. citizen may naturalize in a foreign state without any risk to his or her U.S. citizenship."

And don't forget your responsibility as a dual citizen: "Dual nationals owe allegiance to both the United States and the foreign country. They are required to obey the laws of both countries, and either country has the right to enforce its laws."

Which countries are we talking about?

For applications through heritage, Embark Beyond is working with Austria (and countries originally part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire), Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, and Portugal. For applications through investment, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Kitt's and Nevis, and St. Lucia.

How do I know if I qualify?

According to Ezon, every country has its own qualifications. "We can help you look at your options from a holistic level. For example, we had a client with ancestors from Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, and Lithuania. We helped them figure out their options, which can especially tricky when borders change over the years."

On the subject of borders, Austria and Hungary will qualify any country originally part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, especially if citizens fled for political reasons: Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Croatia, and parts of present Poland, Romania, Italy, Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia and Montenegro.

"Portugal is especially accessible for Sephardic Jews, who can trace ancestry to any country that Sephardic Jews may have fled to after 1492," adds Ezon, "including Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, the former Yugoslavia, and Arab countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Morocco. The Portuguese government doesn't determine whether you're Sephardic or not; the synagogue in Porto does."

Bad news for those with dreams of a dolce vita future: "Italy is the hardest and most expensive country to claim dual citizenship through lineage," says Ezon.

According to Italian Citizenship Assistance government, the criteria for eligibility are as follows:

  • You are of Italian descent or were adopted by at least one person of Italian descent as a minor (21 if born before 1975; 18 if born after 1975)
  • At least one of your Italian-born ancestors was alive and an Italian citizen after the year of 1861 (the Italian unification)
  • Neither your Italian-born ancestor nor any of your ascendants in your Italian line became a naturalized citizen of another country before the birth of the next person in the Italian line

This being Italy, of course there are exceptions and complications.

My ancestors are not European. What's the situation for dual citizenship in the rest of the world?

There are only 61 countries on the World Population Review's 2020 list of countries that allow dual citizenship. In a nutshell, Europe and the Americas are the most open, Asia-Pacific countries tend to prohibit it, and Africa is mixed, though Ghana is very welcoming to Americans of African descent. Here's a breakdown by continent.

Ethnicity isn't an option. How can I buy dual citizenship?

Ezon is only working with countries that charge $100,000 or less for investment or a charitable donation in the country: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Kitt's and Nevis, and St. Lucia, which are all part of the Commonwealth of the United Kingdom.

If you really want a European passport, Malta will let you in for a mere €650,000.

How long will it take to get my dual citizenship?

Ezon estimates between three months (Austria) and two years (Italy), with Portugal taking about a year. Not surprisingly, since Brexit in the U.K. passed and Donald Trump took office in the U.S., many countries have been inundated with requests for dual citizenship, which slows down the process.

Can I get it for my spouse?

Sorry, but probably not. "It depends on the country," say Ezon, "but most countries do not include spouses."

What does it cost?

Ezon's rates begin at $2,000, but expect to pay between $500-$1,000 in additional fees, depending on the country. For Italy, the cost is $7,500. "The Italians are very slow and bureaucratic," says Ezon, "so we partnered with a great legal team in Italy to help us. One small error will disqualify the whole application and set you back two more years."

Sounds great! What aren't you telling me?

Yes, a shiny second passport is very cool and jetset glam. But before you move to another country, you should get professional advice about a move will impact your immigration and tax status as well as your healthcare options.

I'm ready to go. Where do I start?

Reach out to Ezon and his team. Tell them we sent you!