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Where to emigrate to? Here’s how to navigate your options

IF you’re one of the growing number of South Africans looking for a second residency or citizenship, there’s a country out there with your name on it. But make sure you do your homework, as residency and citizenship options are constantly evolving and changing. 

One recent change saw Portugal, which offers a residency programme popular with South Africans, limit the purchase of qualifying residential property to its low density designated interior regions and increase the minimum investment applicable to its many other qualifying investment options. 

However, there are still a broad range of residency and citizenship programmes available for South Africans either looking for a ‘Plan B’, or simply wanting to benefit from greater investment and business opportunities, tax efficiency, improved lifestyles, education options and greater freedom of movement, says Ceri Pratley, a residency and citizenship consultant at Sovereign Trust SA. 

Navigating the range of options can be a daunting task, as there are various types of residency and citizenship programmes available, with different qualifying requirements applicable in each country.

Residency Programmes:

Financially Independent or Passive Income Programmes offer residence permits to applicants who can demonstrate a passive income or personal wealth above a specified amount. These generally require you to make the chosen country your primary place of residence and place of tax residence. Offered by: Europe: Greece, Portugal and Spain; MENA: Mauritius and the United Arab Emirates (UAE); Asia: Thailand. 

Active, Start-up and Business Investment Programmes offer residence permits to applicants who establish a business or invest in a business, creating local employment opportunities and economic activity in the chosen country. Here the options are broader, and the amount needed as an initial investment can be low. Offered by: Europe: Cyprus, Guernsey, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom (UK); MENA: Mauritius and the UAE; Asia: Singapore and Thailand; Caribbean: Antigua & Barbuda, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands; North America: Canada and the United States (US). 

Business Incubation Programmes provide residence permits to applicants who invest and work with specialist business incubation partners and local government-backed research and development (R&D) facilitators to establish a local business and economic activity. In some cases, these programmes have low minimum stay requirements. Check out: Europe: Portugal and France; North America: Canada and the US. 

Residency by Investment (RBI) Programmes are often referred to as ‘Golden Visas’, and provide individuals and their dependents with a residence permit and a variety of  associated benefits in exchange for a wide range of investment and donation options. Programmes such as this have low minimum stay requirements. Offered by: Europe: Cyprus, Guernsey, Portugal, Spain and Malta; MENA: Mauritius and the UAE; Asia: Thailand; Caribbean: Bahamas and the Cayman Islands. 

Tax Residency programmes offer preferential rates for non-domiciled individuals who establish tax residency. The advantages of this can be numerous, but you will have to move your tax residency from South Africa, which comes with its own set of challenges. See: Europe: Cyprus, Gibraltar, Greece, Malta, Portugal and the UK; MENA: Mauritius; Asia: Thailand; Caribbean: Antigua & Barbuda, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands. 

Citizenship Programmes:

Direct Citizenship programmes offer citizenship within three to six months in exchange for an investment or government donation, generally with no physical presence requirements. They also provide residency rights within a range of other countries with which the issuing country holds freedom of movement treaties. Caribbean: Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts & Nevis and St Lucia. 

Indirect Citizenship programmes offer citizenship in exchange for government donations following a one or three-year period of legal residency. Europe: Malta.

 Citizenship through naturalisation is a process by which you may qualify for citizenship of a country after holding legal residency for a certain period. The rules of naturalisation vary from country to country. Typically, they include a promise to obey and uphold that country’s laws and may include additional requirements such as demonstrating an adequate knowledge of a country’s language and culture. Most countries around the world offer this route to citizenship, but many have strict requirements to get residency in the first place.


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