Let’s address common misconceptions related to EU citizenship: from the idea that one can buy a passport to the concept of a fictitious marriage.
The European Union includes 27 countries. Citizens of these countries at the same time are EU citizens. For example, Federico is both a citizen of Italy and a citizen of the EU.
European passports give the right to live, work and study almost in any EU member state and to travel freely across the Schengen zone. Entry to a lot of countries is visa-free or under a simplified procedure — entry conditions depend on the country of citizenship.
There is a common opinion that it is easy to obtain an EU passport. But it is wrong to believe that if one gives birth in Europe, the baby will simultaneously become a citizen, or that a passport can be bought like a car.
Even in case of citizenship by investment there is a Due Diligence check. An investor is to confirm that his source of income is legit and that he meets strict requirements for citizenship.
We will dispel the myths about EU citizenship.
Myth 1. If a baby is born in an EU member state, the babу becomes a citizen of this country
There is a common myth that a baby obtains EU citizenship if he or she is born on EU territory.
There are indeed countries in the world that entitle a child born on their territory to automatically become a citizen. It is called the “jus soli” right for citizenship. This is stipulated in the law of some countries on the American continent: in Canada, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina. For example, if a baby is born in the USA, he or she will become American citizens. But the rule applies to babies born from parents who are not diplomatic workers. The right for citizenship is stipulated in the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution.
However, the “jus soli” right does not apply in the European Union; citizenship is obtained by the “right of blood”. If at least one parent is a citizen of an EU member state where the child is born, then the newly born child is entitled to EU citizenship. The birth of the child is registered at the local consulate of that country.
The “jus soli” right with major restrictions is valid in some European countries. In France, a child from foreign parents obtains citizenship at the age of 18, if he has been living in France for more than 5 years. In Germany, a child from foreign parents will become a German citizen at the age of 8 if he or she legally resides in the country. In Italy and Spain, both a child and at least one of his or her parents should be born in the country.
The terms and conditions for getting citizenship by birth in Europe are prescribed in the legislation of individual countries. Thus, giving birth to a child in Europe and getting citizenship is possible only under certain conditions.
Myth 2. One can get EU citizenship through a fictitious marriage
The majority of fraudsters who offer a shortcut to EU citizenship, imply a fictitious marriage. As if one registers marriage in France, for example, it will be easy to get a French passport at once. But the truth is not that simple.
It is possible to get citizenship through marriage with an EU citizen if strict requirements are met. For example, in Germany spouses have to live together for at least three years before a non-EU citizen can apply for citizenship.
The family applying for citizenship by marriage has to meet the concepts of the institution of the family that the German state has. The spouses can’t live separately: in such cases the marriage could be annulled and a non-EU citizen could be fined and deported. Covering up the fictitious nature of the marriage and pretending to be a perfect couple is a great idea for a movie plot but not for real life.
Similar rules for non-EU spouses apply in the rest of the EU. Some countries have less strict requirements. In Malta, one can apply for EU citizenship after 5 years of marriage and the spouses don’t have to live in the country. In Portugal the term is even shorter — just 3 years, but the applicant should learn Portugese.
Myth 3. One can buy an EU citizenship
Citizens of some non-EU countries are used to the idea that it is possible to buy an EU passport in the same way as a yacht or a car.
The myth is connected with misinterpretations of residency or citizenship investment programs. A person invests money in a country’s economy, e.g. buys real estate, and gets a simplified procedure of obtaining residency or citizenship in return. Such programs work in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Malta.
Obtainment of EU citizenship is by naturalization: first an investor needs to live in a country and confirm that he has integrated in the society. The term of obligatory residency reduces for investors, that’s why programs are sometimes used as a shorter path to citizenship. For example, in Portugal the investor can apply for citizenship after 5 years after he got a residence permit.
Malta offers the fastest path to citizenship. From 2020, the Maltese citizenship can be granted for exceptional service by direct investment. It is a naturalization path but it is much shorter. First an investor gets a residence permit and holds it for 12 or 36 months depending on the investment sum. And only after that he can apply for citizenship. The investor is not obliged to live in the country.
Myth 4. One can obtain citizenship by investment in any EU country
The vast majority of European countries do not offer citizenship by investment, since immigration is an acute problem in Europe. Only a few European countries offer citizenship shorter investment paths to citizenship.
The Maltese citizenship can be obtained after 14 months of residency if an investor passes a strict Due Diligence check. The passport is given only by naturalization for exceptional services by direct investment with a preliminary residence permit. An investor first gets a residence permit in the country. The investment sum depends on how long an investor wants to live in Malta with a residence permit: 36 months — €600,000, 12 months — €750,000.
The investor also needs to buy real estate for at least €700,000 or rent housing for at least €16,000 per year. He also makes a donation in the amount of €10,000 to a non-governmental organization.
The citizenship of Montenegro can be obtained in 6 months without a residence permit. The country isn’t in the EU yet, that’s why the program conditions differ from pan-european ones.
To participate in the citizenship program, an applicant invests in developing projects approved by the government of Montenegro. The investment sum is from €250,000 to €500,000 depending on a country’s region. The investor also makes a non-refundable contribution of €100,000 to a state fund.
A path to the Portugese citizenship opens after 5 years after obtaining a residence permit. The benefit of the program is an abundance of investment options and affordable conditions. To keep a residence permit, an investor should spend 14 days for each 2 years in the country.
The majority of investors choose a purchase of real estate: from €350,000 if a building requires renovation or from €500,000 for any other real estate. Shares of investment funds or Portugese companies and opening a new business in the country are also available investment options.
The British citizenship requires investments from £2 mln which is why it is suitable for wealthy investors. First, the investor receives a residence permit with an Investor Visa (Tier 1) and then permanent residence. The investor gets British citizenship only 5 or 6 years later, provided that they live in the UK for at least 185 days in each of these years.
The specific terms depend on the amount of investment, which varies from £2 mln to £10 mln.
But after Brexit the British citizenship gives right for visa-free access to the EU countries only in case of short tourism trips. It does not qualify as EU citizenship anymore.
Please be aware that it is not possible to guarantee obtainment of citizenship of Malta, Montenegro or the UK: the final decision is taken by the citizenship by the investment unit or a respective minister of the country.
Myth 5. If an investor’s application is rejected, the money won’t be refunded
It might seem that citizenship by investment programs are some sort of under-the-table private initiatives. But it is not like that.
Residency and citizenship programs by investment are regulated by the country’s legislation. For example, the Maltese Immigration Act stipulates the path to citizenship by naturalization for exceptional service by direct investments.
The implementation of all requirements is monitored by the government of the program’s country.
An investor can apply for participation in a program only through licenced agents: financial consultants or law firms. It is not possible to apply by yourself.
For example, in Malta the accreditation of licenced agents and future monitoring of their activity is provided by the Community Malta Agency. A minister on citizenship gives a final decision on granting a passport.
The stages of the procedure for getting a passport by investment are known in advance and enshrined in law. The applicant deposits funds into a special account only after their candidacy has been approved. Furthermore, it is not possible to make the investment before approval is granted. If you are asked to deposit money first and then submit your candidacy for approval, it is a clear sign of a fraudulent offer.
It is true that an application for a Maltese passport by investment may be declined if an investor won’t pass a strict due diligence process: conceals a criminal record or won’t confirm the source of income. In 2021, Malta tightened the rules of its Eligibility Assessment. Though the check has always been strict: 25% of applications were rejected during the period from 2013 to 2020.
We offer investors to undergo our own preliminary Due Diligence check. A certified Compliance Anti Money Laundry Officer works for our company. He knows all the nuances of Due Diligence and helps to prevent unpleasant surprises when applying for participation in the program.
Myth 6. A passport obtained by investment differs from an ordinary passport of an EU citizen
An investor needs to meet some requirements during the first several years after obtaining citizenship by investment. This fact sometimes leads to a conclusion that the investor receives only few rights of a country’s citizen.
In fact, an EU passport by investment is no different from any other EU passport and does not have any restrictions attached. The investor can freely move across the Schengen area, live, work or run a business, send children to state kindergartens and schools in any EU member state.
Each country sets its own requirements for investors. In Malta, the main requirement for obtaining citizenship is to own or rent housing for 5 years. If the investor sells or annuls the renting agreement ahead of time, the citizenship will be revoked. The investor is subject to controls from the respective government bodies for several years after obtaining citizenship.
Basic rights provided by EU citizenship
- Freedom of movement across the EU territory and the Schengen area;
- Visa-free or simplified entry to 180 countries including the USa and the UK;
- Living with a family in any EU member state under permanent residence registered according to the standard procedure;
- Working and running a business in any EU member state;
- Owning real estate in EU countries, leasing it and getting income;
- Access to healthcare system;
- Passing the citizenship to children born on the EU territory;
- Opening accounts in European banks;
- Being under protection of law of the country.
Myth 7. An investor has to give up his first citizenship and pay taxes in the new country
The myth is based on the confusion between the terms of “second citizenship” and “double citizenship”.
The second citizenship is when both countries acknowledge a person as their citizen independently from one another. Consequently, the person gets all the rights and obligations in both countries, including paying taxes and military service. In Russia the person with two citizenships is acknowledged as a Russian citizen, in France — as a French citizen.
The double citizenship is a legal term describing a situation when two countries concluded a special agreement and coordinated various questions concerning social benefits, education and military service.
Almost all countries with investment programs recognize the institution of second citizenship. Neither Malta, nor Portugal, nor Greece require an investor to give up his passport.
Tax residency is indirectly related to citizenship. To become a tax resident of another country, a person must live there for more than 183 days a year. He can live in the country with any status: with a residence permit, permanent residence or citizenship. An EU citizen has the right to move to another country for permanent residence and pay taxes at its rates.
Myth 8. One has to permanently live in the country of second citizenship
No European program has such a strict requirement for the new citizens. Having received a second passport, the holder is free to live wherever they want. Moreover, EU citizenship offers the opportunity to move to any country within the EU. It only requires the passport holder to register their new place of residence within three months after moving there.
A lot of investors obtain the Maltese citizenship, and then move to live in a country with higher living standards, such as Germany, the Netherlands or Italy.
At the same time, if a person lives in the country for more than 183 days a year, he will automatically be assigned the status of a tax resident. This rule applies in all countries of the European Union.
Myth 9. Adult children can’t obtain passports with the investor
In many EU countries, the investor’s adult children can obtain a residence permit or citizenship. Such rules apply to residence permit programs in Portugal and Greece. Children under 26 and the applicant’s parents can apply for a Malta passport.
As a rule, additional participants must be financially dependent on the applicant. This will be confirmed by registration at one address or bank statement with regular transfers.
Immigrant Invest lawyers will help you collect the necessary documents and prepare them correctly in order to eliminate problems with the participation of children and parents in the program.
Myth 10. Children and grandchildren won’t automatically become EU citizens
This myth appeared for a reason: each country adheres to its own principles of inheritance of citizenship.
The Maltese citizenship is inherited regardless of where a person lives and where his children or grandchildren were born. If an investor obtained an EU passport by investment, but continues to live in his home country, the children and grandchildren born after that, in most cases, will automatically inherit both citizenships.
In other EU countries, one or both parents will be required to live in the country.
An interesting rule emerged in Portugal: an investor holding a golden visa for a year can grant Portuguese citizenship to a child at birth. To do this, he will need to spend only 7 days in the country.
How to get EU citizenship
If we talk about legal ways to obtain a passport, there are only three of them.
EU citizenship by investment. In all countries, the procedure goes through naturalization: the investor first receives a residence permit. The fastest way to get a residence permit is in Portugal and takes 6 months. Citizenship can be obtained 5 years after that.
EU citizenship by naturalization. The standard path, which takes 10 years or more. It includes the following stages: obtaining a residence permit for 5 years, permanent residence for 5 years, applying for citizenship.
As a rule, the applicant will need to prove a connection with the country, pass an exam on knowledge of language and history, and take an oath.
EU citizenship by repatriation. This method is suitable for those who were forced to leave the country and their descendants. For example, Hungary has granted citizenship to one million Hungarians in Romania and Slovakia.
If someone offers to buy a passport of a European country for money, bypassing the official procedures for filing documents, then you’ve met a fraudster.
How to get EU citizenship by investment
Our experience confirms that you can officially invest in real estate or stocks, get income, and sometimes a guarantee of return. This is often the fastest and most profitable route to a European passport.
You can learn more about the benefits of citizenship by investment in different EU countries from our previous posts or by comparing the citizenship by investment programs.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are several options for getting citizenship in an EU country.
- By investment. The easiest, fastest and most reliable way to get an EU passport is to participate in a citizenship by investment program. The applicant does not need to reside in the country of their second citizenship, pass interviews or pass language proficiency exams.
- Marriage with an EU citizen. Getting citizenship is possible after several years of marriage and legal residence in the country. The application process can take 1–2 years.
- Naturalization. This is a long process, which implies permanent residence in the country for several years. First, the foreign applicant receives a residence permit, and after a few years they can apply for citizenship.
- By ancestry. If at least one of the applicant's parents is a citizen of an EU country, it is possible to obtain an EU passport under the repatriation program. This requires documentary evidence of nationality and citizenship.
Not all European countries offer a path to obtain citizenship by investment due to the acute immigration problems in the region. At the moment, such opportunities are provided in Malta.
Each country offers a specific set of options and conditions for obtaining citizenship by investment. The minimum amount required for Maltese citizenship by naturalization for direct investment is €690,000.
An EU passport allows the holder to travel with ease throughout the world, including visiting most of the Schengen area and the UK without a visa. Maltese citizens are also eligible for visa-free travel to the United States and Australia.
The minimum investment to obtain the Maltese citizenship by naturalization for direct investment is €690,000, including the following three mandatory items.
- Irrevocable contribution of €600,000
- Donation of €10,000
- Rental of real estate for at least €16,000 per annum for five years
In addition to the investment required, the main applicant for citizenship by investment has to pay due diligence and administrative fees. The amount of investment increases when family members are included in the program. The total cost of participation in the program is calculated individually.
The applicant can get an EU passport only after one or three years of residency. EU citizenship provides the opportunity to travel visa-free around the world. However, Maltese citizenship also offers the additional advantage of visa-free travel to the United States and Australia.
All applicants are required to undergo due diligence procedures based on the EU’s anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing directive.
As part of the verification process, the investor must provide complete information about themselves and their family members, business activities and sources of income. An application for an EU passport by investment may be rejected for any of the following reasons:
- The main applicant or members of their family have criminal convictions or bankruptcies on their record.
- The investor’s application for a visa, citizenship or residence permit was declined by a country having a visa-free agreement in force with the country of their current application.
- The investor has been found to be involved in illegal organizations or is on sanctions lists.
- The investor has illegal sources of income.
Immigrant Invest is the only company that has a dedicated ALM compliance division. Our lawyers conduct a preliminary examination of the main applicant for citizenship by investment and their family members. This reduces the risk of their application for citizenship by investment being rejected to 1%.
The Maltese citizenship by naturalization for direct investment is available to the main applicant’s spouse, their parents over 55 years old and children under 29 years old.
EU citizenship requires a substantial investment. If the applicant cannot afford to pay such costs, they can instead first apply for a residence permit by investment and then get EU citizenship several years later.
The minimum investment for a residence permit in Portugal is €250,000. A residence permit allows the holder to live in Portugal, engage in business activities there and travel freely in the Schengen area. An application for citizenship can be submitted five years later. However, in this case, they also need to pass a language proficiency exam.