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July 20, 2023
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15 countries with the hardest paths to citizenship by naturalization in 2023

A foreigner typically must live in a country for 5—10 years before applying for citizenship, though some countries extend this to 30 years. Applicants are also often required to learn the local language and laws, show societal integration, and possibly renounce other citizenships.

Take a look at 15 countries with notably tough naturalization laws. Some, despite strict rules, offer simpler routes like investment-based residence. We’ll explore these options and other countries that provide swift citizenship to cosmopolitans.

Vladlena Baranova
Vladlena Baranova

Lawyer, AML Compliance officer, certified CAMS specialist

Countries where it is difficult to obtain citizenship: how investors can come and live in them without obtaining a passport

15 countries with the hardest paths to citizenship by naturalization in 2023

15. Vatican City. Only three categories of citizenship are recognized here: cardinals who reside in Vatican City or Rome, Holy See diplomats, and residents with service in Vatican City. In the latter case, a formal grant of citizenship is necessary.

Despite the name, Vatican City is an independent country in the centre of Rome, Italy. Applicants for Vatican City citizenship must adhere to Roman Catholicism and uniquely connect with the Holy See. This is because the country is an absolute theocratic elective monarchy, with the Pope as the Chief of State.

14. Liechtenstein. Despite several naturalization paths, the country has one of the hardest passports to get in Europe. Most foreigners can apply after 30 years of residency, with time spent in the country before the age of 20 counting as double. Alternatively, foreigners can avoid the 30—year rule if their residential community votes to accept them as Liechtenstein citizens. The popular vote route is rarely successful, however.

In any case, final approval requires the Liechtenstein Parliament’s consent and the Prince’s granting of citizenship. Applicants must be fluent in the German language and renounce prior nationalities.

13. UAE.Citizens of Arab nations can apply for naturalization after 3 or 7 years of permanent residence in the UAE. For other foreigners, the minimum period is 30 years. Applicants must speak Arabic fluently, have a legal source of income, and possess an academic qualification.

A clean criminal record is also necessary; applicants with a misdemeanour or dishonesty convictions may apply under rehabilitation. UAE recognizes dual citizenship: the newly naturalized can keep passports of other countries.

12. San Marino. Citizenship is granted after 30 years of uninterrupted residence. Applicants must renounce their previous citizenship and prove that they have never been convicted or received a prison sentence of more than 1 year.

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San Marino is the only European country that requires at least 30 years of residency before naturalization

11. Qatar. A person must lawfully reside in the country for 25 years before applying for a passport. They also must prove a legitimate means to earn a living and have no convictions in a crime of dishonour or mistrust.

10. Kuwait. Citizens of any other Arab country can get naturalized after 15 years of residence. Others will need no less than 20. All applicants must be fluent in Arabic, have a sustainable income, and be of good character with a clean criminal record. Being Muslim is necessary, with at least five years of practice if converted.

9. Bhutan. Citizenship can be acquired after at least 20 years of residence. Applicants must have no criminal record and be proficient in the Dzongkha language and Bhutanese customs and history.

8. Finland. Due to many caveats in the nationality law, it is one of the hardest countries to get citizenship in Europe. Foreigners can apply for citizenship after 4 or 5 years of permanent residence. For those who have lived in Finland since turning 15, the minimum residence period is 7 years, with the last 2 years without interruption. While multiple citizenship is permitted, a citizen of another country must demonstrate close ties with Finland by age 22, or they can lose their Finnish passport.

In addition to a clean criminal record and financial stability, citizenship applicants must have no unpaid public law fees and know either Finnish, Finnish Sign Language, or Swedish.

7. Switzerland. To qualify for citizenship, applicants must have been lawfully residing in Switzerland for at least 10 years, hold a valid residence permit, and be proficient in one of Switzerland’s official languages. Successful integration into Swiss society is a prerequisite.

6. Monaco. Potential citizens are expected to renounce any foreign nationality and be free from foreign national service obligations. A minimum of 10 continuous years of residency in Monaco since the age of 18 is required to apply for citizenship.

5. Austria. Foreigners may be granted citizenship after a lawful residence of no less than 10 years, including a minimum of 5 years with a residence permit. When applying, they must provide stable income evidence over 36 months within the last 6 years before application.

Also required are German language proficiency, basic knowledge of the democratic system, fundamental principles, and the history of Austria. Applicants must be of good conduct, with no criminal convictions or pending actions and no severe administrative offences.

4. Saudi Arabia. Naturalization necessitates a lawful residence of at least 10 consecutive years under a regular residency permit, fluency in Arabic, and good conduct with no criminal or severe administrative offences.

3. Japan. Foreigners older than 20 can pursue naturalization after living in the country for at least 5 consecutive years. Applicants must exhibit exemplary conduct and the ability to support themselves. After becoming Japanese citizens, they must revoke any other nationalities.

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Japanese citizenship applicants can use income of their relatives as proof of financial stability

2. China. Becoming naturalized in the People’s Republic of China is technically possible, but the odds are low. The law permits naturalization after long-time permanent residency: however, details like the minimum period are unclear. Foreigners who want to try their luck submit citizenship requests to China’s Ministry of Public Security with personal information and reasons for application. Verification of a stable income source, proficiency in Chinese, and compliance with the Constitution are necessary. China does not recognize dual citizenship.

1. North Korea. In one of the most secretive countries worldwide, only the Presidium of the Supreme Peoples' Assembly can grant citizenship to a foreigner.

Countries that grant second citizenship within months 

Cosmopolitans looking for another passport often choose countries with citizenship-by-investment programs. Through these programs, governments offer lawful naturalized in 1—8 months, usually with no residency requirements. The acquisition process is typically fully remote.

Vanuatu Citizenship by Investment is one of the fastest programs in the world. Applicants can get a passport for themselves and their families in 1—2 months. The minimum investment is $130,000. After naturalization, investors can travel visa-free to 95 countries, including the UK, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

The Caribbeans have five countries with investment programs — each with a strong passport that provide visa-free entry to the Schengen Area and the UK. Investment requirements start at $100,000, and options include making development fund donations, investing in business, or buying real estate or government bonds. Depending on the country, main applicants can bring along not just their spouse and minor children but children over 18, siblings, parents, or grandparents.

Caribbean citizenship by investment: processing times by country

Country

Processing time

Minimum investment

2—6 months

$100,000

From 6 months

$250,000

3—4 months

$100,000

4—6 months

$100,000

4—6 months

$150,000

Turkey Citizenship by Investment can be granted in 6—8 months. The minimum investment requirement is buying real estate for $400,000. After naturalization, applicants can their families can travel to more than 100 countries without a visa, including South Korea, Japan, and Singapore.

Immigrant Invest is a licensed agent for government programs in the European Union and the Caribbean. If you want to obtain a new residence permit in a European country or the UAE, consult our investment program experts.