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Emigration: What Are Your Options?

An ancestral visa isn’t your only ticket to emigration. South Africans who are looking to relocate overseas can also seek residency – and possibly citizenship – through investment.  

“It is a sad reality that so many families are leaving our beautiful country,” says Carrick Group Commercial Director Anthony Palmer. “We do have to stay positive and trust the future, but we also do need to play the cards that we are dealt and to take control of our destinies. That generally means physically packing up and leaving for foreign shores, or having a Plan B involving foreign visas and passports and most of our assets already moved offshore. Both these paths require well considered and bold decisions with all the facts at hand.” 

Moving to a new country is a life-changing event. In fact is widely considered to be one of the top three most stressful life events, says Palmer, and for most South Africans it’s a very difficult one. Without a foreign passport or an ancestral visa, what options do you have?  

In a recent webinar hosted by Carrick Wealth, a few solutions were outlined, including residence and citizenship programs. 

Residency or Citizenship?

One of these is the residence-by-investment program. This so-called “golden passport” enables high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) to relocate and live, work, study and receive healthcare in their new country of residence. These programs are available in a wide range of geographies, from Europe and North America to Asia Pacific, Australasia and the Caribbean.  

Residency, however, is quite different to citizenship. Citizens hold passports in their adopted country, and are legally allowed to vote. As you’d expect, citizenship is far more difficult to obtain. An example of this could be the EU member state Malta.  

“The only way to become a citizen of Malta is to make a significant donation to government, and many South Africans kick against that,” says Palmer. “The idea of giving money away seems to just not sit well with us.” 

Emigration programmes range from the relatively accessible to the very expensive. Options among the former include little-known Montenegro, which is not a European Union state (at least, not yet; it’s expected to accede to the EU by 2025) but is a member of NATO. “It’s relatively cheap to obtain that passport,” says Palmer. “You can make a real estate investment in Montenegro immediately get your passport and your travel benefits and in four to five years’ time when they’re a full member of the EU you and your family will have European passports.” 

Staying in Europe, at the other end of the scale is a country like Austria. “It’s the best passport you can get, but that’s reflected in the cost of the programme,” says Palmer. “It’s really only suitable for ultra-high-net worth individuals. You either make a €3 million donation to the government or you invest €8 million and you commit to make a significant contribution for the longer term.” 

Different Laws, Different Requirements

Those three examples – Malta, Montenegro and Austria – each have very different requirements, and all three are in Europe. As you look further afield, to faraway places like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Thailand and Grenada, the complexities deepen further still. Emigration programs for either residency or citizenship are developed through close engagement with the destination governments, and as Palmer explains, each program is different because every country’s laws are different. “It really does require individual consultation,” he says. “There is no one program that works for everybody. Every family’s situation is different. Sometimes it takes a couple of meetings before we decide which is the best location for somebody to go to.”  

Similarly, every family’s reasons for taking up alternative citizenship or residency are different. “It’s not just because people want to leave South Africa,” says Palmer. “Many of our clients come to us and we talk about an insurance policy or a Plan B.” 

If you’re considering emigrating – especially if you’re using the investment route – it’s important to remember that the process takes time. “Starting this conversation doesn’t mean you want to leave right now, but you have to start the work to get that plan in motion,” Palmer concludes. “It very often takes at least six months – most programmes take 12 to 18 months before you get an invitation to relocate – so it’s important that one does this planning well in advance.” 

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