If Brexit has left you mourning for Europe, there are ways to buy yourself back into the club. Here’s a look at some of the cheapest citizenship options, as well as other (legal) ways to become an EU citizen.
What’s the difference between EU citizenship and EU residency?
In a nutshell, citizenship gives you more rights. As an EU citizen, you have the right to live, work and travel throughout all EU member states.
Those rights also extend to Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland although each country will have its own set of limitations.
Residency, on the other hand, is slightly more limited. If you’re an EU resident of a country, you’ll typically have the right to live and work in that particular country. Those rights may extend to other EU member states, but that will depend on each country’s own rules and regulations.
What’s the cheapest way to become an EU citizen after Brexit?
Citizenship by descent is the cheapest way to become an EU citizen. It usually just involves passport application costs and perhaps some administration fees for supporting documents.
To get citizenship this way, you’ll need to prove you have ancestral roots in that country. This is usually through a parent, but some countries will also accept you if a grandparent or great-grandparent was born there.
If this isn’t an option, the next cheapest route is naturalisation. This is where you live in your host country for a certain period of time, after which you can apply for citizenship. This can take years and there may be language and financial requirements.
Naturalisation can also include marriage. So, if your long-term partner is from an EU member state, perhaps now is a good time to consider tying the knot.
Can I buy EU citizenship and what’s the cheapest option?
In short, yes. Brexit might be the reality most of us have to live with, but you can buy back your EU rights through various investment schemes.
It’s worth noting that the European Commission has cast a disapproving and watchful eye on the more blatant ‘citizenship by investment’ schemes. In fact, Cyprus suspended its scheme in late 2020 after an investigation revealed it was being abused.
With that in mind, most schemes start as residency programmes. These then give you the right to apply for a passport, entitling you to EU citizenship. This makes them similar to the naturalisation process, but thanks to the upfront investment, you won’t have to live in your host country full-time.
Here are some countries that offer the best value citizenship by investment schemes. All include Schengen Area access:
If citizenship is your ultimate post-Brexit goal, then Portugal’s ‘golden residence‘ permit scheme, is the cheapest and fastest route to get it.
You’ll need to invest at least €250,000 into the country, which you can do by buying property. In return, you’ll get residency rights that need renewing every two years. You won’t actually need to live in Portugal long term. You simply need to be there for seven days in the first year and at least 14 in subsequent years.
After five years, you can apply for permanent residency or citizenship. If you have a family, you can apply for ‘reunification’ at any point, but there’s no guarantee that family members will be granted permits.
Greece’s ‘golden visa‘ programme provides residency rights in exchange for a €250,000 investment. The scheme also includes a married spouse, your respective parents, and children under 21.
You don’t need to live in Greece and there’s no minimum stay requirement. Your residency permit will need to be renewed every five years, but you can apply for full citizenship after seven.
An investor visa in Spain gives you residency rights in less than a month, but you’ll need to stump up a minimum of €500,000. The visa initially lasts two years but can be extended to five at renewal.
Permits can include your partner (married or unmarried) and dependent children. The scheme also extends to dependent parents aged over 65.
You don’t have to live or stay in Spain to keep your residency visa. After ten years, you can apply for Spanish citizenship.
The fast-track post-Brexit option
If money is no object, Malta offers one of the few citizenship by investment schemes around, which gives you EU citizenship in just three years. Officially, it’s called ‘The Granting of Citizenship by Naturalisation for Exceptional Services by Direct Investment’. But, it will set you back at least €600,000.
If that’s not soon enough, you can expedite the process with a minimum €750,000 investment, giving you citizenship in just 12 months.
Ultimately, if you want EU citizenship, you’ll need to invest time, money or both for the privilege. And remember that there will be caveats and conditions in all of these schemes.
In the meantime, UK passport holders can still enjoy visa-free holidays on the continent.
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