Acquiring a new residency is a must for anyone seeking to become location independent. In part for the tax benefits and in part for the sake of diversification and security. In this guide, I explain what is the difference between residency and tax residency and review the easiest residency options.
Residency vs tax residency
A residency is essentially a permission to reside within the borders of a country, usually for a predetermined amount of time and with specific conditions of stay. Most countries will grant residency provided that certain requirements are met. This can include having a job offer, being admitted into a university, marrying a local etc. Most countries will also grant permanent residency after a few years of uninterrupted residency, provided that a sufficient level of integration has been achieved. It is important to understand, however, that being the resident of a country does not necessarily equate to being the tax resident of that country. Tax residency is determined by other factors such as domicile, physical presence and in some cases, citizenship. In other words, acquiring the residency of one of the countries listed below will not make you a tax resident of that country unless you also satisfy that country’s tax residency requirements. I have written an in-depth guide covering this, I recommend that you give it a read.
The road to a second passport
In most countries, residency will eventually lead to citizenship and a second passport. Qualifying, however, usually involves spending more time in-country every year than what is otherwise required to maintain residency. Other requirements, usually cultural and financial, are also common. Module one of the Zero Tax Nomad course covers all there is to know about acquiring a second passport, including those requirements. Click here to read it.
The easiest residency options
Argentina is one of the world’s most immigrant-friendly nations. Nearly anyone can become a resident, provided that they can pass a criminal background check. While there are more than a dozen different visas available, the Rentista visa is the one I find most interesting. To qualify, you need to prove that you will continue receiving at least 30000 ARS (288 USD, 254 EUR) every month after your arrival in Argentina. This income can come from one or multiple sources, active and / or passive. Interestingly, it is possible to apply for citizenship after residing for two years in Argentina. This makes it one of the easiest and most accessible passports to acquire. There is also no need to ever apply for permanent residency, you can go straight from resident to citizen. Click here to learn more about Argentina and its residency program.
Belize is probably the easiest country in the world in which to become a resident. Provided that you are the citizen of one of the countries on Belize’s visa-free travel list, all you need to do is show up and stay in the country as a tourist for 50 weeks. Do note that while there are no specific economic requirements, you should be able to prove that you will receive a monthly income sufficient to support yourself during your stay (immigration often asks and the amount they are looking for is 2000 USD). After 50 weeks in the country, you can apply for permanent residency. Click here to learn more about Belize and its residency program.
Bulgaria is one of the easiest EU countries in which to acquire residency if you are a business owner. For a few hundred EUR, you can set up a local trade representative office and use it to sponsor up to three Type D residence visas. After five years of residency and provided that you have sufficiently integrated (you should speak at least passable Bulgarian), you can apply for permanent residency and citizenship. A major advantage Bulgaria has over other EU countries is its relatively low tax rates. In most cases, you will pay no more than 15-20% on your combined personal and business income, social security included. Click here to learn more about Bulgaria and its residency program.
To qualify for residency in Ecuador, you must either be retired and entitled to a pension worth at least 800 USD per month or ready to deposit around 40000 USD in a local bank account. There are other ways to qualify but they are not nearly as interesting (or straightforward) as the two listed above, at least in the location independent context. Citizenship can be achieved in three years but only if you spend most of your time in-country (you are allowed up to 180 days out-of-country in total during the three-year period). Click here to learn more about Ecuador and its residency program.
Georgia is the country that, as far as I know, offers the most generous visa-free allowance for visitors at 365 days. This means that it is possible to stay for long enough to qualify as a tax resident without ever having to actually apply for residency. Combined with territorial taxation and a low cost of living, this is a great opportunity for retirees and those generating passive income. Obviously, if you intend to work while in the country you should apply for a work visa although fortunately, the process is fairly simple. Click here to learn more about Georgia and its residency program.
Germany has the most accessible freelancer / self-employment visa in the EU. The only real requirements are that you have a proof of address in Germany (for example, a rental agreement), that you have valid health insurance and that you can demonstrate demand for your services (via letters of intent from German companies and / or residents). You can apply from within the country even if you arrived on a tourist visa / visa waiver. In most cases, the visa will be valid for a period of 2 to 3 years (it can then be renewed). After five years, you can apply for permanent residency (you can then move to other EU countries easily). Click here to learn more about Germany and its residency program.
Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) is one of the most generous long-term visa programs out there with a validity of up to ten years (renewable). It also comes with numerous allowances and benefits and allows for work albeit with several restrictions. When combined with Malaysia’s territorial taxation system, it is a great option for those who want to base themselves in Asia. Do note that MM2H does not lead to permanent residency and citizenship. Click here to learn more about Malaysia and its residency program.
Thanks to DAFT, a friendship treaty between the US and the Netherlands, US citizens can acquire residency in the Netherlands by investing as little as 5000 EUR into a local business. The residency permit can be renewed up until eligible for permanent residency and citizenship. Click here to learn more about the Netherlands and its residency program.
The citizens of a number of “Friendly nations” can qualify for instant Panama permanent residency by proving at least one tie to the country. Eligible ties include ownership of a local company, a local job and a real estate investment. Panama is a territorial taxation country and one of the few not to require substantial physical presence to maintain tax residency, making it a great option for perpetual travelers. Click here to learn more about Panama and its residency program.
Qualifying for permanent residency in Paraguay is as simple as showing up with your passport, 5000 USD in cash and an apostilled background check from your home country. After three years spent in the country, it is possible to apply for citizenship making it one of the fastest passport programs. Click here to learn more about Paraguay and its residency program.
The Thai Elite visa is essentially a blinged up tourist visa that allows you to visit Thailand as often as you want, for a period of up to ten years. While not a residency visa in the traditional sense, it offers many of the same benefits and can lead to Thai tax residency if certain conditions are met (the main one being that you must spend the majority of your time in the country). The cheapest Elite option starts at half a million THB making it one of the most affordable options out there. Click here to learn more about Thailand and its residency program.