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8 Questions You Must Ask Before Establishing Residency Overseas

28 Feb
Camilo Beach (Praia do Camilo) at Algarve, Portugal with turquoise sea in background.

8 Questions You Must Ask Before Establishing Residency Overseas

Plan B, Step 1: Top 5 Backup Residency Programs

If you haven’t already established residency in another country, I’m writing today to urge you to consider the idea now.

We’re living through extraordinary times. More than ever before, it’s critical that you have a backup plan

And that plan should include the right to reside full time and indefinitely in another country if and when you decide you want or need to.

If you’re interested in becoming a resident of another country because you actually want to live in that country, both the why and the where are obvious… and the how and the how much aren’t discriminating factors but administrative practicalities to work through.

If, however, you’re looking to establish residency overseas as an escape hatch so that, should things go really sideways in whichever country you currently call home, you could pack up and show up, residency card in your pocket, ready to settle in, then the where is a factor of your personal preferences (where do you enjoy spending time?) weighed against the how and how much particulars.

If you’re looking for a bolt-hole Plan B residency, easy and cheap become important.

In this context, Belize, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama stand out as top choices.

Panama, for example, offers more than a dozen residency visa options, including a competitive pensionado option for retirees and a new Golden Visa-type option.

Belize offers two good choices for how to establish residency in this country—its Qualified Retired Person (QRP) program, which is another competitive retiree visa, and what I refer to as its “just show up” program.

For the latter, you enter the country on a tourist visa then renew that tourist visa every month for a year. At the end of the 12 months, you’re a full-fledged resident. It doesn’t get easier than that, and the only cost is the monthly tourist visa renewal of US$100.

You don’t need an attorney, you don’t need to show any minimum income, and you don’t need to make any lump-sum investment. You do, though, need to remain physically present in Belize that entire first year, while you’re renewing your tourist status month-to-month.

Every option has its pluses and its minuses… meaning you’ve got to do your homework.

Here are eight questions to ask about any residency visa you're considering, to help you make an apples-to-apples comparison of your best choices:

In Panama (where the attorneys made the law), the answer is yes. This adds not insignificantly to the cost. In most countries, an attorney is not required. You can process your application yourself if you’d like. We’ve known many who’ve handled their own residency applications, but we don’t usually recommend it, especially if you aren’t fluent in the local language.

These can vary from a low of about US$500 (in Colombia) to a high of about US$2,000 (in Belize and Panama). These are ballpark figures. The fees, of course, vary depending on the specific visa you’re applying for.

The attorney fees are on top of the government fees and can double the overall cost of the exercise. Again, though, in most countries, you can keep this cost to zero if you’re up for the adventure of managing the process yourself.

I mentioned that, if you pursue the “just show up” option in Belize, you’ll have to invest a full year living in that country to qualify. In Colombia you need to visit the country once every six months if you have a temporary residency permit and once every two years if you have permanent residency. Panama wants you to stop by at least once two years after you’ve become a resident, even if only for a day or two. Etc.

This may or may not be an agenda for you, but, if it is, understand the implications of the visa track you’re pursuing from the start. Some pensionado visas do not lead to citizenship.

Ecuador is one of the lowest (at US$425); Belize’s one is the highest (at US$2,000). Some countries that offer pensionado programs consider only pension or Social Security income. Others (Belize, for example) are willing to look at any reliable income stream. Belize, in fact, doesn’t even need to see a reliable income stream. Just show Belize that you’ve got US$24,000 (US$2,000 per month), and you’ve met the income requirement for the first year.

Must you invest in a bond? A business? A piece of real estate? Or is the lump-sum “investment” really just a gift to the government?

Last year, for example, big-deal changes were made to Panama’s Friendly Nations visa program… and 2022 has seen important changes to Portugal’s Golden Visa program.

When you find a residency visa program that works for you, act on it.

Lief Simon