Goodbye Uncle Sam, Hello Privacy
Personal privacy and government spying are hot topics in the United States and Europe these days. Half of the country was shocked when they learned the extent to which the U.S. government is spying on us. Even some members of congress claimed to be stunned (those who apparently didn’t read about the program when USA Today first broke the story in May, 2006).
President Obama quickly issued the 2013 equivalent of Bill Clinton’s “I didn’t inhale” by assuring the nation that, while they may be collecting the data, they weren’t actually looking at it. Almost no one, of course, believes this.
Most people don’t mind when personal information is used to solve a crime. The danger comes when the government uses your private, personal patterns to predict what you might do in the future. This especially when combined with the ability to hold you without bringing charges or allowing you the right to an attorney is what many consider dangerous.
For those of us who are old enough to remember the Soviet era, the ideas of citizen spying, secret courts, warrantless arrests, and indefinite detention are all too familiar…except when the Soviets did it, they were the bad guys.
Contrary to what you might think, Americans are pretty-evenly divided on the topic. About half the people believe that the government’s intrusion is necessary and appropriate in the name of State security. And even more will continue to adapt to our lower level of freedom as time passes.
But not everyone is so passive. Some people still want the freedom that was the norm in the United States not long ago. Unfortunately, our last two presidents have proven it’s gone for good within U.S. borders.
But you don’t have to give up on old-fashioned freedom: there’s another option. And it’s an enjoyable option, which holds many other benefits.
In many parts of the world, people still enjoy that level of personal freedom and privacy that we used to enjoy in the United States.
Countries With Friendly Residency Programs
Here are three countries that have friendly residency programs and also offer a level of privacy and freedom that will bring back fond memories. None of them have quotas on immigrants, so if you qualify, you’re home free.
I’ve lived as a permanent resident in each of these countries and can tell you first-hand that you’ll feel the difference in your day-to-day life.
Ecuador is the champ for non-intrusive government. If you don’t like rules and regulations, this is the place to be. It also offers one of the lowest costs of living for a quality lifestyle.
Ecuador has a low income threshold for qualification for a pensioner’s visa, at only US$800 per month, so just about anyone can qualify financially if they have a pension or Social Security. What’s more, Ecuador allows you to be creative if you don’t have an actual pension. You can meet the requirement by creating a trust, making a bank deposit, or in a number of other ways. Investor visas start at just US$25,000, and the investment can be your own home.
A physical is no longer required, but you’ll need a criminal background check from the FBI. At this time, you must petition for residency visas in-country.
Ecuador applies a restriction to the movement of new residents, which is unique in my experience. You may not be out of Ecuador more than 90 days per year for each of the first two years of residency. If you live there full-time, this is not a big deal. But if not, it’s an obstacle to obtaining residency there.
Uruguay wins in the category of personal privacy, private financial services, and respect for the citizen. There’s no better place to protect your assets or establish an offshore presence outside the world’s spotlight.
Uruguay also has a low income threshold for qualification, established on a case-by-case basis. A good figure to start with is US$1,000 per month. If you own your own home and live by yourself, the minimum will probably be less; and if you’re renting with a family of four, it will be more.
Uruguay’s application of this rule is fair and reasonable; although it’s still a disadvantage not knowing what your own income requirement will be before you set out on the path to residency.
Also, Uruguay requires that you actually have a residence in the country to obtain residency. This may seem completely sensible on the surface; and in fact, this policy is in reaction to the many “residents” who seldom, if ever, came to Uruguay in the past. But reasonable as it may seem, most countries don’t require proof of residency.
Uruguay still requires a physical examination, obtained in-country. Additionally, women have to supply a recent Pap smear report and mammogram report.
The final approval process is the longest and least-efficient that I’ve ever seen. The Interpol/FBI check alone requested from the Interpol office in Montevideo took almost six months (U.S. citizens only). Then, after turning in my paperwork, the final approval took almost another full year, as my application floated meaninglessly from one functionary’s desk to another.
The saving grace here is that you get your cedula (national ID card) once you submit your application and paperwork, rather than when it’s approved. So while you’re awaiting final approval, you have full access to everything that comes with permanent residency.
This visa is more work than most; if not for you, then for your attorney. But no one complains, because Uruguay is a sought-after haven and well worth the effort.
Colombia takes the prize when it comes to obtaining residency. The information they provide to applicants is clear, simple, and publicly available. What’s more, they follow the published rules exactly. If you provide what’s required, you won’t find yourself subject to the whims of the agent that you’re working with. Also, the process for approval is efficient. A knowledgeable professional looks at your information and approves it (or not) on the spot.
The income thresholds for qualifying as a pensioner are reasonably low, at less than US$1,000 per month, and they don’t require health checks or police background checks.
Conveniently, visas can be obtained at either a consulate in your home country or in Colombia. I’ve used both and Colombia’s consular process is just as efficient as their in-country process.
Colombia offers an unusually-large number of residency visa options: 17 at last count. They include visas for pensioners, investors, entrepreneurs, and business owners, among others.
In my experience, Colombia is the standard by which you can evaluate the ease of any country’s residency process.
And there are other advantages to setting up shop overseas, regardless of which country you choose.
Those of us who live abroad can often dramatically and legally reduce our tax burden. For example, in 2013, you can exclude up to US$97,600 of actively-earned income. In many countries, you’ll pay negligible property tax (US$200 per year or less) and won’t owe any in-country income tax.
For the entrepreneur, there’s a wealth of opportunity abroad for things that may be taken for granted back home. Just ask Mike, the “King of Philly Steaks” in Medellin; he took a common item from Philadelphia, introduced it to downtown Medellin, and came up with a winning combination.
But most importantly, moving abroad will bring you the adventure of a lifetime… just ask any of us who’ve already done it.
If you’re missing the levels of privacy and freedom that we enjoyed back in the 60s, remember that you’ve got options: options that not only come with a non-intrusive government…but can also put fun and adventure into your life and money in your pocket.