On the latest season of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld tells the story of how he got the first black American Express card.
He tells John Mulaney that there was a rumor going around that there were three black American Express cards in the world. Being as crazy rich as he is, Seinfeld called up the president of American Express – a company he was doing commercials for at the time – and asked if the rumors were true. The president insisted that they weren’t, but then admitted that it was an idea that they were toying with since they had all this hype. So the company, according to Seinfeld, did make an ultra-exclusive, ultra-high-limit card, and they gave Seinfeld the first one.
We hate to break it to Mr. Seinfeld, but the ultimate too-rich-status-symbol black card has been eclipsed in recent years by a new status symbol – foreign passports.
Business Insider reports that rich people all around the world are increasing their power and, perhaps even more importantly, their status by buying citizenship in foreign countries. All around the world, countries have set up Citizenship Investment Programs (CIPs) that let rich folks make an investment in a country in exchange for citizenship. While the prices and terms of these programs vary widely, the average cost is $200,000.
Business Insider pointed out that most of the people investing in these paid citizenships are from countries like Pakistan and China – countries with limited passport power. For business people from these countries, citizenship from a small European nation could open up a lot of travel – and thus business – doors. But the article pointed out that most of the people investing in these CIPs aren’t the ultra-wealthy. Instead, it’s primarily people with a net worth between $2 million and $10 million.
The article also points out that not just anyone with money can take part in these programs. In addition to the financial and, sometimes, residential obligations, applicants must be thoroughly vetted before being granted citizenship. Once approved, they have all the same rights and obligations of naturally born citizens.
Business Insider gave the terms of St. Lucia’s CIP as an example – investing in citizenship there requires a $100,000 donation to the National Economic Fund, a minimum $300,000 investment in an approved real estate development, or a $3.5 million investment in an approved enterprise project. The most popular countries offering programs like this tend to be small nations in Europe and the Caribbean.
Americans are among the least likely to participate in these programs, as we are required to pay US taxes no matter where we live. US citizens can participate and then renounce their citizenship in order to avoid income and inheritance taxes while living out the rest of their days on a beach somewhere. But very few people are interested in doing that.
If visiting countries is more your speed, contact Swift to renew your passport or get the visa you need. We’re always available to answer your questions about expedited passports, business travel, and anything else you might be curious about.
Rob Lee is co-founder and CFO of Swift Passport and Visa Services. Originally from Michigan, Rob is an avid fisherman and SCUBA diver who enjoys adventure travel.