When establishing a Plan B or backup residency, most people look for the easiest option… but “easiest” isn’t a one-size-fits-all concept.
You also want to consider how difficult the residency, once obtained, is to maintain. As well, there are different kinds of residency programs—those intended specifically for retirees, for example, and those you qualify for through investment.
Here’s how I’d rate your best options across categories right now…
Mexico—Easiest To Qualify For
About 28% of all American expats living abroad live in Mexico. A big reason for this is that Mexico has one of the world’s easiest immigration programs.
The process begins at the Mexican consulate in your home country. Amounts vary consulate to consulate, but qualifying for temporary residency through economic solvency requires an average minimum monthly account balance of over US$31,760 for the past 12 months or a minimum monthly income of US$1,900 over the past six months. Instead of income, you can qualify with savings or an IRA/401k balance.
Mexico also offers the opportunity to bypass temporary residency and jump straight to permanent residency. The income requirements are higher, but if you qualify, this is the easiest and fastest way to become a permanent resident.
Panama—Easiest Through Investment
Panama is pro-business and foreigner-friendly, meaning outsized incentives for foreign retirees and investors. It stands out for the breadth and diversity of residency-through-investment opportunities it offers. You can get a two-year temporary residence permit through the Business Investor Visa, requiring a US$160,000-minimum investment in a new or established business in Panama, plus hiring at least five Panamanian employees, or the Panama Reforestation Visa, requiring a US$100,000-minimum investment in timber in an approved reforestation project. A US$350,000 investment will get you near-immediate permanent residency.
Ecuador—Cheapest Through Investment
Ecuador’s residency-through-investment option is one of the world’s cheapest. You simply have to invest 70 times the minimum monthly salary in a bank CD for two years (730 days). That amounts to US$29,750. Or you can invest in real estate at 80 times minimum monthly salary or US$34,000. You can also invest in a private company (including your own company); the minimum investment requirement is 100 times the minimum monthly salary or US$42,500 right now.
Colombia—Easiest Residency Process
While qualifying for residency in Colombia is easy, it shines for its application process. It’s straightforward, transparent, and doesn’t require a background check from your current country of residence. All requirements are spelled out on the immigration website, and they aren’t open to interpretation at the point when you interact with the individual immigration agents, as can be the case elsewhere in the world.
Dominican Republic—Easiest Residency To Maintain
The Dominican Republic has what is probably the easiest residency permit to maintain. It comes with no time-in-country requirement. Once you’ve obtained permanent residency, you keep it simply by renewing your residency card every four years. If you’re not in the country to renew your card, you don’t lose your residency, you simply pay a penalty for every month you’re late in renewing. As a backup residency, this can be your best option.
Nicaragua—Easiest Pensionado Program To Qualify For
The minimum income requirement to qualify for Nicaragua’s pensionado program is just US$600 per month. As the average monthly Social Security payment is more than US$1,500, most anyone receiving Social Security is in. If you don’t yet qualify for Social Security, you can obtain rentista residency in Nicaragua by showing as little as US$750 per month of stable permanent income (from a rental property, interest from a CD, or dividends from stocks, for example).
Portugal—Easiest In Europe
Right now, I’d call Portugal the easiest residency option in Europe. You can qualify simply by showing sufficient means. The specific amount isn’t stipulated and is at the discretion of the immigration agent handling the case; however, 1,200 euros a month should be enough. Any provable passive income qualifies.
Northern Cyprus—Easiest Through Property Ownership
Owning property in Northern Cyprus qualifies the owner and their family for easy residency. Northern Cyprus (the Turkish Cypriot side of the island of Cyprus) is not part of the EU. Despite this, business continues as usual on both sides of the open border, and residents and vacationers travel freely across the island. But, importantly, property prices remain much more affordable in Northern Cyprus.