Foreign citizenship can be useful to you. For years Americans had to choose one citizenship. Now, having second passports is acceptable
Paul Conolly is American and Irish. He’s also lucky: A second passport may be the most coveted travel accessory for 2021. And he has one.
“Both of my parents are from Ireland, and most of my extended family is in Ireland,” says Connolly, a vice president for an IT services company in Rochester, N.Y. “I’m proud of my Irish heritage. Having an Irish passport is a tangible reminder of all that my parents gave me.”
But that’s not the only benefit. As a European Union citizen, Connolly can also live and work in any of the 27 E.U. countries. He is able to travel freely between the United States and Europe during the pandemic, because E.U. citizens aren’t subject to some travel restrictions.
It’s the little things, too, like accessing the shorter E.U. customs line when he arrives in Ireland. “It saves time,” Conolly says.
Applications for second passports have risen sharply
Since the start of the pandemic, according to officials who process them, the demand for second passports has risen dramatically. The ability to travel and the time-savings moving between countries are now a priority. Even more important for many is the ability to work in different countries.
“We’ve seen an unprecedented increase of requests for information about Greek citizenship,” says Spyridon-Heracles Aktypis, head of the consular section at the Greek Embassy in Washington. “Of course, this trend has been more pronounced during the pandemic.”
Greece has been a particularly hot destination since actor Tom Hanks and his family became Greek citizens last summer. But it’s also something near and dear to me as a travel columnist — and as a Greek American.
Paths to a second passport include investment, residency, and heritage
My grandfather, Themistocles Eliopoulos, immigrated to the United States when he was 12 and became James Elliott, a naturalized U.S. citizen.
My family has always been proud of its heritage, but I didn’t realize until recently that I could become a Greek citizen. It turns out I have two options for doing so. One is applying based on my family history; the other is residing in the country for seven years.
Many European countries allow you to apply for a one-year visa and then to extend it until you meet the amount of time required to apply for citizenship. For example, you can apply for French citizenship after living in the country for five years.
Some plan on investing (literally) in a second passport
Investing in a country, though expensive, is another way to get a second passport or a long-term visa, though not in every country. Services such as Get Golden Visa, which helps people obtain a second passport through investment, have reported strong growth in the last year. Charles Harris, Golden Visa’s director, says applications increased fivefold in 2020.
“The week of the 2020 U.S. elections, we received over a hundred requests from prospective American investors,” Harris says. “Our sales team had an inquiry every 20 to 30 minutes.”
That’s the route to Portuguese citizenship that Renata Castro is considering. For an investment in Portugal of about $425,000, she can obtain a passport within five years.
“I fell in love with Portugal’s low-cost, laid-back standard of living while on vacation in the country a couple of years ago,” says Castro, an immigration lawyer in Miami. “After that, I began an extensive research into my options, and I am looking into migrating either through the purchase of a property or the opening of a business in the country.”
Second passports mean dual citizenship difficulties
Acquiring dual citizenship can be complicated, no matter what path you choose. Fortunately, there are consultants who can help. When Celia Celler wanted to pursue citizenship for herself in Portugal and for her family in Germany, she turned to EMBARK Beyond, a New York travel consultancy that offers citizenship services.
“The second passport opens up educational and employment opportunities to our children as they get older,” says Celler, a stay-at-home mom from Oakhurst, N.J. “We chose the German route for our children because the current wait time is shorter.”
Celler filled out a family tree, and then an EMBARK agent helped her retrieve the documentation needed to secure dual Portuguese citizenship for herself and dual German citizenship for the rest of her family. The company works with a network of local representatives in each country. The consulting fee and application costs for her Portuguese passport totaled $2,500. The German passports cost $3,750 for the first and $600 for each additional family member, including the consulting fee.
For dual passports and dual citizenship expect problems
Not all applications go so smoothly. Lynne Kennedy, a wedding planner from Chicago, sought Italian citizenship three years ago. But she had to go through the Italian court system rather than the Italian consulate because she traced her lineage through a maternal ancestor. She had to hire a lawyer to sort it out. Total cost for an Italian passport: $10,000, most of it in legal fees.
“The expense will be well worth it,” Kennedy says. “My husband and I plan to purchase a home in Italy, and as a wedding planner, I will have the freedom to work in Europe without a work permit.”
My path to Greek citizenship won’t be easy, either. Before I can apply, I have to find my grandfather’s birth records. I need a stack of other paperwork, including my father’s birth certificate, his marriage certificate and my birth certificate. Then I’ll need to appear in person at the Greek Embassy for an interview with the head of the consular section. The application process will take at least a year and probably longer.
Why do I want a Greek passport? It’s not the visa-free stays in the European Union or the benefits of Greek citizenship for myself and my children, and it’s not just a journalistic exercise. I want Greek citizenship because I am a Greek American.
It may seem like a herculean task, but if I’m successful, I will have a second passport with my Greek name, Christóforos Eliopoulos, on it. That’s Χριστόφορος Ήλιόπουλος to you if you’re Greek. Speaking of which, I’d better get busy with those language lessons.
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. Read more of Christopher’s articles here.