Long lines snaked through the United Airlines terminal at O’Hare Airport Monday May 16, 2016 where one line reached almost to the glass window at the far north end of the terminal. (Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune)
Donald Trump’s upcoming move to the White House has left many Americans considering a move of another sort: out of their homeland. According to a Morning Consult/Vox poll, more than 25 percent of the populace thought of retreating to more attractive ground in the event of a Trump win. Fortunately for them, there are some options.
For a long-term exit plan, ancestry is the easiest and cheapest route. Direct descendants of an Italian male citizen (or female if born after 1948) can apply for Italian citizenship — no language or cultural tests required. It’s even possible to register and collect the documents at an embassy or consulate abroad before traveling there. Irish grandparents or Polish great-grandparents may supply another route available to many Americans, if you have the right paperwork. And if Nazis stripped your Jewish ancestors of German citizenship, Germany and the rest of the European Union may be open to you as well. Indeed, with an EU passport in hand, you are free to live in any of the member states, including the United Kingdom (at least for the moment).
For the elderly, Trump’s promise to end Obamacare is of particular concern. Where can one go that’s far enough away, yet close enough to home? Canada, unfortunately, protects its publicly funded medical system with strict laws that limit an influx of the aging.
Mexico, however, is more generous. Retirees with an average bank balance of $25,000 and at least $1,500 in post-tax income every month can easily apply for a residence permit. In Costa Rica, Guatemala, Venezuela and Chile, the hurdle is even lower — $1,000 to $1,200 in monthly income. Island lovers might cast their gaze toward the Caribbean, where a number of countries boast citizenship-by-investment programs. Dominica is the cheapest option for a single applicant; anyone can become a citizen by donating $100,000 to the government, and the new passport brings with it the right to live in any of the 20 countries comprising the Caribbean Community.
Those thinking of leaving Trump’s America might also wonder about housing. Indeed, this can be the ticket to securing residence rights. Buy a home in Greece worth at least $275,000, and you qualify for a residence permit. The same holds true in Spain and Portugal for slightly more.
Purchase a sizable holiday villa in Antigua, Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia or Grenada, and a passport is yours. Those willing to up the ante might consider Malta or Cyprus, which offer citizenship in exchange for a real estate investment and economic contributions. But the price tag for these EU countries is much higher: $1.3 million and $2.2 million, respectively. You might do better finding a male Italian ancestor.
A world of possibilities lies open to those looking further afield. There is residence in Tonga for a verified annual income of about $4,600, retirement in Thailand if you can prove a monthly revenue stream of $1,800, or in South Africa for $2,600. Those hoping for a return on their money can secure papers by investing $75,000 in the Philippines — or just $30,000 in Peru and $12,000 in Gambia.
Identity politics can structure options as well. Some environmentalists might worry about Trump’s promise to end U.S. support to United Nations programs to combat global warming. For them, there is Panama, which grants a residence permit in exchange for the purchase of five hectares (roughly 12 acres) of land in a government reforestation project. Muslim Americans, concerned about personal safety, might consider Indonesia, where residence is available to applicants with a minimal monthly income and an Indonesian housekeeper in their employ.
Leaving the United States, however, doesn’t mean giving up U.S. citizenship, which is a lengthy and costly process. The basic fee runs more than $2,000, and the wealthiest of those who choose this route face an even heftier bill, one equivalent to the taxes they would pay if their global assets were sold on the spot. And even if Trump prefers to avoid the IRS, Americans abroad still must file and pay tax on earnings over $100,000.
But maybe it will be worth it — at least for those who have the possibility of leaving. Not everyone has the ancestry or the funds to seal an escape. The unequal access to exit options is perhaps a fitting reflection of the United States today. The schisms that underwrote the vehemence of the election — inequalities in birthright and bank accounts — aren’t really all that different.
Kristin Surak is an American professor who teaches politics at the University of London and is writing a book about investor citizenship.