Economic Citizenship isn’t taxing

More and more ordinary Americans are renouncing their US citizenship in favour of migrating to tax-free countries like Dominica


“I think we could do it for about $200,000,” I told my wife in a text message. “That’s not bad. I’ll do more research in the morning and let you know what I find out.”

That figure is the going rate for “economic citizenship” of Dominica, an island nation in the Caribbean that is not the Dominican Republic (the government is touchy about possible confusion). I found this out after a combination of a fresh four inches of snow outside my window, the gloom of late winter, a story in the New York Times and, possibly, a bottle of red inspired me to look up Dominica on the internet. I also found Dominica is about 290 square miles and has a population of just under 72,000 people, its official language is English, it has 365 rivers and its motto is “after God is the earth.”

That and the photos on the website that showed “the nature island’s” lush tropical landscape, was enough for me. Hence the text to my wife, whose scepticism was palpable across the 85 miles that separate us during the working week.

The concept of economic citizenship is not new to us. We gave serious but fleeting consideration to a vaguely similar idea last year to retire to Panama — before we visited Panama for a week. This is different though. Dominica is one of a handful of Caribbean islands, along with St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and maybe a couple of others, that aggressively market their second passport programmes. They offer the benefits of citizenship without having to forfeit a US passport in exchange for forking over a couple of hundred thousand dollars.

A good friend of mine who is — how shall I say it? — a bit more grounded than I am in practical matters cut right to the chase and asked the question I had pretty much glossed over: Why? Why is paying a substantial sum to live there better than visiting for extended periods of time?

The answer seems mainly to do with taxes, or the lack of them. The Dominica website says the country has no wealth, gift, inheritance, capital gains or personal income taxes, which to me means that once the entrance fee is paid, my capital would be mine to fritter away without the government taking its cut. No more writing checks to various town, state and federal entities whose fees keep rising and services keep shrinking. And I could banish from my vocabulary qualifying terms such as “after-tax,” “pre-tax,” “net” and “gross”.

My favourite reason, though, is from a website that offers to guide applicants through the process of gaining economic citizenship of various Caribbean islands. It’s a masterpiece of understatement with a hint of darkness: “You want to protect yourself and your family against repercussions or other misfortunes that you can’t fully explain.” Sign me up! There are so many repercussions and misfortunes out there that I can’t even partially explain and that I would love to be protected from. Finally, a haven, and a tropical one at that.

I think we could do it for about $200,000

Which is what is being sold here. These idyllic Caribbean islands don’t have much more than natural beauty to help them prosper. They are not exporters of in-demand products except maybe a few bananas and flowers. They make most of their money from tourism and at least in the case of Dominica that option is limited because it doesn’t have the beckoning expanses of beaches that draw the big crowds that would, incidentally, negatively impact much of that beauty. So they market themselves as secure and welcoming residences for people and their money. A fee is paid, a passport is issued (after a background check) and everyone is happy.

Two of the happier newly minted Dominican citizens are the members of the country’s first Winter Olympics team, cross-country skiers Gary di Silvestri, 47, and his wife, Angelica, 48. It was reading their story in the New York Times that piqued my interest about Dominica. Although they deny it, theirs seems to be a classic case of “Olympic tourism” — becoming proficient in a sport and then shopping around for a country to represent. The couple were granted Dominican citizenship, Di Silvestri said, after they “made a financial contribution to the country”. They each hold several passports and he added: “We’re hoping that we’ll have time to actually spend (in Dominica).”

But because of the snippy reply I just received from my wife and my friend’s doubts, I don’t think I’ll be having sundowners any time soon with the Di Silvestris on the veranda of an inexpensive yet palatial Dominican hideaway. I am already an economic citizen of the United States and I am in pretty deep. So I’ll play the cards I was dealt and cope the best I can with those repercussions and misfortunes. And I’ll save $200,000.

Dominica is one of a handful of Caribbean islands, along with St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and maybe a couple of others, that aggressively market their second passport programmes.