Based on Spanish law, 75 million Americans may be eligible for Spanish citizenship due to their ancestry. Americans with Spanish heritage — such as nationals of Central and South American countries — are eligible for Spanish citizenship by ancestry. This privilege also extends to Filipinos, Portuguese and Sephardic Jews.
European passports are among the most valuable in the world, and wealthy people are known to pay millions for them. The small island nation of Malta, which offers a citizenship-by-investment (CBI) program, charges a cash equivalent of $1 million for a process that takes roughly one to three years to complete. Cyprus, another small European Union country, required a $2.5-million investment before it suspended its CBI program in 2020. Cyprus had been receiving nearly 1,000 applicants annually.
The business of second passports has exploded in the last decade, with over a dozen cash-strapped countries inviting global investors to various investment incentives in exchange for citizenship. In the case of Spain, it won’t cost you a million dollars to gain a nationality that arguably is even more valuable than that of Malta’s.
Obviously, a second citizenship might not have value for everyone. You have to be middle class or upper class to really start seeing the benefits of it. However, the richer you get, the more valuable it becomes. It facilitates international travel, banking, asset diversification and tax optimization. A Spanish passport is considered “la crème de la crème,” and is significantly more valuable than the U.S. passport in the global marketplace.
Why? It’s primarily because Spaniards, as members of the European Union, can live and work anywhere in the EU indefinitely. It’s also because the U.S. is one of few countries that taxes its citizens on their worldwide income, even when they live abroad. For millions of Americans to be able to gain Spanish citizenship at little cost is a bargain worth examining.
Let’s explore how it’s done.
Spanish citizenship by ancestry
Those born to a Spanish father or mother are Spanish by origin. If that’s you, you’re actually Spanish. Simply visit your nearest Spanish consulate with the required documents and apply for a passport.
The remaining 99% can be fast-tracked to naturalization after one or two years of residency in Spain. You’ll need to be physically present in Spain and not be outside for more than six months each year. You can spend more time outside the country if you can provide valid justification (e.g., family issues and business overseas). Only Sephardic Jews don’t need to be physically present in Spain to claim Spanish citizenship after two years of residency.
- Two years: For nationals of Andorra, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, Venezuela and persons of Sephardic origin (non-naturalized citizens).
- One year:
- Persons born in Spanish territory.
- Persons who, at the time of their application, have been married for one year to a Spanish national and are not legally separated and have not had a common-law separation.
- The widower or widow of a Spanish national if, at the time of the death of the spouse, the widower/widow was not separated in fact or legally.
- Those born outside Spain to a Spanish father or mother (also born outside Spain), or who have a Spanish grandfather or grandmother, provided that all were originally Spanish.
Getting Spanish residency
As stated earlier, 75 million Americans can qualify for Spanish citizenship after one or two years of residency. But as you might have guessed, you will need to get a resident permit before anything else.
If you have a job, are retired or have a bit of money, you can qualify under the “No Lucrative Activity” category. It’s an annual permit that allows you to reside in Spain without taking employment in the country. You simply must show proof that you have enough money to support yourself for the year. That can take the form of a sizable bank deposit, a pension or employment contract allowing you to work remotely. But there are two negatives:
- You must spend most of the year in Spain and renew your permit after one year.
- You can become liable to pay the Spanish wealth tax (unless you settle in Madrid).
If you’re well off, you can choose the most favored route: the Spanish investor residency (aka the “Golden Visa”). This route provides a two-year permit that becomes a five-year permit upon renewal. All you need to do is buy property with a price tag higher than €500,000. Given that you need to have accommodations in Spain during the year, you can invest to save on rent.
The Golden Visa also offers more flexibility in terms of physical presence, as under this permit you only need to visit Spain once. For many business professionals, it’s not easy to be away from their home base for most of the year. With the Golden Visa, you can still work toward fast-track naturalization at your own pace. After your naturalization, you can resell your property, although many tend to keep it since they want a vacation home. And who wouldn’t? Spain is such a beautiful place!
Those who are wealthy worry about the level of taxation, especially the wealth tax. The wealth tax is levied annually on a tax resident’s worldwide assets. A non-resident is only taxed on his Spanish assets with an exemption for assets valued up to €700,000 per person. Even those owning assets above that amount in Spain can find relief by placing their assets in a life insurance bond. If you decide to become a tax resident to be eligible for citizenship, you can choose a region that has a 100% tax rebate (like Madrid), nullifying the tax liability. Otherwise, investors often leave their spouses the responsibility to qualify for citizenship. Once your spouse becomes a Spanish citizen, you can apply for Spanish citizenship by marriage after one year.
Another consideration here is that Spain normally does not allow dual citizenship. Fortunately, all Ibero-American nationals and Sephardic Jews are exempted, even those also holding American citizenship. Spain requests that you orally renounce your U.S. citizenship, an act that is non-binding in the eyes of the American government. As long as you don’t flash your U.S. and Spanish passports around a Spanish judge after that, you should be fine.
On that subject, many up-and-coming wealthy people are also gaining Spanish citizenship before forfeiting their U.S. citizenship. You heard that right: Americans are deliberately renouncing their U.S. citizenship every year. Why? To finally free themselves from heavy U.S. taxation. The U.S. is one of those rare countries in the world that taxes its citizens on their worldwide income, even if they reside abroad.
Renouncing U.S citizenship has become especially popular among crypto owners. Many savvy American Bitcoin investors gave up their U.S. citizenship in anticipation of the 2020 Bitcoin price surge. That means that much of the capital gains they made will not be taxed by the U.S. government, potentially saving them millions of dollars. The process of renouncing your U.S. citizenship also involves what’s officially known as an “exit tax,” but this is not that scary or complicated if your net worth is less than $2 million. Otherwise, American expat can still benefit from generous tax exemptions when living abroad.
How much does it cost to apply for Spanish citizenship by ancestry?
Applying for Spanish citizenship on its own is not very expensive, but it often requires you to obtain residency first. Global RCG helps families do both and charges very competitive fees. The company professional fees for obtaining a Spanish resident permit for the family starts at $15,000. It can include:
- eligibility assessment
- document retrieval
- document translation and authentication
- form case filing to the authorities
- getting your foreign identity number and card
- registaring Empadronamiento
There are government fees associated with obtaining and renewing your resident permit.