Travel

Bitcoin May Now Buy You Citizenship in One of the Happiest Countries

With the 34th-most-“powerful” passport in the world and the fourth-highest happiness ranking, Vanuatu has a lot to offer.
Corrected

Got some bitcoin burning a hole in your digital wallet? And paradise on the mind? You may be able to use it to buy a second passport.

Fork over 49.3 bitcoins, the equivalent of about $280,000 to a brokering agent, and your family of up to four might be able to receive passports to Vanuatu via so-called investment citizenship. The New Economics Foundation, a U.K.-based think tank, calls the South Pacific archipelago of some 80 islands the fourth-happiest country in the world. (It ranked No. 1 when the list was first published in 2006, but like the vagaries of the market, happiness can be a fleeting thing.)

As volatile as the cryptocurrency itself, so has the local reaction been to this idea, which was first reported by Investment Migration Insider, a website focused on investment citizenry.

“The Citizenship Commission is only recognizing USD as prescribed under the Citizenship regulation and no other form,” said Samuel Garae, Acting Secretary General of the Vanuatu Citizenship Office, in an emailed statement on Oct. 20, correcting earlier reports that Vanuatu would accept payments directly. 

“This might be from the Agents but not Citizenship,” he continues, referring to a non-binding letter from Vanuatu’s Parliamentary Secretary that lent support to the idea of allowing bitcoin payments. All final payments would still need to be handed to the government in American dollars. 

Tourists watch eruptions in the crater of the active Mt. Yasur on Tanna, an island in Tafea, Vanuatu. The volcano is continually active at a low to moderate level. Visitors may approach the rim to view the crater eruptions when the activity level is not dangerously high.
Photographer: Whitworth Images/Moment RF

Vanuatu joins other island nations such as Antigua, Grenada, Malta, and St. Kitts and Nevis in offering citizenship for a price. Advantages include the 34th-most-“powerful” passport in the world, providing visa-free visits to 116 other countries, according to the Passport Index, a list of rankings maintained by Arton Capital, a company that facilitates foreign residence and citizenship applications. Vanuatu falls right below Panama and Paraguay (tied) and above Dominica; the U.K. is in a tie at third place, the U.S. at fourth, and Russia at 40th.

The country also has no income, inheritance, or corporate tax. It’s not even customary to tip there, according to the Vanuatu Tourism Office. The archipelago is relatively accessible: about a three-and-a-half-hour flight from Sydney to Port Vila, the capital. And scuba aficionados will appreciate that it’s home to the world’s largest diveable wreck—the SS President Coolidge, a luxury liner-turned-troop ship that sank during World War II.

Efate Island, Vanuatu
Photographer: David Kirkland/Design Pics/Axiom RM

Should you really want a place to escape, Vanuatu’s abundance of islands and relatively small population (about 290,000) mean that your own private island may be within reach. The least expensive one currently on the market, according to real estate website Private Islands Online, is Lenur, priced at about $645,000. For that you get 84 acres including three sandy beaches, a handful of sleeping bungalows, and an open-plan kitchen. Most of the property is covered in coconut, fruit, and nut trees.

Still, like investing in cryptocurrency in the first place, tropical life doesn’t come without risks. Earlier this month, residents had to be evacuated from the northern island of Ambae because its volcano, Manaro Voui, had rumbled to life and was spewing steam and rocks.

(Corrects paragraphs one through six with comments from Vanuatu government to show bitcoin cannot be used to pay the government directly for investment citizenship. Authorized brokering agents must submit all funds in U.S. dollars.  )
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