Top Citizenship-By-Investment Choices For South Africans

Following one of the most austere mini budget presentations since 1994, there will no doubt be a further rise in the demand from wealthy South Africans for a second residency or citizenship, says Ms Nadia Read Thaele of LIO Global, a specialist in residency and citizenship-by-investment planning for private clients.

The number of people taking up these programmes is rising progressively. At the same time, she says, there is now an increasing number of countries with a range of programmes with varying benefits and financial investment requirements to choose from.

The approach at LIO Global is always that each family is unique and has different requirements and needs, and finding the most suitable programme is central to that. It is however, worth noting which countries South Africans are currently investing in as well as the reasons why, as central trends are emerging as demand increases. The decision on citizenship is a very personal one.

Grenada Citizenship investment program LIO Global

Residency vs Citizenship

Before identifying the most popular programmes, the distinction between residency and citizenship must be clarified. Even though some might think that these two terms are interchangeable, it is important to understand that the two are very different and offer different things.

Citizenship generally gives full citizenship rights, such as living, working and studying in that country or the jurisdiction it is part of e.g. EU.  These rights could also include access to all benefits such as healthcare and education.  It could also include the right to vote. Citizenship is usually given for a lifetime, and will often also include citizenship for children and grandchildren. 

Residency generally allows the person to live, work and study in a specific country, but it is usually linked to property ownership and could have other conditions linked to it e.g. language requirements, age restrictions on dependent children and minimum stay requirements.  Residency is also usually renewable, and as such as riskier in terms of legislation changing during the residency period.  

Malta Individual Investors Programme (MIIP)

If South Africans are looking at having global access via Europe with a European citizenship, Malta is one of the top programmes to consider.  As of 1 January 2017, Malta citizens had visa-free or visa on arrival access to 167 countries and territories, ranking the Malta passport 10th in terms of travel freedom (tied with the Hungary passport) according to a globally recognised visa restrictions index.

Being a Malta citizen means one is also a citizen of the European Union. Once the investor becomes an EU citizen, they have the right of establishment in all 28 EU countries and Switzerland. The passport, along with the national identity card allows for free rights of movement and residence in any of the states of the European Union and European Economic Area.  It furthermore also opens access to EU universities. LIO Global finds that clients with younger children who still need to obtain tertiary qualifications, are the main applicants of this programme.

Malta citizenship program south africa lio global

Introduced at the beginning of 2014, the Malta Individual Investor Programme (IIP) offers high and ultra-high net worth individuals and families worldwide citizenship in a highly respected EU Member Country. Malta has been a member of the European Union since 2004, enjoys a stable political climate, bi-partisan political scene, growing economy, and has some of the soundest banks in the world. The jurisdiction is also tax-friendly. The Malta IIP is the first investment citizenship programme of its kind to be recognized by the European Commission, and the executive body of the European Union has formally acknowledged the legality of the programme paving the way for its success.

The Malta citizenship-by-investment application process is extremely efficient, and the government of Malta is committed to the highest standard of due diligence and vetting of investor applicants ensuring only persons of impeccable standing and repute are admitted.

Once the investor and family has undertaken their biometric testing, they usually receive their permanent residency card within 6 – 8 weeks.  Compare that to some of the more popular residency programmes in Europe which could take 6 years or longer, and one can understand why the programme is so popular.  If the application is successful, citizenship is granted in 12 – 14 months. During this time, the investor and family will have to spend between 15 – 20 days in Malta in the first year.  Thereafter no minimum stay requirements will apply. 

To qualify for citizenship, the main applicant must be at least 18 years of age, provide proof of having been a resident of Malta for a period of 12 months preceding the issuing of a certificate of naturalisation and meet the following investment requirements:

  • Contribute to the National Development and Social Fund of EUR 650 000; and

  • The acquisition of real estate with a minimum value of EUR 350 000 to be held for at least 5 years; orease a residential immovable property in Malta for a period of 5 years, at an annual rent of at least EUR 16 000; and

  • An investment in stocks, bonds or special purpose vehicles to be identified by Identity Malta, for a minimum value of EUR 150,000 to be held for a minimum period of 5 years.

malta investor program citizenship lio global

Grenada Citizenship-by-investment Programme (CBI)

Grenada’s Citizenship-by-Investment Programme, launched by the Government in 2013, has been a rising star in the citizenship and immigration world. In June 2016, the Programme was awarded the title of ‘Best International Citizenship Programme’ by a panel of experts at the Awards Ceremony of the Russian HNWI Forum in Spain.

LIO Global has found that for South African investors who require travel access and who do not necessarily want to reside in Europe, the Grenada CBI programme is very attractive with excellent benefits. 

St Georges in Grenada, citizenship by investment

Grenada is one of only thirteen nations worldwide to have access to visa-free travel to China. This it does on top of allowing its citizens to travel without a visa to the Schengen Area and the United Kingdom, which encompass business hubs such as London, Zurich, and Paris. If one compares the cost of many of the European residency programmes, which require renewals, are generally subject to keeping one’s property, include the risk of regulation change, and generally more expensive, Grenada is an attractive option for South African investors. With two investment options of either a US$ 350 000 investment into real estate which can be sold onto another investor after five years, or US$ 200 000 donation option, it is easy to see why. 

St Georges university grenada, citizenship by investment LIO Global

The travel access obtained through the Grenada citizenship is equal to that of European residency programmes, offering  90 out of 180 days visa-free travel in the Schengen zone and the UK. It basically means that for 6 months of the year, one can reside in the Schengen Countries, with a break of 3 months in between.  Citizenship and a passport is obtained within 3-4 months, with no minimum stay requirement.  Dependent children under the age of 30 and dependent parents over the age of 55 can also be included in the application.

Grenada is also the only Caribbean programme that can offer citizens the right to apply for the United States’ E-2 Visa Programme. This exclusive investor programme is reserved for nationals of a limited number of treaty countries, and allows indefinite visa renewals upon establishment of a business. Grenada is furthermore also the only Caribbean nation to offer both a citizenship by investment programme and the option to concurrently apply for a permanent residence card.

One of the government approved projects we enjoy working with, says Ms Read Thae

le, has been developed by an ex-South African, who is now the ambassador for Grenada in Miami.  It is a five-star holiday resort, by InterContinental’s boutique hotel brand Kimpton Hotels, and investors enjoy revenue share from the rental of their freehold investment. The added bonus is that they will also be able to holiday for 2 weeks a year in their property on the shores of one of the top 30 beaches in the world, according to CNN.

Caribbean citizenship programs lio global

Antigua & Barbuda Citizenship-by-Investment ProgramME

With its efficient processing, rigorous due diligence, wide choice of investment options and the sheer physical attraction of the islands, the Antigua & Barbuda’s Citizenship-by-Investment Programme is fast becoming a jurisdiction of choice.  One cannot go wrong on an island that has 365 beaches -, one for every day of the year.

In 2017, Antigua and Barbudan passport holders enjoy visa-free access, or visa-on-arrival, to around 134 countries and territories, ranking it as the 30th best passport in the world according to the Visa Restrictions Index. Passport holders may travel to Hong Kong, Singapore, the UK and the Schengen Zone countries, among others, with relative ease and without challenging visa requirements.

Besides Grenada, LIO Global clients have also been attracted to the Antigua and Barbuda Citizenship-by-Investment Programme (CIP) as a competitive alternative.  The CIP requires a person to make a significant economic contribution to the Country. In exchange, and subject to stringent application procedures, including thorough background checks, the applicants and their families are granted citizenship. To qualify for citizenship, the primary applicant must be over 18 years of age, meet the application requirements and select one of the following three investment options:

  • A contribution to the National Development Fund (NDF) of a minimum non-refundable amount of US$100 000 for a family of four or US$200 000 for a family of five or more; or

  • An investment of at least US$400,000 into one of the approved real estate projects and to be held for a minimum period of 5 years; or.

  • An investment of a minimum of US$1,500,000 directly into an eligible business as a sole investor or a joint investment involving at least 2 persons in an eligible business totalling at least US$5,000,000 and each of those persons individually invests at least US$400,000.

Antigua citizenship program LIO Global

The reduction of the contribution to the NDF in October of this year, has made this programme one of the quickest and now cheapest of the Caribbean citizenship programmes.  However, even though the donation option has been discounted, the programme remains one of the most established and LIO Global have has had many clients apply for their citizenship in this island paradise. 

If clients were to opt for the property option in Antigua, LIO Global have has also hand-picked government approved projects where investors can buy into world class five-star resorts, which are fully managed in a rental pool. One of the resorts, as an example,  is set on a sunset-facing bluff between two of Antigua’s most beautiful beaches taking five- star luxury to new heights with a collection of stunning residences, exquisitely designed for contemporary Caribbean living.  Another’s bay is protected by the Barrier Reef surrounding the beautiful Green Island and Little Bird Island; the calm waters behind the reef and the deep-water channel into the Bay creating some of the best Superyacht anchorages in the Caribbean.  After five years, investors can on-sell the property to a next investor and there could even be a moderate growth in the price of the property in addition to the rental income.

Opting for dual citizenship or a foreign residency is a very personal decision. For some it is to give them the freedom to travel, for others to give their children the opportunity to study at a European university.  Some would love to retire on a Mediterranean island. Whatever the consideration, LIO Global advises believes that it is important not to get distracted by the beautiful properties options for properties, but to first identify the core needs, ensuring that what one invests in, achieves one’s goals; i.e. achieving either a second residency or citizenship. Speaking to professionals specialising in citizenship-by-investment and residency planning, is key.

Contact Nadia Read Thaele, LIO Global, World Residence and Citizenship on 083 375 1078, email or visit

Original article in the November 2017 edition of the Seeff Southern Suburbs Magazine. 



LIO Global, Citizenship by Investment, Grenada Citizenship programme, Antigua Citizenship programme, Malta Citizenship programme


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Residency, Citizenship & Real Estate


All Caribbean Citizenship applications to increase significantly from 1 August 2024.