Although I spend most of my time making investments in emerging markets and researching them, I’ve also taken steps to diversify the rest of my life internationally. One way I’ve done this is through applying for residency in the Republic of Georgia (not to be confused with the US state) earlier this year. I hope to eventually become a citizen of the country.
Why would I want residency in another country? First of all, tax reasons. I’m a US citizen and unlike almost every other country in the world, I’m taxed based on citizenship and not residency.
If a German is living in Singapore, for example, he no longer pays tax to Germany and instead pays it to Singapore. After all, he’s no longer living in Germany – why should he pay taxes to a country when he’s not there to take advantage of the services his taxes go toward?
As an American, I’m not so fortunate. The IRS wants a cut no matter where I am in the world, and the only respite I have is the “Foreign Earned Income Exclusion”. This allows me to deduct around $100,000 of my taxable income if I live abroad, and having official residency helps a lot.
Second, the eventual citizenship I can gain from some types of residency opens up investment opportunities by itself. For example, I’m also working toward citizenship in Cambodia and citizens of the country are allowed to own all types of land. Cambodian farmland and other types of frontier market property investments are otherwise closed to foreigners.
The Best Government in Eastern Europe?
Most governments are not looking out for their citizen’s best interest, but some are no doubt better than others. Getting residency is a bureaucratic process practically everywhere in the world, but Georgia makes it easier than most.
Filing for residency itself took less than a week, and it took the government a month more for the residency to be approved. After that, I flew back to Georgia to file for the ID card which was issued one week later.
The “Public Service Hall” in Tbilisi where all of this happened is a massive, newly built, dome-like structure. The building has banks, cafes, and dozens of sections with queues that take care of everything from residency to pension applications.
Although the mere thought of so much government in one place might give some people a headache), the complex is clean, well-organized, and my queue came up quickly.
Despite all of that, I would not recommend going through Georgia’s residency process by yourself and in my opinion, a good lawyer is a must. Not only is English not spoken by most government workers, but I was unexpectedly called in for an “interview” a week before my residency was approved. I wasn’t in Georgia at the time, but my lawyer was able to complete the interview for me, saving me the time and cost of an extra flight back.
Something else went wrong too. For the first time in my life, I lost my passport. While this story could be an entire article in and of itself, the short version is that I was able to track down my passport three days later through the help of my lawyer.
Efficient Government, More Prosperity
Georgia’s simple residency process is a good representation of the country as a whole. Banks are open until 8PM on weekdays, online wire transfers are a breeze, a company can be opened in about a day, free WiFi is available throughout much of Tbilisi, and Georgia has jumped to 15th place on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index in just a few years’ time.
Needless to say, these are the sort of things that lure entrepreneurs and FDI. Georgia’s inward foreign direct investment increased by 8.9% last year – more than three times the world average of 2.7%. New businesses are opening all over the city as a result, and property values are on the uptrend.
In some ways, Georgia’s economic growth and government policies are reminiscent of the early days of Singapore. Most of us are already familiar with the story of how a malaria infested swamp in turned into one of the most important financial centers in not only Asia, but the entire world.
Nowadays, Singapore is still remarkably efficient. But good luck getting permanent residency unless you are either willing to put in many years’ worth of on the ground effort, or have a net worth well into the tens of millions of dollars. Singapore is rich and desirable enough to where it can be very selective about its immigrants.
Overall, I’m very happy to have received residency in Georgia and look forward to not only seeing the country’s future, but involving myself more in it. Will Georgia go the same way as Singapore? Only time will tell, but I’m personally betting my money on it. One thing is almost certain: if it does, things will not be as easy as they are now.
These have been my experiences applying for residency in Georgia, using the services of Nomad Capitalist. My opinions are genuine and I’ve received no compensation for this post.