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October 20, 2020

Ranked as the fourth happiest country in the world, remote South Pacific island Vanuatu combines high levels of wellbeing with a low carbon footprint and a culture of inclusion, and it’s one of the last places on Earth with no confirmed Covid cases. And for just US$130,000, foreigners can become citizens in just 45 days. So why wouldn’t you?

While Vanuatu’s Citizenship by Programme, which rewards foreigners with citizenship in exchange for a financial donation, and which is regarded as the best CBI Programme outside of the Caribbean, has been highly successful since its launch in 2017 (revenues of US$84.6 million), it has mainly attracted individuals wishing to secure a more powerful passport than their own (for the purposes of global mobility) rather than those wanting to actually live on the pacific island.

In fact, since its launch three years ago, 99% of those who have secured Vanuatuan citizenship by investment do not live in Vanuatu, a situation the government would like to address, with plans to expand its CIP to further attract those who wish to invest in – be it a business or project – and/or live in Vanuatu.

Attracting foreigners to live in one of the happiest places on Earth for a small investment fee isn’t a hard sell… especially not in 2020 when the onslaught of the pandemic has brought with it a noticeable shift in circumstances.

People are re-evaluating their lives, adapting their priorities, realising the importance of happiness, wellbeing and nature, and seeking safe havens (and a Plan B) for themselves and their families.

And with this comes the ‘pandemic passport’, demand for citizenship in locations that deliver effective handling of crises, access to good healthcare, self-sufficiency, clean air, a safe environment, high levels of wellbeing, community living, and a focus on nature.

While, once, people’s reasons for investing in citizenship were solely about GDP, passport power and advantageous tax benefits (and of course these things still matter), increasingly, high-net-worth individuals are looking to invest in, and acquire citizenship of, countries where they can be happy and healthy and in nations which put wellbeing, safety and sustainability first.

Oh, and where Covid-19 isn’t a thing.

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The last place on Earth with no cases of Covid-19
Enter the Republic of Vanuatu. A tropical chain of 83 islands in the Pacific Ocean, between Fiji and Caledonia, which regained independence from joint British and French rule in 1980, Vanuatu ranks fourth in the Happy Planet Index (HPI) 2020, an index based on happiness rather than economic wealth measurements, delivering an HPI score of 40.6. For context, the UK scored 31.9, the US 20.7 and China 25.7.

So, what’s so great about this South Pacific island nation? It doesn’t have a military. Its location is incredibly remote. Its GDP per capita is more than 20 times smaller than neighbouring Australia and thanks to its Pacific Ring of Fire location, it is highly vulnerable to natural disasters such as cyclones and hurricanes.

Well, Vanuatu, which has a population of just under 300,000, ranks where it really matters. In 2020, anyway. While its isolated location could prove problematic (for some) in normal times, in 2020, during the deadly and disruptive global pandemic, Vanuatu is one of the last places on Earth with no coronavirus.

As of October 20, 2020, there have been no confirmed cases of Covid-19 reported in Vanuatu. This is partly due to its remote location (so attractive right now) but also due to the government’s actions in dealing with the pandemic. On March 26, the President of Vanuatu declared a State of Emergency for a two-week period in order to strengthen prevention and containment measures, delivering a timely and efficient response.

And that’s exactly what economic investors are increasingly interested in right now – not the value per capita of a country’s GDP per se – but how well that country has managed the pandemic. In short, countries, like Vanuatu, that have handled the current crisis well will gain in popularity.

But that’s not all. With no known cases of Covid-19, and therefore no travel bans placed upon the citizens of Vanuatu, the currency of a Vanuatuan passport has become even more attractive.

Take the recently-released Henley & Partners Passport Index Q4 2020, which shows that while the passports of countries such as the US, Russia and India have seen a decline in mobility, countries like Vanuatu have boosted their passport power. Vanuatu has moved up the global mobility ranks, from 42nd to 40th in the world, giving visa-free access to 130 countries.

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High rankings of wellbeing and respect for nature
Just as attractive, if not more so, is Vanuatu’s wellbeing ranking (HPI), marking it 28th out of 140 countries thanks to its focus on family, inclusion and community. The island’s tight-knit communities often meet to discuss community matters and importance is placed on immediate and extended family, leading to a culture of inclusion.

A study by Vanuatu’s National Statistical Office cites these regular social meetings as a “key factor underpinning strong social connections and material and emotional support that contribute to high levels of wellbeing”.

Vanuatu is consistently democratic and peaceful, respects tradition and embraces diversity, with some 113 different languages spoken, though English, French and Bislama are the nation’s official three languages and these are widely spoken.

The country’s and citizens’ focus on, and respect for, nature further contributes to its high levels of wellbeing and taps into today’s priorities. As Vanuatuan novelist Marcel Merthelorong once said, “happiness is just a consequence of how respectful we are with nature.”

Thanks to Vanuatu’s location and environment, which is well-placed to make use of renewables – with hydropower, wind, solar and coconut bio-fuel in abundance – the island delivers a relatively low ecological footprint. In 2011, 34% of the energy Vanuatu consumed came courtesy of renewables, and the country aims to be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2030.

Vanuatu welcoming citizens via its CBI Programme
What’s more, Vanuatu is regarded as one of the friendliest countries worldwide, and openly welcomes new citizens to its island nation in exchange for investment, which the government uses to fund infrastructure development and promote economic growth, with revenues from the programme now at US$84.6 million.

As testament to its welcoming nature, Vanuatu has become the first CBI Programme-bearing country to welcome stateless individuals as citizens, spreading its happiness further to help those who face discrimination in their homeland, such as the Rohingya in Myanmar. 

For as little as US$130,000 (for a single applicant), foreigners – any citizen of another country or stateless – can secure citizenship of this Asia Pacific island, giving them the right to live and work on the island, as well as utilise the Vanuatuan passport.

For just US$180,000, investors can bring their family (four members) too. They can even add further dependents (US$15,000 per dependent) including children over 18 years and parents over the age of 50, ensuring their family has citizenship of a secure, happy and peaceful nation for life, as well as a passport allowing them to travel visa-free to 130 countries, including the UK, EU, Russia and Singapore.

In fact, the Vanuatuan passport is moving up the ranks. According to the latest Henley Passport Index for Q4 2020, Vanuatu’s passport has moved from being 42nd in the world to 40th. 

At this time, foreigners investing in citizenship of Vanuatu cannot purchase property, though the government is looking at ways to make it possible. There are tax benefits, though, as Vanuatu is a tax haven with no taxes imposed on income, inheritance or gains.

Unlike some other CBI Programmes, the process of application for Vanuatu citizenship is very straightforward. You can receive citizenship in as little as 45 days (though, this is not always possible), and there is no language proficiency test, no interview to undertake as part of the process, and no requirement for physical presence in Vanuatu during the processing stage.

Pre-pandemic, applications required foreigners to attend the oath of allegiance on Vanuatu soil (or on Dubai, Hong Kong or Singapore soil with a Commissioner for Oaths), but now applicants can undertake this virtually, via conference link. Furthermore, applicants can also now apply electronically with forms downloadable online, making the process even simpler.

According to the latest CBI Index 2020 (published by The Financial Times), “Vanuatu remains the best CBI Programme outside of the Caribbean maintaining a low minimum investment outlay and commitment to ease of processing.”

For more information on Vanuatu and its leading Citizenship by Investment programme, read our country profile by clicking here