money

Bitcoin can buy you citizenship in one of the happiest countries

People  outside a  hotel in Port Vila, capital city of the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. — Reuters picPeople outside a hotel in Port Vila, capital city of the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. — Reuters picNEW YORK, Oct 13 — Got some bitcoin burning a hole in your digital wallet? And paradise on the mind? You could use it to buy a second passport.

Vanuatu, a South Pacific archipelago of some 80 islands, will now let outsiders use the volatile cryptocurrency to apply for so-called investment citizenship. Fork over the equivalent of about US$280,000 (RM1.18 million), and your family of up to four can receive passports from what the New Economics Foundation, a UK-based think tank, calls 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.)

With bitcoin reaching a record price of US$5,209 (RM21,961) yesterday, more than five times its value at the start of the year, passports for the whole clan cost about 53.8 bitcoin.

Vanuatu isn’t the only island that offers citizenship for a price — the list includes Antigua, Grenada, Malta, and St Kitts and Nevis — but it’s the first to allow payments via bitcoin. The development was announced in a press release on Investment Migration Insider, a website focused on investment citizenry.

Vanuatu citizenship offers several advantages. The country has 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 UK is in a tie at third place, the US 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.

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 US$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. — Bloomberg

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