Vanuatu, located in the southern Pacific Ocean, is an archipelago comprising 83 islands spanning over 1,100 kilometres. This welcoming nation has been named the world's happiest place twice. While tourists frequently arrive at one of Vanuatu's two international airports, Vanuatu citizens also have the privilege to travel to neighbouring countries. For instance, it takes only three hours to fly from Vanuatu to Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea, with Fiji and New Caledonia even closer.
Vanuatu offers an attractive combination of pleasant climate, robust infrastructure, free education, and the convenience of English and French as official languages, making it an ideal destination for both holidays and residence. However, these are not the sole reasons why individuals seek to obtain a Vanuatuan passport. Until recently, one of its greatest advantages was its high position in the global passport ranking, providing visa-free access to the EU. While the situation has evolved, Vanuatu citizens still enjoy visa-free travel to 48 countries and visa-on-arrival access in 47 more nations. Furthermore, Vanuatu's Constitution permits dual citizenship, making acquiring a local passport a favourable option.
Regarding travel to the EU, it's important to note that, as of the time of writing this article, the agreement on the visa-free regime between the European Union and Vanuatu has been temporarily suspended. The EU has provided an 18-month period for the government of Vanuatu to reform their 'golden visa' program. The EU's concern is that Vanuatu authorities may not have exercised adequate selectivity in granting citizenship, resulting in a broad range of recipients. This suspension will remain in effect until August 3, 2024, and it is highly likely that Vanuatu will revise its citizenship by investment program, introducing stricter criteria. In the meantime, individuals can still acquire citizenship under the existing terms.
Read on to discover how you can get citizenship by investment in Vanuatu and other routes to Vanuatu citizenship.
How You Can Become a Citizen of Vanuatu
In accordance with the laws of Vanuatu, there are several pathways to obtain citizenship:
- By Descent: Irrespective of their place of birth, individuals can become citizens of Vanuatu if at least one of their parents is a Vanuatuan citizen by birth or through naturalisation.
- By Reclaiming Lost Citizenship: Individuals who have previously lost their Vanuatuan citizenship for various reasons have the right to reclaim it at a later time.
- By Marriage: Individuals married to Vanuatuan citizens can apply for citizenship after two years of marriage and residency in the country.
- By Naturalization: Citizenship can be acquired by individuals who have legally resided in Vanuatu for 10 or more years. Additionally, applicants for naturalisation must meet various criteria, including proficiency in basic English, French, or other local languages, respect for local culture and way of life, good character, absence of state benefits, and intent to reside in Vanuatu. The application for naturalisation may also include the main applicant's spouse and children.
- By Investment: Vanuatu's nationality laws permit the granting of citizenship in exchange for various forms of investment.
Citizenship by Investment Programmes in Vanuatu
Vanuatu provides several investment programs for individuals interested in acquiring Vanuatuan citizenship.
- Vanuatu Development Support Programme (DSP): This program offers citizenship in exchange for a non-refundable deposit, which amounts to $130,000 per individual, $150,000 per married couple, $165,000 for a family consisting of two adults and one child, or $180,000 for a family of four individuals. In the event of additional family members, an extra fee of $10,000 per dependent person applies.
- Vanuatu Contribution Programme (VCP): This program is exclusively open to Chinese citizens, and it follows the same requirements as the DSP.
- Vanuatu Government Approved Project (VGA): This program offers Vanuatuan citizenship to those who purchase property in one of the four government-approved real estate projects. Three of these projects are located on Efate Island, and one is on Espiritu Santo. The property's minimum value must be $200,000. Joint purchases are also permissible, provided that each partner invests a minimum of $100,000.
- Capital Investment Immigration Plan (CIIP): This is a program that the government initially launched in 2012 but suspended after introducing the initiatives mentioned above. However, CIIP is set to become available for investors once again as the government is currently updating it. It is anticipated that the new version of CIIP will provide participants with enhanced rights both within and outside Vanuatu. To learn more about this and other investment programs, you can contact authorised agents who facilitate Vanuatuan citizenship through investment.
How to Obtain Vanuatuan Citizenship
Applicants for Vanuatuan citizenship must meet several requirements:
- Choose the appropriate immigration program, as the application form and required documents may vary.
- Gather the necessary documents. A comprehensive list can be found at the end of any citizenship application form, which is available on the official website of the Citizenship Office and Commission (COC).
- Complete the application form and submit the required fees. The COC publishes detailed fee information as well.
- Wait for the application to be processed by the authorities. They will verify your eligibility, ensure the form is correctly filled out, and confirm that all necessary documents are valid.
- Take the Bislama test if you are applying for citizenship by naturalisation or marriage. This one-hour exam assesses your knowledge of Vanuatu's laws, politics, history, and social structure. Passing the test allows your citizenship application to proceed, while failing may result in suspension. You have two opportunities to take the test.
- Receive approval from the Citizenship Internal Screening Committee and the Citizenship Commission. They will notify you of their decision through a letter from the Secretary General of the Citizenship Office.
- Take the oath of allegiance in court. This requires you to be in the country, so if you are abroad at the moment, you must return to Vanuatu.
- Pay the required citizenship fee.
There are specific considerations for investors immigrating to Vanuatu:
- For participation in CIIP, you must apply for a passport through a Hong Kong-based company. No other agents are authorised to process applications for CIIP.
- Naika Holdings Limited serves as the exclusive agent for participants in the Vanuatu Government Approved Project Programme. You can submit your application at their office, and their staff will then forward it to the Citizenship Office and Commission.
To get the list of the authorised agents for other programmes, contact the COC by email.
Photo: Mariano Carpentier (Unsplash)
Basic Required Documents to Apply for Vanuatuan Citizenship
Regardless of the immigration program you choose, you must submit the application form along with several documents:
- A passport or an ID
- Two passport-sized photos
- A copy of the certificate of no criminal record
- A marriage certificate (if applicable)
You may need to provide some additional certificates and documents.
Grounds for obtaining citizenship
Two payment receipts: one for the registration fee of 5,000 vatus ($41.50) and another for the citizenship fee of 600,000 vatus ($4,980).
Copies of letters from the head of the Provincial Council and the Council of Chiefs.
Two payment receipts: one for the registration fee of 5,000 vatus ($41.50) and another for the citizenship fee of 50,000 vatus ($409).
Documents of your Vanuatuan spouse and their letter of consent.
A copy of your residence permit.
Two payment receipts: one for the registration fee of 5,000 vatus ($41.50) and another for the citizenship fee of 50,000 vatus ($409). For children under 18 years old, the fee is 20,000 vatus ($164).
Documents confirming your connection to Vanuatuan parents or grandparents.
A letter of support from the leader or the chief of your province.
Reclaiming Vanuatuan citizenship
Two payment receipts: one for the registration fee of 5,000 vatus ($41.50) and another for the citizenship fee of 50,000 vatus ($409). For children under 18 years old, the fee is 20,000 vatus ($164)
A copy of the certificate of your previous Vanuatuan citizenship
Two payment receipts: one for the registration fee of $250 and another for the citizenship fee of $10,000. The fee for minor children is $19,250, and for dependents over the age of 18, it is $44,250
A copy of the letter from the Financial Services Commissioner of Vanuatu
Documents of all the family members, their biographies and the biography of the main applicant
In a Nutshell
Vanuatu citizenship can be acquired through marriage, naturalisation, or investment. The investment option was particularly popular but led to issues with the European Union, resulting in the suspension of visa-free access for Vanuatu passport holders. Currently, the government is in the process of reforming the citizenship-by-investment programs. Nevertheless, you can still obtain Vanuatu citizenship by either making a non-refundable deposit of $130,000 or purchasing a property valued at a minimum of $200,000 in one of the government-approved projects.
Cover photo: Monika MG (Unsplash)