Understanding What Motivates the American Investor Migrant
Tajick’s Take With Stephane Tajick
A seasoned researcher on RCBI, Stephane Tajick analyzes global shifts in the investment migration industry.
As they receive a fast-growing number of inquiries from the US in the wake of the pandemic, many RCBI firms are looking into a US expansion. Still, misconceptions about the market abound. After more than a year of devoting nearly all my professional focus to clients from the US, I’ve gleaned certain lessons on this particular subset of investor migrants that I hope to convey below.
It may not look like it, but there’s a lot of competition in the US market
It’s true that there are not many pure-play investment migration firms based in the US. The firm I work for was likely the first US-domiciled investment migration specialist focusing on the outbound US market when we started out in 2021. Now, a growing number of firms originally from Europe and the Middle East have opened offices in the US in a bid to cater to this growing market. But this is not the competition I’m talking about.
Since there isn’t an established industry aiming to provide US outbound RCBI advisory in the US, inquiring clients typically find firms online while searching for keywords, rather than at expos or referrals, as is common in more mature RCBI-markets. The website of a US-based investment migration firm, for example, doesn’t just compete against other US-based companies but against all the world’s English-language websites that use the same search terms.
And in the investment migration industry, practically all firms have an English-language website, which means there’s little competitive advantage to being a US-based firm in terms of language. This is a contrast to the dozen-or-so firms that might compete against each other in, say, Tagalog. Trying to organically rank for certain terms is made much harder and requires much more investment if you’re operating in English.
A diverse range of applicant profiles
Contrary to many emerging markets, where the motivations are often obvious and homogenous, Americans have a wide range of motivations and profiles. Americans are not your typical emerging country clients because the push factors that motivated Russians, Chinese, and Arabs are not present in the US; America has the best universities, a strong passport, and access to the world’s richest market.
At first glance, there is no clear reason why Americans would become investor migrants. There was always some demand for RCBI products from Americans but, to better understand the sharp rise in interest, we need to look at the events that took place in the last few years:
- The elections of Trump and Biden and the concomitant polarization of US politics;
- The Covid pandemic and the sudden reduction in travel freedoms experienced by US passport holders;
- The sharp rise in the value of cryptocurrencies;
- The increase (and the threat of further increases) of tax rates;
- The severing of incomes from geographic locations (work-from-anywhere) driven by pandemic adaptations.
A lot of the push factors are event-based and may, therefore, not endure. But for now, they’re driving bitcoiners to look for tax jurisdictions more suited to crypto trading and saving and pushing US HNWI to look for a plan B, just in case the social and political situation worsens. A few in the industry, like David Lesperance, make their bread and butter helping wealthy Americans expatriate. There is a wide range of profiles and motivations among Americans, but, typically, they look to Europe.
A lot of window shopping
Now, if you’ve had US clients reaching out, you’ll have realized that there is a lot of window shopping going on. Many of them are motivated to know more and dream of having a foot elsewhere but, because the situation in the US is not dire, when they see a high cost of service or too much friction in the process, they don’t follow through.
There is no life and death situation going on, no social expectations to send your kids to study abroad in a top school. When an Iranian comes to your office and says “I want to live abroad”, you know chances are good that, when presented with a path, he will take it. Americans, on the other hand, are far from this position and will evaluate their options:
- “Will I make more money?”
- “Are the schools better for the kids?”
- “Do they speak English there?”
Even when you get Americans motivated, you will find it hard to sell them investment migration products at inflated prices. Furthermore, some Americans, accustomed to DIY solutions, will even give it a crack themselves, applying on their own, even if they have to resort to Google translate to fill their application!
Americans have many immigration options, most of which involve no investment
Americans have a lot more options than your run-of-the-mill RCBI client. Many, many more options. Americans have plenty of immigration avenues to consider before plunking down a hefty chunk of change for an investment-based program.
Nevermind that Americans are already fluent English speakers, an attribute that alone makes qualifications for programs in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and the EU easier, they also have high incomes, making them easily eligible for multiple Independent Means Visas. Not to mention that as many as 41% of Americans are potentially eligible for citizenship by descent.
To put it simply, we can pretty much land an American anywhere in Europe without ever having to resort to them investing money.
So, we are always conflicted when a client is interested in an expensive investment-based program and we know he can get more or less the same thing for a fraction of the price through a different avenue.
I remember one client who, before I got to know him, had already purchased himself a Caribbean passport and Portuguese golden visa from a competitor of ours. We conducted a deep ancestry mapping exercise and found that he was eligible for not one but two European citizenships by descent. The gentleman in question had no idea he even had those roots.
He’s going to be an EU citizen in six months, having spent only a small fraction of what he did for his Caribbean passport and Portugal residency, which practically serve no purpose anymore.
Tax, Tax, Tax
For those not familiar yet, the US tax system is close to unique. Even if you leave the US and reside abroad, you are still on the hook for US tax. Many investment migration firms in emerging markets will sell their RCBI product and not really pay attention to the tax aspect. This cannot happen with wealthy Americans. The last thing you want to do is to have moved to another country for them to get a tax bill of an extra $2 million. Americans cannot put a foot outside their country without looking at the tax implications.
Getting a second passport would not, in itself, affect anything but becoming a tax resident somewhere else can lead to huge liabilities. This is why you have to complement your investment migration products with tax services (provided by third-party partners).
The good thing is that, in many cases, Americans can lower their annual tax bill by spending the vast majority of the year abroad. But this also depends on the country they decide to move to and you don’t want to shoot your client in the foot. Many Americans will have a load of questions on renouncing US citizenship and the dream of a tax-free life, so be prepared for that as well.
Stephane Tajick is a researcher in the field of investment migration, the developer of the STC database on more than 200 residence and citizenship by investment programs worldwide. He is a regular columnist at Investment Migration Insider.