Lonely Planet Writer

Why the ultra-rich are getting their hands on Maltese passports

The ultra-rich may be known for acquiring status symbols like vacation homes and fancy cars, but there’s another luxury being snapped up by the wealthy – second passports.

The ancient fortified city of Senglea in low light. Much of the city was built by the Knights of St John in the 16th century. Image by ©Matt Munro/Lonely Planet

Nations around the world have different rules and regulations on who qualifies for a passport, but some countries run what are referred to as “citizenship-by-investment programmes” where passport-seekers can financially invest in the country in exchange for the document.

A neon-bright float passes by St Publius Parish Church in Floriana. Image by ©Matt Munro/Lonely Planet

It turns out that among those seeking a second passport, many are looking towards the sunny island nation of Malta, according to a report from Bloomberg News. A Maltese passport affords its holders a number of great benefits, mainly visa-free travel to 182 countries and the right to live, work and study in European Union nations and Switzerland. According to the Henley Passport Index by Henley & Partners, Malta has the world’s “strictest due diligence standards and vetting of applicants, thus ensuring only highly respectable applicants will be admitted”. But, applicants will have to make a contribution to the development of Malta, purchase stocks or bonds, and make a property transaction – which will add up to an investment of around €900,000.

Pjazza Jean De Valette, featuring a statue of the Grand Master of the Order of Malta, from which it takes its name. Image by ©Matt Munro/Lonely Planet

Stuart MacFeeters, the Henley & Partners managing partner in Malta, told Lonely Planet that the country is at the top of the citizenship-by-investment industry for a number of reasons. “Malta as a country is seeing a renaissance of sorts, following the difficult post-2008 years, and is now an established hub for tech, gaming, financial services, and innovation in general. The islands of the Maltese archipelago are hugely popular among tourists, but Maltese citizens also enjoy very high levels of outbound freedom. They hold the 7th most powerful passport in the world, according to the Henley Passport Index, and can access the US, Canada, the UAE, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Australia, Schengen area and all EU member states visa-free.”

But while it’s an enticing proposition for those with enough money to secure a passport, it may not be an offer that’s around forever. Since citizens of EU member states have the ability to live, work and study in any of the countries, those who buy a Maltese passport gain much more than just residency on the islands. The programme has recently come under fire from EU officials, reports Yahoo News, and in a December 2017 report by Transparency International, where it was criticised for allowing wider access to EU residency and a lack of transparency about new citizens.