Despite how it may appear, there are some states in almost every corner of the world that make immigration relatively easy, from off the beaten path surprises to familiar favourites.
Emigrating (or immigrating, depending on the direction you’re heading in) has never been easier. A generation ago, when a friend, neighbour or family member packed up and moved overseas they were more than likely gone forever. But communications and travel technology (COVID notwithstanding) have made staying in touch effortless, and made the prospect of moving abroad less anxiety-inducing than ever before.
Which is not to say emigrating is “easy.” There are still reams of paperwork, dozens of requirements and criteria to meet, costs and considerations involved in relocating — not the least of which is deciding why you might be moving to a given location and what you expect or hope to do once there. Some people relocate purely for a better standard of living, others for business prospects; the reasons are endless. But assuming your funds and facts are in order, some spots are indeed “easier” to move to than others — and many could be adventures in themselves. (As always, these are guides only and anyone considering immigrating should seek reputable legal assistance before making any serious decisions.) And do read the news: immigration rules can change at the drop of a hat — or an election — anywhere.
Those seeking a sunny, easy-going lifestyle and anyone with an interest in yachting (a possible game-breaker for Hong Kong boat enthusiasts who’ve had a hard time finding marina space here) would do well to consider Montenegro. The former Yugoslavian country on the Adriatic coast has quickly become a hotspot for yachters since independence in 2006 (marina fees are a fraction of Italy’s, across the sea) and immigration rules are quick and simple if you’ve secured employment. Non-residents are also welcome to set up businesses and employ themselves (and so sponsor their residency visas), and a new property investment programme launched in 2019 involves real estate purchases up to €450,000 (HK$3.9 million). Montenegro is an affordable, beautiful, cosmopolitan country, and boasts a high standard of living. As a rising tourism destination, there’s room for growth and a possible place for industry professionals. As a final note, the country is on track for European Union membership, but that’s not expected until roughly 2025. If that’s a key requirement, patience is needed.
Other unconventional options are Paraguay and Ecuador. Many locations in South America have been gaining traction in recent years for their immigration incentives, and the only real drawback is the need for fluency in Spanish (or Portuguese in Brazil). Paraguay and Ecuador are two of the most welcoming and easiest to emigrate to. Both are extremely favourable for retirees (all that’s required is proof of income and/or pension alongside standard applications), and they are also low-taxation countries with low costs of living. A mere US$10,000 (HK$77,000) in a local bank is required to start the process for investors (in Paraguay) and investments can include property ownership.
For several years, Germany has been on the radar as one of Europe’s best investment locations. Rental demand is high, property purchases are reasonably priced and Germany has one of the highest value, robust economies in the world. It makes sense then that it is also rising on emigration radar. What’s surprising is how easy it actually is to resettle in the country. It has long been known for industrial innovation and is a paragon of owning up to national shame. When it comes to relocating, engineers are always in demand, and Germany also offers entrepreneurial visas, including €250,000 (HK$2.2 million) in off-plan real estate or €100,000 (HK$870,000) into a regional development fund. But citizenship in Germany is among the slowest on the globe, requiring eight years of residency. It’s straightforward, not fast.
Norway flew up the chart in 2018 when American president Donald Trump slandered countries in Africa and the Caribbean, and asked why the US didn’t get more immigrants from Norway. Probably because no one wants to leave Norway, which has consistently been ranked as the happiest place to live in the world. A high standard of living, education and healthcare attracts the emigrants it receives through its easy immigration procedures. The country is extremely family-friendly — new mothers get a paid full year for maternity leave and fathers are eligible for 12 weeks — the work week clocks in at under 40 hours and annual paid leave at 25 work days. Like most locations, a skilled work, arts, or seasonal work visa is that first step to citizenship (having one’s own business is also acceptable).
Finally, among old favourites, contrary to some perceptions Australia and Canada are among the world’s easiest destinations to emigrate to — though they can be costly. The two have a lot in common that make them popular for emigration: wide-open spaces, good schools, universal healthcare, progressive societies, and high standards of living. Of course, for Hongkongers Australia’s lack of jet lag for visitors and (mostly) year-round warm weather trumps Canada’s four distinct seasons that include sometimes challenging winters. That said, the skiing is great.
But more crucially both are enormous countries with many far-flung communities in need of human resources, and both use a points system designed to benefit the local economies. The rules may seem rigid (the easiest and fastest method to immigration success are skilled work visas, student visas, family visas and pricey investor visas) but they are applied transparently and equally by the deciding authorities. On the plus side, if you speak French as well as English your chances go up a bit in Canada as a bilingual country. One hurdle down under is that youth counts for a lot in Australia: visas are rarely given to anyone over 45.