Covid-19: In search of a safe haven overseas

The rich are investing in places with a good record of handling the crisis to self-isolate

A resort in New Zealand. The country's impressive handling of the coronavirus pandemic has made it a desirable place of refuge for the rich amid the outbreak, says a citizenship and residency advisory firm. You can acquire the right to live, work and
A resort in New Zealand. The country's impressive handling of the coronavirus pandemic has made it a desirable place of refuge for the rich amid the outbreak, says a citizenship and residency advisory firm. You can acquire the right to live, work and study in New Zealand if you part with NZ$3 million (S$2.75 million) or NZ$10 million, depending on the type of investor resident visa you choose.PHOTO: NEW ZEALAND TOURISM BOARD

They are no longer just shopping for the usual luxury goods.

The pandemic has made those who can afford it to look for safe havens, not to park their cash, but as a refuge for themselves.

The next time the world's rich are forced into lockdown, they would like to have an escape ready to a remote and sunny beach. Or perhaps to New Zealand, one of the few countries that have eliminated Covid-19.

They are willing to pay for the privilege, of course.

They can turn to programmes that guarantee citizenship or residency in exchange for investment in the host country, using speciality companies such as Henley & Partners, the world's biggest citizenship and residency advisory firm. With the persistent threat of viral infections and sudden lockdowns, the company is helping those with deep pockets buy access to a safe haven.

For instance, you can acquire the right to live, work and study in New Zealand if you part with NZ$3 million (S$2.75 million) or NZ$10 million, depending on the type of investor resident visa you choose.

About €1.2 million (S$1.9 million), including a property purchase, will get a married couple citizenship in Malta.

"They're now realising: Let's actually get the contingency plan in place," said Mr Dominic Volek, Henley's head of sales, of his potential customers.

"That's why we've seen quite a spike now, not only in inquiries, but also in the families actually signing up and saying, 'Let's start the process'."

New inquiries jumped 49 per cent in the first four months of this year, compared with the same period in 2019, according to the company. There was a 22 per cent increase in those wanting to proceed with an application for new citizenship or residency rights.

The wealthy are not just interested in Caribbean islands where they can self-isolate on sandy beaches. They're also looking to Australia and New Zealand, countries that impressed with their handling of Covid-19.

Ms Nadine Goldfoot, a managing partner at law firm Fragomen, said the pandemic has driven wealthy people to take action. "What is becoming and will continue to be very important now in people's selection process is how the country has fared during the pandemic and how the government has approached it," she said.

The wealthy aren't just interested in Caribbean islands where they can self-isolate on sandy beaches. They're looking to Australia and New Zealand, countries that impressed with their handling of Covid-19.

 

Additionally, people view the move as a wealth-management tool as much as a way to travel visa-free, according to Henley.

Interest in Portugal's residence-by-investment programme increased in recent months, attracting clients hoping to invest in the country's stable real estate market and take advantage of its relatively low coronavirus case count.

To be sure, even the world's wealthiest can't escape immediate quarantines and travel bans. Receiving second passports or residency rights takes time - at least three months for Caribbean programmes and much longer for the ones in the European Union.

Still, even as travel-related businesses suffer, Henley is expanding. The company recently established an office in Nigeria and will soon open another in India, where surging coronavirus cases and tensions on the border with China have seen as increase in the number of wealthy Indians planning for a potential escape.

Given that the virus and related lockdowns are "a risk people are going to be living with for the time being, they want to be somewhere where that's a manageable experience", Fragomen's Ms Goldfoot said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 26, 2020, with the headline 'Covid-19: In search of a safe haven overseas'. Print Edition | Subscribe