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Travel and Tourism in the Dominican Republic   Santo Domingo Hotel & Yellow Pages City Guide   Articles and Information about Residency  Real Estate   Retirement   Banking   Investments   Travel Visa Requirements   Government   Business Services Apartments Santo Domingo Information

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The Original 2004 Dominican Republic Report:  Find out why so many Europeans and Americans have been relocating or retiring to the Dominican Republic.   Find out about tax-free banking, plus much more
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Dominican Republic Residency & Naturalization
About The Author
This information has been prepared and presented by John Schroder of Ascot Advisory Services.  The firm provides assistance and information regarding residency and naturalization in the Dominican Republic, incorporated companies, legal title transfer services in regards to real estate, plus other related services.  John has lived in the Dominican Republic for over seven years and has helped numerous clients in the Dominican Republic accordingly.
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If you are considering relocating to another country or if you are simply seeking out second citizenship options, the truth of the matter is that the Dominican Republic may be one of the last places that comes to mind.  However, this not so small Caribbean nation (population about 8.5 Million) located just 3 and ½ hours by plane from New York and 90 minutes from Miami, with plenty of direct international flights to Europe and parts of South America, might be just the destination you have been looking for.  There are of course many reasons to consider the Dominican Republic, as a second residence, retirement destination or relocation destination, and we will highlight some of those reasons very briefly here for you as we go along.  However, one of the reasons that many people also seek out the Dominican Republic is the quick and uncomplicated process both for legal residency and eventual citizenship as well, so this topic specifically is the heart of what we wish to principally discuss for you also. 
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In regards to the idea of the Dominican Republic as a relocation or retirement destination, it certainly is true that the country offers some of the most affordable real estate in the entire Caribbean.  This is especially true when you begin investigating the costs for apartments or homes in places such as the Bahamas, Bermuda, St. Martin, Aruba, Turks & Caicos Islands, etc.  If seeking a second home close to the beach or a brand new luxury apartment in the modern capital of Santo Domingo, it is not difficult to realistically find either one in the US$100,000 range for something in the upper end real estate category.  In comparison, if you have ever attempted to shop for real estate in some of the other Caribbean Islands, you will quickly realize what a bargain this is.
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Another interesting and important point is that bank account interest is also Tax-Free for residents or non-residents alike.  The fact that one can earn up to 9% in US dollar investments or up to 24% on deposits in the local currency, the Dominican Peso, means that an early retirement income derived from banking investments is a reality and not just wishful thinking.  As an example of this idea, this of course means that it is very possible, should you have US$300,000 in liquid assets as an example, to buy a home for cash, put some funds into Peso investments with the idea of actually living off your bank account interest (try doing that in North-America these days), and invest the rest into some quality mutual funds or whatever else you might like.  Even if your means are more modest, having a monthly pension or income of US$2,000 per month affords a very comfortable upper middle class lifestyle in the Dominican Republic as well.  And if you are concerned about modern conveniences, access to shopping or leisure activities, you should not be.  Tony Roma's, Outback Steakhouse, The Gap, Radio-Shack, Price-Smart, Carrefours (one of the largest supermarket chains in France, offering a number of European food products), brand new movie theaters with the latest films in English, Robert Trent Jones designed golf courses, and modern medical facilities are all here for you as well.
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However, aside from some very attractive reasons to consider living in the Dominican Republic, as we hinted at earlier, the country offers a very simple and uncomplicated process both for residency status and naturalization (citizenship and second passport) also.  Before we dive into this theme though, there are some initial questions that some people may have, such as: Why would someone be interested in going through a process for residency status or even a second citizenship?  Is this legal? What are the benefits?
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For most people, it would seem the reasons as to why someone would consider a second legal residency or even citizenship has to do with taxes, banking or investments, and personal safety, usually in that order.  On the taxes issue, chances are that if you currently reside in Europe, your personal and corporate income taxes could go as high as 65% or more.  If you live in the United States or Canada, perhaps things are not so bad tax wise in comparison to the Europeans, but there is a good chance as well that when you calculate both income taxes and social welfare taxes (social security and things like unemployment insurance, etc.) you are paying close to 50% also.  So relocating to another jurisdiction might be a matter of legally opting out of the current high tax state you live in at the moment.  How so?  Well, for Europeans and Canadians especially, citizens of such jurisdictions can declare themselves legally non-resident for tax purposes.  Meaning, if you can prove that you are legally resident someplace else, most European governments will allow you to check out, so to speak (without giving up your citizenship, which is another matter).  The logic behind this is, if you are no longer living in your previous home country, you are not using the various government services you would otherwise pay taxes for and use, and therefore you should not have to pay for something you are not using.  This makes sense to me and many other people as well, but that reality is unfortunately different for Americans.  However, there is a bright spot in that Americans can exempt up to about US$80,000 or so (this figure is indexed up each year) if such a person is both living and working outside of the US.  So, again, if Americans can prove they are legally resident elsewhere and drawing a salary from work done outside of the US as well, then there is a tax savings in terms of salaried income (tax exempt up to the amount indicated).  In either case, having proof of a legal residence status elsewhere can certainly allow for a tax savings, especially if the new residency is from a country with low or no taxes.
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On the topics of banking and personal safety, it is very sad but true these days that Americans especially have a difficult time establishing a bank account, brokerage account or other kind of investment (mutual funds) outside of the US as a US citizen.  Why the difficulty?  Well, it certainly is very legal for a US citizen to own a bank account or investment account outside of the US (in terms of US tax laws or regulations).  In addition, it is very legal in most countries for foreigners to establish accounts as well.  The problem then is not the legality of it, but rather the internal policy of many banks or investment firms.  Meaning, many such firms will not accept US citizens as clients because they do not want the aggravation of being harassed by the US tax authorities (which is really what this is all about).  So, they simply do not accept US citizens as an internal policy.  However, the answer is, why not become something other than a US citizen?  Obtaining a second citizenship is perfectly legal for Americans and for many other nationalities as well (which is also true for the Dominican Republic).  In this regard, Americans who are not Americans, or we can say, can provide something other than a US passport as a legal identity document (such as a passport from another country) can get around this problem.
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The personal safety issue, while perhaps not always as compelling as first two for the vast majority of people, certainly weighs heavy on the minds of many American travelers as well.  Many American travelers going into areas where Americans are not warmly welcome often promote themselves as Canadian instead (although when it comes time to produce a Canadian Passport, then the little white lie is revealed).  So, for this reason, the idea of having an identity and perfectly legal travel document from someplace else - may help you avoid danger and in the most extreme cases, perhaps even save your life.
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So, now that we have briefly discussed the reasons why someone would consider seeking out a second legal residency or citizenship, let us take the time to discuss why the Dominican Republic?  While there are very few countries offering what are called instant citizenship or economic citizenship programs these days, certainly every country has a process allowing you to become a legal resident, and eventually at some point in the future, a citizen (entitling you to a passport).  And this is true when it comes to the Dominican Republic, and a long list of other countries.  However, the real difference might be the costs, requirements and waiting time.  Stated another way, it is not a question of whether or not you could become a legal resident or citizen in another country, but rather how difficult or how reasonable this process might be.  It is with this theme especially that the Dominican Republic stands out head and shoulders above many other jurisdictions and why many of our clients have elected to call this wonderful island nation their second home.
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THREE  STEPS TO CITIZENSHIP AND A PASSPORT:
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FIRST STEP: Provisional Residency
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The initial process is of course the application for legal provisional residency first.  In this regard, there is of course a list of requirements to meet, but they are fairly simple to comply with for most people.  One such requirement is the medical exam that MUST be taken inside the country with the medical doctor at the Department of Immigration.  While this sounds somewhat daunting, it is not, and in fact the entire process can take less than two hours (including time waiting your turn).  A very brief interview is conducted, asking the applicant some standard questions (have you had any surgery in the last five years, do you take any prescription medication, etc.)  In addition, a urine sample, a blood sample and chest x-ray is taken.  What they are looking for is Aids, illegal drug usage and tuberculosis.  Providing you have none of these ailments, you will pass with flying colors.
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The next step is the deposit of the residency application itself, including all supporting documentation such as copies of current passport, certified or official copies of your birth certificate (you will not get this back, so it is a good idea to keep some extra sets before hand) and a police letter of good conduct from your local police department.  In addition, immigration also looks for what is called economic solvency in the amount of RD$500,000 pesos at least.  What does this mean?  Well, it simply means that they want you to demonstrate that you are not destitute and have assets of some kind inside the country.  However, the way to demonstrate this is very open ended and RD$500,000 is equivalent to about US$17,000 under current exchange rates.  So, it could as simple as opening a bank account (which can be maintained in US dollars as there is no requirement that you need to convert your fund to Pesos), or you could demonstrate a real estate purchase, business investment or even utilize a locally incorporated company as well.
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In addition to the above, an Interpol background check is completed by the national police and often enough, this is the most time consuming process of all.  However, assuming you are not someone wanted by Interpol, you will not have a problem and this background check not a concern.
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Once the residency application file is deposited, it has been the case that immigration has processed such applications fairly quickly and as such you can expect to obtain your initial provisional residency card (valid for one year) and your initial Cedula card (also valid for one year) within 60 to 90 days.  With such documents in hand, you can legally live and work inside the country and have all the rights of a citizen with the exception of voting privileges (only citizens can vote in local elections).  In addition, this puts you on track towards eventual citizenship, or we can say starts the clock ticking. 
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SECOND STEP: Permanent Residency
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Once the one-year time frame for the provisional residency has passed, the above process is repeated once again exactly as explained, with the purpose of renewing and actually changing your status to Permanent Residency.  So, it is the case that you would visit immigration once again, take the medical exams indicated once again, etc.  However, the good news is that this second card from immigration is valid for two years and the second Cedula card for six years, so there is a longer time frame for expiration accordingly. 
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Why the process of one year provisional residency first and then permanent residency after that?  Well, just as anywhere else, the Dominican Government wants to make sure that applicants have demonstrated themselves to be law abiding citizens and have a put a window of time in for that purpose.
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THIRD STEP: Becoming a Citizen (and gaining a second passport)
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The application for naturalization (to become a naturalize citizen) is prepared and deposited ONLY after an applicant has obtained Permanent Residency Status.  Some clients that come from countries that prohibit dual citizenship (Holland and Germany are two examples) may elect to stay with Permanent Residency status and not move forward with naturaliz, although as of late 2004 there are political rumors that they may change) out of fear of losing their previous citizenship and passport.  However, most countries recognize and accept dual citizenship, including both the United States, and the Dominican Republic.
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The entire Naturalization Process takes about 5 months to complete.  All told, there is not much for the applicant to do, other than to find a very competent attorney to assist with the file preparation and related certifications that must be obtained.  In other words, quite a bit of paperwork goes into the application, and of course the file is passed through a number of government offices and channels.  Since the President of the Dominican Republic signs off on all naturalizations via decree, part of the process involves the applicant's file passing through the President's office as one of the final phases.
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What does the applicant need to do?  Well, there is one requirement that the applicant make himself or herself available for a brief interview.  Basically this would happen about two to three months from when the file was deposited, but all depending on fast things move along, it could be sooner than that.  In any event, the applicant would be asked to demonstrate knowledge of the country and some basic historical facts (name the major cities and airports, name the founding fathers, name the date when the constitution was signed, etc.).  Once the interview has been successfully completed, the only other visit requirement is for the swearing in ceremony, usually officiated by the Chief of the National Police or the Vice-President (whom ever is available).  This ceremony is held once a month with all the other new citizens gathered together as a group, immediately following the date the applicant's naturalization is signed by the President.  In fact, technically speaking, you would be a citizen once the President makes you one via decree, but this last formality still exists and you are required to be present for it.  However, after attending the ceremony, your naturalization documents are completed and certified, allowing for you to apply for a passport (which takes approximately one day), and apply for your new Cedula Card as a citizen (which would take approximately 45 days).
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In summary, every country has some sort of process for becoming a legal resident and hopefully a citizen in the future, but the difference is of course the time you must wait to do so and perhaps whatever other requirements as well.  In comparison to many other countries, the process in the Dominican Republic is fairly uncomplicated and reasonable for most middle class people.  In contrast to this, for places such as the Turks & Caicos or Bermuda, a sizeable real estate purchase is required in those jurisdictions (US$300,000) and it is very difficult to gain citizenship.  In Ecuador, you are required to renounce your existing citizenship if you wish to become a citizen of Ecuador.  So, the point is, you should of course investigate a number of countries, but after you do, chances are you will find that the Dominican Republic is an excellent option.

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