A small Pacific island will now let you pay for citizenship with bitcoin

Welcome to Vanuatu.
Welcome to Vanuatu.
Image: EPA/Ettore Ferrari
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You can now purchase citizenship of the country with the world’s 34th most powerful passport with bitcoin.

The Vanuatu Information Center, which handles applications to the Pacific island country’s honorary citizenship program, announced this month that the center has secured government approval for taking fee payment in bitcoin. It’s the first citizenship investment program to allow payments in a cryptocurrency, the center noted in a statement. The immigration fee of $280,000 translates into around 58 bitcoins at the current market price of $4,843.

“Crypto-currency transactions are set to become very entrenched in global finance,” James Harris, managing director of the center and official representative for the investment citizenship program, told Quartz via email. “It makes sense for countries offering Citizenship by Investment Programs to respond to the inevitable adoption of crypto-currency for such transactions.”

Vanuatu citizenship entitles individuals to reside on the island, and travel to some 125 countries, including Britan, Russia, and nations in the European Union, without a visa. Digital currency transactions involve a fully traceable and encrypted ledger, which advocates say increases transparency and security. In this case, payment will be taken through a nominated bitcoin exchange. “We are ready to immediately commence the processing of applicants and fully expect that within days to receive the first application under this new payment system,” Harris wrote.

The news came amid global regulations against the cryptotoken frenzy worldwide in September. On the same day the Vanuatu government authorized the center to take bitcoin payment, South Korea announced a ban on initial coin offerings(ICOs), the virtual currency-based funding mechanism that has enabled firms to raise millions of dollars in minutes. China also halted digital currency trading services in mid-September. Meanwhile Vanuatu’s neighbor, Australia, released guidelines the same month to businesses raising funds through ICOs.

In 2014, Roger Ver, an investor known as the “Bitcoin Jesus,” announced he had set up a company to handle payments in bitcoin for real estate that would come with citizenship of the Caribbean island of St. Kitts and Nevis. The local government later said that they had never accepted bitcoin payment for citizenship and didn’t plan to.

Vanuatu doesn’t directly accept bitcoin either—the center has to convert the bitcoin it receives into dollars for the government. Harris thinks other investment citizenship programs are eventually likely to follow Vanuatu’s example of allowing investors to transact this way.

“We understand that there are significant numbers of bitcoin investors who have made significant returns (if you consider the 1,000% increase in value of bitcoin in the past 18 months),” he told Quartz. “We are creating a channel for these investors to realize some of their returns and convert their crypto holdings into a highly valuable personal asset for their future.”