If you’ve ever considered acquiring dual citizenship, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, you’re in very good company indeed. Some of the world’s most successful celebrities, athletes and businesspeople have sought out second citizenship, both for work and pleasure.
The power of your passport to open doors to other countries and opportunities within your own country of residence varies hugely from one nationality to another. The restrictions imposed on some nationals can be extremely frustrating, especial in this age of globalisation, where success often depends on the freedom to travel and trade between diverse nations.
Here we have compiled a list of ten high-profile people who have acquired second citizenship in order to gain the freedom to pursue their personal goals.
The A-list of second citizenship
1. Salma Hayek, actress and activist
Native Mexican actress Salma Hayek became a naturalised US citizen back in the early 2000s, after living and working in the States since 1991. She originally moved to Los Angeles from her hometown in Veracruz, Mexico, to study acting and admits to a brief period as an illegal immigrant before sorting out her US green card. US citizenship has provided Hayek, a passionate women’s rights activist, with a credible platform to further her cause on the international stage, including addressing the UN directly. In this sense, her US second citizenship has been critical not only to her business but also to her humanitarian philosophy. It’s no exaggeration to say that Hayek’s life would have been very different if she had never got that green card.
2. Robert Chandran, founder and CEO of Chemoil
Born in 1950 in Mumbai, the late Robert Chandran was no stranger to the idea of second citizenship. After achieving a Masters in Chemistry in Mumbai, he left for the Philippines in the early 1970s to study at the Asian Institute of Management. In 1976 he moved to America with his Filipino-American wife and was naturalised as a US citizen in 1981. Soon after, he founded the massively successful chemical and oil trading company Chemoil. After two decades, he moved to Singapore where he felt he could more easily capitalise on Asian business interests. Chandran then relinquished his US second citizenship in order to acquire Singaporean citizenship, allowing him to live, travel and work easily in the region.
3. Adam Bilzeran, poker player
For the 189 countries with ‘weaker’ passports than the United States, US citizenship is somewhat of a golden goose. However, Adam Bilzeran proves that it might not be all it’s cracked up to be. Born in Florida in 1983, Bilzeran is a professional poker player and author of America: Love It or Leave It – So I Left. As you might surmise, a disenchanted Adam left the US in 2007 and invested in second citizenship in St Kitts and Nevis. He has since renounced his US citizenship altogether, choosing the Caribbean lifestyle instead. Bilzeran can be found at home in Basseterre, the capital of St Kitts, enjoying all the islands have to offer.
Bilzeran has since renounced his US citizenship altogether, choosing the Caribbean lifestyle instead.
4. Yehudi Menuhin, musician
Yehudi Menuhin was a world famous violinist and conductor. Although born in New York, Menuhin spent the majority of his career in Europe, where he established himself as one of the world’s most incredible musicians. Because of his extraordinary talents, Menuhin was in the rare position of being sought after, rather than seeking, citizenship. In 1970 he accepted honorary Swiss citizenship and later, in 1985, the UK too awarded him honorary citizenship. Menuhin died in March 1999, a citizen of the US, UK and Switzerland.
5. Kirsten Dunst, actress
You would think that American actress Kirsten Dunst would already be pretty content with her native citizenship. That wasn’t the case, though, and she acquired German citizenship in 2011, in homage to her German father. Although US citizenship is pretty powerful when it comes to opening doors, the German passport is currently the strongest in the world, so it’s understandable that she chose to upgrade. ‘I’m now a real international lady,’ she is quoted as saying, ‘and can film in Europe without a problem.’ You might not think of visa restrictions as impacting the world’s rich and famous, but Dunst proves that they do – and that second citizenship can be a fantastic way around them.
You might not think of visa restrictions as impacting the world’s rich and famous, but Dunst proves that they do – and that second citizenship can be a fantastic way around them.
6. Terry Gilliam, film director
Terry Gilliam is an American-born screenwriter, director, actor and comedian. He’s probably best known for his role in Monty Python, and has since directed numerous high-profile feature films including 12 Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Gilliam moved to London in 1967 and, in 1968, attained British citizenship by naturalisation. He held dual citizenship in Britain and the US for 38 years, until formally renouncing his US citizenship for tax purposes in 2006. His British citizenship – and the concordant EU freedoms it currently offers – has been an integral part of his lifestyle, allowing him to own property in Italy.
7. Vince Cate, encryption expert
You most often think of second citizenship for the additional benefits it offers, but for famous encryption expert Vince Cate, second citizenship was an escape route. A native US citizen, Cate moved to Anguilla, an island in the Caribbean, for business purposes during the early 1990s. Second citizenship allowed him to renounce his home citizenship and escape what he saw as ‘silly US laws on crypto’. Cate was not able to become an Anguillan citizen without waiting many years for naturalisation, though, so he simply invested around USD 5,000 to become a citizen of Mozambique. This second citizenship acquired, he formally renounced his US citizenship and is able to continue his business in Anguilla.
8. James Carney, missionary
Just as second citizenship facilitated Salma Hayek’s humanitarianism, James Carney too found dual nationality vital to his work in ministering to peasant workers and left-wing insurgents in Honduras and Nicaragua. Born in Chicago in 1924, Carney initially served for the US Army in WWII before studying theology and pursuing a life as a Jesuit priest in British Honduras, now Belize, in the 1950s. He moved to Honduras in 1961, acquiring Honduran second citizenship in 1974 through naturalisation. As with Vince Cate, Carney saw second citizenship as a chance to renounce his US citizenship as a gesture of support and protest. This might be a far cry from the reasons most investors today seek second citizenship, but it’s nonetheless a good example of how second citizenship can further personal goals.
9. Marko Bagarić, athlete
The Olympics is renowned for tales of brazen ‘passport swapping’. For countries without a large native population and for athletes who face stiffer competition in their native country, the practice is a mutually beneficial way to increase the chances of athletic success. Croatian-born handball player Marko Bagarić is a prime example. After achieving success in senior Croatian clubs, Bagarić attracted the attention of Qatar, which wanted to field an Olympic handball team for the first time. Qatar awarded Bagarić Qatari citizenship, which allowed him to represent the country in the 2016 Olympic Games. Bagarić was a formative part of the team that achieved a shock win against, you guessed it, Croatia – his country of birth. This isn’t an uncommon situation, given that 23 of Qatar’s 39 athletes in the 2016 Olympics were recruited from other countries. In this instance, second citizenship gave both players and country a chance to perform at international level where that might not otherwise have been possible.
23 of Qatar’s 39 athletes in the 2016 Olympics were recruited from other countries.
10. Ali Rowghani, businessman
Born in 1973 in Iran, Ali Rowghani grew up in Texas and went on to play key roles in two of America’s most phenomenal modern business successes, Pixar and Twitter. He was Chief Financial Officer for Pixar for six years before fulfilling the same role for Twitter for four years, followed by two years as Chief Operating Officer. As an Iranian national, he would likely have found his global business aspirations severely limited without his US second citizenship. The difference between the US passport and Iranian passport is extreme. The latter only allows visa-free or visa-on-arrival travel to 36 countries, compared to the US’s 156. The US passport is currently the 10th strongest in the world; the Iranian passport is 188th. Fortunately Rowghani was given his green card and the doors to success were opened.
The diverse benefits of dual nationality
This list shows the wide range of people who have enjoyed – and, therefore, can enjoy – dual citizenship and the diverse benefits it can bring. The sources of second citizenship can be equally diverse. Some, like Menuhin, are granted citizenship as an honour; others, like Hayek, gain citizenship by naturalisation; and then there are those like Cate, who buy second citizenship.
Citizenship, and the benefits or restrictions that come with it, applies to everybody in equal measure, regardless of status or reputation. Even people in professions that you would not imagine to be limited by visa restrictions often find that they are. Second citizenship helps them to carry on their business without being held up at the border.
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