The Bahamas is not just a renowned tourist destination; it can also be a place you call home. The majestic waters and iconic beaches of The Bahamas are spread over its 700 islands. With residences and investment opportunities available on its islands and several privately-owned islands from which to choose, The Bahamas offers a plethora of options to find a piece of paradise and permanent residence affords persons the opportunity to live here permanently.
With 29 major islands to choose from, you do not have to be confined to the main islands of New Providence and Grand Bahama. New Providence and Grand Bahama are the most developed and populated of the islands and offer most of the amenities that you would enjoy at home. Several of the islands of The Bahamas have gated communities offering privacy and security with internationally recognized elementary and secondary schools in the communities or nearby.
However, if you are looking for a more relaxed and secluded experience, a private cay or one of the smaller islands or family islands, as we like to call them, may be more suitable. There are several private islands in the Chain of Cays in the Abacos, Exumas and Berry Islands. In addition, the main islands of Abaco, Eleuthera, Exuma and Long Island, to name a few, are also home to many second home owners. Most of the islands are easy to travel to with many of the major islands having international airports with direct flights to larger cities in North America.
Types of Permanent Residence
The following are inter alia the categories of individuals that are eligible to apply for permanent residence in The Bahamas. Although not an exhaustive list, the following highlights the major categories of permanent residence in The Bahamas.
- The spouse of a Bahamian citizen. The couple must be married for a minimum of five (5) years before the application may be submitted. In addition, the marriage must be subsisting and the couple must demonstrate that they are cohabiting as husband and wife.
- A child born legitimately outside of The Bahamas to a married woman, who is a citizen of The Bahamas, and whose husband is not a citizen of The Bahamas.
- Doctors and medical professionals who have been employed in The Bahamas for a minimum of twenty (20) years.
- Individuals who have maintained legal immigration status in The Bahamas by either work permit or resident permit for a period of more than twenty (20) consecutive years.
- Individuals who qualify for Economic Permanent Residence.
What is Economic Permanent Residence?
For some time, the government of The Bahamas has encouraged direct foreign investment and second home ownership in The Bahamas by foreign nationals. In an effort to further promote these opportunities, the government introduced a programme called “Economic Permanent Residence”. This immigration status affords financially independent individuals who either own a residence, or made investments of such a kind so prescribed, in The Bahamas, or both, the ability to apply for Economic Permanent Residence.
An Economic Permanent Resident is able to live in The Bahamas permanently provided they maintain a residence or the investment at the minimum threshold as established by the Minister of Immigration from time to time. Although adopted by policy several years ago, the government of The Bahamas has now introduced legislation to amend the Immigration Act (Immigration (Amendment) Act, 2021, which came into force on 1st July, 2021) and to codify Economic Permanent Residence.
In order to qualify to apply for Economic Permanent Residence, the individual must be 18 years or older and own a residence or make an investment of such a kind so prescribed, in The Bahamas or a combination thereof which exceeds the current threshold of $750,000. However, it should be noted that accelerated consideration is given to applicants where the purchase price of the home or the aggregate amount of the investment exceeds $1.5 Million. In addition, as of 1st July, 2021, an Economic Permanent Resident is now required to reside in The Bahamas for a minimum of ninety (90) days a year.
In addition to the initial investment, the applicant must also evidence sufficient financial recourses to support the individual’s lifestyle without the need to work in The Bahamas. Other supporting documents include, character references and evidence of no outstanding real property taxes on the property.
An application can only be submitted after the successful completion of the investment or the purchase of a home as a copy of the recorded deed evidencing the purchase of the home is required with the application submission.
A permanent resident enjoys most benefits of a Bahamian citizen, save and except they are unable to vote and take advantage of certain concessions reserved exclusively for Bahamian citizens.
While there is currently no tax residency designation provided with Economic Permanent Residence, another attractive incentive to being an Economic Permanent Resident and living in The Bahamas is that there are no income, capital gains or inheritance taxes.
Although there is now a ninety (90) day stay required per year, a permanent resident is not required to live in The Bahamas full time. In fact, the residence may be income generating and placed in a rental programme or leased privately by the home owner. The various condo-hotels and mixed-use resorts throughout The Bahamas have been a popular option for Economic Permanent Resident applicants. Although Economic Permanent Residence does not afford the applicant with the right to work in The Bahamas, for investors or individuals seeking to relocate to The Bahamas, application can be made for the right to work within one’s own company. This requires a formal application to and the prior approval-in-principle of the National Economic Council (“NEC”), comprised of Cabinet Ministers and headed by the Prime Minister. Once approval-in-principle is procured from the NEC, application for Economic Permanent Residence with the right to work in one’s own company can be submitted for consideration with the Immigration Department.
Additionally, an applicant’s wife and dependent children under the age of eighteen (18) years and ordinarily resident in his household may be endorsed on the applicant’s permanent residence at the time of the initial application or at a subsequent date. The death of the Economic Permanent Resident does not automatically disqualify the endorsements of his wife and dependent children. However, the surviving spouse and dependent children will have to make application within three (3) months of the Economic Permanent Resident’s death for legal status. The endorsement of dependent children expires once the minor turns eighteen (18) years and they will have to make application on their own behalf in order to maintain residency status.
Processing of Applications
Upon approval, an Economic Permanent Resident certificate is issued to the successful applicant together with an electronic card for travel. The electronic card is renewable every ten (10) years. There is a one-time fee of $15,000 for permanent residence for the applicant and $100 for each endorsement.
The application process for Economic Permanent Residence requires an applicant interview with an officer of the Immigration Department. These interviews were historically done in person; however they are now being carried out by telephone and video conference as a result of the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The timeline for the application process varies, but the government is presently working on streamlining the process to have applications processed within three (3) months of submission, subject to receipt all necessary documentation, in accordance with the Immigration (Amendment) Act, 2021.
It is important to note that Economic Residence Certificate holders are obligated to (i) maintain ownership of the qualifying residence or property of equal or greater value for a minimum of ten (10) years and (ii) file a declaration every ten (10) years confirming that the information relied upon to obtain the initial grant remains unchanged, and where such information may have changed, to file an affidavit setting out any material changes.
To date, 2021 has been a banner year for real estate sales in The Bahamas and there has been a remarkable resurgence in interest in permanent residence as well. Due to the variety and number of islands and cays in the archipelago, there are a vast number of options of investments and residences which meet the threshold for Economic Permanent Residence. The Bahamas does not have to only be your vacation destination; it can be the new place you call home.
*Previously published in Gateway Magazine (Fall 2021)
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Zarina M. Fitzgerald is chair of the Commercial Transactions practice group and has acted in all aspects of commercial transactions, including large scale structured finance transactions, initial public offerings and private placements of offshore securities, mergers and acquisitions, and the registration and securitisation involving vessels and in real estate transactions.
Lori C. Nelson is a member of the Firm’s Real Property & Development Practice Group, specialising in the area of Real Estate Development, specifically in relation to foreign direct investment and the sale and acquisition of hotels, marinas, and resort and mixed use developments and the purchase, sale and financing of residential and commercial property in The Bahamas.