With a growing range of migration paths available, including residence- and citizenship-by-investment (RCBI) programs, it is interesting to consider where millionaires choose to migrate to and from, and why they do so. A millionaire is an individual with a net worth (the value of all financial assets and real estate after deducting any debt) in excess of USD 1 million, but it is useful to distinguish between high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) — those who have a net worth of at least USD 1 million in liquid assets — and ultra-HNWIs (UHNWIs) — those who have more than USD 30 million in liquid assets. There are a myriad factors that motivate the wealthy to migrate — and the reasons usually differ between HNWIs and UHNWIs — but traditionally, most millionaires have been primarily driven by the desire for better education, improved safety and security for their families, access to world-class healthcare, a higher standard of living with a more desirable climate and a less polluted environment, better business opportunities and a more favorable tax environment, and to escape oppressive or corrupt regimes.
Wealth migration had been accelerating steadily in the lead-up to 2020 — approximately 108,000 HNWIs migrated in 2018 compared to 95,000 in 2017, 82,000 in 2016, and 64,000 in 2015. However, the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and the associated protracted lockdown and travel restrictions that characterized 2020 have impacted on global mobility in ways that remain challenging to define, as the virus has proven extremely difficult to contain. What is clear is that the mobility of individuals from all walks of life across the globe has been severely curtailed, and affluent individuals are no exception.
Figure 1. Top countries gaining or losing millionaires in 2019
Source: New World Wealth, ‘Global Wealth Migration Review 2020’ (September 2020)
Table 1. Top countries gaining or losing millionaires in 2019 showing HNWIs gained or lost as a percentage of total population and Henley Passport Index visa-free/visa-on-arrival scores
Sources: *New World Wealth, ‘Global Wealth Migration Review 2020’ (September 2020); **2021 Henley Passport Index Ranking, as of 5 January 2021
The coronavirus has severely disrupted the global economy, with estimates showing that private wealth levels dropped by 14% in the first six months of 2020. An unexpected side-effect has been the significant surge in interest in investment migration products that the virus has apparently provoked, with host countries’ pandemic preparedness and disaster management capabilities rising to the fore as additional pull factors. So while provisional estimates show a drop in HNWI migration for 2020, this is quite understandable, as many individuals have been prevented from relocating owing to the lockdown, and others have been reluctant to unsettle their families further until the pandemic is more under control.
Another fascinating development in the short time since the decade began is the soaring interest in alternative residence and citizenship shown by citizens of leading nations. While the spike in enquiries from nationals of emerging economies such as India and Nigeria was somewhat predictable, the growing attention from citizens of countries such as the USA — with a dramatic 207% increase in enquiries from USA citizens between January and December 2020 — Canada (46%), and the UK (31%) was unprecedented, signifying a new era for investment migration.
Before 2020, the steady departure of HNWIs from China and India had not been deemed of great concern because, despite the high numbers, the two countries generated more HNWIs than they lost, the percentage of the HNWI population lost was relatively low, and the expectation was that many HNWIs would return once the standard of living improved.
However, the events of late 2019 and 2020 have changed matters for China: ongoing USA–China trade wars that are unlikely to ease under the Biden administration, controversy surrounding the coronavirus outbreak, and the deteriorating relationship between China and Australia may negatively impact China in terms of HNWI migration and overall wealth growth for several years to come.
At the end of 2019, India was home to 263,000 HNWIs, ranking it 12th in the world, but wealth growth was slow in the Asia Pacific region in 2019. For the first time since 2012, the region did not lead HNWI wealth growth, and India’s below-par performance was one of the main reasons. There was a 63% increase in interest in investment migration shown by Indian nationals between December 2019 and December 2020. Until a few years ago, the investment migration industry in India was predominantly centered on Australia, Canada, the UAE, the UK, and the USA, but there is now a growing interest in residence-by-investment (RBI) programs in Europe. A significant driver of this trend is those investors seeking alternative residence or citizenship as a means of hedging sovereign risk. While India is a dynamic place for business activities and commercial growth, with high-yielding investments, it is less so from a wealth preservation perspective.
Onshore private banking has emerged in India in the last 18 years but has yet to prove its sustainability in tough market situations. India is not alone in facing an unprecedented financial crisis owing to Covid-19, but its financial institutions — while doing an exceptional job — need to build more trust on the longevity of the solutions they offer for generational wealth preservation.
Turkey and Russia continue to experience significant HNWI outflows. In 2019, Turkey lost 2,100 HNWIs, representing 8% of the country’s HNWI population — this came after losing 4,000 HNWIs in 2018 and over 5,000 HNWIs per year in 2016 and 2017. These outflows have been attributed to the country’s unstable political situation, stagnating wealth per capita, and a loss of confidence in the current leadership. Turkey is not producing sufficient HNWIs to replace those it loses. Russia lost 6% of its HNWIs in 2018 and another 6% in 2019, many of whom left for the Caribbean, Cyprus, Portugal, the UK, and the USA. The country’s poor Covid-19 response and the resulting economic fallout may see a rise in wealthy Russians seeking alternative options in countries with better healthcare systems.
Hong Kong suffered the fourth highest HNWI outflow globally in 2019, with a startling 4,200 wealthy individuals leaving the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, likely owing to the ongoing political crisis and growing concerns for democracy. The year 2020 was the first in which Hong Kong saw significant departures of affluent individuals, but this trend may well continue given the prevailing upheaval in the territory and China’s crackdowns.
The UK has seen significant outflows of HNWIs since 2017 when around 4,000 departed. This was a turning point, as in the preceding three decades the UK had always seen high HNWI inflows. In 2018, 3,000 HNWIs left the country and although HNWI outflow numbers remain high, they appear to be tapering off, with 2,000 affluent individuals leaving in 2019, an insignificant number in terms of the percentage of the HNWI population. There are several contributing factors, including more favorable inheritance taxes elsewhere, new taxes on foreigners and those who own homes but are not domiciled in the UK, Brexit, and a compromised safety and security situation.
France’s HNWI outflows as a percentage of its total HNWI population remain steady, with 1% of French millionaires leaving the country in both 2018 and 2019, although the numbers decreased from 3,000 to 1,800, respectively, indicating a diminishing HNWI population. The country’s tax regime is perceived to be unfriendly by HNWIs within and outside the country, which is a major push factor, as is the increase in security risks.
Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia have also seen significant wealth outflows in recent years. Brazil lost 1% of its HNWIs in both 2018 and 2019, Saudi Arabia lost 2% in 2018 and 3% in 2019, and Indonesia lost 2% in both 2018 and 2019. These substantial losses could well increase in future because of the economic fallout from the coronavirus, which has affected both tourism and oil revenues. Furthermore, the political situation in Brazil is extremely unstable, and spiraling violence is a huge concern.
Figure 2. Losing millionaires 2016–2019
Notes: Hong Kong – no data for 2016-2018; Indonesia and Saudi Arabia – no data for 2016, 2017; Russia and UK – no data for 2016.
Sources: New World Wealth, ‘Global Wealth Migration Review 2017’, ‘Global Wealth Migration Review 2018’, ‘Global Wealth Migration Review 2019’, ‘Global Wealth Migration Review 2020’
The figures discussed above relate to HNWIs who have physically moved and who live in their destination countries for more than half of the year. All but one of the countries that attracted the highest number of HNWIs globally in 2019 offer RCBI programs. Many offer RBI programs that include excellent options for private residence, business opportunities, the possibility of acquiring citizenship, and quality of life. RBI programs provide HNWIs with the option of physically relocating, if they wish, as well as the right to live, work, study, and receive healthcare in their new country of residence.
There are, however, many wealthy individuals who acquire citizenship of a country yet never relocate. Citizenship-by-investment (CBI) programs provide families with the privilege of acquiring an alternative citizenship, which in turn gives them the right to travel more freely to a greater number of destinations and to settle in another country. Around 30% of migrating HNWIs enter countries via investment migration programs.
Australia was the country that gained the most millionaires for the fifth consecutive year in 2019. Perennially favored by HNWIs, Australia is highly developed and one of the world’s wealthiest countries, with a high per capita income and an excellent quality of life, a world-class healthcare system, top-tier educational institutions, economic freedom, and stability. Another significant pull factor is Australia’s proximity to Asia, making it a prime location for conducting business in emerging Asian countries. Popular among Chinese and Indian nationals, both Australia and New Zealand are also increasingly favored by wealthy migrants from the UK.
New Zealand is rapidly gaining in popularity, attracting 1,400 HNWIs in 2019 — a remarkable 40% increase since 2018. For those seeking the comfort of an alternative residence option in times of crisis, New Zealand comes out on top, impressively ranking 1st in both the Global Peace Index, which measures the level of peacefulness in 163 states, and the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business ranking of 190 economies, in addition to ranking 2nd in Deep Knowledge Analytics’ Covid-19 Regional Safety Assessment rank of 250 countries, regions, and territories.
In the past, the US EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program and Canada’s federal Immigrant Investor Program were popular options for investors looking to relocate to the USA and Canada, but with the former now more restrictive and the latter closed, entrepreneurs and investors are turning to other options. The two North American countries remained popular choices for migrating millionaires in 2019 nonetheless, and Canada offers several pathways for permanent residence. The USA has remained a steady performer in terms of attracting millionaires, but 2020 was a tumultuous year in many ways, and, with the stormy start to 2021, it remains to be seen whether as many HNWIs will flock to the USA in the years to come.
Both Switzerland and Singapore are growing in popularity among migrating millionaires — Switzerland attracted 4,000 HNWIs in 2019 and 3,000 in 2018, while Singapore’s HNWI population grew by 1,500 in 2019 and 1,000 in 2018. In addition to being a safe haven in Europe, Switzerland offers a top health system, exclusive private schools, and a favorable tax regime, while Singapore attracts HNWIs from the rest of Asia and is gaining traction as the top wealth management center in the region.
The UAE’s low crime rate, excellent healthcare system, and low tax rates make it appealing to millionaires, predominantly from India, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Israel has a strong IT sector and offers a tax exemption to new immigrants and returning Israelis that has led to a growing HNWI population in recent years. Mediterranean countries, meanwhile, are increasingly popular for their quality of life and travel freedom. Portugal’s very high Human Development Index, and accessible RBI program make it an attractive option, particularly for HNWIs from Brazil, China, Russia, South Africa, and Turkey.
Greece, too, is attracting a great deal of attention of late and its RBI program has been popular with HNWIs from China, Egypt, Lebanon, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine. In late 2019, Greece announced its ‘non-dom’ program to attract wealthy individuals to reside there. Combined with its strategy to enhance its real estate and other related sectors through various tax initiatives and the draft law proposing a flat income tax rate for foreign retirees who transfer their tax residence to Greece, this is sure to attract and retain further wealth.
Figure 3. Gaining millionaires 2016–2019
Notes: Greece, Israel, Portugal, Singapore – no data for 2016, 2017; Spain – no data for 2016, 2017, 2019; Switzerland – no data for 2016. Figures rounded to nearest 1,000.
Sources: New World Wealth’s ‘Global Wealth Migration Review 2017’, ‘Global Wealth Migration Review 2018’, ‘Global Wealth Migration Review 2019’, ‘Global Wealth Migration Review 2020’
Increasing outflows of millionaires are often a sign of a drop in confidence, as HNWIs and UHNWIs have the means to leave and are thus the first to exit when circumstances change. Along with their families, millionaires also bring to their host countries their wealth and the taxes they pay. The loss of millionaires can be detrimental to the local economies and property markets of the countries they leave behind. In some cases, they relocate their businesses — and the jobs the businesses generate — as well as their skills, qualifications, and influence. Therefore, while millionaires reflect only a small percentage of a country’s population, attracting and retaining them is an important endeavor for any country, and even more so in the current context.
Capgemini Research Institute, ‘World Wealth Report 2020’ (July 2020)
Deep Knowledge Group, ‘Covid-19 Regional Safety Assessment’
Gall, C. ‘Spurning Erdogan’s Vision, Turks Leave in Droves, Draining Money and Talent’ (2 January 2019)
New World Wealth, ‘Global Wealth Migration Review 2020’ (September 2020)
New World Wealth, ‘Global Wealth Migration Review 2019’ (April 2019)
Pearson, S, and Magalhaes, L. ‘ “I’m Totally Freaked Out: Brazilians Weigh a Farewell to Paradise” ’ (2 August 2018)
The World Bank, ‘Ease of Doing Business Rankings’
Vision of Humanity, ‘Global Peace Index 2020’
Wealth-X, ‘Covid-19 Wealth Impact: The World Ultra Wealth Report 2020’ (7 October 2020)