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Interesting Times Call for Innovative Wealth Management Abroad

Jeff D. Opdyke

Jeff D. Opdyke

Jeff D. Opdyke is a global investment expert for International Living who has been investing overseas for 30 years, and the author of 10 books on investment and personal finance.

“May you live in interesting times” is about to test us all. America and the world are barreling towards the most consequential US presidential election in a century, the ramifications of which could very well define the future of American democracy, maybe even the composition of the union itself. Changes to either would, of course, ripple across the world.

The source of our increasingly interesting times: the reality that no matter who wins in November, the other side will not go gently into that next administration. They will — guaranteed — rage against the dying of the right…or left, as the case may be. 

And while that’s typical of many elections around the world, this go ‘round is very much different in America. 

The country is already more divided than it has been since the 1860s, split decisively along social, political, religious, and financial fault lines. Moreover, both sides see this election as a test of what they hold dear:

  • A Blue win will renew an even hotter firestorm of “stolen election” claims and fears that a woke ideology and the prerogatives of “socialism” will vanquish conservative values. Violence this time around could be far more impactful than on 6 January 2021. 
  • A Red win will ignite already smoldering fears that personal freedoms, women’s rights, and America’s once-vaunted claims of “equality for all” will vanish under an ultra-conservative tidal wave propelled by a deeply theological world view that seeks to replace — or at least wholesale rewrite — the US Constitution along a biblical narrative.

100 dollar note with stock market chart and city lights superimposed

Border control is breeding contempt

And across the political spectrum, talk of secession is growing louder and the actions more visible. Look no further than the border conflict in southern Texas, where a defiant governor butts heads with the current presidential administration in D.C. to impose his own solutions to border control. The governor himself, Greg Abbot, has even flirted with verbiage that smacks of secession.

Were it just one governor in one (albeit large) state, this wouldn’t be much of a dustup. But 25 states so far have sent their own National Guard members to stand with Texas against federal border-control agents the White House dispatched to the Lone Star state.

Think about that: more than half the states in the union are openly defying — militarily! — the U.S. federal government. 

One wonders whether the ghosts of Fort Sumter, South Carolina are antsy for a replay of the Civil War.

Emigration looks set to rise

Whatever the outcome, one result seems certain: outbound migration is very likely to ramp up among Americans of both political stripes, particularly among those I’ll call America’s Great Purple Mass — middle-of-the-road Americans who recognize compromise is a crucial part of democracy but who have lost their power, despite being the vast majority, because fringe politics has taken control of both left and right. 

As such, disgust, anger, frustration, and sadness are the emotions that now run rife through a large swath of US citizens dismayed by the direction their country has taken over the last decade. I know this because my role as an international correspondent puts me in touch with Americans who have decamped, or are looking to decamp, to what they see as greener, safer, happier pastures overseas.

Look, and you’ll see how easily you find stories reporting on the record numbers of Americans renouncing citizenship. Or consider that the United States Social Security Administration as of January 2024 was sending nearly 720,000 monthly disbursements to Americans living overseas. That marks a 50% increase in overseas recipients in the last six or seven years.

Some of that is financial — Americans reacting to a cost of living that has jumped the shark. Some of that is ethnic as hyphenated-Americans return to the country of their birth or ancestry. 

But a lot of it, based on interviews I’ve conducted on four continents, is tied explicitly to political degradation in America that has cleaved apart friends and families. 

Where these people are alighting globally says a lot about where Americans with the means of mobility see opportunities for a safer, quieter, more enriching life.

Preserving wealth with a move to southern Europe 

In many ways, this is a wealth planning and preservation exercise. Devolving political environments have historically brought about economic and wealth destruction at home. It’s why in the runup to wars, rebellions, and shifting politics, so many of yesteryear’s wealthy rushed assets into numbered Swiss bank accounts or sewed jewels into the lining and hems of coats and dresses.

Today, building a landing pad overseas before you need it is the 21st century equivalent of a Swiss bank account.

It’s one of the reasons Portugal, where I now live, sits atop the list of countries that wealthy (and even upper-middle-income) migrants are rushing to.

The nubbin in the northwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula is essentially California with less-expensive wines and a Portuguese lilt. Portugal has earned glowing press in recent years as one of the most livable nations in Europe, and there’s good reason why the country is the #1 destination for Henley & Partners’ American clients, and why a Portuguese news site last year ran this headline: Why Portugal is the new hotspot for millionaires.

Here, you can find everything: urban living in Lisbon and Porto; an upscale and pricey beach vibe in Cascais; pure beach-bum languidness in the always-sunny Algarve; something mimicking a moister mashup of Puget Sound and the Great Smokey Mountains up in the northwest corner of the country; a Napa Valley doppelgänger in the Alentejo wine region. Or maybe buy a working vineyard in the gorgeous Douro Valley for just USD 720,000.

Portugal’s tax situation was more attractive before the country began winding down the wildly popular “non-habitual resident” program in 2023 (although those who applied in time or have the status will continue to be able to use it until the 10-year period expires). Foreign tax residents would also be liable for a 25% flat tax on Portuguese source income only, which isn’t horrible.

Equally attractive are Italy and Spain, both of which have long resonated with Americans seeking residence in Europe for many good reasons including Mediterranean food and culture and a laidback lifestyle. And both countries offer appealing tax incentives and residence options that include unfettered, visa-free access across Europe’s 27-country (and soon to be 29-country) Schengen Area.

Italy, in particular, has an investor visa program with a pathway to residence for as little as EUR 250,000 invested in an Italian start-up, and the country’s Lavoratori Impatriati tax regime offers a way to exempt between 70% and 90% of income from taxes for as long as 10 years.  

Just south of Italy, out in the middle of Mediterranean, tiny, rocky Malta continually pulls in millionaires and billionaires.

Primarily, that’s because of the country’s two investment migration programs, with a relatively affordable cost of about EUR 500,000 (USD 540,000) for the residence route, and EUR 738,000 (USD 798,000) for citizenship by naturalization. But again, there’s also a California comparison because in many ways the dual island nation feels like parts of Southern California, only much more densely packed in and around the capital of Valletta.

Under-the-radar destinations are popping up too 

One place I mention to anyone who will listen is Uruguay, a largely overlooked arrowhead-shaped button of land jammed into the base of Brazil. Not many people I talk to realize that Uruguay is basically a misplaced slice of Europe, largely populated by the descendants of late-19th century Italian and Spanish emigrants.

Seaside Punta del Este, an hour east of the capital, Montevideo, is a lovely and smaller South American version of the South of France — a party-capital beach town during the summer and a relatively quiet hamlet for much of the rest of the year. It’s where Argentinian, Brazilian, and European millionaires and billionaires put money to work in real estate, and where an increasing number of American millionaires from farming and ranching backgrounds are snapping up some of the continent’s most productive agricultural land for just a fraction of what similar property sells for in the USA (Uruguayan beef is world renowned, and the country’s vast tracts of soybeans flow endlessly into China and the rest of Asia.)

Better still, global rankings show the political system is more democratic than the USA and offers greater personal freedoms. The country operates a territorial tax system so that expats pay little to no taxes on money earned outside Uruguay; social mores are middle-of-the-road; and the country’s poverty rate ranks among the lowest in the western hemisphere, even lower than the America’s.

My bet is that Uruguay, along with Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain, Thailand, the UAE, and a few others are going to benefit from the fallout of the America’s presidential election. They’re safe and accessible countries eagerly wooing global wealth with attractive residence and taxation options. 

The interesting times are soon to begin. Preparing now is the savvy approach to creating and preserving wealth.

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Henley & Partners assists international clients in obtaining residence and citizenship under the respective programs. Contact us to arrange an initial private consultation.


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