Residency and Citizenship options for HNW and UHNW individuals and families in the Cayman Islands
30 April 2021
Obtaining an alternative right of residence (and in some cases citizenship), and an ability to leave one country and settle in another is becoming increasingly important for wealthy individuals, their families, their family offices and businesses. Allied to this, as the world becomes ever more interconnected, so does the desirability and feasibility of making lifestyle choices of where to live and do business.
Wealthy individuals and businesses choose to relocate to the Cayman Islands for many reasons – including the quality and sophistication of its lifestyle, its excellence as an international financial centre, the ever increasing sophistication of its infrastructure and its innovative approach in supporting and growing new and existing businesses.
Whilst obtaining residency in the Cayman Islands is often more financially accessible than people initially assume, the relocation process, whether for individual and/or business purposes, can still be complex and often requires careful navigation. Our clients range from high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth individuals, families and family offices, right through to large corporates wishing to have a physical presence and each application requires not just a knowledge of the relevant laws and regulations but also a wealth of experience of how the process works.
Attractiveness of Cayman Islands
The Cayman Islands are an English-speaking British Overseas Territory that is located a seventy minute flight from Miami in the western Caribbean Sea. In addition to the Cayman Islands' pre-eminence as an international financial centre and its very high concentration of financial industry professionals, the territory boasts one of the highest GDP’s and standards of living in the world generally. Due to our traditional values of community and privacy, a government and private sector that is committed to a strong financial services industry, and the fact that it is a safe and secure place to live with one of the lowest crime rates in the Caribbean, the Cayman Islands is a permanent home to many high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth international individuals. They are attracted by its natural beauty, well-developed infrastructure, stable government, strong rule of law, elite health services and education, cosmopolitan outlook (with over 135 different nationalities), direct accessibility from 20 major cities (at least in more normal times) in the USA and Canada with 55 weekly non-stop flights and 110 weekly flights overall in peak season and the fact that it is often referred to as the culinary capital of the Caribbean.
As a result of our Government acting swiftly to close our borders to visitors, the Cayman Islands has been able to manage and control its residents' exposure to the pandemic by restricting immigration and tourism and requiring all new arrivals to quarantine for 10 - 14 days (depending on vaccine status) either at Government organised accommodation or a pre-approved private residence. Consequently, our residents have been benefitting from a Covid-free style of daily life since August 2020. Most recently, our clients have shifted their focus towards prioritising quality of life for themselves and their families developing a desire to live somewhere like the Cayman Islands that is ever more internationally sophisticated and connected whilst not compromising on lifestyle choices.
High-net-worth individuals are exploring alternatives to living in a busy crowded city, sometimes in countries with significant political and economic challenges, and have quickly found that they can operate their businesses and lives from just about anywhere. They have the opportunity to remain just as connected with their fellow directors, employees, advisers and family offices by utilising technologies like Zoom and DocuSign (to name just two such now ubiquitous ways of doing business), replacing physical meetings and wet ink signed documents as the new norm.
The Cayman Islands has no income, capital gains, property, estate, inheritance, wealth, sales or corporate taxes and no restrictions on foreign ownership of real estate. This tax neutrality is proving ever more appealing at a time when governments across the globe are already beginning to increase taxes to pay for COVID economic stimulus packages and it can be reasonably assumed they will target wealthy individuals. Individuals who are starting to focus on wealth preservation and look further afield to economically stable countries can focus on the Cayman Islands as a place where they can acquire residency and either live here year round or on a part-time basis.
Flexibility of Cayman's Residency Options
Before discussing the specifics about each option, it is worth bearing in mind a few general points in relation to their flexibility and our Government's accommodating approach:
- Property purchased can be registered in the applicant's name/in joint names/in the name of a limited liability company for asset protection reasons.
- There are no restrictions as to how many properties make up the minimum threshold.
- Stamp Duty paid on the purchase is included in the minimum threshold.
- Properties can be rented on short-term or long-term bases.
- There are no specific residency-by-investment properties, as is often found in other citizenship-by-investment programmes, so applicants have no limitations on their choices.
Options for acquiring Residence (and Citizenship)
Option 1 – Certificate of Permanent Residence for Persons of Independent Means
A decade ago, most of the applications with which we assisted were for retirees looking for somewhere idyllic to reside with a slow pace of life. They typically purchased a condo in one of the beachfront complexes and a corresponding 25-year Residency Certificate that did not lead to citizenship nor the ability to seek employment in the Islands (Option 2 below). However, in recent years, there has been a significant shift towards wealthy families with young children acquiring Certificates of Permanent Residence for Persons of Independent Means.
For many, this Certificate is the ultimate option as not only does it provide a holder and spouse with a lifetime grant to reside in Cayman for a minimum investment of US$2.4m in developed real estate, it also gives them both the ability to work and provides the entire family with a pathway to Cayman Islands and British Citizenship without any obligation to surrender existing citizenships. In order to maintain the Certificate, the holder only needs to reside in Cayman for a minimum of 1 day per year although, should the holder and any family members wish to progress to citizenship, the individual residence requirements are greater.
Option 2 - Residency Certificate for Persons of Independent Means
Whilst this option does not provide any right to work nor any pathway to citizenship, it does offer the holder (and any qualifying dependants) a 25-year (renewable) Residency Certificate for a minimum investment of US$1.2m of which at least 50% must be in developed residential real estate.
In the majority of cases, the entire investment is in developed residential real estate but this option does offer some flexibility in the event the applicant wishes to also purchase land, a pre-construction property and/or make another local investment.
Unlike Option 1, there is an additional ongoing requirement that an applicant must demonstrate either a continuous source of annual income of US$150,000 or a deposit of US$500,000 held with a locally licensed institution. Additionally, the holder needs to reside in the Cayman Islands for a minimum of 30 days per annum.
Option 3 – Residency Certificate (Substantial Business Presence)
This Certificate, also valid for 25 years and renewable thereafter, entitles the holder (and any qualifying dependants) to reside in the Cayman Islands and work in the business or businesses in which they have either invested or in which they are employed in a senior management capacity. It was developed to encourage businesses and family offices to come to, and thrive in, the Islands by providing their key players with an easier path to residency.
Unlike Options 1 and 2, this option does not have any corresponding requirement for a personal real estate investment although, by the nature of the category, the annual residence requirements are higher (minimum 90 days).
There are two sub categories within this option depending upon the size of the proposed business and the extent to which working from home may be possible:
(a) The first sub-category requires an applicant to: (i) own a minimum of 10% of the share in an approved category of business; and (ii) show substantial business presence by purchasing or leasing commercial real estate and by employing at least four full-time workers who themselves are resident for a minimum of 9 months in each calendar year.
(b) The second category does not have those associated requirements and simply requires the holder to be employed in a senior management capacity with a work permit that attracts a minimum annual fee of US$25,000 within an approved category of business.
This option is useful for family offices. For example, we are currently working with a local trust company on the transfer of a family office of a European billionaire and the migration of numerous underlying companies. Having incorporated an exempted foundation company to be the vehicle through which the family office is created, we have submitted applications for its directors to relocate here in order to conduct day to day management and establish the hub of the family office within the Cayman Islands.
Option 4 - Certificate of Direct Investment
This Certificate, also valid for 25 years and renewable thereafter, entitles a holder with a substantial track record to reside in the Cayman Islands (with any qualifying dependants) and work in a licensed employment generating business in which they proposed to work as a Director and have invested a minimum of CI$1m/US$1.2m. As with Option 3, there is a corresponding requirement that the holder must be physically resident in Cayman for a minimum of 90 days per annum.
However, with this option there is no ability to: (i) progress to any form of citizenship; (ii) own a majority stake in the business; nor (iii) exercise significant control.
These include the following:
- Maintaining the real estate investment (if applicable).
- Paying annual company and work permit fees (if applicable).
- Submitting an annual declaration affidavit each December.
- Ensuring compliance with minimum residence requirements if seeking future Cayman Islands and British Citizenship.
It is important to note that dependant children automatically lose their dependancy upon attaining the age of 18 unless an application has been successfully submitted which varies their parent's Certificate on account of the child's full-time tertiary education (or anticipated attendance at such educational establishment). Once varied, the dependancy is extended until completion of that full-time tertiary education or until the child attains the age of 24, whichever happens earlier.
In fact, one of the main reasons that such extensions are significant is that, in certain cases, it can result in a quicker path to citizenship for those previously dependant children who wish to reside in the Cayman Islands following completion of their studies.
Additionally, and depending on the value of the parents' Cayman Islands real estate, we have recently been successful with an innovative and cost-effective mechanism by which adult children are able to acquire Certificates of Permanent Residence in their own rights as a result of their parents' prior real estate purchases.
Global Citizen Concierge Program (the "Program")
On 16 October 2020, the Cayman Islands introduced a new immigration category called the Global Citizen Certificate to enable individuals who are employed outside the Cayman Islands and earn a minimum of US$100,000 per annum to live in the Cayman Islands and work remotely for up to 2 years. Should the applicant wish to bring their spouse or civil partner, the minimum annual income requirement increases to US$150,000 (and again to US$180,000 with a dependant child or children).
The annual fees are relatively low and a successful applicant will pay US$1,500 per annum for their Certificate, with additional fees of US$500 for each dependant.
In terms of ongoing requirements, a Global Citizen must: (i) reside in property owned or rented in the Cayman Islands; (ii) be physically present for a minimum of 90 days per annum; (iii) have adequate health insurance for themselves and any dependants; and (iv) not offer or provide any goods or services to any Cayman entity or individual.
We have been assisting various clients with their applications under the Program. Typically, these clients intend to apply for residency-by-investment in the near future but simply wish to arrive in Cayman as soon as possible in light of the fact they can expect an approval within 1 week.
At the time of writing, the Cayman islands Department of Tourism had announced that they had received 91 applications from 205 people (including dependants) and that 85 of those applications had been approved, with 54 applicants (including dependants) now residing in the Cayman Islands.
Cayman Enterprise City ("CEC")
Established in 2011 and based on the model of free zones in Dubai, CEC provides another option for businesses wishing to set up a physical presence in the Cayman Islands for the purposes of trading overseas. In terms of viability, much will depend upon whether the business falls within one of the three special economic zones ("SEZs") – (i) Cayman Tech City; (ii) Cayman Commodities & Derivatives City; and (iii) Cayman Maritime & Aviation City – and its proposed size and nature.
Unlike Option 3 above, SEZ companies ("SEZCs") cannot be operated from home or outside the SEZ and so rental of the SEZ's fully-furnished office space, workstations and business centre facilities is compulsory, as well the incurrence of additional water, electricity, sewerage, security, janitorial, parking and service fees. Foreign employees of SEZCs must only work from offices within the SEZ and cannot accept employment outside the SEZ.
We work with CEC business managers to guide clients through the process of incorporating an SEZC and to support the SEZC's request to register with the SEZ Authority. Provided the application is successful, the client will need to sign a CEC licence agreement before selecting its fully-furnished workspace solution and submitting applications for Zone Trade Certificates (a licence to operate in the SEZ) and Zone Employment Certificates (work permits for employees).
Appendix 1 – Schedule of residency fees payable to the Cayman Islands Government
|Certificate||Application fee||Grant fee||Dependant fee|
|Certificate of Permanent Residence for Persons of Independent Means||CI$500 (US$610)||CI$100,000 (US$121,955)||One-time fee of CI$1,000 (US$1,220) per dependant|
|25-Year Residency Certificate for Persons of Independent Means||CI$500 (US$610)||CI$20,000 (US$24,400)||CI$1,000 (US$1,220) per dependant per annum|
|25-Year Residency Certificate
(Substantial Business Presence)
|CI$1,000 (US$1,220)||CI$5,000 (US$6,098) + Work permit fee of CI$20,925 (US$25,519) per annum
|CI$1,000 (US$1,220) per dependant per annum|
|25-Year Certificate of Direct Investment||CI$1,000 (US$1,220)||CI$20,000 (US$24,400)||CI$1,000 (US$1,220) per dependant per annum|
Appendix 2 – Overview of the Cayman Islands
- British overseas territory (but largely independently governed).
- Well-developed legal and judicial system firmly based on English common law.
- UK Privy Council ultimate court of appeal.
- Stable political and economic climate.
- Government and private sector committed to attracting HNW and UHNW families, family offices and businesses.
- One of the highest GDPs and standards of living on the planet.
- World-class infrastructure (incl. hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants, residential and commercial real estate).
- Direct air travel links with USA, UK and Canada.
- Tax Neutrality – no corporate, capital gains, income, profits, withholding or inheritance taxes.
- No restrictions on foreign ownership of real estate.
- No exchange controls.
- Strong financial services industry with top accountancy firms, major law firms and international corporate/fiduciary service providers accounting for 40% of Cayman's GDP.
- 9 Category A banks and 116 Category B banks, majority being branches and subsidiaries of international banks in North America, Europe and South America (31 December 2019).
- 56 trust company licences, 59 restricted trust company licences, 29 nominee trust company licences, 46 controlled subsidiaries and 140 private trust companies (31 December 2019).
- Approximately 25 known single family offices (but it could be more).
- Strong regulatory and compliance culture focused on enhancing reputation and supporting financial services (on the OECD "White List").
- More than 75% of the world's offshore hedge funds (estimated).
- 50% of the hedge fund industry's US$1.1 trillion AUM (estimated).
- Almost half of all listed companies on the HK stock exchange are incorporated in Cayman.
If you would like any further information, please get in touch with your usual Bedell Cristin contact or one of the contacts listed.
Authors - Andrew Miller, Partner and Daniel Altneu, Managing Associate, Cayman Islands.
This article first appeared as an International Tax Planning Association topic on the ITPA website, 28 April 2021.