The Difference Between Residency and Citizenship

"I don't want to give up my U.S. citizenship when we move overseas," a woman recently confided to us.

Lucky for her, she doesn't need to do that.

Residency and citizenship are not the same things. This is one of the most common causes of confusion we've found among future expats. You don't give up citizenship in your home country when you move to another country.

Instead, you'll be given a visa that allows you to spend time in the new country. Most countries offer many different visa options to foreigners, from tourist visas that allow you to be in the country for a limited amount of time (usually 30-90 days) to a resident visa for those who opt to live there full- or part-time.

Depending on the country, there are many different types of residency visas. For instance, you may qualify for a student or humanitarian visa if you'll be attending school or volunteering. If you'll be working for a multinational or national corporation you'll qualify for a work visa.


Most of us, though, who are planning to retire or live in a country on savings or money we earn from back home will apply for another type of residency visa. In many countries, if you buy real estate there you'll qualify for an investor visa. And some countries offer retirement or immigrant visas to those who can prove they have a pension or enough income to support themselves.

But you'll never be asked to give up your citizenship to obtain one of these visas. Only if and when you might apply for citizenship in another country would you need to consider renouncing your natural citizenship. And we don't personally know anyone who has ever done that.

Obtaining dual citizenship is a different story. There can be many benefits to holding passports from two countries. If your parents or grandparents were born in Ireland or another country of the European Union, for example, you may be able to obtain a passport from that country. This would allow you to travel freely and work in Europe.

It's fairly easy to obtain a residency visa in most of the countries International Living writes about. Don't worry about starting the process until you have made a couple of visits and have decided for sure where you want to live. As we mentioned, every country has different options and processes for obtaining your residency visa -- and if you plan to live and/or do business in a foreign country you'll want to pursue the proper visa. There are specific personal documents you'll need at hand when you're ready to do so.

There are many issues... like visas... you'll need to consider when preparing to move to a foreign country. Some of them can be time-consuming (as obtaining a residency visa can) so it does make sense to plan ahead. Many people create spreadsheets or comprehensive lists so they don't forget any critical issues.

We could go on and on. We hope it doesn't sound overwhelming, because it needn't be. One thing we've learned over the years is that as bureaucratic as some things may be... such as obtaining a residency visa in a foreign country... the details always work themselves out one way or another.