5 Countries Where You Can Establish Residency Without A Background Check
Most countries require a criminal background check when you apply for residency. These can vary from a certification by your local police to a full background check from Interpol and the FBI.
Several times a week we receive emails from readers wondering if there’s any way around those checks. I guess they’re worried they won’t pass, typically because of some “youthful indiscretion.”
Depending on the specifics of the indiscretion, the answer can be yes. You do have options for establishing residency overseas without providing a background check.
In addition, many countries that require background checks will forgive something minor that occurred in the past when you have an otherwise clean record.
Ecuador, for example, when seeing a prior offense, will convene a panel review of your case and your record. If you don’t like the panel’s findings, it’s even possible to appeal their verdict.
If you find a country where you’d love to be but are concerned about a minor infraction on your record, my advice is to consult with a local immigration attorney. If they’re optimistic that you can obtain residency anyway, then go for it.
Living in your country of choice will be worth the small amount of extra effort.
In addition to some previous minor offense, you might have other reasons for wanting to avoid providing a background check as part of your residency process. Plenty of honest citizens simply don’t want the FBI, Interpol, RCMP, or Europol being notified that they’ve applied for residency abroad.
In addition, you could have reason for wanting o avoid the delay caused by a background check. It can take months for an FBI check to be completed for an American. A Canadian can get an RCMP check in just three business days if your record is clean and you submit electronic fingerprints… but it can take more than five months if you submit your prints on a fingerprint card.
Regardless of your motives for wanting to sidestep a background check, again, the good news is that you have options—specifically, the following five countries whose residency requirements do not include a background check:
Mexico is the world’s most popular retire-overseas destination. More than one million Americans live in Mexico and nearly half-a-million Canadians are full- or part-time residents.
Why Expats Choose Mexico
- Lifestyle diversity: Mexico offers many different appealing lifestyle options from colonial cities and mountains to thousands of miles of beaches along its Pacific and Caribbean coasts.
- Easy access: You can drive to and from Mexico or take any one of hundreds of convenient flights.
- Cultural familiarity: Mexico’s cultural influence is great in the United States, including Mexican holidays, traditions, and food. At the same time, the shelves of Mexican stores are filled with familiar American products, so there’s no need to “go without.”
- English spoken: English is spoken more prevalently in Mexico than in any other Spanish-speaking country in Latin America. Life still can be inconvenient if you don’t speak any of the local language, but you can get by easier in Mexico than in other non-English-speaking countries.
- Strong dollar: Despite a recent pull-back, the dollar is still near record levels against the Mexican peso. This makes everything less expensive. At current exchange rates, expats have almost 100% more buying power than they had 10 years ago.
The Residency Process
Residency in Mexico is fast and easy. And unlike most of the world’s countries, you can even qualify with savings in lieu of a formal pension.
Thresholds are low. To qualify for the most popular visa options, you need to show US$1,300 in monthly income, US$21,500 in savings, or US$170,000 in real estate holdings in the country.
Chile is more developed than most other countries in Latin America. Living here, you enjoy drinkable water, excellent highways and other infrastructure, an honest culture, low levels of corruption, and a stable government. Chile offers four seasons, but also enjoys a diversity of climates along its 2,650-mile length, from the deserts in the north to Patagonia in the south.
Why Expats Choose Chile
- Geographic diversity: Chile offers dramatic mountain peaks, sparkling lakes, and abundant wildlife. It has great skiing in the (South American) winter and lush alpine valleys in the summer. Chains of islands and charming fishing villages lend character to the south, while wide expanses of desert dominate the north.
- First World lifestyle: You’ll enjoy modern, reliable utilities and infrastructure comparable to the services you’d expect in North America or Europe. The roads are fast and well-maintained, and the cities are clean and well-run. Chile has among the lowest levels of corruption in Latin America, a strong economy, a high standard of living overall, and relatively low levels of poverty.
- Entrepreneurial opportunities: Chile offers special visas, sponsorship, and even mentoring for talented entrepreneurs.
The Residency Process
Residency in Chile is straightforward; you can even apply by mail. Their process requires that you hold a temporary residency first, usually for two years. The temporary residency visas are easy to obtain,
because in the long run, their main purpose is to establish your “track record” before applying for permanent residency.
The amount of income needed to qualify is not specified. Chile evaluates each applicant based on the individual situation.
After the temporary two-year period, you must become a permanent resident or hit the road. To qualify as a permanent resident, you may not have been out of the country for more than 180 days during the previous year.
Colombia has several great expat locations, but the vast majority of expats head to Medellín… a city that was my most exciting personal discovery of the past 15 years. I had heard a lot about Medellín before my first visit, but I had assumed that most of it was just hype. Imagine my surprise when I found the most elegant, First World lifestyle in my (considerable) experience… and at a price that was not much more than many developing-world backwaters.
Why Expats Choose Medellín, Colombia
- Natural beauty: Medellín is a developed city that incorporates many parks and an abundance of green space. Throughout the area, small streams tumble down from the mountains, their borders lined with dense areas of lush, tropical vegetation.
- Pleasant weather year-round: Medellín enjoys beautiful weather all year, with warm, balmy days and cool, pleasant nights. The average daytime high is 79 degrees Fahrenheit with only 1 degree of seasonal variation.
- First World environment: Medellín offers well-maintained roads and drinkable water, along with dependable phone service, electricity, and high-speed internet. You’ll find plenty of shopping, from small shops to modern malls. The banks and other financial services are solid and dependable.
- Culture-rich lifestyle: From the hole-in-the-wall shop selling home-made empanadas to elegant restaurants with fine French cuisine, dining options are varied and many. In addition, the city offers an orchestra, 40 museums, and many art galleries.
- Mature, active, and under-valued property market: The real estate industry is well organized and offers a generous inventory of quality properties. Construction standards are high—even in older buildings—yet prices are lower than you’ll find in most markets in the hemisphere. The rental market is active and profitable.
The Residency Process
Residency in Colombia is so simple and straightforward that it rivals Mexico, above. A friend was able to obtain Colombian residency in 55 minutes by visiting the office of the Ministry of Exterior Relations directly.
Except as noted below, Colombia requires that you spend time on a temporary resident’s visa before converting to a permanent visa. In most cases, the required time on a temporary visa is five years.
There are about 17 options for obtaining residency in Colombia, but the most popular are the pensioner’s visa and the investor’s visa. The required income levels are based on multiples of Colombia’s minimum wage, which changes each January.
For pensioners in 2020, the required monthly income is 2,633,409 pesos. Temporary investor visas range between 78,124,200 (for an investment in a corporation) and 273,434,700 (for a real estate purchase).
Colombia also offers investors a way to jump straight to permanent residency, by making an investment or buying a property. For 2020, you must invest around 570,571,950 pesos.
These remaining two options are not as clear-cut as Mexico, Chile, and Colombia, where background checks are never required.
However, I have found one way through the maze for Italy and one for Peru that doesn’t require a background check.
Romantic, seductive, and intriguing, many people swear that Italy is the best of European living for the transplanted North American. An ancient cornerstone of world history, Italy is home to the Pantheon and the Roman Coliseum, and is the country that gave the world Michelangelo and Raphael… not to mention pizza and lasagna.
Why Expats Choose Abruzzo, Italy
- Italians: They’re warm, friendly, and sociable.
- Affordable cost of living: Italy is one of the most places to live in Europe. If you dream of an Old World lifestyle in retirement but your budget is small, Italy could be your answer.
- The food and wine.
- Great winter weather. You can snow ski in the morning then swim in the warm ocean waters that same afternoon, thanks to a dramatic change in altitude.
The Residency Process
Residency in Italy takes place in stages, starting at your nearest Italian consulate back home. First, if you intend to reside in the country, you must get a special visa to enter Italy. The visa you want is for Residenza Elettiva (Elective Residency). This visa does not allow you to work.
It’s true that you can also enter Italy as a tourist and then decide to stay while you’re there. But this in-country upgrade requires a background check. The investor visa also requires a background check.
The Residenza Elettiva visa, however, does not.
The income requirement for Residenza Elettiva is not specified. Each applicant’s situation is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. They’re looking for a “Documented and detailed guarantee of substantial and stable private income originating from pensions, annuities, income from properties or investments, funds, and income from stable economic and commercial activities.”
Next you get a Permesso di Soggiorno, which is a residency permit. You must apply for this within eight days of arriving in Italy.
Then, in your local area, you get a Certificato di Residenza, or Certificate of Residence. You must get this within 20 days of receiving your Permesso di Soggiorno.
After five years, you can apply for permanent residency. However, Italy’s former Carta di Soggiorno has been replaced by the EC residency permit, which is for long-term EU residents. This one requires a background check, so you may want to stick with temporary residency.
Steeped in thousands of years of well-preserved history, Peru offers one of the world’s richest cultures. And, while sites such as Machu Picchu may put Peru on the world heritage map, it’s cities like Arequipa that put it firmly on the expat’s radar. With its cool weather, clean air, and brilliant sunshine, Arequipa is a top retire-overseas option
Why Expats Choose Peru
- Fascinating Andean culture: This is a big draw… but while it may get you in the door, there are other benefits that will keep you in Peru.
- Lifestyle and geographic diversity: Peru offers cool, spring-like highland living, 1,500 miles of Pacific beaches (2,400 km), and a huge swath of Amazon rainforest.
- The food: it’s varied and delicious and can itself be worth the trip. Peru was named the “World’s Leading Culinary Destination” for the eighth year in a row by the World Travel Awards in 2019.
The Residency Process
Residency in Peru is simple and provides a path to citizenship after just two years. The required income is low, at only US$1,000 per month.
I won’t sugarcoat this one, though. Like Italy, you’ve got to thread the needle of various requirements to arrive at the no-background-check residency option.
If you are in Peru and entered as a tourist, then you need to execute a status change to be able to stay in Peru as a resident. The process is called a Cambio de Calidad Migratoria (change of migratory type), and the process requires an “open arrest warrant” check from Interpol. It’s not exactly a background check, but it’s a risk you may not want to take.
To avoid the Interpol check and remain on the conservative side, you must enter Peru with a residency visa (rather than a tourist visa), as a residency visa does not require a background check or the Interpol check.
Note, though, that, while Peru does not require a background check, the country does require that you sign a statement attesting to the fact that you have a clean record.