In these uncertain times, everyone who’s anyone has a secondary nation to flit off to. Like a nonprofit foundation or a glittering Tesla, a second citizenship is a status symbol of the true tech elite. If you’re rich and connected enough, why not choose which country’s laws and tax codes suit you? And, in the event of a meltdown in your home country, you have a quick exit route.
Given his proximity to the Trump administration, he probably won’t need one, but Peter Thiel is exceptionally well-situated to outlive us all. And we don’t even mean the human growth hormone thing or the creepy blood transfusions. If U.S. democracy goes south, so to speak, Thiel has a perfect billionaire backup plan: New Zealand citizenship. So much for seasteading.
The revelation that German-born Thiel is a New Zealand citizen bubbled up in a report from the New Zealand Herald on the PayPal founder’s properties in the country. The story noted that Thiel, an American citizen, did not need special permissions to purchase a plot of “sensitive land” under the Overseas Investment Act due to his dual New Zealand citizenship status. In 2015, Thiel reportedly paid around $10 million for a Lake Wanaka estate through Second Star, a company that lists Thiel as its only shareholder.
“Second Star and Mr Thiel did not need consent as he has New Zealand citizenship,” an Overseas Investment Office spokesperson told the New Zealand Herald.
The New York Times verified the claim with New Zealand’s Overseas Investment Office:
Joanna Carr, a spokeswoman for the Overseas Investment Office, confirmed on Wednesday that Mr. Thiel had presented the required documentation. “We learned of Mr. Thiel’s citizenship last year,” Ms. Carr said in a statement.
Becoming a New Zealand citizen the regular way isn’t exactly easy. Citizenship requires that an applicant have been in the country for 1,350 days over the last five years, with a requirement of 240 days per year. Thiel lists his official residence as San Francisco, so it’s not really possible that he would have qualified the old-fashioned way. Instead, Thiel is likely to have been granted citizenship through a special exception by the government.
The timing might seem suspect, but Thiel appears to have been prescient enough to seek New Zealand citizenship well before the 2016 election. Peeling off from his Silicon Valley peers, Thiel, of course, played an active role in Trump’s rise, donating to the campaign, serving on the transition team and now serving in an advisory role.
Ironically given his apparent one-foot-out status, Thiel’s support for the populist candidate has at times appealed to a deep sense of American nationalism. As he proclaimed in a speech at the Republican National Convention: “Of course, every American has a unique identity. I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all I am proud to be an American.”
Without word from Thiel himself, we can’t be sure if his stealth Kiwi status is more of a doomsday-prepper thing or a tax evasion thing. Or maybe he just loves The Lord of the Rings! We reached out to Thiel’s spokesperson for clarification on his motives and will update if and when we hear back.
Thiel might be a proud American, but his desire to stand against what he calls “confiscatory taxes” has roots all the way back to a 2009 essay that also railed against “totalitarian collectives, and the ideology of the inevitability of the death of every individual.”
It might be no coincidence, then, that New Zealand is a famed tax haven for the ultra rich, one that could ease the burden of those “confiscatory taxes.”
But wait, there’s more:
I do not despair because I no longer believe that politics encompasses all possible futures of our world. In our time, the great task for libertarians is to find an escape from politics in all its forms — from the totalitarian and fundamentalist catastrophes to the unthinking demos that guides so-called “social democracy.”
The critical question then becomes one of means, of how to escape not via politics but beyond it. Because there are no truly free places left in our world, I suspect that the mode for escape must involve some sort of new and hitherto untried process that leads us to some undiscovered country; and for this reason I have focused my efforts on new technologies that may create a new space for freedom.
Thiel goes on to name “cyberspace,” “outer space” and “seasteading” as the three technological frontiers that offer a way out of a flawed system.
A few years and one populist movement later, he appears to have settled for New Zealand.