Aristotle Onassis was a buccaneering 20th century entrepreneur. He was a well-known ship owner. He owned the world famous Monte Carlo casino and he married the widow of John F Kennedy. It’s safe to say that Onassis had an interesting life. What’s less well known is that Onassis was the ultimate international citizen. He believed passionately in freedom. He never trusted governments and structured his life to be completely free and depend on nobody.

Onassis had multiple citizenships, used offshore foundations and flags of convenience long before it was common. He planted flags around the world to secure maximum freedom.

Here are 10 ways Onassis structured his business and life for maximum freedom:

Onassis was the Ultimate Global Citizen

Onassis was the ultimate global citizen. He was a lifetime perpetual traveller, with homes around the world. He was born in Smyrna, Turkey in 1900. After the first world war Onassis’ father lost all the family money and was thrown in a concentration camp. He managed to avoid imprisonment by lying about his age. He was able to use a refugee passport to board a ship for Argentina. At the time Argentina was one of the world’s richest countries. It was a superb place to generate wealth and ensure maximum freedom.

Speak Multiple Languages

After he arrived in Argentina he got a job as a telephone operator. He was able to listen in to calls and pick up foreign languages while he plotted his first entrepreneurial moves. Speaking multiple languages enabled him to become a global citizen and do business around the world. While speaking multiple languages is not essential for maximum freedom it certainly helps do business around the world.

Multiple Residencies – Onassis Never Lived Permanently in his Home Country

Onassis had residences in Greece, the US, Monte Carlo, Paris and Uruguay. He split his time between them and he would not have been liable to pay tax in any one country. Even in high tax countries like France and the US he would not have become a taxpayer unless he spent more than 6 months there every year. If there’s one strategy that can guarantee maximum freedom it’s living outside your home country. Add to that multiple residencies and citizenships and you have more freedom than most people.

Bank Globally for Maximum Freedom

After having suffered poverty early in life, Onassis was determined to protect his fortune. As well as making sure he was never taxed by governments he had multiple back up plans. He spoke about having at least  $1m stashed in each continent of the world for a rainy day. He kept his yacht fully fuelled and stocked in Monte Carlo just in case he had to depart in a hurry. This kind of mindset is required in today’s volatile world. Having multiple bank accounts and assets around the world protects you from turmoil in any one location.

Set Up an Offshore Foundation

Onassis set up a foundation in Lichtenstein to protect his wealth. He did this for estate planning reasons. But he also believed in the philosophy of own nothing but control everything. This made any attempt to seize his assets impossible. The Onassis foundation still exists in Lichtenstein today, almost 40 years after his death. His wealth passed seamlessly to his heirs without being taxed.

Operate Global Businesses

Onassis never depended on any one country or any one business for his wealth. He acquired businesses and assets across the globe. He owned ships that were operated under the flags of several countries. He owned Greece’s national airline and the Monte Carlo casino. No one government could put him out of business.

Have Multiple Citizenships for Maximum Freedom

It’s safe to say that Onassis would not have depended on just one country for his citizenship. He knew the value of being able to leave a country in a hurry when it was necessary. It could save your life at the right time. He would likely have had passports from Greece, Monaco, Argentina and Uruguay.

Change Jurisdictions if Not Treated Fairly

Onassis was once experiencing bureaucratic difficulties with one of his tankers that operated under the Greek flag. Becoming tired of the delays with Greek bureaucracy, Onassis took the matter into his own hands. He had his lawyers work behind the scenes to re-register the ship in another jurisdiction. One evening he invited the Greek ambassador on board the ship in Monte Carlo harbour. He presented the ambassador with a gift of a neatly wrapped Greek flag. Mr Ambassador, he said. “You are now on board a Panamanian vessel”.

If the rules of the jurisdiction you’re operating in don’t treat you fairly, take action to change your situation.

Avoid International Conflicts

Onassis avoided politics and international conflicts. He spent the second world war on the beach in Monaco. Much of his shipping fleet had been impounded in Stockholm. There was nothing he could do about it so he relaxed and waited it out. During other conflicts his tankers were available to the highest bidder. To achieve maximum freedom it’s wise to get as far away from international conflicts as possible.

Always  Minimize Taxes

Onassis operated businesses globally from multiple jurisdictions. He used foundations and trust in Lichtenstein and elsewhere. His main headquarters was in Monaco, where he kept his yacht and owned the SBM. At the time, Monaco didn’t have corporate taxes so his empire was able to expand tax free, ensuring his position as one of the world’s richest men in the 1960s. Compounding your wealth tax free will ensure you become much wealthier than those subject to high taxes.

Take Advantage of Opportunities

The world was surprised when Onassis took control of Monaco’s Societe des Bains de Mers (SBM) in the 1960s.Control of the SBM gave him economic control of Monaco. The SBM ran the casinos and hotels in Monaco. The shares were traded on the French stock exchange. They traded cheaply and anybody could have bought them at the time. But Onassis was the only one with the audacity to do it. It put him in direct conflict with Price Rainier of Monaco but he didn’t care. He grabbed the opportunity when it was there.


Onassis was one of the first truly international citizens. He fiercely protected his own interests and made sure he never became reliant on any one country. He recognised the dangers of having only one passport. He was aware that having all his assets in one country could lead to disaster and ruin. He diversified and internationalised his life. He was prepared for any eventuality. Anyone with assets should follow his example.