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Moving to Belize: Immigration & Visas

By Victoria Day-Wilson

Summary: Victoria Day-Wilson offers an overview of Belize's immigration and visa options - from Tourist Permits to Visitor Permits to Official Residence.

Moving to Belize - Immigration & Visas

Moving to Belize is pretty straightforward in that North Americans and Europeans are not required to obtain visas. There are three options to remain in the country. One is to renew your visitor permit every month for a year. This leaves your status rather flexible. You're allowed to rent housing during this period; however, you are not allowed to work--paid or unpaid. In order to work you need to obtain a work permit. The type of permit you require and the type of permit you will receive are directly related to the work you want to do. Some industries are closed to non-Belizeans in order to maintain employment for citizens. Your second option is to apply for permanent residency after a year in the country. This will enable you to work without a work permit and to travel in and out of the country without any restrictions, and after five years you can apply for citizenship. The third option is to come as part of the Qualified Retired Person (QRP) Program, which is controlled by the Belize Tourist Board (BTB).

Which option you choose depends on your circumstances, objectives, and priorities. If you are younger than 45, perhaps with a family, then the permanent resident route opens up options, such as working or running a business in Belize (easier said than done!). You are virtually treated as a citizen. On the other hand, if you are over 45, retired, or in a position to retire, with a proven income of at least US $24,000 a year, you should consider the QRP option, one of the most tax-efficient programs in the region. If you still haven't quite made up your mind and want to give Belize a trial run for a year--time and finances permitting--then the visitor permit option is a good choice with few strings attached. It gives you the flexibility to return home if you feel Belize isn't for you, or it puts you in a position to apply for permanent residency or enter the QRP program, if you'd like to make Belize your home--either fulltime or for part of the year.

Belize Tourist Permit

After entering Belize (whether as a tourist, on a fact-finding trip, or as a new immigrant), you will be issued a 30-day tourist permit--this is not the same as a visa. North American countries, EU countries, and CARICOM States do not require visas to enter Belize. This is stamped in your passport.

Visitor Permit and Renewal

Once the first 30 days are up, go to your nearest Department of Immigration office. Try to arrive early in the morning to skip the long lines. You will meet with an immigration officer; explain that you would like an extension on your tourist visa. They sometimes casually flip through your passport and ask how long you are staying and where. Be polite and formal at all times. You will then be given a note indicating the amount you need to pay. Go to the cashier, hand over the note and the money, and you will receive a receipt that you take back to the immigration officer and they stamp your passport. Check your dates carefully because they often add up to 29 days, not 30. Bring another form of ID with you, and an air ticket if you have one. They rarely ask for these, but it's better to be safe than sorry. And that's it--you're free to stay in Belize for another month! Renewing your stamp is very important, as failure to do so will result in a BZ$1,500 fine. This fine can vary. It may be less if you've forgotten and just run over a few days, but it's best not to find out! You can go through this process for six months at BZ$50 renewal fee per month. After six months, the fee rises to BZ$100 per month. When the 12 months are over you can apply for residency.

Official Permanent Resident

In theory, applying for Belizean permanent residency sounds like a fairly straightforward process. And, in some cases it is. In others, it is frustrating and time consuming. It's necessary to make several trips to the Department of Immigration in Belmopan to check on the progress of your application and to attend various appointments.

Pros and Cons

Once you have obtained permanent resident status, there are several benefits: you can seek employment or work for yourself; get a Belizean driver's license; and you can vote in local elections. Obtaining permanent residency is open to anyone, regardless of age, and with it comes a one-time, tax- and duty-free entry of household effects (not including a car, boat, or airplane). The downside is that it can be a costly, time-consuming, bureaucratic, and frustrating process. Having said that, some people do secure it within months, while others are still waiting after a year. Once you have your permanent residency, you can obtain citizenship within five years.

Process

In the run-up to being granted permanent residency, including the first 12 months, you may only leave the country for 14 consecutive days. The application is usually carried out in the name of the husband (in the case of a family), and the same supporting documents must be handed in for the whole family. These are kept together in a file. You will need to provide originals and copies. All forms for your application can be obtained from the Department of Immigration. A final decision will be made when all the requirements are met. While you are waiting for a decision, you need to continue applying for monthly extensions at your closest immigration office. The Department of Immigration says that the process of approval usually takes 8–12 weeks to complete, depending on their workload. If you change address during this period, inform the Department of Immigration immediately. The entire process is carried out at the Department of Immigration in Belmopan. Once residency has been granted you will need to register with the Income Tax Department.

Qualified Retired Persons (QRP)

The Retired Persons (Incentives) Act was introduced by the People's United Party (PUP) in 1999 and is generally known as the Qualified Retired Persons (QRP) Program. The concept behind it was to create a package which would make retiring in Belize an attractive offer, and thus encourage and increase the volume of people who move to Belize and settle here, earning the government extra income at the same time.

Benefits

The QRP package is not that different from permanent residency, but it does have some additional advantages, such as importing personal effects to Belize with a nominal worth of US $15,000 and means of transport tax- and duty-free. This must occur within a year of officially entering the program. After that, you will have to pay duties and taxes on what you bring in. It also allows participants in the program to earn an income outside of Belize exempt of levies and taxes, regardless of whether the income is from an investment or work performed. People in the QRP are only required to live in Belize one month every year.

Pros and Cons

QRPs may not work in Belize but may stay indefinitely. Their status is similar to that of non-residents, which has other benefits if you have interests in international financial services, including the Offshore Banking Act, the Trusts Act, and the International Business Companies (IBC) Act, which states that people who live in Belize (as residents) may not benefit from such financial services. But if you come in under the QRP program you are technically a non-resident, so you can retire in Belize and continue with your offshore business. The downside is that you still have to pay tourist exit taxes when leaving the country. If you would like to work in Belize, you need to apply for the permanent resident option and not the QRP Program.

To qualify for the QRP, you need to demonstrate an income of US $2,000 per month, which must be paid into a Belizean bank. The income can be an annuity or a pension, which has been generated outside Belize. If you are a couple, you apply as one and therefore the total is US $2,000, not US $4,000. Anyone above the age of 45 qualifies for the program and dependents can be included in the application. Dependents include spouses and children under the age of 18. Anyone up to the age of 23 who is enrolled in a university also qualifies. If a company has granted the pension, the company must prove that they have been in operation for at least 20 years by submitting proof of registration and they must certify that a pension of no less than US $2,000 will be paid on a monthly basis into a Belizean bank. A manager, president, or legal representative of the company must sign this document. Certification of these details is also required by a certified public accountant independent of the company. Two bank references from the company are also required and a document outlining the company's pension scheme. The Ministry of National Security will run a background check on the applicant. Cars shouldn't be older than three years to qualify for duty exemption. Light aircraft are allowed if they weigh less than 17,000 kg and, of course, a valid Private Pilot License (PPL) is required. This can be obtained from the Civil Aviation Department, or the same department can validate an existing license. Any boat is allowed as long as it is for personal use. If you sell any of your items, you will be subject to all taxes and duties.

Requirements

These are very similar to the permanent resident requirements, except that they are processed by the Belize Tourism Board and forwarded to the Department of Immigration. This can sometimes speed up the process. A few small variations in the requirements are: four front and four side passport-size recent photographs of the applicant and dependents; specific proof of income demonstrating a US $2,000 per month or US $24,000 per year income; all the copies of the passport must have a seal from a notary public.

Costs

  • Application fee of US $150 payable to the Belize Tourist Board (BTB), submitted with your application.
  • Once accepted into the program, a fee of US $1,000 is required.
  • US $200 is payable to the BTB for a Qualified Retired Person Residency Card.
  • US $750 is payable per dependent entering the program.

Payments must be either cash in U.S. dollars, a U.S. bank draft, or U.S. cashier's check. Personal or company checks are not accepted.

Work Permits

You must have a work permit before you can legally work in Belize. Working without a permit can result in heavy fines from the Belizean government. The process of obtaining a work permit can be time-consuming and bureaucratic. Businesses and individuals that offer the most potential for investing in the country and creating jobs for Belizeans have the easiest time obtaining work permits.

There are two types of work permits. One is the Temporary Employment Permit that applies to investors, people who want to be self-employed or start a business, and volunteer workers. This permit allows you to work in Belize without being a permanent resident.

The other type of permit is an Application for Authorization to Employ Foreigners. The employer needs to submit an application form along with supporting documentation in order to employ a foreigner. The employee needs to have been a permanent resident in Belize for at least six months. The length of a work permit ranges from three months to one year and is subject to renewal. You have to reapply before the permit expires. In most cases, foreign waiters, vendors, domestic workers, and farm hands will not get work permits. Only Belizean citizens or permanent residents may run a tour company or have a tour operator's license.

It's best not to mail any documents; instead, hand them over in person. Additional documents may be requested from you during the process. Applying for a work permit does not automatically mean you will get one; this is at the discretion of the Labour Commissioner and is not guaranteed. As with most bureaucratic official matters in Belize, costs and requirements can change without notification.

From the book Moon Living Abroad in Belize by Victoria Day-Wilson. Excerpted by arrangement with Avalon Travel, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2012. For more information, visit http://www.moon.com. We also request that you link to the book detail page: http://www.moon.com/books/moon-living-abroad/moon-living-abroad-belize-second-edition.

About the Author

AS Victoria Day-Wilson

Writer, journalist, and photographer Victoria Day-Wilson grew up in the highlands of Kenya, East Africa, where her natural surroundings inspired her to develop a passion for photography. That's also where she began her career as a journalist, writing for national, regional, and foreign press. After almost moving to Spain, she ended up in England, where she continued writing and started working as an editor. She also spent a few years working in the Middle East.

After finding out that the UK wasn't quite her cup of tea, Victoria and her family gazed at a globe and decided that Belize’s climate, amazing fauna and flora, pioneering spirit, and sense of space and freedom made the country an interesting option. They found their dream property on the banks of the Macal River in 2006. She has since gotten to know Belize intimately, traveling the length and breadth of the country.

Today, Victoria splits her time between Belize, Kenya, and the UK.

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Comments about this Article

guest
Dec 17, 2012 16:45

So, if I work from my laptop, my employer is in Wisconsin, I am 52 years old. Can I qualify for a QRP and live in Belize?

ManWnoName
Jan 31, 2017 21:48

I would like to ask regarding the tourist visa in Belize. You state bz50 for the first 6 months, then bz100 thereafter. This is not really bad considering the exchange rate to the USD at this time. Now, I do not want a residency permit after living somewhere for only 1 year because, many times, I have found, you need to live in a place for more than 2 years to see rather it is applicable/suitable to your liking or not. In that regard, I would like to stay on the the Belize tourist visa for an additional year and then decide whether I stay permanently in Belize or move on to another country. Is it possible to keep repeating the tourist visa in Belize year after year or are there problems?

First Published: Dec 11, 2012

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