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Immigration to Belize
Facts on Immigration Procedures
If you are planning to travel to Belize and you are not a Commonwealth, Mexican, North American (U.S.A.), Costarican, Austrian or national of a member state of the European Community you require a visa. Any Belizean Consulate or Embassy can issue one at the cost of $25.00 U.S. currency. This visa is valid for thirty(30) days only. If there is not a Belizean Consulate in your country you can obtain a visa through the nearest British Embassy or you can still travel to Belize and the Immigration Officer at the Phillip Goldson International Airport may issue one for the same cost and duration.

While citizens from the European Community do not require visas for travel to Belize, citizens of Bangladesh, Bolivia, Colombia, China, Angola, Brazil, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Cuba, India, Libya, Pakistan, Peru, South Africa and nationals of the former USSR require previous approval for a visa from the Ministry of Human Resources, Department of Immigration.

After being thirty (30) days in Belize and you still require more time to finish your business, you need to contact the nearest Immigration Office to get an extension, paying BZ $25.00 for every thirty days extended period.

Any individual can apply for permanent residence after having one (1) year legal residence fee in Belize on a continuous basis. Permanent residence fee is $100.00 and a deposit is needed which can range from
$100.00 to $1,200.00 depending on the nationality of the applicant. This deposit may be refunded three (3) years after residency is granted. The application form is to be accompanied by two pass-port photographs of each member of the family wishing to travel to Belize and the back of the photograph should be endorsed with his or her name and signed by a Justice of Peace. In addition you should attach to the petition your personal bank statements as well as current Medical and Police Records.

To acquire nationality status the applicant should have permanent residence and or be a legal resident for a minimum of five(5) years in accordance with the Belizean Nationality Act of 1981 (Section l0); there is also a provision for the registration of minor children along with the applicant (Section 12). All necessary evidence should accompany the application to avoid delays.

Facts on Retirement Law
Belize's new "retiree law" makes this country's program the best in the world

"Now any qualified individual can live and work tax-free in Belize-not just retired people"
A few weeks ago (September 15). Belize's new retiree legislation became law-meaning that Belize now offers what we believe to be the most attractive incentive program anywhere for foreign retirees. If you're looking for tax-free living, put Belize at the top of your list.

The law aims to encourage and promote the inflow of foreign capital into Belize by offering certain tax exemptions and incentives to qualified Retired Persons. It's a win-win situation for you and for the Belize government. Similar to Costa Rica's now-defunct pensionado program, the new Belize law targets North American and UK nationals who would spend part or all of the year in Belize, maintain a residence there, and bring their hard-earned dollars to spend locally.

Unlike other immigration programs, this one falls squarely under the authority of the Ministry of Tourism. which is working in conjunction with the Belize Tourist Board to make the program simple and user- friendly.

Duty-free imports
To entice you to come to Belize. the law allows you as a -"Qualified Retired Person" (QRP) a one-time allowance to import, your car and personal and household effects duty-free. (Thereafter. you may import another vehicle duty-free into Belize every five years. as long as your previous vehicle is sold, re-exported, or disposed of in an approved manner.) The program also allows you to import light aircraft, boats and other modes of transportation without duty, according to Mr. Anthony Mahler, senior product development officer with the Belize Tourist Board, the quasi-governmental agency administering the program.

As for household effects, there are no specifications or limitations as to what constitutes such personal property. Only in cases of abuse, such as when an individual tries to import six refrigerators or 10 air conditioners, would the exempt status be denied. according to Mahler.

No local taxes
The new law also exempts completely the QRP from the Income and Business Tax Act and from "the payment of all taxes and levies on all income or receipts that accrue to him from a source outside of Belize ... whether such income is earned or passive income and whether or not such income is remitted to him in Belize." Essentially, that means that you'll be accorded the same tax-free status granted to International Business Companies (IBCs) and trusts.

While you cannot be gainfully employed under the new law, some room has been left for QRP's to start or operate existing businesses under this status. Much like an offshore entity, a QRP cannot do business in the local economy with Belize nationals on a tax-free basis. But you could direct foreign-business activities and operations from within Belize and still maintain your tax-free status.

You don't have to be a "retiree" to benefit
Given the evolution in the world economy toward e-commerce, "virtual" businesses, and the use of the Internet, it is conceivable that almost any business could operate as a Belizean MC. And now any qualifying individual can live and work on a tax-free basis in Belize. So it is fair to say that the law is not only for retired people but also for any other qualified individual wishing to lead a "tax-free" life.

If you're a QRP interested simply in managing your simply in managing your own financial affairs, the law is ideal- because neither active nor passive income is subject to taxation under this law. If your assets and ongoing business activities are placed under a proper trust/corporate structure it may also be possible to eliminate or greatly reduce your U-S. taxes when you live the requisite number of days outside of the United States.

The number of days spent outside the United Stares and the number of days spent inside Belize are nor related, so Belizean QRP status may also be of interest to perpetual travelers and others who spend the year in several locations and who may only infrequently visit Belize.

Possibly the most attractive feature of the new law is the low financial threshold that you must meet to qualify. In many other countries, you have to make a significant financial commitment before you can obtain citizenship, permanent residence, or another status giving you the right to live there permanently. Preconditions range from making large investments or buying expensive homes to putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into long-term CDs or other government financial instruments. The United States, for-example, grants a greencard status to any foreigner willing to invest $1 million into a U.S. business that creates a minimum of 10 jobs. For the privilege of living in the United States, the foreigner must first pay the $1 million. and then he immediately becomes subject to U.S. taxation on his worldwide income, whether he earns it in Detroit, Berlin, or Kuala Lumpur.

You need only US$2,000 per month to qualify
In Belize, you'll find very little "Fine print" and few strings associated with the offer. As a QRP, you must show a monthly income of US S2,000 or arrange to deposit on or before the April I deadline each year 524,000 for your own general maintenance and support. You or your spouse must be at least 45 years old, and you should plan to set up an address in Belize.

Minor children under 18 who are your dependents automatically qualify.

Few strings attached
There is no requirement that you buy property, invest in business, create jobs, or loan your money to the government on interest-free terms. You may seek professional assistance with the process, but it is not required. I'd advise you to act quickly if you're considering applying for QRP status. Insiders tell me that a ceiling of approximately 20,000 applications will be allowed before the program is closed to new applicants., This could take several years, as it did in the case of Costa Rica, or it could happen in as little as one year, depending on demand.


This article first appeared in the Winter 2000/2001 edition of Where to Retire Magazine. It appears here by permission of the author, Lan Sluder, editor and publisher of Belize First Magazine (http://www.belizefirst.com/).

Retiring in Belize

Belize, the English-speaking country on the Caribbean Coast puts out the subtropical welcome mat for Americans

By Lan Sluder

Copyright 2000/2001 by Lan Sluder. All Rights Reserved.

Even if you�re a world traveler with a bazillion frequent-flier miles, chances are that you�ll be fascinated by your first glimpses of Belize, the little English-speaking country on the Caribbean coast of Central America. Hundreds of travel-poster islands dot the turquoise sea along Belize�s 200-mile coast. Just offshore is the longest barrier reef in the Northern and Western hemispheres, with an undersea world of fantastic color and diversity. The diving and snorkeling are world-class, and the fishing is so good that it usually takes just a few minutes to catch a sea bass or spiny lobster for your lunch.

Inland are lightly populated savannas, limestone hills and lush rainforests, home to more than 500 species of birds, 800 kinds of butterflies and 4,000 varieties of trees and shrubs. Bananas and mangos grow like weeds. Exotic animals like the jaguar and tapir still roam free in "backabush" Belize. Hidden under cohune palms are thousands of mysterious Maya ruins. The small villages and towns of Belize -- the only city has just 70,000 people -- are alive with a cultural gumbo of colors, races and backgrounds.

But Belize also appeals to those who want to linger longer than a week or two of vacation in paradise. It is getting the attention of prospective retirees who want a laid-back lifestyle in a frost-free climate similar to South Florida, with a stable government and economy, and a familiar legal system based on English common law where all documents are written in English.

Retirees are attracted by low real estate costs and an overall cost of living that stretches retirement pensions and Social Security checks further than they would go in the United States. But most of all they like friendly Belizean neighbors who have put out a subtropical welcome mat for Americans.

As one American expatriate in Belize puts it, "This is the friendliest place I have ever been, and I have traveled a lot. Belizeans take people one at a time -- foreign or local is not the issue. How you behave and how you are in your heart is what makes the difference," says Diane Campbell, a real estate developer on Ambergris Caye who moved to Belize from California. "If you are nice, kind and honest, you will be loved and respected here. When you get used to living here, you won�t be able to imagine living elsewhere."

Belize�s government recently has enacted a retiree incentive program that permits U.S., Canadian and United Kingdom citizens to establish official residency in Belize and to live there free of most Belize taxes. Under the new program retirees can�t work in Belize, but income from outside Belize isn�t taxed, and retirees can bring in household goods, a car, a boat and even an airplane without paying import duties.

Bill Wildman, a long-time real estate agent, surveyor and developer based in Corozal in northern Belize, says he thinks the new program is a solid beginning. He says applications are being approved quickly, typically in less than three months. The Belize Tourist Board, rather than the immigration department, handles applications.

Some retirees, however, question the amount of money that retirees are required to deposit in a Belize bank -- up to $2,000 a month -- and don�t like the paperwork and application fees of about $700 associated with the program. One is Doug Richardson, a retired lawyer and investor from Malibu, CA, who is building a large home on the Caribbean Sea in Placencia.

"I feel the program is a failure as an inducement to encourage anyone to retire (in Belize). There are too many fees, hurdles and demands made by the government," says Doug, who also believes the program doesn�t offer enough to wealthy retirees. For example, it permits retirees to bring only $15,000 worth of household goods and just one vehicle duty free. Yet for a retiree with limited resources, the monthly income requirement may be too high.

For those who don�t qualify for the new retirement program, residency in Belize is available through regular channels, most of which require more red tape and a residency period before you can apply for residency status or a work permit. Citizenship also is available through a controversial "buy-a-passport" citizenship program that costs a minimum of $25,000. Many expatriates simply stay in Belize as perpetual tourists, renewing their 30-day entrance permits for $12.50 per month for up to six months, at which time they must physically leave the country for at least 48 hours.

Whether they came to Belize under the new program or not, retirees say they like living in a country with many of the conveniences of modern life, such as Internet connections, air-conditioning and North American-style houses, but without franchised fast-food restaurants and chain stores that have come to dominate America�s frenetic consumer culture. Belize has no Wal-Marts or McDonald�s.

John Lankford was a 37-year-old lawyer in New Orleans when he first visited Belize�s Ambergris Caye in 1982. Intrigued by what he saw, six weeks later he came back a second time. "I found five acres with a house I couldn�t afford and on return to New Orleans called the owner and agreed to buy it on the Gringolian plan: There, I�ve bought it. Now how the heck do I pay for it?" It took him about 11 years to pay for it, he says, with periodic commutes to resample life on the island. John finally moved to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye full time in 1993 and registered with the Bar Association in Louisiana as "retired." The biggest mistake he made in moving to Belize was "not moving here sooner," John says.

Belize is not for everybody, however. "We�ve seen so many gringos give up and go home, and so many others still here who are burned out and bitter, that you sometimes feel there is really something insidious underlying the friendly surface appearances," says Phyllis Dart, an ex-Coloradan who runs a jungle lodge, Ek �Tun, in western Belize.

"You have to really like Belize for what it is. You must be prepared to adapt your lifestyle to fit Belize -- Belize will not adapt to you," says Pamella Picon, the publisher of a newsletter on Belize and co-owner of Mopan River Resort in Benque Viejo del Carmen.

For those who are willing to put up with the challenges -- such as lack of high-tech medical care, a high crime rate in some areas, the high cost of imported items and the occasional hurricane -- Belize can be a wonderful place to live.

Costs of Living

With a big SUV in the driveway and Belize gasoline at $3 a gallon, the Carrier turned to frigid and three fingers of French cabernet in the glass, living in Belize can cost more than back home. But if you live as a local -- eating the same foods Belizeans do, using public transport and living in a Belizean-style home with ceiling fans and cooling breezes -- you can get by on a few hundred dollars per month. In between, combining some elements of both lifestyles, you can live well for less than you would pay back home. Health care, the cost of renting or buying a home in most areas, personal and auto insurance, property taxes, household labor and most products produced in Belize are less expensive than what you�re used to paying.

You can eat well for a modest cost in Belize. Even in resort areas, a fresh grilled-seafood dinner is $10-$12, and stewed chicken with rice and beans -- Belize�s national dish -- might be $5. In-season (mid-June to mid-February) lobster in nice restaurants costs $10-$20. Belize City has modern supermarkets, and district towns have smaller but still well-stocked shops. Many towns and villages have weekly markets (usually Saturday morning) where fresh fruit and vegetables are sold at low prices. In coastal areas and on the cayes, fresh seafood is sold cheaply off the dock or at local seafood cooperatives.

However, grocery items imported from the United States, Mexico or England are expensive. Examples: A 15-ounce box of Kellogg�s Raisin Bran is $5.13, a three-ounce box of Jello is 80 cents, a can of Campbell�s chicken soup costs $1.75, and a bottle of Gallo Turning Leaf cabernet is $12.50. But locally produced products are fairly inexpensive, including black beans at 75 cents a pound, red beans for 40 cents a pound and a dozen eggs for $1.25. A liter of premium One Barrel local rum is $7.30, corn is the equivalent of 10 cents an ear, mangos are 15 cents each, and pork chops are about $2 a pound.

For ex-New Orleanian John Lankford, living in Belize is cheaper than in the United States. "I need neither heating nor air-conditioning with their attendant bills, nor insulation in my house, nor much of a house, nor much in the way of shoes. One casual wardrobe serves all purposes except travel back to the USA," he says.

If you know where to look, prices for seafront or rural real estate in Belize will remind you of costs in the United States in the 1960s or 1970s. In small towns in Belize, you can rent a pleasant seaside house for $250 a month. Land in larger tracts can sell for $200 an acre or less. Building lots on a remote caye might start at $4,000. Outside of high-cost tourist areas, you can build for $30-$50 per square foot or buy an attractive, modern home for $50,000-$100,000. Property taxes in Belize are low, rarely over $100-$200 annually even for a luxury home.

Unlike Mexico, Belize generally has no restrictions on the ownership of land, even seafront land, by foreigners, as long as the parcel is of 10 acres or less outside a town limit, or one-half acre or less inside town limits. Purchases of larger tracts and, in a few instances, land on the cayes require government approval.

Belize banks offer mortgages and personal and commercial loans, but rates are higher than you�d pay in the United States, about 12-16 percent. Therefore, most expatriates try to get loans outside Belize or arrange owner financing. About the best owner-financing deals available for property in Belize require 10 percent down with payout over 10 years at 10 percent interest.

The good old greenback is the national currency of Belize -- almost. Belize does have its own currency, the Belize dollar, but it is pegged at two Belize dollars to one U.S. dollar, and it has been that way for decades. Belize shops accept both currencies and often give change in a mix of the two currencies. As it�s not always easy to exchange Belize dollars back into U.S. dollars or other hard currencies, expatriates in Belize usually keep most of their funds in a bank in their home country, transferring what they need for living expenses, or what is required under the retirement program, as needed to their Belize bank account.

The main tax affecting expatriate residents is a national 8 percent sales tax on nearly all goods and services, with exclusions for some food and medical items. (An unpopular 15 percent value-added tax was eliminated in 1999.) Import taxes are a primary source of government revenue. They vary but can range up to 80 percent of the value of imported goods. Official residents in Belize under the Retired Persons Incentive Act do not have to pay import duties on a car, boat, plane and up to $15,000 in household goods imported into the country. For those working for pay in Belize, the country has a progressive personal income tax with a top personal rate of 25 percent. Belize has no estate or capital gains tax. On real estate purchases, buyers who are not Belize citizens must pay a 10 percent transfer fee.

The exact number of foreign expatriates from the United States, Canada, Asia and Europe in Belize is unknown. Estimates range from around 1,000 to several thousand. Most foreigners living in Belize are not in the country as official residents. Often they are snowbirds, in Belize for only part of the year. In any case, the number is as yet small, although interest in Belize as a second home and as a retirement or relocation destination has been growing by leaps and bounds.

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