Belize is a country situated in Central America but is distinctly different from its neighbours. The population is of mixed heritage, with English, Creole, Spanish, Chinese and East Indian being among the ethnic groups residing there. The country has borders with Mexico and Guatemala and the Caribbean Sea lies off the eastern coast. The country is home to the Maya mountain range as well as several others and over 65% of the land is forested. There are also areas of swamp lands close to the coast line.
The country's economy is based mainly on agriculture, in particular, cane sugar and bananas. Other food industries on the rise include tropical fruit and seafood. The tourism industry is also growing and is becoming an important employer. The currency in use is the Belize Dollar (BZD) which is the equivalent of 50 US cents.
Social conventions are similar to those of the UK, a legacy of British rule. There are an increasing number of expats choosing Belize for their new home. This is due mainly to the climate and the British and European heritage of the country. Most choose to stay within the cities although a few have settled in more rural areas. The multi-cultural nature of the country means that all are made to feel welcome; there is almost no religious or racial intolerance in evidence in the country.
Those who are moving to Belize should be aware that they will be liable for income taxes on any money earned within the country itself. Money that originates from outside the country is considered to be tax-free, although it is worth checking if you will still be liable for taxes in your country of origin.
The current income tax rates mean that those who earn less than BZ$20,000 per year (roughly US$10,000) will pay no income tax. After this rate there is a flat rate of 25% for income tax deductions when your salary is calculated. Payments are made using a PAYE system if you are employed by a company. Those who are not in the country for a minimum of 182 days in the tax year will find that they are not entitled to the BZ$20,000 threshold.
The employer is responsible for registering all employees’ details with the relevant government department. This will ensure that all workers have a social security card and number and contributions range from $1.75 to $9.10 per week, depending upon the amount earned, although the bulk of these contributions come from the employer.
Taxes are also payable in Belize in the form of a goods tax, the equivalent of Value Added Tax in some countries. The rate currently stands at 10% and is applied to most daily expenses, although some basic food items are exempt. Those who have fairly low electricity bills will also not be charged the goods tax. Costs associated with education and healthcare do not include any goods tax. There are no taxes applicable when inheriting monies or property although renting properties out will be classed as income and is subject to income tax. Capital gains made from selling property or other assets are only taxed as part of income rather than a separate tax.
Visa, Residency & Immigration Laws
When first going to Belize, all foreign visitors require a passport and will not be allowed entry to the country without one. If your country of origin is part of Europe or North America, then you are permitted to remain in Belize for up to 30 days with no additional visas. Certain categories of visitors may apply for 3 month extensions to this and these are restricted to those who live a distance away from the Immigration Office, those who may be potential investors in the country or those who are conducting some form of business there.
There are procedures and fees that apply in these cases and further details can be obtained from the Belize Immigration Office. These extensions are also granted on the understanding that the person is in possession of a ticket home and that you have the means to support yourself during your stay. After 6 months you would be expected to apply for an employment permit.
Once a person has resided in Belize for a year they can apply for permanent residency status. There are also fees which are applicable for this, although how much you pay depends upon your country of origin. Those who wish to become citizens of Belize should have had a permanent residency status for a minimum of 5 years.
If you wish to work in Belize you will require an employment permit, and temporary permits are issued by the Labour Department. These are easy to find as there is one in each town. It can take approximately 6 weeks for the local Commissioner to approve the permit, but then a final decision must be made by the Director of Immigration. These employment permits are only required when you do not have permanent residency status. Once you have that you no longer need to apply for permits. Work permits are valid for one year and the fees involved vary depending upon the type of work that you will be doing.
There are a number of regulations involved with purchasing a property in Belize. Within days of paying a deposit deeds can be transferred into your name, but you must be able to meet certain criteria to do this.
When you have found a property and made an offer, you will be required to pay a 10% deposit to secure the property and begin the process of transferring the property into your name. When this process starts, you must be able to pay the balance – either with funds you have available or through a pre-arranged mortgage – so that the Government Lands Department can complete the registration of the property. This can take between 4 and 12 weeks.
Buyers must pay a stamp duty on all property they purchase, which is the equivalent of 5% of the purchase price over and above the equivalent of $10,000 (US Dollars). There is no distinction made between Belizeans and expats. An additional registration fee is also payable for registering the new title deeds. This is usually BZE$30 but this depends on the estate agent you use, there are some who include this cost in their fees.
Retiring in Belize
There is currently a programme in Belize which is aimed at foreign nationals who wish to retire there. It is open to those who have an independent means of income either from a pension or other source. It is not available to those who would require financial assistance from the state.
If you are over the age of 45 and reside in the USA, Europe (including the UK) and other commonwealth nations you can apply for this programme. Your application will automatically include your spouse and any dependent children under the age of 18, or 23 if a student.
Belize has a number of benefits which would be attractive to a retired person, particularly those from an English speaking country as there would be no change of language. There are tax breaks which may mean a financial benefit. Further details on how much tax you would be expected to pay can be obtained from the Belize tax department. For those with children there is an excellent educational system and the sub tropical climate is always a bonus from those who hail from a more temperate climate. The people are also known to be very friendly towards newcomers.
The process for applying for this status will involve a certain amount of documentation. Applications are made to the Belize Tourism Board, who will process it with the aid of the Department of Immigration and the Ministry of National Security. You must send a copy of the birth certificate of each person who would be moving to the country, a marriage certificate if applicable, an up to date statement of police record, and copies of each passport. You must also be able to provide proof of income, usually a statement from your bank or accountant showing minimum income each month. All applicants must have a medical certificate which shows they are in good health and free from any sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS and HIV.
If you are accepted by this programme then you will be able to import all your personal belongings without having to pay any import duties, though you will have to provide a list of everything you are bringing into the country and the import must take place within 1 year. Most will also not have to pay tax on their income provided it is generated outside Belize either from investments or a pension. You are also able to bring a car providing it is not more than 3 years old.