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Belize is situated in Central America, bordered to the north by Mexico, to the south and west by Guatemala, and to the east by the Caribbean Sea. Belize is an independent nation with a parliamentary democracy and a population of approximately 330,000 (2010 est.).  Prior to its independence from the United Kingdom in 1981, Belize was known as British Honduras. It is the only nation in Central America where English is the official language.

Belize compares favorably to other Central American nations in terms of social development indicators. Based upon the most recently available World Bank data, Belize is ranked as having the second highest adult literacy rate, third highest gross national product per capita and the third highest life expectancy among a group of Central American countries consisting of Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

Belize achieved full independence on September 21, 1981 and is now a member of the Commonwealth, the United Nations, Organization of American States, and the Association of Caribbean States.

  • Capital City: Belmopan
  • Population: 334,297 (July 2013 est.)
  • Chief of State: Queen Elizabeth II (since 6 February 1952); represented by Governor General Sir Colville Young, Sr. (since 17 November 1993)
  • Head of Government: Prime Minister Dean Oliver Barrow (since 8 February 2008)
  • Religion: Roman Catholic 39.3%, Protestant 26.24% (Pentecostal 8.3%, Anglican 4.5%, Seventh-Day Adventist 5.3%, Mennonite 3.7%, Methodist 2.8%, Jehovah’s Witnesses 1.6%), other 9.9%, none 15.2% (2010)
  • Time Zone: UTC-6 (1 hour behind Washington, DC during Standard Time)
  • Climate: Tropical; very hot and humid; rainy season (May to November); dry season (February to May)
  • Language: English, Spanish, Creole, Mayan dialects
  • Country Code: 501
  • Coastline: 386km
  • Emergency numbers: In case of any emergency, dial 90 from anywhere in Belize.
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Belize Adventure

Belize has hit the 1 Million mark!

dive-site-the-blue-hole-01-bigAs of October 2014, Belize has seen one million visitors into the country, through overnight and cruise arrivals, two months earlier than forecasted. During this month, tourist arrivals increased by 6.7%, exceeding the initial projection which estimated that October would have seen a decrease of 10.82% in overnight arrivals. For cruise arrivals, 56,144 visitors were scheduled for October, but there were a total of 1,769 more cruise visitors over that forecasted number.

According to the Belize Tourism Board’s (BTB) projections set forth earlier this year, it was expected that Belize would hit the one million mark at the end of the year; however, we’ve surpassed this figure earlier than was expected. In the past nine years, Belize hit the one million mark twice, in 2005 and 2010, with 1,036,904 and 1,006,547, respectively. Belize is well on its way to having the most visitors ever in its history. The arrival of 1,018,705 visitors last month has already surpassed the 2010 arrivals.

The Country of Belize is, in itself, a unique Caribbean destination due to the abundance of beaches, the reef, rainforests and Mayan ruins.  Shallow coastal waters, are sheltered by a line of Coral Reefs.  The Barrier Reef, longest in the Western Hemisphere, is home to a wide variety of aquatic life.  The natural and man-made attractions, i.e., the numerous Mayan ruins, from the approximately one million Maya, who populated Belize from 250-900 AD.

The resort areas on the coast and nearby islands offer some of the best diving on the planet.  That said, most of the visitors are non-divers who love Belize’s clean and calm waters, spectacular snorkeling and relaxed atmosphere combined with the ease of slipping a few Archaeological and jungle adventure into a beach vacation.

Over 200 pristine cayes (islands) are scattered along Belize’s coastline—each surrounded by crystal clear, turquoise seawater that teems with brilliant fish, coral, and sponges.

A favorite pastime on the cayes is to relax in a hammock, under a gently swaying coconut palm, while sipping an icy Belkin beer, or a pina colada. It’s the perfect spot to relax and watch the frothy white waves wash against the Mesoamerican barrier reef. For those who live on a caye, the living reef is so close it’s a visible touchstone, a reminder of its many wonders. Diving, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, sailing, and surfing are pleasant activities in the shallow waters inside the protection of the reef…

The Caribbean seascape you see from the mainland is equally stunning. Placencia’s 17 miles of golden sand beaches are perfect for long, leisurely strolls and days spent sunning or picnicking near the sea. Sailboats, cruisers, and catamarans come and go from the deeper water docks, or idle in the calm, protected waters at the tip of Placencia Village.

From Placencia it’s a short drive to a host of other mainland activities such as hiking, bird-watching, and zip lining.

A small country barely the size of Massachusetts it’s easy to travel from one part of the country to another. As one adventurous expat eloquently described his rational for moving to Belize, “I can be Jacques Cousteau in the morning—diving in the blue hole, and Indiana Jones in the afternoon—exploring a Maya cave in the jungles..[…]..”Most expats who live in Belize today moved from the USA, Canada, Britain, and other European countries

International Connection

The Phillip S. W. Goldson International Airport is situated 10 miles from Belize City.  Regular International service to and from the United States, Europe (commencing later in 2008), Central America are maintained by a number of airlines, including American Airlines, Delta, Continental and TACA.  There are also domestic airports in Dangriga, Placencia, Corozal, San Pedro, Belize city, Orange Walk, Independence, Punta Gorda, San Ignacio and San Pedro, which are in the planning of being expanded. A new international airport is coming soon in Stann Creek. The principals of the project are presently in contact with several Cruise Ship Lines to secure Crown Paradise Marina as a Cruise Ship destination.

Communications

  • Telephone system: Above-average system; trunk network depends primarily on microwave radio relay. Domestic system: fixed-line teledensity of 10 per 100 persons; mobile-cellular teledensity approaching 70 per 100 persons.
  • International country code: +501
  • Cell phones users: 164,200 (2012)
  • Internet users: 36,000 (2009)
  • Internet country code: .bz
  • Internet/e-mail: Cybercafés are becoming more and more common in Belize. You’ll find cybercafés in most of the major towns and tourist destinations.

Economy

Belize’s GDP was US$ 1.396 billion in 2010.  The economy has achieved GDP growth over the past five years, partially as a result of investment and fiscal initiatives by the Government, as well as favorable developments in tourism and agriculture (including fishing) markets in particular.

Facts and figures of Belize (2010 est.):

Population: 334,297 (July 2013 est.)
GDP USD 1.3396 billion
GDP Real growth rate: 2.0%
GDP – per capita USD 4,158
GDP – sector composition Agriculture: 9.7%

Industry: 31.6%

Services: 58.7%

Labor force 114,465
Unemployment rate 12.9%
Industries: Food processing, tourism, construction
Exports: USD 277.25 million f.o.b. (2006 est.)
Imports: USD 660.4 million c.i.f. (2006 est.)
Debt – external: USD 1.16 billion
Exchange rates: BZD 2.00 to USD 1.00 (pegged to USD)

Currency

Belize currency exchange is extremely easy for American visitors. The Belize dollar is locked at $2 Belize = $1 USD. So it’s very easy to see how much something is costing in USD when you go shopping. Most accommodations and tours are listed in US$ prices, and most restaurants, shops, etc. are listed in BZ$. Nearly everyplace readily accepts USD currency. Most also should accept traveler’s checks as long as you write your passport number or driver’s license number on the back. Large bills (anything above a $20) are a little more difficult to cash. Shopkeepers generally ask you to spend a minimum amount.

ATMs are also available across the country, particularly in most tourist destinations- including Placenica,Punta Gorda, Belmopan, Dangriga, Belize City, San Pedro Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Orange Walk, San Ignacio and Corozal.

Belize tourism Facts (2010 est.)

Tourist Expenditure 199.4 mn US
Tourist Arrivals 245,000
Cruise Arrivals 597,000
Number of Hotels 561
Number of Rooms 5,789
Hotel Occupancy Rate 42.9

The relative strength of the Belizean economy includes:

  • A stable judiciary and political system;
  • A high literacy rate and an English-speaking population;
  • Abundant land, forest and water resources;
  • Belize’s proximity to the United States;
  • Historically close ties to the United Kingdom; and
  • Environmental resources that create substantial opportunities in the nature-based tourism market.

Geography

Belize is located in Central America. A diverse country with various cultures and languages, with the lowest population density in Central America with 35 people per square mile or 14 people per square kilometer.

Belize is also known for its extreme biodiversity and distinctive ecosystems. On the coast, there is a swampy coastal plain with mangrove swamps. In the south and interior there are hills and low mountains. Most of the land is undeveloped and is forested with hardwoods. It is a part of the Mesoamerican biodiversity hotspot and it has many jungles, wildlife reserves, a large variety of different species of flora and fauna and the largest cave system in Central America. Some species of Belize’s flora and fauna include the black orchid, the mahogany tree, the toucan and tapirs.

People

From the moment you arrive in Belize – whether you are an adventure traveler, part of a family trip or in the country for a relaxing beach vacation – Belize people and culture make you feel as welcome and comfortable, like nowhere you’ve ever visited.

In Belize, the traditions and customs are varied and represent more than eight diverse cultures. For generations, the people of Belize have demonstrated a cultural commitment to preserve the country’s unique charms. This enduring promise to the land, the waters and you, the visitor, inspires all to achieve a genuine and intimate connection to a variety of extraordinary experiences.

The Belizean people are made up of Maya, Mestizo, Kriol, Garifuna, East Indian, Mennonite, Arab and Chinese. There also are a number of expatriates in Belize from Canada, Europe and the United States, many of them retire here. A blending of cultures has resulted in one of the happiest and most peaceful countries in the region and a widespread reputation as one of the world’s friendliest tourist destination.

In Belize (formerly British Honduras), English remains the official language, but the most diverse language in Belize is Kriol (Belizean Creole). Other languages spoken include Garifuna, Mandarin, Spanish and Maya.

Weather

One of the nicest things about visiting Belize is the weather. With an average yearly temperature of 84° F (29°C), it’s always warm, yet comfortable. Costal sea breezes as well as the jungle and rainforests keep you cool even in the hottest summer months while winters can be cool but never very cold. In short, the climate is pretty much near perfect. Even in winter (November-March) the temperature in Belize rarely falls below 60°F (16°C), while the summer (May-September) is around 86°F (30°C). Humidity is also fairly consistent at around 85 percent.

Belize’s dry season is between February and May and has significantly lower rainfall than the rest of the year. When it does rain, it is usually in mild, short bursts.

June through December is wet season, when parts of the country receive up to 150 inches of rain and the heavy, sometimes wild storms associated with the Caribbean occur, usually in the late afternoons. The most frequent rainfall usually happens in June or early July and is punctuated by a break in late July or August known as the “little dry.”

We also have a hurricane season, and while statistically Belize does not attract many major direct hits, it does get its share of severe tropical weather with high winds and rain. However, we have cooperative early warning network that we share with our neighbors. Our safety, evacuation and other procedures have proven to be effective, so no worries.

No matter what season you visit, there’s plenty to do and see down here.

History

Hundreds of ruins and ceremonial centers show that for thousands of years Belize was populated by the Maya Civilization that reached its peak known as the Classic Period between A.D. 250 and 900. At its height, the Maya of Belize and Central America formed one of the most densely populated and culturally dynamic societies in the world. Eventually the civilization declined leaving behind large groups whose offspring still exist in Belize.

After the collapse of the Mayan civilization the Spanish ruled Belize upon their arrival in the new world, however they were never really able to truly control the area. Belize was good only for cutting dye wood. This lack of control eventually allowed for pirates from England and Scotland to come in and find sanctuary during the 17th century. When pirating became a less popular profession, these former buccaneers turned to cutting log wood in the rich tropical forests of Belize.

From the outset of Colonization, Belize’s roots were more British than Spanish. Britain gained full control from Spain in 1798, when they defeated the Spanish Armada off St. George’s Caye. While the United States was embroiled in Civil War, Great Britain declared Belize to be the colony of British Honduras, against the terms of the Monroe Doctrine.

As in many other countries, Belize’s economy faced decline after WWII. This eventually led for the push for independence. Self-government was granted in 1964, which allowed for the formation of democratic parties and parliamentary style of rule. Belmopan was named the new capital since Belize City was practically destroyed by Hurricane Hattie in 1961. In 1981 the country gained full independence, and officially became Belize.

Belize’s independence and rule has always been threatened by the neighboring country of Guatemala, which has maintained that Belize has always been their rightful property. In 1972, during Belize’s political transition, from colony to an independent nation, Guatemala threatened war. British troops stationed on the border prevented any incident, and now the call to reclaim Belize is an empty political cry in Guatemalan politics.

In recent years, the US government provided additional stability to Belize. In the 1980’s the US invested large amounts of aid into Belize’s economy. For this reason it has remained extremely pro-US. Belize is an extraordinarily peaceful country. Due to civil wars in Honduras and El Salvador, Belize has experienced an influx of refugees from these struggles that have significantly increased the population of Spanish speakers in the country. Still, the country remains peaceful and tolerance prevails with the mix of cultures from Garifuna, Indian, Arab, British and American Ex-pats to Mennonites and settlers from Taiwan and Hong Kong. The laid back atmosphere, cultivated since British buccaneers first began hiding out here, invites visitors to slow down, relax, and just soak up the laid back rhythms of this wonderful country.

Real Estate

Belize has always been a popular area for expats because is a country that offers the opportunity to make excellent investments. Life is easy and property was inexpensive. Although life is still relaxed, property prices have risen due to high demand, especially in places as Placencia and San Pedro. There are however, still reasonably priced properties to be found.

This country is one of the few countries in the world where foreigners enjoy the same right as nationals in land ownership and tenure and land rights on the beach are not difficult to obtain. All land purchases are subject to a Government Stamp Duty also known as a Transfer Tax which in 2015 is 5% of the purchase price less the first US10,000 which is an exemption granted to all land owners by the government. Therefore any property with a value of US$10,000 or less pays no transfer tax.  Belize real estate values have been steadily going up and this trend continues.

  • Where to Buy

If beachfront isn’t your first choice, maybe you would prefer being surrounded by the rain forest, mountains and rivers, or Maya ruins and caves. For this, the Cayo remains the unsettled (and affordable) frontier. And it’s our favorite part of Belize.

  • Cost of Real Estate in Belize

Though Belize has a top-flight offshore banking structure, beautiful landscapes, and an English-speaking population to recommend it, cheap property is not one of the attributes you’ll find here. Though prices for real estate have not changed much in the last two years, they are nevertheless higher than what you’ll find in Guatemala, Honduras, or Nicaragua, for instance. Property prices vary greatly in Belize from one area to another. They generally are highest in Belize City, on Ambergris Caye, and in Placencia, and lowest in remote rural areas. In large tracts, raw land is available in Belize for under $100 an acre, but access may be poor and surveying costs may exceed the cost of the land itself. Home prices range from under $15,000 for a simple Belizean-style home in a small village to $500,000 or more for a luxury home on the beach in San Pedro. Even with appreciation, real estate prices in Belize are still inexpensive by the standards of the U.S. or most of Western Europe.

Why You Should Invest In Belize?

Belize, the little Central-American nation, casts a spell—especially on those with a spirit of adventure. Attractions include the warm, English-speaking people, the natural beauty, and the air of freedom and opportunity.

For many years, the country has drawn people from all over the world who want to live in the sun while taking advantage of the country’s real estate bargains and reasonable cost of living. Add to that the protection of assets and terrific fishing and diving and you can understand why Belize captivates so many.

And today changes are taking place that make the lure even stronger. Real estate transactions are easier, highways and airports have been improved, and there are a growing number of banks, investment houses, and trust companies that can help your assets grow.

Belize sets itself apart from its neighbors in several ways—not least of which is the fact that the population living in Belize speaks English. It makes living and doing business here easy. What’s more, Belize is a small, peaceful country where you can beat the bureaucratic beasts by simply walking into the Minister of So-and-So’s office and sitting down to talk things out.

In many ways, this country is like a big small town. Its far-thinking banking laws have given the nation a distinct advantage when it comes to banking privacy. In an age when the accounts in other jurisdictions are under attack, those in Belize remain secure, which is no mean feat.

While it’s true that Belize is not the most affordable place to buy property, this country offers economic stability, ease of living, and a cost of living that, while not dirt-cheap, is nevertheless good value when you compare it with that of other Caribbean retreats.

Belize’s retiree program offers attractive incentives to foreigners looking to live in Belize—particularly those who are already planning to declare their permanent residency outside the U.S.

Plus, Belize is just plain beautiful. From its Caribbean shores to its jungle interior, this nation has great natural beauty to recommend it—blue water and deserted beaches, and inland retreats where jaguars and scarlet macaws still live in their natural habitats.

It is still undeveloped and sparsely populated so there’s a lot of room (on the beaches, in the jungle, in the rain forests…) for you to stretch out, and there are only three highways traversing the country (one goes north, one goes south, one goes west). Tourism here is booming. A dozen years ago, the planes from Miami to Belize City were full of Belizeans returning home from their visits to the States. Today, they are full of Americans.

Renting In Belize

At SILBELIZE, we always recommend that you rent before you buy. Before you plunk down money on a house or condo in a new place, stay awhile and see if it suits your needs. Start your search while you rent a comfortable house, we recommend you check out our vacation rentals.

The QRP Program For Those Who Want To Retire In Belize

Belize has one of the world’s best retiree programs. Through the Qualified Retired Persons (QRP) Program, the government gives qualified retirees an exemption from taxes on all income derived from sources outside Belize, whether such income is earned or passive, and whether or not it is remitted to Belize.

You don’t have to be retired—or even of retirement age—to take advantage of this program. However, you must be at least 45 years old, and be able to show that you have adequate resources to deposit a monthly income of $2,000 or more per month, and comply with several other minor requirements. To keep your QRP status you must spend just one month of the year in Belize.

The regulations state that you must show a pension or other regular income. In reality, if you can demonstrate that you have adequate savings to transfers $24,000 per year, the Belize Tourist Board has accepted that approach, since many expats do not have pensions but do have IRAs/401Ks. You can also make a single $24,000 deposit a year or make it in monthly installments.

In addition to tax benefits, qualified retirees can import their personal and household goods as well as a car, boat, and plane, without having to pay import duties or taxes on those goods that they import in to Belize during their first year as a QRP resident.

QRPs are considered non-residents for purposes of banking, meaning they can set up a U.S. dollar bank account with a local or offshore bank in Belize. QRPs are also allowed to engage in gainful employment as long as most of their business activity takes place outside Belize and is conducted exclusively with non-residents of Belize. This is especially important for expats who wish to maintain a consulting business from their second home in Belize. QRPs are also allowed to own a business in Belize. It is best to talk to a qualified attorney if you are thinking of doing this.

*Prices as of 2013

Taxes In Belize

Foreigners in Belize are only liable for tax on income they generate in Belize.

Income tax is charged at a rate of 25%, and for residents of Belize, the first $10,000 of their annual income is exempt. Pension income is also exempt.

To qualify for residency, an individual must be present in Belize for 183 days or more during a calendar year. There’s no graduated scale of taxation like in the U.S. and many other countries. Property taxes depend entirely on the type of property and start at 1.5% of the assessed value. Belize currently has no capital gains tax.

Though Belizean tax law is far simpler than the U.S. tax code, always consult a knowledgeable attorney, especially if you spend more than 183 days in the country during a calendar year.

General sales tax in Belize is 12.5% and it is included in the price of the good that you buy.

Currently, property transfer taxes are at 5%, and attorney fees usually equal 2%, including miscellaneous expenses. The buyer usually pays around 12.5% for closing costs, based on the total purchase price of the real estate. Property taxes depend on the type of property and start at 1.5% of the assessed value. Belize currently has no capital gains tax.

Second Home Tax Benefits In Belize

Second homes usually aren’t thought of as tax shelters, but they have very similar advantages—whether the homes are inside or outside the U.S.

IRS rules, for example, let you avoid capital gains tax if you’ve lived in the home for at least two of the last five years before selling it. The limit on this capital gains exclusion is $250,000 for an individual or $500,000 for a couple. While few Americans will take out a mortgage in Belize, those who do will have another tax advantage—the ability to deduct mortgage interest and property taxes.

Even better, you can rent the second home for up to two weeks a year without being required to report the rental income to the IRS. On the other hand, if you do rent the second home for more than 14 days a year, you lose the mortgage and property tax deductions, but you can then deduct management fees, repair costs, and depreciation up to the amount of the rental income as long as it doesn’t exceed $25,000 a year.

Unfortunately, many IRS rules on second homes are complex. In fact, using second-home deductions may subject you to the alternative minimum tax (AMT) that the government can levy against individuals who wouldn’t otherwise be required to pay tax because of, say, an accumulation of losses or deductions. For that reason, it’s important for overseas residents to consult an accountant or tax attorney who is familiar with their specific situation.

Where To Settle In Belize

The most popular landing spots for expats are Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker; the Placencia peninsula; the Corozal district; and the Cayo Region. Some expats are now gravitating as far south as the Toledo District, although you’ll find fewer First World amenities there.

  • Ambergris Caye

Ambergris Caye is the most popular island. Expats who live on the island enjoy the shifting shades of the aquamarine sea every day while walking the beach, riding a bike into town, or bopping around on a golf cart—the main form of transportation on the island.

San Pedro is the island’s bustling main town, where every Sunday afternoon local bars and restaurants have beach BBQs, with plenty of tasty food, social interaction, and live music.

Expats who live on the caye (island) have their pick of diverse restaurants, cafés, shops, and even a quality wine-tasting bar. Most expats join in the various volunteer and church organizations.

  • Caye Caulker

Caye Caulker provides a slower paced, less expensive alternative to Ambergris Caye. It’s only a 20-minute boat ride from one to the other. This island is much smaller, less populated, and with fewer extra-curricular activities. But it’s a lovely spot for those who seek peace and quiet near the Caribbean Sea.

  • Corozal

Corozal is a favorite coastal spot for expats who are living on a social security budget. A big advantage is that Chetumal, Mexico, is right across the border, with its SAM’s Club, shopping malls, hospitals, and movie theaters. The cost of living in the Corozal area is low and there’s an active expat community.

  • Placencia

Placencia is the mainland equivalent to Ambergris Caye, but much more tranquil. It’s the most popular beach area in the country, and yet, the Placencia Peninsula is not that crowded. With miles of quiet, sandy beaches, one can wander for hours—walking by the attractive expat homes right on the beach. There are far fewer condo complexes in Placencia than on the populated cayes—the vibe is laidback and Caribbean. Placencia Village, on the far south of the peninsula, is a colorful, lively town with an expanding selection of quality bars, cafés, gourmet bistros, and craft stores.

  • Cayo

The Cayo—just two hours from the coast—is a great place for hiking, canoeing, exploring caves, viewing exotic wildlife, horseback riding, and visiting ancient Maya ruins. This region is abundant with rushing rivers, lush rainforest, and tumbling waterfalls. Although the main town of San Ignacio is busy, the surrounding country is open and property prices are very affordable.  Beyond San Ignacio, expats are settling in quaint small villages such as Cristo Rey and Bullet Tree.

Expats who move to the Cayo typically purchase a piece of property to live off-grid, or for a small farm—these expats are self-sufficient types. There’s an active expat network and community in the Cayo, and it’s possible to live here on a social security budget.

  • The Toledo District

The Toledo District is often referred to as Belize’s “Forgotten District.” Few expats live in Punta Gorda—the capital and largest town of the Toledo District—but the number of expats moving there is increasing. It’s probably the most authentic part of Belize—tourism has not yet seriously altered the locals’ traditions and lifestyle.

Here the hills of rainforest roll down to touch the sea… Howler monkeys can be head barking in the tree tops from your room at the B&B… This wild, beautiful region is still off the beaten track…

For this reason, Punta Gorda doesn’t yet offer the amenities expats take for granted in the other expat hot spots—but the cost of living, and of property, is extremely affordable.

Moving To Belize Could Be The Best Decision You’ll Ever Make

From its secluded beaches to its steamy rain forests, Belize is a country of diverse natural beauty. Its slow pace of life makes it a popular tourist destination, and cost of living is still low. For the more adventurous traveler, activities can include a trek into the jungle in search of Maya ruins, spotting parrots, toucans, and maybe even a jaguar along the way. It’s true that Belize is no longer the most affordable place to buy property, but this country has other benefits: economic stability, a stress-free lifestyle, and a cost of living that is good value when compared with the U.S. (or even other Caribbean destinations).

The Benefits Of Moving To Belize

Belize’s government wants you to . If this investment benefits the community, then your business may be eligible for significant tax relief for up to 20 years. Belize also offers one of the few remaining secure and private locations where you can protect your wealth with confidence. In an age when foreign governments are gaining access to accounts once thought to be sealed, the security and privacy Belize guarantees is certainly an advantage. Belize also has some of the region’s most lenient residency laws. You can declare permanent residency even if you only spend two weeks of the year in the country.

  • Moving your Household Goods

When moving your household goods to Belize, you can start by choosing an American moving company, but that firm will still have to deal with a Belizean relocation firm for the final leg of the trip. Most experienced expats say the best strategy is to select the Belizean company first. Call SILBELIZE residential services to help you.

This firm will then choose the American company that it wants to work with. When you fly to Belize, you’re allowed to bring in items for personal use and not for resale. These typically include clothing, medicines, toys, a laptop computer, books and up to four liters of hard liquor and/or wine. If you have any doubts about what you can bring, ask the airline, a Belizean relocation company or the Belizean Embassy in Washington.

Health Care In Belize

If you’re considering a visit or a move to Belize, rest assured that most minor ailments can be treated quickly—and cheaply—at doctor’s offices and clinics that can be found in all but a few remote areas. People who suffer from serious conditions can be taken to private clinics such as Belize Medical Associates (website: www.belizemedical.com) or Belize Health Care Partners (website: http://belizehealthcare.com). Both of these facilities offer excellent services and costs are still very reasonable. Belize does have a number of public hospitals but most expats prefer to use the private clinics.

But since all these facilities lack the quality care of hospitals in the U.S. and neighboring countries, some many expats leave Belize for more complicated types of medical treatment. Many American retirees, for instance, return home for a few days whenever they want to take advantage of Medicare. Some expats also go to Chetumal and Merida, just north of the border in the Mexican state of Yucatán, and to Guatemala City and Antigua in Guatemala.

Expats in Belize also have the option of returning to the U.S. for health care and, in cases of emergency, to rely on evacuation coverage provided by an international health insurance policy. Evacuation coverage is particularly important because an ambulance flight can easily cost $15,000. If you’re prone to health problems, you should consider this option. Information on medical services is available from the U.S. Embassy in Belmopan, Tel +(1)501-227-7161, though the embassy staff doesn’t recommend doctors.

Officials do, however, urge Americans with existing medical problems to carry a letter from their physician that describes the condition and lists medications, including the generic name of drugs prescribed for the problem. To avoid the possibility of problems with customs officials, always keep medications carried abroad in their original containers that are clearly labeled. It’s also important to complete the information page in your passport with the name, address, and telephone number of the person to contact in the event of an emergency.

Pharmacies in Belize are well stocked, and prices for medicines seem comparable to what you’d pay back home. Health care in Belize in general is extremely affordable–a few dollars for a visit to a doctor’s office and about $15 a day for a hospital stay.

*Prices as of 2013

Cost Of Living In Belize

Though Belize isn’t the cheapest country in the Western Hemisphere, it takes less to live well in Belize than in most places in the U.S., Canada, or Europe.

Here’s a sample monthly budget for two people:

Rent $750
Electricity $250
Gas $8
Water $23
Cable TV $25
Telephone $80
Internet $50
Groceries $300
Entertainment $300
Miscellaneous $200
Monthly total: $1,846

If you have a car—which you may not need, depending where you live—add $300 for gas and maintenance every month. Belize is a small country and you won’t go far, but gas is expensive (more so than in the U.S.).

Residency And Citizenship In Belize

You can stay in Belize for up to one month without a visa. If you want to stay longer, however, you need to go to the Immigration Department in Belize City or Belmopan, or to the Senior Immigration Officer in an outlying district for a visa extension.

Today, many expats apply for permanent residency in Belize, which makes it easier to travel in and out of the country and to deal with bureaucracy when you’re in it–when getting a driver’s license, for instance. You must live in Belize for one year to be granted permanent residency. To do this, enter the country on a tourist visa, apply for residency and then renew your tourist visa every 30 to 90 days until residency is granted.

To become a resident, you must pay a non-refundable fee of $1000 if you’re American or Canadian. Most other nationals pay slightly higher amounts to cover the cost of a return ticket to the country of origin.

A completed application form (downloadable at www.embassyofbelize.org) should be submitted to the Immigration and Nationality Department, along with two passport photographs (the backs of which are to be signed by you and a Justice of Peace), recent personal bank statements, and current medical and police records.

To acquire nationality status, you must have a permanent residence, and be a legal resident for a minimum of five years. There is also a provision for the registration of minor children along with the applicant. All necessary evidence should accompany the application to avoid delays.

To qualify, you can from any country in the world and can also include your spouse and dependents under the age of 18 in the program.
For more information contact the Immigration and Nationality Department of Belize, the Belize Embassy in Washington, D.C., or your local consulate in the U.S.

Many expats in Belize opt for the Qualified Retired Persons Program residency program in order to gain residency in Belize. To take advantage of this visa, you have to be at least 45 years old and have a monthly income of at least $2,000 from a pension or annuity (including Social Security) generated outside of Belize. Despite the name, you don’t necessarily have to be retired.

When dealing with the bureaucracy, it’s wise to get the advice from an experienced attorney. Questions about permanent residency should be addressed to the Ministry of National Security and Immigration at +(1)501-222-4620

*Prices as of 2013

Getting A Work Permit Visa

If you are not a permanent resident in Belize, you will need a work permit to legally work. Self-employment permits are by far the easiest to obtain, as you will most likely be viewed as someone with a business that will in fact create jobs and employ local Belizeans. General work permits must be applied for by your prospective employer. That employer will have to prove that they have been unable to find a current local resident to fill the position before a permit will be issued.

For more information, contact your nearest Belize Embassy

Embassies And Consulates In Belize

Belize Embassy in the U.S., 2535 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20008; tel. (202) 332-9636; fax (202) 332-6888; website: www.embassyofbelize.org.

 

Belize Consulate in Canada, Suite 100, 1122-8th Avenue SW, Calgary, Alberta T2P 1J5, Canada; tel. (403) 215-6072; fax (403) 264-8870

 

Expat Groups:

ExpatBelize is an Internet-based organization that provides information and services to expats.

 

Health Care (Hospital in Belize City):

Belize Medical Associates, 5791 St. Thomas Street, Kings Park, P.O. Box 1008, Belize City; tel. +501 223-0302; e-mail: bzemedasso@btl.net; website: www.belizemedical.com.

Business:

American Chamber of Commerce of Belize, P.O. Box 75, 5 1/2 Miles Western Highway, Cucumber Beach Marina, Belize City; tel. +501 222-4344; website: www.amchambelize.org.