Belize is an entire country that feels like a small town. Never is this more evident than during La Ruta Maya. The scenes at end-of-day village checkpoints are like big family reunions. Campsites are pitched, Belikin beer tents are set-up, local specialties are prepared over open fires, and children run and play, in the river and on its banks. The starting point, San Ignacio, is in Belize's Cayo District, the fastest-growing region in the country. This is the country's eco-adventure hub, with all the elements of a fun and sustainable lifestyle—plenty of fertile land, fresh water, sunshine, and wildlife, all supporting a friendly community of hard-working Belizeans and expats. Cayo is also home to Carmelita Gardens, the first master-planned, off-grid, sustainable gardening community in Belize. Carmelita Gardens is located near the start of the race, so the paddlers will be fresh as they pass through the community on the morning of Friday, March 6. To mark the occasion, Carmelita Gardens is sponsoring a March Harvest Tour (March 5–7). Participants will be able to cheer on the competitors in person, while also exploring both the Cayo District and the Carmelita property. In addition, you'll have a chance to speak with expats and Carmelita owners in residence about their experiences reinventing their lives in this unique spot. The three-day tour includes airport pickup, accommodation, meals, and ground transportation. The cost is US$399 per person, US$699 for a couple. If you'd like to know more, get in touch here. Jim Hardesty
Kathleen Peddicord P.S. Peter and Lief's remarks and recommendations for where and how to bank offshore in our post-FATCA world were recorded and are being edited now, along with the recordings of every other presentation from last week's meetings in Belize City. Together, this timely bundle of resources will create our new Wealth Building and Diversification Kit. Right now and for the next 72 hours only you can reserve your copy of this everything-you-need-to-know-to-diversify-offshore program pre-release for 50% off the regular price. This discount expires at midnight on Nov. 2.
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Belizeans are known for their hospitality. Plus, they all speak English, so new friendships are quickly and easily made. Corozal is home to an established and growing expat community, but this group is well integrated with the local Belizean community. Living here, how would you fill your days? Sailing around Sarteneja, horseback riding at Chan Chich, kayaking at Orchid Bay, fishing at Bacalar Chico, or bird watching at Crooked Tree Lodge, and you wouldn't ever lack for company, Belizean or expat, if you wanted it. While some expat retirees are prepared to be pioneers and carve a homestead out of the jungle or maybe plant a farm, most prefer to settle in a town (the three most appealing for expat retirees are Sarteneja, Corozal, and Orange Walk) or in one of the expat pockets developing in places like 4 Mile Lagoon and Gringo Lane. In recent years, planned communities have developed specifically with the foreign retiree in mind. Property taxes are miniscule in Belize. This is a plus on one hand, but it means that municipal services are thin on the ground. There just aren't funds to support them, thus the appeal of the organized and private communities that are evolving. These are places where you can enjoy a laid-back, bargain Caribbean lifestyle in Northern Belize while maintaining a North American standard of living. Retirees settling in this part of Belize are launching all manner of businesses, from restaurants, bars, and B&Bs to construction services and farming. Others are well and truly retired, choosing to spend their days deciding which book to read next or which restaurant to boat over to for lunch. Corozal (which is both a town and a district) maintains a Friendship List so expats can stay in touch and know what's going on. Every Wednesday, foreign retirees and residents meet at Jam Rock Restaurant for darts. One Thursday per month is the Corozal Women's Forum. Fridays are for Happy Hour and potluck dinners in expats' homes. The third Saturday of each month is Art in the Park, when local artists set up tables to display and sell their work. There's a local chapter of the Rotary Club, a Sailing Club, and Full Moon concerts in front of the Corozal House of Culture. Despite the growing expat influence and excluding most waterfront property, real estate in this part of the country is still priced for the Belizean market. This is unusual and likely won't continue much longer. The presence of foreign buyers eventually translates to pricing for foreign buyers. This hasn't happened yet, though, meaning a window of opportunity. As anywhere in the world, waterfront land is the highest priced and much more expensive than inland property. Still, the cost of waterfront in Northern Belize is a bargain compared with prices out on Ambergris and Belize's other cayes and an even greater bargain compared with values elsewhere in the Caribbean. It's possible to buy a sea-view lot for as little as US$30,000 or a small but turn-key casita in some of the development communities in the region for less than US$200,000. Also recently on the market was a seafront house in Sarteneja built to U.S. standards on 1 acre of land and listed for US$299,000. Inland you can find larger properties suitable for farming. If this idea interests you and you're willing to dig deep and talk to the locals, you can find land for as little as US$1,000 per acre. Belize Correspondents Phil Hahn and Jim Hardesty are working on a complete guide to living, retiring, and owning property in Northern Belize to be featured in the December issue of my Overseas Retirement Letter. Stay tuned. Kathleen Peddicord P.S. Phil and Jim will also be joining us for our Live and Invest in Belize events in January 2015. Details are here.
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Maybe you've noticed that there are no foreign franchises, including no fast-food franchises, operating here in Belize City. That's a remarkable thing in today's world...until you remember that historically Belize City just hasn't been home to enough population to support a lot of trade. I understand that McDonald's is finally planning to open its first restaurant here. I wish them luck. Some countries restrict foreign investment in retail activities. A non-Panamanian can't open a shop in Panama, for example, where retail is "protected." Professions such as doctors and lawyers are also restricted to Panamanian citizens. One way to choose where to locate your business would be based on incentives. Many countries have free trade zones, for example, where you can bring stuff in, process it, and then export it tax-free. Panama has the Colon Free Trade Zone. Belize has several established zones but also allows you to set up your own free trade zone if you want. If you wanted to start some business that needed to be in a particular part of Belize (because of localized supply of materials or labor, for example), you could apply to establish your own free trade zone in that spot. Same in Nicaragua. In fact, if your interest is export—that is, an operation where you're not selling locally but would be creating jobs—you'll find that most countries offer benefits to help. Another business incentive to consider is residency. Many countries offer residency visas to anyone interested in starting a business, thereby creating jobs, in the country. Colombia, for example, has an attractive and affordable start-a-business, get-a-visa program. The minimum investment requirement is only US$33,300. Panama has a business investor visa, too, but it, by comparison, requires you to invest at least US$160,000 and to employ at least three Panamanians. Tourism-based businesses are often incentivized, and many countries have government agencies that are specifically focused on developing foreign investment in tourist-related activities—hotels, dive shops, whatever. In Nicaragua, for example, the group is ProNicaragua. The incentives are typically to do with taxes—a ten-year tax exemption, say, giving you a nice window during which you can reinvest proceeds in growing your business without having to skim anything off the top to pay your tax bill. Kathleen and I left the States years ago to start a business in Waterford, Ireland. Why Waterford? Because that was one of three markets the Irish Development Agency (IDA) was focused on developing. By agreeing to base our business in Waterford, we qualified for both a reduced rate of corporate tax and cash incentives for every Irish employee we hired up to 15. Those were nice perks, and definitely they were the reasons we chose Waterford. However, we had targeted Ireland based on bigger-picture agendas. We wanted to be in Europe, for personal reasons, and we identified Ireland as a low-cost place to operate the kind of business we intended to operate. Our first years running our publishing business in Ireland, our labor cost was less than half what it would have been in the States. The easiest kind of business to operate offshore is a one-man (or -woman) virtual show. A consultant or a writer, for example, can run his business from the beach in Panama, the mountains of Argentina, or a country village in France. If you intend a virtual business that requires staff, then, as with a bricks-and-mortar operation, some places make more sense than others and some places don't make sense at all. We don't recommend starting or basing a business in France, period, unless you just really want to live in France. As a doing-business choice, this country belongs at the bottom of any list (thanks to the cost of doing business, the labor laws, the bureaucracy, and the taxes). Panama is perhaps the best place in the world to base a virtual business that requires staff. That's why we're in Panama City right now. When we decided to launch the Live and Invest Overseas business seven years ago, we knew we'd have to move from France. We chose to relocate to Panama because of its affordable English-speaking labor force, its business infrastructure (banking, Internet, etc.), and its jurisdictional approach to taxation. Organize your operation correctly, and you can run a business in Panama tax-free. Once you've decided where to base your offshore business, your next challenge is to develop the infrastructure it will require. Where will you bank? How will you move money around to where it needs to be? How will you process orders? How will you and your staff get paid? The answers to these questions differ depending on what kind of business you want to operate and in what country you decide to base it. Again, we chose Panama in part because we knew it provides the kind of infrastructure we'd need. Open up a Panama corporation, and you'll be able to open a Panama bank account to support without much trouble. One key piece of the infrastructure we require for our business in Panama is a merchant account. When we launched the business, we weren't able to get one; however, after a couple of years and a track record, we were finally approved. What did we do in the meantime? We used PayPal. We worried initially that this might limit our ability to sell. Would our customers find it odd that the only way they could purchase from us was through PayPal? Maybe it reduced our trade some; we'll never know. But it meant we were able to be in business and to build the track record, again, that we needed to be approved eventually for a merchant account. The other big-picture item you need to address is employees. If I had to name just one reason why we chose to build our business in Panama rather than Europe, it'd be employees. Labor laws around the world favor the employee over the employer much more so than they do in the United States, and nowhere is this truer than in France. In the United States, you can operate on a hire-at-will, fire-at-will basis. As one U.S. attorney we used to work with put it, "You can fire someone because you don't like the color of his tie." Try that in France. You can't fire a guy in France even if you've got video footage of him stealing from you. Things are a little better for the employer in Panama. We've had to fire several people over the past six years, and, in each case, we were able to do it with minimal wear and tear. Bottom line, you pay them off. The other thing to know about employees in some countries is that you pay them for 13 months of work every year. In Panama, for example, everybody gets one month of vacation each year...and a "13th-month" bonus equal to one month's pay. You just factor it into your cost of doing business... Lief Simon P.S. Today's essay is excerpted from Lief Simon's "Doing Business Offshore" presentation at last week's Global Asset Protection and Wealth Summit, in Belize City. The complete audio recording of this talk, as well as every other presentation from the two-and-a-half days of this special event, are being edited and bundled to create our new Wealth Building and Diversification Kit. You can reserve your copy of this everything-you-need-to-know-to-go-offshore bundle here now pre-release for 50% off the regular price. This discount remains in effect through Sunday, Nov. 2 only.
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Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.
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