Retiring To Belize With QRP
With everything going on in the world right now, your mind may be drifting to thoughts of escape.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a safety net?
Here’s one, in a beautiful, English-speaking retirement haven in the Caribbean.
Ten years ago, the government of Belize, a tiny nation at the intersection of Central America and the Caribbean, enacted legislation to allow Qualified Retired Persons (QRP’s) to obtain permanent residency in their country. In many ways, this program is the most efficient route to foreign residency anywhere in the Americas.
Furthermore, you can enjoy the benefits of being a QRP even if you spend as little as two weeks a year in Belize. Or, if you want, you could become a full-time resident. Right now, running away to a new life in the Caribbean doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.
Belize’s QRP program offers not only the equivalent of a U.S. Green Card to foreign residents aged 45 and older, but it also grants a host of other incentives designed to encourage foreigners to come and bring their money. These incentives include a permanent exemption from any Belize taxes, including income tax, capital gains tax, estate tax, and import tax on household goods, automobiles, boats, even airplanes.
The only requirements for the program are that you or your spouse be 45 years of age or older, that you consider yourself to be retired, and that you show that you have at least US$2,000 a month in income to support yourself in Belize. While pension income can be shown to meet the last requirement, the easiest way to prove financial means is simply to deposit a minimum of US$24,000 into a Belizean bank account.
In practical terms, the “consider yourself to be retired” requirement means that, as a QRP, you can’t apply for a work visa. This is not to say that you can’t do international, internet, or even local Belize business as an entrepreneur. You just can’t take on traditional “employee” work. And, indeed, Belize offers a world of opportunity for the would-be entrepreneur.
Here’s the important point right now: The QRP program is under pressure. The original law allowed for up to 20,000 QRP retirees. This cap has been reached, and, in this country of only 270,000 people, the number of QRPs is significant.
In last spring’s national elections, the then opposition UDP took the position that the program should be ended and, in particular, that the tax incentives should be eliminated.
Now the UDP government is struggling. Should they continue a program that generates fee income and bank deposits and that directly and indirectly creates jobs in the housing and tourism industries…or should they keep their campaign promise and phase out the QRP legislation?
No matter how the debate resolves itself, it is likely that new QRPs, once the new resolution is reached, won’t enjoy all the benefits of current QRPs. Folks who get in under the current program will maintain all their privileges, regardless of any future changes or even if the program is eliminated altogether. The benefits are, essentially, a contract between the individual retiree and the government of Belize, and the contract cannot be unilaterally altered by any future Belize government.
That is what happened in Costa Rica, for example. Initially, an attractive retirement residency was created. Then, over time, the benefits were reduced until, now, they are have been all but eliminated. The difference is that, in Costa Rica, existing pensionado retirees weren’t grandfathered. When the pensionado program was eliminated, so were their benefits.
Insiders think this issue will come up in the Belize National Assembly after the year-end holidays. That leaves just about 90 days to submit an application under the current law and to receive all the current benefits.
Even if you are not contemplating retiring for one, three, or even, say, five years, this is the time to apply and to lock in the benefits of the current QRP law. Once you’ve qualified, a two-week holiday in Belize each year will maintain your QRP residency status while you work toward your ultimate retirement plan.
In fact, this program can work well for you not only if your ultimate plan is to retire to Belize…but also if your plan, simply, is to travel and move around in retirement. If you are a U.S. citizen, this Belize QRP program is an opportunity to qualify as non-resident in the States for tax purposes. You could spend a few months a year in the U.S….maybe winter in Central or South America…then do a little traveling in Europe or Asia…remembering to spare a couple of weeks from your globetrotting to visit Belize.
Under these circumstances, the benefits of the QRP program could be significant, especially if you have active business income from outside the States. In this case, as a non-resident, you could exempt your first US$87,600 in foreign-earned income, along with a housing allowance of approximately US$12,500, not only from Belize tax, but also from U.S. federal tax.
This stuff gets really complicated really fast, so you’ll need help and guidance. Bottom line, though, Belize QRP status can be the foundation for an effective tax-reduction, maybe even tax-elimination strategy.
For nearly 15 years, I’ve worked with a U.S. attorney focused on international tax-planning and asset-protection strategies named Joel Nagel. Joel has been helping people take advantage of the benefits of Belize’s QRP program since its inception. In an effort to help Live and Invest Overseas readers interested in exploring this residency and tax-planning option, he has teamed up with a Belize immigration firm to provide full and efficient fast-track assistance.
Furthermore, Joel has negotiated a special package discount. Firms in Belize charge US$10,000 and up to as much as US$25,000 per person for this kind of fast-track service. For 90 days, though, through the start of the year, when the Belize National Assembly is expected to take up this QRP question, Joel can help you organize your QRP residency status for only US$4,350 for an individual and only US$5,150 for a couple.
This special couple rate is truly extraordinary. Some Belize firms charge simply two times the individual rate for a couple.
The timing for this opportunity is fortunate. Belize QRP status could be an important part of your long-term retirement plan…and of your right-now safety net.
FROM THE MAILBAG:
“I’ve been skulking around on the web trying to find information on retiring in Vietnam, Saigon in particular. I’ve found web pages that say it’s safe and cheap and that there is no animosity toward Americans these days. On the other hand, I also have heard that our government will not send Social Security payments to that country?”
— Reader in the United States
“The easiest way to receive your Social Security abroad is to have it direct deposited into a U.S. bank account,” responds our man Lief Simon. “Then you can access the funds using your ATM card.
“I visited Vietnam a couple of years ago and found that the Vietnamese actually like Americans…especially in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). When I was there, everyone was friendly, and their English is pretty good and understandable (especially when compared with the English of, say, Thai people).
“I don’t know about full-time retirement in this country, though. It may be possible, but I’d guess that residency visas aren’t easy to come by.”
“Unfortunately, my life as I knew it is falling apart around me. However, your e-letter has been helping me to stay calm and focused, especially Paul Terhorst’s column saying I could just move somewhere else. I’m working on that.”
— Ellen S., United States
We wish you all the best, dear reader, as you work through the current troubled times. Remember, you’re not alone.
“I am wanting any information about Big and Little Corn Islands in Nicaragua. I like my fishing and am looking for a place for vacation and maybe retirement.”
— Jeff L., United States
“Although it’s two years since I visited the Corn Islands,” writes Editor-in-chief of our new Overseas Retirement Letter Lynn Mulvihill, “I doubt much has changed. These timeless islands make for a wonderful escape-from-it-all vacation. Stop here long enough, and you can’t help but slow down. Waiting an hour, for example, for lunch to be served is the norm…but your patience is rewarded. The food on these little outposts of civilization–especially the seafood–is first class.
“Though the islands get their share of tourists, they’re relatively undiscovered compared with other Caribbean islands. Accommodation is basic, but, for as little as US$15 a night, you could swing for hours in your hammock overlooking the white sands and turquoise waters.
“Fishermen aren’t disappointed. You can fly-fish from shore…or take a boat trip out for a few hours of sport fishing. Divers and snorkelers are well-cared-for, too.
“Though Big Corn is worth a visit, I’d recommend spending more time on Little Corn. With no roads (and hence no cars), it’s cleaner, quieter, has better beaches, and feels safer. Big Corn has a reputation for drug smuggling. We met a few interesting characters during our brief stay, and it didn’t feel so safe at night. It’s also ridden with stray dogs and an unusually high number of taxis per capita.
“If you would be comfortable living on a remote, tropical island, Little Corn could certainly make an appealing retirement option. Visit first, though. I recommend Casa Iguana for a true island experience. Have lunch at the Cuban restaurant, Barra Intel Habana Libre, about a 10-minute walk from the landing dock on the island’s west side. Try the shrimp salad.”