Making it Legal In Belize: Visas, Residency and Border Crossings
There are several avenues to residing in Belize in the short or long term. Living here legally is fairly simple, actually…
Tourist Visa: Nearly everyone’s first trip to Belize has them arrive at an international airport or through a registered border crossing. Most visitors are from countries that don’t require any pre application for a one-month tourist visa which is stamped into your passport upon arrival.
This visa can be renewed monthly (if you can prove you can support yourself without working physically in Belize) for up to a year at an immigration office, for a US$25 renewal fee (this jumps to US$50 after six consecutive months in Belize.)
If you are of working age and/or can’t prove you can support yourself through savings or other means, pressure will begin to mount at the one-year mark. At this stage, you’ll need to formalize your status in Belize by either applying for a work permit, a volunteer visa, or getting a QRP or permanent residency.
Volunteer Visa: These visas are granted to people who come to Belize to assist a registered charity or to do unpaid social work. A local group will need to sponsor/endorse your application, and the terms can vary. You cannot work for pay in Belize while on this visa.
Qualified Retired Person Residency Visa: If you qualify, the QRP is the quickest and easiest route to permanent residency in Belize. If you are over 45 years old, are in receipt of a pension, annuity or regular payment of US$24,000 per year (or can show enough assets to prove you can properly support yourself), have a clean criminal record, and pass a medical check (HIV status is the only item really evaluated) you can be a Belizean resident.
The only stipulations are:
- You cannot physically work for pay while in Belize. You can work online for yourself or a foreign company, Work back home and return as you choose, or even own a Belizean Company that operates a Business in Belize (you can’t work in it directly though, you have to hire staff to do that).
- You must spend a month per year in Belize (concessions can be made for medical reasons sometimes)
- The required $24,000 must pass through a Belizean offshore or domestic bank to prove you have the funds available to support yourself. This does not need to stay or be spent in Belize, it can used locally or wired elsewhere if you wish.
The benefits are:
- Duty-free importation of a personal vehicle (not more than 3 years old). Customs duty on vehicles is high in Belize. For an 8-cylinder SUV you are looking at more than additional cost of 80% of the vehicles value in accumulated taxes and duty. This in itself usually far outweighs the cost of obtaining a QRP visa and can save thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in saved taxes. The vehicle can be upgraded every three years duty free if wished, but you must pay duty on the old vehicle at its depreciated value if you keep it or sell it on.
- Duty-free importation of all your household contents (not including consumables). This can save a significant amount of money in duty and also could get you much better value or much better quality furnishings or appliances than can sometimes be purchased back home. This includes anything you might reasonably expect to find in a home or garage, including all tools, appliances, furniture, mobility equipment, exercise machines, etc.
- Duty-free importation of a non-commercial boat.
- Duty-free importation of a non-commercial plane.
- Not having to go to Belmopan to renew your tourist visa every month. Renewing your visa involves people in the Cayo District traveling to Belmopan every month (50 miles from my house, roundtrip), standing in line (sometimes for hours) until you can see an immigration officer. If you are even a day late there can be a lot of aggravation or even expulsion from Belize.
- You receive an official Belize residency card showing your status. This makes dealing with certain matters in Belize easier, as you are seen as nearly half Belizean in the eyes of locals.
- It affords you local rates at all national archaeological sites and national parks, zoos, etc., and it affords you zero departure tax at the national borders, plus a 50% reduction of the departure tax at the national airport.
Work Permit: To work for pay in Belize you need a work permit, permanent residency, or citizenship.
Work permits are issued usually through two processes:
- A local company offers you employment and they apply on your behalf.
- Self Employed Application. These days, the avenue that seems most acceptable is either having the company apply for you, or incorporating your own Local 250 Company and having your company apply for your permit on your behalf.
There is no guarantee that you will be issued a work permit, especially if you are doing a job that a Belizean could be trained to do. Many people are issued a permit for a local company with the mandate that they will not be reissued a permit for the same role next year and they are to train a replacement in the meantime. This does not preclude you for applying next year for a role with a different title. This work permit restriction is particularly true of semi-skilled work.
However, there are many careers that we have back home that don’t even exist down in Belize… If you are not competing with the local labor force your application will be easier approved.
My friend was getting a lot of resistance on his work permit application until I noted that he had “builder’ as his job title. I pointed out that everyone and their donkey call themselves builders in Belize and that is probably directly competing with members of the immigration officer’s family if he approves that application.
He changed the job title to “Environmental Health Building Consultant” (which actually was his specialty) and got approval a month later.
You must renew your work permit every year, but after you have been issued a second work permit you can apply for permanent residency.
Permanent Residency: This visa allows you to live and work in Belize forever. Once you have it, you keep it for life (unless you are caught trafficking in antiquities or there is some other major transgression discovered).
Permanent residency is the most difficult for of visa to achieve, in fact, in certain ways it is more difficult to achieve than citizenship. The biggest hurdle for most people is that at the time of application you must have resided legally in Belize for the previous 12 months and only been abroad for 12 nights in that 365 days.
Other parts of you application include a means test, police interview and a background check.
Citizenship: After residing in Belize for five years or having had permanent residency for five years, you can apply for Belizean citizenship. This process involves an interview and a nationality exam.
Once you hold a Caricom (Caribbean Community) passport, you can live and work anywhere in the Caricom single market as a citizen.
Border Crossings: Many people like to take weekend excursions into neighboring countries for a change.
Some love to head a little over the northern border to Chetumal, the capital of the Mexican state, Quintana Roo. There you find malls and stores, restaurants, and cafés, even a Sam’s Club and other venues you might miss from time to time.
Similarly, Melchor is a small Guatemalan town over the border at Benque in the west. This day trip destination is usually popular with local wives looking for cheap clothing stores and necessities, and among the husbands who like to sample the beer selections not legally available in Belize. Further past the border you find the scenic old town of Flores, which is nestled on an island on Lake Peten Itza.
Some of the more adventurous of us catch the five-hour water taxi from Southern Belize to Honduras.
No matter where you go, you’ll have to pay an exit tax out of Belize of BZ$37.50 (US$18.75) and be stamped out of the country (until you get a form of legal residency).
When you return to Belize you are legally required to declare anything you have bought on the trip of value and pay duty on it. Some people like to “under-declare” their purchases… with varying results.
Come to Belize, have fun, and become Belizean if you like!