While Belize’s QRP (Qualified Retired Persons) visa gets a lot of press, changes in the program are making it less attractive to expats… especially those already in Belize. A number of expats I know are letting their QRP status lapse.
The QRP visa is basically a dressed-up tourist visa. As such, it is administered by the Belizean Tourist Board (BTB), not the Immigration Department. The Immigration Department, however, does issue the official laminated cards, which is the BTB’s justification for why QRP visas are often not available until March despite the annual deadline for renewal being Dec. 15.
To qualify for QRP, you must be 45 years of age or older and in good health (proven by medical exam in Belize) and you must be able to show a monthly income of at least US$2,000. You must also spend 30 days per year in Belize (some government sources state that the 30 days must be consecutive; others simply say 30 days per year).
For US$1,200 in fees, QRP gives you “official status” in Belize—you can access Belizean lines at immigration, pay less tax when flying out of the country, and not have to worry about getting a monthly passport stamp… but not much else.
The biggest advantages have to do with import duties. As a QRP, you can import all of your household goods into Belize within 12 months of receiving QRP status duty-free, and you can bring a car into the country every three years, again, duty-free.
You must renew QRP status annually for a US$50 fee.
To qualify in the first place you can either wire your US$2,000 every month, incurring monthly fees, or you can send US$24,000 at once at the start of each year.
If you’re planning to move to Belize with your household goods, then becoming a QRP can save you a considerable amount.
However, once they have moved their goods into the country, more and more expats I know are asking why they should bother with renewing their status. It does allow you to import a new car (5 years old or less) every three years and to avoid the monthly tourist-stamp dance, but it also requires you to make two trips to immigration each year to submit your annual QRP application and to pick up your QRP card when it’s ready.
In addition to renewal hassles, restrictions on QRP holders are growing more stringent every year. A few years ago, expats were allowed (and even encouraged) to start or own businesses, in which they could play a supervisory role. This potentially benefitted Belize in terms of employment, expertise, and increased tax revenue. That’s not only no longer allowed, but now QRP holders can’t profit in any way from their investments in Belize.
You have a guest room in your house and you’d like to Airbnb it? Not only would the associated income be taxed, but earning it could cause you to lose your QRP status.
If you decide to go apply for QRP status (again, because you intend to import household goods and a car into the country with you… really the only reason to pursue this residency option), then I have two pieces of advice for you…
First, while the website states that the BTB guarantees it will process your application within three months, six-month delays or longer aren’t uncommon. I recommend, therefore, that you begin the application process six months before your intended arrival… and then follow up on it regularly by phone. Otherwise, you risk not having the status in place in time to allow for the duty-free importation of your goods.
Second, attorneys and ambitious expats will offer to handle the QRP process for you for substantial fees. Their services are unnecessary. Even if you engage professional help, you’ll be the one required to produce the required documents.
Though paying someone on the ground who knows the ropes to help at least means you’ll have a shoulder to cry on when the folks at BTB don’t return your phone calls…