For retirees, semi-retirees, and wannabe retirees, Belize is an easy country to adopt as your next home. Unlike most countries, there’s no real time limit on your tourist visa; you can stay as long as you like without seeking residency, as long as you follow a few rules…
Although Belize only allows you to stay for 30 days with your first tourist visa, it can be renewed indefinitely. Changes in the popular Qualified Retired Person’s (QRP) visa program could mean the simple tourist visa is the best choice for you.
That said, most airlines won’t allow you into Belize (or any country) without a return ticket out. If you don’t intend on flying out again before your tourist visa expires, a bus ticket across the border will suffice. Or you could purchase a refundable ticket out and cancel it once you’re in the country.
No one I know has ever been turned away when entering Belize, but your passport must not expire within six months of your arrival if you intend to have your tourist visa extended (or seek residency).
The extension used to be for an extra month only, meaning anyone who looking to stay long-term on the extension option had to make trips to an immigration office to renew their stamp. The cost was modest, BZ$50 (US$25) for the first six months, BZ$100 (US$50) for the last six months of the year.
Now, however, you can renew for up to three months, and the immigration center at the Guatemalan border has begun to process renewals, making it even easier for Cayo residents. There are several other offices that process renewals throughout the country, though they may not allow you to renew there if you don’t live in their district—it depends entirely on the officer.
Like everything in Belize, this is all subject to change without notice… I heard about the three-month possibility a year ago only to find out it is was eliminated, apparently because taxi drivers and mom-and-pop restaurants servicing those visiting the immigration offices monthly complained about the decrease in traffic to their businesses.
In any case, the three-month renewal option is back, and a two-month renewal is now also possible (I received mine last week). And in a burst of bureaucratic modernization, the extension stamp has been replaced by a sticker that takes up half a passport page.
The Belmopan immigration office has moved to a modern, air-conditioned building. Appointments are available by phone, but a friend of mine called for four days straight without the phone being answered once. Avoid this hassle by going to the customer service window right after receiving your stamp to scheduling your next appointment and avoid waiting in line.
I renewed my visa by going to Benque Viejo del Carmen on the Belizean side of the border with Guatemala. The hardest part of the process was figuring out what window to go to. I stood in line at three different windows before discovering that a door marked “Authorized Persons Only”—the only door in the building I didn’t open—was the office I was looking for all along.
While one of my neighbors waited a long time for his sticker, my process was quick. I recommend arriving 15 minutes after they open.
“How long do you want to stay in Belize?” Officer Romero asked me.
“Six weeks,” I responded. He gave me two months.
I was in and out in 30 minutes or less, including the time I spent wandering around both the immigration and emigration sides of the building.
After being in the country legally for 12 months, you’re eligible to apply for permanent residency. There are the usual bureaucratic requirements, like a BZ$25 (US$12.50) police report, lab tests with negative HIV or syphilis results, and proof that you can support yourself.
There is one immutable condition: You must remain in-country for 50 weeks out of the previous 52. Exceptions for business or medical reasons may apply, but only to extend your allowed absence by a week or two. For a semi-retired person who travels outside of Belize for work, this is the death knell for obtaining permanent residency, with the exception of the temporary residency.
Even for those with 50 weeks’ presence in Belize, permanent residency does not come quickly. A friend of mine who managed to stay in the country for the full 50 weeks applied in June 2018 and hadn’t received his residency in March this year when I last checked with him. In the meantime, he continues to renew his tourist visa.
A new temporary residency option was recently introduced. It has the same requirements as permanent residency, except a financial contribution of BZ$500,000 (US$250,000) is required and the 50-out-of-52-weeks requirement is waived. The investment in Belize can be your residence (documented by deed and assessment of house’s value) or a business, which requires additional documentation. This temporary residency permit is the only way around the in-country time requirement.
Temporary residency (which also has a fee of BZ$2,000, US$1,000, per year) does make you eligible for permanent residency after a year. Temporary residency renewal for another BZ$2,000 may be required, though.
Like the QRP program, time spent as a temporary resident does not count towards the five-year residency requirement to become a Belizean citizen and obtain a passport. In other words, if you go the temporary residency route, your in-country clock begins after you receive permanent residency.