Residency In Belize

No, No, They’re Not Doing Away With The World’s Most User-Friendly Residency Program…In Fact, They’re Thinking Of Expanding It

“Rumors have been circulated that the QRP program is to be discontinued,” began our host. “That’s not the case at all. The truth is, there’s a good chance the program will be expanded.”

Belize’s decade-old Qualified Residency Program (QRP) is perhaps the most user-friendly residency option in the world right now. Show the Belize government that you can support yourself in the country, and the Belizeans will roll out the welcome mat for you. As a QRP, you receive the Belize equivalent of a U.S. Green Card. At the same time, you are exempt from import tax on household goods, your automobile, your boat, even your airplane (should you have one!), when you bring them into the country.

Specifically, to qualify, you or your spouse must be 45 years of age or older, and you must show that you can meet the minimum income requirement of US$2,000 per month. Pension income can be shown to fulfill this financial requirement, or you can simply deposit a minimum of US$24,000 at the start of each year of residency into a Belize bank account.

The other requirement for QRP residency is that you “consider yourself to be retired.” Like everything in Belize, this stipulation is open to interpretation. Bottom line, to date, it has meant that you can’t apply for a work visa. This is not to say that QRP residents can’t do international or Internet business, and many do. Belize offers a world of opportunity for the would-be entrepreneur. (We’ll explore specific current business opportunities during our Live & Invest in Belize Conference in Belize City in June.)

“The talk now, though,” continued the retired and very well-connected British Army logistics officer who had invited for drinks in Belize City yesterday afternoon, “is of expanding the program to allow some QRP residents to work.

“The government is very committed to this program and recognizes the flow of both capital and developed world expertise it brings to the country. That’s why they’re considering an option that would allow QRP residents with particular skills to obtain work permits.”

Furthermore, you don’t have to live full-time in Belize to enjoy the benefits of being a QRP. Originally, the physical presence requirement for the QRP was two weeks. This has been increased to four. But, again, remember, this is Belize. Everyone in the country we spoke with last week, when pressed on this particular, responded to say, “Ah, well, the truth is, no one is going to check. Two weeks…four weeks…no one is really keeping track.”

“What they will track,” offered friend Ann Kuffner, herself a QRP resident in Belize for two years, “is your income. As long as you’re bringing the US$2,000 into the country each month (or the US$24,000 each year), you’re fine.”

For Americans, the situation can be complicated. As a QRP, you’re exempt from any tax burden in Belize, but, if you’re spending more than 35 days physically present in the United States each year, you’re still liable for an annual tax payment to Uncle Sam. You don’t have to be physically resident in Belize to qualify for the QRP tax benefits…but you’ve got to be somewhere. And you can’t claim the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (thereby exempting yourself from tax on your first US$91,500 of income each year) if that somewhere is within U.S. borders.

Intrepid Correspondent Paul Terhorst isn’t physically present in any country long enough to have to worry about the tax implications. His perpetual retiree lifestyle has a great deal to recommend it. Spend a few months a year in Belize…a few months a year in Argentina…a few months in Thailand…a few months a year in France…etc. If you’re an American, return home to the States for a couple of weeks here, a couple of weeks there, to visit family, but don’t stick around long enough for the IRS to claim a share of your income.

Belize is flexible in all things, including foreign residency, happy for you to come and go largely as you like (as long as US$2,000 is landing in your Belize bank account each month). I have to say, though, that, having spent the past week rediscovering life in this country, I can think of far less appealing places to spend time, certainly far less appealing places to live tax-free.

Kathleen Peddicord