Belize has long attracted retirees for its beautiful beaches, natural beauty, and friendly, English-speaking locals. Its proximity to the United States and Canada makes it a no-brainer for expats from up north… But does Belize make as much sense as a place to do business? From taxes to opening a bank account to internet and phone connections, here’s a list of things to consider before starting a business in Belize…
Belize is a tax haven. It doesn’t tax people on foreign earnings, making it a great location to run an online business from or to spend time in as a digital nomad.
U.S. citizens who work in or from Belize can avail of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. This allows you to earn US$112,000 tax-free this coming tax year.
|1.75% of gross turnover
Some variations are:
|Personal Income Tax (on wages)
|General Sales Tax
|Capital Gains Tax
|Tax On Dividends
|Nominal outside cities and towns; depends on the value of the land in your area
Starting a Business In Belize or to operate a business within a town or city limits, you need a trade license. Businesses operating rurally or in villages don’t require one. Foreigners usually open a local 250 company to operate their businesses.
The most common licenses required are:
- Food handlers’ licenses: All kitchen staff require food handlers’ licenses from the Department of Health.
- Liquor licenses: Issued by the Belize Tourist Board if you want to manage rentals through online booking sites, including Vrbo.
- Hotel licenses or Airbnb license: Issued by the Belize Tourist Board if you want to manage rentals through online booking sites, including Vrbo.
- Central Building Authority permit: All new buildings in Belize require a CBA permit, as do those being retrofitted for tourism use. Buildings under 93 square meters don’t require engineer-certified drawings but buildings over 93 square meters do. You must apply through the CBA and pay an application and acceptance fee when approved.
- Gun licenses: Residents can apply for hunting permits without much issue and can, with reason, apply for a single sidearm license. You won’t be allowed a gun collection.
Opening A Bank Account
Before starting a business in Belize, until you get some form of Belize residency, you won’t be able to open a personal domestic bank account. You’ll only be able to open an account with the offshore banks. Heritage Bank, which is nationwide, and Caye International Bank on Ambergris Caye are now the most active offshore banks.
If you want a local Belize-dollar bank account as a non-resident, you must form a local company and have that company open a bank account.
Once you’re a legal resident of Belize, you can open a personal Belize-dollar account. Moving money from abroad to a local bank account and using your local ATM card is cheaper in the long run. I recommend Atlantic Bank as the best local bank.
Here’s a breakdown of what you’ll need to open a bank account in Belize:
- Two bank references or one bank and one professional reference, detailing how long the referee has known you, what profession they know you to be in, and something about your good character.
- Your passport.
- Proof of address.
- Completed application forms, available from the bank.
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Paying bills is easy if you have a domestic bank account, as you can do everything online.
Even without a local bank account you can pay bills with a debit card through the Atlantic Bank website or at Courts Belize (a furniture and electronics store found across the country).
There are cash machines in all the towns and many gas stations around the country, from which you can withdraw cash from your foreign cards.
Foreign credit and debit cards are widely accepted but travelers’ cheques are not.
The Belize dollar is pegged 2:1 to the U.S. dollar. All merchants will gladly accept prized U.S. dollars as payment.
Wiring money into a Belize domestic dollar bank account incurs a less-than 1% central bank fee.
The black market money-changing trade is lively in Belize. Many local businesses want foreign currency and will sometimes pay a premium of up to 7% for clean U.S. notes or wire transfers.
Getting a cell phone is easy in Belize.
It’s cheaper to bring an unlocked phone from the States than to buy a new phone in Belize. You can buy phones locally from phone companies and electronic stores around the country, this is key if you want to start a business in Belize using your smartphone as a sales tool.
The two network providers are DigiCell, part of the national phone group BTL, and Smart Telecom—my preference.
There are a variety of phone and data plans to choose from, some for less than US$20 per month. You’ll need ID, proof of address, and a deposit to set up an account if you’re non-resident.
Cell phone coverage is good around all towns and villages but can get patchy in the border areas and in the Mennonite settlements.
Central TV & Internet offers unlimited high-speed internet in most parts of Belize. Computer Ranch in Spanish Lookout in the Cayo District can provide Canadian Satellite TV and internet.
Standalone home internet plans start at US$39 per month. Internet and cable packages start at US$65 per month for high-speed internet and 120 channels, plus on-demand options.
Broadband and cable services in remote areas aren’t guaranteed. Mobile data can be bought from the local phone companies, but this can get expensive if you use a lot of bandwidth.
Belize Work Permits
If you want to seek employment or to operate a business in Belize and don’t have residency or QRP exemption, you’ll need a work permit. A Belizean business will need to sponsor you, or you’ll need to incorporate a Belize company, register it with the tax services, and hire yourself as an employee.
Work permits cost US$1,500 for U.S., Canadian, and U.K. citizens and US$2,000 for EU citizens.
The Ease Of Doing Business In Belize
The pace of starting a business in Belize is slow in Belize. It’s astounding how some seemingly huge hurdles can be surmounted, and then the next day, some small matter can hold up operations infuriatingly.
It’s healthier to just accept longer timelines and logistics chains than you’re used to back home. Also, the overall economy is small, and unless you’re export-oriented, there’s a natural size limit to businesses supplying services locally.
That said, with high-speed internet, lower wage costs, and growing tourism numbers, there are business niches that can be capitalized on in the local market.