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Belize: A Tax-Free Paradise
Formerly known as British Honduras, Belize is located on the east coast of Central America, in the center of the Caribbean, bordered by Mexico to the north, Guatemala to the west and south, and the Caribbean Sea to the east. With an area of 23,000 square kilometers, Belize is about ten times smaller than Great Britain, with a population of less than 330,000. The main population centers are the capital Belize City on the coast, Belmopan in the center of the country, and Corozal in the north near the border with Mexico.
The climate is subtropical, with an average annual temperature of 26 degrees Celsius (79 degrees Fahrenheit) and humidity cooled by refreshing sea breezes. Belize, however, is located in the Caribbean hurricane zone; hurricane season usually starts in June and lasts until November.
The cayes (pronounced keys), offshore atolls and the barrier reef are major tourist attractions in Belize. At 185 miles long, the barrier reef is the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. Cayes are islands and/or mangroves located between the mainland and the barrier reef, on the barrier reef and on or within the barrier reef perimeters of offshore atolls.
Dotted with palm trees, the island’s coves provide excellent opportunities for scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, boating, sailing, sailing, and sea kayaking, as well as providing habitat for nesting birds and turtles.
Belize is something of a racial and cultural melting pot. The ethnic composition is approximately 50% Mestizo (persons of both European and American ancestry), 25% Creole (descendants of African slaves and mostly British foresters), 10% Mayan (direct descendants of pre-colonial populations), 6% Garifuna (Carib, Arawak and Descendants of West African peoples) and 9% others. However, the country is racially harmonious, and while Christianity (both Catholicism and Protestantism) are the predominant religions, other religious beliefs are tolerated.
The British began settling in Belize in the 17th century, mainly to cut and export tropical hardwoods, especially mahogany. After a long period of disputed ownership between Spain and England, Belize became a British colony in 1871. The country became self-governing in 1964 and the country’s name was changed from British Honduras to Belize in 1973.
As a result of Belize’s historical ties to Britain, English is the official language (although Spanish, Creole, Garifuna and Mayan languages are widely spoken in the country) and the legal system is based on common law. These factors combine to make Belize a particularly suitable destination for retirees from English-speaking countries, especially when it comes to buying property, and it’s no wonder the country has become home to many British and American expats.
Economically, Belize has historically been dependent on sugar, but tourism now contributes significantly to GDP and there is a large financial services industry. Although the government of Belize has struggled to service high levels of sovereign debt and refinanced debt stock before the financial crisis, the country is economically stable. Aside from a long-running border dispute with neighboring Guatemala (which was decided in Belize’s favor by the UN in 1975), Belize is a peaceful country. Crime, especially gang-related street crime, is a problem, but it is limited to certain parts of Belize City. The threat of terrorism is low.
Belize’s currency is the Belize Dollar (BZD), pegged against the US Dollar at a rate of BZD2 to US$1. Most hotels, resorts, restaurants and tour operators will accept US currency, traveler’s checks or credit cards. However, be sure which dollar you pay in Belize!
Belize Qualified Retirees Incentive Program
The Belize Retirement Program was created specifically for people who want to live in Belize and can prove regular and consistent income from investment (abroad or in Belize), pension or other retirement benefits.
Advantages of the program
A major benefit of the scholarship program is that it exempts qualified retirees from paying all taxes and duties on all income from a source outside Belize, whether from employment or investment.
An added benefit is that all persons designated as Qualified Retirees are entitled to import their personal belongings and “approved vehicles” free of all import duties and taxes upon first entry into Belize. An approved vehicle includes a vehicle that is no more than three years old; Light aircraft weighing less than 17,000 kg (although aircraft owners are required to hold a valid private pilot’s licence); and any vessel used for personal purposes.
Program Requirements and Application Process
Anyone aged 45 and over from anywhere in the world can apply to become a qualified pensioner. Eligible individuals may enroll their dependents in the program. Dependents include spouses and children under 18 years of age. However, dependents under the age of 23 can be included in the application if they are studying at university.
Each application for the Scholarship Program will be reviewed by the Belize Tourism Board in collaboration with the Ministry of Homeland Security and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
Those interested in the program should submit completed applications to the Belize Tourism Board along with the following supporting documents:
Birth Certificate – A copy of the birth certificate for the applicant and each dependent
Marriage Certificate – Marriage certificate if married and dependent on spouse
Passport – Clear, notarized copies of the full passport (including all blank pages) of the applicant and all dependents. The copies must contain the passport number, the name of the manager, the number of sheets and the seal or stamp of the notary.
Proof of Income – An official statement from a bank or financial institution confirming that the applicant receives a pension or annuity of at least $2,000 per month; and a financial statement from a financial institution, bank, credit union or building society in Belize confirming that the applicant’s investment or deposit will generate a minimum of $2,000 per month or the equivalent of $24,000 per year.
Medical Examination – Applicants must undergo a full medical examination, including an AIDS test. A copy of the medical certificate must be attached to the application.
Photographs – Four recent front and four sided passport size photographs of the applicant and each dependent.
As stated above, the applicant must be able to demonstrate monthly income of not less than $2,000, which must be derived from a pension or annuity established outside of Belize. There are also a number of certification requirements, including:
When a company grants a pension, the company must prove that it has been operating for at least 20 years by providing proof of registration;
The pension granting company must certify that the pension, not less than US$2,000 per month, will be remitted to a reputable financial institution within Belize. This letter must be signed by the manager, president or legal representative of the company;
The company paying the pension must be certified by a Chartered Accountant independent of the company. This should verify the date of incorporation of the company and the authenticity of the above letter. He must also certify that the signed commitment in favor of the beneficiary is not less than $2,000 per month;
The applicant must submit two bank statements from the company sending the pension; and
The pension provider must provide a document detailing the pension scheme.
However, if the company sending the retirement income is considered a Fortune 500 company, they may be exempt from the second, third, and fourth requirements of the list above.
All applications are subject to a background check by the Ministry of National Security.
A non-refundable fee of $150 must be submitted with the application. An additional fee of $1,000 is payable upon acceptance into the scholarship program. There is also a $2,000 fee for issuing a Qualified Retired Person’s Residency Card. A fee of $750 is payable for each dependent admitted to the program. All such fees are payable to the Belize Tourism Board and may be paid in cash (USD), US banker’s check or US cashier’s check.
Additional information on Belize’s pension program, as well as other incentives designed to attract foreign investors to the country’s shores, can be found on the Belize Ministry of Tourism and Culture website.
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