“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain
The country of Belize ( formerly British Honduras) is the smallest of the Latin American countries. It is also the only Latin American country with only one ocean on its border. It is only slightly larger than the state of Massachusetts. To get an idea, it is about 180 miles long and 68 miles wide. So traveling from north to south takes about 10 hours driving. It has the lowest population density of any Latin country. The last census had the total population at just around 350,000 people. Its capitol is Belmopan.
For its population, Belize has a vast array of nationalities, which all seem to blend together in perfect harmony. The Maya Indians have been in this part of Latin America for thousands of years and continue to live here in small villages. Their culture and history along with the many Maya archaeological sights is one thing that sets Belize apart from its Latin America neighbors. Also present here are the Garifuna who have been in southern Belize since the 1800’s. They came by way of the island of St. Vincent in the Caribbean. There are the Mestizo’s who are a mix of Spanish and Maya. They are nearly 49% of the population. Creole’s are decendants of Scottish and English as well as African slaves. They are now 25% of the population. The Mennonite population in Belize is about 10,000. There are 8 different communities in Belize, mostly in the Cayo district. Other nationalities include Asian, Middle Eastern and Hispanic.
Mennonites in Belize Photo by Marcveraart (Flicker)
The official language of Belize is English. Some nationalities have their heritage language as a second but by and large all speak English.
The government of Belize parliamentary democracy, a Commonwealth realm, therefore a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The government is based on the British parliamentary system. The national assembly is composed of the House of Representatives and a Senate.
Belize has 6 districts. They include Belize, Cayo, Corozal, Orange Walk, Stann Creek and Toledo.
Weather in Belize is typical of Latin America. Two seasons, wet and dry. Wet is usually from middle of June through November and dry season is December through May. The higher in elevation the less heat, but the average day to day temp is around 85. Rain amounts differ from North to South. Much of the coastline in Belize is in mangroves which are similar to our Florida everglades. However there are pockets of beautiful sand beaches in Stann Creek. Belize is also well known for the Cayes (islands) which are located near the worlds second largest barrier reef. There are literally hundreds of small cayes. Only about 6 are well visited and of course the best known is Ambergris Caye .
Photo Courtesy of rharrison at Flicker
Belize does have hurricanes can be from June 1 until November 30. However they seem to happen only every 6 or 7 years. Belize has NEMO National Emergency Management Organization which does a good job alerting and evacuating when hurricanes are present. Most people living here on the coast have built their homes using hurricane reinforcement measures, which reduce the damage when hurricanes occur.
Healthcare in Belize is okay. It is very inexpensive compared to the US. Every region of Belize has a hospital. However, you must understand that this is a small country and the infrastructure for health care is lacking in areas outside of Belize City. Most expats, when finding they need a lot of care, go over the border into Mexico to Chetumal which is right across the northern border of Belize. This is a video on the new Sister City Hospital in Chetumal and what it will do for Belize.
The best hospital in Belize City is Karl Huesner Memorial, updated in 1995 it is the largest of the hospitals in Belize. Belize itself does not have any medical insurance policies, but encourages you to purchase international insurance. You can find more information here about the locations of Belize Hospitals.
As a side note, Belize also has a few nursing homes. However, most people who need that kind of care opt for in home care which runs around $150 a month.
You can drink the water in Belize in most places. However, most expats will have bottled water available for cooking.
Belize has good infrastructure for internet, cell phones and surprisingly mail service.
If you look at the US Dept of State site on Belize you will find they caution people about crime in Belize. However that is not the whole picture. Belize like any country has crime. In Belize most of that crime is in Belize City and is among the native people. Occasionally small petty crime can happen in outlying areas, but due diligence can be a great deterrent. Laws here are strictly enforced as well as punishments.
Sales tax in Belize is 12.5% for Goods and Services(GST). This applies to most but not all purchases and services. There are noted exceptions which can be found at Belize Tax. There is no income tax on income generated outside of the country. In addition there is no inheritance tax.
There are Permanent Visa’s that allow you to bring in your personal belongs duty free from another country.
Belizeans are the most unassuming and friendly people you will meet. They are forever waving hello and asking to help. They welcome Expats. It is easy to assimilate into the culture and activities here.
Current Economic Information for the Country of Belize
Belizeans do have their own currency, however it is tided to the USD. The exchange rate is two (2) Belizean dollars (BZD) per one (1) US dollar. American paper currency is widely accepted here but coins are not. You will receive your change in Belizean dollars and coins when making a purchase.
Their biggest industries include, tourism, garment production, oil, construction and food processing. Their agriculture products include bananas, cacao, cultured shrimp, fish, lumber, citrus. Their biggest export consumer is the Untied States at 35% and UK coming in second at 21%. Their GDP for 2011 was 2.5%. Inflation in 2011 was 1.9%.
British Honduras gained its independence from Great Britain in 1981 and officially became Belize. Belize has its own military force. The Belize Defense Force totals 1000 enlisted and has been around for 34 years. Their primary work now, is drug traffic monitoring and maintaining national security. The UK military maintains a training center in Belize . The United Kingdom has a High Commission in Belmopan, while Belize also has one in London. The links between the two countries are extremely secure.
Belize feels more like a Caribbean country in the spirit of its people and the laid back way of doing business. Things here change slowly, which is part of its charm and good natured citizens. Belize is a stable country and one which many expats make their home.
Because the country is so small, shopping in Belize is sparse. In Belize City there is a small selection of stores for clothing and furniture. There is also a larger supermarket called Brodies which has been the main market for years. Belize does not boast American fast food chains, large hardware stores, car dealers, variety stores, or large chain hotels. With the exception of Belize City, most shopping in the rest of the country is limited to local stores and shops. Resorts and hotels are usually small intimate locally owned places. Anyone wanting anything other than what is offered in Belize, usually travels to Chetumal where they even have a Walmart.
The country has been attracting expats from around the world and more so recently. Several large real estate developments have been in place for awhile, attracting even more investors to this paradise. Because this country speaks English, you will find that although there are expat communities, people have settled in all parts of this country because of its ease to settling in to the culture.
The Word Is Out — And a New Breed of Expat Is Quietly Finding Its Way to Safe Haven Belize
Little English-speaking Belize has always been popular for its reefs, ruins, rivers, and rain forests. It’s a country of stunning beauty and rich resources, dear to the hearts of sports adventurers, free spirits, and eco-travelers.
Now, a new breed of expat is making its way to Belizean shores. Software millionaires, doctors, financial planners, real estate agents, entrepreneurs, website geeks, bloggers, musicians, artists…
Plus people just like you and me…savvy, independent thinkers who are seeking out safety and freedom in this beautiful and welcoming English-speaking nation.
Not many people relocate to Belize City. Why? A number of reasons. No beach, dirty city, somewhat unsafe and all in all, other parts of the country are much more livable and beautiful. But to enter the country of Belize, you must fly into Belize City. So I thought I would put up a video to give you a peek at what Belize City looks like. It is the hub for the country, from shipping (export and import), fishing, transportation, business, cruise ship landing, international air arrival and all shipping commerce.
Photo Courtesy of halseike at Flicker
The destination for most vacationers to Belize is Ambergris Caye. It is the tourist hub of Belize. Situated offshore, Ambergris Caye (Island) is about 36 miles from shore. It is the largest of all the islands in Belize. Ambergris sits 1/2 mile from the 2nd longest barrier reef in the world and therefore is a very popular destination for divers as well as sport fishing. The Caye is 25 miles long and 1 mile wide. This island has many miles of beautiful sandy beaches. It is accessed by air and fast sea ferrries.
San Pedro is the main city with a population of around 4,000 with an additional 18,000 living on the rest of the island. Golf carts and bikes are the most popular transportation on this island. The pace of life here is slow even though San Pedro has all the necessities for a small city. Banks, grocery stores, small boutiques, hostels, hotels, coffee shops offer all the basic needs of most residents. If you need more than the basics, a water taxi is only about 1 1/2 hours into Belize City.
San Pedro boasts upscale condo developments as well as small neighborhoods of homes. The cost of living here is higher than in other parts of the country. But it is also a great place to become an entrepreneur and start a business.
You can find more at ambergriscaye.com. Some good videos on San Pedro and Ambergris Caye include:
Corozal Town is the capitol of the region of Corozal District and is located only 9 miles from the border with Mexico. It makes for a great location close to Chetumal for great shopping and health care. The population is around 10,000. It is a quiet town with good weather. This area gets far less rain than southern Belize. Located on Corozal bay, the waters are calm and clean.
This was one of the first parts of the country to draw expats. A real estate development began here over 40 years ago. The development of Conesejo Shores is just outside of town and on the ocean. As of this writing there are 85 homes and room for up to 350. I have personally been there and liked what I saw. The homes were on large lots with good views of the ocean. For those who want a nice expat community and love being on the water, this place should be on your list for a look. You can find out more at this website about Corozal. Or watch some videos about the town.
These two twin sister towns are in the Cayo District separated by the Macal river over a one lane suspension bridge. San Ignacio is located in a lush valley surrounded by tall pines. This small city is close to the Guatemala border(9 miles) and 70 miles to Belize City. These towns continue to draw expats wanting a cooler climate and simple way of life. This area attracts tourists who are interested in Eco Tourism and Maya history. Rivers, water falls, birding and kayaking are all popular pastimes in this region. And the valley and surrounding areas hold several Maya ruins, some of which are still being excavated.
The population of this area is about 53,000. This encompasses several small towns Calla Creek, Unitedville and including Spanish Lookout where over 3000 Mennonites are currently using their skills for farming and making modular homes.
San Ignacio’s climate is hot throughout the year. However they do have a cooler dry season from February to May. The rainy season lasts from June to November. Most residents here use only fans to cool down their homes and do not feel a need for air conditioners. Evenings usually cool off to allow for great sleeping.
The area has a good bus system, so there is no need to own a car. If you live in town most things are not more than a 5 minute walk to. No air flights are available here except for charter planes. The town has all the amenities you would need. This area has several small grocery stores, hardware, pharmaciesand two hospitals. In San Ignacio there is the San Ignacio Hsopital and in Santa Elena there is the La Loma Luz Adventist Hospital. San Ignacio also has a wonderful farmers market where you can get really good prices on.
This area has a lot of expats living here. There are several new housing developments in the works here, worth taking a look at. The cost of living here is low compared to San Pedro. Here are some videos on San Ignacio and Santa Elena area to give you an idea of how beautiful it is.
Placencia will always have a place in my heart. It is where I owned property for awhile in the Plantation Development outside of town. The beaches here are sandy and go on for 16 miles. The ocean is shallow and great for swimming and fishing.However that was back before the major developments happening now.
Placencia is the laid back version of San Pedro. Small (pop: 750) and quaint, Placencia sits at the tip of the peninsula, narrow across in some places with only a lot wide on both sides of the road. With the ocean on one side and the bay on the other make this town basically surrounded by water. Small hotels, B @ B’s, restaurants, fishing guides and tour companies cater to the tourists that come to spend lazy days here. For the resident, Placencia is far away from most shopping needs. However, Placencia does boast a local airport and now building a new international one, that can whisk you away to the big city where you can get anything you may need. Often expats will make lists of what they need and when someone ventures into the city, they do shopping for other locals and take turns providing this service to others.
The village is a small community of like minded people who love their seclusion but at the same time rally to help each other out when needed. Pretty much everyone knows everyone else in this small village. Crime here is petty. Although as more and more expats move here and build homes I am sure that theft will increase. And although housing prices here were once low they are ever increasing with the interest in living here.
The climate here is usually hot and humid. However the evening breezes from the ocean cool it down nicely to be able to sleep without air conditioning.
The town’s homes and businesses are painted bright Caribbean colors and the residents take pride in keeping the town clean.
There are other places in Belize that have smaller groups of expats living there. New developments around the area of Hopkins and Sittee include the new Mayacan Development. As the popular places start becoming more and more expensive you will find that budget minded expats will be seeking other alternatives with lower prices.
Cost of Living in Belize
The cost of living in Belize is rising. But that being said, it is still low compared to other countries including the United States. As in most countries there are several costs of living depending on where you live and whether you rent or own a home.
In San Pedro, you will find the highest prices because everything must be brought in by boat or plane. Plus homes and condos here are more as are rentals. I want to address the budget minded expat here only. You can always spend more if you have more, but what is important is how little you can live on comfortably.
A typical budget for 2 in San Pedro would be:
Electricity (inc. air conditioning) $210
Butane for cooking $50
Eating out $100
Health Insurance $320
Transportation (Bus or Taxi) $50
Misc medical expense $75
Misc expense $100
A typical budget for 2 in Cayo District-San Ignacio/Santa Elena:
Butane for cooking $20
Eating out $75
Health Ins $320
Misc medical exp $75
Misc exp $100
These are budgets for renting. Many people obviously want to purchase a home. Of course you wouldn’t have the rent in your budget, but you would add home insurance which is usually 2% of the value of the home. And of course you would pay property tax to Belize. This amount is however, usually small but worth mentioning.
Belize Home Purchase Information
Yes, you can own your own home in Belize and the land it is on. There are no restrictions here unlike many countries. Belize has many options for home ownership. There are condos, smaller typical Belize homes, large houses and interestingly enough manufactured homes. These are preconstructed homes that the Mennonites make and put together on your site. You can find out more about these great homes at Pletts Home Builders. I have personally stayed in one of these homes. They are very basic but fit the need of someone who wants to have a new home on a small budget. Most homes range from $10,000-$18,000 including setup.
When you buy a home here you must pay a stamp tax of 5% of the sale amount over $10,000. So for a $150,000 home the tax would be $7000. You would also pay your attorney for doing the sales agreement and other documents. That usually runs around 1-2%.
Photo Courtesy of Isaac Peterson at Flicker
If you are purchasing a newly constructed home/condo, you must pay an additional tax (GST) which is 10%. This also applies to any purchase of a “substantially renovated property”. This means that more than 60% of the property has been renovated.
Title insurance is also available for around 1%, however most people do not get it.
You can get a mortgage for about 20% down if you are a resident. If you are not, it will be impossible to get a mortgage at any Belize bank.
In Belize property tax rates are paid once a year in April. Generally, undeveloped land is taxed between 1- 1.5% of its value. Land with homes are taxed less. For instance a 4 bedroom would only pay about $200US a year for property tax. The taxes are assessed by Commissioner of Lands and Surveys generally when a property changes title or undeveloped land gets built on.
Belize homes do not have heat, some do not have hot water. Most all do have cisterns for their water supply and use some type of rain catchment system. You can also have the bottling water company Crystal, deliver bottled water to your home. Septic tanks are the norm here also. Your butane will be delivered by truck to your home.
Belize electricity or “current” is fairly expensive here. At least 40% comes from Mexico.
Country of Belize Residency Requirements as of July 2012
There are basically 3 ways to live in Belize. All are fairly easy compared to other countries. I will try to do a summary of each here and keep this page updated with any changes. As I said there are 3 ways to live in Belize but only 2 ways to have legal residency. All must be applied for in the country of Belize.
For many this way of living in a country works. You come to Belize and when you enter the country you get your passport stamped. This allows you to be in the country legally for 30 days. If you wish to stay longer, after 30 days you MUST go to the immigration dept in Belmopan (the capitol) fill out paperwork for another Tourist Card or Visa and pay $25.00. You again must do this monthly and pay $25.00 each time per person. After 6 months the fee increases to $50.00 per 30 day Visa. You must also prove that you have enough money to live on for the duration of the Visa or 30 days. The amount proven must be $60.00 a day or $1800.00. This is asked for in the law, but not always asked for when you apply. Meaning they may or may not check on your money situation.
You can do this indefinitely. But if you are found in the country without a current Visa you can be deported. This Visa allows you to live anywhere in the country without restriction, buy property/ house, start a business, basically everything except work for another person in the country. It is not a work visa. Many people who haven’t decided on whether they want to live in Belize either full time or become a resident are happy to use this form of Visa.
Depending on where you live in the country, however, it can be a pain to go to Belmopan every four weeks with money to renew. If for example, you live in Corozal or San Pedro, you will surely have to spend a night or two in Belmopan along with the commute to get the Visa done.
The “QRP” or Qualified Retired Persons Visa
This Visa has always been Belize’s big fan fare to get retirees to come to Belize and touted as an easy way to become a resident of Belize. It has been around since 1999 and although highly promoted, not that many people have used this way to gain residency in Belize. In fact it is said that since 1999 only about 1000 people have used this Visa. Here is the lowdown.
It is promoted as a great way to be able to bring in your household items without paying duty on them up to a value of $15,000. You can also import a single “approved means of transport,” (vehicle, boat, airplane) for their personal use, completely tax and duty-free ( Which does save you LOTS of money). You are also allowed to bring in a “means of transport” under these same circumstances once every 5 years, if you have disposed of the first one you brought in. However, if you sell the “approved means of transport” while it is in Belize, you must immediately pay tax and duty on that item. This is the only Visa processed by the Belize Tourism Board. All other Visa’s are done by the Immigration Dept. This visa application can be for one or a couple.
In addition you do not have to pay any tax on money earned outside of Belize from any source, such as work or investments. These are basically the only perks to this Visa.
The requirements are:
1) You must be 45 years of age, or older; 2) You must be a citizen or legal permanent resident of the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom. 3) You must be the beneficial owner of a pension or annuity or investments. If you can prove a pension or annuity in the amount of $1000 you can apply that way per person or if you do not have a pension or annuity but do have investments that you can draw from you will need to deposit in US currency $2,000 a month or $24,000 a year into a licensed bank in Belize and during the application sign an agreement to that effect. For more on the application process and the application itself, please visit the country of Belize retirement program.
You can make this application without an attorney in Belize, but it would be wise to use one. The cost breaks down as follows:
An application fee of $150 to the Belize Tourism Board.
After you are accepted into QRP, a fee of $1350 for one person or $2100 for a couple, must be paid to the Belize Tourism Board.
You must also get a QRP Residency Card which will cost $200.00, paid to the Belize Tourism Board.
If you are bringing children the program Fee of $750.00 is required for each dependent.
Plus any attorney fees
When you have received your Visa, you are only required to be in the country one month or 30 days per year to maintain your status.
Permanent Residency for Belize
This is an easy way to get a permanent visa. You move and live in Belize for one full year without leaving more than 14 consecutive days. You go through the process above for extending your tourist visa for a year.
After one year you can apply for your permanent residency. This is done at the Immigration and Nationality Dept in Belmopan. Their website is at Belize.gov.bz. There are very little requirements for you to do this visa. You do have to have a Belize work permit however. (See below)
You do not have to have deposited money in the country like the QRP. You only have to prove sufficiently that you can financially take care of yourself.
This visa entitles you to the following:
You can bring into the country your personal belongings ( up to value of $15,000) duty free as long as it is within one year of getting your permanent residency. However, this does not entitle you to bring into the country any duty free “approved means of transport” that is available with the QRP visa.
It does provide you the ability to have a work visa.
You can also vote in local elections.
You can also get a Belize drivers license.
Once you have obtained your permanent residency you can drop your work permit if not needed.
Among the usual documents for a permanent visa is the requirement to have a copy of your latest Belize tax return. Obviously part of the reason you need to have resided in Belize a year.
Application fees depend on which country you are coming from. For Americans the current fee is $1000 per person. In addition there is a fee for residency cards once the visa is approved. They run $150.00. So a couple would spend $2300 plus any attorney fees. Because this Visa has many document requirements it takes a rather long time to get the visa approved. Generally if you have an attorney, they can speed the process along, knowing who to talk with and what needs to be done. It would be worth the extra fees to have someone else do the paperwork for you. Attorneys in Belize for this type of visa can run around $2000.00.
Work Permit for Belize
There are two types of work permits.
1. This work permit can only be applied for after you have been in the country 6 months. Initiated by a prospective employer who wishes to hire you. They have to contact the Labor Dept and fill out an application for the employee they wish to hire with all the necessary documentation. The employer must satisfy to the Labor Dept that they had diligently tried to hire a Belizean who had the qualifications necessary for the job but could not find one. Futher that for 3 weeks the job was advertised and no one suitable was found.
2. Temporary self employment. This permit can be applied for as soon as you are living in the country. This permit is for anyone who has intent to start a business. You would be required to produce proof of reasonably sufficient funds for your proposed business , with a statement from a local bank . You will also need a reference from a relevant contact that can verify the category of work you will be doing.
The fees for these work permits vary depending on the category. They are yearly permits and can cost up to $1000.00 -$15000.00 per person.
Belize In A Box
How can you enjoy eight free nights in Belize…and save as much as tens of thousands of dollars or more on the purchase of your dream home at the beach…
All while launching the adventures of your lifetime in one of the world´s most beautiful, most tempting, most welcoming retirement, investment, and offshore havens?
This is paradise made easy. Your ultimate overseas retirement fully figured out and turn-key.