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Belize: A Tax-Free Paradise

Expat Briefing Editorial Team
27 August, 2013


Looking for a retirement destination that combines a sub-tropical climate with an almost complete absence of taxation for expats? Then you could do worse than consider the Central America nation of Belize, which has a highly attractive incentive programme in place for retired expats drawing pension income from abroad.

About Belize

Belize, previously known as British Honduras, lies on the East coast of Central America in the heart of the Caribbean Basin, bordering on Mexico to the North, Guatemala to the West and South, and flanked by the Caribbean Sea to the East. At 23,000 sq km, Belize is about ten times smaller than the UK with a population of just under 330,000. The mains centres of population are Belize City, the capital, situated on the coast, Belmopan in the country's centre, and Corozal in the north, close to the border with Mexico.

The climate is sub-tropical with a very pleasant annual mean temperature of 26 degrees Celsius (79 degrees Fahrenheit), and humidity is tempered by refreshing sea breezes. Belize is, however, situated in the Caribbean hurricane zone; the hurricane season typically begins in June and lasts until November.

The cayes (pronounced keys), the offshore atolls, and the barrier reef are the main tourist attraction in Belize. The barrier reef, which is 185 miles long, is the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. The cayes are islands and/or mangroves, that are located between the mainland and the barrier reef, on the barrier reef, and on or within the barrier reef perimeters of the offshore atolls.

The island cayes, which are distinguishable by their palm trees, provide superior opportunities for scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, boating, sailing, sailboarding, and sea kayaking, as well as habitat for both nesting birds and turtles. 

Belize is something of a racial and cultural melting pot. The ethnic make-up is approximately 50% Mestizo (persons with both European and Amerindian ancestry), 25% Creole (the descendants of African slaves and mainly British foresters), 10% Maya (direct descendants of the pre-colonial population), 6% Garifuna (descendants of Carib, Arawak, and West African people) and 9% other. The country is, however, racially harmonious, and although Christianity (both Catholicism and Protestantism) are the dominant religions, other religious beliefs are tolerated.

The British began to settle Belize in the 17th century, largely in order to fell and export tropical hardwoods, particularly 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 consequence of Belize's historical links with Britain, English is the official language (although Spanish, Creole, Garifuna and Mayan are widely spoken throughout 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 nations, especially when it comes to buying property, and it is no surprise that the country has become home to many British and American expats.

Economically, Belize has been historically dependent on sugar, but tourism now contributes substantially to GDP and there is a sizeable financial services industry. Although the Belizean Government has struggled to service high levels of sovereign debt and refinanced its debt stock just prior to the financial crisis, the country is economically stable. A long-running border dispute with neighbouring Guatemala aside (which was decided in favour of Belize by the UN in 1975), Belize is a peaceful country. Crime, particularly gang-related street crime, is a problem, but this tends to be restricted to certain parts of Belize City. There is a low threat from terrorism.

The currency of Belize is the Belizean Dollar (BZD) which is fixed against the US Dollar at a rate of BZD2 to USD1. Most hotels, resorts, restaurants, and tour operators will accept US currency, traveller's cheques, or credit cards. However, in Belize, be sure which dollar you are paying in!

The Belize Qualified Retired Persons Incentive Programme

The Retirement Program in Belize was created especially for those people who wish to live in Belize and can prove a permanent and consistent income from investment (abroad or in Belize), pension or other retirement benefits.

Programme Benefits

The main benefit of the retirement programme is that it exempts qualified retirees from the payment of all taxes and duties on all income from a source outside of Belize whether that income is generated from work performed or from an investment.

An additional benefit is that all persons who have been designated a Qualified Retired Person are entitled, on first entering Belize, to import their personal effects and an “approved means of transportation” free of all import duties and taxes. An approved means of transportation includes a motor vehicle that is no more than three years old; a light aircraft of less than 17,000kg (although aircraft owners are required to hold a valid private pilot's licence); and any vessel that is used for personal purposes.

Programme Requirements and Application Process

Anyone 45 years and older from anywhere in the world can apply to become a qualified retiree. A person who qualifies can also include his or her dependants in the program. Dependants include spouses and children under the age of 18. However, dependants aged up to 23 years can be included in an application if they are enrolled at a university.

Each application for the Retirement Program will be processed by the Belize Tourism Board in collaboration with the Ministry of National Security and the Department of Immigration and Nationality.

Persons interested in the program must submit completed applications to the Belize Tourism Board with the following supporting documentation:

  • Birth Certificate - A copy of a birth certificate for the applicant and each dependant
  • Marriage Certificate - A marriage certificate if married and the spouse is a dependant
  • Passport - Clear copies of a complete passport (including all blank pages) of the applicant and all dependants, certified by a Notary Public. The copies must have the passport number, name of principal, number of pages and the seal or stamp of the Notary Public.
  • Proof of Income - An official statement from a bank or financial institution certifying that the applicant is the recipient of a pension or annuity of a minimum of USD2,000 per month; and a financial statement from a financial institution, bank, credit union or building society in Belize certifying that the applicant's investment or deposit will generate a minimum of USD2,000 per month or the equivalent of USD24,000 per year.
  • Medical Examination - Applicants should undergo a complete medical examination including an AIDS test. A copy of the medical certificate must be attached to the application.
  • Photos - Four front and four-side passport size photographs that have been taken recently of the applicant and each dependant.

Income Requirements

As mentioned above, the applicant must be able to demonstrate that they are in receipt of monthly income of not less than USD2,000, and this must be derived from a pension or annuity generated outside of Belize. There are also a number of certification requirements, including that:

  • When a company grants a pension, that company has to prove that it has been in operation for at least 20 years by submitting proof of registration;
  • The company that grants the pension shall certify that the pension of no less than USD2,000 per month will be forwarded to a reputable financial institution within Belize. This letter must be signed by the manager, president or by a legal representative of the company;
  • The company paying the pension must be certified by a Certified Public Accountant independent of the company. This must verify the date the company was established and the authenticity of the above mentioned letter. It must also certify that the obligation signed in favour of the beneficiary is of no less than USD2,000 per month;
  • The applicant must present two bank references from the company that is sending the pension; and
  • The company granting the pension must present a document outlining its pension scheme.

If, however, the company sending the pension income is considered to be a Fortune 500 company, they may be exempted from second, third and fourth requirements of the above list.

All applications are subject to a background check to be carried out by the Ministry of National Security.

Fees

A non-refundable fee of USD150 must be submitted with the application. An additional fee of USD1,000 is due upon acceptance into the retirement programme. There is also a USD2,000 fee for the issue of a Qualified Retired Person Residency Card. A fee of USD750 is due for each dependant accepted under the programme. All these fees are payable to the Belize Tourism Board and can be paid in cash (US dollars), a US banker's draft or US cashier's check.

Further Information

Additional information about Belize's retirement programme, as well as other incentives designed to attract foreign investors to the country's shores, can be found on the website of the Belize Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

There is also a great deal of useful information for prospective expats and investors on personal and corporate taxation, offshore business sectors and company law in the Belize section of our partner website www.lowtax.net.




 

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