Belize is a small country in Central America, the only whose official language is English. It is one of the region’s most popular residency options, especially with retirees. Thanks to its year-round warm weather, stunning nature and accessible residency program, it is also starting to catch the interest of the location independent community. This guide covers how to acquire residency, how taxation works in Belize, how to open a bank account, the practicalities of relocating and more.
In order to become the legal resident of a new country, you will usually need to apply and be approved for some sort of resident visa. The application process will be complex, costly and the requirements onerous. In this respect, Belize is different. In order to become a resident, all you need to do is show up and pay a monthly fee (100 BZD) once your initial visa-free allowance has expired. After one year in the country, you can apply for permanent residency (provided that you spent no more than 14 consecutive days outside the country).
Qualifying for residency
There are essentially two requirements, the first one being that you must be able to enter Belize visa-free (see the list of eligible countries in the travel section below) and the second one is that you must be able to prove that you can support yourself during your stay (working is not allowed until you become a permanent resident). Plan on having access to at least 2000 USD per month (in most cases, however, no proof will be asked by immigration).
Applying for residency
When you first enter Belize, you will be granted up to 90 days visa-free. Before that time is up, simply show up to the immigration office in Belize City with 100 BZD in cash. Each extension will be valid for a month. Make sure to state to the immigration officer that your purpose is to stay long enough to qualify for permanent residency when visiting the Immigration Department office for your first extension.
After residing in Belize for a year (50 weeks to be precise), you will become eligible to apply for permanent residency. There is no obligation to apply for it, however, and you could continue extending your stay on a monthly basis (indefinitely, with short periods outside the country every six months or so). That said, becoming a permanent resident offers many benefits, such as the right to work. It also allows one to be out of the country for more than 14 consecutive days. To apply, simply show up at the immigration office with the documents listed here and the fee for your nationality.
When it comes to tax optimization, Belize is a fairly interesting country. Thanks to its International Business Company (IBC) structure, a resident can run an international business tax-free provided that certain conditions are met. Companies operating within Belize can also be run tax-free, provided that they are based either in the Commercial Free Zone at Corozal or in one of the Export Processing Zones. There is a personal income tax, with a flat rate of 25% and an exemption on the first 15000 USD or so (pension income is also exempt).
While IBCs are be exempted from filing a tax return, individual tax residents and special zone companies are not and must file on an annual basis. It is important to note that in order to qualify as a tax resident, you must spend at least 183 days in-country during a calendar year.
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Belize has been trying to establish itself as an offshore banking center for a number of years. There are plenty of banks to choose from and the selection of available products and services is decent. With that said, the quality of the banks simply does not compare to that of Hong Kong, Singapore and most of the other major financial centres. The fees are also on the high side and reputation can be an issue when it comes to receiving payments from abroad. Overall, I would only recommend banking in Belize if you cannot open an account in a better jurisdiction or with one of the new digital banks (N26, TransferWise Borderless, Neat etc).
Opening an account
The easiest way to open an account is remotely unless you are a permanent resident. You will need to gather A LOT of documents including reference letters from banks and professionals, a proof of address and two proofs of ID. All documents will need to be certified and mailed to the bank in Belize. You will also need to deposit 1000-10000 USD in order to activate the account.
If you are seriously thinking about relocating to Belize, you should first visit the country for a few weeks. If the visit is successful, your next step will be to start planning the relocation itself. Steps I recommend taking before the move include setting up mail forwarding, setting up a VPN server and joining the expat communities in Belize. Members of Freedom Surfer’s Insiders Club should also announce their plans via Slack so that they can connect with other members already in Belize.
Belize is not only an interesting residency option, it also is a great place to travel. There is much to see and do. Belize’s main entryway is Belize City’s international airport (BZE) with land crossing possible to / from Mexico and Guatemala. Once in-country, the best way to move around is by rental car or, if on a budget, bus. Most visitors can visit Belize visa-free for up to 90 days. With that said, I recommend having a look at the “Visa requirements by nationality” link below to confirm whether a visa is required or not for your passport.