Facts on Immigration Procedures

If you are planning to travel to Belize and you are not a Commonwealth, Mexican, North American (U.S.A.), Costarican, Austrian or national of a member state of the European Community you require a visa. Any Belizean Consulate or Embassy can issue one at the cost of $25.00 U.S. currency. This visa is valid for thirty(30) days only. If there is not a Belizean Consulate in your country you can obtain a visa through the nearest British Embassy or you can still travel to Belize and the Immigration Officer at the Phillip Goldson International Airport may issue one for the same cost and duration.

While citizens from the European Community do not require visas for travel to Belize, citizens of Bangladesh, Bolivia, Colombia, China, Angola, Brazil, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Cuba, India, Libya, Pakistan, Peru, South Africa and nationals of the former USSR require previous approval for a visa from the Ministry of Human Resources, Department of Immigration.

After being thirty (30) days in Belize and you still require more time to finish your business, you need to contact the nearest Immigration Office to get an extension, paying BZ $25.00 for every thirty days extended period.

Any individual can apply for permanent residence after having one (1) year legal residence fee in Belize on a continuous basis. Permanent residence fee is $100.00 and a deposit is needed which can range from
$100.00 to $1,200.00 depending on the nationality of the applicant. This deposit may be refunded three (3) years after residency is granted. The application form is to be accompanied by two pass-port photographs of each member of the family wishing to travel to Belize and the back of the photograph should be endorsed with his or her name and signed by a Justice of Peace. In addition you should attach to the petition your personal bank statements as well as current Medical and Police Records.

To acquire nationality status the applicant should have permanent residence and or be a legal resident for a minimum of five(5) years in accordance with the Belizean Nationality Act of 1981 (Section l0); there is also a provision for the registration of minor children along with the applicant (Section 12). All necessary evidence should accompany the application to avoid delays.

Facts on Retirement Law

Belize's new "retiree law" makes this country's program the best in the world

"Now any qualified individual can live and work tax-free in Belize-not just retired people"

A few weeks ago (September 15). Belize's new retiree legislation became law-meaning that Belize now offers what we believe to be the most attractive incentive program anywhere for foreign retirees. If you're looking for tax-free living, put Belize at the top of your list.

The law aims to encourage and promote the inflow of foreign capital into Belize by offering certain tax exemptions and incentives to qualified Retired Persons. It's a win-win situation for you and for the Belize government. Similar to Costa Rica's now-defunct pensionado program, the new Belize law targets North American and UK nationals who would spend part or all of the year in Belize, maintain a residence there, and bring their hard-earned dollars to spend locally.

Unlike other immigration programs, this one falls squarely under the authority of the Ministry of Tourism. which is working in conjunction with the Belize Tourist Board to make the program simple and user- friendly.

Duty-free imports
To entice you to come to Belize. the law allows you as a -"Qualified Retired Person" (QRP) a one-time allowance to import, your car and personal and household effects duty-free. (Thereafter. you may import another vehicle duty-free into Belize every five years. as long as your previous vehicle is sold, re-exported, or disposed of in an approved manner.) The program also allows you to import light aircraft, boats and other modes of transportation without duty, according to Mr. Anthony Mahler, senior product development officer with the Belize Tourist Board, the quasi-governmental agency administering the program.

As for household effects, there are no specifications or limitations as to what constitutes such personal property. Only in cases of abuse, such as when an individual tries to import six refrigerators or 10 air conditioners, would the exempt status be denied. according to Mahler.

No local taxes
The new law also exempts completely the QRP from the Income and Business Tax Act and from "the payment of all taxes and levies on all income or receipts that accrue to him from a source outside of Belize ... whether such income is earned or passive income and whether or not such income is remitted to him in Belize." Essentially, that means that you'll be accorded the same tax-free status granted to International Business Companies (IBCs) and trusts.

While you cannot be gainfully employed under the new law, some room has been left for QRP's to start or operate existing businesses under this status. Much like an offshore entity, a QRP cannot do business in the local economy with Belize nationals on a tax-free basis. But you could direct foreign-business activities and operations from within Belize and still maintain your tax-free status.

You don't have to be a "retiree" to benefit
Given the evolution in the world economy toward e-commerce, "virtual" businesses, and the use of the Internet, it is conceivable that almost any business could operate as a Belizean MC. And now any qualifying individual can live and work on a tax-free basis in Belize. So it is fair to say that the law is not only for retired people but also for any other qualified individual wishing to lead a "tax-free" life.

If you're a QRP interested simply in managing your simply in managing your own financial affairs, the law is ideal- because neither active nor passive income is subject to taxation under this law. If your assets and ongoing business activities are placed under a proper trust/corporate structure it may also be possible to eliminate or greatly reduce your U-S. taxes when you live the requisite number of days outside of the United States.

The number of days spent outside the United Stares and the number of days spent inside Belize are nor related, so Belizean QRP status may also be of interest to perpetual travelers and others who spend the year in several locations and who may only infrequently visit Belize.

Possibly the most attractive feature of the new law is the low financial threshold that you must meet to qualify. In many other countries, you have to make a significant financial commitment before you can obtain citizenship, permanent residence, or another status giving you the right to live there permanently. Preconditions range from making large investments or buying expensive homes to putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into long-term CDs or other government financial instruments. The United States, for-example, grants a greencard status to any foreigner willing to invest $1 million into a U.S. business that creates a minimum of 10 jobs. For the privilege of living in the United States, the foreigner must first pay the $1 million. and then he immediately becomes subject to U.S. taxation on his worldwide income, whether he earns it in Detroit, Berlin, or Kuala Lumpur.

You need only US$2,000 per month to qualify
In Belize, you'll find very little "Fine print" and few strings associated with the offer. As a QRP, you must show a monthly income of US S2,000 or arrange to deposit on or before the April I deadline each year 524,000 for your own general maintenance and support. You or your spouse must be at least 45 years old, and you should plan to set up an address in Belize.

Minor children under 18 who are your dependents automatically qualify.

Few strings attached
There is no requirement that you buy property, invest in business, create jobs, or loan your money to the government on interest-free terms. You may seek professional assistance with the process, but it is not required. I'd advise you to act quickly if you're considering applying for QRP status. Insiders tell me that a ceiling of approximately 20,000 applications will be allowed before the program is closed to new applicants., This could take several years, as it did in the case of Costa Rica, or it could happen in as little as one year, depending on demand.


This article first appeared in the Winter 2000/2001 edition of Where to Retire Magazine. It appears here by permission of the author, Lan Sluder, editor and publisher of Belize First Magazine (http://www.belizefirst.com/).

Retiring in Belize

Belize, the English-speaking country on the Caribbean Coast puts out the subtropical welcome mat for Americans

By Lan Sluder

Copyright 2000/2001 by Lan Sluder. All Rights Reserved.

Even if you’re a world traveler with a bazillion frequent-flier miles, chances are that you’ll be fascinated by your first glimpses of Belize, the little English-speaking country on the Caribbean coast of Central America. Hundreds of travel-poster islands dot the turquoise sea along Belize’s 200-mile coast. Just offshore is the longest barrier reef in the Northern and Western hemispheres, with an undersea world of fantastic color and diversity. The diving and snorkeling are world-class, and the fishing is so good that it usually takes just a few minutes to catch a sea bass or spiny lobster for your lunch.

Inland are lightly populated savannas, limestone hills and lush rainforests, home to more than 500 species of birds, 800 kinds of butterflies and 4,000 varieties of trees and shrubs. Bananas and mangos grow like weeds. Exotic animals like the jaguar and tapir still roam free in "backabush" Belize. Hidden under cohune palms are thousands of mysterious Maya ruins. The small villages and towns of Belize -- the only city has just 70,000 people -- are alive with a cultural gumbo of colors, races and backgrounds.

But Belize also appeals to those who want to linger longer than a week or two of vacation in paradise. It is getting the attention of prospective retirees who want a laid-back lifestyle in a frost-free climate similar to South Florida, with a stable government and economy, and a familiar legal system based on English common law where all documents are written in English.

Retirees are attracted by low real estate costs and an overall cost of living that stretches retirement pensions and Social Security checks further than they would go in the United States. But most of all they like friendly Belizean neighbors who have put out a subtropical welcome mat for Americans.

As one American expatriate in Belize puts it, "This is the friendliest place I have ever been, and I have traveled a lot. Belizeans take people one at a time -- foreign or local is not the issue. How you behave and how you are in your heart is what makes the difference," says Diane Campbell, a real estate developer on Ambergris Caye who moved to Belize from California. "If you are nice, kind and honest, you will be loved and respected here. When you get used to living here, you won’t be able to imagine living elsewhere."

Belize’s government recently has enacted a retiree incentive program that permits U.S., Canadian and United Kingdom citizens to establish official residency in Belize and to live there free of most Belize taxes. Under the new program retirees can’t work in Belize, but income from outside Belize isn’t taxed, and retirees can bring in household goods, a car, a boat and even an airplane without paying import duties.

Bill Wildman, a long-time real estate agent, surveyor and developer based in Corozal in northern Belize, says he thinks the new program is a solid beginning. He says applications are being approved quickly, typically in less than three months. The Belize Tourist Board, rather than the immigration department, handles applications.

Some retirees, however, question the amount of money that retirees are required to deposit in a Belize bank -- up to $2,000 a month -- and don’t like the paperwork and application fees of about $700 associated with the program. One is Doug Richardson, a retired lawyer and investor from Malibu, CA, who is building a large home on the Caribbean Sea in Placencia.

"I feel the program is a failure as an inducement to encourage anyone to retire (in Belize). There are too many fees, hurdles and demands made by the government," says Doug, who also believes the program doesn’t offer enough to wealthy retirees. For example, it permits retirees to bring only $15,000 worth of household goods and just one vehicle duty free. Yet for a retiree with limited resources, the monthly income requirement may be too high.

For those who don’t qualify for the new retirement program, residency in Belize is available through regular channels, most of which require more red tape and a residency period before you can apply for residency status or a work permit. Citizenship also is available through a controversial "buy-a-passport" citizenship program that costs a minimum of $25,000. Many expatriates simply stay in Belize as perpetual tourists, renewing their 30-day entrance permits for $12.50 per month for up to six months, at which time they must physically leave the country for at least 48 hours.

Whether they came to Belize under the new program or not, retirees say they like living in a country with many of the conveniences of modern life, such as Internet connections, air-conditioning and North American-style houses, but without franchised fast-food restaurants and chain stores that have come to dominate America’s frenetic consumer culture. Belize has no Wal-Marts or McDonald’s.

John Lankford was a 37-year-old lawyer in New Orleans when he first visited Belize’s Ambergris Caye in 1982. Intrigued by what he saw, six weeks later he came back a second time. "I found five acres with a house I couldn’t afford and on return to New Orleans called the owner and agreed to buy it on the Gringolian plan: There, I’ve bought it. Now how the heck do I pay for it?" It took him about 11 years to pay for it, he says, with periodic commutes to resample life on the island. John finally moved to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye full time in 1993 and registered with the Bar Association in Louisiana as "retired." The biggest mistake he made in moving to Belize was "not moving here sooner," John says.

Belize is not for everybody, however. "We’ve seen so many gringos give up and go home, and so many others still here who are burned out and bitter, that you sometimes feel there is really something insidious underlying the friendly surface appearances," says Phyllis Dart, an ex-Coloradan who runs a jungle lodge, Ek ‘Tun, in western Belize.

"You have to really like Belize for what it is. You must be prepared to adapt your lifestyle to fit Belize -- Belize will not adapt to you," says Pamella Picon, the publisher of a newsletter on Belize and co-owner of Mopan River Resort in Benque Viejo del Carmen.

For those who are willing to put up with the challenges -- such as lack of high-tech medical care, a high crime rate in some areas, the high cost of imported items and the occasional hurricane -- Belize can be a wonderful place to live.

Costs of Living

With a big SUV in the driveway and Belize gasoline at $3 a gallon, the Carrier turned to frigid and three fingers of French cabernet in the glass, living in Belize can cost more than back home. But if you live as a local -- eating the same foods Belizeans do, using public transport and living in a Belizean-style home with ceiling fans and cooling breezes -- you can get by on a few hundred dollars per month. In between, combining some elements of both lifestyles, you can live well for less than you would pay back home. Health care, the cost of renting or buying a home in most areas, personal and auto insurance, property taxes, household labor and most products produced in Belize are less expensive than what you’re used to paying.

You can eat well for a modest cost in Belize. Even in resort areas, a fresh grilled-seafood dinner is $10-$12, and stewed chicken with rice and beans -- Belize’s national dish -- might be $5. In-season (mid-June to mid-February) lobster in nice restaurants costs $10-$20. Belize City has modern supermarkets, and district towns have smaller but still well-stocked shops. Many towns and villages have weekly markets (usually Saturday morning) where fresh fruit and vegetables are sold at low prices. In coastal areas and on the cayes, fresh seafood is sold cheaply off the dock or at local seafood cooperatives.

However, grocery items imported from the United States, Mexico or England are expensive. Examples: A 15-ounce box of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran is $5.13, a three-ounce box of Jello is 80 cents, a can of Campbell’s chicken soup costs $1.75, and a bottle of Gallo Turning Leaf cabernet is $12.50. But locally produced products are fairly inexpensive, including black beans at 75 cents a pound, red beans for 40 cents a pound and a dozen eggs for $1.25. A liter of premium One Barrel local rum is $7.30, corn is the equivalent of 10 cents an ear, mangos are 15 cents each, and pork chops are about $2 a pound.

For ex-New Orleanian John Lankford, living in Belize is cheaper than in the United States. "I need neither heating nor air-conditioning with their attendant bills, nor insulation in my house, nor much of a house, nor much in the way of shoes. One casual wardrobe serves all purposes except travel back to the USA," he says.

If you know where to look, prices for seafront or rural real estate in Belize will remind you of costs in the United States in the 1960s or 1970s. In small towns in Belize, you can rent a pleasant seaside house for $250 a month. Land in larger tracts can sell for $200 an acre or less. Building lots on a remote caye might start at $4,000. Outside of high-cost tourist areas, you can build for $30-$50 per square foot or buy an attractive, modern home for $50,000-$100,000. Property taxes in Belize are low, rarely over $100-$200 annually even for a luxury home.

Unlike Mexico, Belize generally has no restrictions on the ownership of land, even seafront land, by foreigners, as long as the parcel is of 10 acres or less outside a town limit, or one-half acre or less inside town limits. Purchases of larger tracts and, in a few instances, land on the cayes require government approval.

Belize banks offer mortgages and personal and commercial loans, but rates are higher than you’d pay in the United States, about 12-16 percent. Therefore, most expatriates try to get loans outside Belize or arrange owner financing. About the best owner-financing deals available for property in Belize require 10 percent down with payout over 10 years at 10 percent interest.

The good old greenback is the national currency of Belize -- almost. Belize does have its own currency, the Belize dollar, but it is pegged at two Belize dollars to one U.S. dollar, and it has been that way for decades. Belize shops accept both currencies and often give change in a mix of the two currencies. As it’s not always easy to exchange Belize dollars back into U.S. dollars or other hard currencies, expatriates in Belize usually keep most of their funds in a bank in their home country, transferring what they need for living expenses, or what is required under the retirement program, as needed to their Belize bank account.

The main tax affecting expatriate residents is a national 8 percent sales tax on nearly all goods and services, with exclusions for some food and medical items. (An unpopular 15 percent value-added tax was eliminated in 1999.) Import taxes are a primary source of government revenue. They vary but can range up to 80 percent of the value of imported goods. Official residents in Belize under the Retired Persons Incentive Act do not have to pay import duties on a car, boat, plane and up to $15,000 in household goods imported into the country. For those working for pay in Belize, the country has a progressive personal income tax with a top personal rate of 25 percent. Belize has no estate or capital gains tax. On real estate purchases, buyers who are not Belize citizens must pay a 10 percent transfer fee.

The exact number of foreign expatriates from the United States, Canada, Asia and Europe in Belize is unknown. Estimates range from around 1,000 to several thousand. Most foreigners living in Belize are not in the country as official residents. Often they are snowbirds, in Belize for only part of the year. In any case, the number is as yet small, although interest in Belize as a second home and as a retirement or relocation destination has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years.

Life in Belize

Belize is that little spot on the map just to the right of Guatemala and just below Mexico. The Rio Hondo separates Mexico, a country with 100 million people and an area of about three-quarters of a million square miles, from Belize, with its area of 8,866 square miles, about the size of Massachusetts, and population of only 240,000. By air, Belize is about two hours from Miami or Houston. Driving through Mexico from Texas takes about four days.

Belize is a true multiethnic, multicultural society. About 40 percent of Belizeans are Mestizos, persons of mixed Indian and European heritage, most originally from neighboring Latin countries and most living in northern and western Belize. Thirty percent are Creoles, of mixed African and European descent, concentrated in and around Belize City. Ten percent are Maya, and another 10 percent are Garifuna, of mixed African and Carib Indian. The Garifuna live mainly in southern Belize along the coast. Kek’chi and Yucatec Maya are in southern, western and northern Belize. The rest are Americans, Europeans and other Anglos, plus Chinese, East Indians and others.

Belize is a stable democracy, a member of the British Commonwealth with an English common-law tradition. The country -- formerly British Honduras -- has been independent since 1971. The Westminster-style system has a prime minister, an elected house of representatives and an appointed senate. The current prime minister is Said Musa, a British-educated lawyer of Palestinian and Belizean heritage. He heads the People’s United Party, which swept the last national elections in 1998. The main opposition party is the United Democratic Party. The two parties are centrist, and their policies and ideologies are not very different, but Belize politics are often intensely personal. Everyone seems to know everyone else, and party loyalties are rewarded and remembered.

Belize is one of the few countries in the world where English is the official language, and Spanish also is widely spoken. All official government documents, deeds and papers are written in English. If there’s a lingua franca in Belize, it’s Creole, a mixture of English and other vocabulary and West African grammar and syntax. Garifuna and several Maya languages also are spoken in Belize, and many Belizeans speak two or three languages.

The climate of Belize is subtropical, similar to that of South Florida. Daytime temperatures generally are in the 80s or 90s most of the year, with nighttime temps in the 60s in winter, 70s in the summer. In areas of higher altitude, such as the Mountain Pine Ridge and Maya Mountains, winter temperatures may occasionally fall into the high 40s or low 50s. Humidity is high year-round, tempered on the coast and cayes by prevailing breezes from the sea. Rainfall varies from 150-200 inches a year in the far south, feeding lush rainforests and jungle, to 50 inches in the north, about like most of the Southeastern United States.

Belize is in the hurricane belt, but the western Caribbean does not get as many hurricanes as the Southeastern U.S. Atlantic coast or the Gulf coast of Texas. On average, Belize is visited by a hurricane about once every 10 years. Tropical storm and hurricane season in Belize is June through November, with most storms coming late in the season, particularly September through early November.

The most recent storm to strike Belize was Hurricane Keith in late September 2000. The hurricane’s winds of 120 miles per hour hit Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, the two largest islands off the coast of Belize, doing about $100 million in damage and killing four people, including two American citizens, residents of Ambergris Caye who were attempting to move their catamaran to safe harbor. The Belize mainland received an additional $150 million in damage, mostly from flooding, but there were no additional deaths. The Belize government and international relief agencies moved quickly to restore services and to assist in rebuilding, and within a few weeks most of the damaged areas were almost back to normal, welcoming visitors and potential retirees.

Health and Crime

In the past, expatriates in Belize used to say that their hospitals were "TACA, American and Continental airlines," the three major airlines serving Belize. For top-flight medical care, Americans in Belize still may fly to Miami or Houston or go to Chetumal, Mexico, just north of Corozal, but Belize City and most towns in Belize have doctors and dentists trained in the United States, Mexico and Guatemala. Local medical care is inexpensive. A medical office visit is $15-$20, and prescription medicines are less costly than in the United States. Dental care is one-third to one-half the cost in the United States.

Crime is one of Belize’s puzzling dilemmas. On one hand, most who visit Belize feel safe, and visitors and expatriates rarely are affected by serious crime. Crimes that would pass almost unnoticed in Honduras, Guatemala or Mexico get big headlines in Belize. Belizeans expect their police to solve crimes, and the police try, even though many are undertrained and underpaid. On the other hand, the statistics – which are incomplete -- suggest that the entire country has a serious crime problem, albeit one affecting mostly the lower strata of society.

For example, Belize has more murders than Ireland -- more than 50 in Belize compared with just 39 in Ireland in 1998, despite the fact that Ireland has a population more than 14 times higher and a land size much larger. Muggings, shootings and knifings are sadly common on the rougher streets of Belize City and, to a lesser degree, in the towns of Orange Walk and Dangriga. Hardly a weekend goes by that the newspapers and television news aren’t filled with news of people being injured or killed in robberies or attempted robberies.

Most of these crimes are committed by the poor against each other, are drug-related or are a result of family squabbles. However, if you’re planning to live in Belize, even in a rural area or small village where crime is not routine, you should take crime-prevention measures. Many expatriates keep large dogs, and walls, fences and burglar bars on windows also may be a good idea. When you leave on a trip, you will need to arrange for someone to watch your property. Bicycles, construction supplies and movable equipment of any type are likely to disappear if you don’t have a security guard, housekeeper or dog keeping an eye on it.

Choice Places to Live

Ambergris Caye

Ambergris Caye is the most popular, but also most expensive, place for retirees to live in Belize. For some it’s too touristy, but others love the fact that there are other North Americans in residence and lots of Americans, Canadians and Europeans visiting as tourists. This island just south of Mexico’s Yucatan is about one-half the size of Barbados, with a population estimated at 10,000. The only town is San Pedro, which has three main streets, all sand.

There are two Catholic churches and several Protestant churches, a small library, several good small groceries, a number of tourist-oriented shops and many good restaurants in all price categories. While some residents own cars, the most common form of transportation on the island is the golf cart.

Ambergris Caye has more foreign residents than any other area of Belize, and while no one knows the exact number, it’s believed to be between 500 and 1,000. Not all are full-time residents, and the number is growing almost daily.

Quite a large number of expatriates on the island are perpetual tourists, in Belize on visitor’s cards and here until their money, or perhaps their livers, run out. "Lots of people come and go with some regularity, and it seems like there are new gringos everywhere, but it is very hard to say how many actually live here," says San Pedro real estate investment counselor Jesse Cope.

Many of the island’s resorts are owned and operated by expatriates from the United States or Canada. Fairly typical are Wil Lala, who practiced dentistry for 18 years in Manhattan, KS, and his wife, Susan, an artist. They moved to Ambergris Caye, bought a piece of land south of San Pedro, and built two villas on the beach in 1991, which they operate in a hands-on fashion as a 10-unit suites hotel with rates from $65 to $225.

Real estate costs here are, along with those in Belize City, the highest in the country. Beachfront lots go for $1,000 or more per front foot ($50,000-$75,000 for a beach lot), condos for $75,000-$300,000, and houses for $50,000-$500,000 and more. Because of local and seasonal visitor demand, and also demand from students at an offshore medical school, rents are expensive, $300-$1,500 per month for a one- or two-bedroom apartment and $500-$2,500 per month for a house.

Ambergris Caye was in the direct path of Hurricane Keith when it swept through Belize in late September, but most of the hotels and homes damaged by the storm were expected to be repaired quickly, and visitors should find "la isla bonita" almost back to normal.

Corozal

Most travelers to Belize either never get to Corozal or pass through quickly en route somewhere else. But Corozal Town and nearby Consejo village offer a lot for those staying awhile — low prices, friendly people, a generally low-crime environment, the beautiful blue water of Corozal Bay and the extra plus of having Mexico next door for shopping.

Corozal is one of the undiscovered jewels of Belize. There’s not a lot to do, but it’s a great place to do it. The Sugar Coast -- sugarcane is the main agricultural crop here -- is a place to slow down, relax and enjoy life. The climate is appealing, with less rain than almost anywhere else in Belize, and fishing is excellent. The sunny disposition of residents -- Mestizos, Creoles, Maya, Chinese, East Indians and even North Americans -- is infectious.

Real estate costs in Corozal are among the lowest in Belize. Modern North American-style homes with three or four bedrooms in Corozal Town or Consejo Shores go for $75,000-$200,000, but Belizean-style homes start at less than $25,000. Waterfront lots are $35,000 or less, and big lots with water views are $10,000-$15,000. Rentals are relatively inexpensive -- $100-$200 for a nice Belizean-style house or $300-$700 for a modern American-style house.

Placencia

You’ll love Placencia if you’re looking for a little bit of the South Pacific in Central America. Placencia has the best beaches on the mainland, and it’s an appealing seaside alternative to the bustle of Ambergris Caye. This peninsula in southern Belize has some 16 miles of beachfront along the Caribbean, a backside lagoon where manatees are frequently seen, two small villages, a few dozen hotels and restaurants and an increasing number of expatriates and foreign-owned homes.

In recent years, the Placencia peninsula has been undergoing a boom. Building lots have been sold by the score to foreigners who think they’d someday like to live by the sea. Real estate costs here are moderately high, however. Beachfront lots cost $800 to $1,000 per front foot, making a seaside lot around $50,000 or more. Lots on the lagoon are less expensive.

There is little North American-style housing available for sale or rent, and most expatriates are building their own homes, with building costs ranging $35-$75 or more per square foot, depending on type of construction. One Californian is building a 15,000-square-foot "retirement cottage" on the beach.

Cayo in Western Belize

Cayo has a lot going for it: wide open spaces, cheap land, few bugs and friendly people. This might be the place to buy a few acres and grow oranges. The major towns are San Ignacio, with a population of about 12,000, about 10 miles from the Guatemala border, and Belmopan, the sleepy capital of Belize, with a population of around 6,000.

Agriculture, ranching and, increasingly, tourism are the major industries here. About 20 years ago, the first small jungle lodges began operation around San Ignacio. Now there is a flourishing mix of hotels, cottages and jungle lodges near San Ignacio and in the Mountain Pine Ridge, along with a lot of natural attractions and outdoor activities -- canoeing, caving, hiking, horseback riding, to name a few. The country’s most accessible Maya ruins are here, as well as Caracol, in its heyday a larger city-state than Tikal.

Between Belize City and San Ignacio, Belmopan is the downsized capital of Belize, but the attractions are in the surrounding countryside. The Belize Zoo is here, as are several excellent jungle lodges. Along the scenic Hummingbird Highway are barely explored caves, wild rivers and national park areas. Small farms are available for $10,000-$50,000.

Punta Gorda

Rainy, beautiful and remote, Punta Gorda in far southern Belize is the jumping-off point for unspoiled Maya villages and for onward travel to Guatemala and Honduras. Over the next few years as paving of the Southern Highway to Punta Gorda is completed and the road is extended into Guatemala, this area is expected to take off, both in terms of tourism and as a place for expatriate living. "PG," as it’s known, is Toledo District’s only population center, with about 5,000 people, mostly Garifuna, Maya and immigrants from Guatemala. Maya villages, hardly changed for centuries, are located around PG. Cayes and the south end of the barrier reef offer good snorkeling and fishing. Lumbering and fishing are about the only industries.

Undeveloped land is inexpensive, with acreage beginning at a couple of hundred dollars an acre. Few North American-style homes are for sale. Quality rentals are expensive due to lack of supply and demand from missionaries.

Other Choices

* Hopkins: On the southern coast of Belize in Stann Creek District between Dangriga and Placencia, Hopkins today is what Placencia was like just a decade or so ago. Expatriates are moving to Hopkins, a friendly Garifuna village that got telephones only in the mid-1990s, and to real estate developments nearby. New small seaside hotels are going up in Hopkins and Sittee Point. Although at times the sand flies can eat you alive here, you can get in some excellent fishing and beach time, with day trips to the nearby Cockscomb jaguar reserve and boat trips to the reef. You’ll love Hopkins if Placencia is too developed for you.

* Private islands: The days of buying your own private island for a song are long gone, but if you have money to burn and the willingness to rebuild after the next hurricane, one of Belize’s remote islands could be yours, beginning at about $100,000. Developers also are selling lots, starting at $4,000, on Long Caye and a few other small cayes.

Lan Sluder is the editor and publisher of Belize First Magazine (a Web edition is at http://www.belizefirst.com/) and the author of several books on Belize, including the Belize First Guide to Mainland Belize, Belize Book of Lists 2000 and the upcoming AdapterKit: Belize, to be published in August 2001 by Avalon.. He revised, updated and co-authored the Belize sections of Fodor’s Belize & Guatemala Guide and UpClose Central America, both from Random House. Sluder also is the author of Frommer’s guidebook. He has contributed to many publications around the world including The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, St. Petersburg Times, Caribbean Travel & Life, Bangkok Post, The Tico Times and Canada’s Globe and Mail.

 

 

[Sidebar]

Highlights of Belize’s Retired Persons Incentive Act

The Qualified Retired Persons Incentive Act passed by the Belize legislature in 1999 is now in force and being implemented by the Belize Tourism Board. The program, which resembles the formerly popular but now defunct pensionado program in Costa Rica, is designed to attract more retirees to Belize. As of late 2000, according to Gina Escalante of the Belize Tourist Board, more than 200 people have applied for the program, and about 100 have been so far been approved. Interest in the program is high, Escalante says, with thousands of people visiting the program’s Web site monthly and hundreds of them calling or e-mailing for information.

For those who can show the required monthly income from investments or pensions, this program offers benefits of official residency and tax-free entry of the retiree's household goods and a car, boat and even an airplane. This program eliminates some of the bureaucratic delays built into other programs. The BTB guarantees action on an application in no more than three months, but we have heard of qualified retirees getting approval for this program in only two to three weeks. Key features of the Act include:

• Open to anyone age 45 or older who is a citizen of the U.S., the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada or Belize; a person who qualifies can include his or her dependents in the program, including children under 18 (up to age 23 if enrolled in college).

• Applications for the program must be made to the Belize Tourism Board and include the following:

Copy of birth certificate for applicant and each dependent.

Marriage certificate (if applicant is also applying for a spouse).

Notarized copy of complete passport of applicant and all dependents.

Copy of police record from last place of residence (completed within one month of application). You should request this from the police department where you last lived. Sometimes there is a small processing charge of US$10 or so.

Copy of medical exam including AIDS testing. Inexpensive medical exams are available in Chetumal, Mexico, and also in Belize, or you can have one done by your physician back home.

An official statement from a bank or financial institution certifying that the applicant is the recipient of a pension or annuity (including U.S. Social Security) of a minimum of US$1,000 per month or that the applicant's investments will generate a minimum of US$2,000 per month. The two types of income can be combined -- for example US$500 from a pension and US$1000 from investments, but all income must be in the same applicant’s name. A husband and wife each with a US$500 pension cannot combine that to qualify as having a US$1,000 monthly pension income. Within a month of approval of residency status, the first deposit of at least US$1,000, if qualifying on the basis of pension, or US$2,000, if qualifying on the basis of investments, must be made. It can be deposited in any bank operating in Belize, either annually in a lump sum or monthly. There is no restriction as to type of account, savings or checking, but it must be a Belize dollar, not U.S. dollar, account. The funds are available for living expenses of the retiree.

Four front and four side-view photos of applicant and each dependent.

• Funds from pension or investments must be deposited monthly in a bank in Belize.

• Persons applying for residency are subject to a background check by the Belize Ministry of National Security.

• Persons residing in Belize under the program cannot work for pay in Belize.

• Persons retiring in Belize under the program are exempt from the payment of all Belize taxes on all income or receipts from a source outside of Belize whether that income is generated from work performed or from an investment.

• Persons retiring in Belize under the program qualify for duty and tax exemptions not exceeding US $15,000 on new and used personal and household effects. A list of all items with corresponding values that will be imported must be submitted with the application. In addition, a personal vehicle, which must not be more than three years old, a boat used for recreational purposes and a light aircraft -- any of these or all three -- can be imported duty free under the law or can be purchased in Belize. Duty-free import of these items can be done in stages but must be completed within one year of moving to Belize.

• Fees for the program total US$705 per application (individual, couple or family.) These consist of a non-refundable application fee of US$100 payable to the Belize Tourism Board submitted with the application; a program fee of US$500 payable to the Belize Tourism Board upon acceptance into the program; on first entering the country after approval, a fee of US$100 must be paid to the Immigration Department; a BZE $10 stamp (US$5) must be attached to each application that is submitted to the Belize Tourism Board for processing. 

For information on the program, contact:

Belize Tourist Board
Central Bank Building, Level 2
Gabourel Lane
P.O. Box 325
Belize City, Belize
Tel: 501-2-31913 or 800-624-0686
Fax 501-2-31943
E-mail: gina@travelbelize.org
The BTB has a Web site covering the program at www.belizeretirement.org. An application form for this program is available on-line at www.belizeretirement.org/applicationform.htm.

-- Lan Sluder



FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
CONTACT
THE IMMIGRATION &
NATIONALITY DEPARTMENT
PHONE; (501) 8-22423. (501) 2-24620



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