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Moving to Belize, Questions and Answers

Hi Diane:
I have been studying Ambergris Caye for the last year. I visited in February and fell in love with the island and the country.

I also fell in love with a new condo development and put a small amount of money down on a unit there. I am now trying to figure out what I need to do to purchase this condo. Do I need a real estate lawyer from the states? What is the right way to buy property in Belize while I am up here in the US? I want to learn more before I spend any more money.

What if you decide to bring some items like furniture and then purchase larger things in San Pedro or Belize City. Air freight, shipping ,mail, customs broker - which would be the best to go with.

We have so many questions and the real estate company can't answer all of them. Please Help. Thanks

Signed: Still In Love with Belize

Dear Still In Love:
I guess you really were in love if you bought something without a firm knowledge of the process, but don't worry, you'll be fine as long as you are in the hands of a reputable realtor and as long as you bought something you will actually use and enjoy. Assuming both of these items to be true, let's briefly touch on the answers to your questions.

Q: Do you need an attorney in the US to buy land down here?
A: No. You not only don't need a US attorney for this purchase, but in most cases the US attorney is likely to cost you money for no benefit. US law is different than Belize Law, so no matter how skilled your US attorney is, s/he doesn't know what they need to know to be of service. The laws of Belize do not require the use of an attorney to complete a property sale. It is often a good idea to retain one to review your purchase agreement, and ALWAYS have a title search done - yes, even on a condo project, and even if several units are already sold in it. Shop around for an Attorney who will do this for a reasonable fee. It should not be an expensive, and any reputable seller will have no objections. Whether the buyer or seller pays for the title search is a matter of negotiation, but current custom in San Pedro is for Buyers to pay.

Q: What is the right way to buy property in Belize while I am up here in the US?
A: The process of buying from afar is not particularly difficult. Use Express Mail or Fed Ex for documents, use e-mail and fax for communications, and wire transfer money when it is time to close. You do not need to be present in Belize on "closing day." One piece of advice - see what you are buying before you buy it. If you buy a property without having been to the land, you may still buy something delightful - but if it ends up a disaster you have nobody to blame but yourself.

Q: I want to learn more before I spend more money.
A: If you have already signed a contract to buy, then you better learn fast! Your payments are due and payable according to a contract, and if you miss one you may loose your deposit and your right to purchase.

Q: What if you decide to buy items like furniture and then decide to purchase other items in San Pedro and Belize City?
A: I don't know what would be larger than furniture - but here is my short and sweet advice: Don't ship anything you don't absolutely have to ship - period. You can buy great locally made furniture. Appliances are probably included in your condo package. Bring your dishes, silverware, sheets and towels. Decorate from the local art galleries. Keep it simple.

First I recommend storing things in your home country. You will never know what you actually need down here until you have lived here a while. When you have your list of what you really want to bring down, consult a customs broker to confirm that it is economically sensible to bring in the goods. After being here a six months or a year go back to your storage facility and you will most likely toss out 1/2 - 3/4 of what you were originally planning to ship.

Q: Air freight? Mail? Overland? By water? Customs Broker?
A: The first four are methods of shipping - in each case you will determine which is most efficient for cost and ease of shipping.

you have several choices, from trucks to boats to planes. There is an overland shipping company that works out of Houston. From Miami most folks use Hyde Shipping. There are freight consolidators in Miami who will assemble your goods and place them in a container for you for shipping via Hyde. You can also ship via air freight.

Always hire a customs broker to clear your goods. A customs broker is somebody who meets your package at Customs, fills in the forms, keeps an eye on your goods, arranges forwarding from Belize City to San Pedro, and keeps the cost of duty down by a thorough knowledge of current rates and rulings. Customs brokers save you money, time and headaches. Hire one.

Q: We have so many questions and the real estate company can't answer all of them.
A: Ask a realtor about real estate. Ask a customs broker about customs. Ask a shipping agent about shipping. Go shopping in Belize to see what is for sale that you might wish to buy. Don't ask a realtor about shipping. Don't ask a customs broker about real estate. If you want a consultant, hire one. In other words get a professional. Free advice is often worth about what you pay for it.

Q: Did you move any pets to Belize? If so, what were the restrictions?
A: Yes, we moved pets to Belize - it was easy. Pets need to have current health certificates and to have had recent vaccinations. I believe that different papers are necessary from time to time, and depending on from which country you are traveling with your pet. There is no quarantine for your pet.

Q: What is/are the normal ways a person will know they have or can get good title to real estate in Belize? Title opinions? Title insurance?
A: Title is transferred by four different types of instruments here in Belize. The methods/instruments are not at your option, but simply reflect the manner in which records were kept at a particular time by a particular governing body. An effort is being made to standardize the record system at this time, but this should be of no practical concern to a buyer purchasing real estate here.

Regardless of the "method", titles are "FEE SIMPLE". To discover if you have good title, have an attorney do an abstract of title and render an opinion of that title. Recorded leins must be satisfied before title can transfer. The case of an owner dying without a will can cloud the title for 9-29 years, depending on method/instrument used for title transfer - title can pass, but heirs can come forward at any time during the specified timeframe and can challenge the disposition of the property. Purchasers would have to be compensated should a title be overturned, and this would be handled through courts.

You can buy title insurance here. Most Belizean attorneys will advise you that it is unnecessary. Title policies generally cost 1% of the amount insured. Commissions are paid to attorneys and realtors who arrange these title policies for you. Americans are most likely to raise the issue of title insurance, due to the insecure nature of titles and the litigeous climate there. Canadians who use pretty much the same title system as Belize, generally don't bother with it either here or at home. This is totally up to you. If you want title insurance, go ahead and buy it - but read the policy first so you know what you are paying for. Have a professional do the work for any title transfer. You can take title to property as an individual or a corporation.

"Partnerships" do not exist as legal entities in Belize. If a corporation takes title to a property it must be a corporation registered here, or it has no leagal status - in other words don't expect to bring a foreign company to Belize and take title - in Belize that company does not exist. You can take title in as many names as you like, and it can be as Tennants in Common or as Joint Tennants.

By law, closings must occur in Belize. Laws of Belize govern your contracts. These things might appear obvious, but strangely enough I have had people attempt to insist that since they live in Chicago they want it all handled "up there". I guess these people forgot that Belize is a COUNTRY with IT'S OWN LEGAL SYSTEM .......... it does not take orders from US courts, nor is it governed by US laws.

One last piece of advice ............. (yes, it's free advice so it may be perfectly useless!) if you have along list of questions come back and sit down and talk to some folks. If you can't afford to do that, then realistically you probably cannot afford the investment you are about to make.

Thanks for reading ..... Diane Campbell

IF YOU WOULD LIKE MORE INFORMATION on buying property in Belize, or to contact Diane or her husband Bob Campbell, click here.

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