How To live or retire in Belize is at the very top of Frequently Asked Questions about Belize. As a former Chief Information Officer and Immigration Consultant to the Government of Belize, I share with readers some of the basics of making Belize your home here. Acquiring residency or retirement status in Belize is not as difficult as it may appear, and here we show you some of the options available to those who want to make this country their second or permanent home.
Options for Visitors Wishing to Stay in Belize for Extended Periods
There are three ways to obtain extended stays in Belize is affectionately called. These are the Tourist Card, The Qualified Retired Person Program, and Permanent Residency. Tourist Card and Extended Visa is how is how many people start off here, especially those from North America or the U.K. who do not need a visa to initially enter Belize.
This visitor card is the easiest way to hang out in Belize for a while. There is no long-term commitment – just live and enjoy the experience month by month. The procedure is relatively simple: You obtain a one month entry card on entering the country. After 30 days, you go to an immigration office and renew the tourist card monthly – also known as a visitor’s visa for U.S. $25 a month for up to six months. Thereafter it will cost you U.S. $50. a month. You can continue renewing your visitor’s visa almost indefinitely until you decide that it may be more economical to apply for permanent residency. But be warned that if you fail to renew your visitor’s permit you are in violation of the law and can be deported. If you have a good explanation and are on friendly terms with the immigration department you will be let off with a lecture. Being in the country with an expired visa can make you a target of corrupt officials, disgruntled workers or jealous neighbors – not at all recommended.
Nationals of the Caribbean Community – CARICOM – Canada, Mexico, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Venezuela, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and the U.S.A. can obtain a tourist card without having to apply in advance for a tourist visa. Citizens of other countries need to apply in advance for a tourist visa. Download Belize Visa Application Form (PDF File). More information on our Belize Entry Requirements page. Once you have your tourist card (this is often merely a stamp in your passport that states the date that you are allowed to be in country), you can go wherever you want in Belize. You can buy or rent property, move around the country without hindrance, but you are not allowed to work. The immigration laws require that when you renew your visitor permit, you need to show proof of sufficient funds to stay in Belize. This is normally U.S. $60 a day.
Qualified Retired Persons (QRP) Program
The Qualified Retired Persons Incentive Act passed by the Belize House of Representatives in 1999 and is operated by the Belize Tourism Board. The QRP program is aimed at attracting retirees to Belize. In the first few years of the program it attracted considerable interest and several applications.
However, the QRP appears to have fallen into neglect. Many individuals who applied and were approved relate a lengthy and cumbersome approval process handled by rank amateurs. The benefits are not all what is advertised even though the Belize Tourism Board spends lots of tax payer’s money promoting the program, but apparently failing to deliver a quality product.
The BTB declines to disclose publicly how many applications it has received and how many have been approved.
One well-known foreign travel writer, Lan Sluder, has hypothesized that there are at most a few hundred participants in the program. Local sources say just under one thousand retirees have been netted so far. Whatever the case, interest in the program has waned because of the income requirement, and the inability to work for pay in Belize. Mr. Sluder writes:
“I have been hearing from a few people Belize’s Qualified Retired Persons program who are unhappy with what they perceive as changes in the program. (In all cases, they’ve asked that I not disclose their names, perhaps because they fear repercussions.)
“The main bone of contention among some participants seems to be that the Government of Belize is now treating QRP participants almost as tourists rather than as residents. While the position of the Belize Tourist Board, which administers the QRP program, is that this has always been the case under the Qualified Retired Persons (Incentive) law – it states in part: “Qualified Retired Persons shall be deemed to be non-residents for the purpose of the … Immigration Act of 2000 as amended” – these QRP participants say they think the status has changed, subtly in some cases and outright in others, and that Belize now essentially treats them more like tourists than as residents, albeit ones that bring in a lot of money every month.”
The Belize QRP is for sure is nowhere near the better retiree programs offered in other countries such as Panama, Mexico and Costa Rica. We DO NOT endorse the Belize QRP as the best option for retirement in Belize. See Retiring To Belize – Our Story by Ray Auxillou and his wife Sylvia Pinzon De Auxillou where they recount why they decided on Belize after researching other countries in Central America.
For the prospective retiree that can show proof of the required monthly income the QRP program offers approved residency and tax-free entry of the retiree’s household goods and motor vehicle. Other items that can be imported duty free include marine vessels and small aircraft. The saving grace of the QRP is that it is well-suited retirees and expats who may want to import high-value items to Belize – this is one angle that makes the QRP attractive as excessive import duties are a real fact of life in Belize.
Individuals age 45 or more qualify for the the program. The QRP benefits the spouse and children under the age of 18 or older if attending university. If you are interested in the Belize Qualified Retired Person program you can get more information and apply through the Belize Qualified Retired Person Application Form (PDF file). See our Top Ten Reasons To Live Or Retire In Belize. Caveat: Time spent in Belize as a QRP does not count towards time you need to be in Belize to acquire Permanent Residency or Nationality. This is regarded as one of the defects of the QRP.
Applications for Belize Permanent Residence are made to the Immigration Department in the City Of Belmopan after you have resided continuously in Belize for one year. You may not leave the country for a period of 14 consecutive days during this time or your application may be rejected.
You need to fill out the required Permanent Residency Application form, take an HIV test, submit a recent police certificate of no criminal convictions, and provide two recommendations from individuals who have known you for at least one year. These individuals are usually ministers of religion, registered medical practitioners, attorneys at law, Head of a Government Department or Justice of the Peace.
There are several expediters – usually attorneys-at-law, retired immigration officers, Justices Of The Peace and other functionaries who can assist and guide you through this process. We recommend that you hire an expediter to navigate the Belizean immigration maze. But the applicant needs to appear in person to submit his or her application. Once your permanent residency has been approved you can seek employment or work for yourself just like any Belizean – there is no need for a work permit. You can move freely within the country, and travel in and out of Belize without any restrictions. Best of all, the clock starts running and after 5 years you can apply for full citizenship. It is economical to apply for permanent residency.
Application fees for Permanent Residency vary by nationality, ranging from U.S. $250 to $5,000. For U.S. nationals, the fee is US$1,000 per person. For information and application form, contact: Immigration and Nationality Department Ministry of National Security and Immigration, Belmopan City, Belize, Central America; Tel.: 501-222-4620; fax: 501-222-4056. Time for approval of a permanent residency application varies. Some find that the process goes fairly quickly, taking only a few months. Others say it takes up to a year, or longer, for approval.
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Article by M.A. Romero, former Chief Information Officer to the Government of Belize and Immigration Consultant. Updated 6 June 2014.