There is not one Belize visa for retirement but two. They are very different with respect to applicants’ requirements, conditions imposed on recipients and the authorities which administer them. The Government Web Site is detailed and interesting but not overly helpful with respect to visa applications.
Application for the Qualified Retired Persons Incentive Program version of the Belize visa must be made to the Belize Tourism Board. The program is for persons over 45 years of age who can make a major investment in the country and/or has a minimum income. No residential time spent in Belize as a QRP counts towards any citizenship qualifying period.
The other Belize visa is dependent upon the length of time spent in the country prior to an application for residency. Anyone may apply and there is no age qualification. The financial requirements are also less onerous although both visas attract application fees. Time spent as a permanent resident with this visa does count towards the period necessary before an application for citizenship can be made. The government department which deals with this Belize visa is the Ministry of Immigration.
The generous and widely available entry conditions for those wanting only a short period, at least initially, in Belize make application of the “Golden Rule” (make no irrevocable decision or move unless the country has been visited at least once) easy to achieve. Commonwealth citizens, Mexican, North American (U.S.A.), Costarican and Austrian nationals and citizens of a member states of the European Community do not require a visa. For others a visa can be had from a Belize embassy or consulate or from a similar British authority. The necessary application form can be seen here. Initially visits are permitted for 30 days but extensions can be obtained at a small cost ($US25.00 but check current information). Visas can also be obtained on entry to the country.
The details of both Belize visas for permanent residence will be presented here since each can be relevant to retirees. Applications for each visa are made from within the country. Applications via the Tourism Board tend to proceed more quickly (often completed in 3 months) than those made via the Immigration Department. This is important because those choosing the Qualified Retired Person Incentive Program via the Tourism Board may be looking to start a venture or put business structures in place for offshore activities as soon as possible. In spite of the name of the program and the qualifying minimum age of 45 years it is not necessary to be “retired”. No time in the country spent as QRP counts towards any qualifying period for citizenship. This may be regarded as a major deficiency of this version of the Belize visa.
From the local point of view the object of this Belize visa is to encourage the inflow of foreign capital. Although not permitted to operate in the local economy a QRP may deal with offshore ventures from within Belize without losing tax free status. There are also benefits with respect to the importation without duty of household effects, including vehicles, boats and even aircraft. The Belize visa benefits are not as generous as those provided for via Panama’s pensionado visa and conditions apply to the disposal of some items.
The other method of acquiring permanent residency is simply by the effluxion of time. Application to the Immigration Department for permanent residency can be made after living in Belize, legally, for a year. Anyone can apply for this Belize visa and there are no age restrictions. There is also no financial requirement other than the payment of government fees and a relatively small, refundable, deposit. After five years as a permanent resident it is possible to apply for citizenship.
Please note that it is also a requirement that all dependents should submit all documents listed with exception of the proof of income.
Belize is very particular about the source and security of an applicant’s source of income.
i) 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.
ii) The company that grants the pension shall certify that the pension of no less than US $2000.00 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.
iii) Certification by a Certified Public Accountant independent of the company:
iv) The applicant must present two (2) bank references from the company that is sending the pension.
v) The company granting the pension must present a document outlining its pension scheme.
Requirement ii),iii),iv) could be omitted where the company sending the pension is considered to be a Fortune Five Hundred Company.
The fees applicable are as follows:
All payments must be in U.S. Dollars and payable to the Tourism Board.
From the above it is clear that although the documentary requirements are no more onerous than those of many other countries and the authentications needed are simpler than most the program is not cheap. It may be said that the benefits of the program do not warrant the cost and that the proof of income conditions are an invasion of privacy but these are matters for the personal consideration and judgement of individual applicants.
The application form itself can be obtained from the Tourism Board or downloaded from its web site. It is simple to complete. Persons interested in the program must submit completed applications to the Belize Tourism Board with all necessary supporting documents.
There is also an exacting and ongoing process of verification of continued eligibility for the program after applicants have been accepted. From beginning to end the Tourism Board expresses its requirements very clearly and it may be this that ensures rapid results for applicants.
The documents required by the Immigration Department for this Belize visa are less than is required by the Tourism Board for a QRP application. Although not specifically requested it may be as well to be ready with the following documents and copies thereof:-
All of the above documents for the applicant’s spouse and dependents as appropriate may also be necessary.
It is necessary to have been in Belize legally for a year before application for residency can be made. During the qualifying period there must be no absence from the country for more than 14 days. Monthly extensions to temporary visas may be obtained for $US25 for the first six months and $US50 after that. The application form is simple and must be submitted in duplicate to the Principal Immigration Officer, Belize City. It needs to be supported by just a passport photograph endorsed on the reverse with the applicant’s name. (The form “doubles” as an application for a work permit.) As stated above it would be as well to have at hand the documents mentioned at (1) – (9) as appropriate although they are not specifically required.
No specific authentication is mentioned but a local lawyer can probably assist with such matters. It is not necessary to employ an attorney unless there is a problem with fluency in the English language. It is also the case that local lawyers do keep abreast of departmental practices and changes of requirements. Application for permanent residency can be subject to delays and usually takes longer than acceptance into the QRP program.
Fees must be paid for this method of attaining this Belize visa permanent residency. The application fee depends upon the applicant’s country of origin and will be in the range of $US125 - $US2,000. For US and British Commonwealth citizens the fee is $US1,000. The lowest fee is paid by Mexican and Guatemalan nationals. Chinese citizens are required to pay $US2,000. Others from the Caribbean region (CARICOM members) attract a fee of $US250. Once granted a residency card costs $US62.50.
There is no need to submit continuous annual or monthly payments into a bank account as in the case of those in the QRP program. Applicants must be able to show the financial ability to maintain themselves to the satisfaction of the Immigration authorities but no set capital amount or regular income is prescribed. It would be safe to anticipate that a satisfactory income would be similar to that required from QRP. Once acquired permanent residency would not be lost if income or capital falls in subsequent years.
Once permanent residency has been granted it is possible to work in Belize without a work permit. After five years as a permanent resident an application may be made for citizenship. This is not a possibility for anyone who is part of the QRP program. Application for citizenship can take as long as a year and is usually not less than six months. The documents required to support an application are similar to those nedded for either of the forms of residency described above. Citizenship is often not a priority for retirees.
Belize is a Third World country. Although many of the trappings of a modern lifestyle, telephones, internet, good overseas (air) communications are available it would be expensive to attempt to “import” the lifestyle of the country left behind. To enjoy the generally lower cost of living concessions have to be made to the local life style, which many do not find unattractive given the good climate, pleasant people and variety of living conditions (coastal, island, inland) available. Gathering information is vital for making good choices.
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