Belize has long been on the radar for American citizens looking for a new place to live abroad. It ticks many boxes for them as it’s accessible easily, swiftly and relatively cheaply, they speak English in Belize and because the cost of living is low whilst the standard of living can be high.
Belize has not been on the radar for many Britons however, in part because it’s just so tricky to get to from the UK! We want to introduce you to the benefits of the nation however, and talk about recent developments that may affect the tax-friendly Belize Qualified Retired Persons Incentive Program (QRP for short).
If you’re over the age of 45 you can potentially benefit from the many advantages of this program. But despite how simple it appears to be to apply and benefit, those living in Belize under the scheme have some complaints! Equally, some choosing the scheme as a means to enter Belize and live tax-free are allegedly flouting the rules of this already generous program…which could affect its future.
Why Choose Belize as Your New Home Abroad?
As stated, Belize ticks many boxes that most expats have on their wish list. For example, for Brits and Americans the fact that it’s a former British colony and that English is spoken everywhere means that you don’t have to learn a second language to integrate. Whilst Spanish is perhaps the unofficial first language because of the sheer number of Spanish speakers living in Belize, English is the business and official first language.
The cost of living for big ticket items (such as land and real estate for example) remains relatively low…and if you learn to live more like a local and less like a consumer driven Westerner, you’ll soon realise a much lower cost of living in Belize full stop.
The fact that Belize is a popular tourist haunt means that it has great lifestyle advantages that expats can also benefit from – the weather, the beaches, the fresh fish restaurants, the way of life and the pace of life are all wonderful advantages to enjoy if you move to Belize to name but a very small selection! You can find ten top reasons to move to Belize on the Belize.com website.
However, whilst the nation really is ideal and idyllic for those seeking a much more relaxed, freer way of life, it doesn’t suit everyone. A common thread on Belize forums is why parents with children should not consider moving to Belize until their children have grown up and flown the nest, or unless they are under school age.
It seems that adults are much more likely to adapt to the fewer pressures on them, to revel in the laid back lifestyle and to fully accept the Belizean way of life, whilst their children can really suffer from integration issues. Children and teenagers used to Western standards of living, who love being able to go to the mall, cinema, bowling alley etc., who want sophistication and glamour can find it seriously lacking in their lives in Belize.
So, if you don’t have children in tow over the age of about 4, Belize could tick many of your boxes for a new life abroad…particularly if you’re seeking a tax-free lifestyle and you qualify for QRP.
How to Move to Belize on the QRP
On the face of it the Belize Qualified Retired Persons Incentive Program (QRP) seems very straightforward.
Here are the basics, and you can read more about them on the official Belize Retirement Incentives Program website
- If you’re 45+ you can apply. And if you qualify then your spouse and dependants under the age of eighteen (or up to the age of twenty three if enrolled in university) can qualify too
- Applications are processed by the Belize Tourism Board in collaboration with the Ministry of National Security and the Department of Immigration and Nationality
- You must complete an application form and submit it together with your birth and marriage certificates (the latter is only required if you’re intending to sponsor your spouse), a copy of your police record from your current place of residency dated within one month of your application, a copy of every page in your passport certified by a public notary, a medical certificate including proof you don’t have AIDS, four front and four side view passport sized photos for the applicant and all dependents.
- You also have to include proof of income or financial means to prove to the authorities that you can afford to live and support yourself in Belize without needing to work locally.
- Proof can be in the form of a bank statement or letter from your bank manager certifying that you are in receipt of pension or annuity income amounting to at least US $2,000 per month. Or, a financial statement from a financial institution in Belize certifying that your locally deposited investment will generate you a minimum of US $2,000 a month or US $24,000 a year.
- Note: the above list of documents required for application, with the exception of proof of income, have to be submitted by all dependents too.
- The Ministry of Security will do a background check on all applicants.
- Fees are chargeable and non-refundable, with US $150 required with the application. If you’re accepted you then pay a program fee of US $1,000 as well as US $200 for your QRP card, and each dependent has to pay US $750 to enter the program.
The Benefits and Incentives of Belize’s Expat Retirement Program
The point of the program is that Belize attracts those with an income sourced outside the nation to live in Belize. They then remit the proceeds of their investments or offshore business interests to Belize and spend it locally. I.e., the qualifying persons bring money into the country without taking anything from the nation because they are not allowed to work locally.
QRP cardholders are encouraged to own businesses in Belize – but not to work in them. I.e., they are encouraged to employ local labour and to produce revenue for the nation in so doing, but not to take any form of personal income from work done in Belize.
The program has clearly defined incentives and benefits such as: –
- A qualifying person can bring all of their personal effects into Belize 100% free of tax or duty. (Actually the value of goods is officially limited to US$15,000 and they should fit into a single container).
- A qualifying person is 100% exempted from paying any tax in Belize on income or investments which accrue from a source outside of Belize. I.e., you can therefore live 100% tax-free in Belize if you qualify for the program.
- A qualifying person can also bring in, duty free, a vehicle less than 3 years old, a light aircraft or boat for example.
- And finally of course, a qualifying person gets to live in Belize and benefit from its fantastic climate, culture, people and way of life…
Belize’s Bureaucracy Isn’t All That Easy!
Having read the above, and perhaps now thinking ‘yes, Belize could be the right country for me, I qualify for QRP,’ you may be preparing to rush off and apply for residency in this way! However, it would be wholly remiss of us if we failed to mention that actually, things aren’t necessarily as straightforward as they seem.
For a start, QRP is not a residency program, it qualifies you to be a permanent tourist on a renewable visa – a tourist with benefits obviously, but you will not be a resident. Consider reading the article ‘reflections on the QRP program’ and particularly the last couple of lines to understand the significance of this! I.e., as a tourist you’re charged an exit tax every time you leave the country…and this soon stacks up.
You see, many who live in Belize border hop and pop ‘home’ to the US for example to benefit from the likes of better healthcare and more sophisticated shopping options. And for many expats living in Belize, they are closer to more sophisticated towns and centres in Mexico and Guatemala than they are to the centres of sophistication in Belize. If they’re charged a tax every time they pop in and out of the country this can soon mount up.
Other ‘features’ of the QRP include the fact that it’s not exactly flexible, and you have to keep reapplying annually. If you fail to meet the financial requirements – for example, depositing for as long as you’re part of the program your US$2,000 a month by the 15th day of each month or your US $24,000 by the 1st day of April each year into a bank, building society, credit union or other licensed financial institutions in Belize, then you could be denied a renewal.
Many expats state that they can’t spend this much living in Belize once they’ve got their home, renovated it, done the grounds and furnished it…so they have to either leave that amount sitting around in a bank account unused in Belize, or convert it back into US$ or their former currency and send it back out of the country – at high exchange rate and transfer costs.
Reading the very informative QRP versus Residency thread on BelizeForum.com would-be expats can see that perhaps, it’s not actually worth applying under the QRP because of all the potential disadvantages. Rather, taking the official residency path could be better?
All paths to residency/the right to remain in Belize are explored in the article Belize Permanent Residence, Citizenship and the Qualified Retirement Program Comparisons – and there’s some good information contained therein…however, we would have to say we don’t really think marrying a local and having a child is necessarily the ideal path for everyone (which seems to be the final conclusion of this article’s author!)
The next element of bureaucracy that can throw a spanner in the works is when it comes to renew your card. It’s not difficult to renew, but getting your actual card can take weeks as it comes from a different department! A member of the aforementioned forum spells it out as follows: –
“On the positive side, the renewal process itself is painless. You go to Belize City and bring your passport, a copy of a letter from your bank showing that you have deposited the required amount (24k USD or 48K BZD ), and $50.00 BZD for each person. The program asks for a bank “statement” but it really doesn’t mean an actual copy of your statement. A letter signed by the bank manager certifying the required deposit is really what they need. In less than 20 minutes, we had our documentation back and then paid the bill. You get a receipt that shows you have paid the renewal fee.
“Now here is the problem. The Immigration Department issues the cards. They will NOT issue them before the expiry date, even if you have renewed and paid the bill. Then it can take 3-4 or even 6 weeks before you get a new card. In the meantime you are told to show your expired card and your receipt at the border. I have never had any problem at the Northern border but I know of people who have been refused and told that the receipt is not good enough. This part of the program needs to be fixed.
“By the way, we have taken in applications for two friends who took advantage of the fact that we were going to Belize City. This was not a problem. As long as you have all the correct documentation someone else can do the renewal for you. I was afraid that I would drive all the way there and not be able to renew. Roshel [Godfrey from travelbelize.org] kept assuring me that it was simple, and she was right. Go figure, something simple in Belize! Getting your card is another story but that problem is between the BTB [Belize tourism board] and the government.”
The Final Word…
The QRP was originally set up to encourage people to move to Belize, and to make it easy and attractive for them to do so. The original terms seemed to be much more attractive too – a 10 year card for example! Nowadays there are too many people exploiting the QRP and working to earn an income in Belize, people who have imported a boat tax-free and who now charter it for example!
And so word is that the Belize Tourism Board may soon crack down on those who are living in Belize under the QRP and not abiding by its terms.
The forums and expat networks are always talking about it, and it’s a constant source of low-lying worry for those legitimately living in Belize under the qualifying retired persons incentive scheme…
If you qualify and want to benefit from the scheme as it stands then go for it – if you want to live and work in Belize or even have residency in the nation, look at the alternative approaches instead.