As with many other countries, Belize requires visitors to have sufficient funds to support themselves, a return ticket, and a passport valid for at least three months beyond the date of arrival. As a citizen of the U.S. or Canada you can stay in Belize for up to one month without a visa. If you want to stay longer you’ll need to go to the Immigration Department office in Belize City, Belmopan, or one of the outlying districts, for a visa extension.
You can easily renew your visa monthly for up to six months, for a renewal fee of $25. At the end of a six-month stay you must leave the country, but after two weeks outside of Belize you can return and re-start the process. Until recently, a small number of expats extended their visas every month for years. Immigration officers have recently become stricter, but the law has not changed. There’s been inconsistency between regions in terms of whether they will extend visas beyond six months. It’s safest to assume that you may be asked to leave the country after a six-month visit.
Residence and Citizenship in Belize
Many expats apply for permanent residence in Belize. The primary reason is that as a resident you can work in Belize without needing a work permit. Having your residence also makes it easy to travel in and out of the country.
You must live in Belize for 50 consecutive weeks before you can apply for permanent residence. To do this, enter the country on a tourist visa and then renew your visa every 30 days until you reach 50 weeks. At that point, you can submit your application for permanent residence. It can take a few years to receive approval and your residence card.
If you want to apply for permanent residence, talk to the local Immigration official early in your trip. Explain that you plan to live in Belize for 50 weeks so that you can apply for permanent residence. If the Immigration official tells you that they won’t approve your visa beyond six months, hire a Belizean attorney to write a letter for you, to support your residence process.
To become a resident, U.S. and Canadian citizens pay a non-refundable fee of $1,000 with their application. Most other nationalities pay a higher amount that covers the cost of a return ticket to their country of origin.
Once you complete the residence application form you’ll submit it to the Immigration and Nationality Department. The application must include: two passport photographs, a copy of your entire passport, an original birth certificate, proof of financial stability (recent personal bank statements), and current medical and police records (from both Belize and your last country of residence). The medical exam must be performed in Belize. To minimize delays, be sure that all required documentation is included with the application.
After you’ve been a permanent resident of Belize for a minimum of five years you can apply to become a Belizean citizen.
Many expats opt for the Belize Retired Person’s Incentive Program (QRP). This program provides special residence status to those who are accepted. QRPs can come and go as they please and only need to spend one month per year in Belize. Note that you can include your family in your application, with additional fees. QRPs are allowed to bring their personal goods into Belize, during the first year of residence, duty free. That includes a vehicle, boat, and plane.
To take advantage of the QRP program you must be at least 45 years old. You will also be required to prove that you can move $2,000 a month, or $24,000 per year into a Belizean bank account. Proof of a pension or annuity (such as Social Security) is the preferred approach to show the required income stream. If you don’t have a pension plan, it’s acceptable to prove that you have adequate savings and investments (such as in 401Ks or IRAs) to generate $24,000 per year.
The non-refundable QRP application fee is $150. Once accepted into the program, a sum of $1,000 is payable to the Belize Tourism Board. And an initial fee of $200 is due for the QRP residence card.
Each December you must renew their QRP status. The fee for a new card is $25. At that time, the QRP provides documentation to prove that you spent one month in Belize during the year, and moved $24,000 into the country. A new card is then issued, for the coming year.
QRPs come into Belize as special status retirees and aren’t allowed to work for a Belizean company, or to own or manage a company in Belize. Some QRPs do work outside of Belize, however. For instance, it’s possible to work online as an independent consultant, providing services to clients outside of Belize.