Visa and Residency Options for Expats in Belize
Belize’s wide range of visa and residency options make it a great place to visit, avoid the winter weather back home, or settle in as your new permanent residence. Each option comes with its own eligibility requirements and set of benefits. These are some of the most commonly used visa and residency options:
- Tourist Visa: A 30-day visa is granted when entering the country, and can be extended for an additional 30-, 60-, or 90 days, for an indefinite period.
- Temporary Employment Permit: Also referred to as a “Work Permit.” This visa allows you to remain in Belize for up to one year AND allows you to work for a specific employer.
- Qualified Retirement Program: Residency for those over 45 years of age that can demonstrate monthly retirement income of at least $2,000 per month. Includes zero-duty importation on vehicles and personal items during the first year.
- Permanent Residency: Reserved for those that prove that they have made Belize their home. This residency option allows you to work for yourself or any employer in Belize
- Citizenship: Once you’ve been a permanent resident for at least five years, you can apply to become a citizen of Belize. Belize allows dual citizenship, so you won’t have to give up your home-country citizenship.
One of the primary differences between each of Belize’s residency options is whether or not you can work. But how does Belize define “work”? If you ask this question at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade & Immigration, they’ll give you a comprehensive definition. Doing business in Belize, including managing your rental property, or doing any non-personal activity, that could be done by employing a Belizean, is considered work.
Doing yard work at your personal residence, not work. Fixing a leaky faucet at your rental property, work. Volunteering at the local Humane Society, work. Playing in the band at the local bar on Friday night, work.
Like every other country, Belize is just trying to protect Belizean jobs. In reality, volunteering at the Rotary will not be an issue, but trying to work as a divemaster would be. One area to be aware of is that managing a rental property is considered work. Suppose you plan to purchase a property and generate rental income from it. In that case, you should plan to find a local management company to assist you until you obtain a temporary employment permit or permanent residency status.
The most common temporary visa is the tourist visa. For $100 per month, this visa allows you to remain in Belize for up to 30 days. This is what you receive, for no charge, when arriving at the airport. At the end of 30 days, if you plan to remain in Belize, you will need to visit the nearest Immigration Office and request an extension.
When applying for an extension to your tourist visa, it is recommended that you have at least the following documentation with you:
- Completed visa extension form.
- Your passport.
- Proof of a purchased return airline ticket. If you don’t have one, be prepared to show a lease with your name, demonstrating that you live in Belize.
- A current bank statement showing a balance that proves you have the means to support yourself in Belize.
- If you are extending the tourist visa for any children, you may be asked to provide the original birth certificate for each child.
Before heading to the local immigration office, the first time, it’s best to ask around and get the latest information regarding extensions. Each office has its own requirements and personality, and both can change from month to month. Knowing the exact documentation currently being requested, and the best days (and times of day) to visit, will save you from making more than one trip.
If you plan to remain in Belize for over 30 days, you can request a 60- or 90-day extension. The extension cost is $100 for each 30-day period. This is a single-exit visa. If you exit Belize before your visa expires, you will start with a new 30-day visa when you re-enter the country.
Temporary Employment Permit
If you are headed to Belize and plan to work or start your own business, you must apply for a Temporary Employment Permit (also called a “Work Permit”). Applying for a work permit is a three-step process.
The first step is to apply online at the Ministry of Rural Transformation, Community Development, Labour and Local Government. If you’re working for a company, they’ll apply for your work permit on your behalf. If you are self-employed, you will need to complete the application yourself.
A long list of documents must be submitted regardless of who completes the application. The exact documents depend on who is making the application and the type of job the work permit is being requested for. One required document to be aware of before you leave for Belize, is a police report from your local law enforcement agency. This is easiest obtained before heading to Belize, as some agencies require the request to be made and picked up in person.
Once the first step is completed, and approved, you’ll receive a letter. This letter will detail what steps you need to take BEFORE proceeding to your local immigration office. It’s best to call your local immigration office before you visit, to ensure they have received their copy of the approval letter.
At immigration, you’ll be asked to pay the work permit fee (usually $1,500), and they will add a special endorsement to your passport allowing you to work in Belize for up to one year. Keep in mind that this permit is only valid for the employer it was issued for. If you change employers, the process starts all over again.
The final step is to visit your local Belize Social Security office and apply for a social security card. Your new social security card will be valid for one year and is proof (along with the Temporary Employment Permit in your passport) that you can work in Belize.
Qualified Retirement Program
If you are over the age of 45, have no intention of working in Belize, and can prove you have at least $2,000 per month in retirement income; you may qualify for the Qualified Retirement Program, or QRP, offered by the Belize Tourism Board. This program grants you residency that is renewable each year, with the only requirement being that you spend at least 30 days in Belize annually.
The fees for this program are: $150 application fee, $1,000 for the applicant, and $750 for each dependent upon approval, and $200 per person for ID cards. After this, the annual renewal fee is only $25 per person for a new ID card. In addition to easy entry and exit from Belize, the QRP includes an import duty exemption on personal & household items as well as on motor vehicles, boats, and light aircraft.
For those that plan to make Belize their new full-time home, permanent residency is the best option. To start the process, you will need to show that you have lived in Belize for the past 365 days, with at most 14 days spent out of the country. You’ll also need to demonstrate continued financial stability, and that you haven’t been convicted of a crime in any country for which you received a 12-month or greater prison sentence.
Meeting the basic requirements to apply for permanent residency is the easy part. Compiling the documentation to accompany your application is the hardest. Here’s a list of necessary documents you’ll need to present:
- Medical Certificate and Tests.
- Police Record.
- Proof of Financial Stability.
- Spouse and Child’s Documentation.
Once your application packet is complete, visiting one of the designated immigration offices will kick the process off. From here, five more steps will need to be completed:
- Interview with Immigration.
- Interview with Police Department.
- Notification of Approval.
- Payment of fees ($2,000 for US citizens) and submission of security bond.
- Pickup residency card.
One important note: If you were in Belize your first year on a work permit, you must demonstrate that you’ve been approved for a second work permit when applying for permanent residency. This requirement may not be listed anywhere, but it’s best to be prepared.
The permanent residency process can take a year, or longer, to complete. During this time, there will be no communication with you regarding the status of your application. Ensure you remain up-to-date with your work permit or tourist visa while you wait, as you’ll need to provide updated passport copies at the end of the residency process.
Once you have been a permanent resident of Belize for at least five years, you may qualify for Citizenship by Registration. To qualify, during those five years, you cannot have spent more than 30 consecutive days out of the country, nor accumulated more than three months out of the country in any given 12-month period.
The process kicks off by submitting the required documents at any immigration office in Belize. Compared to the documentation requirements for permanent residency, applying for citizenship has far fewer requirements.
Once you’ve submitted your documents, an interview at Immigration will be scheduled that you must attend, along with any of your dependents (if applicable), and the two Belizean-born citizens that you listed as references on your application.
Following the interview, your application will be vetted by the Nationality Department. When the vetting is complete, you will be contacted to return to the Immigration office where you filed your application to pay the $150 citizenship fee. At this time, you will be given the date and location of your swearing-in ceremony, where you will receive your Belize Nationality Certificate.
Belize only requires renunciation of birth-country citizenship for Indian Nationals. This allows citizens of other countries to hold dual citizenship in their birth country and Belize.
Belize offers a good range of visa and residency options covering just about any reason for being in Belize. Which option is right for you depends on your purpose for being in Belize:
- Long-term Scouting Trip. If you’re visiting Belize to test if it might be right for you as a new home, the Tourist Visa will be your best choice.
- Wintering in Belize. If you’re escaping the bitter cold of “home” for several months each year, the Tourist Visa is also your best option.
- Retiring to Belize. If you’re planning to move to Belize with no intention of working (or running your own business), you should look at the Qualified Retirement Program.
- Moving to Belize. If you want to move to Belize, but plan to work (or run your own business), the Temporary Employment Permit is where you should start.
Should you decide to settle in and make Belize your new home, working toward Permanent Residency will simplify your life here in Belize. It also removes the need for a monthly visit to Immigration to renew your Tourist Visa, or yearly renewal of your Qualified Retirement Program residency.
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