The ‘tropical paradise’ of Belize is often seen as an attractive option for retirees from the US and elsewhere, due to its lovely climate, easy-going lifestyle and the fact that its principal language is English. Its Caribbean coastline and fascinating interior make this little Central American state doubly appealing. It might not be the cheapest place in which to retire, but those who have done so report that while some of the infrastructure may be a bit basic, their money goes a long way and the standard of living is high, with insurance, household help, basic medical care and property taxes proving highly competitive in comparison with other countries.In addition to these advantages, Belize also has an excellent option for retirees: the Qualified Retirement Program (QRP).
What Is The QRP?
The QRP is a tax exemption scheme for qualified retirees, which allows you to avoid tax on all income – whether passive or active – gained from sources outside the country. This means you can keep your capital gains as well as your international income.
Who Qualifies For The QRP?
You don’t actually have to be retired to benefit from the program. If you’re 45 or over, can show that you’re financially able to make a deposit of $2K or more each month, and you will spend one month or more per year in the country, you’re eligible. While the regulations state that you need to prove a pension, the Belize administration recognises that some retirees don’t have a pension per se, but rely on savings or schemes such as ISAs. This means that if you can prove that you’re capable of depositing $24K in a Belize bank, whether in installments or as a lump sum, you qualify for the QRP.
In terms of local banking, you’ll be treated as a non-resident. This means you can set up either a local or an offshore bank account in dollars, making this highly attractive for American expats in particular, who then won’t need to wrestle with an unfamiliar currency.
You can even work, although not for a company with offices in Belize. Since this is officially a retirement program, the government prefers you to conduct business primarily outside the country. This makes the scheme ideal for internet-based consultancies and offshore international business corporations.
As well as satisfying the criteria specified here, you’ll need to pay an administration fee. This is currently a non-refundable application fee of $150, but watch out for the ‘acceptance’ fees, currently standing at around $1K. You’ll also be subject to a security check by the ministry of national security. You can read more about the documentation you’ll need in order to apply on the Tourism Board website.
What Are The Advantages Of The QRP?
The scheme allows you to bring your household goods and transport – including boats and private planes as well as motor vehicles – without paying import duties.
The scheme also covers dependents, which means your spouse and any children under 18. Children under the age of 23 are also covered if they have a school exemption certificate.
How Long Does It Take?
Once you apply for the program, the formalities take a few months, which is relatively fast in terms of government bureaucracies. Once you get your QRP card, you can come and go as you please, in and out of the country.
Who Manages This Program?
The QRP is managed by the Belize Tourism Board (BTB), who are currently in the process of re-evaluating the program to make it more accessible.
How Do I Apply?
Contact the BTB and ask for an application form. You will need:
• Birth Certificates for the applicant and each dependent;
• Marriage Certificate if you are applying for dependents and spouse;
• Authentic Police Record from your last place of residency, within one month of application;
• Passport – clear copies of complete passports for applicant and all dependents;
• Proof of Income – an official statement from your bank with details of your pension or annuity amount as well as a written undertaking for the required USD $2,000 monthly or USD $24,000 annual deposit;
• Medical Examination – this is a medical certificate with HIV results for applicant and dependents;
• Photos – four front and four profile recent passport photographs of applicant and dependents.
Are There Any Drawbacks?
There have recently been complaints about the length of time it takes to receive your QRP card. One applicant, Mike McDonnell, stated to the San Pedro Sun that:
“With no cards, we can’t benefit from the program. People have paid their fees and submitted all the required forms with no results.”
According to the BTB, this is because the new biometric cards are being printed by the Immigration Department, a different body. In 2017, Leannie Azueta of the BTB reassured applicants that:
“We are supplying a letter to assist [applicants] in the facilitation of their travels. So whenever they wish to leave, they are supposed to contact us. We would then prepare a letter, sign, stamp it, and scan it over to them or they can pick it up personally. That letter can be used at all border points in Belize.”
It’s worth checking to see whether the BTB have sorted out this logistical issue by now.
What If I Become An Actual Resident?
If you move to Belize, you have a choice: you can either apply for the QRP program itself, or for actual residency. As outlined above, the QRP is a lot quicker. If you would rather become a resident, you’ll need to spend 50 out of 52 weeks for a year in the country, then apply, and your application itself can take up to a year after this. So it’s not a speedy process to gain permanent residency in Belize, and it will restrict your ability to travel – particularly relevant if you’re treating Belize as a second home. If you are younger – remember, you can apply for QRP from the age of 45 – you may find that the restrictions on residency are significant.
However, the BTB is apparently considering a process whereby you can transition from the QRP directly into residency.
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