Belize is an appealing option for expats. Its first language is English, closely followed by Spanish, and it is a local nexus, with low-cost flights to a variety of American destinations on both south and north continents. It has a reputation as being a good place to set up a business. Tourism and agriculture are the main industries, with most high-end tourism businesses owned by non-nationals. We will take a look below at some options for you, whether you want to set up your own business or work for a local company.
Like many countries with a high rate of unemployment, Belize prioritises jobs for locals, so any prospective employer will need to prove that they were unable to fill a post with a local resident. Tour guides, snorkeling and diving instructors must be local. Expats have reported difficulty in finding casual labor as a result.
If you want to work for a local company, rather than setting up on your own, you will need a work permit: it is illegal to work without one (unless you have permanent residency in the country). Permits last for a year and are not renewable – you or your employer will have to re-apply. Obtaining a work permit is not a straightforward process. The work permit itself will be issued to your employer rather than yourself, and you will need to submit the following documents:
• passport + photocopy
• 3 passport sized photos
• bank statement
• employment letter if you have an employer already
• Registration/Trade License of Business if you are self employed
• sponsorship letter from your employer
• $20.00bz postage stamps
• police record (6 months validity)
• three job advertisement clippings from local newspaper (this is to show that your employer has advertised the job locally and made an effort to employ non-foreign nationals)
• proof of qualifications
• letter of recommendations in support of applications from the relevant ministry and local organization concerned with category of employment
You will also need to pay an administration fee of BZD25 (USD$12.42).
If you want to set up your own company, then note that according to the BELTRAIDE association, foreigners cannot own or operate a business unless it is first registered under the Business Name Act or the Companies Act, so make sure you get thorough legal advice before you begin the process.
It is generally considered easier to obtain a work permit for self employment, but you will still need to submit quite a lot of paperwork. However, many expats do navigate the bureaucracy successfully and are running yoga studios, organic farming operations, wine and coffee businesses, or simply working online for employers overseas.
Finding casual work in Belize is difficult, because of the legal requirement that employers hire local workers. Many expats prefer to find a niche in a particular sector and set up their own businesses.
If this is the case with you, then note that the government offers a variety of benefits to businesses who create jobs for local citizens and who contribute to the local economy. Because Belize is a tax haven, the incorporation process is also quite quick, and organisations in the country are used to dealing with expats. You will find that your entrepreneurship is encouraged.
With regard to shortages in skills, Belize is currently lacking a wide range of technical skills, from nursing and childcare, to computer repair, marine technology and heavy duty equipment operation. The government is currently training locals in IT and tourism. Some of these sectors allow for entrepreneurship, but if you have a particular skill or profession, and prefer to work for someone else, it is worth checking with online jobs boards in Belize or an employment agency.
Typical working hours will vary slightly but usually are from 8 a.m. – 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Government offices close at 4 p.m. on Fridays. A typical working week consists of 45 hours or 6 days. Legally, if you work more than 45 hours you will be eligible for overtime.
Workers are entitled to take Belize’s 13 public holidays off, with an additional 2 weeks’ holiday.
Maternity Allowance is paid weekly for a maximum period of 14 weeks, assuming that you have been working for your employer for a specified period of time.
The minimum wage in Belize is currently BZ$3.30 an hour ($1.65).
Your spouse will be able to work if they have a separate work permit, but the provisos above also apply to your spouse (difficulty in finding part time casual work, for example).
You can make speculative applications to companies in Belize.
There are a number of job fairs in Belize and BELTRAIDE runs an annual fair highlighting job vacancies and opportunities for investors. You can also check jobs boards online.
You should have no problems with a standard single or double page CV, as long as it gives details of your qualifications and experience. If you are applying through an employment agency, check with them if there is anything specific that you need to include. Otherwise, the bulk of the bureaucracy around your job application will relate to obtaining a work permit, as above.
The constitution of Belize protects workers from discrimination, however the law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment with respect to disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and there have been reports that in practice the law is not always applied, for example in the case of members of the LGBT community who have experienced discrimination in the workplace on the basis of their sexuality.
If you are highly qualified or have substantial experience, for instance in the manufacturing, technical or engineering sector, then you should be well placed for finding work in Belize. You can check with jobs agencies or directly with an employer to ensure that your qualifications are commensurate with local standards, and you may need to get any certificates or diplomas apostilled.
Belize welcomes immigrants who are in a position to come to the country and establish themselves without government assistance. Professionals whose skills are considered as high in demand in Belize, investors, and retirees are among those who are likely to be approved for a visa.
Belize states that immigrants must be “of good character, in sound health, financially solvent and in possession of a valid passport or other recognised form of travel document.” Please read on for further details.
When any documents in Belize, pertaining to visas, work permits, and immigration, states “sound health”, they essentially mean that the candidate is free from any contagious diseases, including, but not limited to, HIV or AIDS. They also mean that the applicant does not have a chronic illness or disability that will affect their ability to work and support themselves and their dependants.
In this context, when “good character” is mentioned, it is to establish that the applicant has a clear police record in any country that they have previously resided in.
By “financially solvent”, the documents are referring to the candidate’s possession of sufficient funds to support both themselves and any dependants, which usually means their spouse and any children who are less than 18 years old. This amount should be enough to support the applicant and their family in the event that they cannot work, so that they do not need to rely on government social funding.
UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for entering Belize, for any airside transit and for exiting the country. Single parents or adults travelling with children under the age of 18 will be required to provide documentary evidence of parental responsibility, consent to travel from those with parental responsibility, or written proof of guardianship.
Belize imposes a departure tax of around US$50 on all non-nationals leaving the country. This is often included in airfare ticket prices, but you should always check prior to travelling; if it is unclear, seek clarification from your airline provider. If you are required to pay departure tax, it is wise to take the amount in cash, as it is often not possible to pay by card. Leaving by land is also subject to a departure tax, but it is only around US$20 – this must be paid in cash.
All visitors entering Belize must hold a valid passport with a minimum validity of six months past the date of your intended exit – this applies for whatever your reason is for travelling. Nationals from the following countries do not require a visa (or essentially receive a “visa upon entry”) to enter Belize as a tourist for up to 30 days:
• European Union Member States (EU) and their dependent territories
• Citizens of the Caribbean Community Member States (CARICOM), excluding Haiti
• Citizens of the United States of America (USA) and its territories
• Citizens of Costa Rica, Chile, Guatemala, Iceland, Mexico, Norway, South Africa, Tunisia and Uruguay
• Citizens of the Commonwealth Realms & Monarchies, and their dependent territories
• Citizens of Switzerland
• Citizens of the Commonwealth Republics, excluding Bangladesh, Cameroon, Chad, India, Nauru, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Mozambique, and West African countries
Nationals of all other countries require a visa to enter Belize for any length of stay.
All applications and supporting documents must be written in English or accompanied by a certified translation. The following supporting documents will be necessary:
• Your passport
• Two recent passport-size photos
• Proof of travel arrangements
• Proof of accommodation
• Proof of financial means
• Proof of purpose of trip
• Correct payment of fees
• Single-entry (valid for three months) apx USD$78
• Multiple-entry (valid for six months) apx USD$143
If you are on a 30-day entry with a valid visa or permit, you can contact your nearest Immigration Office to apply for a visa extension of another 30 days. This costs around US$15 per extension.
You can download visa application forms and instructions from the Belize High Commission website.
Any foreign citizen who wishes to work in Belize must be a legal resident (i.e. they must have resided in Belize for a minimum of six months). The applicant must be residing in the country legally, with proper visas and/or permits issued by the Immigration Department.
Labour laws in Belize are essentially designed to protect local jobs and enable the employment of as many Belizeans as possible. Technically, anyone seeking employment in Belize can apply for residency, as long as they have a valid passport and an updated visa. However, you will need to have a desirable skillset, or else viable funds to invest, in order for this to be approved. Work permits will generally not be issued to foreigners of domestic and lower level jobs, such as waitresses, vendors, domestic workers (maids, nannies, cooks, etc.) and farm hands.
All applications for residency in Belize are made through the Labour Department. In order to submit an application, you will need to go to your local district labour office. Most local labour offices only accept such applications on certain days of the week, so it is best to check in advance. You can enquire locally or call the Labour Department General Office on (501) 2-44891 and -44907.
The Belize Department of Immigration and Nationality Services lists several types of permits that are available in Belize:
Work permit: You need an offer of employment prior to arrival OR to have been residing in Belize for a minimum of six months before you can apply for a work permit.
Dependant permit: Usually covers your spouse or partner and your dependent children in education.
Student permit: For those wishing to study in Belize at a certified educational institution.
Self-employment permit: This permit is also applicable to foreign investors. This is mostly aimed at self-employed professionals who will be starting and running a business.
You can find information on the exact requirements and supporting documents you need for each permit on the Department of Immigration and Nationality Services website.
Any individual can apply for permanent residence in Belize after paying one year’s worth of legal residence fees on a continuous basis. You must also not have been outside the country for more than a total of 14 days in a year.
There are two residency statuses available – Permanent Residence and Qualified Retired Person (QRP) status. The Permanent Residence status means that you reside in Belize full-time and that someone can employ you.
You will be required to pay an application fee of approximately US$50, and an additional safeguard deposit. The deposit is to ensure that you do not begin to rely on public funds, and will be the equivalent sum of a flight back to your home country. The deposit is returned after a period of three years OR prior to the applicant’s departure from Belize permanently. Alternatively, under special circumstances, a local resident may be able to act as a guarantor in place of the deposit.
Many expats take out private medical insurance, even if this is not a requirement of residence, because healthcare is expensive in their destination country or because certain treatments and procedures are not available.
When taking out health insurance, be sure to check factors such as the annual and lifetime policy limits, whether there are any exclusions which are likely to affect you, whether you are limited to treatment from specific types of healthcare providers, and whether the policy covers emergency evacuation for medical treatment.
Too frequently, potential buyers of health insurance look only for the lowest cost of premiums before really considering the specific benefits and areas of cover they may actually need. Some plans are cheaper for a reason. Often they include large voluntary deductibles on any claim you might make in the future and may severely cap the benefits received under the plan. Clients should define their needs first, establish the particular area of cover they need, then determine their annual healthcare insurance budget. Only then should they look to premium comparisons, last of all.
Do not buy a plan without studying the policy wording carefully. If in doubt, ask, and only when completely satisfied complete all application forms fully, to the best of your ability.
Important questions to ask the insurance provider:
1. Does the plan allow for cooling off periods, cancellation and then repayment of premium in full?
2. Does the plan offer “Moratorium” or is it “Full underwriting” and do you need to have a medical examination before joining?
3. Does the insurer offer a 24 hour help line, 7 days a week, available from anywhere in the world (freephone)? Most insurers now offer this facility.
4. Are pre-existing conditions excluded when joining and if so, for how long are such conditions excluded?
5. Are all and any nationalities accepted or are there restrictions which apply to local nationals? Some insurers will only take expatriates abroad and not local nationals into an overseas plan.
6. Does the plan allow you to continue cover unbroken through your lifetime? In most cases insurers will continue to offer existing clients cover year on year, irrespective of age or claims history, although premium rates charged can increase dramatically with age.
7. Does the insurer allow for any doctor or consultant or hospital within the plan? Are there any restrictions in this respect? Most international plans do not place restrictions on either hospitals or doctors, but almost all demand that their help lines are called first, prior to approval of any inpatient care.
8. Does the insurer provide for the direct settlement of bills presented by hospitals worldwide, regardless of location (or do you have to pay first)?
9. What are the insurers procedures for outpatient claims? Do these require any pre-authorization or if stated in the plan can you just pay and claim? How long before you get money back from the insurer? 14 days? 28 days?.
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The official language of Belize is English, and the county’s legal system is based on English case law. As a result, all rental agreements and supporting correspondence will be in English. The independent judiciary means that any serious dispute between a landlord and tenant can be resolved through legal process without any concerns about bribes and connections affecting the judicial decisions. Belize is therefore a secure country in which to rent property.
Properties can now be easily rented directly from the owner, either through personal referrals or via websites such as Airbnb. If you choose to go via a website, take great care to ensure the property really exists and belongs to the person representing themselves as the landlord. Do not pay a security deposit and advance payment of rent in cash or by direct bank transfer before you have even seen the property. If it turns out that you have been scammed, you are extremely unlikely to recover any of the money.
Real estate agents and property management companies offer longer term rental properties than those offered on Airbnb. Using these companies can help resolve any issues more smoothly than having to deal with a landlord directly.
However, anyone can become a real estate agent in Belize. There are no training or qualification requirements, and no prior experience is needed to enter the profession. Real estate agency is based on commission payments. If you can find a real estate agency through the personal recommendation from friends or people you can trust, that is ideal. However you go about it, do your research before dealing with any agency to ensure you only spend time and money on a reputable firm.
Long-term rentals will have a cheaper weekly charge than that levied for short term holiday lets, but the lease will normally have to run for six months as a minimum. Many landlords will offer leases of twelve months, with the lease stipulating conditions for renewals and exit clauses.
When considering the length of your lease, issues such as your income, job and hopes for the future will obviously form part of your decision making. However, remember that changes in your life, health or financial circumstances can all have an impact on your ability to stick to a plan. Similarly, events back in your home country may require you to return. In any of these events, the ability to terminate the lease at an earlier stage without undue financial penalties will enable you to cope more easily with those unexpected changes.
It is a good idea to seek out your rental home during quieter times of the year. November is ideal because there are few tourists visiting. If you arrive at Semana Santa in the very busy week before Easter, access to properties becomes difficult and the accommodation costs you incur during your search will be much higher.
A security deposit equivalent to a month and a half’s rent is typically due when you sign the rental agreement. At least the first month of rent will also be paid, and your rental payments will continue to be paid in advance throughout the life of the lease.
Most of the properties offered for rental will be fairly basic, although air conditioning is normally included. If you are willing to pay more, you can find properties which include a pool and pool maintenance, caretaker, landscaped garden with grounds maintenance, boat mooring, kitchen appliances, washer and dryer, cable TV and resort amenities. These superior properties may often be found in gated communities. The rental costs will be much higher than a standard property, reflecting the additional costs that the landlord is paying and the higher value of the property. A spacious two bedroomed home at this level of the market can cost US$1,500 a month in rental charges, compared to US$500 a month for a more basic, partially furnished two bedroomed apartment.
Properties in tourist hotspots with convenient access to city centres and properties close to a beach will command premium prices for monthly rent. If you are determined to have a particular location in an expensive area and do not have a generous budget, you may need to determine the minimum number of rooms you can live in so that the rent does not eat up all your income.
Some services may be included in the marketing of the property but then need to be paid for by the tenant as a fee additional to the rental charge. Utilities and services are normally paid by the tenant. This includes electricity, which is expensive compared to the costs charges in many Western countries. Due to the range of charges and the variability of who will pay for them, it is important to check your rental agreement thoroughly before you sign it. If a service has been omitted from the contract and you are then separately billed for it, you will have difficulty making a legal challenge.
Never move into a property without a lease in place. If a colleague or acquaintance offers free use of a property for which no written evidence of the terms and conditions exists, unexpected charges might lead to disputes and could sour your relationship with the person loaning you the flat. As communities in Belize are often small, with neighbors tending to know each other’s business, a dispute of this nature may make people wary of accepting you and thus make it harder to settle into your new life in Belize.
Generally, the supply of electricity, heating, water and domestic rubbish collection services will cost a minimum of BZ$300 (Or US$150) each month. Broadband internet charges can cost about the same, as can phone and satellite TV package costs. Your monthly utilities bills can therefore quickly add up to a similar cost as your rent.
Phones and cable TV will normally take less than three days to connect after you have contacted the service provider.
Houses are often offered furnished, which means there is at least a minimum provision of furniture and fixtures, allowing a family to comfortably move in and live there straight away. Partially furnished homes will be very basically provided for, and require investment in kitchen appliances for example. Unfurnished properties will have empty rooms with the bare minimum kitchen and bathroom fittings.
Pets are rarely allowed in rental homes, because of the damage they can do to the furniture and fixtures. Sometimes pets will be permitted if they are to be kept inside. Where a landlord will allow a pet to be kept indoors, they typically stipulate that it must be a small pet only.
Anyone with sufficient funds can purchase property and land in the Central American country of Belize, regardless of residency status or nationality. Migrant landholding restrictions were abolished almost 20 years ago. You do not even need to be present in Belize in order to purchase a property there.
You can purchase property under a company’s title holding, including offshore financial instruments. This has tax and privacy advantages, although there are costs to running a company which must be assessed if you are just buying a holiday home for yourself. Seek expert financial advice about the options available for your personal circumstances.
Belize was once a British colony. Even after a change of name from British Honduras to Belize and achieving independence, the country remains a part of the British Commonwealth, with Queen Elizabeth II as Monarch. Despite being on a European Union ‘non-cooperative jurisdictions’ tax haven blacklist, Belize receives millions of pounds from the UK overseas aid budget to invest in infrastructure, such as roads and ports.
Because of these historic and ongoing close ties to the UK, Belize has a legal system based on English common law. All legal documents are in English, and the long established legal system is upheld by the country’s constitution and independent jurisdiction. The currency has been pegged to US dollars since 1978, with one Belize dollar being worth two US dollars.
This combination of legal and financial stability gives assurance to prospective buyers.
Local interest rates for mortgage loans are very high compared to international standards, and the loans work differently to most Western countries’ mortgage systems. Specialist advice from a financial provider who thoroughly understands international financial methods and instruments would be highly advisable if you do not have sufficient funds to purchase a property outright.
Your property search will probably involve the services of an estate agent, or real estate agent. In Belize, anyone can become a real estate agent. No minimum educational, training or employment barriers exist. This means the buyer must be particularly cautious; referrals from trusted local sources and friends are strongly advised.
Once you have found a property you wish to buy, you will submit a legally binding offer to the seller. This will include a due diligence period so that your attorney can undertake searches prior to completion. If you are not physically present in Belize, your offer can be made electronically, and will still have the legally binding status of a written offer made in the country.
Once the seller has accepted your offer, you cannot withdraw from the purchase without penalty, unless something significant is found during the attorney’s searches.
You may prefer to employ a local attorney, as they will understand the processes and pitfalls of the local property market better than an international firm. You should seek out referrals from trusted sources wherever possible, though be aware that an estate agent may be making a referral in order to receive commission for it.
An attorney will charge about two percent of the property purchase price; in return you need an investigation of all potential issues connected with the property and a correct submission of official paperwork.
You may wish to employ the services of a paralegal rather than an attorney, and there is no legal reason to stop you doing this. If the individual or firm you select to do this has plenty of experience and an excellent track record, they are likely to perform the job well.
Your attorney or paralegal will check that the property comes with a clear title. They will inspect the lands registry, and if the property is held in a company name they will also inspect the registration information for the company. All liens, judgements and encumbrances should be identified at this point.
No dispute over the ownership of land can be made once 30 years have passed. Therefore, if the property being sold is not registered under the modern registration system, the attorney or paralegal must complete additional work to prepare an abstract of title which covers the past 30 years.
If you are looking to buy a condominium, be aware of the legal complexity this may involve. Strata titles, which allow you to own a unit within a building without owning the footprint of the land it stands on, are available only within the new registration locations. Elsewhere, such units will be sold under corporate share certificates, which citizens of the US refer to as co-ops, even if the developer refers to them as condominiums. You should also consider the long term maintenance issues of any shared building, as you may receive hefty unexpected bills or find that routine maintenance is neglected.
A survey of the property will be undertaken, which you will pay for. Surveyors have to be well trained in order to obtain a license. Many are Western expats who have moved to Belize.
Once the attorney has completed the necessary searches, an agreement for sale will be drawn up. You will pay the attorney a deposit or down payment for the property, which will be held in a client or escrow account.
Once all documents have been completed to the satisfaction of both the buyer’s and seller’s attorneys, and the parties have signed, the full payment will be completed. The majority of property purchase transactions are made in US dollars.
Copies of the sale documents will be processed at the Lands Registry. A stamp duty payment of 5 percent will be paid to the government, which is substantially lower than the 15 percent paid more than 10 years ago. The seller does not pay any capital gains tax.
As the new owner, you will receive the original copy of the agreement for sale document.
Annual property taxes are charged at 1.5 percent of a property’s assessed value.
Annual insurance costs average 1.5 percent for a concrete property and 2.5 percent for a wooden property. There are several companies who will provide a good and reliable insurance product, including insurance against fire and hurricanes. You will often have an excess built into the policy, meaning that in event of a claim, you will have to pay a specified percentage of the losses yourself. Make sure you are aware of this percentage when assessing which insurance policy to buy.
If you will be absent from Belize for much of the year, squatters are unlikely to be a problem because the anti-squatting laws are strict. A squatter would have to have continuous and undisturbed possession of your property for 30 years on national and conveyed lands, or 12 years on registered lands, before they could try to claim title to the land via the supreme court of Belize.
Increasingly, expats are building custom homes in Belize. Access to affordable land and building costs make this a realist ambition for some people, but the laid-back nature of the community can make it a frustrating experience for those who have yet to adjust to the new pace of life.
Consider if you want (or are able) to transport your belongings yourself or whether you will need the services of a removals company that deals with international moves. Unless you are travelling very light, or making a fairly short move by road, you will probably need professional help to ship your possessions. Ask for quotes from several companies first, ensuring that they visit your home to carry out a survey of your requirements. It may be worth paying extra for the removals firm to pack your possessions for you, particularly if they are going to be transported to a distant country and need special protection for the long journey. Make sure you bring to their attention anything fragile or precious that needs particularly careful wrapping and packing.
Before agreeing to a quotation, ensure that you are fully aware of exactly what is covered in the price, and that the service to be provided meets all of your requirements. For example, does the service include both packing and unpacking of your household effects? What about disassembling and reassembling of furniture? If you are planning to put anything into storage in your destination country while you find accommodation, does the price include final delivery and unpacking at your home, or will you need to arrange collection of the items? Obtain a firm estimate of the likely arrival date of your items and obtain contact details for any agents that will be dealing with the removal in your destination country. Ensure that the removals company is aware in advance of any practical considerations such as the lack of an elevator to your apartment, or likely parking problems.
If using a removals company, you may be required to take out their insurance cover for your possessions. Whether or not this is the case, ensure that you have adequate insurance for anything of actual or sentimental value that could get lost or damaged during the move. Take the time to accurately complete or check an inventory of your possessions to be moved, as this will form the basis for any insurance claim for losses or damages. Find out if insurance is included in the price quoted by the removals company, or whether you are required to pay extra for this.
The removals company should arrange any customs and importation documents on your behalf, but if you are arranging the move independently you will need to find out what documents are required and what import duties and taxes are payable (and whether you are eligible for exemption from these).
Make sure that you set aside the important documents you will need for the journey, such as passports and air tickets, and keep these easily accessible in your hand luggage.
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QUICK LINK: Belize health insurance
All publicly insured residents in Belize are entitled to receive medical services from state facilities, which are free at the point of use. To receive public insurance, you need to contribute to the public insurance scheme through the social security board, or SSB. All births in the country are registered with the SSB. Anyone who arrives in Belize and obtains a work permit, permanent residency or becomes a citizen will be registered with the SSB at that point.
Contributions into the SSB scheme are made by employees and their employers. The scheme covers emergency and elective medical treatment, and offers benefits to those unable to work through illness, maternity and retirement.
The public healthcare system, which provides the majority of healthcare in Belize, is run by the government’s ministry of health. Since 1990, there have been reforms to the state healthcare system which increased involvement of the private sector in state run services.
There is a significant variation in the emergency and elective services offered across the country. Rural services are quite basic when compared to the modern, well-equipped medical centers in Belize City. The differing resources available to these hospitals obviously impacts on the quality of medical care they can offer. One of the reasons for this disparity is the large percentage of health funds specifically allocated to funding public healthcare in Belize City.
In Belize today, practices such as Spiral C.T scans, X-ray services, mammogram, 4D ultrasound and bone mineral density are more readily available. Natural and herbal medicines are also traditional in Belize.
Treatment for mental health issues has been part of the state healthcare provision for many years. The Rockview Hospital in the Central region and the Belmopan Hospital in the Western region provide the majority of mental health treatment, especially to those requiring urgent inpatient care. The district hospitals each employ psychiatric staff to deliver outpatient care.
Struggling To Meet Demand
As in many other countries, the healthcare system in Belize struggles to meet demand. There are waiting lists for referrals, and medical staff vacancies. The Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital is one of the country’s premier hospitals, but has experienced shortages in medical supplies and problems with maintenance of technical equipment.
Some medical services have not yet been developed in Belize. Biopsy samples, for example, are sent overseas for testing, increasing the patient’s wait for test results. Chemotherapy is available in Belize, but radiation therapy is not. This is partly a result of reduced resources. In addition, experienced and qualified staff are needed to run any medical process, and Belize struggles to recruit and maintain these staff in sufficient quantity.
Shortages of medical staff are not unique to Belize but do cause pressure on this country’s state healthcare service. Well-qualified individuals can earn far more working by in more prosperous countries. Those medical staff who do work in Belize tend to prefer easy access to the superior work and leisure facilities available in Belize City. Therefore this staff shortage is particularly acute in areas other than Belize City.
If you have not made the required contributions to the public insurance scheme, you are not eligible to receive free state healthcare and so will have to pay for state medical services. For many expats, this will be affordable as costs are low when compared to those of private healthcare in many developed countries.
Many expats will choose to access private healthcare in order to avoid waiting lists for state funded appointments. Approximately 25 percent of the medical workforce in Belize are employed in the private sector, delivering private healthcare to 15 percent of the population. Treatment can be provided more quickly to these people. In addition, inpatients at state run hospitals will be placed on shared wards with shared bathrooms. For those who can afford it, a private room with an en suite bathroom is often preferable.
You can access private healthcare by purchasing a private healthcare plan, or by paying directly for treatment you have received. While consultation costs are affordable, surgery and duration of care in hospital can make the costs add up. A private healthcare plan would prevent expensive bills appearing when you are ill or have had an accident. A number of insurance companies in Belize offer private healthcare plans for residents, and these make access to help when you need it more straightforward than holding an international insurance product.
La Loma Luz Hospital, Belize Medical Associates and Universal Health Services deliver in-patient hospital care. More than 50 private clinics also operate around the country. Some of these hospitals and clinics are run for profit, whilst other deliver private care on a not for profit basis.
Staying Healthy In Belize
In order to keep healthy, avoid drinking water out of the tap. In many areas around the country, rainwater is collected and used by families as their main water source. The tap water in Belize City approaches western standards, but it is best to purchase bottled water. Given the humidity, heat and risk of sunstroke, make sure you drink plenty of bottled water each day. When ordering drinks in bars and restaurants, ask that ice is not added to your drink. Whilst the ice will cool the drink, you do not know what the water source was.
You will need a number of vaccinations before you enter Belize. You should obtain these about six weeks before arrival.
Female mosquitos who are pregnant and about to lay eggs will bite humans. In many areas of the world, these bites pose no harm to human health. In Belize, however, there are a number of diseases which mosquitos can pass on. In 2016, the global epidemic of the zika virus reached Belize, and within 12 months more than a hundred cases were identified in the country. Mosquito bites are also responsible for the transmission of the chikunyunga virus, which affects victims every year in Belize. Malaria is also present in Belize, especially in the rural areas to the south, west and north of the country.
There are over fifty species of snakes living in the country, eight of which have poison deadly enough to kill humans. These include the aggressive and nocturnal fer de lance, the mild tempered Central American corn snake, the deadly but shy Maya coral snake, the tree dwelling eyelash viper, the small hognose viper, the heavy bodied Mexican moccasin, the neotropical rattlesnake – the only rattlesnake found in Belize – and the stocky nocturnal jumping viper. If you are venturing into the jungle, make sure you have an experienced guide with you. They should be able to recognise venomous snakes and take appropriate emergency action in the rare event that you are bitten.
If you are stung by a scorpion in Belize, it will be painful but your life will not be in danger.
Sand flies are present in a number of areas of Belize. Whilst most people do not suffer ill health after being bitten, leishmaniasis disease sometimes occurs. If your bites do not heal, ask for a referral to a tropical medicine specialist, otherwise you may be left with small scars.
Despite the great poverty in Belize, and the Guatemalan threat that once stood in its way to independence from the UK, the country is politically stable. It is a democratic nation operating through a Parliamentary system, under the rules of a Constitution. Queen Elizabeth II, as monarch of each separate commonwealth country, is the ruling head of Belize, although most of her powers are exercised by the Governor-General. Many of the legal and financial systems of the country are based on the British model. As such, Belize is seen as a secure location in which to hold assets.
Since the 1990s, Belize has been a tax haven, both for offshore companies and for retired expats who live there.
The official currency in Belize is the Belize dollar, which is divided into 100 cents. You will see prices written as $ or more typically BZ$. Coins are available as 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 cents and $1. Notes of $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 worth are in circulation.
Since Belize is a Commonwealth country, the Queen’s head remained on its currency even after full independence was gained. The notes are carefully designed so that the other images reflect the country’s own wildlife, history and culture.
Bank branches in Belize have fairly short opening hours, and normally close at 2pm or 3pm.
Most upmarket businesses in and around the cities and coastline which are popular with expats will have debit and credit card payment terminals. ATMs will be plentiful in these areas. Out in the rural areas, cash will be required and ATMs may be harder to locate.
Many businesses will accept payment in US dollar notes, although US cent coins will not be widely accepted. If paying in US dollars, make sure you agree the US amount before payment; since 1978, the currency has been pegged so that one US dollar is worth two Belize dollars.
As in any country, expats may well spend their first few months translating costs into their home currency and comparing them. In Belize, this make you feel as though many things are very cheap, meaning you pay less attention to the local going rate for the items you are purchasing. Whether you are paying for these goods out of your earnings or retirement funds, becoming more savvy about your outgoings will make your money stretch further, especially as Belize is the most expensive country in its part of the world.
Buying locally produced food will help drive down your household costs. Imports will be more expensive, especially for items such as processed food from the UK and US. This may require a period of adjustment to adjust your diet, but the improvement in your wallet – and potentially your health – will be worth the effort.
While housing, food, medical expenses and taxes in Belize is cheaper than in many Western countries, there are some other elements of life there which will cost more. Electricity and internet costs will be higher than you expect, and the price of petrol or gasoline for your car may be higher if you have arrived from countries which don’t impose taxes on it.
If you are living in a part of Belize popular with expats, there will be many places to eat and be entertained, sports and leisure facilities, and places to be pampered. The costs of a busy life enjoying these facilities can soon add up, especially if you previously led a quiet life in your home country. The cost of services in a basic establishment serving the local low wage population will be much less than the elegant facilities offered to expats, but you may prefer to pay the difference for the superior facilities and convenient location.
If you wish to open a current account in Belize, you will need to bring documents which confirm your identity. These will include an original utility bill to confirm your home address. A copy of your passport, or other identity document including your name, signature and photograph will need to be notarized. Sometimes banks will request further identity documents.
You will also need to include in your application a letter from your previous bank confirming that you were a client for a minimum of two years. A reference letter from a lawyer or accountant who has known you for at least two years is also required, and if you cannot provide this then a letter from a second bank will be needed. Again, the bank must confirm you were a customer for at least two years.
It is possible to find banks in Belize which offer customers a multi-currency account. These can include Euros, Pound Sterling and US dollars.
The SWIFT system, a secure method of making international wire transfers, can be used by customers of the international and offshore banks in Belize.
The retired persons incentive programme allows people to live in Belize tax free. To qualify, you must be aged over 45 and deposit a minimum of $2,000 a month from income or investments earned outside of Belize into a local bank account. Alternatively, you may pay $24,000 once a year from your investments into a bank account held in Belize. No tax will be applied to earned or passive income, regardless whether it is remitted in Belize or not.
Anyone entering the country under the incentive programme is allowed to import their personal and household goods, plus a car or a boat, without having to pay taxes or import duties, up to the value of $15,000.
In 1996, Belize implemented the international business companies (IBC) act, the trusts act, and the offshore banking act. Further amendments took place in the year 2000. As a result of these laws, companies can now be incorporated in Belize within a few hours. The country holds a comprehensive, computerized register of IBCs. These have a tax free status from income, dividends, interest and capital gains, and pay no stamp duty. There are no reporting requirements. No company secretary is needed. At least one shareholder must be appointed, but there is no maximum limit imposed.
Trust incorporation in Belize allows all personal and business earnings to be received free of any tax charges. Inheritance, succession and gifting are also exempt from tax.
In traditional tax havens which have treaties with other governments, such as Switzerland and Luxembourg, concerns about tax evasion and corruption have led to some regulatory changes. Belize has been unaffected by these as they do not have any tax treaties with other governments. The country’s banking regulation only allows names and account information for companies, foundations and trusts to be disclosed through a court order as part of a criminal disclosure.
There are no legal restrictions on the amount of currency which can be moved in and out of Belize. There is no exchange control policy, so offshore companies incorporated in Belize do not have to report currency transfers, at any level.
Financial institutions who maintain and operate services in Belize can apply for an A-Class unrestricted license. This requires a license fee of $20,000 to be paid each year, and the company must hold capital of at least $3 million. International companies are required to hold capital of at least $25 million. The unrestricted license permits banking operations without local regulation.
Limited licenses, also known as B-Class licenses, are available for local financial institutions who have a minimum capital holding of $1 million, or $15 million in the case of international companies. The licenses cost $15,000 per year. Restricted banking activities are permitted as set out in the license. Deposits from the general public cannot be sought or accepted. Checking and current accounts cannot be provided.
International Financial Services in Belize are regulated by the international financial services commission.
There are many ways of sending money from one country to another. As always, expats can save themselves a lot of trouble and expense if they do a little research and shop around for the best deal.
International Bank Transfers
For most expats, currency transfer involves transferring small to medium sized amounts regularly from an existing bank account back home into a new overseas bank account in the local currency. These may be pension payments, benefits, or any other form of income.
Your home bank will usually be glad to oblige. You can set up facilities with them “on demand” whereby you fax or call them on the phone, provide a secret code or two, tell them the amount in question, and they will transfer it to your new bank, automatically converting it into the relevant local currency. Some banks also allow you to make international payments online. Whatever method you choose, transfers normally take between 3-7 days although 1-2 day transfers are often available but be prepared to pay more for these.
You can also set up regular transactions that are processed automatically on a fixed day of each month. Many state pensions and benefits can be paid directly into your new bank abroad without going through your home bank at all. Some private pension organisations may also offer the same facility.
When you first set up a transfer of funds abroad, the sending bank or institution will ask you for various codes that identify the destination bank. Often they will ask for IBAN (International Bank Account Number), BIC (Bank Identifier Code) or SWIFT codes but don?t panic – your new bank will give these to you and they may even already be listed in your new chequebook or bank statements.
As far as charges are concerned, you will probably be required to pay a flat fee per transaction. Additionally a percentage fee is often charged for the currency conversion itself. You may also find that your receiving bank charges you for receiving the transfer. Charges vary by bank but can quickly add up – ask your bank(s) for an indication of the fees involved.
As a general rule, transferring larger sums less frequently usually works out cheaper than transferring smaller amounts more often. However, if you need to transfer regular amounts of at least a few hundred pounds/dollars or need to make a larger one-off payment (e.g. for a house purchase) you should consider the services of a currency broker.
Cash Machine/ATM Withdrawals
Thanks to modern technology, most people abroad can go to a cash machine/ATM and withdraw local currency funds directly from their home bank account. This is a useful option to have for expats but exercise caution – many banks make hefty charges for using this type of facility. You may also find that withdrawal limits are in place (as a security measure) even if you significant funds in your account back home.
You can also use VISA or Mastercard credit cards to obtain cash in this fashion and if you pay the amount off quickly and avoid interest charges then fine – but once again credit card charges for cash withdrawals can be high. Check the rates carefully.
Currency brokers (also called foreign exchange brokers) offer significant advantages over traditional banks. Firstly, brokers will often be able to offer you a better rate than your bank. Secondly, the entire process is more transparent – many banks require you to accept the exchange rate available on the day they process your transaction, whatever and whenever that may be, but a specialist broker will offer greater flexibility, even allowing you to specify the rate you want in advance.
Currency brokers are smaller companies than major banks so always check their background carefully. Ask existing expats for their own experiences and recommendations before choosing a firm to handle your own foreign exchange requirements.
A good broker will discuss all the options with you and enable you to make the best decision for your circumstances. Using a broker will typically off the following advantages:
1) Currency brokers generally provide superior exchange rates to the high street banks. The currency brokers have access to the interbank rate and do not have the high costs that the banks have. This means that they can usually offer better exchange rates.
2) Use of a free Market Watch/Order Service: This allows you to tell your currency broker your target or budget exchange rate and they will ring you if that exchange rate level is reached. As the rate moves every few seconds, currency brokers can act as your eyes and ears on the market.
3) Ability to fix the exchange rate in advance using a Forward Contract. If you know you need to convert/move funds in the future but don?t yet have the money you can reserve a rate in advance using a Forward Contract. During this period, you are exposed to exchange rate movements and therefore, a forward contract is ideal if, for example, you have agreed to buy a house and want to fix the rate now but will not be making payment for a couple of months.
Savings from currency brokers can vary from between 1 and 4 per cent on the exchange rate alone, and specialists do not typically charge any fees for transmitting the funds abroad, unlike banks which often levy expensive fees or charges. If you are emigrating and transferring a large sum of money – such as the proceeds of a property – a foreign exchange company could potentially save you thousands.
Compare quotes from leading foreign exchange currency brokers
Belize, the former British colony of British Honduras, is an independent member of the British Commonwealth. Situated in Central America, it is bordered by Guatemala and Mexico, and has a rich, complex and currently contentious history: Guatemala claims that all or part of Belize belongs to itself.
Belize has a diverse geography, and the second largest coral reef in the world, making it a very popular tourist destination. It is also an oil producer, and a major sugar and banana exporter.
Belize has a growing population of some 400,000, and yet the lowest population density of any Central American country. The population is roughly 50% Mestizo, and 25% Creole, with a minority Mayan contingent. Many Britons, Americans and Canadians have also chosen to live in Belize, making up a fairly sizeable expat community.
The official language in Belize is British English, used in education and communications, but given the proximity of Spanish-speaking nations, multi-lingualism is heavily encouraged by the government through various education programs. English is spoken by more than two thirds of the population, and about half speak Spanish. Half also speak Belizian Creole, and the minority Mayan language can also be heard.
If English is not your native tongue, then learning or improving it will naturally help you to communicate and settle better, and it will be vital in the workplace. It is preferable to possess a level of confidence and proficiency in English before you arrive.
You may need to consider an online English course, or attending an international school. This is especially important if you need occupation-specific proficiency, for example in banking, finance, or medical English.
There are many courses in English available on the internet catering for all levels. Some will be free to a certain level. There are also several international language schools in Belize with a wide variety of courses in English to help you when you arrive.
Daily commerce and general conversation in Belize will be in English, but then these daily interactions will improve your level of proficiency fairly quickly, as you will essentially be immersed in the language and culture. You should also be able to find locals willing to coach you or encourage you by engaging in conversation over a coffee or a beer.
You may also wish to explore the idea of learning Spanish, which is the third largest language per capita in the world, spoken by almost half a billion people worldwide. The Caribbean is flanked by many Spanish speaking countries, and some facility in the language will help you if you wish to visit them. It will also help you in the Spanish speaking regions of Belize.
There are many excellent Spanish language courses available on the internet, some free (if you don’t mind the advertising). There are also a number of Spanish learning opportunities, particularly in the capital, Belmopari, and Belize City, and plenty more over the border in Guatemala.
Linguistic experts recommend an immersive learning experience as the quickest and most reliable method to acquire or consolidate a new language. If you need to improve your English, this should be a matter of going about and engaging with the local population, reading English books or newspapers, and watching English-language TV or films without subtitles.
Similarly for learning or improving your Spanish, immersing yourself in Spanish language television and newspapers is a good plan. Expat learners report that teaching standards are generally very good. There are also a few locals who offer private coaching, particularly in Belize City.
For conversation or practice, rely on your own knowledge and a good phrasebook rather than digital translation: although some areas of Belize have decent internet connection, the wifi is sometimes slow and you may not be able to access your phone at all times.
Whilst it is not easy for an expat to secure work in Belize, there are a few possibilities. A high standard of English will be expected. Specialist jobs may be available in ecology management, for example, for the suitably qualified.
Teaching English in Belize is another possibility. There are several international schools, and contracts can be anything from six months upwards. These teaching jobs are available to anyone with a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate. Please note that it is always easier to get work in international education if you have at least a certificate in either TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages).
Most language teaching jobs would be in Belize City, but there will be opportunities for you in more adventurous locations. Rates of pay vary considerably, and if you are intending to stay long-term you need to factor in the cost of living, and your own desired lifestyle.
If you intend to teach English in Belize, it is preferable to have experience in teaching schemes such as the Cambridge English exams or IELTS (International English Language Testing System): the English test for study, migration or work. Some teaching experience in the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) will also be helpful. This assesses analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills in written English for use in admission to graduate management programs, such as the MBA.
You may also find work more easily if you are experienced in teaching English for particular sectors, such as tourism and hospitality or medical English.
Belize has a population of a little over 400,000, and has a well-developed tourist industry and sugar and banana plantations. There is also a sizeable, active expat community, many with children of school age, but facilities are limited.
Successive governments in Belize have made numerous attempts to separate the state education system from its colonial past, with mixed results. Spending on education is over 7% of GDP, which places Belize in the upper league on this metric. The population of Belize is notably young, and roughly 90,000 students are nominally enrolled in educational institutions up to university level. However, the literacy rate remains stubbornly below 85%, and many children in more rural areas in the south may never finish their schooling, often due to lack of resources and qualified teachers, and the pressures of local agriculture. There remain significant political issues over the distribution of the generous education budget and the efficacy of expenditure.
Primary school attendance in Belize is compulsory and free for all aged 5 – 14, although many never complete school, and the cost of books and school uniforms may prevent poorer families sending their children to secondary schools. That said, there are government programs to introduce compulsory teacher qualifications to improve the quality of lessons. The programs are ongoing, and are being monitored by various education analysts worldwide for signs of significant improvement.
There are nursery facilities, again some government-funded. The education system is organised and controlled by the Ministry of Education.
The education system in Belize was based firmly on the British system with the school year beginning in September and ending with exams in June, and the day starting at 08:30 and ending at around 15:00. Increasingly under the influence of Jesuit organisations, the system is moving more towards the American model.
Primary education culminates at age 14, when children sit the Primary School Examination (PSE). Secondary education continues to age 17, when they are expected to sit the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) exams – the equivalent of British GCSEs. A select few may then continue for two years to Cambridge A Level exams, but funding is left to the families, which is prohibitively expensive for many local children.
There are vocational and apprentice schools, and also adult retraining facilities, which are being promoted by the government to ensure that school leavers can find a job and fit in.
In the public sector there are several nurseries and pre-schools, and many primary schools with state-controlled curricula. These are augmented by private establishments at all levels, many of which are also at least partially government subsidised.
Additionally, homeschooling is another possible option, made legal in Belize in 2010. There are many underlying reasons why parents choose to homeschool, but this method of tuition is still very uncommon in Belize, and you will need to contact the local authorities in your area to establish whether this is a realistic option, and what paperwork and ongoing procedures will be required: expect bureaucracy.
Given that the ongoing issues in the state system are unlikely to be solved in the short term, almost all expats will be exploring private education facilities, which in any case also potentially offer a better fit for their circumstances.
Private school curricula will nominally adhere closely to Ministry of Education requirements but differ in emphasis, especially in faith-based schools. The overall emphasis is on a well-rounded, multicultural, and multilingual education.
Given the size of the population — local and expat — such facilities are limited, and competition for places may be fierce.
Private and international schools in Belize include:
• Belize High School
• QSI International School of Belize
• San Pedro High School
• Peninsula International Academy
Fees, curricula, and extra-curricular activities will vary considerably, and need to be ascertained with the individual school. You should always look at the small print as many schools require capital fund payments for structural and material improvements on top of tuition fees.
At the highest education level, Belize contributes to the University of the West Indies, which operates a small extramural department in Belize City. Other postsecondary institutions include:
• University of West Indies, Open Campus
• Belize School of Nursing
• Belize School of Agriculture
• University College of Belize
• Galen University
UWI has a small open campus in Belize City which offers online connection for students. The university offers a very wide range of degree level courses, including Arts & Humanities, Business & Social Sciences, Language & Cultural, and Science & Technology.
The likelihood is that most Belizian and international students will want to continue their higher education elsewhere. The education system, at the higher levels at least, is set up for their academic achievements to be recognised, and to enable them to fit in wherever they go in the world.