What Are The Visa And Residency Options For Expats In Belize?
Belize has identified a number of countries whose citizens can visit for a limited time without a visa. The list includes the United States and the United Kingdom, whose citizens may stay for up to one month before applying for permission to remain. Since 2015, any visitor can enter Belize without a visa if they hold a valid multiple entry US visa or a permanent residence card.The citizens of a number of countries, most of which are situated in Africa and the Middle East, must obtain a visa in order to enter Belize. Further clearance checks are required for citizens arriving from a small number of countries including North Korea, Afghanistan and Eritrea. All citizens from these countries should receive them prior to travel.
A full list of the countries and their status for visa-free entry can be found here.
When you arrive in Belize, you must hold a valid passport which will not expire within six months of the date you enter the country. Other identity documents are not acceptable alternatives to a valid passport.
You must also have obtained your outward ticket to show that you are not intending to stay in the country. You must also be able to demonstrate that you can sustain yourself during your stay, and have access to a minimum of $75 a day.
If you arrive from a country where yellow fever is prevalent, or have passed through the airport in one of these countries, you must present a yellow fever vaccination certificate. Only babies under a year old are exempt from this requirement. The mosquito aedes aegypti is present in Belize and would spread the yellow fever virus amongst the resident population if it came into contact with a sufferer. Further information can be found here.
If you are bringing children under the age of 18 into Belize, checks are likely to take place. If you are a single parent or a non-parental accompanying adult, you will need to show documented and notarized proof that the child’s parents have authorized the arrangements.
Everyone leaving Belize must pay a departure tax of US$37.50. This usually forms part of the airfare that passengers have purchased.
If you have been permitted to enter Belize without a visa and decide to extend your stay, you will need to formally apply for an extension each month and pay the required fee. For the first six months, a fee of BZD$50 will be charged; thereafter the fee rises to BZD$100 per month. You also need to provide proof that you have sufficient funds to support yourself. The immigration and nationality department will process the extension paperwork for the tourist card, which often includes a stamp in your passport. There is no limit to the number of extensions you can apply for, but if you remain in the country beyond the extension deadline, the authorities have the right to deport you.
Even if you are living legally in Belize, you are not allowed to work in the country unless you have obtained a work permit, permanent residency or obtained Belize citizenship. This applies to employed and self-employed people.
The application process for work permits is designed to ensure that migrants do not obtain work which could be done by a local citizen. The employer must show that they advertised the position for at least three weeks to the local population, and that no suitable candidates applied; each of these conditions will be checked. Some occupations, such as waiters and tour guides, are restricted only to citizens, and no work permits will be offered for any jobs in these fields.
Work permits for self-employed people are less difficult to obtain if you can demonstrate that you are not taking work from local citizens. You will be especially welcome if you will be creating new employment opportunities for local people.
Qualified Retired Persons Programme
The Qualified Retired Persons (QRP) Programme was introduced by the government in Belize in 1999 as a way to encourage expat retirees to settle in the country. Income and asset qualifications must be met, and successful applicants will not be permitted to work in Belize.
To apply for the QRP visa, you must be over the age of 45. You must have resources earned outside Belize of a size which allows you to pay $24,000 a year into your bank account in Belize. This is a mandatory amount, and you will have to submit your bank statements each year to prove the funds have been deposited. You will not be permitted to earn income through employment or self-employment within Belize at any time with QRP status.
QRP status will also cover your spouse and any children under the age of 18. Older children who attend university will also be permitted to stay in Belize under your QRP visa.
Once you have been granted a QRP visa, you are free to stay in Belize. You can bring your car, boat and all your household goods into Belize without paying any of the country’s high import duties. This allowance also applies to small aircraft.
Anyone with QRP status will benefit from tax advantages, and does not need to live in Belize full time, as long as they are present continuously for one month a year.
To apply for a QRP visa, you must complete and sign the application form. A passport photo, copy of your recent bank statements and your current passport will all be submitted for inspection and processing, along with full payment of the application fee.
Permanent residency status allows you to work in Belize or run a business there without a work permit. You are also allowed to exit and re-enter the country as often as you like. If you decide to apply for permanent resident status or obtain citizenship in Belize, any time you have spent in the county under a QRP visa will not count as part of the eligibility criteria.
The immigration department in the city of Belmopan processes applications for permanent residency. You must have lived in Belize for at least one year, none of it under the QRP visa, during which you must not have left the country for any more than 14 consecutive days.
In addition to completing and signing the Permanent Residency Application form, and providing the supporting documents and photos, you must also take an HIV test. The police will, for a fee, provide the mandatory police certificate; this must be free of any criminal convictions for your application to proceed. You must also submit two personal recommendations from persons with respectable professions; each referee must have known you at least fairly well for at least 12 months. You will also be asked to demonstrate a knowledge of Belizean history.
As part of the application process, you will have to attend a meeting. However, you are allowed to bring along the professional or advisor who is helping you through the immigration process.
You will have to show that you can sustain yourself in Belize without falling on state resources, although unlike the QRP program, you will not need to put a specified sum in the bank or have a set amount of income each month.
The application fee for a permanent residency visa will depend on your current citizenship, as there is a different charge for each country of origin. This can range from hundreds of Belizean dollars to several thousand. Once you are granted residency, you will be asked to pay a further small fee in exchange for the official residency card. The processing time for permanent residency is also variable. Some lucky applicants will receive their permanent residency within a few weeks, whilst others may wait a year or so. This is on top of the qualifying year before you can submit an application. All of this adds up, so given that you cannot legally work in the country without obtaining the work visa – quite a process in itself – you should ensure that you arrive in Belize with plenty of funds to sustain you.
If you have obtained permanent residency rights in Belize, you also have the right to vote in local elections. Only those with full citizenship can vote in general elections.
Once you have lived in Belize legally for five years, you may apply for full citizenship if you wish. The process will take between six and twelve months. Your new passport will carry the logo CC, which stands for Caribbean Community citizenship. You will now be able to travel visa free to the 15 CC countries and dependencies, as well as to the UK and many other countries.
All your children under the age of 18 will then be entitled to citizenship themselves, regardless of their country of origin. However, this will not happen automatically; you must submit the application forms, provide the supporting evidence and pay the mandatory fee.
In the event you marry a citizen or legal permanent resident of Belize, you automatically obtain residency status and can apply for citizenship. The process will take some time to complete; a wait between six and twelve months can be expected. From the day of your marriage, you are free to work in the country, and can travel abroad as often as you like without jeopardizing your residency status. However, you will be asked to prove that the marriage is genuine and not undertaken for immigration reasons. Marriage fraud is routinely investigated and is a serious offence, which may result in a fine, prison sentence and deportation.
Everyone who is born in Belize is automatically and officially recognised as a citizen of the country. The origin and legal status of the child’s parents make no difference to this rule. The medical staff attending the birth will issue an official record, which must be presented to the birth registry in the first few weeks of the child’s life to obtain a birth certificate; your child will then have official recognition as a citizen. You can ask for certified copies of the birth certificate as part of the registration process, which will save you making further visits when providing evidence for legal processes such as obtaining a passport. The birth certificate and certified copies will take up to two weeks to arrive, but for a fee they can be fast tracked so that you receive them within three days.
Equally, if a citizen of Belize gives birth outside the country, the child has an automatic right to citizenship in Belize. It does not matter whether one or both parents were citizens or whether they were permanently residing elsewhere.
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