Residency options may not be on the top of your list when you first arrive in the country, but if staying in Belize is on your short list you may want to keep your options in mind. Upon arriving in Belize you will receive a “Visitor Visa” based on your expected time of stay. The maximum visa issued will be one month. If you need more time, or would like to stay permanently, you will need to renew your visitor visa and pursue one of these three residency options.
- The QRP Program.
- Permanent Residency.
- Perpetual Tourist
Three unique Residency options. Which one is right for you?
Qualified Retired Persons (QRP) Program.
To qualify for the QRP Program, individuals must be at least 45 years of age. You will have to prove permanent income of at least US$2000.00/month from an investment, pension, or other retirement benefits. An individual who qualifies may also include a spouse and children under age 18.
Some advantages of this program are that it is administered by The Belize Tourism Board (BTB) and can be applied for before even moving to Belize. In addition, once approved you will be permitted to import your personal items and an approved method of transportation duty free. This is a one shot deal and must be done within one year of entering the program. Finally a Qualified Retired Person will be free of income tax.
Some disadvantages of this program are that while you can operate a business. You can never work under this program. You can never become a citizen. Finally, if you choose this residency option, you will need to provide documentation annually proving income, status of dependents, as well as, other proof that you still qualify for this program. Also note if you leave this program in the future, no time is credited towards a Permanent Residency application and you will be required to pay back any benefits received from the program.
The process to apply for Permanent Residency is similar to the QRP Program but with a few key differences. Firstly, after you have lived in Belize for one full year you will make your application to the Director of Immigration and Naturalization. During this first year you must maintain your visitor visa and may not leave the country for more than 14 days total or the clock will reset.
Permanent Residency is the most common of the residency options. Chosen by people who have not yet reached retirement age but have decided to stay and make a life in Belize.
This process can be more expensive and take a little longer. However, I believe the benefits will pay for themselves in the long run. As a Permanent Resident you will be permitted to work once approved and enjoy all the benefits of a Belizean except you will not have the right to vote. After being a permanent resident for 5 years you may apply to become a citizen of Belize.
Note: Citizens of commonwealth countries need not be approved for permanent Residence to apply for voter cards. You may apply after living in Belize for one year, and at least two months in the district that you apply in.
Perpetual Tourist technically should not be included as one of the residency options. It is an option that will allow you to remain in the country legally. A perpetual tourist is someone who continues to renew their visitor visa indefinitely. If you are still unsure about staying in Belize permanently, or if you will only spend a few months a year this may be an option for you.
You will remain a visitor and will not enjoy any of the benefits that the other two programs offer. For example, you can not work or engage in any business activity without the permission of the Director of Immigration and by purchasing expensive permits or work visas. Any belongings you bring to Belize may be subject to high import duties.
NOTE: If you take up full time residence in Belize, at some point the immigration department will insist upon your entering into one of the two residency programs.
Renewing Your Visitor Visa.
Regardless of the residency option you have chosen to legally stay in Belize. On the day that your initial Visitor Visa expires, your first duty will be to renew your visitor visa. This can be done at your local Belize Immigration and Nationality Department office. The fee is US$25.00/person or BZ$50.00/person and must be paid in Belize currency. After six months the fee doubles. By now you will probably have a good idea of your intentions, and what your residency options are. Here is a link to the visitor visa renewal process.
Which of the residency options is right for you?
Choosing which of the residency options is right for you, will depend on what your long term plans are. Each program has it’s own unique advantages and disadvantages. Knowing the answers to the following questions will often narrow the choice for you. Will you need to work? Do you want to open a business? Will you bring all of your belongings with you? Your answers to these questions will often eliminate all but one of your residency options.
For more information and to download the PDF on the Qualified Retired Persons (QRP) Program visit this page of the Belize Tourism Board (BTB).
I regret that I cannot find any links to the Department of Immigration and Nationality. The information contained in this post is up to date at the time of publishing. My recommendation is to visit their office yourself, to get the most up to date information.
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