May 182016
 
Working in Belize, what you need to know

Working in Belize is not as easy as showing up and looking at the classifieds. There are procedures to follow as Belize rightfully protects it’s jobs for Belizeans.

Working in Belize is not easy, but not impossible.

Working in Belize is not as easy as just showing up and looking at the classifieds. There are procedures to follow as Belize rightfully protects it’s jobs for Belizeans. Belize is a small, generally poor country with high unemployment. It is practically impossible to just move here and get a work permit for any job that can be done by a Belizean. If you have a rare skill or one not common in Belize then it becomes easier. For example, maybe a French restaurant might hire you if you spoke French and no French speaking Belizean could be found.

Jobs You may find difficult to land.

If you are planning on working in Belize, normally jobs for waiters/waitresses, cleaners, driver jobs, gardeners, general laborer, etc. are the ones that will be hardest to acquire as any Belizean can do those. Even what I consider skilled trades like plumbing, electrical, mechanics, etc. are often done here by locals that an aptitude for it, or have been trained down through the generations by other locals. It will also be very difficult to convince someone to hire you under the table or off the books for cash. Belize is a small country and little goes unnoticed, so even if you were hired for a cash in hand job it would probably not be very long before you were discovered by a local that wanted that job and were reported. If caught, the fines would probably be more than you made at the job and may well lead to you being deported. The fines to the business are also so high that it is usually not worth their effort or reputation to get involved with this practice. In Canada I know this happens all of the time, wages are much higher there and foreigners can often be hired much cheaper than local trades people for cash. The wage savings for some small companies make the risk worthwhile. In Belize however, the wages are already rock bottom, the average Belizean (and probably so will you) makes about BZ$5.00/hr. or BZ$40.00/ day (US$20.00/day) which is about what I made in a half hour as an electrician back in Canada, so there is no advantage for a business in Belize to hire an expat for cash.

Your unique skills may help you qualify.

Highly skilled jobs if you are qualified may be easier to acquire, like a Doctor, Nurse, Architect, engineer etc. as not many Belizeans can just come off of the street to do these jobs, now that been said it is not a guarantee, there are not a lot of these jobs available and many Belizeans do go to the US, Canada, and throughout the Caribbean to get quality training and degrees, and then return to take those jobs as well.

Expats Working in Belize Have a Few Options.

The main options expats working in Belize tend to exercise are firstly, to work online for a business outside of Belize, or to open their own business. Also permanent residency is an option that if you can wait for up to three years will allow you to do any job and solve your problem of working in Belize.

  • An Online Business.

    An acceptable online business is one that can be done from Belize for a foreign company. You would probably want to be paid in the currency of that country, and have your cheques deposited in an account in that same country. You would then bring your money into Belize as required maybe using an ATM machine for daily expenses, or wire transfers for large purchases. For expats with that ability to do their jobs online, this scenario is a perfectly acceptable opportunity for you to be working in Belize because you are not taking a job from a Belizean.

  • Open Your Own Business.

    Belize welcomes expats that open businesses and then hire locals. Sometimes this is the way to go and the cheap labor here often makes it feasible. That being said, IMHO it is important to find a niche that provides a needed service and does not compete with another local business, otherwise growing your business may be difficult. That is not to say that a motivated individual could not be working in Belize for themselves, hire local labour, and find customers that might pay for gardening or other labor services. Again building a client list, and reputation will require spending time here, and getting to know people. You will also be competing against every local that has a machete and a rake and is calling himself a gardener, and likewise every local that owns a hammer and is calling himself a carpenter, and so on.

    As I mentioned earlier, many of the what I consider to be skilled trades are performed by locals that have the practical knowledge of their trade passed on, usually on a need to know bases and with less and less theoretical knowledge passed on through the process. As a result the quality of workmanship is often below the standards we are used to in other countries. This is where some expats may see an opportunity to open a competing business but are successful because of their superior training, customer service, and overall work ethic.

  •  Permanant Residency.

    Another option for working in Belize if you have the time and patience is to become a Permanent Resident. This can be a long process that can take between two and three years. In order to qualify for Permanent Residency you must live in Belize for one full year and not leave for more than 14 days total in that year. After that time you may apply to become a Permanent Resident. It will usually take another year to be accepted but can be up to two years depending on your country of origin and how fast information is shared during the investigation process. In reality to be safe, you should have enough savings to sustain yourself for up to three years. Once you have been granted residency, you will have all of the same rights as a Belizean except for the right to vote (unless you are from a commonwealth country), and although you would still not be considered a citizen, you would be entitled to work any job you might find. Here is a link to my post on Residency Options.

 

Conclusion.

Belize is not a country that makes processes easy for expats (or for locals for that matter), but it is not impossible either as long as you have time and patience and “go slow” with a positive attitude. I have found that most things in Belize including jobs, home rentals, etc. are not generally advertised in the classifieds but are made known by word of mouth. Having that down time while we wait for our Permanent Residency to be approved, has allowed us to get to know people, explore the country, and ultimately has put us in a position to find better opportunities for working in Belize, as they present themselves.

Jul 082015
 
Know your residency options to remain in Belize legally

Know your residency options to remain in Belize legally

Residency Options.


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.

 
 

Permanent Residency.

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

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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Jan 202015
 
Requirements to Open a Bank Account in Belize

Requirements to Open a Bank Account in Belize

I just want to open a bank account.

When you move to Belize there will be things that will make you scratch you head and ask, “why do I need to do that?” or “why do THEY do things that way”?  For us two of those things were opening a bank account and applying for a library card. The picture is of the page of requirements to open a bank account.

Requirements to open a bank account

The requirements to open a bank account in Belize are more than our bank back in Canada required to get a mortgage for our home. We went to three different banks and at all three banks were given this same page of requirements. The only difference was the banks name and address on the letterhead. These requirements are passed down by the “Central Bank of Belize” and are the same for everyone looking to open a bank account, and are consistent at each bank we went to.

The rules and regulations are well documented here in Belize.

Unlike many Central American countries where there are no set rules, and the rules can change from one official to the next, or the rules can even disappear and ultimately “things get done” by slipping the right amount of money into an officials pocket. It is my experience that here in Belize the rules are enforced equally upon everyone, and also that officials here are professional, courteous, consistent and diligent in their jobs. Because of equal enforcement, whether you are trying to open a bank account, or renew your visitor visa, it is easy to accept the rules, and find a way to comply with them, or find some other way to accomplish what you need to do.

We Can’t open a bank account. Now what?

In the case of banking for us, we found that we have to go to the bank once a week and with our debit cards make two withdrawals from the ATM rather than write a check from our bank account to pay our rent or cable/internet service. It is a bit more inconvenient and of course depending on where you bank there can be a small service charge for each transaction. Since our bank back in Canada will not issue written or personal information without our consent, and we cannot give consent over the phone, we will need to deal with this when we return to Canada for a week in a couple of months. At that time we will take the requirements into our bank, give our consent in person and obtain the required letter of reference. Of course since we prided ourselves in a long term relationship with one bank, to open a bank account in Belize, we will also need to see our lawyer for the second letter of reference required. There is no point asking, why? “It is what it is”.

Find out more about opening a bank account in Belize by visiting this link to Atlantic Bank . Or check out my YouTube video on the exact process that we had to follow.

Jan 192015
 
Bringing your pets to Belize is permitted. You will need to follow the rules, regulations, and procedures set out by the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) and and your airline.

Knowing the regulations will help you avoid quarantine and save stress as you and your pets travel.

Bringing pets to Belize is permitted.

Although bringing pets to Belize is permitted, Lorilee was really worried about Phoebe getting quarantined. The main thing to know in advance is that there are two sets of rules you will need to follow. The first set of rules are those of the airline you are using. The second set of rules are those of the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA). BAHA the governing authority for import of plants and animals as well as their associated by-products into Belize. You will need to make both sets of rules work together paying special attention to the timing of some requirements.

First the airline.

We used United Airlines and were very happy with their service, remember fearing the worst, Lorilee was more than a bit apprehensive about what could happen to her baby, however the willingness of the United Representative to spend time on the telephone answering questions put her mind at ease, even if they did only confirm the information we had already found on their website.

There are two options for your pets to travel.

Either in the cargo area through their “Petsafe” shipping program or if your pet meets the requirements, they may travel in the cabin as carry on luggage. You can imagine how happy Lorilee was when Phoebe met the requirements to travel in the cabin.

United Petsafe Program

If you use the “petsafe” program there are several rules to be followed, Check with your airline (this can be done on line or by telephone) regarding restrictions on the size of kennel required or permitted, how long prior to the flight you must check in, what   provisions you must make to ensure your pets is fed and watered, the airlines requirements for vaccinations, and of course the airlines requirements for medical records and documents that must accompany your pets.

Carry-on Your Pets

If your pets qualify to travel in the cabin like Phoebe did, there will be a few more restrictions and more attention to detail required. First thing is the airlines are only permitted to take a maximum of four pets in the economy cabin, so book early, I would recommend at least two months to ensure other requirements are met such as the requirement for a health certificate from an accredited vet within ten days of travel, and the requirement for rabies vaccinations to be up to date and administered more than 30 days prior to travel. Also when you book it is important to know that if traveling through the United States as we did coming from Canada, there will be extra costs and more regulations if your layover is more than three hours in the US. Our layover was 2:56 so we just squeezed in.

Kennel restrictions

There are maximum dimensions for the kennel allowing for it to be stowed under the seat in front of you. Your pets must be able to stand up and turn around in the kennel. Also know that your pets must remain in their kennel at all times. I don’t know what the hefty fine is because we were only warned at the airport in Huston and not fined, when Lorilee decided that it was cruel and usual punishment for Phoebe to be locked up for that amount of time and let her out, on her leash of course. Also there are no bathroom provisions for your pets, we were told we could take her outside but would have to go through the complete security screening process again to get back in. In Houston we had to transfer to a different terminal and the directions were not great, and we got a bit lost. Had Phoebe gone for a potty break, I’m sure we would not have made it back through security in time for our connecting flight. That could have been a major problem, our BAHA permit was for entry into Belize on that day and that flight.

Second, BAHA has regulations to be followed.

First you must obtain an import permit for each of your pets. We were planning to move on November 15, 2014 so we visited in September to secure a house and applied for the permit at that time. We were in Belize for two weeks and waited till the beginning of the second week to apply figuring that we would fill out a form, pay a fee and walk away with our permit. Wrong. 7-10 days are required for the permit to be processed and issued and as a result it was not ready when we left Belize and returned to Canada. We received the two page early the next week via email. The first page being the actual import permit and the second page being the regulations to be met. Your circumstances may be different depending on the breed or the country of origin of your pets, so please don’t take my word check with BAHA.

The permit is two pages.

The first page has three sections. The top section outlines the personal stuff like who is shipping, who is receiving, the port of entry and of course your pets name, age, sex and breed.
The center section outlines the documents required, In our case the two items checked were a “valid import permit” and “compliance  with the notes and conditions attached” or in other words page 2.
The bottom section contained the best news, as long as the page two requirements were followed there would be no need for any quarantine.

Page two outlines the requirements that must be met. A veterinary certificate verifying your pets good health , also certifying that all required immunizations are up to date. Also in the notes you will see that is your responsibility to notify BAHA of your flight number and arrival time at least two days prior to your arrival so that a BAHA official is present to inspect your pets upon entry into Belize. Remember we received our permit by email it was not the original. Could we trust that the original was forwarded to the airport which was our port of entry? So I made a telephone call to BAHA, turns out our permit had been properly forwarded and that there is now a full time BAHA inspector at the international airport in Belize City (Phillip Goldson International Airport) so all was in order for our arrival.

Arriving in Belize

Upon arrival our papers and Phoebe were checked, all was in order so Phoebe was issued a compliance certificate and permitted into Belize without any problems or need for quarantine. I should mention we paid US$10.00 for the inspection upon arrival and initially US$25.00 for the import permit which was valid for 90 days and one entry only. If you travel back and forth there is a travel passport available for US$100.00. In our case it was a one way one time trip so we opted for the one time permit.

The total cost of Phoebes’ trip was CA$135.00 for a special kennel + CA$53.10 for vet fees + CA$125.00 for airfare + US$25.00 for an import permit + US$10.00 for the BAHA inspection at time of arrival.

 

 

 

Jan 152015
 
A Visitor Visa allows you to stay in Belize.

A Visitor Visa allows you to stay in Belize until residency has been granted. This visa is issued for 30 days only and must be renewed monthly.

Visitor Visa vs. Entry Visa.

A visitor visa is issued to everyone that enters Belize. They are issued based on your expected visit time, but typically for a maximim of 30 days. The visitor visa should not be confused with the entry visa that is required by the citizens of some countries. Citizens of most countries do not require a visa to enter Belize. Click here to see which nationalities are required to obtain an entry visas. If your country of nationality is not listed, you need to apply for an Entry Visa before you arrive.

Requirement To Renew Your Visitor Visa.

Once you enter the country, you will be responsible to renew your visitor visa every month or portion of a month until you leave. Or, until you become enrolled in either the QRP Program or are issued your Permanent Residency status. The cost is BZ$50.00 per person for the first six months, and increases to BZ$100.00 per person after that.  This fee must be paid in Belize currency. Click here to get more information on the QRP and Permanent Residency programs.

People used to leave for 72 hours after the 6 month mark (maybe a few days in Mexico). They would pay their departure tax and be issued a new visa upon their retun. This would rest the 6 month clock and the fee would return to the initial lower price. I have heard that lately if the immigration officer suspects that your reason for leaving is solely to avoid paying the higher fee, then the new visa issued will expire at the same time as your previous stamp would have. Also that the 6 month clock does not reset. These rulings seem to be at the sole discretion of the the individual immigration officer.

Procedure To Renew Your Visitor Visa.

The process to renew your visitor visa is quite easy. You will attend your local “Immigration and Naturalization” office. At that point the officer will review your passport and determine how many renewals have already been issued. Based on that, you will be issued a fee. That fee must be paid in Belize dollars to the “Department of Revenue” and a recipt of payment received. You will then return to the immigration officer with your receipt of payment to have your passport stamped with the up-to-date visitor visa stamp as shown in the picture above.

The picture is hard to read so I will tell you what it says;

PERMITTED TO REMAIN ON CONDITION THAT
THE   HOLDER   DOES   NOT  ENTER   INTO
EMPLOYMENT PAID OR UNPAID.  DOES NOT
ENGAGE IN ANY BUSINESS OR PROFESSION
WITHOUT THE CONSENT OF THE DIRECTOR OF
IMMIGRATION AND DOES NOT REMAIN IN
BELIZE LONGER
THAN THE  ________________________________
DATE _______________RCR _______________
SIGNATURE ______________________________
IMMIGRATION OFFICE SAN PEDRO TOWN.

The blanks are filled in with a pen and you are on your way.

Be Prepared. The Process Is Easy, But Not Always Quick.

As I mentioned earlier, the process to renew your visitor visa,  is easy enough. But depending on which office you must visit, you may be required to pack enough patience to get you through the entire day.

In San Pedro, we never took longer than a ½ hour to visit the immigration officer and get our fee. Then to pay our fee to the “Department of Revenue” in a different office at the opposite end of the same building. And then finally to return to the original immigration officer to receive our stamp.

In Belmopan however, we must sign out a number.  I recommend that you arrive no later than 7:00AM to get one that will get you in the door before noon. Now in fairness, the process is just as quick, but the wait at some offices can be several hours before your number is called, and you make your first contact with the immigration officer.

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