Bank financing for the foreign real estate buyer is basically impossible, and very expensive at best. Financing through the seller is sometimes possible, usually with a 10 to 20 percent down payment and a 10 percent interest rate for 10 years.
Currently, property transfer taxes are at 10 percent, and attorney fees usually equal 2 percent, including miscellaneous expenses. The buyer usually pays around 12.5 percent for closing cost, based on the total purchase price of the real estate. Belize has no capital gains tax. Property taxes depend on the type of property and start at one percent of the assessed value.
Medical care is limited. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. In some cases, supplemental medical insurance with specific overseas and medical evacuation coverage has proven useful. For additional health information, travelers can contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's international travelers hotline at tel. (404) 332-4559.
Education is mandatory for children between the ages of 6 and 14. Elementary and secondary schooling is free and operated either through government or by one of the churches. A special, government funded vocational training center is geared toward students who couldn't finish secondary school. Courses and training vary depending on changes in the labor market.
Several vocational colleges also specialize in the fields of teacher training, craft and technical courses, agro-industry, and advanced technical fields. The University College of Belize was founded in 1986 and is the country's first institution of higher learning.
The expansion of Belize's current export staples of sugar, citrus and bananas depends largely on the continued trade agreements with Latin America, Mexico, U.S. and the U.K.
Since 1993, the growing trade movement spearheaded by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), prompted the Belizean government and private sector to diversify the the economy through promotion of non-traditional exports, such as exotic fruits, tropical hardwoods, aqua culture, and minerals.
According to a 1993 U.S. Embassy survey, more than 90 U.S. companies operate in Belize with a total investment in excess of $150 million. Of these investments, 35 percent were in tourism, 25 percent were in agriculture and aqua culture, 20 percent were in distribution (mainly fuel) and 13 percent were in light industry. In the service sector, plans are underway to develop Belize as an offshore finance center, as well as continue to actively promote the small nation as a prime eco-tourism destination.
The country hopes to form important trade ties with the active and diverse economy of neighboring Mexico. The Belize Mexico border Industrialization Program would create a temporary admission system for Mexican industrialist, allowing the nation to export final product components for their assembly in Belize. Talks are also underway to unite Belize Electricity Ltd. with the powerful Mexican network, in this way providing Belize with additional electricity.
Promoting itself as 60 seconds to NAFTA - the time it takes to cross the International Bridge of Friendship into the neighboring NAFTA country of Mexico - Belize is poised for extraordinary investments opportunities. Belize's government and business leaders are forging innovative strategies aimed at accelerating its already impressive growth rate. Where traditional crops like sugar, citrus and bananas have long been the mainstay of the economy, this small Caribbean country in Central America is looking for new opportunities where its natural resources, work force and proximity to the world's largest trading block give it a natural competitive edge.
Sugar, citrus and bananas continue to be Belize's chief source of hard currency earnings. Sugar dominates exports, bringing in over 40% of hard currency earnings. Orange and grapefruit are the country's second most important source of foreign exchange earnings especially in southern Belize. Growers produced more than 3 million boxes of fruit in 1994. The fruit is processed into frozen concentrate which currently enjoys duty-free access to the U.S. market. Citrus growers are modernizing orchards and expanding production, mostly for the high quality Valencia orange.
The banana sector has been one of the country's fastest growing agricultural areas and growers now produce more than 2 million boxes a year - all shipped to guaranteed preferential markets in the U.K.
More than a third of Belize's land, 2.2 million acres, is suitable for agriculture but only about 15% of this is under cultivation. The most dynamic opportunities in this sector are in papayas, ginger, commercial fruit crop production, and furniture and wood products. Shrimp farming is rapidly taking off and has already become the country's fourth largest hard currency earner.
Belize undoubtedly offers the serious investor a wealth of opportunities in a secure and stable climate with the best access to the world's most attractive markets in North America.
Banks are open on weekdays, Monday through Thursday from 8:00 am to 1:00 p.m., and on Fridays from 8:00 am to 12:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. There are four commercial banks that serve the country of Belize. Banks are open Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and on Friday until 4:30 p.m.. All banks have branches in the six districts but services are more limited.
Belize Bank P.O.
Provident Bank & Trust of Belize
Atlantic Bank Limited
Bank of Nova Scotia
Barclays Bank PLC
Foreign investors may own 100% of an enterprise in Belize, although the government strongly advocates participation by residents of Belize. Takeovers and mergers that involve foreigners are not subject to regulations. There are no local management requirements.
Belize grants a number of tax and other concessions to encourage the private investment of capital by nationals and foreigners in new and expanding projects, including industrial projects prioritized for development, export oriented projects, and projects that use technology either not previously introduced into Belize or being introduced into less developed areas of the country.
Under the Fiscal Incentives Act of 1990, enterprises approved by the government may be granted maximum tax holidays of normally five, ten, twelve, or fifteen years, depending on the nature of the enterprise and the degree of ownership by nationals. Under this act, foreign investors may repatriate 100% of their investments and profits, provided that they register with the Central Bank all foreign exchange brought into the country and supply audited financial statements. The minimum investment qualifying for a tax holiday is BZD 250,000, and application fees are charged. Applications must be submitted to the minister of economic development.
An approved enterprise may, during the tax holiday period, import free of customs duty and stamp duty all capital equipment, office furniture, spare parts, and construction materials required to build and run the production unit in question.
Foreign investments in international business companies are exempt from all forms of taxes in Belize under the International Business Companies Act of 1990. In addition, the act limits the filing requirements for such investments and provides special treatment in a number of other ways, including a guarantee of security, anonymity, and confidentiality. The basic requirement for such companies is that they must not carry on business with persons resident in Belize, but they can keep various records and hold directors' and shareholders' meetings there, as well as hold shares in local companies. International business companies are often referred to as offshore companies.
Foreign investments may also be set up under the International Business Companies Act in the form of public investment companies. Such companies must have net tangible assets of at least US $2.5 million and gross tangible assets of at least US $25 million. They must have carried on business in Belize for a continuous period of twenty-four months; have had a net income of at least US $500,000 for the most recent financial year and US $375,000 average net income for the two previous complete financial years; have employed at least fifty Belizean residents on average on a full-time basis for a continuous period of not less than twenty-four months; and have their shares listed, quoted, or otherwise traded on an approved international stock exchange. As well as qualifying for the exemptions given to international business companies, public investment companies are exempt from local taxes and duties for up to thirty years, may own real estate in Belize, and may manage funds belonging to residents of Belize. No withholding taxes are payable on their dividends paid to shareholders regardless of residence, and the dividends are exempt from taxes. A number of other exemptions are also allowed, including an exemption for foreign employees of such companies who become resident, provided that suitably qualified Belizean's are not available to fill the positions. Public investment companies are also eligible for special group tax treatment.
Belize offers two types of residency: Tourist status and official resident.
Many residents legally remain indefinitely in Belize simply by renwing their tourist entry permit every 30 days for $12.50. Unlike many Central American countries, it is not necessary to exit the country each month to extend the permit.
Technically, tourist status residents need to show resources of $50 per day or $1,500.00 per month. But this rule is not generally enforced, especially after years of being in the country. A valid passport from your country of origin is absolutely necessary to enter and remain in Belize.
Belize recognizes dual citizenship, so individuals may benefit from its Economic Citizenship Investment Program while retaining their original citizenship.
In 1985 the Belize Nationality Act, 1981, was amended to provide for the registration of persons willing to make substantial contributions to the economy and quality of life in Belize. This Economic Citizenship Investment Program was redesigned in 1995 to add to its credibility and integrity. It included establishing a special administrative unit within the Ministry of Finance called the Belize Economic Citizenship Investment Program Unit, and a Scrutinizing Committee, composed of Belizeans drawn from Public, Private, Secular and Religious sectors, to screen and approve all applications. The intend is not to threaten Belize's political and cultural stability by placing a limit on the number of heads of households to be granted Economic Citizenship to no more than 0.25% (one quarter of one percent) of the population, which works out to about 500 per year.
Applications need to be submitted through an Immigration Consultant licensed in Belize to the Director of the Belize Economic Citizenship Investment Program Unit. The applicant needs to provide a sworn affidavit stating that he/she has reviewed, understood, and agreed to the Program's guidelines and criteria.
Completed application forms require to be submitted with the following supporting documents:
In addition, successful applicants for Economic Citizenship are required to make a contribution of US$25,000 to the Central Bank of Belize's Special Fund. This contribution is symbolic of the applicant's commitment to Belize, and is not refundable.
Unsuccessful applicant have their fees refunded, less a processing fee of US$500 per application. Unsuccessful applicants may appeal in writing to the Minister of Immigration within 30 days of being refused. The Minister refers the appeal to a Board of Review before rendering a final decision. The Board of Review is made up of an attorney-at-law, an accountant and one other person of integrity and national standing in the community.
The right of citizenship can be revoked if it is found to have been obtained by fraud or misrepresentation, or if a new citizen is found to be disloyal to Belize.