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Residency in Belize

Your Legal Pathway to Paradise: All About Getting Residency in Belize

You’ve decided to move to Belize but don’t want to fall foul of the immigration laws. Luckily they’re straightforward, even if time-consuming. Here’s a guide to living legally and getting residency in Belize in 2024.

Let’s escape from the cold and run a bar on a tropical beach. Let’s house-sit in a fabulous home surrounded by wild birds in the jungle. How about we volunteer as teachers in a developing world village? Or let’s just take off and have a long vacation…

These are all dreams that many wish to make a reality, and Belize is often the destination of choice. It’s easy to get to, English-speaking, and has a thriving expat community. It has beaches where people love to go to and a great social circle. There are lots of volunteer opportunities. Belize is a paradise for dreamers everywhere, but like every other country, there are immigration laws and rules to consider.

Belize welcomes tourists and makes it easy for them to stay in the country

So, when you enter Belize, as long as you have a passport valid for at least 30 days from a country not requiring a visa, you should get an automatic 30 days. US, Canadian, EU, UK, Caribbean, and Central American passport holders do not need a visa. Citizens of other countries should contact the closest Belizean embassy for more information.

A tourist visa allows you to spend 30 days in the country, but not to undertake any paid (or unpaid) work.

To stay in Belize, as a tourist, for over 30 days, find the nearest immigration office and request a 30-day visa extension. This costs US$100 ($200 Belizean dollars) and as long as your passport’s valid, you’ve broken no laws, and you’ve complied with the visa requirements, there should be no issues. Like any country, it’s up to the immigration officer on the day whether you’ll receive an extension. They can refuse you for any reason.

Most immigration officers in Belize, however, are helpful and courteous. Like pretty much all Belizeans, they have an interest in ensuring tourists have a positive experience. Even so, they’re very serious about their work. It’s in your interest to respect their authority and be patient and polite when dealing with them.

You can renew your Belizean tourist visa every 30 days for US$100 per person per month. This can go on indefinitely, although after a while, you may find that the immigration officer in front of you will become curious about what you’re doing. They may ask you for more info about your circumstances, and want to see paperwork like bank statements to show you’re not working in Belize, or utilities bills, or something to show you’re a legit tourist.

Unfortunately, there are tourists who take advantage of the generous visa extensions and work illegally. Immigration officers will want to make sure you’re not doing that and have no intention of doing so. At best, they may suggest you apply for a work permit or other form of residency. At worst, they can refuse to extend your stay, meaning you’ll need to leave the country. This is rare, but can happen. Some people go for years extending every 30 days at $100 a time with no issues. And some don’t.

Getting residency in Belize

Many people come to Belize, fall in love with the country, and want to stay without the hassle and expense of the monthly renewal. Others come to work or start a business. Some want to make Belize their long-term retirement home. There are well-established procedures to make all these things possible.

When going through these procedures, remember that protecting Belizean security, jobs, and livelihoods is paramount, so expect to provide plenty of documentation and to undergo rigorous screening. Some find all this odious or intimidating, but immigration procedures are like this everywhere. Follow directions, show respect, and accept the rules may change from time to time. And above all, be patient and persistent.

If you plan to remain in the country long term, these are the visas and permits you may apply for:

Qualified Retired Persons Incentives Program (QRP)

If you want to enjoy your retirement in Belize and have no plans to work, then the QRP may be for you. You have to be over 40 and able to prove a monthly income of at least US$2,000 per month from a pension or investment fund outside of Belize. You also must live in Belize for at least 30 consecutive days each year to maintain your QRP status.

QRP benefits include not having to update your visa each month (renewal is on an annual basis), and being able to import your personal items duty-free, with no limit on the dollar value of said items. QRP holders can also buy new vehicles in Belize every three years and not need to pay duty on that. Tax exemptions are another benefit, and QRP holders don’t need to pay taxes on any income received from outside Belize. You can apply for QRP status through the Belize Tourism Board.

To apply for QRP, there’s a US$150 non-refundable application fee straight off. If accepted, the program fee is US$1,000 (with US$750 added on to that per dependent, if applicable) and an extra membership card fee of US$200. Annual renewal is US$25.

The downside is that if you eventually seek to become a permanent resident or – one day – a citizen of Belize, then QRP doesn’t give you that path. In fact, it’s easier to just continue renewing as a tourist each month if you wanted permanent residency. That way, with permanent residency, you can at least work legally. It really depends on your circumstances and what you’re looking for.

Work permit

If you work or volunteer in Belize, it’s up to your employer to fulfill the legal requirements allowing them to hire a foreigner. That means providing you with a valid work permit (called a Temporary Employment Permit). If you wish to start your own business in Belize or become self-employed, you can apply for the permit through your local immigration office. Once you have a valid work permit, you will no longer need to renew your monthly tourist visa.

Your Temporary Employment Permit can take anywhere from three weeks to three months for approval, and you must continue updating your tourist visa during this time.

The cost of the permit can vary depending on the work you want to do. You can fine work permit applications at local stationers. Ask your local immigration office which shops carry them. You must renew your work permit every year.

Permanent residency

Permanent residents can work without a permit, and no longer need to renew their visas every month or year. To be eligible for permanent residency in Belize, you need to live continuously in the country for one year without leaving the country for over 14 days. This means that it’s possible to stay in Belize on a tourist visa, renewing each month for US$100, and be eligible for permanent residency after 50 weeks, as long as you don’t leave for more than 14 days. If you do leave for longer than 14 days, you’ll need to start your 50 weeks all over again. If you’re interested in getting residency in Belize, you need to apply through the Department of Immigration and Nationality Services.

Application costs for permanent residency vary depending on the nationality of the applicant. United States citizens pay US$4,000 and EU citizens US$3,000. Citizens from the UK and other Commonwealth countries also pay US$3,000.

Financial documents, health tests, and police records are all part of the required documentation. It takes anywhere from six months to two years to complete the process. While waiting, you must either renew your tourist visa each month or apply for a work permit. You can also apply for temporary residency in Belize, which is valid for a year and costs one-fifth of whatever your permanent residency comes to (US$800 for Americans, for example).

Becoming a Belize citizen

Once you’ve had permanent residency in Belize for five years or more, you can apply for Belizean citizenship. The fee for this is US$150, and it’s a thorough process, requiring medical tests, up-to-date police records and an interview. Getting citizenship through your residency is called Citizenship through Registration and one caveat is that you have not left Belize in the time you’ve been a resident for any more than 30 consecutive days at a time or for any longer than three months in any given 12-months timeframe. Also, know that it can take years to get citizenship.

Another way to get citizenship is through marriage to a Belizean citizen. You’re eligible after a year of marriage.

Once you have citizenship, you get the benefits of Belize’s CARICOM membership. This means you can move freely through, live, and work in other Caribbean member countries. Get your citizenship application from the Department of Immigration and Nationality Services.

That wraps up this article on your options for getting residency in Belize

Ultimately, it comes down to doing the tourist renewal every month (which leads to permanent residency), getting QRP, or a work visa.

During changes of government, internal investigations, and department overhauls, you may find procedures and policies change. You may also discover it takes longer than usual for things like tourist visa renewals and residency applications. Make sure you’re aware of these changes so you don’t end up in Belize without a suitable visa. Talk to other people in your community about any changes at the local immigration office to avoid surprises.

The best attitude to have when dealing with your immigration status in Belize is to always be cheerful, over-prepared and early for appointments. This is especially important in areas with lots of foreigners, as lines can be long. This means that your immigration officer may not have had the best day by the time you see them.

Make it easy and stress free for them and they might do the same for you!

Colette Kase

Colette Kase

Colette and her partner moved from London to Belize and set up a photography business called Conch Creative. Colette also writes, starting the first blog on Ambergris Caye in 2006. Once Conch Creative got underway, she gave up that blog and began blogging for the business instead. She writes professionally for a number of websites and magazines and has also been writing a book for a very long time. So far, it's not a very long book. She is passionate about Belize and hopes you’ll love it just as much as she does.