Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Retirement to Belize

Belize? Where is it? Why retire there?

From its Caribbean shores to its jungle interior, Belize has great natural beauty—blue water, deserted beaches, and inland retreats where you can explore Mayan ruins, tall waterfalls, rainforests, and rivers.

Bird watching in Belize’s interior is also a treat; you’ll be able to spot parrots, toucans, flycatchers, and herons in their natural habitat or visit a jaguar preserve where you can venture into the jungle in search of the elusive cats. It’s no wonder Belize’s tourism industry is booming.

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If recent figures are any indication; this tiny tropical paradise could be on its way to becoming the next hot destination for explorers, expats, retirees, and investors. Between 2003 and 2004, cruise visits to this country increased by a full 55.1%—as opposed to just 13.1%, for example, for the same period in the Bahamas.

The cruise industry is impressed with what Belize has to offer, and the Carnival Corporation has just finalized an agreement to build a new cruise port in the Port Loyola area of Belize City. Costing $50 million, it will be the largest cruise port Carnival has built anywhere in the world.

It is expected to generate more than a billion Belize dollars ($500 million) in revenue over the first 20 years of the agreement. Belize’s far-thinking banking laws have given the nation a distinct advantage when it comes to banking privacy. In an age when the accounts in other jurisdictions are under attack, those in Belize remain secure…no mean feat. And Belize’s retiree program offers attractive incentives to foreigners looking to relocate here—particularly those who are already planning to declare their permanent residency outside the United States.

The character of the country is much like turn-of-the-century rural America. In other words, Belize is genuinely laid-back, with very little industry, pollution, traffic or stress.
  • As a former British Colony, Belize is officially an English speaking country. Signs, school books and government red tape are in English.
  • The cost of living is quite low. According to the Grays, "We know many Gringos (singles and couples) who live here in Belize on $450 per person per month." They wisely qualify this, however, by warning that although you can enjoy a good standard of living on a small budget, such economy can't be achieved if you expect to duplicate an American lifestyle in Belize.
  • "Frankly, no one really cares enough about Belize to invade her." In other words, Belize is politically stable.
  • "There is no winter." Tell that to your friends in Massachusetts!
  • "Belize has an excellent postal service...."
  • It is relatively easy to establish permanent residency without losing your present citizenship.
  • A foreigner can own land, outright.
  • Foreigners with permits can work or open their own businesses.
  • Belize is a very interesting place to live, with a variety of cultures and natural attractions. Fishing, diving, sailing, birding and jungle-bashing are all excellent.
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User-friendly trust laws 
Thanks to the Trusts Act of 1992, Belize has become a premier jurisdiction for asset-protection trusts. Today, Belize is a haven offering rock-solid protection of assets that are transferred into a Belizean Trust.

It’s also one of the few trust jurisdictions in the world that offers protection from court action initiated by creditors that might challenge your transfer of property into a trust.
In the absence of actual fraud in the creation of a trust, the assets of a Belizean trust cannot be attached to satisfy the judgment of a foreign court. Belizean trust laws have been tested and proved solid.


Avoid taxes with easy incorporation laws 
A trust is not the only way to keep your assets intact in Belize. The International Business Companies Act of 1990 gives foreigners an opportunity to incorporate in Belize and enjoy huge advantages.

IBCs are exempt from taxes on all income. There are no Belizean citizenship or residency requirements for directors, officers or shareholders of IBCs. Meetings of shareholders and directors can be held in any country and may be attended by proxy.

A Belizean IBC requires only one shareholder and one director, each of which can be either an individual or a corporation. Your IBC is not required to have staff members or to establish an office in Belize. And IBCs are not subject to any foreign-exchange controls.
                                                                           
IBCs can be used for financial management, investment holding, ship or property ownership, shared ownership of other companies, leasing of assets, copyrighting and licensing, and general commercial trade.

There are, however, significant restrictions on IBCs. They’re not allowed to do business with Belizean residents, own real estate in Belize, engage in a banking or insurance business in Belize or act as an agent for another Belizean IBC.

Belize’s IBC laws are among the easiest in the world to use, and incorporation fees are low. For an IBC with authorized capital of $50,000 or less, the incorporation fee is usually $700, plus registered office/agent fees of $300 a year. Fees typically include the arrangement of the incorporation of the company, the certificate of incorporation and preparation of the minutes of the first meeting of the director(s). To register an IBC, a memorandum and articles of association must be submitted to the Registrar via a registered agent. Contact information for registered agents can be obtained by viewing the list of agents at www.ibcbelize.com.

Cost of living
Belize is not the most affordable place to settle in Central America. You’ll likely find prices for some items to be more than what you’re used to paying in the United States…but then discover that many services actually cost less. Also, your cost of living will depend largely on where and how you choose to live.

If you settle on Ambergris Caye, the island that attracts the vast majority of Belize’s tourists (and investors) for example, you’ll likely find living a bit more expensive than back home in the States. Being an island, everything is imported so you’ll pay extra for that transport cost. On the other hand, if you decide to live in the north of Belize in Corozal and can take advantage of easy shopping trips to nearby Mexico, you can enjoy all the benefits of English-speaking Belize…but buy your goods for less just across the border.

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Health care
While medical care in Belize is adequate, you’d be well advised to take out evacuation insurance if you choose to live here. Though you could certainly have a broken bone set or a cold attended to at a local clinic in Ambergris or at a hospital in Belize City, for anything more serious you’d be better off in Mexico or the States. There are state-of-the-art facilities over the border, and health care in Mexico is inexpensive. If you’re prone to health problems, you should consider this option.

Medical facilities and personnel in Belize are sparse. However, doctors who do practice here are first-rate, and many have been trained outside the country, often in the United States. Also, Belize City boasts a relatively new, modern hospital.

Special benefits for retirees
On September 15, 1999, Belize enacted some of the most attractive “retiree” legislation available anywhere in the world today. The program is aimed squarely at North American and UK nationals already planning to live full time outside their native counties. And it comes with almost no fine print or red tape.

To qualify, you need to be 45 years and older and be able to show only that you have a monthly income of at least $2,000. In many other countries offering these kinds of foreign retiree programs, you must make a significant financial contribution before you can take advantage of the program’s benefits.

To keep your “Qualified Retired Person” (QRP) status, you must spend just one month of the year in Belize.

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To qualify for the QRP (Qualified Retired Person) program you must:
  • Be 45 years old or older. You can also include your spouse and dependents under the age of 18 in the program (or under the age of 23 if the children are in college)
  • Submit an application along with the following documents:
  1. Birth certificate
  2. Marriage certificate
  3. A police record from your most recent place of residence, issued within a month prior to the application and stating that you don't have a criminal record
  4. A copy of each page (including blank ones) in your passport. Retain a notary public to certify the copy with his seal and mark how many pages are in the passport, the passport number, and your name
  5. Proof of income. This can be in the form of a statement from a pension of Annuity Company or from your bank. The statement must show that your income is at least $2,000 a month or the equivalent of at least $24,000 a year
  6. Medical certificate stating that you are in good health and not HIV-positive
  7. Color photos--four recent front-view and four side-view passport-size photographs of yourself and any dependents who are applying
  8. You must also submit a non-refundable $100 application fee plus a "program fee" of $500 for yourself and $350 for each dependent. If you're accepted into the program, you'll owe an additional $100. Also figure on $2,500 to $5,000 to retain an attorney who can steer you through the application process and, often more importantly, run interference with the bureaucracy.
Advantages of the QRP for Your Belize Retirement
  • You pay no Belizean tax on that income--earned or passive. So you won't be taxed twice on money you're bringing into the country. This means you can still work--just as long as you work from Belize without also generating income within the country. Today, with new telephone and Internet technology, it's easy for "retirees" to direct their foreign business activities and operations from within Belize and still maintain tax-free status
  • As a QRP, you can import your household goods tax-free up to a total exemption amount of $15,000
  • You can also bring in a vehicle tax-free, which can be a car, light aircraft, or boat. In fact, every five years you can import a new vehicle tax-free as long as you sell the original vehicle outside of Belize
  • In many countries, you have to make a significant financial commitment in order to qualify for a program that provides financial incentives for living in the country. In Belize, you must simply prove an income of at least $2,000 a month
  • While as a QRP you have permanent residency in Belize, for purposes related to international financial services, you're considered a non-resident. That means that you can take advantage of all the offshore banking advantages of Belize while living there "on shore."
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