Guest Blog - Life as an Expat - Part II
Living as an Expat in San Pedro Belize
By Ron Delvalle
As I mentioned in my previous blog, I have been an International Living subscriber for ten years or so. As we started to plan the move, there was a package offered that provided a sort of road map and list of contacts to help plan things out along the way. Why reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to? There are plenty of other ways to sort it all out but for us that seemed the easiest.
What to Prepare For
We had four months to get everything in order and make the move. In addition to the logistics of making all the travel arrangements, there was arranging transportation for our fur babies, a Siberian Husky and 3 cats. We also needed to figure out what essential items from home needed to accompany us and how to get them there. I had to have music and home entertainment equipment as well as a computer and printer. Annette needed certain linens and kitchen things and more of her personal belongings than I did. Then there was the task of deciding what to do with all of our STUFF. Fortunately we had downsized a year earlier into a rented townhouse in anticipation of the change. You’ll also need to determine your banking needs, medical support if that’s a factor and how to communicate with friends and loved ones while living abroad.
Being Legal in Belize
There are a lot of ways to ship things to the island depending on what you plan to bring. Some of that depends on how you plan to stay in the country legally. You can remain on a passport for only six months as the immigration laws are written today. However, things are constantly changing as they have even in our short time here. If you plan to stay longer, you’ll either need to sign up for the QRP, (Qualified Retired Persons) program or get a work permit and find employment until you are eligible for residency if that is your goal. Like most countries, Belize wants to be sure you can support yourself and not become dependent on any government assistance. Let’s take a deeper dive into the various ways to enter and remain in the country.
Wanna Work in Belize?
If you are not ready to retire you have a few options. You may be able to continue what you were doing at home if you are able to work remotely without having to make in person or onsite appearances back home. Annette did that for our first year here working online in her corporate job. She retired last year after working for her corporate employer for 44 years. If you want to freelance, there are countless ways to do that. Websites such as www.upwork.com post all sorts of freelance assignments that you can bid on and work from anywhere in the world. Learning those ropes is a whole topic unto itself but growing quickly in popularity. The advantage of these two options is that all of your income will be from the USA so you won’t have to deal with any income tax matters in Belize.
If you want to work here in the country of Belize, there are some hurdles to overcome. You’ll need a work permit and they come in two flavors, one tied to a specific job here on the island or one that allows you to be self employed. Each one will have to be renewed annually and there is no renewal process. You’ll have to apply each year as if it’s your first. Keep in mind, if you plan to work for someone here, you’ll be joining a local workforce on a pay scale established by the cost of the local labor market so you won’t be earning US wages or anything close for that matter. It all depends on your financial needs.
Popular among many expats is to buy a local business here on the island. There are brokers and real estate agents that represent many of the sellers here on the island. Contact a few to see what they have to offer that may marry with your prior work experience and skill set. Many people come here planning to own their own business and find out that this is not the life they expected or that they were not prepared to operate the business that they bought. This creates a pretty steady flow of opportunities for those looking to buy a business. Just do your homework and be certain that you are well prepared to work your business. You also have the option of starting a new business. Again, be prepared to show the local government that you will not be taking employment from local residents and that you will in fact be creating jobs and opportunities for their citizens.
Whichever path you choose, you’ll need to go through a thorough process of applying for your work permit and perhaps trade license. In applying myself, I prepared more documentation than I did for my first mortgage so be prepared to be thorough and patient. Expect to submit additional documentation not originally requested depending on what you are trying to do and most importantly, be prepared for unexpected delays. For those looking to speed the process along, especially if you are buying a business or starting a new one, you may need the assistance of a “fixer” or “expeditor”. Call it what you will but you get the idea. Money makes the world go round and it’s no different here.
As a retiree or someone not needing to work here, the QRP allows you to own a business as well but the key word is own, not work. You will have to pay someone else to run your business for you. You aren’t even allowed to volunteer under the QRP. The government sees this as you filling a position that a local worker would otherwise be hired to do. The pay does not matter, it’s the job. Also, under the QRP, you’ll be allowed to bring larger items such as cars boats and airplanes in addition to your household furnishings duty free. The catch is that you have to demonstrate that you have at least $2000 a month in retirement income or $24,000 a year to support yourself.
If you stay on the island long enough without leaving and plan to remain for an indefinite period of time, you may want to pursue residency. In order to qualify, you’ll have to be in the country for a minimum of 50 weeks in a calendar year. Again, the process is long and cumbersome be prepared to be patient or pay someone to move things along more quickly for you.
In the next installment we’ll take a closer look at some of the other planning needed and what you’ll need to consider before actually moving.