When we decided to buy Beaches and Dreams and move to Belize, we almost immediately knew we would apply for Belizian residency. It seemed like a clear path to saving money and hassle in the long term. And we plan to stay a while. This is a detailed explanation of how to apply.
The first year living in Belize
When you enter the country as a tourist, you are given a tourist visa in the form of a stamp in your passport. This stamp lasts for 30 days, after which you must either leave the country or visit Immigration to get an extension stamp. The extension stamp costs $50 BZD for the first 6 months and $100 BZD each month there after. If you apply for and receive a work permit, you do not have to get your passport stamped each month, but you do have to pay for the work permit. I don’t remember how much that cost. Ryan got his work permit in October last year (we will have to renew it in October this year).
The kids attend a local school, so I was able to get them student visas, also in October of last year. The school visas lasted through the school year. Once summer started, I have brought them along with me, each month, to get their passports.
I don’t have any special visa so I go to the Immigration Department every month on exactly the day of expiration, and asked for a visa extension. I learned early on that you cannot appear a day early lest they send you away. The one exception is if your expiration falls on a weekend, you should come on the Friday prior.
In order to apply for residency in Belize, you have to first live in Belize for a full year, during which, you cannot travel for more than 14 days out of the country. You prove this during the application process by submitting a copy of every page in your passport. Now that we have completed our first year. I’m writing this post to describe how to apply for residency.
Application Process after 1 year in Belize
After reading about the application process online and searching the govt website for a list of requirements, I went to my local Immigration department to ask for a list of requirements. I wanted to make sure I had the most up to date list. I also printed out the online requirements from the government website. The online requirements had some extra information about how to apply as a family. Ryan will apply for residency and then the kids and I would apply as members of his family. This means we are submitting ONE application for all of us. Yay, less paperwork. The major items of the application are, a medical exam for all four of us, a police record for the adults, and proof of financial stability for Ryan.
First up, the medical exam.
The medical check required a basic physical for all 4 of us and the adults had to get some STD and Turburculosis tests (blood test and spit test). This was my first visit to a doctor in Belize so I wasn’t sure what to expect. We made an appointment with the Hope Clinic in Dangriga and saw Dr. Cristales, who was wonderful. He had clearly done the Immigration exam before and the 4 of us got through it rather quickly. He was great with the kids.
Before the exam, they sent us to the lab, down the street for blood tests. I had read that kids under 12 do not have to get the blood tests, but everyone we met that day had a different opinion. The Dr’s receptionist even called Immigration to ask and assured me that, Yes, all kids need the blood tests (not true!)
The technicians at the lab said that some residency applications get sent back because they are missing these blood tests. I was not inclined to give in on this one since it involved a needle AND the requirement clearly state the age limit. I’ve experienced misinformation several times regarding the whole application process so I chose to believe the requirements from the government website. We did not get the kids’ blood work done. After waiting for the blood test results, we returned to Dr. Cristales’ office to do our medical check. He looked at eyes, ears, stomach, weight, height and asked questions about health history. He filled out a form for each one of us and certified us eligible for residency. He told us we had to have each medical exam form signed by a Belizian and attach a copy of their social security card for proof of identity. The medical checks were $30bzd each (4 people), and the blood work was $50bzd each (2 people). We spent $220bzd that day.
Next up, Police report
For residency, you need to submit a police report stating you have NO criminal record in Belize. I had read that it can take 6-8 weeks to receive your police report after you request it. So we wanted to do this waaaaay ahead of our year anniversary. I visited the Hopkins police station and they directed me to the Dangriga police station. Dangriga is our closest big town, kinda like a County seat. We all went to the Dangriga police station to request a police report for Ryan and for myself. I should note we had to bring 2 passport sized photos of our selves to submit with the request. Ryan and I filled out some forms and were given an invoice indicating how much to pay. Any time you need to pay money to a government office in Belize, you must bring the invoice to the Finance department and pay, then bring the receipt back to the department that issued the invoice. Each police report was $12bzd each.
I called to check on the police reports after about 4 weeks and they were ready for pickup!
Pulling together all the documents
Another big deal was pulling together all of our original identifying documents. I needed to have originals of all of our birth certificates as well as our marriage certificate. Luckily, I managed to have all of the documents in my possession except for Ryan’s original birth certificate. So I applied on Iowa’s website to send a birth certificate to Ryan’s brother in the States. We had a visit planned to the State in June, so we could get it from his brother then.
Proof of financial stability was pretty straight forward. Ryan and I own and operate a resort in Belize. So, I submitted a copy of our Articles of Incorporation for the resort, proof of paid Belize business tax and income tax, and a copy of our bank statement. Then, Ryan had to sign a letter of financial support for each of the rest of us. You need to include stamps with each letter of financial support ($1.50 in stamps for each one).
I made copies of every page of all of our passports, which would show that we had resided in the country for one year. We took a 13 day vacation after living here for 10 months, which falls within the 14 day restriction.
I filled out the application for Ryan with myself and the kids listed.
I called to make an appointment to submit our application for residency and got one for the very next day at 10am. I had to hustle to double check all my documents and make copies. I thought I had to submit 2 copies of everything and wanted a copy for myself, so I was up late making 3 packets. I also had several documents that needed to be notarized ( in Belize you bring them to a Justice of the Peace), so we planned to leave an hour early to get that done. We left for Belmopan at 7:30am and arrived around 9am. We asked around, and drove around, and asked around some more for a Justice of the Peace and finally found one on Market Street near Angelus Press (well known paper and print shop). This guy must have notarized 40 papers for us. He charged us $60bzd, he said it was $30bzd for each packet. (Now that I know I only needed to submit one copy, it would be 1/2 that cost to notarize).
We arrived for our appointment about 15 min early and checked in with the guard. The Immigration office was BUSY! I’ve heard stories about the long waits at the Belmopan office. Our Dangriga office is much smaller and I am usually helped very quickly, just walking in. With the way Belmopan Immigration is set up, it looks like you need to make an appointment to get your immigration stamp each month. But, despite all the people, they called us for our appointment right on time! At 10am, we were in the chair, seated across from an Immigration officer. I was hopeful that I had all of the necessary documents, but I was ready to be turned away. I’ve lived here long enough to know that you always forget something when applying for a license or permit or transfer of ownership. BUT, the gentleman that was helping me was so very kind and helpful. He went through every piece of paper I submitted to see if I had completed the application properly. When he got to the first item I was missing, I was pretty bummed out. I thought that perhaps we had come all this way and would now be turned away because of ONE document. But soon enough I learned that I was missing SO MANY MORE DOCUMENTS and that made me feel a bit better. The Immigration officer finally asked me “What document were you using for your requirements?!” And it turns out the Dangriga list is missing some items that are on the Belmopan list. I suppose it is outdated. Here is a photo of the real list. The circled items are the ones I was missing:
- Income Tax letter for both Ryan and Jessica
- Contribution History for Social Security or Declaration stating non-contribution
- School letter for both kids
- Letter of Authorization from me, authorizing Ryan to make an application for residency including our kids (even though I’m in the same application
So I gathered up those items and returned to Belmopan the next week. I had messed up ONE of the documents (I thought he needed a document referencing me, but he needed it referencing Ryan). But he allowed us to proceed with the application submission and we are going to bring the corrected document to the interview. We have an interview scheduled for August 29th, exactly two weeks from our application submission date. After submitting the application, the Immigration officer hand wrote a receipt listing all of the documents he had received and giving us our PR number. This is our proof of application. I handed in a big stack and got back a super valuable little yellow piece of paper.
We went for our interview 2 weeks after the paperwork was submitted. The interview was very straight forward. She asked us about our education history, if our parents are still alive and where they live. Also, why are we moving to Belize. It seemed like they wanted to get a feel for who we are and if there are any red flags.
Possibly the most important outcome from the interview was getting a confident answer on future travel restrictions. As I mentioned, in the year prior to submitting your application for residency, you cannot travel out of the country for more than 14 days. For me, this felt super restricting last year. It was such a major change to move to Belize and we only got to visit NY for 12 days at the end of the year. We crammed in visits with family and friends as well as shopping and eating. I never did fit in a night of theater. However, after submitting your application, while you are waiting to be approved, the travel restriction changes to no more than 30 consecutive days outside of the country and 90 in total each year. This is plenty for us while we are still new to running the resort, we don’t want to/can’t leave for too much time anyway. Besides traveling to visit loved ones, we can now jump over to Guatemala or Mexico for cultural trips or shopping. There is a city JUST over the Belize/Mexico border, called Chetumal, which many people go to for shopping because it has chain stores and restaurants. I also would love to see Antigua Guatemala.