Property In Belize - Get Your Escape Haven Now
Reef, Ruins, Rivers, and Rain Forest... Plus Easy Residency and Tax-Free Living Little English-Speaking Belize Is Escape and Safe Haven for Both You and Your Money
As the only English-speaking country in Central America, Belize has been attracting expats in the know from the U.K., the United States, and Canada for decades.
But the fact that folks in these parts speak English (albeit with a twist) is only the beginning of the long list of reasons to give this little country a close look. Belize was a colony of the Crown until 1981, and the British left behind more than their language. They established a stable government, an English-based educational system, secure international business structures, and a legal system tied to the highest court in Great Britain.
The world's top offshore haven is also an adventure-traveler's playground... They also built themselves a banking haven. They looked around at the top banking havens worldwide at the time and cherry-picked the best elements of the banking laws in each case. These elements were incorporated into the banking law for the about-to-become-independent nation to be known as Belize.
The constitution for this new country was based on the Canadian constitution. What does this mean?
That means boring. Boring politics, boring everything. Not much to rock anybody's boat.
As a result, in the nearly three decades since, Belize has managed to remain largely under the radar. Ambergris Caye drew some attention as the setting for TV's "Temptation Island." Otherwise, other than from global divers and sun-seekers, Belize has been really successful at attracting very little attention.
In the past couple of years, the global banking industry has been turned on its head. Used to be, the mention of "banking" brought to mind places like Switzerland or Austria. This paradigm has collapsed. There are dozens of "banking havens" around the world. The truth is, though, very few of them deserve the description right now. Belize is an exception.
Kathleen, I had a great time at the seminar. It was advertised--informative, insightful, and in-depth. It is certainly a must for anyone thinking of making a move to a Latin American country. You and Lief were terrific. The trip to Azuero was beautiful. Thank you again.
-- Joe D., United States Belize remains a true banking haven for two reasons. First, bank secrecy. Belize maintains it. Anyone in the Belize banking industry who violates the country's bank secrecy laws goes to jail for a minimum of 18 months. Trust me. You don't want to spend 18 months in a Belize jail.
How has Belize managed to maintain its bank secrecy position while other better-known jurisdictions have all but abandoned the idea?
That's my point, precisely. Belize is little-known. This country has kept its head down. No one pays it any attention, and Belize is keen to keep it that way.
The second reason Belize stands out among the world's banking havens right now is liquidity. Thanks to recent events, bank liquidity has become a hot, sexy topic.
Current liquidity among banks around the world is less than 2%.
That's the average worldwide. What's the situation in Belize?
Banks in this country maintain liquidity rates of 24%. This standard is mandated by the Belize government. A quarter out of every dollar in a Belize bank must be liquid. If a bank falls below this level of liquidity, the government can take the keys and close the bank.
How did Belize bankers fare during the recent banking crisis? As a banker friend in this country explains, "We sat back and smiled. We knew we didn't have anything to worry about, and, in fact, not a single Belize bank has failed."
Own in Belize's beautiful Cayo for as little as US$12,000... Belize banks maintain an extraordinarily high standard of liquidity, and they lend only 50% loan-to-value for mortgages. That's how Belize banks stay healthy.
And it's not only banks in this country that are healthy right now. The Belize economy in general is doing well. Growth rates over the last six years have averaged 6% a year. Inflation is 1.4%. An economist will tell you that this is the sweet spot, exactly where an economy wants to be. And Belize has been able to stay within this range for six years.
Belize's three main industries are finance (banking, trust companies, etc.), eco-tourism, and oil. Yes, oil, which has been discovered off the coast in volumes that appear to be as great as those off the coast of Texas. Drilling is under way...in a way so as to preserve the eco-system of the shore and the reef. No oil platforms out in the ocean.
Safe, Easy Banking Off The Radar You can open a bank account at a bank in Belize with zero dollars. Why? Because, as I've been explaining, Belize banks are focused on attracting small- to medium-sized investors. They're not going after mega-clients. Mega-clients attract attention. Remember, Belize is a low-key jurisdiction, happy to stay off the world's radar.
Kathleen, you are like the Babe Ruth of overseas living.
-- Sean A., United States Americans and Canadians can open either a personal account or what's called a structure account. This is the preferred option. It's an account formed for you by someone else that's not in your personal name but in the name of a structure--a trust, a company, or a foundation, for example.
Once you're offshore, you want to do as little in your own name as possible. Put everything possible in the name of a structure.
You don't have to come to Belize to open your account. In most jurisdictions, including Panama, you must appear in the bank in person to fill out the forms, sit through the interviews, and sign on the dotted line. Not so in Belize. You don't ever have to step foot in the country if you don't want to.
But I'd suggest you come have a look. You'll find yourself in familiar company. This country is attracting the attention of Baby Boomers, who are making their way to Belize in growing numbers. Walk down the street on Ambergris Caye, for example, and you hear the music of the Boomers all around--the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin...
Ah, The Turquoise Caribbean... Warm, Clear, And Alive With Sea Life "As I gazed out the window of our 15-seater turboprop airplane at the turquoise Caribbean waters below, I could barely contain my anticipation. My husband and I were on the last leg of our trip to Belize, making our way from the mainland to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye...'Temptation Island.'
"I was mesmerized by the sight of the distant waves breaking on the offshore barrier reef that the size of the oh-so-small airstrip barely registered!
"Growing up in Michigan, I'd spent the summers of my youth frolicking in warm inland lakes and local swimming pools. As a Pisces, I've always gravitated toward the water. When I moved to San Francisco, I was disappointed to discover that the Pacific Ocean is cold, dark, and dangerous. Still, I learned to scuba dive in my 20s, venturing many times into the wild waters off the California coast. But I yearned to travel to the Caribbean, where the waters were said to be warm, clear, and alive with sea life.
"Finally, I did...and, for me, nothing compares with diving and snorkeling in the Caribbean Sea--the color and clarity of the water and the abundance of life is unparallel..."
-- Expat and Correspondent Ann Kuffner on why she and her husband chose to launch their new lives overseas on Belize's "Temptation Island"... These folks had a great time in the 1960s...then they got serious about living their lives, raising their children, and building something for themselves and their families.
Meantime, today, the world they worked so hard to create for themselves seems under attack from all sides. They...you...me...we're all trying to reclaim our footing. In this context, Belize looks seriously appealing.
Bottom line, Belize has what a lot of people in North America are looking for right now. This little country with a long Caribbean coast may be off the global banking radar, but you might do well to put it center of yours, and not only if you're shopping for a place to do your banking.
Correspondent Ann Kuffner and her husband are full-time residents of the small village of San Pedro, on Ambergris Caye, off the coast of mainland Belize. Five years ago, the couple took the leap from a high-powered, fast-tracked life in the San Francisco Bay area to a new life in a former fishing village on the sand-fringed shores of an island in the Caribbean Sea...
What? What could they have been thinking?
Ann and her husband were thinking that they were ready to stop working their way up the corporate ladder...and to start living. Today, they walk across the sand from the duplex they built for themselves to the business they've also built for themselves. They're indulging their entrepreneurial inclinations while enjoying the "retirement" of their dreams in their adopted isla paradise.
Before I go any further, let's back up and remind ourselves where we are. As I've explained, unassuming Belize is one of the top offshore and banking havens in the world today, offering safe haven for your money.
But Belize is so much more, as well...
Reef, Ruins, Rivers, and Rain Forest Belize is also home to the second-longest barrier reef in the world. It's world-class snorkeling and scuba diving and a fisherman's paradise. Maybe you saw Matt Lauer's NBC "Today Show" special that highlighted the beauty and significance of Belize's reef system.
No Place Is Perfect What's not so great about Belize?
You want to avoid some parts of Belize City at night.
This is the Caribbean. That means casual. The Belize approach to living can require an adjustment.
Neither will you be able to find everything you might be looking for just when you want it. If you're used to running out to Wal-Mart at any time of the day or night for groceries or hardware, for example, life in Belize may seem challenging.
Plus, Belize gets hurricanes. Proper home design and building are vital. Banking is important in Belize, but it's not as important as tourism. This is a peaceful, eco-tourist retreat, home to more than 540 species of birds, 4,000 species of flowering plants, and 700 species of trees. Nearly 40% of Belize is protected as parkland and nature preserves.
Belize is home to the world's biggest concentration of Mayan sites. Two of the most spectacular are Lamanaii, the largest continually occupied city in the Maya world, and ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal), to the west, in the Cayo District. To reach it, you travel through a forest and then swim through a cave...
Belize is rain forest tours, horseback riding in the mountains, hikes to the 1,000 Foot Falls (one of the largest in Central America), and pristine rivers cascading into shallow pools perfect for an afternoon swim...
True Safe Haven A country of but 300,000 people, most of them farmers and fisherman, and home to a large community of Mennonites, Belize is one of the safest places I've ever spent time.
I'm not alone in this opinion. "Open Road" travel guide says this country is, "Peaceful and non-meddlesome, blissfully unimportant... Belize rarely merits attention in any foreign newspaper."
Belize is full of warm, wonderful people. As Correspondent Phil Hahn, who divides his time between Belize and the States, explains, "I've felt at home in Belize since my first visit in 2003, and, since then, I've worked to make it my second home. I return monthly. When I took my family with me on one of my early visits so they could see what I was so excited about, my children said, 'Dad, you have more friends here than you do at home.' They're right.
Kathleen, as a reader of Overseas Opportunity Letter and a Private Placement Funding Syndicator for over 25 years, I really have to commend you for your insight and honesty in telling like it is to your readers. It is uplifting to read an article from a person like yourself who is delivering the truth to her readers. Keep up the good work.
-- Norman S., United States "These friends I've made in Belize have come from all over the world, and all have fascinating stories. Some are adventurers, others educators or entrepreneurs, some salt-of-the-earth folks looking to make new lives."
Most people you meet in Belize have two common characteristics. They are hospitable, and they are fiercely independent. The average Belizean--including those who've adopted this country as their homeland--would choose to live in a humble home and off the land and sea rather than be beholding to someone. This country operates according to an old-school mentality that many of the world's more developed nations seem to have forgotten.
Consider Sue, for example. She's the proprietress of Amigo's, a popular Belizean watering hole, who came to the country in the early 1980s. She was dating a guy at the time who had decided to check out the opportunities in Costa Rica. He and his dad were at the Miami airport waiting for the flight. After several drinks, they realized they'd missed their plane. So they went to the ticket counter and told the agent to book them on the next flight headed south. A couple of hours later they were in Belize. Shortly after that, Sue was starting her first business in her new country (a sand, gravel, and concrete company). She has been an independent businesswoman ever since. After the concrete business, Sue ventured into agriculture, then into the restaurant/hotel supply business, then, in 2004, she built Amigo's.
Another expat in this country, Rev. Macarena Rose, who moved to Belize in 2004, describes coming to this country from Florida as "a lateral move." With its English language, common law tradition, private property rights, and abundant natural attractions, it's easy to see why people from the United States, Canada, and the U.K. feel so at home here.
Resort Oasis In The Cayo...Built From A US$600 Stake As a British Commonwealth country, Belize has always attracted expats from the U.K. One such adventurous soul is Mick Fleming, the owner of Chaa Creek, the spectacular rain forest resort on the banks of the Macal River in the Cayo District. Mick and his wife Lucy were two eco-travelers who met picking apples in the U.K. On Feb. 11, 1977, well before eco-tourism was trendy, the couple arrived in Belize with the clothes on their backs and US$600. In Belize City, they hitched a ride in an old beat-up Land Rover out to the Cayo District, home of the Maya Mountains, rain forests, and fertile farmland. Mick and Lucy fell in love with the area and rented a place in San Ignacio. The money they'd brought with them ran out, so they went to work at a farm picking beans for US$40 a week.
Then they met an Englishman who had retired from the R.A.F. and owned 137 acres on the outskirts of Cayo. They made a deal with the fellow Brit to rent the land with an option to buy it. They backpacked miles into the jungle and finally found the property, which had a little wooden cabin but otherwise was completely overgrown. Undeterred, they unloaded all of their worldly belongings, including a foam mattress, a cooker, a saddle, a rake, and a shovel. They cleared an area for a small farm and began growing vegetables that they transported to town by canoe via the Macal River. Mick remembers feeling like a rich man one day when he sold a load of squash pumpkins for US$90.
In 1981, they purchased the land they'd been leasing, and, suddenly, visitors began arriving. Mick and Lucy's produce business made about US$30 per week. As more and more travelers passed through this part of the country, they realized they could earn more money by providing backpacker accommodation. They built a cabana with a thatched roof, tasiste walls (palm trunks), and a dirt floor.
That was the beginning of Chaa Creek Lodge, which, today, includes a dozen luxury cabanas, a restaurant/bar, a spa, a cascading pool, an equestrian center, a campground, beautifully landscaped grounds, and organized activities.
Chaa Creek has evolved tremendously and impressively. But Mick and Lucy? They're still the same adventuresome souls who migrated to this little corner of the world three decades ago. When you meet Mick today, he'll greet you with a big smile and a welcoming handshake that makes it clear. At heart, he's still that guy who chose to settle down in the middle of the rain forest with a US$600 stake in his pocket...
The Good And Simple Life...But Is It For You? Belize is the simple life defined, but the country also boasts the modern conveniences you need to live comfortably. Easy Internet access in most areas allows you to continue working, if you want, and it makes it easy to stay in touch with friends and family back home.
This is not to say that Belize is for everyone.
More to the point: Is Belize for you?
There's only one way to find out. Come see the country for yourself!
I've been traveling to Belize for more than 20 years. I knew from the first day of my first visit, as a just-starting-out travel writer, that this was a place I wanted to spend time long term.
That initial, instinctive response to a place is important. You know in your gut, often right from the start, whether a place is right for you or not. It feels like a fit...or it doesn't. You feel at home...or you don't.
You are so much better than the others out there writing on these same topics. I receive this kind of information from many other sources. None of them compare. They're all sales letters pitching their next seminars or books or secret stock tips. Anyway, just wanted to let you know you are on the right track. Anyone who makes the comparison between you and the other resources available will choose you.
-- Stephen S., United States Before you can make a determination one way or the other about any place, you've got to wander the streets, walk the beaches, hike the hills, speak with other expats who've already made the move, and, critically, have all your questions answered by experts with firsthand knowledge and experience.
Is Belize a place you should consider spending your time or money? Would you be happy living here full-time (like our Correspondent Ann Kuffner)...or maybe part-time (like longtime friend and Correspondent Phil Hahn)? (Belize's unique QRP residency program means you can enjoy the tax advantages of being a Belize resident even if you spend but two weeks in the country each year.)
The only way to answer those questions is to get on a plane.
And that's what I'm writing to invite you to do. Come on down to see this unassuming English-speaking haven for yourself.
The above article was written in Live and Invest Overseas which is a publication of Kathleen Peddicord