Belize, originally Mayan, was the subject of territorial fighting between Spain, Guatamala and the UK in the 1600s and 1700s. In 1854 it became known officially as British Honduras. Belize became independent in 1981.
Belize has a parliamentary democracy. The Queen of England appoints and is represented by Belize’s Governor General. The Prime Minister is elected, then nominates his or her Deputy Prime Minister and government ministers.
The legislative branch of Belize’s government consists of a bicameral National Assembly, with a Senate and a House of Representatives.
Belize’s legal system is based in English law. Its judicial branch is the Supreme Court; the chief justice is appointed by the Governor General.
Belize is a haven for private enterprise. Tourism and exports are its two biggest economic stimuli. Oil sources discovered in the last few years have led to expanded growth.
Fiscal year: 1 April – 31 March
Banks in Belize serve an international clientele, and you’ll find that even the most local bank has a menu services rivaling larger banks in other countries. Belize International Banks are exempt from exchange control regulations.
The Central Bank of Belize regulates the banking industry. Belize International Banking licenses come in two levels – “A” Class (unrestricted) and “B” Class (restricted to predetermined activity). Requirements for both categories are strict; only five applicants have been issued banking licenses in the last five years.
A Belize International Bank can:
- Operate within Belize
- Conduct offshore banking business
- Conduct domestic banking business
CP, C, Caricom, CDB, FAO, G-77, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICCT, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ITU, ITUC, LAES, MIGA, NAM, OAS, OPANAL, OPCW, PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WCL, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO
The Government of Belize recognizes and rewards foreign investment as follows:
- Fosters employment of its citizens and increases knowledge of those employed
- Treats the environment with respect
- Conducts foreign exchange and deals with foreign markets
- Increases production rate and fosters technological innovation
- Promotes economic diversity and business competition
- Is structured as a partnership or joint venture
- Includes economically underdeveloped areas of Belize in its business plan
Agriculture: Bananas, cacao, citrus, sugar; fish, cultured shrimp; lumber; garments
Industry: Garment production, food processing, tourism, construction, oil
FREE TRADE ZONE
Businesses in Belize are in the Free Zone and thus are exempt from foreign exchange restrictions. Other benefits include duty exemption and tax holidays.
Goods and supplies entering and leaving the Free Zone for commercial purposes are exempt from import or export duties, quotas, stamp duties and revenue replacement duties.
Exports: Sugar, bananas, citrus, clothing, fish products, molasses, wood to the US, UK, Cote d’Ivoire
Imports: Machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods; fuels, chemicals, pharmaceuticals; food, beverages, tobacco from the US, Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala, China
The government prefers to keep foreign ownership of land under control, and thus larger plots – more than 0.5 acre in a town or 10 acres in the country – are subject to additional regulations. If there is foreign interest undeveloped land for new construction, the land can be leased and, if the projected construction is completed, the government will offer it for full purchase. There is a 1 percent tax on the unimproved value of the land. The transfer of title of real estate is subject to a 10 percent Stamp Duty split between the buyer and the seller.
An employer is responsible for registering all employees with the Labour Department. All employees – even apprentices – are eligible for social security.
Foreigners have a 30-day limit to their stay in Belize. Visitors should check with their home government for visa requirements. The Immigration Office handles all requests for extensions for a nominal fee, and usually are granted if the visitor can prove they have the equivalent of USD$50.00 at their disposal for each day they plan to stay, and a return ticket out of Belize.
The Labour Department offers work-permit applications to employers – either for self-employed individuals, or those looking to hire a foreign employee. Processing is three weeks and there is no fee. Once the application has been approved, the Immigration Department issues the permit, and at this time the fee is paid on a sliding scale pursuant to the type of job the permit holder will be doing.
Foreign investors can also apply for work permit, as long as they can prove that they will not be a burden to Belize’s economy. These types of permits are short-term but can be renewed easily.
Permanent residence can be applied for after one continuous year of legal residence. The fee charged for this application process – on a sliding scale, depending on the applicant’s nationality, will be refunded after three years of residency in Belize.
Legal residents of Belize for more than five years can apply for citizenship.
The types of companies one may incorporate in Belize are as follows:
- International Business Company
- Joint Venture and Cooperative
- Limited Liability Partnership
- Limited Life Company
- Private Company
- Public Investment Company
- Sole Proprietor
- Trust Fund
Offshore entities establish as an International Business Company or Trust, or sometimes, both. Articles and Memorandum of Association must be filed and a fee paid to the government.
Belizean trusts are protected from all foreign claims by creditors and other legal settlements. Trusts do not need to be registered with Belizean authorities; if they are, they can be accessed by outside authorities only under the express authorization of the trust settlor or relevant power of attorney. Trusts have a duration period of 120 years.
Belizean employees earning less than USD$20,000 a year are exempt from income tax.
Income above USD$20,000 is deducted by the employer and taxed in the following sliding scale:
- USD$2,500 = 25 percent
- Next USD$15,000 = 30 percent
- Next USD$10,000 = 40 percent
- Everything else = 45 percent
As of 2006, a Goods and Services Tax of 10 percent has taken the place of the previous 9 percent sales tax. The GST does not apply to food items, including rice, flour, bread, fresh fruits and vegetables, chicken and fish, and utilities costing under BZD$150 per month.