Sunday, February 24, 2008

We’re open…sort of

When I last wrote, we were planning to pick up our Police Records the next day, and then go to Belmopan and Belize City to deliver our residency and Belize Tourist Bureau (BTB) applications. It didn’t happen quite like that, because our Police Records, which were supposed to take two weeks, ended up taking more than four. They weren’t in Belmopan, we were sent back to San Ignacio, then San Ignacio told us to go to Belmopan, and they still weren’t done. We finally picked them up Friday a week ago in Belmopan, and took last weekend to put all of our paperwork together for both our residency applications and the BTB application.

We set out on Wednesday with a list of additional copies we needed for both applications. But, before we even made copies, we had to go to the attorney’s office to pick up our incorporation papers, which were done. We then got our copies, and put together a packet with each of our residency applications, and a copy of each application, and a copy of each to keep. We did the same with the BTB application and, all organized, we set off for Belmopan. We went into the Immigration office, got our number, and then got our passports stamped for another two months, a process we will have to repeat until we get our permanent residency approved. We had arrived at the office around 11:15, and at noon Tom asked if the office closed for lunch. We were told that they continued working, so we stayed, but it seems that a lot of people didn’t because four or five numbers were called for people who weren’t there right around noon, and then it was our turn. We handed our packets over to the Immigration officer, and she started through them. As it turns out, they didn’t want an application for each of us, and they didn’t want copies, so we added all of my paperwork to Tom’s packet, showed the officer a few originals so she could stamp the copies we submitted, put a whole bunch of unnecessary copies back in our bag, and were out of there before 12:30 with our interviews scheduled for May 14.

We grabbed a quick lunch at the market, and set off to drop a truckload of cage scraps at the Zoo. That took all of 10 minutes, and then we were off to Belize City. We hoped we had everything in order for the BTB, but figured they’d look at our application and send us away to get some more papers. We were very pleasantly surprised to find that we were wrong, and we were very much impressed with our experience with the BTB. I had emailed some things to a gentleman at the BTB last week, and had told him that we were coming in sometime on Wednesday, although we couldn’t say what time because we weren’t sure how long we would take at Immigration. We showed up, the receptionist called the hotel department to tell them we were there, and a very helpful gentleman came down and took us into a conference room. We spread our application out on the table and started going through it with him, and he gave us the spiel on the BTB’s role in the tourism industry in Belize, and what the BTB has to do with hotels and lodges. He told us that they recommend that people thinking of opening a lodge come talk to them early on in the process, and Tom and I both wilted a little figuring that was his way of saying we had a long way to go. But, he then continued that it looked like we had done our homework and had everything we needed, so if we would give him $90BZ he would get copies of our application, get a copy of our temporary operating permit, and provide us with all the forms we need to be a legally operating hotel in Belize.

We had no idea it would be that easy and figured we’d get way more of a runaround. We probably made our lives more difficult than necessary by doing our permanent residency and BTB applications at the same time, but the flip side of that is that the applications required some of the same documentation, so submitting both applications at the same time prevented us from having to redo some of the forms. We’d heard horror stories about both these processes from other gringos, but we're starting to think that in a lot of ways it's way easier to do business here than in the US, which wasn't what we expected. The only problem is that there aren't any clearly defined processes so you sort of have to feel your way, but that's the hard part and once you know what you're doing, it's cake. There's a huge difference in attitude between here and the US, because here the government officials seem to feel that they're here to help you, not just give you the run around and show you how important they are which seems to be the attitude of a lot of US officials. That may just be our experience, and we still have a way to go before we get our permanent residency and we’re really not ready to open yet, but so far so good doing business here.

The other thing that made us laugh is that because we want to offer tours, we should get a Tour Operator license. While we were at the BTB, we met with the Tour Operator coordinator and reviewed the application with him. We don’t yet have everything we need for that application so we aren’t ready to turn it in, but we had to laugh because he told us that they technically only grant the license to Belizean citizens and permanent residents, but since we are a Belizean corporation, if we want to give them the application money and bring money into Belize by offering tours to travelers, he didn’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be granted the license. Anybody who knows me has heard me rant up and down about how I sometimes wonder if my money isn’t any good because I’ve had so many experiences where I’m trying to do or get something which involves paying somebody to do something for me, and the person or organization I’m supposed to pay gives me the runaround until I can’t figure out why I’m even bothering to try to do business with them. So far, that isn’t how it works here.

The other thing that has made us go “hmmm” a few times is the differences in the legal systems between here and the US. We’re opening our property to the public, and will be offering activities that could be dangerous, such as horseback riding. In the US, we would expect to be insured to the eyeballs with liability insurance for the hotel, for the horseback riding and other tours, for our vehicles, and for anything else somebody could theoretically decide they wanted to sue us for, including errors and omissions. Here, we’ve questioned the attorney, multiple insurance companies, and the BTB, and have been told that we really don’t have to worry about it because we are a Belizean corporation, so if anybody wanted to sue us it would have to be done in Belize courts, and the Belize courts simply don’t try cases where the person bringing the suit to court could be at fault. This kind of insurance simply isn’t offered here, with the exception of liability insurance for our vehicles, which we have increased in case a tourist is injured in our truck. We were told that we could get a standard waiver for activities like horseback riding if it made us feel better, but we really don’t need it. We probably will have people sign something for those activities just because many people don’t realize how dangerous it can be, and providing a waiver is a good way for us to communicate the danger to our guests – but I’m always going to hear the attorney in my head saying “do you feel better now?” every time I pull out the form.

1 comment:

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