Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Residency in detail, what it is.

Ok, we have gotten a couple of responses regarding our residency and we would like to explain what residency status is for us.

When you visit a foreign country, you do so on a visa, be it a tourist visa (most common) or a work visa. When we came to Belize, we were on a tourist visa. A tourist visa here in Belize must be renewed on a monthly basis. We had to go to Belmopan, the capital, to get our passports stamped and pay $US25 each (a total of $50 US per month for the two of us). After six months, immigration can deny you tourist extensions, at their discretion, and either force you to leave the country or get a work permit. They usually don’t make you leave though. After six months, the monthly fee doubles to $US50 each (a total of $100 US per month for the two of us).

After we purchased our land we explained to the immigration officer in Belmopan what we were doing: we purchased land and were making it into a small tourist place. He was okay with that and kept extending our tourist visas as we needed them. We also explained to him that we were going to apply for residency as soon as we were eligible and he helped point us in the right direction to get that process started.

So, after our 12 months of staying in the country with less than 13 days out of the country (we didn’t leave at all), we started the process of getting all the paperwork and authorizations done.

Now that we have gone through the entire process, here is what residency gets us:
1) We have a stamp in our passport (last page of visas) that states that we have permanent residency in Belize as business owners. We are not publishing a picture to avoid any legal problems.
2) We do not have to go to Belmopan each month and pay $US50 each ($100 total) to stay in the country.
3) When tourists leave Belize there is a $US35 exit fee. We now do not have to pay this.
4) We can now work, on our business or elsewhere in Belize without getting a work permit; so we can get a Belizean social security card and we don’t have to pay the $US750/year work permit fee.
5) We can get resident rates to most of the cultural sites, parks, and reserves that tourists have to pay higher rates to visit.
6) We get local rates at hotels and for tours.
7) We can legally become tour operators (owners of a business that sells tours).
8) Our US status is officially non-resident which changes some of the forms we have to file for earned income tax outside the United States.
That is all we can think of off the top of our heads.

What residency does NOT get us:
1) The right to vote in elections here in Belize.
2) The ability to hold a public office.
3) A nice pretty passport from Belize (which is not as useful as a US passport in visiting other countries in the world since you need a visa in order to visit any other country if you are traveling on a Belizean passport.)
4) The ability to go to jail here; they will deport us instead of putting us in Hattieville (like Attica in the US).

We have to reside here for five years in order to apply for citizenship. If/when we do apply for citizenship we can hold dual citizenship so that we are citizens of both the USA and Belize. We do NOT intend to forfeit our US citizenship at any point since we were born and raised in the US.

Hope this helps everyone who has had questions regarding residency and citizenship. This has been a HUGE learning experience for us and we don’t know if this is the same process for other applicants from the US, or if this is how it works for applicants from other countries. Nor do we know if this will all be the same for the next couple of years since there has been a change in the government here in Belize. If we’re still blogging in a few years we’ll let you know how the nationality (citizenship) process goes!

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