Belize has the smallest economy in Central America with a total gross domestic product (GDP) of US USD 1.86 billion. Though geographically located in Central America, the former British colony has deep cultural ties to the Caribbean. Due to mounting fiscal pressures and a need to diversify and expand its economy, the Government of Belize is very open to, and actively seeks, foreign direct investment (FDI). However, the small population of the country (around 380,000 people), high import duties, bureaucratic delays, corruption, and occasional political interference in private disputes constitute investment challenges.
In the financial system, the threats of derisking and loss of correspondent banking relationships have stabilized. While all Belizean banks currently have access to correspondent banking, local banks remain wary about the longevity of these relationships, which tend to offer fewer services at higher costs. Businesses complain that financial transactions, particularly in foreign currencies, are more difficult, lengthy, and costly. In 2017, the government undertook various regulatory and legislative measures aimed at improving the financial sector. The Central Bank of Belize implemented a National Payment System to facilitate real time domestic transactions and clearing, as well as adopted other measures aimed at improving screening of international transactions and combatting financial crimes. Parliament passed legislative amendments relating to International Business Companies (IBCs) and Anti Money Laundering to improve regulatory oversight of local moneylenders.
Generally, Belize has no restrictions on foreign ownership or control of companies. However, foreign investors must adhere to regulatory requirements by the Central Bank of Belize relating to the inflow and outflow of investment. Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and tour operators wishing to benefit from certain incentives must have 51 percent local ownership. The country also continues to fare poorly in international surveys of openness and ease of opening a business.
Stakeholders involved in real estate continue to express concerns with Central Bank regulations that require real estate transactions between residents and non-residents to be in Belize dollars. Additionally in 2017, the rate of stamp duty chargeable on land transfers involving foreigners was raised from 5 percent to 8 percent on land transfers valued in excess of USD 10,000.
The overall fiscal picture for Belize continues to face significant challenges. The country remains highly indebted with debt to GDP at approximately 100 percent. The government managed to gain some relief in the short term with the 2017 renegotiation of the country’s major external commercial debt—the so-called “Superbond 3.0”—totaling an estimated US USD 554 million. Future challenges will continue relating to fiscal tightening; particularly controlling the public sector wage bill, dealing with other arbitration judgments that have gone against the government, and putting in place measures to encourage private sector growth and economic development.
Despite the challenges, Belize remains attractive for some investors because of the beauty of its natural resources, the relative affordability of land, proximity to the United States, and the cultural diversity and warmth of its people. Investors benefit from various incentive programs, as there is no capital gains tax and no inheritance tax. Over the past year, investments continued primarily in tourism, agriculture, and agro processing. In 2017, various well-known hotel brands, including the Hilton, Four Seasons, and Wyndham announced decisions to invest in luxury resorts in Belize. In terms of light manufacturing, the government announced its decision to phase out the use of single use plastics and styrofoam by mid-2019. This has opened potential investments in importing and producing more environmentally friendly biodegradable operations. In agriculture and agro-processing, investments continue in traditional and non-traditional products including banana, cacao, corn, beans, and poultry. Investments also continue in aquaculture initiatives including seaweed-farming, sea cucumber, and supporting the recovery of shrimp farming.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2017||N/A||http://www.transparency.org/
Belize was not ranked in 2017
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business”||2017||121 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2017||N/A||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
|U.S. FDI in Partner Country (M USD, stock positions)||2015||USD 35||http://www.bea.gov/
|World Bank GNI per capita||2015||USD 4,360||http://data.worldbank.org/
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
While the Government of Belize is interested in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), certain regulatory requirements serve to impede growth and transparency.
There are no laws that explicitly discriminate against foreign investors. In practice, however, investors complain that they do not always receive the full extent of the incentives available, that land titles are not always reliably secure, and that bureaucratic delays or corruption can be hindrances to starting a business in Belize. There is a sense among investors that incentives are administered in an ad hoc manner, with frequent delays or payments not issued as originally guaranteed.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Belize’s attractiveness to foreign investors could be improved by reducing the cost of doing business, particularly the costs of inputs (energy, transportation and telecommunications), and combating crime.
The Belize Trade and Investment Development Service (BELTRAIDE; ), a statutory body of the Government of Belize, is the investment and export promotion agency. BELTRAIDE promotes FDI through various types of incentive packages and identified priority sectors for investment as agriculture, agro-processing, aquaculture, light manufacturing, food processing and packaging, tourism and tourism-related industries, business process outsourcing (BPOs), and renewable energy.
The Government created the Economic Development Council to increase the national dialogue on private sector development and better inform policies for growth and development. The Cabinet has also created a Sub–Committee on Investment composed of Ministers whose portfolios are directly involved in considering and approving investment proposals.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Generally, Belize has no restrictions on foreign ownership and control of companies; however, foreign investments in Belize must be registered at the Central Bank of Belize. In addition, foreigners will need to apply with a Belizean partner or someone with a permanent residence to be able to register a business name.
Some investment incentives show preference to Belizean-owned companies. For example, the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Fiscal Incentive, offered by BELTRAIDE, stipulates that an entity applying for benefits under the SME incentive must have a minimum of 51 percent Belizean ownership. If this condition is met, the incentive provides for a lower application fee structure.
According to the Belize Tourism Board ( ), a company must have a minimum of 51 percent Belizean ownership to qualify for a Tour Operator License. This qualification is negotiable particularly in the event a tour operation would expand into a new sector of the market and does not result in competition with local operators.
Foreign investments in Belize must be registered and obtain an “Approved Status” from the Central Bank in order to facilitate inflows and outflows of foreign currency. “Approved Status” investments will ordinarily be granted approval for repatriation of funds from profits, dividends, loan payments, and interest. The Central Bank reserves the right to request evidence-supporting applications for repatriation.
Additionally, persons seeking to open a bank account must also comply with Central Bank regulations, which differ based on residency status and whether the individual is seeking to establish a local bank account or a foreign currency account.
The Government of Belize’s Cabinet Sub-Committee on Investment considers investment projects which do not fall within Belize’s incentive regime or which may require special considerations. For example, an investment may require legislative changes, a customized memorandum of understanding or agreement from the government, or a public–private partnership. Proposals are generally assessed based on size, scope, and subsidy requested. In addition, proposals are assessed on a five-point system that analyses socio-economic acceptability of the project, revenues to the government, employment, foreign exchange earnings and environmental considerations. The Cabinet Sub-Committee is composed of five Cabinet-level officials of government including the minister with responsibility over Investment, Trade and Commerce as Chairperson. The other members include the ministers with responsibility for Tourism and Culture; the Environment and Sustainable Development; and Natural Resources and Immigration, along with the Attorney General. There is no set timeframe for considering projects as this would largely depend on the nature and complexity of the project.
When considering investment, foreign investors undertaking large capital investments must be aware of Belize’s environmental laws and regulations. There is a requirement to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) when a project meets certain land area, location, and/or industry criteria. When purchasing land or planning to develop in or near an ecologically sensitive zone, it is recommended that the EIA fully address any measures by the investor to mitigate environmental risks. Environmental clearance must be obtained prior to the start of site development. The Department of Environment website, has more information on the Environmental Protection Act and other regulations, applications and guidelines.
In 2015, the Caribbean Court of Justice issued its landmark decision issuing a consent order to the Government to create “an effective mechanism to identify and protect Mayan customary land rights.” The parties have still not decided how and when to implement the court ruling because of disagreement between the government and the Maya communities.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
In the past three years, there has been no investment policy review of Belize by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Belize concluded its third Trade Policy Review in the World Trade Organization (WTO) in April 2017.
Belize does not operate a single window registration process. The Belize Companies Corporate Affairs Registry (tel: (501) 822 0421; email: email@example.com; website: ) is responsible for the registration process of all business and companies.
Businesses must also register with the tax department to pay business and general sales tax. They must also register with their local city council or town board to obtain a trade license to operate a business. An employer should also register employees for social security. The 2018 Doing Business report ( ) estimates it takes on average 43 days to start up a company in Belize. The same report ranks Belize at 121 of 190 economies on the ease of starting a business.
Belize also has offshore business services legislation, which allows offshore banking, and the establishment of International Business Companies (IBCs) and trusts. In 2017, the IBC Act was amended to allow, inter alia, for the elimination of bearer shares as well as the requirement for companies to maintain a register of directors and a register of beneficial owners. For more information on Belize’s offshore financial sector visit .
BELTRAIDE ( ), a statutory body of the Government of Belize, operates as the country’s investment and export promotion agency. Its investment facilitation services are open to all investors. While there are support measures to advance greater inclusion of women and minorities in entrepreneurial initiatives and training, the business facilitation measures do not distinguish by gender or economic status.
The government does not promote or incentivize outward investments. Domestic investors are not restricted from investing abroad. However, the Central Bank places currency controls that limit foreign currency outflows.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
Belize has Bilateral Investment Treaties with Austria, Cuba, El Salvador, Italy, the Netherlands, the People’s Republic of China- Taiwan and the United Kingdom. Belize also has a Partial Scope Agreement (PSA) with Guatemala on a small number of goods. Belize does not have a bilateral investment treaty and neither is it a party to a Free Trade Agreement with the United States. It is a qualifying country under the U.S. Generalized System of Preference (GSP) as well as the U.S. – Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA). For additional information on Belize’s Bilateral Investment Treaties, see .
Bilateral Taxation Treaties
Belize has signed twenty Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEA) with Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Greenland, Iceland, India, Ireland, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and United Kingdom. Belize has no bilateral taxation treaties with the United States.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Regulatory authority exists both at the local and national levels with national laws and regulations being most relevant to foreign businesses. The government publishes a Gazette that includes proposed as well as enacted laws and regulations. Government ministries also make available policies, laws, and regulations pertinent to their portfolio available on their respective ministry websites. Since 2016, enacted laws have been published on the website of the National Assembly. There is usually a delay updating the website.
Despite these measures, some investors complain that the regime for incentives did not always meet their needs, that land titles are not always reliable and secure, and that bureaucratic delays or corruption can be hindrances to doing business in Belize.
There are quasi-governmental organizations mandated by law to manage specified regulatory processes on behalf of the Government of Belize, e.g. the Belize Tourism Board, BELTRAIDE, and the Belize Agricultural Health Authority. There are no reports that these processes significantly distort or discriminate against foreign investors.
The cabinet dictates government policies that are enacted by the legislature and implemented by the various government ministries. Regulations exist at the local level, primarily relating to property taxes and registering for trade licenses to operate businesses in the municipality.
Accounting, legal, and regulatory systems are consistent with international norms. Publicly owned companies are generally audited annually and the reports are prepared in accordance with International Financial Reporting Standards and International Standards on Auditing.
Draft bills are published in the Gazette by the Government of Belize printers and are publicly available for a minimal fee. Draft bills are generally open to public comment. Once introduced in the House of Representatives, they are passed to Standing Committees of the House of Representatives which then meet and invite the public and interested persons to review, recommend changes, or object to draft laws prior to further debate. Public comments on draft legislation are not generally posted online nor made publicly available. It would be the prerogative of an interested party to attend public consultations, committee meetings, or to request the public comments from the National Assembly or relevant Ministry. Additionally, laws are sometimes passed quickly without meaningful publication or public review, as was the case with the Central Bank of Belize (International Immunities Act) 2017 and the Crown Proceedings (Amendment Act), 2017.
Regulatory decisions are subject to judicial review.
International Regulatory Considerations
As a full member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Belize’s foreign, economic and trade policies regarding non-members are coordinated regionally. The country’s import tariffs are largely defined by CARICOM’s Common External Tariffs.
Belize is also a member of several other treaties as a result of its membership within CARICOM. A primary example is the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between CARIFORUM and the European Union (EU).
Outside of CARICOM, Belize is also a member of the Central American Integration System (SICA) at a political level, but is not a part of the Secretariat of Central American Economic Integration (SIECA) that supports economic integration of Central America.
Belize is a member of the WTO and CARICOM and adheres to the norms established by these organizations. Belize also ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement in 2015 and is at 33.6 percent rate of implementation.
The Belize Bureau of Standards (BBS) is the national standards body responsible for preparing, promoting and implementing standards for goods, services, and processes. The BBS operates in in accordance with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade and the CARICOM Regional Organization for Standards and Quality.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
The Belize Constitution is founded on the principle of separation of powers with independence of the judiciary from the executive and legislative branches of government. As a former British colony, Belize follows the English Common Law legal system, which is based on established case law. Belize has a written Contract Act, which is supported by precedents from the national courts as well as from the wider English speaking and Commonwealth case law. Contracts are legally enforced through the courts. In 2010, Belize adopted the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as its final appellate court on civil and criminal matters. This replaced the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom.
There are specialized courts that deal with family related matters including divorce and child custody but no specialized courts to deal with commercial disputes or cases.
The current judicial process faces systematic challenges that relate both to civil and criminal cases, including frequent adjournments, delays, and a backlog of cases. Several measures are being implemented to improve the country’s judiciary. The training of mediators and the introduction of court-connected mediation support alternative methods to dispute settlement. This effort along with better case management procedures is expected to decrease the court’s caseload, time delays, and cost particularly for smaller claim civil cases.
Regulations and enforcement actions are appealable. Judgments by the Belize Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal are available at . Judgments by the Caribbean Court of Justice, Belize’s highest appellate court are available at .
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The laws, rules, procedures, and report requirements related to investors differ depending on the nature of the investment. BELTRAIDE provides advisory services and other related information for foreign investors relating to procedures for doing business in Belize and incentives available to qualifying investors. Further information is available at the BELTRAIDE website: .
- Central Bank of Belize (International Immunities) Act;
- Crown Proceedings (Amendment) Act;
- Income and Business Tax (Amendment) Act- excise duty on fuel products;
- Business Tax;
- National Payments System Act to establish a National Payment System;
- Moneylenders (Amendment) Act;
- Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters (Amendment) Act;
- Stamp Duties (Amendment) Act raise duty to 1.75 percent;
- Statutory Bodies (Development Contribution).
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
Belize does not have any laws governing competition, but there are attempts to limit outside competition in certain industries (such as food and agriculture) by levying high import duties.
Expropriation and Compensation
There have been several cases in which the government used eminent domain to appropriate private property, including land belonging to foreign investors. There were no new expropriation cases. However, there are allegations that several previous expropriations were done for personal or political gain. Belizean law requires that the government assess and compensate according to fair market value. These types of expropriation cases can take many years to settle and there are numerous cases where there was no compensation or compensation is still pending. In the cases of expropriations, the claimants affirm that the Government failed to adhere to agreements entered into by a previous administration.
The process to acquire land titles has issues with cases of private as well as government manipulation of land titles involving foreigners and Belizeans. Although the government recognizes this flaw, efforts at improving the land title system remain ongoing.
In late 2017, the Government of Belize made final payments for the nationalized Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) in line with a judgment issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The final settlement cost the government approximately USD 250 million and almost eight years of lengthy legal battles against the Ashcroft Alliance.
Since July 2015, the U.S. courts have upheld four arbitration judgments against the government including one related to the BTL nationalization. The Government of Belize has chosen to ignore these judgments holding the view that enforcement actions need to proceed through Belizean courts and should be appealed up to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
The Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention) was extended to Belize by an act of the United Kingdom when Belize was a colony. After independence, Belize did not ratify the Convention nor is it listed as a contracting state. Nevertheless, arbitration is governed by the Arbitration Act (Chapter 125) of the Laws of Belize. Part IV of the Arbitration Act specifically addresses the New York Convention and empowers domestic courts to enforce awards under the Convention. A 2013 judgment of the Caribbean Court of Justice restored Part IV of the Arbitration Act for the enforcement of arbitral awards.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Please see Section 2 above- Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Agreements.
Belize is also a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Single Market and Economy as well as a party to a regional Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between CARIFORUM and the European Union (EU). Both these regional arrangements make provisions for the settlement of investor-state disputes.
Since Belize is not a party to any Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) or Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States, investment disputes involving U.S. persons are taken either before the courts or before international arbitration panels.
Local courts would recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards against the government but these would likely be adjudicated to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Belize’s highest appellate court.
There has not been a history of extrajudicial actions against foreign investors.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Belize’s Arbitration Act allows the Supreme Court of Belize to support and supervise dispute settlement between private parties by arbitration. In 2013, the Supreme Court introduced the process of court-connected mediation as an alternative method to dispute settlement between private parties and as a means of reducing costs and duration of litigation.
There are numerous instances of cases involving State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) which went before domestic courts with ruling both in favor and against the SOE.
In January 2017, the Crown Proceedings (Amendment) Act and the Central Bank of Belize (International Immunities) Act were passed which affect the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards against the government. Essentially, the Crown Proceedings Amendment Act provides that if a foreign judgment is entered against the government and later declared as “unlawful, void or otherwise invalid” by a court in Belize, the foreign judgement would not be enforced in or outside Belize. The Act also provides for hefty penalties of fines and or imprisonment on a person, individual or legal, seeking to enforce the foreign judgment. The Central Bank (International Immunities) Act restates the immunity of the Central Bank of Belize assets “from legal proceedings in other states.” The Central Bank International Immunities Act similarly provides for penalties of fines and/or imprisonment on a person, individual or legal, which initiates any such proceedings.
Chapter 244 of the Laws of Belize (Bankruptcy Act) provides and allows for bankruptcy filings. The Act provides for the establishment of receivership, trustees, adjudication and seizures of the property of the bankrupt. The court may order the arrest of the debtor and seizure of assets and documents in the event the debtor will flee or avoid payment to creditors. The Act also provides for imprisonment on conviction of certain specified offenses. The Director of Public Prosecutions may also institute prosecution proceedings for offenses emanating or related to the bankruptcy proceedings.
4. Industrial Policies
The legal framework authorizing and providing investment incentives includes the Fiscal Incentives Act, the Export Processing Zone Act, the Commercial Free Zone Act, the International Business Companies Act, the Retired Persons Incentives Act, the Trusts Act, the Offshore Banking Act, and the Gaming Control Act.
In 2016, Government of Belize, with the support of the Commonwealth Secretariat, completed review of existing Fiscal Incentives, Export Processing Zones, and Commercial Free Zones. Potential investors should be aware of this ongoing process when discussing investment concessions.
Regulations require that incentives granted to an enterprise be awarded based on the investment’s socioeconomic contributions to the Belizean economy: employment creation, transfer of skills and technology, and foreign exchange earnings or savings. All approved projects must benefit the public and must fit within the government’s overall development plan.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
The Export Processing Zone (EPZ) Act, which is administered by the Ministry of Economic Development, was designed to attract local and foreign investments to boost production for export markets. Activities targeted by this incentive include manufacturing, non-traditional agricultural products, processing, assembly, and services, including call centers. Approved companies in this portfolio are treated as being outside national customs territory by benefiting from exemptions from full import and export duties, capital gains taxes, property and land taxes, dividend taxes, value-added taxes, trade turnover taxes, foreign exchange taxes, transfer taxes, as well as excise, sales, and consumption taxes. The program allows a tax holiday period of 20 years, with an option to extend and deduct losses from profits following the tax holiday period. Companies are allowed to open foreign currency bank accounts, and are exempted from import and export licensing requirements, resulting in no restrictions on the importation of raw materials or on the exportation of finished products. The program also allows for the sale, lease, or transfer of goods and services within an EPZ, Customs inspections in the zone for expediency, work permits at no cost for all professional and technical staff, and, if necessary, authorizing up to a 20 percent foreign workforce.
A Commercial Free Zone (CFZ) is a specifically designated area for the conduct of business operations, including, but not limited to, manufacturing, commercial offices, insurance services, banking and financial services, offshore financial services, professional or related services, processing, packaging, warehousing, and the distribution of goods and services. Belize currently has two CFZs, one on the northern border with Mexico and a small zone on the western border with Guatemala. Goods originating from these free zones can only be sold into Belize’s national customs territory after the necessary duties and taxes have been assessed and paid. The Commercial Free Zone Management Agency (CFZMA), sanctioned by the government of Belize, monitors and administers the free zones. Incentives include exemptions from import duties, income tax, taxes on dividends, capital gains tax, or any new corporate tax levied by the Government during the first 10 years of operation. In addition, all imports and exports of a CFZ are exempt from all customs duties, consumption taxes, excise taxes, or in-transit taxes, except those destined for or directly entering areas subject to the national customs territory. Additionally, CFZ businesses incurring a net loss over the five-year tax holiday may deduct losses from profits in the three years following the tax holiday period.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
The Fiscal Incentives Act awards a qualified entity a development concession during the start-up or expansion stages of a business in order to foster its growth by offsetting custom duties. According to BELTRAIDE ( ), two programs are offered under this Act, the Regular Program for investments exceeding USD 150,000 and the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) program for investments of less than USD 150,000. In general, the legal framework allows for full Customs Duties exemptions and Tax Holidays for up to 15 years for approved enterprises. According to the Act, this is renewable for another 10-year term, totaling 25 years for companies engaged in agriculture, agro-industrial products, mariculture (aquaculture), food processing, and manufacturing with export operations that are labor intensive.
The length and extent of a development concession are determined by several factors, including: (a) the extent of local value added; (b) the projected profitability of the enterprise; (c) foreign exchange earnings or savings; (d) transfer of skills and technology; and (e) new employment opportunities.
Occasionally, foreign investors complain that these investment promotions are rarely as open, effective, or easy to obtain as they appear on paper. For example, the Fiscal Incentives Act allows a tax holiday, however, only in rare cases within the past 10 years was this tax holiday considered during the approval process.
The Fiscal Incentives SME Program is aimed at smaller enterprises with a minimum of 51 percent Belizean ownership. The SME Program offers the same benefits of the Regular Program, with the exception of the allowable timeframe for duty exemptions. Under this program, companies are allowed a maximum of five years of development concessions, with the expectation that after this period, companies can mature into the larger Regular Program.
The International Business Companies (IBC) Act allows international investors to establish offshore companies in Belize. These entities are not allowed to own an interest in real property in Belize or to conduct business in banking or insurance with Belizean residents. However, they benefit from tax exemptions on all income; dividends paid to persons resident in Belize or elsewhere; interest, rent, royalties, and compensation paid to persons who are not residents of Belize; and capital gains realized on shares, debt obligations, or other securities of an IBC by persons who are not resident in Belize. There are no currency restrictions for banking transactions, and no restrictions on citizenship or residency requirements for directors, officers, or shareholders. All IBCs must be registered through an authorized IBC agent of the International Business Companies Registry. In 2017, the IBC Act was amended to allow, inter alia, for the elimination of bearer shares as well as the requirement for companies to maintain a register of directors and a register of beneficial owners. See www.ifsc.ggov.bz for more information.
The Qualified Retirement Program (QRP) was created to facilitate eligible persons who have met the income requirements, to permanently live and retire in Belize. The Belize Tourism Board offers the Retired Persons Incentive Act, which was designed to benefit retired persons over 45 years of age. To qualify, applicants need proof of income not less than USD 2,000 per month through a pension or annuity generated outside of Belize. An approved QRP is allowed to import personal effects and an approved means of transportation free of all customs duties and taxes. All income generated outside of Belize is also free of taxes. A timeframe of one year is given to import all personal and household effects into Belize, using multiple shipments as necessary. Duty and tax-free importation of an automobile, light aircraft (less than 17,000 kg), or boat is allowed. Vehicles may only be replaced at intervals exceeding three years. Effects and items imported under this program can only be sold, given away, or leased after the appropriate payment of applicable duties and taxes. For more information, visit: .
5. Protection of Property Rights
The Preamble of the Belize Constitution preserves the right of the individual to the ownership of private property and the right to operate private businesses. Private entities, whether foreign or local, have the right to freely establish, acquire, and dispose of interests in property and business enterprises. Generally, the country has no restrictions on the limits of foreign ownership and control; however, foreign investments in Belize must be registered at the Central Bank of Belize. See above “Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment.”
Mortgages and liens do exist and related real estate would be recorded with the registry of the Lands and Survey Department. There have been cases of land fraud, abuses, and corruption in the Lands and Survey Department. Investors are strongly advised to do their due diligence prior to purchasing property.
Foreign and/or non-resident investors are not allowed to acquire national lease property but may acquire titled privately owned property. Stakeholders involved in real estate continue to express concerns with Central Bank regulations that require real estate transactions between residents and non-residents to be in Belize dollars. Additionally in 2017, the rate of stamp duty chargeable on land transfers was amended with regard to transfers between involving foreigners, including a natural person or a foreign controlled company. The amendment increases the rate of stamp duty payable to 8 percent for land transfers valued in excess of USD 10,000. The rate of such transactions involving Belizeans and CARICOM nationals, however, remains at 5 percent.
There are three different types of titles to freehold property in Belize: Deed of Conveyance, Transfer of Certificate of Title, and Land Certificate. Leasehold property from the government is available to Belizeans who can then apply for conversion to a fee simple title. The government is in the process of re-registering all freehold lands to achieve a uniform system of nationwide land ownership.
Squatters’ rights are only enforceable by order of the Supreme Court after having proven uninterrupted possession for at least 30 years on National and Conveyed lands or for at least 12 years on registered lands.
Intellectual Property Rights
Belize fulfilled its obligation under the WTO to implement the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property, (TRIPS). BELIPO ( ) was established to administer intellectual property rights (IPR) laws, and it functions as Belize’s national intellectual property registry. Its mandate covers the protection of copyrights, industrial designs, patents, trademarks, new plant varieties, and layout designs (topographies) of integrated circuits.
In practice, however, despite the IPR laws and administrating office, enforcement is non-existent. Illegally copied CDs and DVDs are widespread and continue to be marketed throughout the country. Local cable companies and television stations broadcast content pirated from U.S. television networks and cable channels, as well as sports programming and movies. During the first quarter of 2018, high-level representatives of HBO met with Belize Cable Television operators in an effort to address gross IPR infringements by Belizean operators.
Belize’s IPR rights must be registered and enforced in Belize, under local laws. In general, IPR protections are enforced through civil proceedings and must be initiated by the IPR right holders.
There have been no new IP related laws and regulations enacted in the past year. Additionally, while the Customs Department of Belize does track seizures of counterfeit goods it does not properly document IPR and contraband seizures.
Belize is not listed in the 2018USTR’s Special 301 report and neither is it listed in the 2017 notorious market report.
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
Belize’s financial system is small with limited to non-existent foreign portfolio investment transactions. The major participants in the domestic financial market include the domestic commercial banks and the Central Bank of Belize. Most international banks also provide corporate formation services to register International Business Companies as well as the establishment of trusts.
Ten credit unions operate as non-profit cooperatives that function as savings banks, offering mainly savings accounts and consumer, education, and residential loans to their shareholders. The Development Finance Corporation (DFC), a state owned development bank offers loan financing services in various sectors, including agriculture, aquaculture, tourism, eco-products, housing, education, and micro and small enterprises. To qualify for a loan from DFC, an individual must be a Belizean resident or citizen, while a company must be majority 51 percent Belizean owned. The National Bank of Belize is state owned bank that provides concessionary credit to public officers, teachers, and low income Belizeans.
Belize does not have its own stock market and capital market operations are rudimentary. Private sector participation as both suppliers and buyers of securities in the financial market is generally not significant.
Foreign investments in Belize must be registered at the Central Bank. See Foreign Currency and Remittances below. The government does not restrict payments for international transactions.
Belize has onshore and offshore financial activities. Generally, Belizean citizens and foreigners with official residency status are allowed to deposit and borrow only from onshore banks while non-residents are only allowed to use offshore banks. Exceptions may be made only with the Central Bank’s explicit approval. See below Money and Banking System for further information.
Credit is made available on market terms. Despite the fact that this is regulated by the Central Bank, interest rates are largely set by local market conditions prevailing within the commercial banks.
Money and Banking System
The Central Bank of Belize ( ) is responsible for formulating and implementing monetary policy focusing on the stability of the exchange rate and economic growth. Persons seeking to open a bank account must also comply with Central Bank regulations, which differ based on residency status and whether the individual is seeking to establish a local bank account or a foreign currency account. Like many countries with fixed currency rates, the Belize banking sector is split into two branches: onshore (domestic banks that cater only to residents) and offshore (international banks intended for non-residents of Belize to freely move foreign exchange in and out of the country). The Government of Belize asserts this design is to prevent disruptions of the local economy (and the peg to the US dollar) due to large foreign exchange fluctuations.
Belize’s financial system remains underdeveloped with a banking sector that may be characterized as stable but fragile. In 2017, net foreign assets of the banking system were approximately USD 5.8 billion and contracted due to the governments’ external debt servicing to bondholders as well as the second compensation payment for the BTL arbitration settlement. The largest domestic commercial bank holds approximately USD 465 million in total assets. For 2017, non-performing loans (NPLs) for commercial banks remained steady at 2.4 percent well below the 5 percent threshold required by the Central Bank.
In the past three years, two onshore banks had their correspondent banking services terminated along with other banks operating in the offshore banking sector. While all banks have current correspondent banking relations, there is still uncertainty with regard to the longevity of those relationships, delay in transactions, and fewer services being offered by the correspondent banks at higher costs. The business community continues to be concerned by negative impacts related to derisking including higher costs and longer wait times for processing wire transactions, increased obstacles in paying for imports, and tougher access to credit for import purchases.
Foreign banks and branches are allowed to operate in the country. Two of the five commercial banks operating onshore are local subsidiaries of international banks. There are five international banks that offer banking services in foreign currencies exclusively to non-residents. All banks are subject to Central Bank measures and regulations.
Persons seeking to open a bank account must also comply with Central Bank regulations, which differ based on residency status and whether the individual is seeking to establish a local bank account or a foreign currency account.
In 2017, the Moneylenders (Amendment) Act was passed to modernize the moneylenders sector and enhance the supervisory and enforcement powers of the Central Bank of Belize. In late 2016, the Central Bank of Belize launched the Automated Payment and Securities Settlement System to facilitate electronic payments, electronic auctions, and improve the ease of doing business in Belize. In 2017, accompanying legislation for the national payments system was also passed.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
Foreign Exchange Policies
There are currency controls in Belize and foreign investors seeking to convert, transfer, or repatriate funds must comply with Central Bank regulations.
Foreign investments in Belize must be registered at the Central Bank in order to facilitate inflows and outflows of foreign currency transactions, including transfers, and repatriation of profits and dividends. Foreign investors should notify and register their inflow of funds with the Central Bank of Belize to obtain an “Approved Status” for their investment. These “Approved Status” investments will ordinarily be granted approval for repatriation of funds from profits, dividends, loan payments, and interest. The Central Bank does, however, reserve the right to request evidence supporting applications for repatriation.
The Belize dollar has been pegged to the United States Dollar since May 1976 at a fixed exchange rate of BZD 2.00 to the USD 1.00. There are reports of shortages and delays in obtaining foreign exchange.
There are no changes to investment remittance policies. There are currency controls in Belize. Foreign investors may repatriate their investments and profits provided they register transactions with the Central Bank. As mentioned above, foreign investors should notify and register their inflow of funds with the Central Bank of Belize to obtain an “Approved Status” for their investment.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
Belize does not have a sovereign wealth fund.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) are active in the utilities and services sectors. The Government of Belize is the majority shareholder in the Belize Water Services Limited, the country’s sole provider of water services, Belize Electricity Limited, the sole provider of electricity services, and Belize Telemedia Limited, the largest telecommunication provider in the country.
SOEs usually engage senior government officials, and at times include members of local business bureaus and chambers of commerce, labor organizations, and quasi-governmental agencies, as a part of their management and board of directors. There is usually a board of directors that guides the direction, policies, and decisions of the SOE that ostensibly is independent, but in practice has included high-ranking government officials including as high as the Vice Minister level as well as close relatives of government officials. Current and previous administrations are accused of nepotism in staffing its SOEs as well as conflicts of interest when board members or directors of SOEs are also found to be members on the boards of organizations that do business with the SOEs.
There is no published list of SOEs. The following are the major SOEs operating in the country. Publicly available information relating to their operations are available on their website including their audited financial reports:
There are no third party market analysis sources that evaluate whether SOEs receive non-market advantages by the government. The Belize Electricity Limited and the Belize Water Services Limited are the only service providers in their respective sectors. The Belize Telemedia Services competes with one other provider for mobile connectivity and there are multiple players that provide internet and data services. All utilities are regulated by the Public Utilities Commission.
The Government of Belize does not currently have a privatization program.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
There is not a general awareness of the expectations and standards for responsible business conduct (RBC). However, many foreign and local companies engage in responsible corporate behaviors, particularly from a social perspective. Companies sponsor various areas including educational scholarships, sport related activities, community enhancement projects or entrepreneurship activities. There are no formal government measures or policies to promote RBC.
There are several agencies that seek to protect individuals and address human rights, labor rights, consumer protection, and environmental concerns. For example, the Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for investigating complaints of official corruption and abuse of power. As required by law, the Ombudsman is active in filing annual reports to the national assembly and investigating incidents of alleged misconduct particularly of police abuses. However, it is constrained, lacks enforcement powers, encounters political pressure, and has limited resources.
In the area of environment, certain projects require the Department of the Environment’s approval for Environmental Impact Assessments or Environmental Compliance Plans. The Department of Environment website, , has more information on the Environmental Protection Act, various regulations, applications and guidelines.
There are no government measures relating to corporate governance, accounting, and executive compensation standards, and the government does not factor RBC policies into its procurement decisions.
There are no NGOs, investment funds, worker organizations/unions, or business associations specifically promoting or monitoring RBC. Over the past two years, labor unions and business associations have become actively engaged in advocating for stronger measures against corruption. The process of implementing the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) related reforms remains ongoing. See below on Corruption.
Belize does not have a highly developed mineral sector and would not be categorized as a conflict or high-risk country. It does not adhere to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas. Belize’s extractive/mining industry is not highly developed and it does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and/or the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.
Belize has anti-corruption laws that are seldom enforced. The Prevention of Corruption in Public Life Act has not been enforced since coming into effect in 1994. This law requires public officials, such as the Governor-General and members of the National Assembly, to disclose in the Government Gazette their assets, income, and liabilities. The Act also established an Integrity Commission responsible to monitor, prevent, and combat corruption by examining declarations of physical assets and financial positions filed by public officers. The Commission is able to investigate allegations of corrupt activities, including by members of the National Assembly, Mayors and Councilors of all cities, and Town Boards. After being defunct since 2011, the Integrity Commission revived in January 2017 with the appointment of a seven-member committee nominated by both the ruling party and opposition. The Prevention of Corruption in Public Life Act criminalizes acts of corruption by public officials and includes measures on the use of office for private gain, code of conduct breaches, the use of public funds, and bribery. Section 24 of the Act covers punishment for breach, which may include a fine of up to USD 5,000, severe reprimand, forfeiture of property acquired by corruption, and removal from office. The last report of the integrity commission was published in 2005. No cases under this Act have ever led to prosecution.
The Money Laundering and Terrorism (Prevention) Act identifies “politically exposed persons” to include family members or close associates of the politically exposed person. The policies and procedures for government procurement are outlined in Belize Stores Orders and Financial Orders issued by the Ministry of Finance. There is a Manual for the Control of Public Finances that provides the framework for the registration and use of public funds to procure goods and services.
Despite these legislative and regulatory measures, many businesspeople complain that both major political parties can and do practice partisanship bias that affects businesses in terms of receiving needed licenses, winning government contracts for procurement of goods and services, and the granting of government land to private owners. Some middle-class citizens and business owners throughout the country have complained of government officials, including police and others, soliciting bribes. Additionally, there are allegations of prominent members from the two main political parties engaging in corrupt practices to acquire land. Additionally, the Select Senate Committee on Immigration deliberated for most of 2017 and concluded its inquiry in December.
Private companies are not required to establish internal codes of conduct. There are a limited number of non-governmental institutions that monitor government activities; two of them are Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) and the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB). The first is comprised of concerned private citizens, and the latter is an umbrella organization comprised of the various Belizean workers’ unions. Environmental NGOs and the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry often make statements regarding government policy as it affects their respective spheres of activity.
Private companies do not use internal controls, ethics or compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of government officials.
In June 2001, the Government of Belize signed the Organization of American States (OAS) Inter-American Convention on Corruption, which requires the revival of the Committee on Public Probity and Ethics to review implementation of the Convention.
In December 2016, Belize acceded to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) amid public pressure and demonstrations from the teachers’ unions. Implementation of the Convention remains ongoing. In 2017, Belize concluded its internal legislative review but awaits an external review by UN appointed experts.
Bribery is officially considered a criminal act in Belize, but laws against bribery are rarely enforced. There are complaints of government corruption particularly in issues related to customs, land, and immigration transactions. There are reports of requests for bribes from customs officials to facilitate lower assessments of goods for importation and thus lower import duties. Some businesses and residents in the country have alleged that some officials demand payoffs if an inspection reveals a breach of fisheries laws. For example, restaurants and resorts carrying under-sized lobsters and conch are subject to court summons and a fine, but payoffs allegedly circumvent court charges or payment of fines.
Resources to Report Corruption
Contact at government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:
Office of the Ombudsman
91 Freetown Road
Belize City, Belize
For specific complaints within the police force:
Professional Standards Branch
1902 Constitutions Drive
10. Political and Security Environment
Belize traditionally enjoyed one of the most stable political environments in the region, having held peaceful and transparent democratic elections since it attained independence on September 21, 1981. The two major political parties trade leadership frequently. Municipal elections were held in March 2018 and while the opposition People’s United Party gained ground, the ruling United Democratic Party maintaining its majority in six of the nine municipalities. The outcome in one of the nine is being contested before the Supreme Court with the opposition alleging irregularities with balloting.
Incidents including damage to projects or installations affecting investments in Belize are rare. In November 2014, the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) and American Sugar Refineries (ASR) failed to reach a contract agreement before the harvesting season. While the dispute was eventually resolved, there were some reports of fields being burned and farmers being threatened for breaking ranks with BSCFA.
There is political insecurity as a result of neighboring Guatemala’s territorial claim on a large part of Belize that has existed for almost two centuries. In 2008, both countries signed a special agreement, with the facilitation of the OAS, on a process that could present the matter to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The process which called for the two countries to hold simultaneous referenda on October 6, 2013, never materialized as Guatemala withdrew from the referendum. On April 15, Guatemala held its referendum and overwhelmingly voted to send the matter to the ICJ. The Government of Belize scheduled its referendum for April 19, 2019, after a voter reregistration process is completed. Despite efforts to increase confidence building measures between the two countries, there continue to be incursions by Guatemalan citizens into Belize’s territory resulting in deforestation, illegal logging and extraction of exotic hardwoods, illegal harvesting of xate palm leaves (a decorative plant used in flower arrangements), panning for gold, poaching of animals, and agriculture by Guatemalans. These illegal activities led to confrontations between Guatemalan poachers and Belize law enforcement authorities on Belizean territory. Tensions escalated between both governments in April 2016, when a 13-year-old Guatemalan was killed during a Belizean patrol on the Belizean side of the adjacency zone. In 2016, tensions also escalated along the Sarstoon River which forms the disputed southern border. Guatemala asserted rights over the Sarstoon, increased its naval presence in the area and detained or questioned Belizean citizens wishing to navigate the river.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
According to the Statistical Institute of Belize (SIB), as of September 2017, the population is an estimated 389,975 persons of which 166,049 were in the labor force. The rate of unemployment stood at 9.7 percent in September 2017, representing a fall of 1.4 percent over the previous year. New entrants into the labor force for this period were primarily from urban areas and almost two-thirds of new entrants were females. Males continue to comprise the majority of the labor force, accounting for 60 percent and were generally paid more. The female unemployment rate fell from 17.6 percent in September 2016 to 13.6 percent in September 2017 but was still higher than male unemployment which stood at 7.1 percent for the same period.
The Ministry of Labor is charged with enforcing the minimum wage. In May 2012, the national minimum wage was increased to BZD 3.30 (USD 1.65) per hour although the average graduate, with at least an Associates’ Degree, would expect to be paid a minimum of between BZD 4.44 and BZD 6.25 an hour.
Belize is both a receiving and a sending country for migrant workers. As a receiving country, Belize does not have a structured temporary employment program for migrant workers, but it has a procedure and system of issuing work permits. The majority of work permits that are approved are for Central Americans seeking seasonal employment in the agricultural industry, particularly in the banana, citrus, and sugar industries. Additionally, a number of Caribbean professionals applied for and obtained a Certificate of Recognition of CARICOM Skills Qualification which allows them to work in Belize under the Caribbean Single Market and Economy’s free movement of skilled labor initiative.
The labor force is largely unskilled with 52 percent of employed persons engaged in sales or other elementary work occupations. The education system continues to be poorly equipped in preparing labor force entrants to become entrepreneurs and adapt to a technology-driven global environment.
There are several agencies seeking to provide soft skills needed to enter the labor market. BELTRAIDE hosts on-going trainings for small and micro enterprises on a wide range of basic skills related to customer service, business development and management. Additionally, more targeted training is being conducted to meet employer demand in business process outsourcing and tourism related sectors.
Foreign investors who have a development concession are permitted to bring in skilled personnel to complement their local labor force, if appropriate training programs for Belizean nationals are established. Most of the unskilled or semi-skilled workers in commercial agriculture are recent immigrants or migrant workers from neighboring Spanish-speaking countries.
Employers in the agriculture sector tend to use temporary workers even for jobs that are not temporary in nature. These jobs may be opened to workers from Central American countries and may be attributed to a shortage of local labor force in the rural areas where these jobs are concentrated. Workers permits and other immigration related documents are processed by a labor committee which has inter-ministerial representation from various Ministries including those of labor, immigration, and human development.
In general, there are no restrictions on employers adjusting their labor force in response to fluctuating market conditions. Employers are flexible in offering salary increases, which are normally justified based on cost of living and prevailing practice consideration. Severance payment is subject to local labor law, the Labor Amendment Act of 2011.
The Labor Amendment differentiates between layoffs (voluntary termination and redundancy) and firing (dismissal). In the cases of voluntary termination and redundancy, the law provides for an appropriate notice period to be provided, payment in lieu of notice, severance etc. In the case of redundancy, the employer must notify where applicable the recognized trade union or workers’ representative as well as the Labor Commissioner.
The law also provides for dismissal by the employer but distinguishes between termination for “good and sufficient cause,” “termination for misconduct,” “unfair dismissal,” “constructive dismissal where the employer’s conduct makes it unreasonable to work,” and “summary dismissal where the employee commits an act of gross misconduct.”
In addition to the general Social Security system, the government maintains a National Health Insurance scheme in certain marginalized communities throughout the country. The government also provides some assistance to unemployed persons who represent marginalized sectors of the community, e.g. single women, single mothers, and young unemployed persons. These services are not mandated by law.
Labor laws are not generally waived to attract or retain investment. There are no additional/different labor law provisions for Economic Processing Zones or Free Zones operating in Belize.
Where employees are unionized, employers must refer to the laws relating to the operation of unions, namely the Trade Union and Employee’s Organizations Act and the Settlement of Disputes in Essential Services Act, as well as the terms of existing collective bargaining agreements between the employer and unions.
Belize has nine trade unions and an umbrella organization, the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB). Belize ratified 50 International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions, of which 45 are in force, including Convention 182 against the worst forms of child labor.
Trade Unions are independent of the government and employers both in practice and in law. The Ministry of Labor recognizes unions and employers’ associations after they are registered. Trade Union laws establish procedures for the registration and status of trade unions and employers’ organizations and for collective bargaining. Unions are common in the public sector (teachers, general public servants), the social security board, the utility sectors (water, telecommunications and electricity), and port stevedores.
The law allows authorities to refer disputes involving public and private sector employees who provide “essential services” to compulsory arbitration, prohibit strikes, and terminate actions. The national fire service, postal service, monetary and financial services, civil aviation and airport security services, and port authority pilots and security services are deemed essential services outside of the International Labor Organization definition. During the last year, there were no strikes that posed a risk to either local businesses or foreign investments.
Belize does have laws and regulations relating to international labor standards. There is also a system in place for labor inspectors to advocate on labor related concerns and complaints as well as to visit and inspect business facilities to ensure adherence to local labor laws.
There are several gaps identified in relation to international labor standards. Belize’s legislation does not address a situation in which child labor is contracted between a parent and the employer. While there is need for better data, it does not seem likely that the penalties, remediation, and inspections sufficiently deter violations. The penalty for employing a child below minimum age is a fine not exceeding USD 10 or imprisonment not exceeding two months.
Additionally, while there are laws that prohibit a wide range of discrimination in the work place, they are not widely enforced and do not explicitly provide protections for persons with disability or against discrimination related to sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Finally, there is anecdotal evidence that certain vulnerable sectors, particularly undocumented persons, young service workers, and agricultural laborers, were regularly paid below the minimum wage.
There were no labor related laws or regulations enacted during the last year. The passage of an Occupational Health and Safety Bill has been delayed for a number of years due to lack of consensus between tripartite stakeholders representing the government, private sector and unions.
Belize is not a party to any trade agreements with the United States. It is a qualifying country under the U.S. Generalized System of Preference (GSP) as well as the U.S. – Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA).
12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs
OPIC was involved in two projects in Belize, one in 2002 and the other in 2006. While Belize qualifies for OPIC support under the Clean Energy Security Initiative, there are as of yet no OPIC related projects either planned or being implemented. The country is currently benefiting from two United States Trade and Development Agency USTDA projects to investigate the potential of adopting clean energy technologies by the utilities sector. There is an OPIC Agreement between Belize and the United States, which predates Belize’s independence.
Belize is a member of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Caribbean Development Bank, the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) of the World Bank, and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI).
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Statistics on foreign direct investments in Belize, by country of origin are unavailable, including the total invested by U.S. investors. There are a number of successful and long-term U.S. owned businesses in Belize, including in sectors such as agro-processing, energy, timber, agriculture, tourism, hotels and other service sectors. FDI inflows are traditionally concentrated primarily in the tourism related construction, real estate, and agriculture sectors.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Foreign portfolio investments, such as bank deposits, mutual funds, bonds and other financial securities, require the approval of the Central Bank. Approval is based on the individual substantial economic interest in Belize
14. Contact for More Information
Floral Park Road
Floral Park Road