Executive Summary

Belize has the smallest economy in Central America with total gross domestic product (GDP) of USD 1.9 billion due primarily to continued increases in tourism.  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 is open to, and actively seeks, foreign direct investment (FDI).  However, the small population of the country (approximately 390,000 persons), high import duties, bureaucratic delays, corruption, and occasional political interference in private disputes constitute investment challenges.

Generally, Belize has no restrictions on foreign ownership or control of companies.  However, foreign investors must adhere to Central Bank of Belize regulations 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.

Key legislative reforms in 2018 advanced the intellectual property regime governing copyrights and industrial designs; strengthened the financial sector with regard to anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing; sought to secure compliance with global regulations relating to taxation, and amended the operations of the offshore sector and export processing zones.

Overall, the economic and fiscal outlook will continue to face significant challenges. The country remains highly indebted with debt to GDP at approximately 94 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 USD 554 million.  Macroeconomic and fiscal vulnerabilities are expected to continue to relate to fiscal tightening, controlling the public sector wage bill, dealing with arbitration judgments, and advancing measures to stimulate private sector growth and economic development.

The financial system can be characterized as stable but fragile.  While the domestic financial system continues to recover and improve performance ratios relating to non-performing loans and capital adequacy, correspondent banking relationships remain tenuous and tend to offer fewer services at higher costs.  In the international banking sector, the Central Bank of Belize revoked the license of one international bank in June 2018 and another requested support in March 2019 to wind up voluntarily.

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, English language, and the cultural diversity and warmth of its people.  Investors benefit from various incentive programs in key investment sectors including agriculture, agro-processing, aquaculture and fisheries, logistics and light manufacturing, offshore outsourcing, sustainable energy, and tourism and tourism-related industries.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 N/A http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 125 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 N/A https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $74 million http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $4,060 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

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, 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 secure, and that bureaucratic delays or corruption can hinder starting a business in Belize.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), improving the business climate, reducing crime and facilitating access to credit would increase growth by one percentage point on a yearly basis.  They also note that lowering the debt burden and greater climate resilience would support growth by another percentage point per year.

The Belize Trade and Investment Development Service (BELTRAIDE; www.belizeinvest.org.bz), a statutory body, is the investment and export promotion agency.  It promotes FDI through various types of incentive packages and identified priority sectors for investment as agriculture, agro-processing, fisheries and aquaculture, logistics and light manufacturing, tourism and tourism-related industries, offshore outsourcing (BPOs), and sustainable 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 must be registered at the Central Bank of Belize.  In addition, foreigners need to apply with a Belizean partner or someone with a permanent residence to register a business name.

Some investment incentives show preference to Belizean-owned companies.  For example, to qualify for a tour operator license, a business must be majority owned by Belizeans or permanent residents of Belize (http://www.belizetourismboard.org).  This qualification is negotiable particularly where a tour operation would expand into a new sector of the market and does not result in competition with local operators.

Foreign investments 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 also 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.  These may differ based on residency status and whether the individual is seeking to establish a local or foreign currency account.

The Government’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 the incentives 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 Minsiters, including the minister with responsibility for 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 it largely depends on the nature and complexity of the project.

When considering investment, foreign investors undertaking large capital investments must be aware of 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, http://www.doe.gov.bz has more information on the Environmental Protection Act and other regulations, applications and guidelines.

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.

Business Facilitation

Belize does not operate a single window registration process.  BELTRAIDE (http://www.belizeinvest.org.bz), 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 Belize Companies Corporate Affairs Registry (tel: (501) 822 0421; email: belizecompaniesregistry@yahoo.com; website: www.belizecompaniesregistry.gov.bz) is responsible for the registration process of all local business and companies.

Businesses must 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 2019 Doing Business report (http://www.doingbusiness.org ) estimates it takes on average 43 days to start up a company in Belize.  The same report ranks Belize at 162 of 190 economies on the ease of starting a business.

Outward Investment

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 unless given prior approval.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Belize has Bilateral Investment Treaties with Austria, Cuba, El Salvador, Italy, the Netherlands, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.  It also has a Partial Scope Agreement (PSA) with Guatemala on a small number of goods.

The country does not have a bilateral investment treaty nor 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 http://www.sice.oas.org

Taxation Treaties

Belize has signed nineteen Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEA) with Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Greenland, Iceland, India, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.  Belize has no bilateral taxation treaties with the United States. See https://www.world.tax/countries/belize/belize-tax-treaties.

Belize became the 86th jurisdiction to sign on to the Multilateral Convention to Implement Tax Treaty Related Measures to Prevent Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) in January 2019.  See https://www.oecd.org/tax/treaties/multilateral-convention-to-implement-tax-treaty-related-measures-to-prevent-beps.htm

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.  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.

The mechanism for drafting bills, regulations and enacting legislation generally apply across the board and apply to investment laws and regulations.  The government publishes in the Gazette, proposed as well as enacted laws and regulations that are publicly available for a minimal fee.

Draft bills are generally open to public comment.  Once introduced in the House of Representatives, they are sent 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, public review or public debate; as was the case with the Central Bank of Belize (International Immunities Act) and the Crown Proceedings (Amendment Act) of 2017.

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 however, a delay in updating the website.

Regulations and enforcement actions are appealable with regulatory decisions subject to judicial review.  There have been no regulatory systems including enforcement reforms announced in the last year.

Information on the public finance, the government’s budget and debt obligations (including explicit and contingent liabilities) are widely accessible to the general public, with most documents available online.

International Regulatory Considerations

As a full member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Belize’s foreign, economic and trade policies vis-a-vis non-members are coordinated regionally.  The country’s import tariffs are largely defined by CARICOM’s Common External Tariff.

Belize is also a member of several other treaties because of its CARICOM membership.  A primary example is the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between CARIFORUM and the European Union (EU).  In the wake of Brexit, these countries also signed a CARIFORUM – United Kingdom Economic Partnership Agreement in March 2019.  The latter agreement is expected to come into effect by January 2021or soon after the UK leaves the EU.

Outside of CARICOM, Belize is 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 also a member of the WTO and adheres to the organization’s agreements and reporting system.  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. The BBS is also a member of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and Codex Alimentarius.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Belize Constitution, is the supreme law and 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, supported by precedents from the national courts as well as from the wider English speaking and Commonwealth case law.  Contracts are enforced through the courts.

General information relating to Belize’s judicial and legal system, including links to Belize’s Constitution, Laws and judicial decisions are available at the Judiciary of Belize website www.belizejudiciary.org.  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 continues to face challenges 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.  Regulatory decisions are also subject to judicial review.  Judgments by the Belize Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal are available at http://www.belizejudiciary.org.  In 2010, Belize adopted the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as its final appellate court on civil and criminal matters, replacing the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom.  Judgments by the Caribbean Court of Justice, are available at http://www.caribbeancourtofjustice.org.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The country has an English Common Law legal system supplemented by local legislation and regulations.  Enacted laws are generally available in the National Assembly’s website at www.nationalassembly.gov.bz.  Examples of key legislation passed in 2018 include:

  • Designated Processing Areas Act, 2018
  • Income and Business Tax (Amendment) Act, 2018
  • Stamp Duties (Amendment) Act, 2018
  • International Business Companies (Amendment) Act, 2018
  • Bill of Sales (Amendment) Act, 2018
  • General Sales Tax (Amendment) Act, 2018
  • Customs Excise Duties (Amendment), 2018
  • International Financial Services Commission, 2018

The laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements related to investors differ depending on the nature of the investment.  BELTRAIDE provides advisory services 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: http://www.belizeinvest.org.bz

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

The Government has used the right of eminent domain in several cases to appropriate private property, including land belonging to foreign investors.  There were no new expropriation cases in 2018. 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. Such expropriation cases can take several years to settle and there are a few cases where compensation is still pending.  In the cases of expropriations, the claimants assert that the Government failed to adhere to agreements entered into by a previous administration.

The process to acquire land titles is open to abuse with numerous cases of land title manipulation involving foreigners and Belizeans.  The government continues efforts at improving the land title system and in addressing delays in processing land transactions.

Dispute Settlement

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, the Arbitration Act governs arbitration and expressly incorporates three international conventions into domestic law.  These conventions include the 1923 Geneva Protocol on Arbitration Clauses; the Convention on the Execution of Foreign Arbitral Awards; and the New York Convention. A 2013 Caribbean Court of Justice judgment also upheld the Arbitration Act giving effect to the New York Convention in domestic law.

Belize signed but has not ratified the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID convention).  For more information visit http://sice.oas.org/dispute/comarb/icsid/w_conv1.asp

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Belize is signatory to various investment agreements which make provisions for the settlement of investor-state disputes.  Belize is also a member of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, as well as a party to two regional Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA): 1) between CARIFORUM and the EU; and 2) CARIFORUM and the United Kingdom.  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 are empowered to recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards against the government but these are generally challenged up to the CCJ.  In January 2017, the Crown Proceedings (Amendment) Act and the Central Bank of Belize (International Immunities) Act were passed, which also 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.”  This Act similarly provides for penalties of fines and/or imprisonment on a person, individual or legal, which initiates any such proceedings. Despite these legislative acts, there has not been a history of extrajudicial actions against foreign investors.

Over the past decade, the Government of Belize has been involved in numerous investment disputes with one involving a U.S. company.  Most cases were initially entered in arbitration panels, but were eventually appealed either before the U.S. District Court of Colombia or the CCJ.  The majority of the judgements went against the Government, which has settled some and continues to settle other cases.

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 also 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.

Local courts are empowered to recognize and enforce foreign arbitral but these are generally challenged up to the CCJ, Belize’s highest appellate court.

There are numerous instances of cases involving State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) which went before domestic courts with rulings both in favor and against the SOE.

Bankruptcy Regulations

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 as well as the seizure of assets and documents in the event the debtor may 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 proceedings for offenses related to the bankruptcy proceedings.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The legal framework authorizing and providing for investment incentives include the Fiscal Incentives Act, the Designated Processing Areas 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.

The Government of Belize enacted the Designated Processing Areas Act, 2018, which replaces the Export Processing Zone incentive program.  Additionally, legislative review of the Fiscal Incentives and the Commercial Free Zone programs continue. Investors seeking to take advantage of these programs should be aware of these developments when discussing investment concessions.

In exceptional circumstances, the current administration issues government guarantees from development institutions.  While government policies support public private partnership, there are not recent examples of joint financing of foreign direct investment projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The Designated Processing Areas Act (DPA) was passed in 2018 to replace the former Export Processing Zone Act.  While the program is being fully implemented, it remains a tool to attract local and foreign investments to boost production for export markets.  Approved companies under this program receive a DPA status for a period of up to ten years and may quality for various tax exemptions. These may include exemptions from Custom and Excise duties as well as from taxes on imported goods, namely the General Sales Tax, the Environmental Tax, and the Revenue Replacement Duties.  Similarly, property and land tax may be waived on the designated area. In addition, approved companies are given certain exemptions, including from the Trade Licensing Act requirements for operating in a municipality and the Supplies Control Act, in relation to the importation of raw materials for production that are not for sale in Belize.  Companies may maintain a foreign currency account in a domestic or international bank located in Belize as well as sell, lease, or transfer goods and services between DPA companies. While subject to the Income and Business Tax, businesses may qualify for a preferential tax rate on chargeable income. They may also be eligible for an annual quota for fuel solely for specified uses.

A Commercial Free Zone (CFZ) is a specifically designated area for the conduct of business operations, including for example, 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) 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, imports and exports of a CFZ are exempt from 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 to foster growth by offsetting custom duties. According to BELTRAIDE (www.belizeinvest.org.bz ), two programs are offered under this Act, the Regular Program for investments exceeding USD150,000 and the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) program for investments of less than USD150,000.  In general, the legal framework allows for full Customs Duties exemptions and Tax Holidays for up to 15 years for approved enterprises. 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.

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 Regular Program.

The International Business Companies (Amendment) Act was passed in December 2018 largely to satisfy OECD base erosion and profit sharing requirements (BEPS).  The main change is that IBCs are no longer ring-fenced, with both residents and non-residents allowed to take part in the regime and IBCs no longer restricted from carrying on business with residents.  Additionally, IBCs are now liable for both income tax and stamp duty and required to file annual returns. Another important change is that IBC companies must be conducted and controlled from Belize with least two resident directors.  Certain activities are now also excluded, including those related to banking, fund management, or insurance business. See http://www.ibcbelize.com and www.ifsc.gov.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 overseas this program designed to benefit retired persons over 45 years of age. To qualify, applicants need proof of income not less than USD2,000 per month through a pension or annuity generated outside of Belize.  An approved QRP is allowed to import personal effects as well as approved means of transportation, free of customs duties and taxes. All income generated outside of Belize is also free of taxes. An approved QRP is given one year to import all personal and household effects into Belize, using multiple shipments as necessary.  Duty and tax-free importation of an automobile, light aircraft or boat is allowed, with vehicles allowed to be replaced every 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 http://www.belizetourismboard.org

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

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 foreign ownership and control; however, foreign investments in Belize must be registered at the Central Bank of Belize.

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.  Central Bank regulations require real estate transactions between residents and non-residents to be in Belize dollars. Additionally, the rate of stamp duty chargeable on land transfers involving foreign persons or a foreign controlled company is eight percent for land transfers valued in excess of USD10,000.  The rate of such transactions involving Belizeans and CARICOM nationals, however, is five 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 at least 12 years on registered lands.

Intellectual Property Rights

Belize is a party to the WTO and has implemented the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS).  Generally, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) must be registered and enforced in Belize. IPR protections are enforceable through civil proceedings initiated by the IPR right holder.  BELIPO (http://belipo.bz) was established to administer IPR laws and functions as the country’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, enforcement is largely non-existent.  Illegally copied CDs and DVDs are widespread and continue to be marketed throughout the country.  In an effort to halt IPR infringements, Home Box Office, Inc. (HBO) concluded negotiations with cable operators in March 2019, outlining the terms for local cable providers to legally access the company’s entertainment content.

During the last year, Belize acceded to six major Intellectual Property treaties that will provide enhanced protection to copyright owners, with added impact on live performers, music producers and broadcasters.  Five treaties are copyright-related and include:

  • The International Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms & Broadcasting Organizations (“Rome Convention”);
  • The WIPO Copyright Treaty (“WCT”);
  • The WIPO Performances & Phonograms Treaty (“WPPT”);
  • The Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances (“Beijing Treaty”); and
  • The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Disabled or Otherwise Print Disabled (“Marrakesh Treaty”)

The sixth treaty, the Geneva (1999) Act of the Hague Agreement concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs, allows applications for industrial design protection to be filed into an international database.

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 2018 USTR’s Special 301 report nor the 2018 notorious market report.

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Belize’s financial system is small with limited to non-existent foreign portfolio investment transactions. It 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 must be registered at the Central Bank, but the government does not restrict payments for international transactions.  Additionally, credit is made available on market terms with interest rates largely set by local market conditions prevailing within the commercial banks.

The Development Finance Corporation (DFC), a state owned development bank, offers loan financing services in various sectors. 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 a state owned bank that provides concessionary credit primarily to public officers, teachers, and low income Belizeans.

Money and Banking System

The Central Bank of Belize (CBB) (https://www.centralbank.org.bz) is responsible for formulating and implementing monetary policy focusing on the stability of the exchange rate and economic growth.  Belize’s financial system remains underdeveloped with a banking sector may be characterized as stable but fragile.

Non-performing loans stood at 2.7 percent of total loans at the end of 2018, significantly below the 5.0 percent threshold.  Additionally, the aggregate capital adequacy ratio of domestic banks improved to 24.6 percent, well above the 9.0 percent regulatory requirement. The CBB also registered a new credit union, which commenced operations in August 2018.  In the international banking sector, the Central Bank revoked the license of one bank in June 2018 and another requested support in March 2019 to wind up voluntarily. 

Persons seeking to open a bank account must 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 asserts this design is to prevent disruptions of the local economy, to maintain the peg to the US dollar and avoid large foreign exchange fluctuations.

Foreign banks and branches are allowed to operate in the country with all banks subject to Central Bank measures and regulations.  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 offered at higher costs.

In the last few years, Belize has enacted a number of reforms to strengthen the anti-money laundering and counterterrorism-financing regime, including amendments to the Money Laundering and Terrorism (Prevention) Amendment Act and the International Business Companies (Amendment) Act.  In addition, the National Anti-Money Laundering Committee (NAMLC) is headed by the Financial Intelligence Unit with inter-agency support from key financial and law enforcement authorities.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

There are currency controls in Belize and foreign investors seeking to convert, transfer, or repatriate funds must comply with Central Bank regulations.  Foreign investments must be registered at the Central Bank to facilitate inflows and outflows of foreign currency transactions. Foreign investors must register their inflow of funds to obtain an “Approved Status” for their investment and generally are approved for repatriation of funds thereafter.  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 BZ USD2.00 to the USD1.00.  There are reports of shortages and delays in obtaining foreign exchange.

Remittance Policies

There are no changes to investment remittance policies.  As mentioned above, foreign investors should obtain an “Approved Status” for their investment and register their inflow and outflow of funds with the Central Bank.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Belize does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) are active in the utilities sectors.  The Government is the majority shareholder in the Belize Water Services Limited, the country’s sole provider of water services, the Belize Electricity Limited, the sole distributor electricity, and the Belize Telemedia Limited, the largest telecommunications 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.  The board guides the direction, policies, and decisions of the SOE that ostensibly is independent, but in practice has included high-ranking government officials as well as close relatives of government officials. Current and previous administrations are accused of nepotism in staffing as well as conflicts of interest when board members or directors are also represented in organizations that do business with the SOEs.

There is no published list of SOEs.  The following are the major SOEs operating in the country. 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, on the other hand, competes with one other provider for mobile connectivity and there are multiple players that provide internet and data services.  The Public Utilities Commission regulates all utilities.

Privatization Program

The Government does not currently have a privatization program.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Belize generally lacks 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, inter alia, educational scholarships, sports related activities, community enhancement projects, or entrepreneurship activities.  There are no formal government measures or policies to promote RBC.

Several civil society agencies 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.   This Office continues to be constrained by the lack of enforcement powers, political pressure, and 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, http://www.doe.gov.bz, 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 RBC policies are not factored into procurement decisions.

There have been no recent cases of private sector impact on human rights and no NGOs, investment funds, worker organizations/unions, or business associations specifically promoting or monitoring RBC.  In recent years, labor unions and business associations have become actively engaged in advocating for stronger measures against corruption.

Belize does not have a highly developed mineral sector and is not a conflict or high-risk country.  As such, 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.

9. Corruption

Belize has anti-corruption laws that are seldom enforced.  Under the Prevention of Corruption in Public Life Act, public officials are required to make annual financial disclosures.  The Act also 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 USD5,000, severe reprimand, forfeiture of property acquired by corruption, and removal from office. This Act also established an Integrity Commission mandated 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. In 2018, a new chair was appointed to the Commission and published 42 names of persons in public life in accordance with the Act.

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. A Select Senate Committee on Immigration deliberated for most of 2017 on such allegations.  It concluded its inquiry in December 2017, but has yet to publish its findings.

Private companies are not required to establish internal codes of conduct.  There are few 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; 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 undergoes periodic review as provided for under the Convention.

In December 2016, Belize acceded to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) amid public pressure and demonstrations from the teachers’ unions but full implementation remains ongoing.

Bribery is officially considered a criminal act in Belize, but laws against bribery are rarely enforced.  There are complaints of government corruption particularly related to customs, land, and immigration transactions.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact for the government agency or agencies responsible for combating corruption:

Office of the Ombudsman
91 Freetown Road
Belize City, Belize
T: +501-223-3594
E: ombudsman@btl.net
W: www.ombudsman.gov.bz

For specific complaints within the police force:

Professional Standards Branch
1902 Constitutions Drive
Belmopan, Belize
T: +501-822-2218 or 822-2674

10. Political and Security Environment

Belize has traditionally enjoyed one of the most stable political environments in the region, having held peaceful and transparent democratic elections since independence on September 21, 1981.  In general elections, the two major political parties generally trade leadership but the current United Democratic Party has held on to power since 2008 spanning three consecutive elections. At the municipal level, elections were held in March 2018 and while the opposition People’s United Party gained ground, the ruling United Democratic Party maintained its majority in six of the nine municipalities.

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 because of neighboring Guatemala’s territorial claim on 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 to present the matter to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).  After simultaneous referenda failed to materialize in 2013, Guatemala voted to take the matter to the ICJ in April 2018. Belize was scheduled to hold its referendum in April 2019, but the process is delayed by a legal challenge.  Despite efforts to increase confidence building measures between the two countries, there continue to be incursions by Guatemalan citizens along bordering areas 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, wildlife poaching, and agriculture development.  These activities have resulted in confrontations between Guatemalan nationals and Belize law enforcement authorities on Belizean territory. Tensions have also flared along the Sarstoon River, which forms the disputed southern border. Guatemala has increased its naval presence in the area and detained or questioned Belizean citizens wishing to navigate the river.

There are also security concerns related to the high level of crime, which are mainly gang related or random targets against innocent civilians and tourists.  Turf and gang related crimes are often concentrated in south side Belize City.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

According to the Statistical Institute of Belize (SIB), as of September 2018, the population is an estimated 395,882 persons of which 155,950 were in the labor force.  The rate of unemployment stood at 9.4 percent percent in April 2018, representing a fall of 1.7 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 Ministry of Labor is charged with enforcing the minimum wage.  In May 2012, the national minimum wage was increased to BZ USD3.30 (USD1.65) per hour. The average graduate, with at least an Associate is Degree, would be paid a minimum of USD2.22 to USD3.13 an hour.

Belize is both a receiving and a sending country for migrant workers.  As a receiving country, it does not have a structured temporary employment program for migrant workers, but it has an established procedure for issuing work permits.  The majority of approved work permits 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 obtain 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.  Compulsory education ends at age 14.

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 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 and 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 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.

This Act 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.  They also provide 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 Designated Processing Areas 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 has 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 USD10 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 effectively 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 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

There is an Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) Agreement between Belize and the United States, which predates Belize’s independence.  Additionally, 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 no OPIC-related projects.  The country benefitted from two United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) projects in the last four years to investigate the potential of adopting clean energy technologies in the utilities sector.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy

Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2018 $1,925 2017 $1,863 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $152.48  2017 $74 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A N/A N/A BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2017 118.3% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx

* Source for Host Country Data: Statistical Institute of Belize, Central Bank of Belize


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Statistics on foreign direct investments in Belize by country of origin is limited, including the total invested by U.S. investors.  The Central Bank of Belize recorded total inflows of FDI at USD152.48 million in 2018 and outflows at USD32.933 million in the same period.  Major sources of FDI include the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. FDI inflows are traditionally concentrated primarily in real estate, construction, reinvested earnings and the agriculture sectors.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Beverly Mather-Marcus
Political and Economic Chief
4 Floral Park Road
Belmopan, Belize
T: +501-822-4011
belmopancommercialservices@state.gov

Carmen Silva
Economic/Commercial Assistant
4 Floral Park Road
Belmopan, Belize
T: +501-822-4011
belmopancommercialservices@state.gov

2019 Investment Climate Statements: Belize
Build a Custom Report

01 / Select A Year

02 / Select Sections

03 / Select Countries You can add more than one country or area.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future