EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Belize has the smallest economy in Central America, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of US $2.57 billion in 2022, a 12.1 percent expansion over the previous year. Belize’s government encourages FDI as a tool for economic growth.

The government continued to advance its debt management program. Public debt declined to 64.1 percent of GDP in 2022 from 108 percent in 2021. This greater fiscal space supports implementing the government’s economic growth agenda and social programs.

In 2022, tourism and agriculture continued to rebound from the massive economic contraction that was driven by COVID. The Central Bank of Belize (CBB) recorded total inflows of FDI at US $207.25 million (a 38.4 percent annual increase) in 2022 concentrated primarily in real estate, construction, hotels, and restaurants. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is developing a five-year compact with Belize that will focus on providing development assistance funding for education and to lower the cost of electricity.

In 2022, the government launched a National Investment Policy and Strategy (NIPS) as well as the Micro, Small, Medium Enterprise (MSME) Strategy to improve the framework for domestic and foreign investment. The government also passed a credit reporting act and are working on the establishment of a credit bureau and collateral registry to increase the availability of financing for MSMEs. As part of the government’s e-governance agenda, several digitalization projects are underway, including the land and business registries, and the digitalization of firms and government services.

Generally, Belize has no restrictions on foreign ownership and control of companies; however, foreign investments must be registered with the CBB and adhere to the Exchange Control Act and related regulations. The Companies Act was overhauled in 2022 to require all companies, local and overseas, to re-register with Belize Companies and Corporate Affairs Registry. Under the new act, companies with foreign interests (including shareholders) must be registered through an agent. Additionally, overseas companies were converted to “foreign companies,” with other provisions pertaining only to foreign companies, such as a requirement to maintain a registered office and having a registered agent, as well as certain documents and records in Belize.

While the banking system remains fragile, there are efforts to maintain stability and initiate reforms. This assessment is corroborated by the IMF’s Concluding Statement in February 2023. Nonperforming loans increased to 7 percent of gross loans in 2022, higher than the 2021’s 5 percent and the regulatory ceiling. Efforts were also underway to secure new correspondent banking relationships. The government is also taking steps to improve its anti-money laundering/combatting the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) framework as it prepares for the Mutual Evaluation by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force in November 2023.

Throughout much of 2022, key transparency and oversight bodies including the Integrity Commission, the Ombudsman’s Office, the Auditor General’s Office, and the Labor Commissioner remained vacant. In practice, these offices are understaffed and under resourced to effectively undertake their respective mandates. In 2022, Belize fell from the third highest murder rate in the region to the sixth. Freedom House finds that citizen security is still a concern with the high level of crime countrywide.

Global inflationary trends have severely affected Belize.  After two decades of relative price stability, inflation ballooned from 0.1 percent in 2020 to 6.3 percent in 2022.  Higher prices on imported goods such as food, fuel, inputs into the productive sector like fertilizer, as well as supply chains costs primarily due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could continue to exacerbate inflation, widen the current account deficit, and reduce international reserve buffers.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2022 N/A http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2022 N/A https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2021 USD 64 million https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet
World Bank GNI per capita 2021 USD 6,070 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Belize’s government encourages FDI as a tool for economic growth. While the government is interested in attracting FDI, certain bureaucratic and regulatory requirements impede investment and growth. In July 2022, the government launched a new National Investment Policy and Strategy (NIPS) that established a framework to steer domestic and foreign investments. The government also conducted diplomatic and trade missions in target destinations to promote the country as an investment destination and credible export market.

There are no laws that explicitly discriminate against foreign investors.  In practice, however, investors complain that lack of transparency, land insecurity, bureaucracy, delays, and corruption are factors that make it difficult to do business in Belize. U.S. firms have found challenges in participating and competing in areas related to the bidding, procurement, and dispute settlement processes, in particular relating to State Owned Enterprises (SOEs).

The Belize Trade and Investment Development Service (BELTRAIDE; https://www.beltraide.bz ) is the investment and export promotion agency.  It promotes FDI through various incentive packages and named priority sectors. BELTRAIDE has an after-care unit that supports investment retention and keeping an ongoing dialogue with investors.

The Economic Development Council, https://edc.gov.bz , is a public-private sector advisory body set up to advance public sector reforms, to promote private sector development and to inform policies for growth and development.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Belize acknowledges the right for foreign and domestic private entities to establish, own business enterprises and engage in remunerative activities.  Foreign and domestic entities must first register their companies before engaging in business. They must also register for the appropriate taxes, including business tax and general sales tax, as well as obtain a social security number and trade license. The Companies Act was overhauled in 2022 to repeal and replace the previous International Business Companies Act and the previous Companies Act. All companies under the new act, both local and overseas, are required to re-register with Belize Companies and Corporate Affairs Registry. Businesses owned completely by Belizean citizens can be registered by the business owner through a recently launched online system. On the other hand, if a company has foreign interests, the business must be registered through an agent. Additionally, overseas companies were converted to “foreign companies,” with other provisions pertaining only to foreign companies, such as a requirement to maintain a registered office, having a registered agent as well as certain documents and records in Belize.

Generally, Belize has no restrictions on foreign ownership and control of companies; however, foreign investments must be registered with the Central Bank of Belize (CBB) and adhere to the Exchange Control Act and related regulations.  Additionally, Central Bank regulations differ based on the applicant’s residency status and whether the individual is seeking to establish a local or foreign currency account.

Foreign investments must be registered and obtain an “Approved Status” from the Central Bank to ease inflows and outflows of foreign currency and repatriate funds.  Effective June 2022, the CBB accepts via email all foreign exchange requests requiring approval in an effort to expedite the application process and to centralize applicants’ data.

Generally, there are no sector-specific restrictions, limitations, or requirements for foreign owned entities. Some investment incentives are tailored for 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 ).

Foreign investors looking to avail themselves of various incentives programs are required to adhere to screening guidelines outlined in the specific program. These may include updating their shareholders registry, obtaining requisite CBB approvals, and fulfilling performance requirements. Foreign investors undertaking large capital investments must adhere to environmental laws and regulations.  The government requires developers to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for certain projects. When buying land or planning to develop in or near an ecologically sensitive zone, the government recommends the EIA fully address any measures by the investor to mitigate environmental risks.  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 2017.

In the past five years, civil society organizations concerned with investment policy have lobbied the government directly. As an example, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry regularly issues policy and advocacy positions on behalf of its members, most recently supporting campaign financing reform in Belize.

Business Facilitation

The new Companies Act, passed in 2022, seeks to modernize and digitalize the process of establishing a business. The Belize Companies and Corporate Affairs Registry (BCCAR) (tel: +501 822 0421; email: inquries@bccar.bz ; website: https://bccar.bz ) provides incorporation, registration, and post registration services to local and foreign businesses and companies.  The BCCAR is still troubleshooting some administrative difficulties and modifying the platform, as the business community highlights challenges with the new system. Additionally, Belizean owned businesses can be registered by their owners. However, business with any foreign interests must be registered through an agent.

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. Specific permission from the Central Bank is required for all overseas (outward) investments between residents and non-residents.

Outward Investment

Belize does not promote or incentivize outward investments.  The government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.  However, the Central Bank places currency controls on investment abroad, with Central Bank approval required prior to foreign currency outflows.

Information relating to Belize’s formal trade agreements and Bilateral Investment Treaties is available at http://www.sice.oas.org/ctyindex/BLZ/BLZNatlDocs_e.asp . More recently, the Economic Cooperation Agreement with Taiwan came into effect in January 2022.

There are no bilateral investment treaty, free trade nor bilateral taxation treaties with the United States. Belize is, however, a qualifying country under the U.S. Generalized System of Preference (GSP) as well as the U.S-Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA).

Belize has signed Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEA) with twenty countries: Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Greenland, Iceland, India, Ireland, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.  The country is a member of the OECD Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting.

Transparency of the Regulatory System

There are no reports of government policies, processes, or laws significantly distorting or discriminating against foreign investors.  Nonetheless, some investors have complained of systematic shortfalls which hinder doing business in Belize, such as unreliable land titles and bureaucratic delays or corruption. U.S. firms have also identified challenges in participating and competing in areas related to the bidding, procurement, and dispute settlement processes, particular to State Owned Enterprises (SOEs). There are no nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or private sector associations that manage regulatory processes.  NGOs and private sector associations do lobby on behalf of their members but have no statutory authority.

Regulatory authority exists both at the local and national levels with national laws and regulations being most relevant to foreign businesses.  The cabinet develops government policies that are enacted by the legislature and implemented by the various government authorities.  Some quasi-governmental organizations, including the Belize Tourism Board, BELTRAIDE, and the Belize Agricultural Health Authority, are also mandated by law to manage specific regulatory processes.  Regulations at the local level primarily relate to property taxes and registering for trade licenses to operate businesses in the municipality.

Some supra-national organizations and regulatory structures exist.  For example, some elements of international trade affecting U.S. businesses are impacted by CARICOM treaties.

Accounting, legal, and regulatory systems are consistent with international norms.  Publicly owned companies generally receive audits annually, and the reports are in accordance with International Financial Reporting Standards and International Standards on Auditing.

The government does not promote or require companies’ environmental, social and governance disclosures to facilitate transparency or help investors and consumers distinguish between high- and low-quality investments.

Draft bills or regulations are generally made available for public comment through a public consultation process.  Once introduced in the House of Representatives, draft bills are sent to the relevant committee, which then meet and invite the public and stakeholders to review, recommend changes, or object to draft laws prior to further debate.  The mechanism for drafting bills and enacting regulations or legislation generally applies and includes investment laws and regulations.  Public comments on draft legislation are not consistently posted online nor made publicly available.  In a few instances, laws are passed quickly without meaningful publication, public review, or public debate. The government does not generally disclose the basis on which it reviews regulations.  Some government agencies make scientific studies publicly available.

Printed copies of the Belize Government Gazette contain proposed as well as enacted laws and regulations and are publicly available for a fee.  Additionally, enacted laws are published free of cost on the Parliament’s website. Additionally, as part of the government’s e-governance agenda, several digitalization projects are underway, including the land and business registries, and the digitalization of firms and government services.

Regulations and enforcement actions are appealable with regulatory decisions subject to judicial review.  The Office of the Ombudsman also may investigate allegations of official wrongdoing but has no legal authority to bring judicial charges.  Additionally, the Annual Report of the Ombudsman is presented to the National Assembly and is a publicly available document.

The Belize Tax Service includes offices for business and personal income taxes and allows for online tax payments. The companies’ registry, along with the court system, are being digitized to facilitate e-filing of documents and online payment of fees.

Information on public finance, both the government’s budget and its debt obligations (including explicit and contingent liabilities) are widely accessible to the public, with most documents available online.  The budget documents do not include information on contingent or state-owned enterprise (SOE) debt unless the government guarantees or is paying these debts. Nonetheless, the audited annual reports of all major SOEs were publicly available on their websites.  The Auditor General’s report on government spending continues to be significantly delayed.

International Regulatory Considerations

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

Besides 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 with 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 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

As a former British colony, Belize follows the English Common Law legal system. The Belize Constitution is the supreme law and founded on the principle of a separation of powers with independence of the judiciary from the executive and legislative branches of government. Belize has a written Contract Act, but no specialized courts to deal with commercial disputes or cases.

The judicial system remains generally independent of the executive branch.  Case law exists where the judiciary has ruled against the government, and its judgements are respected and authoritative.  The highest appellate court, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), is based in Trinidad and Tobago. Below the Caribbean Court of Justice, Belize’s judiciary was amended by the Senior Courts Act of 2022 which established the Senior Courts, encompassing both the High Court and Court of Appeals. The Act created new judicial appointments with a view of modernizing the administration of the High Court. It is expected that the 2022 legislative reform is a significant step in addressing concerns of an underfunded and resourced judiciary, resulting in frequent adjournments, delays, poor case-flow management, and a backlog of cases.  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 .

Businesses and citizens may appeal regulations and enforcement actions.  Regulatory decisions are also subject to judicial review.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The country has an English Common Law legal system supplemented by local legislation and regulations.  The legal system does not generally discriminate against foreign investment and there are no restrictions to foreign ownership.  The Exchange Control Act and its subsidiary laws and regulations, however, provide the legal framework that applies to foreign ownership and control. Other laws stipulate that foreign investment can qualify for incentives; citizens have the right to private property; contracts are legally binding and enforceable; and regulations are subject to judicial review, among other provisions favorable to foreign investment.

Major laws enacted or amended are generally available in the National Assembly’s website at www.nationalassembly.gov.bz .  For 2022, these include the CBB (Amendment) Act, 2022; the Belize Companies Act, 2022; the Trademarks (Amendment) Act, 2022; the Senior Courts Act, 2022; the Digital Government Act, 2022 and the Patents (Amendment) Act, 2022.

There is no “one-stop-shop” website for investment, and 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 what incentives might be available to qualifying investors.  Further information is available at the BELTRAIDE website: www.beltraide.bz.

Competition and Antitrust 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 and import licensing requirements.

Expropriation and Compensation

Expropriation cases can take several years to settle but there were no new expropriation cases in 2022. Belizean law requires that the government assess and compensate according to fair market value.  Previous nationalizations of the electricity, shipping, and telecommunication companies were legally challenged and resolved from 2015 to 2022.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Belize formally acceded to the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention) in 2021. Additionally, the Arbitration Act of Belize 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.  The United Kingdom, on behalf of Belize, signed the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention) in 1965, yet Belize has not ratified the convention.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Belize is signatory to various investment agreements that offer 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 Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA): 1) between CARIFORUM and the EU; and 2) CARIFORUM and the United Kingdom.  These 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. Over the past decade, the Government of Belize was involved in five to eight investment disputes settled in international courts, 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 Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).  Most of the judgments went against the government, which settled the majority and continues to settle other cases.

Local courts are empowered to recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards against the government, but these are generally challenged up to the CCJ.  The Crown Proceedings (Amendment) Act and the CBB (International Immunities) Act were passed in 2017, affecting the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards against the government. The Crown Proceedings Amendment Act establishes that, for cases in which a foreign judgment is entered against the government but a court in Belize later declares the judgement “unlawful, void or otherwise invalid,” the foreign judgment is to be legally set aside.

There has not been a history of extrajudicial actions against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Belize’s Arbitration Act allows the High Court of Belize to support and supervise dispute settlement between private parties through arbitration. The High Court also provides 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 awards, but these are generally challenged up to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Cases involving SOEs have gone before domestic courts with rulings both in favor and against the SOEs.  Foreign businesses generally consider these rulings fair and impartial.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Bankruptcy Act of Belize provides for bankruptcy filings, 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 bankruptcy.   The bankruptcy law generally outlines actions a creditor may take to recoup losses.  The Companies Act of 2022 similarly makes provisions for the liquidation, striking off, dissolution and winding up of a company. Bankruptcy protections are not as comprehensive as U.S. bankruptcy law.

Investment Incentives

Several pieces of legislation including the Fiscal Incentives Act, the Designated Processing Areas Act, the Free Zones Act, the International Business Companies Act, the Retired Persons Incentives Act, the Diaspora Retiree Incentive Program, the Trusts Act, the Offshore Banking Act, and the Gaming Control Act provide for the granting of investment incentives.  These acts offer a range of incentives including tax deferments, tax reductions, access to land and capital, and preferential access to some government concessions. The government does not offer incentives, such as feed-in tariffs, discounts on electricity rates, or tax incentives for net-zero or clean energy investments.

While government policies support public private partnerships, they do not generally issue guarantees or joint financing of foreign direct investment projects.  In exceptional circumstances, guarantees have been issued for SOE investments to purse funding from development institutions.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The Designated Processing Areas Act (DPA) was passed in 2018 and future legislative amendments to the regime are expected. The DPA remains a tool to attract local and foreign investments that follow value-added business models to boost production for export markets.  Approved companies receive a DPA status for a period of up to ten years and may qualify for various tax exemptions.  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.  They may also be eligible for an annual quota for fuel solely for specified uses.

A Free Zone Act passed in 2019 amended the Commercial Free Zone (CFZ) Act.  Belize currently has two CFZs, one on the northern border with Mexico and a small zone on the western border with Guatemala.  The legislation limited the activities allowed in CFZs to specific sectors. Banks and financial institutions licensed under the laws of Belize are allowed to operate within a CFZ, but their transactions are limited to only CFZ-centered business. Companies may operate both in the national customs territory and in the Free Zone but must maintain separate accounts and goods entering the customs territory are subject to customs duties.  The Commercial Free Zone Management Agency (CFZMA) monitors and administers the free zones.  Incentives include exemptions from a range of import duties and taxes, income tax, taxes on dividends, capital gains tax, or any new corporate tax levied by the government during the first ten years of operation.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Domestic and foreign investors seeking to access incentives offered under the various incentive programs must comply with the program conditions including performance requirements. Investments that have been approved for incentives generally report to the authorizing agency, namely BELTRAIDE or the Ministry of Finance, Economic Development, and Investment, to ensure they meet stipulations on the concession.

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.  Two programs are offered under this Act, the Regular Program for investments exceeding US $150,000 and the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Program for investments of less than US $150,000. In general, investment incentives are applicable to both domestic and foreign investors.  The Fiscal Incentives SME Program, however, is aimed at smaller enterprises with a minimum of 51 percent Belizean ownership.  The SME Program offers the same benefits of the Regular Program, except for 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 transition to the Regular Program.

The Qualified Retirement Program (QRP) was created to facilitate eligible persons who meet certain income requirements to permanently live and retire in Belize.  The Belize Tourism Board oversees this program designed to benefit retired persons over 45 years of age.  To qualify, applicants need a proof of income of no less than US $2,000 per month through a pension or annuity generated outside of Belize.  An approved QRP participant is allowed to import personal effects as well as approved means of transportation free of customs duties and taxes.  Under the program, beneficiaries cannot engage in employment, own a business, or invest in Belize.

Belize’s Data Protection Act partially aligned with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The Act mandates the sharing of data between governmental agencies and categorizes financial records as sensitive personal data. It also lays out fines as high as US $250,000. The Act creates a carve-out for international transfers of data to cloud storage outside Belize whereby no consent is required from data subjects. Additionally, the Act gives a three-day window as the default for notifying the Commissioner and data subjects of breaches.

Real Property

The preamble of the Belize Constitution preserves the right of the individual to own private property to operate private businesses.  Common law, Belize legislation, and case law all reinforce property rights and interests.  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 CBB and adhere to the Exchange Control Act and related regulations.

Mortgages and liens exist, and related real estate is recorded with the registry of the Lands and Survey Department.  Investors have reported concerns that the Lands and Survey Department has a history of corruption and charges of land fraud.  As part of its land reform policy, the Lands Department continues to engage with the public through mobile clinics, where Lands Department personnel visit communities across to country to address land concerns, including issuing freehold titles. Investors are nonetheless advised to perform due diligence prior to purchasing property.

Foreign and non-resident investors are not allowed to acquire national lease property but may acquire titled privately owned property.  The Central Bank regulates real estate transactions involving non-residents for exchange control purposes.  Additionally, the rate of stamp duty chargeable on land transfers involving foreign persons or a foreign controlled company is 8 percent for land transfers valued more than US $10,000, as opposed to 5 percent on transfers involving Belizeans and CARICOM nationals.

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. Squatters’ rights exist but are only enforceable by order of the High Court after the resident has proven uninterrupted possession for at least 30 years on national lands or at least 12 years on registered lands.

Intellectual Property Rights

Belize is a member of the WTO and has implemented the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS).  Belize is not listed in the 2023 USTR’s Special 301 report nor the 2022 notorious market report.  Generally, Intellectual Property (IP) rights must be registered and enforced in Belize.  IP protections are enforceable through civil proceedings initiated by the IP holder.  The Belize Intellectual Property Office (BELIPO) ( http://www.belipo.bz ) was established to administer IP 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 topographies of integrated circuits.  The Customs Department struggles to effectively police counterfeit goods entering Belize due to limited staffing. IP rights of non-resident brands are generally not upheld as an in-country representative is required to confirm goods are counterfeit. In both 2020 and 2021, Belize authorities intercepted two shipments of counterfeit goods per year. In 2022, the authorities reported intercepting five shipments, for a total value of US$ 70,000 goods intercepted between 2020 and 2022.

In 2022, Belize passed the Trademarks (Amendment) Act and the Patents (Amendment) Act. The Trademarks (Amendment)Act gives effect to the Protocol relating to the Madrid Agreement concerning the International Registration of Marks (“the Madrid Protocol”). The Patents (Amendment) Act allows for greater administrative and operational efficiency for the office of the patent examiner, patent officer, trademark supervisors and trademark examiners.

In practice, however, there is no active enforcement of IP protections, though there is active pursuit and prosecution of contraband. There has been no report on seizures of counterfeit goods and no prosecution of IPR violations in the last year.

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/. 

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Belize’s financial system is small with little to no foreign portfolio investment transactions. The CBB must approve capital transactions, such as the purchase and sale of land, company shares, financial assets, and other investments that transfer assets between foreign and local entities. The Central Bank advised that, effective April 2022, it would only accept electronic applications for the approval of portfolio and capital investments or land transfers.

There is no stock exchange and capital market operations are rudimentary.

Belize accepted the obligations of IMF Article VIII, and the exchange regime is free of restrictions or multiple currency practices.

Credit is made available on market terms with interest rates largely set by prevailing local market conditions within commercial banks.  Foreign investors can access credit on the local market.  Under the International Banking Act, foreign investors/nonresidents may access credit from international banks registered and licensed in Belize. However, permission to access credit from the domestic banks requires Central Bank approval. The Belize Development Finance Corporation (DFC), a state-owned development bank, offers loan financing services in various sectors.  To qualify for a loan from the DFC, an individual must be a Belizean resident or citizen, while a company must be majority 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 COVID-19 pandemic forced the banking sector to accelerate the use of digital mediums and develop new products and services. As a result, the banking and telecommunications sectors now incorporate more digital financial services such as digital wallets and mobile banking. These innovations are expected to promote greater financial inclusion to underserved or unbanked communities, particularly in rural areas.

According to the IMF, a “sharper slowdown in domestic economic activity could also exacerbate existing vulnerabilities in the banking sector.” Belize is looking to improve its AML/CFT framework as it prepares for the Mutual Evaluation by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force in November 2023. The Central Bank is also looking to strengthen local banks vulnerability to higher nonperforming loans (NPL) rates and placing some institutions under enhanced supervision.

Nonperforming loans increased to 7 percent of gross loans in 2022, higher than 2021’s 5 percent and the regulatory ceiling. This was due to the expiration of COVID-19 forbearance measures and business contractions. Total assets of the largest bank were approximately US$ 855 million as of December 2022.

The 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.

Generally, there are no restrictions on foreigners opening bank accounts in Belize. Regulations differ based on residency status and whether the individual is seeking to establish a local bank account or a foreign currency account.   Foreign banks and branches are allowed to operate in the country with all banks subject to Central Bank measures and regulations. Efforts are also underway to secure new correspondent banking relationships to reduce risks of disruption of international financial transactions.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Government of Belize has established currency controls, 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.  Registering the inflows of funds facilities an “Approved Status” for investments and repatriation of funds thereafter. Effective June 2022, the CBB accepts via email all foreign exchange requests requiring approval to expedite the application process and to centralize applicants’ data.

Belize has a stable currency, with the Belize dollar pegged to the United States Dollar since May 1976 at a fixed exchange rate of BZ $2.00 to the US $1.00.

Remittance Policies

Generally, there are no time limitations on remittances.  Where there is a waiting period, it depends on the availability of foreign exchange, but does not generally exceed 60 days.  Since April 2022, there has been a full resumption of all payments of cash dividends and repatriation of profits to international firms.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Belize does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) exist largely in the utilities sectors.  The government is the majority shareholder in Belize Water Services Limited (the country’s sole provider of water services), Belize Electricity Limited (the sole distributor of electricity), and Belize Telemedia Limited (the largest telecommunications provider in the country).

There is no published list of SOEs.  Information relating to the operations of major SOEs is available on their websites:  Belize Electricity Limited http://www.bel.com.bz ; Belize Telemedia Limited at https://www.livedigi.com ;  Belize Water Services Limited http://www.bws.bz 

There is no public third-party market analysis that evaluate whether SOEs receive non-market advantages by the government.  Belize Electricity Limited and Belize Water Services Limited are the only service providers in their respective sectors.  Belize Telemedia Limited, on the other hand, competes with one other provider for mobile connectivity and there are multiple players that provide internet and data services.  U.S. firms have identified challenges in participating and competing in areas related to the bidding, procurement, and dispute settlement processes, particular to SOEs. These SOEs do not compete internationally.

Privatization Program

The Government of Belize does not have a privatization program.

Belize generally lacks broad awareness of the expectations and standards for responsible business conduct (RBC).  The government has not instituted nor proposed requirements for businesses to conduct due diligence or reporting regarding human rights or other responsible business conduct. However, many foreign and local companies engage in responsible corporate behaviors and partner with NGOs or international organizations to reinvest in community development and charitable work.  Companies sponsor educational scholarships, sports-related activities, community enhancement projects, and entrepreneurship activities, among other programs.  There is a strong thread of environmental awareness that also impacts business decision-making.

The Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for investigating complaints of official corruption and abuse of power.  While it has wide investigative powers, local media maintains that the Office lacks effective enforcement authority, is under-resourced, and did not renew or name a replacement for the post of ombudsman.  The Office remained closed, and no complaints were recorded by the office throughout 2022.

There are no alleged or reported human or labor rights concerns relating to RBC.  Belize has no recent cases of private-sector impact on human rights and no NGOs, investment funds, worker organizations/unions, or business associations to specifically promote or monitor RBC.  In recent years, labor unions and business associations have become actively engaged in advocating for stronger measures against corruption.

Certain projects require the Department of the Environment’s approval for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and 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. Local legislation (Labour Act Revised Edition 2020) protects all workers in Belize, including those in the informal sector and migrant workers. Specific sections of the legislation focus on protecting employees from forced labor and this is monitored through unannounced site inspections, desk reporting, and third-party reports.

Belize has not adopted a particular accounting framework as its national standard.  The International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) are required for domestic banks under the Domestic Bank and Financial Institutions Act (DBFIA) of Belize.  Under the DBFIA, the CBB issues practice direction, directives, guidance, and advisories on corporate governance applicable to all banks and financial institutions operating and supervised by the Central Bank.

For other companies, Belize permits the use of IFRS Standards and the IFRS for SMEs as the standard financial reporting framework for preparing financial statements.  The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Belize regards IFRS Standards as an allowed accounting framework under its professional standards.  Alternatively, non-bank companies are permitted to use other internationally recognized standards.  The U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and Canadian GAAP are often used.  There are no government measures relating executive compensation standards and RBC policies are not factored into procurement decisions.  Opposition party political pronouncements often target official malfeasance in procurement and cronyism in government contracts, but these concerns are historically muted once the opposition takes power.

Belize does not have a 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 developed, and it does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and/or the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

The country is not a signatory of The Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies, nor a supporter of the International Code of Conduct or Private Security Service Providers and is not a participant in the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers’ Association.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of the Treasury

Department of Labor

Climate Issues

Over the last decade, Belize has developed several important climate policy frameworks.  These include the National Climate Resilience Investment Plan, Growth and Sustainable Development Strategy 2012 – 2017, and the National Climate Change Policy, Strategy and Action Plan (2015 – 2020.  In October 2022, Belize launched its Blue Economy Policy and Strategy alongside its Belize Maritime Economy Plan and that seek to provide a blueprint for the development of Belize marine space. The Marine Spatial Plan, launched in October 2022, will monitor the sustainable development and designation of 30 percent of Belize’s marine space for biodiversity protect. In 2021, Belize submitted its updated National Determined Contributions (NDC) as well as its National Climate Finance Strategy, to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions as it responds to climate change.

Belize is categorized as a small island developing state (SIDS) that is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate changes and is a relatively minor contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.  Belize’s updated National Determined Contributions (NDC) is nonetheless committed to developing a long-term strategy aligned with achieving net zero global emissions by 2050.  Government strategies do specify expectations on private sector contributions as well as support required to the private sector to achieve climate targets, particularly as they relate to the electricity, transportation, and waste management sectors.

Belize has a wide array of government policies that contribute to its climate and conservation agenda, including over one hundred terrestrial and marine protected areas through co-management arrangements between the government, non-government organizations, and community-based organizations.  These are complemented by sustainable forest management, fisheries management, and other ecosystem management plans.  Belize is hopeful for greater climate financing from multilateral institutions and creditors to implement climate change mitigation and adaptation policies.  In January 2022, the government established the Climate Finance Unit (CFU) to maximize Belize’s access to climate finance to enhance resilience and sustainable development. Policies do not target commodities or supply chains as drivers of deforestation. Some procurement policies include environment and green growth considerations, particularly if projects are funded by external donors.

Freedom House finds that Belize has anticorruption laws that are not frequently enforced.  Under the Prevention of Corruption in Public Life Act, public officials are required to make annual financial disclosures but there is little adherence to this requirement and poor enforcement.  The law criminalizes acts of corruption by public officials and includes measures on the use of office for private gain; code of conduct breaches; the misuse of public funds; and bribery.  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.

Throughout much of 2022, key transparency and oversight bodies, including the Integrity Commission, the Ombudsman’s Office, the Auditor General’s Office, and the Labor Commissioner’s position remained vacant. In practice, these offices are under-staffed and under-resourced to effectively undertake their respective mandates. Newly appointed members of the Integrity Commission were sworn into office in December 2022, several months after having been appointed in May 2022. The former Auditor General was nominated to return to the position in September 2022 following a yearlong vacancy. Even so, she was not formally sworn into the position until January 2023.

The Office of the Ombudsman has wide investigative powers but lacks effective enforcement authority.

For most of 2022, the post of the Office of the Ombudsman remained closed with no complaints recorded throughout the year as the post remained vacant.

The Money Laundering and Terrorism (Prevention) Act includes “politically exposed persons” such as family members or close associates of any politician.

The Ministry of Finance issues the Belize Stores Orders and Financial Orders which establish the policies and procedures for government procurement.  The Manual for the Control of Public Finances provides the framework for the registration and use of public funds to procure goods and services.

Private companies are neither required to establish internal codes of conduct, ethics, or compliance programs, nor is it common to use them.

In June 2001, the Government of Belize signed the Organization of American States (OAS) Inter-American Convention on Corruption, which calls for periodic reviews.  In December 2016, Belize acceded to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and is in the process of implementing the convention.

There are few non-governmental institutions that monitor government activities or investigate corruption. The government does not provide protection to NGOs investigating corruption. According to local media, in 2022, some organizations called on the government to fill vacant positions in key transparency and oversight bodies, including the Integrity Commission, the Ombudsman’s Office, the Auditor General’s Office, and the Labor Commissioner.  Environmental NGOs and the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) actively monitor government policy. In February 2023, the BCCI officially released a draft campaign finance bill to enact legislation for greater transparency in reporting on source funding and expenditures for political campaigning.

Despite these measures, many businesspeople complain that politicians from both major political parties utilize their offices to benefit constituents and political allies in relations to businesses seeking licenses, the importation of goods, winning government contracts for procurement of goods and services, and transfer of government land to private owners.  Some middle-class citizens and business owners have complained of government officials, including police, soliciting bribes.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at the government agency or agencies that are 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

Office of the Auditor General
Corner of Douglas Jones Street & New Road
Belize City, Belize
Mountain View Boulevard
Belmopan City, Belize
501-222-5181, 222-5086, 822-2850, 822-0208

Belize Integrity Commission
National Assembly Building, Independence Hill
Belmopan, Belize
501-822-0121

For specific complaints within the police force:
Professional Standards Branch
1902 Constitutions Drive
Belmopan, Belize
T: +501-822-2218 or 822-2674

Belize has traditionally enjoyed one of the most stable political environments in the region, having held peaceful and transparent democratic elections since gaining independence on September 21, 1981.  In general elections, the two major political parties usually trade leadership. The current People’s United Party gained an overwhelming majority in the November 2020 General Elections, winning twenty-six of the thirty-one electoral divisions.

Some American investors experienced property destruction and loss in the sugar cane industry in the last year.

Freedom House and local media note that neighboring Guatemala’s long-standing territorial claim on Belize has persisted for almost two centuries.

A major security concern is the high level of crime countrywide. In 2022, Belize fell from the third highest murder rate in the region to the sixth. Its homicide rate decreased from 29 to 25 per 100,000 persons. Human and drug trafficking, money laundering (institutional and trade-based), and local criminal gang activity remain significant problems exacerbated by the low conviction rate.

According to the Statistical Institute of Belize (SIB), the population was estimated to be 441,471 as of July 2022.  The labor force was 191,8728 as of October 2022.  Of this, the unemployed amounted to 9,644 persons for an unemployment rate of 5 percent, representing a 4.2 percent decrease from September 2021. The report noted that about 44.4 percent of working aged women participated in the labor force and 73.4 percent of men. The main reason women did not look for work was due to personal or family responsibilities, while men did not look for work mainly due to school or training.

In its Labor Force Survey October 2022, the Statistical Institute of Belize estimated the number of people informally employed was 64,268, accounting for about 35.3 percent of all those employed. In March 2023, the government released findings from a 2021 multidimensional poverty index (MPI) to complement the traditionally measured monetary poverty. The MPI measures poverty as an “accumulation of concurrent deprivations across various dimensions of well-being.” The MPI results notes that 35.7 percent of the population were multidimensionally poor.

The agriculture sector has identified shortage of unskilled labor in the agriculture sector. The health sector faces a shortage of qualified nurses and high.

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 (Labour Act Chapter 29).  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, 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 Labour Commissioner.

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, such as single women, single mothers, and unemployed young people.

Foreign investors who have a development concession are permitted to bring in skilled personnel to complement their local labor force and, if appropriate, establish training programs for Belizean nationals. Labor laws are not generally waived to attract or retain investment.

Belize has eleven trade unions and an umbrella organization, the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB).  The unions also nominate a senator to represent them in the legislature. 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 Rural Transformation, Community Development, Labour and Local Government recognizes registered unions and employers’ associations.  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 and public servants), the Social Security Board, the utility and agriculture sectors, and among port stevedores.

Where employees are unionized, employers must refer to the laws relating to the operation of unions as well as the terms of existing collective bargaining agreements between the employer and unions. Where disputes arise between an employer and employee in the private sector and where the employee is not represented by a union, both parties may approach the Labour Department to mediate discussions for an amicable solution. Failing a resolution, the matter is then referred to the labor tribunal before proceeding the court.

The national fire service, postal service, monetary and financial services, civil aviation and airport security services, and port authority pilots and security services are all deemed essential services. The law allows authorities to refer disputes involving employees who provide “essential services” to compulsory arbitration, prohibit strikes, and termination actions.
Belize has 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. Belize’s legislation does not address a situation in which child labor is contracted between a parent and the employer. The penalty for employing a child below minimum age is a fine not exceeding US $12.50 or imprisonment not exceeding two months.

Additionally, local experts mention that while there are laws that prohibit a wide range of discrimination in the workplace, they are not effectively enforced and do not explicitly provide protections for persons with disabilities or against discrimination related to sexual orientation and/or gender identity. There is anecdotal evidence that certain vulnerable sectors, particularly migrant workers, undocumented workers, young service workers, and agricultural laborers were regularly paid below the minimum wage and classified as contract or nonpermanent employees to avoid providing certain benefits.

The government established a minimum wage task force in March 2022 and subsequently enacted regulatory amendments effective January 1, 2023, that increased the minimum wage for all categories of workers to US $2.50, an increase from US $1.65.

The United States International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) has provided political risk insurance in support of Belize’s Blue Bond for Conservation, the largest blue bond for ocean conservation globally to date. There is an OPIC Agreement between Belize and the United States, which predates Belize’s independence. The DFC has not negotiated the amendment of or replacement of the OPIC agreement. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is implementing a five-year compact with Belize that will focus on providing development financing in the education and electricity sectors.

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) 2022 $2.57 billion 2021 $2.49 billion www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2021 N/A BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2021 $64 million BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A N/A $141.1 million UNCTAD data available at

https://unctad.org/topic/investment/world-investment-report

* Source for Host Country Data: Statistical Institute of Belize – https://sib.org.bz/statistics/economic-statistics/gross-domestic-product/ 

The CBB recorded total inflows of FDI at US $207.25 million in 2022 and outflows at US $73.7 million in the same period.  FDI inflows were concentrated primarily in real estate, construction, and hotel and restaurant.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
The IMF Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS)  did not report data on the sources and destination of inward and outward FDI as it relates to Belize.

Economic Officer
4 Floral Park Road
Belmopan, Belize
Email: BelmopanPolEcon@state.gov 
Telephone: +501-822-4011

On This Page

  1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
  2. 1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
    1. Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
    2. Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
    3. Other Investment Policy Reviews
    4. Business Facilitation
    5. Outward Investment
  3. 2. Bilateral Investment and Taxation Treaties
  4. 3. Legal Regime
    1. Transparency of the Regulatory System
    2. International Regulatory Considerations
    3. Legal System and Judicial Independence
    4. Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
    5. Competition and Antitrust Laws
    6. Expropriation and Compensation
    7. Dispute Settlement
      1. ICSID Convention and New York Convention
      2. Investor-State Dispute Settlement
      3. International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
    8. Bankruptcy Regulations
  5. 4. Industrial Policies
    1. Investment Incentives
    2. Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
    3. Performance and Data Localization Requirements
  6. 5. Protection of Property Rights
    1. Real Property
    2. Intellectual Property Rights
  7. 6. Financial Sector
    1. Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
    2. Money and Banking System
    3. Foreign Exchange and Remittances
      1. Foreign Exchange
      2. Remittance Policies
    4. Sovereign Wealth Funds
  8. 7. State-Owned Enterprises
    1. Privatization Program
  9. 8. Responsible Business Conduct
    1. Additional Resources
    2. Climate Issues
  10. 9. Corruption
    1. Resources to Report Corruption
  11. 10. Political and Security Environment
  12. 11. Labor Policies and Practices
  13. 12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), and Other Investment Insurance or Development Finance Programs
  14. 13. Foreign Direct Investment Statistics
  15. 14. Contact for More Information
2023 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