Belize, formerly a British Colony, gained its independence in 1981 and is the only country in Central America having English as its official language. Nestled in the Yucatan peninsula, Belize is merely 200 miles south of Cancun, Mexico and less than 100 miles east of the Tikal Ruins of Guatemala. Belize is an independent country that has enjoyed a history of peace and tranquility, and is a proud member of the British Commonwealth, the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF).
Located on the Caribbean seaboard of Central America, Belize has an area of approximately 9,000 square miles; 174 miles at its longest point by 68 miles at its widest point. The total population is estimated at just over 340,000 people. Although Belmopan City is the current capital of the country, the old capital Belize City is the major commercial center having a population of about 90,000 people. Belize’s climate is sub-tropical with an average temperature of 80°F.
Belize is uniquely located at the center of North and Central America and the Caribbean. This location gives the country easy access to major US states and other Central American countries via daily flights out of the Philip Goldson International Airport, Belize’s only international airport.
While classified as a third world country, Belize offers quite a comfortable lifestyle with all life’s necessities and some luxuries available throughout the country including first world comparative internet access, telephone and fax communications including international direct dialing.
Despite having a relatively small population, the people of Belize is one of the country’s most unique element. Often referred to as a “melting pot” of cultures, Belize is comprised of various major ethnic groups which include the Creoles, Mestizo, Maya, Garifuna, East Indians, Arabs, Chinese, Mennonites and Spanish. Belize’s multi-ethnicity contributes greatly to the country’s numerous cultures and languages.
Government and Legal System
Belize’s governance system comprises three branches, namely the legislative, judiciary and executive branches.
The House of Representatives and the Senate form the National Assembly as the legislative branch. The House of Representatives consists of 29 elected members who are responsible for making laws by passing bills, developing a working budget for the country and addressing the needs of the citizens. The Senate is made up of 8 appointed members, and its main function is the ratification and confirmation of bills or laws passed by the House.
Belize’s judicial system is based on English Common Law and comprises the Magistrate’s Courts, the Family Courts, the Supreme Court, The Court of Appeal and the Caribbean Court of Justice. The judiciary is headed by the Chief Justice.
Executive authority is vested in the Queen who is represented in Belize by a Governor General. The leader of the party voted in as the ruling party in the House is then appointed by the Governor General as the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is thus charged with the responsibility of forming a cabinet comprised of appointed ministers. These ministers, in their executive function as the Cabinet, provide general direction and control of the Government.
International Financial Services Industry
In an effort to diversify its economy, Belize launched its International Financial Services (IFS) sector in 1990 with the advent of the International Business Companies (IBC) Act allowing for the incorporation and registration of a tax free and exchange control free company specifically for international investors and international trading. Not long after, in 1992, the Trusts Act was passed providing for the establishment of both onshore trusts and international trusts. Supplementing the IBC and the Trusts Act, in 1996 Belize passed the Offshore Banking Act and the Money Laundering Prevention Act now the Money Laundering and Terrorism (Prevention) Act.
The IFS Industry in Belize rapidly developed, and within a space of 10 years the country recorded over 15,000 IBCs being incorporated. Today, the Industry has seen various legislative amendments enhancing the laws governing the Industry and its products available as well as introduction of new laws giving rise to new entities.
The jurisdiction now offers the following entities for international finance:
- International Business Companies
- International Limited Liability Companies
- International Foundations
- Limited Duration Companies
- Protected Cell Companies
In addition, the following licensed services are also available:
- International Insurance
- Mutual Funds
- International Banking
- Money Transmission Services
- Payment Processing Services
- Trading in Foreign Exchange
- Trading in Financial and Commodity-based Derivative Instruments and Securities
- Money Brokering
- Money Lending and Pawning
- Money Exchange
- Safe Custody Services
- Accounting Services
Belize has signed a total of 18 Tax Information Exchange Agreements as of today’s date and continues to be classified on the OECD “White List”.