Jurisdiction Spotlight: Belize

BelizeThe time has finally come to cover one of the most requested jurisdictions: Belize.

This former British territory, previously known as British Honduras, is one of the cheapest and most popular offshore jurisdictions in the world today. Belize is one of the most heavily marketed jurisdictions on message boards, online communities, and social media.

It is also one of the least reputable.

Overview

Belize has major problems and shortcomings when it comes to anti-money laundering and the efforts to combat tax evasion are almost nil.

The US, which is Belize’s most important trading partner and financial supporter, has declared Belize a country of primary concern for money laundering. While the full list of long and takes a rather capricious approach to defining risk of money laundering, Belize is criticized harshly and the criticism is well-deserved.

This puts Belize in the awkward position of being criticized by its biggest benefactor, on whom it is extremely reliant for financial support and trade.

Money laundering is likely rampant in Belize; both physically on Belize soil and remotely through its loosely regulated and barely supervised international banks – many of which struggle to maintain correspondent accounts, being thrown out by large international banks for failing to ensure international standards of due diligence and for failing to provide enough revenue to justify the risk they pose.

Despite being rated Largely Compliant by the OECD, it has a problematic history and present with narcotics, human trafficking, and money laundering. The OECD rating is largely based on the jurisdiction’s eagerness to – on paper at least – be internationally compliant on tax matters.

In its 8th follow-up report published in May 2015, CFATF (the Caribbean offshoot of FATF) recognized Belize’s efforts to improve its AML laws but real enforcement and success of these laws remain to be seen.

Belize borders Mexico and Guatemala. While it enjoys favourable relations with Mexico, the relations with Guatemala are hostile as Guatemala claims Belize as its own territory since 1940. Belize is a major transit point for drugs from Mexican drug cartels and there is small-scale production of narcotics in Belize.

Culturally and politically, Belize is closer to the Caribbean than it is either Mexico or Guatemala, especially the English-speaking Caribbean islands.

Belize is a poor country with underdeveloped infrastructure, relatively high crime rates, rampant corruption, and its economy is in a very shaky state. Although the economy may appear diversified at a glance, this is merely because the economy is so small that even small industries have a big impact. It is however politically and socially mostly stable.

Tourism, specifically eco-tourism, is an important source of income. Belize is popular for being English-speaking and relatively easy to get to.

Geography and Demography

 

Belize map

[table]

;

Full Name:;Belize

Official language(s):;English

Other major languages:;Belizean Creole, German

Type of government:;Unitary parliamentary

Area:;22,966 km²

Timezone:;UTC-6

Population:;340,000

GDP per capita:;5,000 USD

Currency:;Belize Dollar (BZD), pegged at 1 USD = 2 BZD

[/table]

Incorporation and Business

Reputation

As mentioned, Belize has a dreadful reputation. Not so much because of its secrecy but because of the lack of adherence to international standards of compliance.

General Information

Belize is a typical IBC jurisdiction, basing its laws on the old BVI law. Its IBC Act was enacted in 1992 (Subsidiary Law enacted in 2003).

Since 2011, Belize also has an LLC legislation. This effectively replaced the old Limited Duration Company (LDC) law, which was a very LLC-like entity with a limited duration of at most 50 years.

Prices are low. Scraping the bottom of the barrel, it’s possible to set up an LLC for as little as 500 USD and 300 USD renewal. Even higher-quality service providers tend to charge comparatively little for a Belize IBC.

Regulator

Oversight – such as it is – is provided by the International Financial Services Commission of Belize (IFSC).

International Business Company (IBC)

IBCs are formed under the International Companies Act 1981-82. As of 2014, 1,090 ICs were registered and still active.

  • One director required. Corporate directors permitted.
  • One shareholder required. Corporate shareholders permitted.
  • No paid up share capital required (usually 50,000 USD authorized).
  • Registered address in Belize required.
  • Bearer shares are permitted but must be deposited with a custodian.

Taxation

None.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

Belize LLCs offer the full flexibilities expected under an LLC.

  • One member required. Corporate members are permitted.
  • Registered address in Belize required.

Taxation

None. Pass-through entity.

Public Records

Company name only.

Belize Trust

Belize enacted a revised version of Trusts Act in 2007.

There are two types of trusts in Belize: domestic and international (offshore trust).

As expected, Belize offshore trusts are subject to no tax in Belize.

International trusts must be registered. The trusts registrar is to receive the following for all international trusts:

  • Trustee name;
  • Name of the trust;
  • Date of settlement and registration;
  • Protector name;
  • Trustee registered address.

The trust deed itself need not be filed.

There are 55 licensed trustees in Belize.

Belize Foundations

Grasping at every straw to mimic successful legislation in more reputable jurisdiction, Belize has made an attempt at foundations.

The law was enacted in 2010. It has not seen anywhere near the usage of giants like Liechtenstein and Panama.

Aside from costs, there is nothing noteworthy that sets Belize apart from other jurisdictions when it comes to foundations.

Service Providers

As always, this is not a recommendation.

There are over 100 registered agents in Belize.

Banking

Banking in Belize is generally of poor quality. The banks are small and provide unimpressive services at a relatively high cost. Because of increased spending on compliance, minimum deposits are going up with most banks.

As mentioned in the introduction, banks in Belize are struggling to maintain correspondent accounts. Large correspondent banks in the US and Europe are putting increasingly tougher requirements on offshore banks and Belize being an irreputable jurisdiction with great AML and KYC/DD challenges, times are tough for banks in Belize.

Bank account opening in Belize with an international bank is easy. It can always be done remotely and there is usually no need for an intermediary.

Domestic banks and credit unions are not interested in non-residents.

Banking Secrecy

It’s the same as all other IBA jurisdictions:

In theory, the secrecy is rigorous.
In reality, Belize lacks any tradition of secrecy and privacy.

Belize authorities are empowered to compel banks to disclose information without a court order, and share this information with foreign authorities.

Banks in Belize

There are two types of banks in Belize: domestic and international.

There are six international banks:

There are six domestic banks:

  • Atlantic Bank
  • Belize Bank
  • First Caribbean International Bank
  • Heritage Bank
  • National Bank of Belize
  • Scotiabank

Living in Belize

You probably don’t want to.

There are no tax advantages to living in Belize, crime in a problem, corruption is pervasive, and short of living out in the jungle somewhere or among the wealthy out on the cayes, Belize is not an attractive jurisdiction for relocation.

Final words

If Belize manages to fix its reputation, it could become an attractive jurisdiction for incorporation and even trusts.

With an improved jurisdiction and heavy investment in its banking sector, it could even become an attractive banking centre again.

However, as it stands, Belize’s only advantage is its low cost. And if you are looking at saving one or a few hundred dollars when forming an offshore company, it is very likely that an offshore company is not the right solution for you.

See also

 

2 Comments on "Jurisdiction Spotlight: Belize"

  1. Hi Streber!

    Here in the UK the government plans to create a publicly accessible registry of the beneficial owners of the UK incorporated companies. It would be inconvenient for me because I simply don’t want others to see my wealth. I’m thinking about closing my UK Ltd. and incorporating a new one outside the UK preferably in a secretive offshore jurisdiction. I was trying to get some information about this matter but I can’t find any on your blog.

    Since my motive is not tax related I guess it must be relatively easy to find a place that is not willing to disclose my ownership to the public. My offshore company would register with the HMRC and would pay the applicable corporate taxes like my current UK company so there would be no difference.

    So my question is, please tell me a few jurisdictions where I can create a company with nominees (both owner and director). Obviously the jurisdiction should not have a registry of the beneficial owners.

    The costs doesn’t matter but I would be happy if I could easily open a bank account somewhere in Europe with the company or even here in the UK. Six figure deposit is not an issue.

    Thank you in advance!

    • You might want to make sure that foreign companies, which declare taxable income, are excluded from the beneficial ownership disclosure requirement, and whether this disclosure ends up in public records or just government records. Beneficial ownership would go beyond nominees.

      You can use nominees in virtually all jurisdictions. It’s hard to find places where it’s forbidden and even in those cases it’s not terribly difficult to get around with a service agreement (i.e. the nominee isn’t a nominee but a director and the company provides you any service you like).

      Lack of public registries of shareholders is the norm in tax havens, with some notable exceptions being Hong Kong and Singapore.

      If your requirements are lack of public records and nominees being permitted, you have a long list of candidate jurisdictions.

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