So you've found your paradise in Belize and can't wait to call it home. First things first; if you haven't already done a trial run, consider spending a few months testing Belize's crystal clear waters before taking the plunge. This will give you valuable insight into living in Belize.
Once the boxes are taped up, there are a lot of ways to get your stuff to Belize, each with their own pros and cons. Air freight is fast but expensive; shipping is cheaper but slow. Being just south of Mexico means overland freight from the U.S. is a possibility, though traveling across borders can sometimes be complicated. While the bolder expatriates from North America just pack up their vehicles and drive, hiring a moving company can save you serious head-aches... and back-aches.
As the rules and regulations frequently change without notice, do as much research as possible before making your move. To get the most reliable and current information, check with customs, local embassies, the Immigration Department and talk to as many expatriates as you can who have made the move to Belize. Get references before hiring a moving company or customs broker, and always read the fine print before signing anything. If you are prepared, patient and persistent, you'll be relaxing in your new home in no time, wondering why you didn't move sooner.
Choosing a Moving Company
Driving across multiple borders with a truck or trailer full of household items is never easy, though that doesn't stop some people from doing it. Hauling your worldly possessions to Belize by yourself is entirely possible, but many people find crossing one border stressful, let alone crossing several different borders with different regulations, dealing in multiple languages and dodging "extra fees", like bribes or scams. Hiring an international moving company can relieve some of the headaches of relocating to another country and can leave you with time to take care of the other things on your checklist.
A small selection of international moving companies operate in Belize, usually trucking or shipping between the U.S. and Belize. For the most part, these companies are reliable and many expatriates speak highly of them. You'll find a wider selection of international moving companies within your home country, though Belizean companies have the advantage of knowing the local regulations. Most movers will take care of all the necessary paperwork, but other services will differ greatly depending on the company.
International moving companies offer varying degrees of service and operate in many different ways. Some will work with other companies from your home country and others have international branches. Some companies charge by container or weight. After shipment, moving companies can store everything in a warehouse until you pick it up or they will deliver directly to your new front door. As always, do your research thoroughly and try to find as many references as possible before hiring anyone.
The general consensus among expatriates living in Belize is to take as little with you as possible when you move. Belizeans are famous for crafting wonderful wood furniture, the warm climate means you won't need much clothing and many common items can be bought in Belize or just over the border in Chetumal, Mexico. However, some items can be expensive in Belize due to high import costs. Most expatriates suggest bringing good quality footwear, high-end electronics, kitchenware, towels, mattresses, books and any special tools or gear. If you spend some time in the country before making the move, you'll have a good idea of what you can or can't live without, as well as what you won't be able to replace.
By land, sea or air, there are a variety of ways to get your belongings to Belize. There are a few overland moving services to Belize, mostly offered out of Houston, Texas. Air freight costs more but it's fast. Currently, direct flights to Belize from Europe are unavailable, so air freight is transferred in the U.S., and then lands at Philip Goldson International Airport near Belize City. Shipping items by sea is the most popular method due to lower costs. Shipping services take a lot longer, sometimes weeks, and will arrive at either Belize City or Big Creek, depending on the company. Every moving company will require an inventory of all items, including their values. For new items, copies of receipts or proofs of purchase may be required for customs agents.
Anybody who has gone through an international move will tell you that demystifying a country's customs and duty regulations can be tough. Belize is no exception. As the customs rules are always changing, many people recommend hiring a customs broker to facilitate the process. They can handle much of the paperwork for you and fill you in on exemptions you might otherwise have missed which could end up saving you more money than you pay for their services. Ask around to find a good customs broker and, as always, get as many references as you can.
If your goods arrive by sea or by air, bring all the relevant shipping documents or the airway bill to the customs department. When bringing your household items into Belize, customs duty will be calculated based on the declared CIF value - that is, the cost of the goods in your country plus insurance plus freight. It can go up to 50 percent, but is usually at around 20 percent, plus a 10 percent sales tax. Customs officers may just take a quick look at the items and give a ballpark figure, rather than break it down to individual items. A good tip is to keep a detailed inventory and group your items based on whether or not you will have to pay duty on them, so the customs officials don't have to check every crate and box.
Belizean citizens and those who have just been granted permanent residency don't have to pay duty on used household items over one year old that are intended for personal use. Any items newer than one year or intended for sale or use at work must be declared, with proof of purchase. Other exemptions include up to BZD$20,000 worth of new and used personal household goods for Belizean citizens who have been living away from Belize for over three years and are moving back to Belize. Qualified Retired Persons also have a full year to import all of their household items duty-free.
Belizeans don’t share the same attitudes towards pets as many North Americans and Europeans. Animals are usually left outside, and dogs are kept more for protective purposes than as best friends. Many stray dogs wander the streets freely and cats are a rare sight. Mange and venereal disease are common among pets. In rural areas, rabies can be a risk, carried by an assortment of wild animals. In expatriate communities, however, pets are more often treated as members of the family so these risks are usually lower. Pet food and kitty litter used to be rare, but supply is increasing along with the demand.
Bringing pets into Belize is fairly straightforward and no quarantine is required so long as the pet is proven to be healthy. This means a trip to a government approved vet within 14 days of travel. Get records from the vet that the animal is free from infectious diseases and has received a rabies vaccine no less than one month and no more than one year prior to arrival. Dogs may also require proof of being vaccinated for distemper, parvo, infectious canine hepatitis and leptospirosis, and cats may need vaccines for Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR), Calicivirus (FCV), and Panleucopaenia. The animal must also be free of open wounds and will need to be inspected by a quarantine officer upon arrival. If the quarantine officer isn’t satisfied with the rabies vaccine report, your pet may need to be quarantined and re-vaccinated at the border at your expense.
It's important to check with the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) before importing your pet, as the species may not be permitted in the country. Dogs, cats, ferrets, and some birds not indigenous to Belize are permitted, but it would be prudent to get verification. You must have a valid import permit for all pets. Request an application form from the BAHA, as they deal with all plants and animals being brought into Belize. Processing is said to take about seven days, but can realistically take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. Needless to say, it would be wise to get started well in advance. Importing your pet will cost a little over USD$40, including faxing fees. Payment is usually required upon arrival in Belize.
So you've got all the paperwork in order and it's time to get your pet on a plane. Many airlines do not take pets and those that do usually only take cats and dogs, so talk to your airline before you book tickets. There will be a fee of about USD$100 to USD$150 for bringing a pet and there are a few regulations to follow. The kennel must be big enough for the animal to stand and turn around in and your pet may not leave the kennel for the duration of the flight. Other regulations vary by airline.
Smaller pets may sometimes be brought as carry-on baggage, while larger ones will have to be checked and put in the cargo hold. One thing that surprises many people is that if your animal is put in the cargo hold, you may have to pay duty on it upon arrival in Belize, which is 40 percent of the value of the animal, along with a 10 percent sales tax and a 2 percent environmental tax.
Bringing a vehicle into Belize can be expensive, with duty ranging from 25 percent to 60 percent or even sometimes 70 percent of the vehicle's value, which includes 10 percent sales tax and a 2 percent environmental tax. Duty on cars is calculated on the size of the engine. For trucks, duty is calculated based on a gross vehicle weight rating of either above or below five tons and then by engine size. Duty on vans is determined by seating capacity and then by engine size. People entering Belize under the Qualified Retired Persons Program are entitled to bring a vehicle duty-free into Belize every five years, as well as a duty free import of a boat and even a light aircraft.
When crossing the border into Belize, you'll be asked about your reason for entering the country as well as what your intentions are with your vehicle. If you intend to import your vehicle, customs officials will often give their own assessment of your vehicle's value, which may or may not be accurate. Usually expatriates importing vehicles end up paying a few hundred to a few thousand dollars in duty. In case of a disagreement, you may leave your vehicle in the care of customs and hire a customs broker, which would be recommended. If crossing at the border, you will often be approached by unofficial customs assistants who will help you through the process for a few dollars tip. While there are no guarantees, these assistants generally mean well and may save you a little time and money.
Make sure you have all of your original documents for your vehicle as well as a few photocopies for officials. You will be required to buy Belizean insurance after customs lets you through. People may approach you selling insurance, though you should get it at an authorized insurance seller.
There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing an appropriate vehicle for Belize. Vehicles undergo a fair amount of wear and tear on the country's rough roads, so new vehicles don't stay new for very long. As such, a majority of expatriates and Belizeans drive sturdy four-wheel-drive SUVs or trucks. It can sometimes be difficult for Belizean mechanics to repair or replace parts on some vehicles, so it would be wise to choose a vehicle that's both common in Belize as well as durable. Gasoline is expensive in Belize, so a car with good gas mileage is very important, and diesel engines are common.
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