Belize Jewel of the Western Caribbean

Formerly known as British Honduras, Belize was a Crown Colony from 1862 through 1964 when it became self-governing and finally became fully independent in 1981. It is situated east of Guatemala, south of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo and faces east into the Caribbean Sea. What really sets Belize apart from its neighboring countries is that its population speaks English. If you feel you are at the stage in your life when you don't really want to learn a new language, put Belize at the top of your list as a potential destination for business, retirement, or just a relaxing vacation. Belize was a favorite location for pirates because of its lawlessness during the 16th and 17th centuries, the reason being that the coral reefs protected them from the large navy ships that could not follow the pirates into the shallow coastal waters.

The British learned that there were forests with the kind of timber needed for the Royal Navy's ships and soon began a logging industry, followed by a colony. This accounts for town names like Hattiesville, Sand Hill and Orange Walk.Belize has great natural beauty. On its Caribbean shores you'll find lots of blue water and deserted beaches. In its jungle interior you can explore Mayan ruins, tall waterfalls, rainforests and rivers.

It's a great place for bird watching; there are parrots, toucans, flycatchers and herons in their natural habitat. Or you can visit a jaguar preserve where you can venture into the jungle in search of the elusive cats.Belize's tourism industry is booming and no wonder. This tiny tropical paradise could be on its way to becoming the next hot destination for vacationers, expats, retirees and investors, if recent figures are any indication.

In the cruise industry alone, between 2003 and 2004, cruise visits to this country increased by a full 55.1%-as opposed to just 13.1%, for example, for the same period in the Bahamas. The Carnival Corporation that has some of the largest cruise ships on the world's oceans has finalized an agreement to build a new cruise port in the Port Loyola area of Belize City. It will be the largest cruise port Carnival has built anywhere in the world costing an estimated $50 million US.

It is expected to generate more than a billion Belize dollars ($500 million US) in revenue over the first 20 years of the agreement.Belize has a distinct advantage when it comes to banking privacy thanks to its far-thinking banking laws. In an age when the accounts in other jurisdictions are under attack, those in Belize remain secure.

No mean feat. Thanks to the Trusts Act of 1992, Belize has become a premier jurisdiction for asset-protection trusts. Today, Belize is a haven offering rock-solid protection of assets that are transferred into a Belizean Trust.

It's also one of the few trust jurisdictions in the world that offers protection from court action initiated by creditors that might challenge your transfer of property into a trust. In the absence of actual fraud in the creation of a trust, the assets of a Belizean trust cannot be attached to satisfy the judgment of a foreign court. Belizean trust laws have been tested and proved solid.Belize's retiree program offers attractive incentives to foreigners looking to relocate here - particularly those who are already planning to declare their permanent residency outside the United States. On September 15, 1999, Belize enacted some of the most attractive "retiree" legislation available anywhere in the world today.

The program is aimed squarely at North American and UK nationals already planning to live full time outside their native countries. And it comes with almost no fine print or red tape. To qualify, you need to be 45 years and older and be able to show only that you have a monthly income of at least $2,000.

In many other countries offering these kinds of foreign retiree programs, you must make a significant financial contribution before you can take advantage of the program's benefits.To keep your "Qualified Retired Person" (QRP) status, you must spend just one month of the year in Belize. To entice you to come to Belize, the law allows you to import your car as well as personal and household effects duty-free. (Thereafter, you may import another vehicle duty-free into Belize every five years, as long as your previous vehicle is sold, re-exported, or disposed of in an approved manner.

).Belize is not the cheapest place to settle in Central America, even Panama is less expensive. If you settle on Ambergris Caye, the island that attracts the vast majority of Belize's tourists (and investors) for example, you'll likely find living a bit more expensive than back home in the States. Being an island, everything is imported so you'll pay extra for that transport cost.

On the other hand, if you decide to live in the north of Belize in Corozal and can take advantage of easy shopping trips to nearby Mexico, you can enjoy all the benefits of English-speaking Belize, but buy your goods for less just across the border.Belize really is a country of contrasts. From the Caribbean coast to the Mayan hills, Belize is unique. Sparsely populated, it remains untouched, for the most part.a treat for the traveler. Whether you're looking for a place to bank in absolute privacy, own a second home you can visit a few months a year, retire full-time on the beach or simply travel in style, Belize is a hot destination right now.

.Michael Russell.Your Independent guide to Travel.

By: Michael Russell

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