03 September, 2009

Time Moves In Only One Direction

There's a lot of discussion on the Intertubes now regarding time and that there is nothing (that we know of) in the laws of physics or nature, that would prevent time from moving in either a forward or backward direction.

There's also a lot of discussion regarding what the steps and requirements are for to obtain Permanent Residency in Belize. Since we just recently completed that whole process and got our Permanent Residency, I thought it might be beneficial to lay out some of what we went through to get from "A" to "Z" in the process. I hope you find this interesting and useful.

For us, I can tell you, so far time has moved in only one direction. As you can see from the photos below, I ain't getting any younger. Dianna is, of course, like most women, ageless and even getting younger. I don't know how they do it.

I thought it would be kinda neat to show a side-by-side comparison from the day we submitted our applications (more or less at the beginning), and the day we received our Permanent Resident stamps.
Before
After
As I promised in an earlier post, here's our timeline for gaining Belizean residency. It pretty much coincides with Doug and Twyla's, since from submission of our applications to getting our stamps, the four of us have been virtually at the same step through each step of the process. Your timeline is sure to be slightly different of course...
Statement of Variability

Here is the list of requirements of documents/things to do that were current at the time we went through the process. We got this form from the local Corozal office of the Department of Immigration and Nationality.
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REQUIREMENT FOR PERMANENT RESIDENCE

DEPARTMENT OF IMMIGRATION AND NATIONALITY I am in receipt of your application for Permanent Residence in Belize. To process your application you must submit to this Department as soon as possible the following as indicated by a check ( ).

  • Evidence that you are in the country legally for one year prior to application (Copy of Passport pages or Refugee Card).
  • An Immigration Fee in the sum of BZ.$________ will be charged upon approval.
  • Alien Registration for yourself and members of your family over the age of sixteen if you remained in the country for at least six months.
  • Recent Police record for yourself and all members of your family over the age of sixteen. To obtain a Belize Police Record you must have been in the country for at least six months.
  • Documentary evidence that you have acquired land in Belize or that you have access to land if you make such a claim.
  • Certificate of Health including HIV & VDRL tests for you and all members of your family.
  • Three recent passport size photographs of yourself, wife and children if they are to be included (Photographs must be in color).
  • Wife's/Husband's Birth Certificate.
  • Marriage Certificate Sworn declaration of support (from husband or common-law husband).
  • Recent Local Bank Statement of otherwise where means of financial support is not indicated.
  • Temporary Employment Permit if you are or wish to engage in gainful employment.
  • Income Tax Statement. N.B.
  • PHOTOCOPIES OF ALL ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS NEED TO BE SUBMITTED ALONG WITH ORIGINALS.

A final decision will be made when all requirements have been met. Pending a decision on your application you are required to continue applying for monthly extensions on your documents at the nearest Immigration office.

If you have a change of address while your application is being processed you are strongly advised to inform the Department immediately.

No incomplete application will be accepted.

Leaving the country for more than fourteen (14) consecutive days at any one time disqualifies the applicant.
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Several of the items were checked by the local Corozal Immigration Office as being items we would be required to produce.

For some reason, they didn't check the birth certificate line, but we had to provide our birth certificates anyway.

Some of these items you can do early on in the process. Some, like the health certificate and police reports must be done somewhat near the time you are ready to turn your application package in as they become void after six months.

June 10, 2007 - We arrived in Belize through the northern border into Corozal. We flew down to Cancun from Seattle with one-way tickets for us and our our two cats. No one raised so much as an eyebrow at our purchasing and using one-way tickets.

Beginning in July, 2007, we started paying $50.00 BZD each for the first six months of living in Belize. After the first six months, it goes up to $100.00 BZD each per month for our tourist visa stamps in the passports. The $100.00 BZD is the fee you pay per person for the rest of the time until you actually get your residency.

Now, you can probably fudge it once in a while by going over to Chetumal or flying to the states or wherever and hoping the Immigration officer at the border stamps your passport and gives you a 30 day extension - in effect a "free" extension. Don't plan on making that a regular habit to try to circumvent the $100.00 each month. They go through your documentation and your passport with a fine-toothed comb. If you've made a regular thing of avoiding the monthly fee, guess who's going to have trouble getting their residency on time? The Belize government is not about to lose money on granting you residency.

November 1, 2008 - Six months. Our monthly Tourist Visa fees increased from $50.00 BZD each to $100.00 BZD at that time. June 10, 2008 - We completed one full year in Belize without being absent from the country for more than 14 consecutive days. In fact, I had been over to Chetumal for day trips twice in that time. Dianna had gone maybe two additional times, all day trips. We lucked out and had no family emergencies, etc. Speaking of family emergencies, if you can get your doctor, funeral director, etc., to write a letter to Immigration explaining the nature of your trip, you are likely to be excused for that time out of the country. But, again, I certainly wouldn't want to make a regular thing of it. If you exceed the 14-day limit, you get to start the clock all over. Pretty simple, and a good incentive to be frugal with out of the country absences.

Now, here's where Dianna and I got behind. Being somewhat laid back and, well, basically lazy, it took us until Doug and Twyla motivated us to start working on our residency. So, we snoozed from June 2008 more or less to September 2008 - four months. What can I say? We were busy building a house, and just enjoying living in paradise. It didn't seem like we were losing anything. We were comfy and happy. Sure it cost us a bit of money for that time, but we really didn't think about it until they gave us a kick in the rear to get going.

Having said that, we had taken the initiative to get a copy of the Requirements form above, and had gathered all the information and documents that we already had, so we weren't completely non-productive. We were ready for the Belize police records search by September 1st. September 1, 2008 - We applied at the Corozal Police Station for a Belize police records search. This entails getting passport photos and a Justice of the Peace to verify that you are who you say you are plus a modest fee of around ten or fifteen Belize dollars.

What happens then is your paperwork for the records search is shipped around to each of the Police districts in Belize where they do a "wants and warrants" type search to see if you've been in trouble anywhere in Belize.

This usually takes about a month to complete. In our case it was right around four weeks. It cost $8.00 BZD to retrieve the report from the Police. October 20, 2008 - Doug and Twyla had made friends with Rick, who runs RD's Restaurant in Corozal. He also has a day job of heading up the lab at the Corozal Hospital (which he has done for the past 25 or so years).

The four of us hot-footed it up to the hospital to get a medical exam and blood test for HIV and other STDs, etc. That cost us $25.00 BZD for each of us. The results came back around October 30th. The medical exam consisted of the doctor looking us up and down and asking a few questions. They filled out the form (the Immigration Medical Service, Preliminary Medical Examination form) and signed it.

Don't forget to include both the Immigration Medical Service, Preliminary Medical Examination form and your medical lab results in your packet. Both are necessary.

Regarding the "Income Tax Statement." We thought at first that they meant our US IRS tax return statement. Well, after a few conversations with folks who had been through this process we learned that wasn't the case. What was required was that we had to go to the local office of the Income Tax Department for Belize and have them generate a letter certifying that we were not on record as having received any taxable income for the year. That was easy. Where's that red button?
Mug Shots of the Guilty

November 6, 2008 - Then came a somewhat frantic time of making sure we had gathered all the information needed - our applications, passport photos (see above), police reports, medical reports, etc, along with copies of everything. We took all the required documentation to the Department of Immigration in Belize City and filed our applications for permanent residency.

A small snag came while at Immigration. The "statement" referred to in the Requirements form is not what we thought a statement would be. We had included a banking monthly statement from our bank that showed our account balances and monthly activity. Wrong. What was wanted was a letter from the bank, on their letterhead, that we, in fact, did have an account in good standing with them.

They were not interested in the dollar amounts in the least. What we did, was Immigration closed for lunch. Dianna and Twyla went together as Twyla needed to see a lawyer regarding renewal of her Canadian passport (another matter and story altogether). Doug and I zoomed off to our two banks, thankfully close together and managed to get each of them to produce the desired letters in short time. Of course we had to pay $20.00 BZD each for those, but, hey, who's counting? Then we zoomed back, collected the girls and got back to Immigration.

Sure, we could have dropped it all off at the Immigration office in Corozal, but we had heard that there could be significant time delays, as well as the possibility of our applications going missing from the Corozal office, so we opted for the Belize City trip. Besides that gave us an opportunity to go to Benny's Hardware and Brodie's Department and Grocery stores in Belize City.

It seemed like a lifetime to get to the next step. Of course, we worried constantly that our applications had gone missing, even with turning them in at Belize City. Anyway, we finally got the word that our immigration interview was scheduled. One other item they are very concerned about. Marriage licenses and marriage certificates. The one just authorizes you to get married, the other certifies that you are married. Make sure to bring the one that says you are married. Ours was easy. Our document combines the two forms on one piece of paper.

Being good Gringos, we felt that a cover letter was needed to accompany our packet. Save your fingers and the paper. Not needed, not looked at. Don't bother.

Regarding copies of your passports. Copy everything, front cover, inside front cover, ALL pages - even blank ones, inside rear cover, and rear cover. Copy, copy, copy. We also included copies of all of our IRA statements, retirement account statements, Social Security earnings statement, etc., etc. They weren't interested in any of it. My recommendation is to include it and let them wade through and weed it out. They'll do that right at the counter with you present.

Regarding the "Documentary evidence that you have acquired land in Belize or that you have access to land if you make such a claim" statement on the Requirements form. A lot of folks think that says that you must own land in Belize. It does not say that. It simply, in a very awkward way, says that if you do own land in Belize or in some other way have access to land here, be prepared to prove it with the appropriate documents. You can become a permanent resident without owning land.

Since we did own land, we included our Land Certificate (deed), the plat map, and the related letters from the attorneys. We also included a copy of the construction agreement between us and the Mennonite builder of our house, mostly to show that we were spending money in Belize. Again, all not needed, but who knows, next time, when it's your turn, they may want it. It's easier to have the paperwork with you and not need it than for them to ask for it and you don't have a clue where it is.

Something that is not on the list... Employment history. We included that and they were interested in that too. I happen to be one of those anal-types who has kept track of every job I've ever had - from 1964 as a paper carrier for the Denver Post to 2007, when I retired from Washington State government. About 26 different employers in all. Whew! Too, too much work.

January 12, 2009 - We headed over to Belmopan with Doug and Twyla. None of us had an idea of what to expect for the interview. Turns out, it was basically a "why do you want to be here" type of interview and took each of us all of about ten or fifteen minutes. In fact, I remember, it took my interviewer longer to scribble in my file than for him to ask me some questions and for me to answer them. And the questions. I don't think they had any sort of required format to guide them. It was just questions he seemed to make up on the fly and when he couldn't think of anything else, then that was the end of the interview.

We had lunch at the little pizza joint across from the Police Academy. Good pizza, pasta and Belikin on tap.
Belmopan Pizza Place
February 3, 2009 - Our first contact with the Belize Police Department was when we went to the at the Corozal Police Station to what, at that time, was a little window outside the station, where we picked up the report form.

Once we filled it out and attached the passport-sized photos (taken locally), we returned to the same office a few days later. By now, the office window had been changed to a sort of entry area, complete with a door, so we could conduct business out of the weather.

Of course, it cost $8.00 BZD each for the reports to be sent through the process. We had to walk over to the courthouse building to the Treasury Department and pay them the $16.00, then take the receipts back to the Police Station. I'm not certain... we may have paid the $16.00 when our reports came back. Either way, there is a cost incurred.

Later in the process, after getting our Police Reports back, we had to be investigated by the Police Special Branch, the investigative arm of the Belize Police Department (There's an interesting article on Wikipedia about Special Branch (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Branch). The name is common with virtually every British and Commonwealth police department and they're all interlinked).

We had our interview with them upstairs at the Corozal Police Station. Supposedly, they go to Interpol to find out if you're an international bad person. They might sometimes actually do that, I don't know. We all thought our forms aged properly in the bottom drawer of some officer's desk until it was time to send the report back over to Immigration. The interview also verifies that you actually live where you say you do, etc.

July 9, 2009 - We went back over to Belmopan to drop off updated copies of our passport pages, so they can verify that we are keeping up with our monthly Immigration payments. We were able then to pick up our Security Bond forms at Belmopan.

What this means, is that you have to find a Belizean citizen who knows you, and who will vouch to Immigration that for the next three years, if you become a deadbeat, they will pay for your one-way ticket from Belize to wherever you came from. I'm sure the likelihood of it happening is probably slim to none, but still, it's a heavy legal responsibility to lay on someone you've probably only known for a relatively short time. I felt quite awkward during that whole process.

July 31, 2009 - Twyla was super through the whole application process, phoning Immigration regularly to keep tabs for all of us. This time, she reported a slight mix-up. Our application was ready, but theirs wasn't. Where the mix-up was, their application number resulted in our file. The folks at Immigration said theirs was still on the Director's desk. Well, we thought, if that's the case, where is our file number? And does it contain their file, or what?

August 3, 2009 - Twyla still couldn't find out anything about their file, so Dianna and I headed over to take care of ours and to see if we could get the file number situation squared away. We got over to Belmopan and checked in at Immigration. File numbers were ok - they found our file right away with the correct file number. The way they explained it to us was the Director is only in the office a short time each time and can only go through a few applications at a time. Ours probably was higher on the stack than theirs and it was just the luck of the draw that ours made it and theirs didn't. That wasn't the only thing.

You know how when you get older your mind and memory can play cruel games with you? Well, ours were both in high gear in that regard. Dianna and I both "remembered" we had turned in our Security Bond on the last visit. Of course the officer at Immigration said "No way. I would have written it down right here," pointing to a blank place in our file. "Remember, I gave you the forms last time. You were supposed to bring them this time."

Before I flew off the handle at her for losing our stuff, I called Twyla to ask her for her recollection.

"Oh, sure. You were supposed to take those with you this time," she said.

Then, I remembered. Oops. I knew right where I had left the forms on my desk... in Corozal. Well, it wasn't a total loss. Dianna and I had cashed a check the previous day at the "Mattress Bank", and we had $4,000 BZD just hanging around in our pockets. We asked the officer, since we were already there, if we could go ahead and make the payment and bring the completed Security Bond next time when we dropped off our passports for the stamp. That wasn't a problem.

After all that, it was back to Corozal. Just as we pulled in to our property, the Isuzu started rattling when I stepped on the accelerator. Not a good sign. At least we made it back with no problems.

Twyla contacted Immigration later that week. It seems their file was still on the Director's desk, but that it should be ready to go the first of the following week. Taking that as a cue, the four of us planned another trip to Belmopan.

I took the Isuzu to Rick, my mechanic and he went through it. telling me some sort of bearing around the crank shaft was going out, but that if I used STP or something similar it would work till I could take it in for a rebuild.

August 26, 2009 - Off we go to Belmopan again. The Isuzu worked perfectly until about three minutes before we turned off the Highway into Belmopan when the air conditioner quite suddenly quit. Oops. I decided to pull into the Caribbean Tire store to have them check if I had broken a fan belt or something. As I shut the engine off, the Isuzu made a strange, squealing kind of sound and then you could hear the radiator bubbling away.

"Uh-oh," I thought, "I've fried the engine".

After checking with the Caribbean Tire folks, they recommended an auto shop down the road about half a mile. We let the Isuzu sit for about 15 minutes or so to try to cool it down. Then I tried starting it up. It fired up normally and the A/C even worked.

Aha! That must be it. The A/C iced up and over-heated the engine. Well, we took it to the mechanic up the road, and they said there was definitely a couple things wrong with the engine, but essentially, if we left the A/C off and drove 45mph or slower, we probably could make it back to Corozal.

First though, we had business to take care of at Immigration. We drove over there and handed in our Security Bonds and surrendered our passports. In return for the passport, we got handed a really "fancy" (he said facetiously) hand-written receipt, with the obligatory stamp on it.

But, wait a minute. There's an additional requirement now. We need to provide Immigration with the original documents used by the Belizean's who vouched for us on the Security Bond. In our case, it was our voucher's Voter Registration Card, and in Doug and Twyla's case, it was their voucher's passport.

Apparently, this additional requirement is because of some problems that have developed with Justices of the Peace throughout Belize. I'm not sure what the actual issue is, but here's our take on it.

I had to visit a Justice of the Peace (JP) just yesterday to have something "notarized" or "JP-ized" or whatever the term would be. This was a document for my state retirement, so I could transfer some money to my bank.

Anyway, I went into the JP's store, where her desk was. She had company, a lady, apparently an acquaintance of hers. I waited discretely off to one side. When the JP noticed me, she asked how she could help me. I approached the desk and told her I needed to have her JP services for a document. "Let me see the document," she said.

I gave her the document. I expected her acquaintance to move out of the way so we could have a bit of privacy to conduct our business. That didn't happen. In fact, the lady was craning her neck to see what my document was. So, I said to the JP, "Is there some place we can conduct this in private?" I was expecting her to ask the lady to move or something.

"Oh, it's ok. She's a friend of mine," was her response.

I said, "But, I don't know this lady." The JP continued reading the document like everything was fine.

I said again, "I'm sorry, but I don't know this lady."

The JP said, "well, you can always go somewhere else." Which is exactly what I did.

I gathered up my papers and left. Thinking as I left her store, "Well I guess that showed her."

Of course, the problem that developed immediately was that I only knew of the one Justice of the Peace in Corozal. Now what do I do? I thought first about stopping at the Town Hall and asking them if they knew of another JP I could try. But then, I thought of a fellow gringo, Judy, who also makes group dog food purchases for us, and I was supposed to see her to pick up my dog food. I'll ask Judy. She might know. I pulled up at Judy's, and hollered for her through the fence. She came out and I asked if she knew of another JP I could try. Well, heck, Judy knew of about six others in the immediate area. That solved my problem.

I also found out from her and from the JP that I did use, that the JP's aren't supposed to charge for their services (I think they're supposed to use the service as an enticement to get you into their place of business - a good strategy). The JP I had left, we had used several times in the past, sometimes she charged us and sometimes she didn't. Doug had used her several times as well, and said she always charged them.

Doug then said, maybe she was the reason for the additional requirement at Immigration. She probably blabs everything to anyone when she goes home in the evening. Could be, could be. At least, now we know to be more careful when choosing JP's. So, it was going to be at least one more trip to Belmopan.

August 31, 2009 - Back we go to Belmopan with the needed documents. It was really weird, having to go back to the folks we had vouch for us in front of a Justice of the Peace and say that Immigration wanted to see the original documents. We asked if we could borrow the documents and return them the next day. We were even prepared to offer to pay their way to Belmopan and pay for their time, if they were reluctant to part with the documents. Luckily, that wasn't necessary.

We made copies of their documents and headed back to Belmopan. Our voucher not only loaned us his Voter Registration Card, but also his Boat Master's License, as his signature on his Voter Registration Card had faded so much as to be almost illegible.

Once we got parked at Belmopan (I covered this on on the previous post (http://winjama.blogspot.com/2009/08/we-made-it.html)). we rushed to find a restroom. Then it was in to the desk at Immigration to present the original documents and copies. Within about two minutes, we were handed our passports with the Permanent Resident stamp in each one. We shook hands and thanked the Immigration officer and headed off to Spanish Lookout. Woohoo! We were done!

In our case the whole process took two years - less a day. During this time (the two year period) we were not allowed to be out of the country for more than 14 consecutive days, contrary to the rumorology that seems to be rampant about that, and we were continually providing photocopies of our passports to ensure we had all of our monthly visas up-to-date.

Total cost per person for us (not including gas, photocopying, food, beer, aspirin, nerve tonic, and other miscellaneous expenses) were as follows:

    Six months tourist visa X $50.00 BZD = $300.00 BZD

    Eighteen months tourist visa X $100.00 BZD = $1,800.00 BZD

    Permanent Residency Fee = $2,000.00 BZD for US Citizens; $1,500.00 BZD for Canadians.

    Total $4,100.00 BZD for US Citizens; $3,600.00 BZD for Canadians.

    or $2,050 USD; 1,800.00 USD respectively.

  Permanent Residency = Priceless!

Thanks to Doug for providing me a very useful timeline of this whole process. Doug and Twyla kept good notes. We didn't. I plagiarized from their timeline with abandon.

So, you can see, time really does only move in one direction. Oh sure, we did the usual two-steps forward, one step backward from time to time, but that only resulted in more of those miscellaneous expenditures.
"Time keeps on slippin, slippin, slippin
Into the future
Time keeps on slippin, slippin, slippin
Into the future
I want to fly like an eagle
To the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly like an eagle
Till Im free
Oh, lord, through the revolution"

- Steve Miller - Fly Like An Eagle, Album of the same name

9 comments:

  1. Thanks for all the details. We hope to be going through this process in the not too distant future. On Tuesday, we will be back in Belize for our twice yearly, 2-week visit. Or as I prefer to think, on Tuesday our twice yearly 24-week visit to the US will be over. ;-)

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  2. Congratulation to your permanent residence!

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  3. Wilma, Now that is the way to look at it. I love it! Good luck with your PR. - Dave

    Thanks Orchis. It really feels like an accomplishment too. - Dave

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  4. great post! and congrats.
    brings back memories,, none fond.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have friends who lived on Caye Caulker for a year and the would make a monthly trip to Chetumal to get their passport stamped. For them it was a years adventure, and they were not planning on becoming permanent residents.

    An Arkies Musings

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  6. Dear Winjamas,
    I have been following your blog for the last couple of months from Germany since my wife and I will relocate to Belize in 2010. It was always a pleasure to read and I was even kind of relieved when you finally got your permanent! The description of the whole process is indeed very helpful for all "followers". Thanks a lot.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Excellent post! Even if you did borrow the dateline *grin*.

    One question I have is that the form you have at the beginning says you have to submit both the Original and copies of things like your Birth Certificate and Marriage Certificates... isn't that kinda scary? I had hoped you could submit a "certified copy" like we do here in the States on some things. I know you mentioned the possibility of a "lost application" and that could prove very costly if you had your originals in there. Did you really submit the originals??

    Anyhow -- congratulations again. Enjoy a cold one for me!

    Julian

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  8. Thanks Barnacle. When I first read your comment, I thought it said "brings back memories... none found." I thought you'd erased your memory tapes.

    Richies - Good point. If someone isn't planning on living here long-term, crossing over to Chet, or Guatamala, etc., would be a good way to go. Just make sure to stay over there for a couple of days, that way you're more likely to get a 30-day extension.

    Fakta - Good luck with your move. I hope the blog has been helpful as well as interesting for you.

    Julian - Good question! When you submit your application, they go through it right then with you there. Anything they don't need, they hand back to you. They do take the originals and compare them to the copies you provide. They keep the copies and give you back the originals. Same thing with the passport. They go through it page by page. The only time you leave the passport is at the end of the whole process to obtain your residency stamp in it.

    I'll take that beer now, thanks.

    Cheers,
    Dave

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  9. Congrats Dave and Dianna. Hope to follow in your footsteps in the near future.
    Perry

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