Belize is located on the northeast coast of Central America and has a population of 419 thousand people as of 2023. The capital city of Belize is Belmopan and it is bordered by Mexico and Guatemala.
Belize gained independence in 1967. Today, Belize has the 26th largest economy in Latin America and the Caribbean and is considered an upper-middle-income economy by the World Bank.
Belize Banking Snapshot:
In this article, we’re going to be sharing everything you need to know before opening a bank account in Belize, to help you decide whether Belize is a suitable banking jurisdiction for you or your entity.
Table of Contents
- What Should You Know Before Banking in Belize?
- How Strong is Belize’s Economy?
- What is the Official Currency of Belize?
- How Stable is Belize’s Political System?
- How Strong is Belize’s Legal System?
- What is the History of Belize’s Banking Sector?
- How Strong is Belize’s Banking Sector?
- How Many Banks Operate in Belize?
- What Are the Largest Banks in Belize?
- Which Banking Services Are Available in Belize?
- Who Can Open a Belize Bank Account?
- What Are the Requirements to Open a Belize Bank Account?
- How Can You Send Money to Belize?
- How Much Does it Cost to Bank in Belize?
- What Other Banking Jurisdictions Are Similar to Belize?
- How Can You Open a Belize Bank Account?
What Should You Know Before Banking in Belize?
Belize is considered an accessible offshore banking jurisdiction with 17 banks. Foreign non-residents and foreign or offshore entities looking to bank in Belize can open accounts remotely.
Like other banking jurisdictions, foreign non-resident applicants typically have fewer banks to choose from in Belize compared to local applicants. This is true whether opening remotely or in person.
That said, there are a number of important considerations and concerns that individuals and business owners should consider before banking here. We’ll share all of these considerations and concerns with you below.
But, before diving into Belize’s banking sector, we’ll discuss several key areas that impact the stability of Belize, Belize’s economy, and Belize banks.
We will start by discussing where Belize is located and its proximity to major countries. That way, if you do decide to bank in Belize, you’ll know where your money is actually located and how far you’ll have to travel if you decide to open accounts in person.
That said, if you’re still trying to decide where to open accounts, don’t forget to download your free copy of “Where to Bank Offshore”.
Where is Belize Located Geographically?
Belize is located on the northeastern Caribbean coast of North America and it is bordered by the Caribbean Sea. Belize’s highest peak is Doyle’s Delight, which is located in the center of the country. Belize is 1,236.57 kilometers southwest of Miami, USA; 3,027.91 kilometers southwest of Toronto, Canada; 8,360.01 kilometers southwest of London, UK; 13,839.73 kilometers west of Dubai, UAE; and 17,543.86 kilometers east of Singapore.
What Are Belize‘s Neighboring Countries?
Belize‘s neighboring countries include Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the west.
How Strong is Belize’s Economy?
Belize‘s economy is currently considered stable with risks pointing to the downside. The economy is primarily supported by tourism and agriculture. Belize‘s economy is the 26th largest in Latin America and the Caribbean and the 177th largest in the world, according to the World Bank.
The development of tourism and agriculture played an important role in Belize’s economic prosperity. Both raw sugar and bananas are among the most important exports in Belize’s economy, while refined petroleum and natural gas are the most important imports.
Belize’s total exports in 2021 were $1.004 billion, while imports in 2021 were $1.252 billion. Additionally, according to the International Labour Organization, Belize’s unemployment rate in 2022 was 9.70%.
What is the Official Currency of Belize?
The currency of Belize is the Belize dollar, its symbol is BZ$ and its ISO 4217 code is BZD. The Belize dollar has been the official currency of Belize since 1974. Prior to the Belize dollar, Belize’s currency was the British Honduran dollar. The British Honduran dollar was the currency of Belize from 1885 to 1974.
How Important Is Banking to Belize’s Economy?
Belize’s banking sector is critical to the success of the economy. In addition to supporting domestic consumer and business activities, Belize’s banks facilitate international trade and attract important investment into the country. Belize’s banking sector is also a major employer, with an estimated 3,000 individuals employed in banking, finance, and related services in 2023.
How Stable is Belize’s Political System?
Belize has a stable political system, characterized by safe and free elections every five years for the House of Representatives. Elections have an average turnout of 76.68% and the transition of power is peaceful.
What Type of Government Does Belize Have?
Belize’s political system is a parliamentary democracy. The major political parties in Belize are the People’s United Party (PUP) and the United Democratic Party (UDP). Belize is governed by 31 elected representatives and the country’s constitution is called the Constitution of Belize, which came into force in 1981.
What Are Belize‘s Political Affiliations?
Belize has been a member of the World Trade Organization since 1995. Belize is also a member of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, the Organization of American States, and the United Nations. Belize’s closest allies include the United States, the United Kingdom, and Mexico.
How Strong is Belize’s Legal System?
Belize‘s legal system is based on the English common law system. The current legal framework came into effect in 1981. The National Assembly of Belize is responsible for the enforcement and execution of the legal code.
What Are Belize‘s Banking Laws and Regulations?
Belize’s banking law is called the “Domestic Banks & Financial Institutions Act” and the “International Banking Act”, both of which are governed by the Central Bank of Belize.
Which Institutions Regulate Belize‘s Banking Sector?
The Central Bank of Belize is responsible for the regulation and oversight of Belize’s banking sector. This makes the Central Bank of Belize the licensing and disciplinary authority for all financial institutions in the country.
Does Belize Have Banking Secrecy Laws?
No, Belize follows international standards for information sharing and banking secrecy. As a result, Belize has participated in Common Reporting Standards (CRS) and the Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) since 2018.
What is the History of Belize’s Banking Sector?
Belize’s banking sector was first established in 1912, following the financing needs of the growing colony of British Honduras. It later expanded to support the facilitate economic development more broadly in the region.
At first, banking in Belize focused on providing support to agriculture (banana and citrus industries) and forestry activities. Later, in the 1950s and 1960s, banking services expanded to support infrastructure development.
Today, Belize is synonymous with offshore banking and offshore companies, largely due to the use of Belize by US citizens and other foreigners for offshore structuring purposes.
How Strong is Belize’s Banking Sector?
Belize’s banking sector is considered stable but vulnerable to economic shocks and has a number of downside risks according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Banks are considered relatively well-capitalized though the central bank is focused on improving bank balance sheets in order to sustain short-term financial shocks. Moody’s considers Belize in poor standing but stable.
Needless to say, like banking anywhere, there are risks to banking in Belize if you don’t select the right banks.
Does Belize Have a Central Bank?
Belize has a central bank, which is The Central Bank of Belize. The Central Bank of Belize is responsible for managing monetary policy and issuing Belize’s currency, the Belize dollar. Like other central banks, it is also responsible for promoting positive short-term economic conditions in the country.
Are Belize Banks Safe?
There are risks to banking in Belize. So, when choosing a Belize bank, you should consider each bank’s exposure to credit risk, operating risk, depositor concentration risk, and correspondent bank risk (which we’ll discuss below).
Additionally, it’s important to consider each bank’s reserve ratio and liquidity ratio, which indicate each bank’s ability to withstand short-term financial problems. This is especially important in countries that are susceptible to economic and financial shocks, as is the case with Belize.
However, the biggest risk when banking in Belize is not being able to access your money. More specifically, the risk of banks losing their correspondent bank relationships, which we’ll discuss in detail below.
Does Belize Have Deposit Insurance?
Yes, Belize’s banking system does have deposit insurance for accounts domiciled in Belize banks. Depositors are covered for up to BZ$20,000, per bank, per account.
How Stable Are Belize’s Correspondent Bank Relationships?
Broadly speaking, the correspondent banking relationships of Belize banks are a cause for concern.
In fact, the topic of correspondent banking draws national attention and comment from the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance.
That said, some progress has been made by one Belize bank to establish stronger correspondent relationships. However, there is still considerable work to be done before these concerns can be put aside.
In all cases, we strongly suggest trying to open accounts with banks that have more than one correspondent banking relationship.
Unfortunately, this is more difficult to accomplish in Belize than it is in other countries. Additionally, even if a bank does have a correspondent bank relationship, the quality of the correspondent bank should also be taken into consideration.
Why are correspondent bank relationships so important? When a bank loses its correspondent bank relationship, depositors are unable to access their money until a new correspondent relationship is secured, which can take months (or years).
When Was the Last Time a Bank Failed in Belize?
The last time a bank failed in Belize was in 2018 when the Central Bank of Belize forced the liquidation of one of Belize’s banks.
Is Belize on Any International Blacklists?
No, Belize is not included on any international regulatory blacklists.
How Many Banks Operate in Belize?
Belize has 17 active banks across three categories, including Domestic Banks, International Banks, and Credit Unions.
That said, most foreign non-residents will only consider opening accounts with Belize banks that specifically cater to non-resident clients.
Our team has prepared a full list of banks in Belize to help you assess your options, which you can access here.
What Are the Largest Banks in Belize?
The largest banks in Belize include Belize Bank Limited, Atlantic Bank, and Heritage Bank. That said, while opening with the largest banks in a country may seem like the obvious choice, it is usually more challenging for non-resident clients and foreign companies. Of course, this varies on a case-by-case basis and can change if the applicant is able to navigate the account opening process successfully.
Which Banking Services Are Available in Belize?
As a basic offshore banking jurisdiction, customers can expect to access a small range of banking and financial services in Belize. These services include personal banking and business banking, with access to savings accounts, fixed deposits, and demand deposits.
Of course, local individuals and businesses will be able to access additional financial services including a wider range of financing options, credit cards, and merchant services.
Who Can Open a Belize Bank Account?
Belize bank accounts can be opened by a wide range of clients, including foreign non-residents, foreign and offshore entities, and (of course) local individuals and entities.
However, there are several nuances that certain applicants need to consider before opening a Belize bank account. With this in mind, here is a closer look at the individuals and entities that can bank in Belize.
Can Foreign Non-Residents Open Belize Bank Accounts?
Yes, foreign non-residents can open a Belize bank account. In fact, opening a personal bank account in Belize is common for individuals exploring offshore banking for the first time.
That said, there are challenges when opening a personal bank account in Belize, not the least of which is choosing a bank with adequate customer service.
However, as mentioned above, the number one concern with Belize is the lack (and fragility) of correspondent banking relationships, which can seriously impact an account holder’s ability to send and receive transfers.
This is especially important for individuals who will need to make frequent transfers, international payments or need consistent and uninterrupted access to their deposits.
Of course, it is also possible to open private bank accounts in Belize, though the services offered and the quality of private banking services will not compare to most private banking and wealth management jurisdictions. So, if you are looking for private banking services, you will likely be better served elsewhere.
Can Foreign Businesses Open Belize Bank Accounts?
Foreign businesses can also open a Belize bank account. However, business bank accounts in Belize are typically opened by entities with existing ties to the country.
With this in mind, if your business does not have local economic substance, you may want to consider applying for accounts elsewhere.
It’s also worth mentioning that in most cases, entities will be able to access better banking options outside of Belize.
Can Offshore Companies Open Belize Bank Accounts?
Yes, offshore entities can open a Belize bank account. However, Belize banks typically cater to offshore entities seeking basic banking services.
In other words, sophisticated structures requiring wealth management and advisory services should consider banking elsewhere.
With this in mind, offshore entities with a clear tie to Belize, such as a resident shareholder or director, may have more of a reason to open an account here.
Can Trusts and Foundations Open Belize Bank Accounts?
Trusts, foundations, and other wealth management structures can open a Belize bank account. This is true for entities that are formed in Belize and abroad.
However, Belize banks are not (typically) suitable banking options for these entities. Likewise, few Belize bankers will have experience onboarding these entities, which can result in a drawn-out onboarding process and rejections.
What Are the Requirements to Open a Belize Bank Account?
The requirements to open a Belize bank account include standard account opening documentation, know your customer information, copies of government-issued identification, and an initial deposit.
That said, like opening bank accounts elsewhere, every Belize bank will have its own unique requirements. In the case of Belize, this usually means paying additional fees in order to submit an application.
What Are the Requirements to Open a Belize Bank Account for an Individual?
Here is a closer look at the standard requirements to open a bank account in Belize:
- Account opening application
- Account opening fees (plus FATCA fees for US citizens)
- Supporting documentation for each applicant
- Government-issued identification
- Tax identification number from country of residence
- Proof of address from your country of residence
- Proof of income
- Bank reference letters
- Transaction estimates
- Qualifying deposit
What Are the Requirements to Open a Belize Bank Account for a Legal Entity?
In the case of opening a bank account in Belize for a legal entity, you will need to provide the following in addition to the requirements above:
- Incorporation (or formation) documents
- Supporting documentation for each shareholder
- Supporting documentation for each director
- Tax identification number for the entity
- Registered address for the entity
- Information about transacting parties
It’s important to note that these are the general requirements you should expect to meet when opening a bank account in Belize. In many cases, additional documents, translations, and certifications may be required.
How Can You Send Money to Belize?
You can send money to Belize through a number of conventional methods including wire transfers, money orders, and online transfer services. That said, not all Belize banks are able to facilitate transfers using each transfer method.
With this in mind, if you are planning on funding your Belize bank account using a specific method (e.g. online transfer services), you should confirm that your chosen bank works with this particular provider prior to submitting an application.
Likewise, if you will need to withdraw funds from your Belize bank account using a specific method, you should confirm that this method is an option prior to opening accounts.
How Much Does it Cost to Bank in Belize?
Belize is a moderately expensive banking jurisdiction. That said, like elsewhere, the cost of banking in Belize does depend on your client profile.
In most cases, applicants should expect monthly maintenance fees, high transaction fees, inactivity fees, transaction tracking fees, etc.. In total, these fees can range from USD 15 per month to USD 30 per month.
Not surprisingly, higher-risk and more complex clients can expect to pay higher fees in order to offset ongoing compliance and due diligence costs.
What Other Banking Jurisdictions Are Similar to Belize?
Belize is accessible in terms of opening and has low deposit requirements, which often puts it on the list of jurisdictions that individuals just getting started offshore might consider. However, unless you have very specific reasons for wanting to bank in Belize, there are almost always going to be better banking jurisdictions available to you everywhere.
With this in mind, Belize has a similar banking profile to several offshore jurisdictions including Seychelles, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and (to a lesser extent) Saint Lucia.
All of these jurisdictions are considered accessible in terms of account opening and deposits. Additionally, both Seychelles and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines offer limited banking options and struggle with correspondent banking relationships.
On the other hand, Belize is not directly comparable to the Cayman Islands or Switzerland, which cater primarily to ultra-high-net-worth individuals and are significantly more difficult for most people to access.
How Can You Open a Belize Bank Account?
To open a Belize bank account, you will need to select a bank that matches your client profile or that of your entity. Then, submit all of the required documents (referenced above), and make the qualifying deposit.
That said, the step that most applicants struggle with in Belize is selecting a bank that provides the service they desire, accepts their client profile, and meets their expectations in terms of customer service, security, and risk.
If you would like to shortcut your search and immediately find Belize banks that match all of your requirements and cater to foreign non-resident individuals and entities, you can start right now with GlobalBanks IQ.
You also receive direct support from our team of banking experts, answering your most pressing banking and account opening questions in the Members-Only Q&A.
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