It’s the dream. Log in to a Skype meeting from the comfort of your beachside condo. Consolidate spreadsheet on your laptop while you spread your toes in the sand. Finish up the quarterly reports early and grab your fishing rod. The pandemic allowed many people to work-from-home and it was an easy leap to workers questioning: why can’t home be somewhere warm and beautiful? Digital nomads have been kicking around the globe for years but typically favored countries with good infrastructure, lax visa requirements, and very low cost of living. Old-school digital nomads where more of a free spirited, backpacker type but that standard is no more. Now, normal people and couples and even families are jumping on the digital nomad bandwagon and finally, Belize is recognizing their potential drawl to these types of travelers.
Belize has unofficially welcomed online workers and extended-stay tourists for some time now but is officially launching it’s Temporary Residence program for digital nomads. https://www.travelbelize.org/work-where-you-vacation/ So let’s look at the program and what it offers.
First, it offers a significant savings on visa extensions. The program is good for a duration of up to 6 months at a cost of $250usd per adult and $100usd for accompanying minors. Regular visa extensions for tourists are $100usd per person every 30 days so you save money and time with bypassing immigration renewals.
Second, it sounds fairly easy to qualify. All you have to do is show proof of employment and an annual income of at least $75,000usd for an individual or $100.000 for a family, provide clear criminal background checks, share bank statements proving financial integrity, and carry a travel insurance policy.
In theory the program sounds great. In practice, I expect some growing pains because Belize is notoriously not on the same page with anything they do and I already see fissures between what the Belize Tourism Board is pitching nomads and what the Immigration Department still hasn’t adopted. The website promoting this program says that you should apply first and await your approval. The link to Immigration’s application ask for different materials… namely, a lease agreement or property title. Immigration does not have a application or form on their site for this program; the closes thing they have is Temporary Residency (which would cost $300us and be renewed annually) through evidence of investment in Belize. (and as a side note, I’ve never known of ANYONE who has successfully gotten this temporary residency, ever!)
Another hitch in the giddy up I see is the family aspect to this program. The program encourages families to come and enroll their (under 18) kids in ‘Belize’s outstanding school system.’ Eeep! Well, the program is only up to 6 months and a school year is 9 months long is it not? Also, I was nearly certain that all students here had to take placement exams to enter secondary school- what they call PSEs- and they’re only administered at a specific time of year and your score determines which, if any, high school you are allowed to attend. So is the nation’s educational system just meant to wave their typical practices for these foreign students to enter and attend part of their school year, I guess? I mean… okay. Lastly, I would say that a majority of nomads would not agree the Belize’s school system is “outstanding.” Sadly, Belizean students continuously underperform on exams compared to their regional counterparts and there’s always been a severe shortage of qualified teachers (over a quarter of positions are filled with untrained/ unlicensed teachers). Perhaps nomadic families will come with their own online curriculum and just stick to that instead.
So, do you think Belize is the next big destination for digital nomads? I’m not convinced but time will tell.