Belize Property Ownership
Belize is one of the most popular destinations for foreign investment in the region of the Caribbean & Central America. One of the main reasons Belize has become so popular is the fact that as a British Common Law country, there is full foreign ownership and foreigners (non-nationals) have the same ownership rights as locals. In Belize, you can own land outright (even as a foreigner) but it is still important to note that there are a few different ways to own property in Belize, and each form of Belize real estate ownership has its advantages. There are several ways to own property in Belize, including:
Types of Property Ownership in Belize
Different Ways to Own Property in Belize
- Fee Simple Ownership: This is the most straightforward way to own property in Belize. Fee simple ownership means that you own the property outright, and you have the right to use, sell, or lease the property as you see fit.
- Strata Title Ownership: When you buy into a Strata Scheme you own your unit (shadow footprint over the land), plus a share in common property as described in your certificate of title.
- Leasehold Ownership: This type of ownership grants the right to use the property for a specified period of time, typically 99 years. Leasehold ownership can be an attractive option for those who do not plan to live in Belize full-time or for long periods.
- Co-Ownership: Co-ownership involves two or more people sharing ownership of a property. This can be a useful arrangement for those who wish to split the costs of ownership and maintenance.
- Trust Ownership: A trust can be set up to own property in Belize. This can provide additional asset protection and privacy, as the property is owned by the trust rather than an individual.
It is important to consult with a qualified Belize real estate professional when considering any of these ownership options to ensure that you are in compliance with Belizean laws and regulations. Additionally, it is important to conduct due diligence on the property and its title to ensure that there are no liens, encumbrances, or other issues that could affect your ownership or use of the property
Owning Property in Belize as a Foreigner
One of the primary advantages to investing and owning in Belize is that foreigners can own a property outright with a fee-simple title. Belize is one of the only countries in Central America that allows foreigners to truly own property.
Belize recognizes the rights of non-nationals and the property ownership rights of foreigners. When you buy property in Belize (regardless of citizenship or residency status) you can own the property outright and your ownership rights are exactly the same as local Belizean citizens. Unlike other Central American countries and tropical tourism destinations, in Belize foreigners, who are not local to Belize, can buy a property outright with a fee-simple title (the strongest form of property ownership) rather than have to settle for leasehold ownership. With Belize’s British ties, Belize practices British Common Law and the ownership rights are very similar to that in the UK, USA, & Canada.
Another advantage of buying property in Belize is that you do not need to physically be in Belize to purchase a property, or to complete the property closing. Most real estate transactions in Belize are done remotely and the buyer does not have to physically be in Belize. This makes buying real estate in Belize as a foreigner especially easy and appealing.
There are different types of titles and ownership structures in Belize but are still good and all legal. When you buy property in Belize, you have a few options when it comes to the ownership structure.
Belize Real Estate & Property Ownership Options
In Belize, most land opportunities and detached single-family homes allow for fee-simple titles and have a physical copy of the title from the Belize lands department. Most condos or developments in Belize are owned with co-op shares or strata titles. Strata Title enables one to pass physical title to a ‘slice of air with a building in it’ without owning the land that is below it. An example of Strata Title would be purchasing and taking title to a 3rd-floor unit without owning the shadow footprint of the land below.
Many developers around Belize erroneously refer to their projects as ‘condos’ when they are not located in a new registration zone. It should be noted that true condominiums in Belize only exist in the New Registration zones where the Strata Act is applicable. If the ‘condos’ are not in the new registration zone then they should be referred to as ‘units’ or ‘residences’ and, in most cases, they will be titled via corporate share certificate(s).
It is also important to note that Belize has a lot of parallels to the US & Canada when it comes to real estate and real estate appreciation. Condos rarely see the same level of appreciation and most of the condo projects in Belize (especially presales) are co-op share ownership.
1. Fee Simple Title
Fee Simple Title is Freehold ownership, which is by definition;
A permanent and absolute tenure in land with the freedom to dispose of it at will, especially (in full fee simple absolute in possession ) a freehold tenure, which is the main type of land ownership. Fee-simple title is an interest in land. Land owned in fee simple is owned completely, without any limitations or conditions. This type of unlimited real estate is called absolute. A fee simple is generally created when a deed gives the land with no conditions, usually using the words like “to John Doe” or “to John Doe and his heirs”. (source)
In British Common Law, a Fee Simple, Freehold Ownership, or Fee Simple absolute is real estate in land or physical property and is of freehold ownership. A “fee” that is used as the basis for the title is a vested, inheritable, present possessory interest in land and physical property. A “fee simple” is real property held without a limit of time. This means absolute and permanent ownership of property under the governing common law.
A Fee-Simple Title and Freehold Ownership is the highest possible form of property ownership. There are also properties that are known as a “fee simple absolute,” which is without limitations on the land’s use.
As Mark Twain famously said, “Invest in land; they are not making any more of it.”
If you’ve bought land or a house in Belize, it’s likely you own the property outright with a fee-simple title. This is the strongest form of property ownership and means that you own the “real property”. The fee simple way of owning real estate is the most common type of homeownership in the USA & Canada. Belize is also one of the few countries in the region with fee-simple titles and full foreign ownership. The fact foreigners can own a property outright with a fee-simple title is one of the major draws and advantages of off-shore real estate investment in Belize.
When you buy land or a home in Belize you will receive a “fee simple” title to your property which gives you full and complete ownership, unlike some Central and South American countries where the title is held in trust by a bank or similar institution. Other countries will offer leasehold ownership to foreigners which means you only own the land/property for a set period of time.
Belize is part of the British Commonwealth and with that, Belize has a legal system that is based on British Common Law. This comes with fee-simple land and property ownership. Property purchasers can take title to freehold property in Belize.
The Land Laws of Belize and property ownership Laws of Belize are derived mainly from the Common Law and English Statutes of the 19th century. The Law of Property Act, Chapter 190 has a lot of similarities to the Real Property Act 1925 of England and are nearly mirror images of each other. Other relevant statutes and laws that Belize has used and implemented include the Registered Land Act, Chp 194 which is a statute that governs all land transactions in Belize.
2. Strata Title Ownership
It should be noted that true condominiums only exist in the New Registration zones where the Strata Act is applicable. This includes San Pedro Town, Seine Bight, and Belize City are the only locations that have true condos with Strata Titles. Strata Title enables one to pass physical title to a ‘slice of air with a building in it’ without owning the land that is below it. i.e.: one can purchase and take title to a 3rd-floor unit without owning the shadow footprint of the land below.
If a condo has strata title, it provides a higher level of ownership and is a true ‘condo’. In Belize, every property has an individual land title, when you purchase a home or land in Belize you receive a copy of the land title. When you buy a property with a fee-simple title you take possession of it when you purchase a house or a piece of land in Belize.
When you buy a property that is part of a strata title, you own your unit or condo. When you own a strata title property or condo, you have individual ownership over your apartment, unit, condo, or townhouse.
The Strata Titles Registration Act, Chapter 196, of the Laws of Belize, governs the issuance of titles to condominiums in Belize. These condo titles are referred to as “Strata Title”. The Strata Titles Act essentially enabled developers to construct condominium developments in Belize and to issue freehold titles to each unit created in those Developments.
Condominium structures in the Caribbean are very rarely high-rise buildings. They are commonly relatively small two to four-story buildings. This is largely due to building restrictions set by the CBA (Central Building Authority). Unlike large metropolis cities, the structures in Belize are rarely above 3 to 5 stories and are primarily used by vacationing foreign residents. Developments that offer Strata Titles are most commonly found in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Hopkins, and Placencia.
When a developer of a condo project applies for Strata Title, the titles of the various units are issued to the Developer and are put in the developer’s name. As each individual unit is sold, the developer transfers the strata titles to the new owners (purchasers).
A property or development in Belize can only apply for strata title when the unit is built or near completion. This makes it challenging to obtain Strata Title since most of the capital for investment is tied up in development. Because of the laws pertaining to Strata Title, and having to be at or near completion to apply (and the application takes time for approval), most condos or units offer co-op share ownership for presale, which can have risk. The tedious Strata Title process is why so many condos go the co-op share ownership route. If you are looking at buying a condo in Belize, we suggest ensuring the property at least has a strata title.
3. Leashold Ownership
In Belize, most residential real estate and land are owned on a fee-simple basis (this is similar to the US & Canada). This is not the case in most of Central America & The Caribbean where land and home sales are in leasehold ownership which are long-term leases with the national government or have layered trusts. Belize is one of the only countries in the region that offers full foreign ownership and fee-simple title.
Under the leasehold model, one party owns a property while the tenant can use the land for a set number of years. This is common in Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, etc. Most countries in the region have restrictions on foreign ownership. This is not the case in Belize, where you truly own real property. Generally, Leases involved in these arrangements are usually long-term, typically lasting 55 years to 99 years or more.
Some owners may grant something called a “life lease” where the tenancy remains until the lessee passes away. This means the property itself can not be passed on or inherited. In that case, the property reverts back to the grantor.
If you enter into a leasehold arrangement, you’ll have to pay a fee to use the land, unlike fee simple ownership which requires no rent payments or renewals. With fee simple, you do not have to renew the lease as you own the property outright. With a fee-simple title, you own any home on the land forever. But with leasehold, when the lease ends, both the land and home will revert to the previous owner – unless you negotiate a new lease or renew the lease before the old one expires.
When you own a property with a leasehold property you only “own” the property or real estate for a fixed period of time. When you agree on a leasehold property, there will be a legal agreement with the landlord (sometimes known as the ‘freeholder’) called a ‘lease’. This tells you how many years you’ll have rights to the property. Ownership of the property returns to the landlord when the lease comes to an end or expires.
There are a lot of restrictions on foreign ownership in countries like; Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Mexico, etc. These countries often have leasehold contracts or require a trust to own real estate. That is not the case in Belize. Belize has no restrictions on what foreigners can own. There are some condo developments in Belize that are leasehold or co-op share ownership and usually use this structure if they’re bought through shared ownership or a co-op.
4. Co-Ownership Shares or Housing Cooperative
This ownership structure is popular and is known to North Americans as “Co-op”. This is the weakest form of ownership in Belize and the buyer does not have any form of title. There are numerous downsides to this form of ownership, mostly being that share certificates cannot be mortgaged by a lending institution, and insurance on the unit is challenging. A housing cooperative or “co-op” shares are a type of residential real estate option that is actually a corporation that owns the real estate.
The ‘owners’ within the development do not own their units outright. Instead of owning the units, each resident is a shareholder in the corporation based in part on the relative size of the unit or equity stake the unit that they live in has. A co-op share ownership in real estate is a way to own a primary residence, through the shares of the corporation. With housing cooperative or co-op share ownership owners own the shares, they however don’t own their units outright or the land itself; instead, each resident is a shareholder in the co-op.
Some co-op shares real estate options allow owners to sell their co-op shares (equity in the unit) in the open market, depending on the development. Often they have restrictive clauses that limit resales. This limits the liquidity of the property.
In Belize, when a condo appears to be cheap or “too good to be true” it is generally because they have co-op share ownership. Co-ops when it comes to real estate in Belize can be less expensive than homes or true strata title condos since they operate on an at-cost basis, collecting money from residents to pay expenses. Often padding additional profits to the developer.
Even though co-op share ownerships appear to be a great deal, they often come with more risk and a low level of ownership control. Before buying shares in a co-op ownership condo, be sure to check out the company’s financial situation and the fees involved.
A lot of presale condos use co-op share ownership. The resale is very difficult since the unit cannot be mortgaged and they are very difficult to insure in Belize.
5. Trust Ownership
In Belize, you can own property in a Trust. Which is commonly done through an IBC (International Business Company). Belize uses IBC laws as a form of asset protection. Trust ownership in Belize is commonly used in conjunction with an IBC (International Business Company). By using a trust to hold shares in the IBC, an additional layer of legal protection is provided for the owner of the property.
Trusts have become one of the dominant instruments to facilitate international finance and hold property internationally. The reason for setting up a Trust is that every individual or company has the desire to protect, preserve and enhance their wealth, and Belize has become one of the top destinations for international financial services looking to diversify a Trust investment. Belize real estate is a great means for realizing the goals of wealth growth, protection, and preservation. Belize allows the creation of a trust, except for a unit trust (for a co-op share ownership condo) and the trust ownership must be in writing.
The main advantages of Trust Ownership are as follows:
- Saving on Inheritance Tax or Estate Tax: Even though Belize does not have any estate tax or inheritance tax, a country outside Belize may have enforceable taxes. Through a Trust or IBC, on death, the inheritance tax, normally assessed on the value of the shares, would generally be eradicated.
- Asset Protection: Assets (like real estate) within a trust usually cannot be reached by creditors who might arise as a result of financial difficulties, litigation, divorce proceedings, etc.
- Avoiding Probate: Through trust ownership, assets can be smoothly passed on to the next generation without disruption, substantial costs, delays, loss of confidentiality, etc.
- Lifetime Tax Savings: During a lifetime, substantial income and capital gains tax advantages may result from setting up the trust.
Trust Ownership uses a Trust to own the property. A Trust is a specific legal relationship, that is used in British Common Law. By means of a Trust, the owner of certain assets (“Settlor”) transfers these assets to an independent other party (“Trustee”). The Trustee, in turn, is legally bound to maintain and manage these assets for the benefit of another person or group of persons (“Beneficiaries”).
The core principle of the Trust lies in the separation of the legal title (ownership) of the asset from the benefits derived from that asset. The control over the asset (right to dispose of) is also separated from the benefits derived from that asset.
IBC Property Ownership
There are different types of titles and ownership structures in Belize but are still good and all legal. When you buy property in Belize, you have a few options when it comes to the ownership structure. A lot of real estate transactions in Belize are through corporations and have property ownership in an IBC with fee-simple title. Owning a property in an IBC is still fee-simple full ownership with an added layer of asset protection and tax optimization.
When you buy a property in an IBC there is no stamp or transfer tax when a property is held in an IBC (International Business Company). When you buy a property, you own it outright. We have a lands department, which manages the titles of each property. I always suggest buying a property in an IBC or having a property put in an IBC (especially as a foreigner). There is no stamp or transfer tax when a property is in an IBC. If a property is not held in an IBC, there is an 8% stamp/transfer tax when you buy or sell the property as a foreigner or non-resident and a 5% if you are a resident or Belizean (or Belizean corporate entity). When the property is in an IBC, you don’t pay the stamp or transfer tax, you have an added layer of asset protection (if someone sues you in the US, they can’t touch your Belize asset), and you have improved liquidity when you sell the property and remove liability.
You own the IBC, and the IBC owns the property with fee simple title. The advantages are;
- Tax optimization as you don’t have to pay stamp or transfer tax.
- Asset protection.
- Improved liquidity.
- Faster transfer of ownership.
- Ownership ambiguity.
If you are looking to get the most out of your Belize investment and have the best value when it comes to Belize real estate, we suggest buying land and owning a property with a fee-simple title. We also suggest using an IBC (whether buying a property in an IBC or having it put in an IBC). The most desirable thing about Belize real estate is the fact that Belize has full foreign ownership and foreigners (Americans & Canadians) can own a property outright with a fee-simple title. When you purchase a condo (especially something with co-op share ownership) you erode the largest value of buying and investing in Belize.