Discusses distribution network from how products enter to final destination, including reliability of distribution systems, distribution centers, ports, etc.
Goods imported from North America, the Caribbean, and Europe enter the country via ship through either Port of Belize Ltd. (in Belize City) or the Port of Big Creek (in the Stann Creek District). Together these two ports handle approximately 90 percent of import and export shipments. European cargo ships typically stop in Miami or Houston and then proceed to Central and South America. The airlines also carry small quantities of air freight cargo through the Philip Goldson International Airport. Cargo imported from neighboring Central America and Mexico enters Belize through the two official land ports of entry on the country’s western border with Guatemala and the northern border with Mexico.
The Port of Belize Ltd. serves as the major commercial hub and receives dry goods, merchandise, machinery, automobiles, consumer goods, and fuel imports. It features a 1,000-foot pier for ships to load and unload cargo.
The Port of Big Creek, located to the south in Independence Village, is the second largest port and handles bulk and break-bulk cargo. It features three, full-service berths that allow for direct docking of cargo ships alongside the mainland. Big Creek Port accommodates large ships for the transport of citrus, bananas, fertilizers, grain, sugar, and other agricultural produce, as well as crude oil, and liquefied petroleum gas.
Three smaller marine ports also handle cargo; Puma Energy Bahamas S. A. for fuel importation, WitConcrete for sugar exportation, and the currently non-operational Commerce Bight. Four marine passenger ports process international travelers and cruise tourists: Fort Street Tourism Village (in Belize City), Harvest Caye (Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island near Placenica), the Saca Chispas Terminal (in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye), and the Punta Gorda Port (in Toledo District).
Using an Agent or Distributor
Many U.S. exporters of consumer products will find that an agent/distributor arrangement is the most convenient and cost-effective mechanism for sales in Belize. Local distributors tend to have local market knowledge and access to local distribution networks. The use of an agent or distributor is not legally required.
A potential U.S. exporter generally first contacts the potential distributor and conducts due diligence on the local distributor and market potential for the U.S. product or service. An in-country visit may be required to meet directly and assess strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities of a suitable agent or distributor.
Useful resources for investors are the Commercial Section of the U.S. Embassy in Belize (BelmopanPolEcon@state.gov) and the regional U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEACs) located in the United States. For a complete list of USEACs please visit Contact Us (trade.gov).
Establishing an Office
Belizean law allows for several forms of businesses: private companies, joint ventures and cooperatives, partnerships, sole proprietorships, trust funds, public investment companies, and international business companies (IBCs). The Companies Act stipulates the legal requirements to incorporate a limited liability company in Belize. Although not necessary, an attorney is usually hired to prepare and submit the necessary company documents for incorporation.
An application to register a company is submitted to the Belize Companies and Corporate Affairs Registry and usually takes seven business days to be processed and approved. Fees vary depending on the number of shares issued by the company.
The International Business Companies (Amendment) Act was passed in December 2018 and allows for both residents and non-residents to take part in the domestic and international financial system. International Business Companies are liable for both income tax and stamp duty and are required to file annual returns. The Belize International Corporate Affairs Registry is responsible for managing all International Business Company registrations. Fees vary depending on the number of shares issued by the company.
The International Financial Services Commission (IFSC) has the mandate to promote and develop Belize as an international financial services center and to regulate the international financial services.
Although Belizeans are generally familiar with popular U.S. brands, franchising is limited. Franchises in Belize include several well-known brands, including Radisson, Best Western, Ramada, Marriot, and Hilton in the hotel and hospitality industry, Coca-Cola in the beverage industry, Mail Boxes Etc. in the postal service, DHL and FedEx in express delivery services, and Avis, Budget, and Hertz in the auto rental business. Century 21, Re/Max, and Sotheby International Realty are also well-known real estate franchises operating in Belize.
Direct marketing in Belize by U.S. companies is rare. Normally, a local agent or representative is hired to perform the local marketing functions.
The Government of Belize generally encourages joint ventures; however, it is not mandatory. Foreign investors are allowed full ownership of companies and property in Belize. The legal requirements for joint ventures are provided for under the Co-operative Societies Act.
DHL and FedEx operate in Belize and are generally reliable. Both offer delivery services within two-to-three business days. Deliveries are routed via Miami through American Airlines, Amerijet, or Avianca flights. The Belize Post Office, in partnership with the U.S. Postal Service, also provides Express Mail Services (EMS). Deliveries normally take four-to-five business days. Local companies also offer express delivery services across the country, generally same-day delivery.
All express service providers facilitate the payment of customs duties and tariffs. For DHL and FedEx, customers pay a service charge in addition to the customs duties. For the Belize Post Office, a Belize City-based customs officer is responsible for assessing the duties payable. In other local offices, the post office personnel act as agents for customs.
It is advisable that all U.S. investor or companies planning to invest in a business, sell, or buy property in Belize seek background information on their local partner, conduct title searches on real estate or property, and conduct due diligence thoroughly before completing the business transaction. Unclear land title issues continue to be common concerns for U.S. individuals and businesses.
The U.S. investor may want to seek the services of a local accountant or attorney to assist with obtaining background information and/or conducting a property title search. A list of local attorneys is available on the U.S. Embassy website. It is beneficial to cross-check the legitimacy of local companies in the Belize Companies and Corporate Affairs Registry to ensure they are legally registered to operate in Belize.
An in-country visit and direct meetings is advisable to gather sufficient information on facilities, infrastructure, and adequacy of potential agents, distributors, retailers, or wholesalers.
Good resources for investors are the Commercial Section of the U.S. Embassy in Belize (BelmopanPolEcon@state.gov) and the regional U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEACs) located in the United States. For a complete list of USEACs please visit https://www.trade.gov/contact-us.