It covers payment methods and information on banking systems, foreign exchange controls, and U.S. and correspondent banking.
Methods of Payments
Belize’s financial architecture allows for several method of payments for trade financing, including letters of credit, documentary collections, revolving lines of credit, international wire transfers and international credit card payment, among others. Collection agencies operate nationwide and may operate on behalf of the utility companies, town, and city councils, and for property tax collection. There are no credit rating agencies in Belize, but efforts are being made to enact legislation related to credit reporting and to establish the financial infrastructure for credit bureaus and a collateral registry.
Non-cash payment instruments include checks, debit cards, credit cards, and direct credits. Three main electronic payment mechanisms are used in Belize, including the POS and ATM networks that facilitate payments by debit card and credit cards; direct credit facilities to make bulk payments such as salaries and pension; and online bill payment facilities. MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted and, to a lesser extent, American Express.
For more information about the methods of payment or other trade finance options, please read the Trade Finance Guide.
Generally, there are no restrictions on foreigners opening Belizean bank accounts. However, persons seeking to open a bank account must comply with Central Bank regulations, which differ based on residency status and whether the individual is seeking to establish a local bank account or a foreign currency account. Foreign banks and branches are allowed to operate in the country. All banks are subject to Central Bank measures and regulations.
The Central Bank authorized in 2020 several relief measures to support the financial system and alleviate the economic and financial strains brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, domestic banks and credit unions were authorized to extend forbearance programs, establish flexible debt servicing arrangements, and extend the repayment periods for credit facilities until December 2021. The Central Bank is currently reviewing its forbearance program, and domestic banks and credit unions have assessed loan portfolios with a view to phasing out these programs and resuming regular loan classifications.
In March 2021, the Government of Belize amended the Central Bank Act and authorized the Central Bank to provide emergency programs and facilities to a wide array of institutions including banks, financial institutions, statutory corporations, and other similar bodies. As a follow-on to the legislative amendments, the Central Bank launched the Emergency Business Support Program in November 2021 to provide financial support to businesses affected by the pandemic, including the “purchase of financial assets including debt, equity and securities, credit facilities or discounting of notes, drafts or bills of exchange.” Through this measure, the Government of Belize hopes to make available US $25 million in liquidity to invest in the productive sector, particularly in tourism businesses.
Foreign Exchange Controls
The Government of Belize has established currency controls, and foreign investors seeking to convert, transfer, or repatriate funds must comply with Central Bank regulations. Foreign investments must be registered at the Central Bank to facilitate inflows and outflows of foreign currency. Foreign investors must register their inflow of funds to obtain an “Approved Status” for their investment and generally are approved for repatriation of funds thereafter. The Central Bank does, however, reserve the right to request evidence supporting applications for repatriation.
To protect the availability of foreign currency, the Central Bank extended the temporary suspension from April 2021 on all payments of cash dividends and repatriation of profits to April 2022.
U.S. Banks and Local Correspondent Banks
Belize’s financial system comprises four domestic banks, three international banks, and ten credit unions. While all banks have correspondent banking relations, these relationships are still tenuous, with delays in transactions, and fewer services offered at higher costs. Since January 2020, both a domestic and an international bank each lost a correspondent bank. Additionally, all correspondent banking relations with Scotiabank (Belize) Limited were discontinued with the conclusion of the sale of this financial institution to Caribbean International Holdings Limited in 2021.