To be clear, I’m talking from personal experiences. Other people may have had other experiences. I have been in country for getting funds here for 3 houses that belong to me and my family. I can explain that to you in more detail than below by contacting me. I do NOT take responsibility, if this doesn’t work for YOU. Also, I’m talking about US to BZ. I am not familiar with how all this works with Canadian or European banks.
One of the things you need to be prepared for is that opening a bank account in Belize is a process and not easy, but achievable. You can forget about opening an account at a local bank, unless you are a resident (which takes, at the moment, along time……I’m talking at least a couple years right now, but that’s another topic).
Opening an account
When I tried to open an account with Heritage Bank and got turned down there, I tried Belize Bank. First they gave me an account, but the next day told me that had had also declined my application. I had to look for other options. Mind you, I had all the required documents, but the problem was on the US side with the new banking laws at the time trying to prevent money laundering. They made it very hard for the banks in Belize to let you open an account.
Make sure when you start the process of opening an account that you ask about all the documents you will need. Also make sure that you have a good relationship with a banking person (get all their contact info) ‘back home’, because AIBL will contact them to verify that the bank reference you have to provide is legit. The only hang up right now that my sister has to get her account is exactly that verification call from Belize to the US. My sister made the bank manager aware that she will be receiving a call to get the reference verified and this woman (Wells Fargo) will absolutely not talk to the banker in Belize. I’m not sure if this has anything to do with laws, but it is very frustrating, to say the least. My niece has a POA from my sister and thank goodness lives in the area. She will now try to get this done from stateside, but we don’t have a resolution yet.
I was fortunate enough at the time to be able to get the money for building my house down there through the developer of the community where my house was going to be. They had a local bank account, but the drawback was, that they (the bank) charged a percentage of what you transfer and it was a chunk of change when you consider that you are sending thousands.
Somehow the bank manager at the time of Atlantic International (an offshore bank) heard that a couple of us in my community were trying to open an account and actually came out to us down our very bad road and collected the documents I had brought for opening the Belize Bank account. She needed a copy of my passport, which I didn’t have and just took a picture with her phone and printed that out in her office……incredible!! I’ve had a lot of dealings with her over the next couple of years and I’d love to have a fraction of her patience……you will always be remembered fondly, you know who you are 😍. Unbelizably I had my account within a week!! Don’t get your hopes up though, it’s not that easy anymore, but still possible. We opened up an account for my mom successfully and my sister almost has her, but the hang up again is on the US side, not on the Belize side. Another thing, you can connect to their WiFi, which comes in handy, when you take your device with you and you want to send them something on the spot like bank statements or anything else they may require to open an account.
The nice thing about Atlantic International is that you can keep your money in USD in there and withdraw in USD also, or in BZD, if you wish. The banking system in Belize is quite different, so be patient and learn their ways. I was at times pulling my hair out (not literally, of course) trying to make a withdrawal. Since this bank doesn’t have any physical cash, you have to ‘order’ the amount you want to take out, either with a token that you can purchase for $20 BZD or by going into the bank and asking them to do it for you. If you do it with your token, it is processed and then they send a fax to (the local) Atlantic Bank, which they are affiliated with and you pick it up there. If you order it directly at the Atlantic International branch, then again, they send a fax to Atlantic Bank and you pick it up. Make sure you ask them when it will be ready for pickup and you have to have your passport or you will not be able to get it. One note to this: if you pull out cash in USD, the will charge you 2% of the amount. If you get it out in BZD, it costs only $10 BZD. You want to pay your local businesses in BZD…..much cheaper ☺️.
I prefer to go into the AIBL branch in San Ignacio, which is right by the open market, when I’m in town doing my shopping and the people there are always very patient and very friendly. I go there first thing when they open, order my money and then do my shopping. By the time I’m done with that, it is available. I found it harder to order it online with my token, but I think I finally got the hang of it……it’s a learning curve like so many things there 😉. Be prepared for long lines at Atlantic Bank for pickup and at the window it takes a good while, too, so don’t go there when you are in a hurry. I’ve found the best times to be first thing in the morning, when they open up or around 12 noon, when everybody is at lunch (rather than the bank).
Wiring money here
Wiring money to Belize is relatively easy, IF you have an account or, if you’re trying to wire it to an individual or business that they have an account that will except the amount you are wanting to send. Wiring it to AIBL is the cheapest way I have found so far. You pay whatever your bank back home charges you and Atlantic International charges (I believe) $35 on their end. I don’t remember if it was BZD or USD, but it is negligible compared what the local banks charge you. That can be a nasty surprise, if you didn’t know about it. I’m talking about sending money to a local business. If are are building a house down here while you are still living ‘back home’, make sure that your builder has a bank account that will except large amounts at a time. We’ve had people having to fly down to physically bring down the money, but what you safe in the fees that the local banks charge to do so, usually pays for a round trip plane ticket.
By the way, one of the services that Atlantic International offers is processing your QRP (Qualified Retirement Person) application for a fee, if you decide to go that route, but that’s another subject covered under ‘Immigration ‘.
Using, exchanging money in Belize and ATMs
The exchange rate is $2 BZD/$1USD, when paying for things ANYwhere. Any store will except USD bills (no coins) and you will receive BZD change. On occasion I have gotten USD singles back, but the businesses usually like to hang on to them. Exchanging money at the bank will get you a lower rate (you will lose 😩). If you go to the border by Benque Viejo close to Guatemala, they will usually give you more than 2:1. Make sure to ask them if the rate they are offering is ‘the best they can do’. If you act like a newbie gringo, they’ll give you 2:1, which is still better than what the banks will give you. They (the banks) don’t like that, because they are losing money. You can also get money from the ATM with a daily limit of around $250 USD. If you need more THAT day, just go to a different bank. I know people who have built their house by going to the different ATMs in one day. If you don’t bring large sums of money with you, when you are building, that is one option, although not a very efficient one, especially if you live away a distance from the banks. Also, we had one lady who had her ATM compromised and got her account stateside cleaned out……no bueno 😳.
You can bring any amount into the country as long as you declare it with Belize customs. No fees, no problems doing it that way, but it is not a good idea to carry around large sums of money, if you don’t have a safe place at your destination to keep it. Not saying there is a good chance you’ll get robbed, just good common sense like everywhere else.
Travelers checks are no longer excepted at the banks, so don’t bring any!!
Thats it for right now, but if I think of anything else or I will add it later to the subject of getting money here……stay posted 😜