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Living in Central America guide

Find out all you need to know to relocate and live in Central America with the expat guide

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Generalities

General information
  • Learn about the main historical, geographical, economic and cultural features of Guatemala.

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  • Belize, located in Central America, stretches over some 22,966 km2. Its population amounts to more than 350 000 inhabitants. It has a prosperous economy.

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  • Located in Central America, Panama is popular with expats due to its tropical climate as well as its stable government and economy.

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  • Costa Rica symbolizes the sun, cruises, tropical climates, etc., that you are very likely to enjoy if you wish to settle there.

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Formalities

Visas, passports and entry requirements
  • If you are traveling to Belize, you can import tobacco products and alcoholic beverages in small quantities. Drugs are prohibited, as well as weapons.

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  • If you wish to get married in Belize, you must notify the Registrar General's office, whatever your nationality. You must also register your marriage.

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  • Panama customs do not impose many restrictions on foreigners. However, firearms must be declared on arrival. These will be retained until your departure.

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  • Depending on your location, you can travel to Panama either over land or by plane. Citizens of a number of countries do not need a visa to enter Panama.

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  • You needn't be a resident to get married in Panama, however those marrying a Panamanian are granted permanent residence. Same-sex marriages are not legal.

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Visas

Work visas, work permits, working holiday visas and residence permits
  • Find out how to obtain a temporary or permanent residence permit in Guatemala in order to stay in the country longer that 90 days.

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  • You can apply for a visa to enter Guatemala, though there are a number of country's nationals who are allowed to stay up to 90 days without a visa.

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  • In order obtain permanent residency, you must have spent at least a year in Belize. Your tourist visa has to be extended every month, pending the decision.

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  • You must be more than 45 years old and receive a monthly income of more than USD2,000 to be eligible for a retirement visa for Belize.

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  • Citizens of certain countries are exempt from visa requirement to travel to Belize if they intend to remain in the country for less than 30 days.

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Work

Labour market, how to find a job
  • Find in this article an introduction to Guatemalas employment market and tips to find a job in Guatemala.

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  • Job-hunting might be a challenge in the small nation of Belize, where unemployment is rife. However, the economy continues to grow, albeit slowly.

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  • You can set up a business in Belize or create an offshore company, which is popular thanks to the beneficial tax regime in place.

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  • Unless your are a permanent resident, you will require a work permit to work or run a business in Belize.

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  • Expat entrepreneurs are able to establish a business in Panama, though different types of company have different requirements.

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Accommodation

How to rent a house or an apartment, leases and rental agreements
  • This article offers information on the Guatemalan housing market and advice to help you find a home in Guatemala.

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  • Different types of accommodation are available in Belize (apartments, houses, condominiums, villas, etc.) to suit all budgets.

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  • The real estate market in Panama is very active, and expats are permitted to purchase property in the country, even if you are not a resident.

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  • Panama's capital city offers a wide variety of accommodation options to expats. You can rent a studio, an apartment or an individual house.

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  • Panama has a variety of accommodation for expats of all tastes and budgets. The rental duration, conditions and the price can be negotiated with the owner.

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Study

Student visa, University registration
  • Guatemala has a public university and a number of popular language schools for those hoping to study in the country.

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  • If you wish to pursue your higher education in Belize, you can register at one of the three Universities in the country.

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  • If you want to study in Panama, you can register in a Panamanian public university, an American university or a private educational institute.

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  • If you wish to study in Costa Rica, you have to enroll in one of its numerous universities and obtain a student visa to be a legal resident.

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  • The Dominican Republic attracts not only tourists and expatriates in large numbers, but also young foreigners wishing to study there.

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Health care

Public and private health systems
  • There are both public and private healthcare options available in Belize, but if you have a pre-existing condition you should seek information beforehand.

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  • Panama has many hospitals (public and private) and clinics which offer quality services, but you should subscribe to an insurance before travelling.

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  • Costa Rica has a very developed health care system due to government investments in this field, thus making health care services easily available.

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  • Health care is undeniably a key issue when it comes to expatriation. The Dominican Republic does not lag behind thanks to its health care system.

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Bank

Open and manage a bank account
  • An overview of Guatemala's banking system, along with tips about opening a Guatemalan bank account as a non-resident.

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  • Belize has several national and international banks where you can open an account. However, the process of opening an account can be complicated.

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  • It is fairly straightforward for an expat to open a bank account in Panama with the right documents and a USD1000 deposit.

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  • Foreigners are allowed to open a bank account in Costa Rica. In most cases, a minimum deposit is required. Procedures are not so complicated.

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Tax

Tax system, income tax
  • Find in this article an overview of the major taxes applicable in Guatemala, including income tax, capital gains tax and VAT.

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  • Belize is known as a 'tax haven' with a favourable tax system. However, there are numerous applicable taxes including income tax and business tax.

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  • There are different types of taxes in Panama, including income tax, capital gains tax, and value-added tax (VAT). Residents have to pay income tax.

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  • Costa Rica's tax system is not difficult to understand. It consists of several taxes, including income tax, property tax and value added tax.

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  • Whether you are retiring, going to work or investing in the Dominican Republic, tax will be one of your main concerns.

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Transports

Train, bus, plane, car rental
  • Learn about the different means of transportation in Guatemala. Buses are the main way to get around and there is also an international airport.

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  • Belize has different means of transport. For your business trips, you can travel from one city to another by plane. You can also travel by bus or taxi.

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  • Panama has a highly developed transport system including aircraft, bus, train, subway, taxi and boat. Cars are also available for rent.

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  • If you have settled in San Jose, you are likely to travel by bus or train. You can even hire a taxi which you can find anywhere in the city.

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  • Once you have moved to Costa Rica, you can choose among several means of transport to travel from one region to another.

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Driver's licence

Driving requirements
  • Find information about drivers licenses, driving regulations, road networks, and road-related customs in Guatemala.

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  • You can drive in Belize with an international driver's licence. For long stays, you must obtain a national driver's license.

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  • Expats are allowed to drive in Panama with your foreign driver's license for 90 days. You will need a local driver's license for longer stays.

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  • Driving in Costa Rica can be a quite challenging experience. Nationals of some countries are allowed to drive with their foreign driver's license.

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  • Driving in the Dominican Republic can be very different from what you are used to. You had better be very careful while setting out.

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Removal

moving, formalities and useful tips
  • Find out how to bring your possessions and your pets with you if you are moving to Guatemala. You should abide by customs rules and find reliable movers.

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  • Your pet must have an international health certificate to be able to travel with you to Belize. It must also be vaccinated against rabies.

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  • It is best to hire international movers when relocating to Belize. You will also require a customs broker once your things arrive in Belize.

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  • Your pet will need a health card and a rabies vaccination certificate in order to travel with you to Panama. Exotic pets require further approvals.

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  • Expats moving to Panama should find a reliable moving company, though those moving from the Americas may consider moving their belongings themselves.

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Communications

Phone line, internet provider, post office
  • Find out what to expect from Guatemala's internet and telephone services. Though there is limited infrastructure, mobile phones are very popular.

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  • Belize's telecommunications system is relatively developed, with fixed landline and mobile network options. However, there is somewhat limited coverage.

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  • Belize has several Internet service providers. These offer different types of connection, namely narrow band, broadband, wireless connection, etc.

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  • Panama has several landline and mobile network service providers. Your choice will largely depend on the length of your stay in the country.

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  • Expats will find good internet coverage throughout most of Panama, though they may have to rely on internet cafes in some smaller towns.

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Leisure

Sports, leisure and cultural activities
  • An overview of the leisure and entertainment options in Guatemala, including the natural and cultural sights.

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  • Both land and water sports are very popular in Belize. The natural environment is well-suited to activities such as swimming, fishing and cycling.

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  • Belize has much to offer in terms of leisure, however you want to spend your time. The country enjoys an abundant natural, historical and cultural wealth.

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  • You can practice different types of sports in Panama: football, golf, tennis, squash, horse riding and cycling. Water sports also very popular.

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  • From visiting the famous Panama Canal, to sampling the local cuisine, there are a number of ways to spend your free time in Panama.

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Miscellaneous

  • Looking for child care centers in Belize? You can find pre-primary schools and nurseries in almost all cities, and there are nannies available to hire.

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  • Expats moving to Panama with children under the age of six can register them in a childcare centre or pre-primary school.

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  • You are advised, when moving to Costa Rica, to keep a list of useful contacts within reach before you actually get used to living there.

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