Yesterday I Became A Citizen of Belize
How I Became A Belize Dual Citizen, The Day – the Ceremony for Belize Citizenship, and The Benefits My Citizenship Brings
At about 2pm yesterday, in Belize’s tiny capital of Belmopan, I waited nervously for my name, Rebecca Anita Coutant, to be called by the country’s Head of Immigration. Ready to walk up onto the stage to accept my Certificate of Belizean Nationality from the Commissioner of the Supreme Court.
By the end of the day, we were 93 new Belizeans. A mix of people from all over the world – predominantly Central Americans from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador and some folks from the Caribbean, a handful of Belizean Mennonites in very traditional garb, a few folks from the Philippines and Bangladesh, and maybe 5 or 6 “gringos”. (I did not do an official survey – this is my “best guess”. Obvs all Americans are not older white people 🙂 )
Some people give up the citizenship of their birth, and some take on dual citizenship like I did. It was very moving (I teared up as I put my right hand in the air to take the official Oath) and very exciting. I am a Belizean! Let me tell you how I got here and about the day I became got my Belize citizenship.
Applying for Belizean Citizenship
As an American living in Belize, I first obtained a work permit in December of 2007. The work permit was renewed annually as I applied for my Permit Belize Residence (in US terms, a sort of “green card” that allows you to stay in the country and work permanently).
Here are the qualifications for Permanent Residence in Belize.
After a lengthy application, an official interview in Belmopan, and a wait…by 2011, I was a permanent residence of Belize. And I could have stayed with that. It allows me to work, to live and come and go without paying exit fees, to make Belize my home.
The Benefits of Citizenship in Belize
What an incredible privilege to be able to choose your citizenship. I feel very lucky to have been born in the USA but Belize is my chosen home. I fell in love with Ambergris Caye on my first visit in 2006 and I have lived in Belize, full-time, for 16 years. I stopped using the word “home” when visiting the USA about 10 years ago. I don’t have a residence there, I visit once a year at most.
I want to vote in Belize. This is a very small country – and every vote really does count. In San Pedro, an economic center of the country, only about 5500 citizens vote for our mayor. I want to be a part of that.
I can also now apply for a Belizean passport – to make crossing into Mexico easier and faster. And to use as a form of ID. I can travel to a bunch of countries without a visa (some that would require a visa for US citizens – like Kenya) I can also travel (and stay and possibly work) in other CARICOM countries…which is pretty cool.
The main reason: I consider Belize my home. And it felt important to me to be a citizen.
You can read about my application process for Belizean citizenship here. I officially handed it all in, at the San Pedro immigration office, at the end of October of 2022.
Officially you can apply for citizenship, as an American, 5 years after you receive residency. I dragged my feet for a while! About 6 years.
I received a text message from the office of immigration in Belmopan about 3 weeks ago, to tell me that I was accepted.
Swearing In Day for Belize Citizenship
I was told to arrive one hour early for the 9:30am start time. My paper said “Formal Wear” – no jeans, no slippers (flip-flops), no tennis (sneakers).
I got out my one dress…and sandals. Sandals were fine for the event. Just no flip-flops or sneakers.
I arrived at 8:15am at the Belmopan Civic Center. There was already a crowd. Everyone clutching their documents, some with family members, waiting…
At about 9:10am, immigration started reading off names. First for the 9am slot and then the 930am slot. We showed our documents briefly and went to have a seat. No family or friends are allowed in the room at this time.
We were each called up individually. Our entire files (dossiers?) were stacked on the tables with the immigration officers. Our receipt for payment of the $300bzd fee was checked and we signed the Oath of Allegiance to Belize.
“I Rebecca Coutant do swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Belize and will uphold the Constitution and the Law of Beliz and that I will faithfully and conscientiously contribute to the development of Belize and discharge my duties and responsibilities as a Belizean citizen. I will further respect the history and culture of Belize and refrain from any anti-social or criminal activities and devote myself to the service and well-being of the Belizean people. I pledge that I will do everything in my power to promote and strengthen democracy and the fuel of law in Belize and will do everything to promote the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Belize. So, Help me, God.”
We would repeat this phrase by phrase later, as a group, with the Commissioner of the Supreme Court. It gives me the cold seed (goosebumps) just typing it.
My official residency was stamped CANCELLED: WITHOUT PREJUDICE
Quick pause for reason 1002 why I love this country so much. We had time to chat with those in our row while waiting for the process that took about 1.5 hours. On my right was a tiny woman from Bangladesh – who has lived in San Pedro for 10 years with her family. She and her husband run a store on Middle Street that I have been in dozens of times.
On my left was a man from the Philippines who has been in Belize for 12 years. He runs a restaurant in Hopkins, Belize. I have ALSO met him before. We were talking about mangos (Hopkins is the mango capital of Belize) and he said that he sold some young mango trees to a woman in San Pedro years ago and he wondered how those mangos are doing. THAT WOMAN IS ME. We looked through my photos of the 2018 Hopkins Mango Festival – and he is in one of the photos.
This country sometimes feels like a tiny village. No matter where I go – from Belize City to a tiny village in the Toledo district – I always run into someone I know. It’s such a good feeling.
(And we were devastated when the mango trees died in the bad drought summer we had in 2019 – so bad it was a national emergency)
Back to the Citizenship Process: We were told to return at 1:30pm for the swearing-in ceremony. We were each given a number (I was 62) and a letter.
This is the letter of approval. And gives some of the rules around Nationality by Registration. You can cease to be a citizen if you are convicted of certain offenses or if you reside outside of Belize continuously for more than 5 years.
I returned at about 1pm…all seats were full by 1:20pm.
And then the ceremony. The singing of the national anthem (you are given the words but it feels good to know (most of) it) The National Prayer. The Oath of Allegiance. And then one by one we were called up to accept our certificates.
It was very very cool.
You only get one certificate and it has an official seal and can not be laminated.
Now that I do not have a stamp in my US passport – my next step is the fill out the paperwork for a Belizean passport. So I don’t lose or ruin my certificate.
I also plan to register for my Voter ID card – well before next spring’s mayoral election.
I really could not be more proud to be a citizen of this amazing country and I feel so honored to receive this.
I am a citizen of Belize. September 21st has always been my favorite day on the year in San Pedro, but I have a feeling this year is going to be even sweeter.
Additional information for the ceremony:
You might want to bring a drink/water and a snack – it can be quite warm in the room, especially in your finery 😉 There is a bathroom you can use. Family/friends are not allowed in to the morning session (only after 1:30pm for the ceremony – and then there was no seating for them) We were finished at about 2:30pm2:45pm.