Introduction Guatemala is offering a Pensionado program. This is a permanent residency allowing one to live in Guatemala for the rest of their life. The Pensionado receives a Cedulla which is a national identity card that would allow the person to open a bank account in Guatemala without showing the passport from their home country. The Cedulla is a high tech digital ID card. The identity card can reflect a lawful name modification for additional banking privacy. With the Cedulla one can travel without a passport to five other central american countries, off the grid so to speak.
Time Frame The process takes approximately 2-4 weeks, so three weeks is a fair approximation of the time frame. One does have to be in Guatemala during the process. Five Star hotels run about $100 to $145 a night depending on the season. It is possible to stay in Antigua, Guatemala which is a lovely resort community (google Antigua Guatemala). A large steak dinner in a five star restaurant is about $20. You will find things cheap here.
Fee The complete fees are $8,000 for one person, $9500 for a couple. Each child is an extra $1000. Children must be under 18 years old. All fees are paid at the start of the application. Fees can be paid by cash or wire transfer. We do not take checks because they take longer to clear (30 days) than the program requires to complete.
Pensionado Economic Requirements The program is for retired or disabled people. There is no age restriction. One does have to show financial responsibility. An income of $1000 a month is needed. This is $1250 for a married couple. This is so stated in a declaration to the government. The income is proven with bank statements, stock broker statements etc. Income can be private sourced from investments, rental properties etc. It is a good idea to also present gold and platinum Visa cards as additional support for financial independence. You will not have permission to work as an employee for others. You can be self employed in your own business.
Guatemala Taxes Guatemala does NOT tax offshore derived income. Money coming in from outside of Guatemala is NOT taxed. Your pension, investments etc from outside of Guatemala are not taxed. If you had a shoe store in Guatemala you would pay taxes. There is a VAT of 15% on some goods. A plasma TV costs a few hundred dollars more than in USA. USA cars are about same price without the discounts which are better in USA. European and Asian cars are higher priced. Solid wood furniture is far cheaper than in USA and better quality.
Official Documents Needed One needs their passport, birth certificate and marriage license if married. If possible marriage license and birth certificate should be the more modern variety with seals etc.
Language Requirement None. You do not have to speak Spanish. It is a great idea to start taking spanish lessons ASAP when here or before. There are a number of computer programs that are excellent. Rosetta Stone is popular. We do advocate learning the language. Our law firm and staff all speak English well. The better hotels and restaurants will have English speakers. Most of the Doctors speak English. Many establishments do not speak English as well.
Rights in Guatemala You have the rights of a citizen except you cannot vote and cannot get a passport. As a Pensionado you are not supposed to seek work as an employee for others. This is not the purpose of the program. You can own property, start businesses, own corporations, have bank accounts, get mortgages etc.
Time to Become a Citizen The normal time is five years. After you are a resident for three years to can apply to have the residency time shortened to three years from the normal five years. Only citizens can have passports, not residents.
Cross Border Travel as a Resident There is a Free Border Treaty in Central America. With a Guatemala Residency ID card you can travel by land or boat into the following countries without any passport needed: Mexico, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Belize. Costa Rica has signed the treaty but is known for not honoring it so don’t count on them. If you go by commercial airline you will need a passport. Your home country will not know where you are since the passport is not being swiped. You will not be able to open bank accounts in the other countries by just showing your national identity card (Cedulla), just Guatemala.
Name Change What can be done is the maiden name of your mother can be added onto your resident ID (Cedulla) as a third name. If you were Daniel Boone now and your mother maiden name was Smith you could now be Daniel Boone Smith. This is a lawful and customary practice in Latin America but of course optional. Now when you open your bank account in Guatemala it will be in name of Daniel Boone Smith and not reference your home country in the records. No lies and nothing illegal yet this allows you to fall through the cracks.
Guatemala Banking As a Pensionado resident in Guatemala you can have a bank account in Guatemala without showing a passport or any ID from your home country. NO passport needed. What can be done is the maiden name of your mother can be added onto your resident ID (Cedulla) as a third name. If you were Daniel Boone now and your mother maiden name was Smith you could now be Daniel Boone Smith. This is a lawful and customary practice in Latin America but of course optional.
Now when you open your bank account in Guatemala it will be in name of Daniel Boone Smith and not reference your home country in the records. No lies and nothing illegal yet this allows you to fall through the cracks. Guatemala has NO tax treaties for information sharing with any country. There will be no sharing of any banking information for tax reasons (any sort of tax or tax related case). Guatemala has no Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) with the USA, Canada, UK or EU Countries. This means sharing of information for criminal cases will be difficult.
Other Countries Pensionado Residency Programs – With the Panama Pensionado program there is a zero chance of ever opening a bank account without showing your home country passport. We know people who have tried this with a number of Panama Banks. The Panama banks are not allowed to take the pensionado ID or even a permanent residency ID to open a bank account. The cell phone companies in Panama will not open an account without one showing a home country passport no matter what sort of Panama permanent residency they have. All the panama residency programs, permanent, pensionado or otherwise, are nothing more than long term tourist visa, period. Panama residency ID’s of any sort do not allow for any cross border travel without a passport.There are very few Pensionado programs in the world today. There are residency programs. They usually take about six months to process a residency and one needs to remain in the country during this period of time.
Does One Live Free in Guatemala ? Oh think of it like the USA in the 1950′s. The police cannot come into your home without a search warrant. None of this “I heard a cry for help” garbage. Warrants from the patrol car radio are not happening. The police will need evidence of a violation of law to get a warrant. We did not say probable cause as in a reasonable person would deduct blah blah blah, that is USA not Guatemala. Not a common thing to see a search warrant issued here. If the police stop your car you can refuse to let them search it. You can also call your lawyer and wait until the lawyer comes and then the search proceeds, your choice. The police will generally be polite and a request to search a car would be like when there is an emergency and a roadblock scenario to catch fleeing felons who were shooting at police or something drastic. Not a common thing.
We have a kind of police called Transito. Traffic cops is what they are. They have no guns. They have cool yellow green uniforms with white helmets like Bermuda Police. They can only do traffic or auto equipment violations. Normally they will have a side of the road setup and look at cars to make sure they have a current sticker. They will check trucks to see if their loads are secure or not. When pulled they ask for driver license to make sure it is current. None of this – “where are you going, can I look in your trunk, do you have any weapons, have anything I should know about”. None of this happens with a traffic stop. If you do get a ticket just send your lawyer down to appear for you and pay fine. No point system. Very rare to ever see radar and never saw laser yet in Guatemala. People don’t even bother with radar detectors. Never saw any speed or red light cameras. They do offer parking tickets for parking violations and they can be generous in this area in some locations. Tickets are cheap, relax. Some towns like Antigua boot cars. Never park illegally in Antigua they love parking enforcement. Antigua has a special tourist police force that are on almost every corner when it is busy. They often speak English and you will find them very polite and eager to help. If you say you want leather belts they will even tell you where such a store that sells that is located.
The regular Guatemala police are called the black police (policia negro) because their cars and uniforms are black. They have guns. They do not work traffic and cannot pull you for traffic reasons. They are crime fighters only. They generally ignore you. The police will probably never show if you call them to come to your house or if they did it would take a lot of time. I never knew anyone to have their house robbed. We live in gated communities with armed guards. We have alarm systems. When the alarm goes off two ex military guys from the alarm company on a motorcycle come with guns. Often in about five minutes. One hides behind cover and the other walks around to see what is up. They have body armor and are serious fellows. So you have the armed guards in the community, some sort of fence, the alarm and now the alarm guards show up. Never knew anyone to have his home robbed.
The lawyers and court system does not work in a harassing way like in USA. This is not a society that likes lawsuits. Lawyers do a lot of contracts, real estate law, family law, criminal law but not a lot of civil litigation. If you go about your business and do not bother other people, no one will be bothering you. People here do not go out and start trouble with their lawyers like up north. People will tend to settle their differences more sanely here than the USA. That being said never ever sign any real estate agreement or any contract without a lawyer to review it. I think this rule applies anywhere. The freedom here is very noticeable.
Firearms A resident can apply for permission to own and carry concealed firearms. Assault weapons are not allowed to be purchased now which means no centerfire rifles under a current law which is going to expire in a few months and will most likely not be renewed, as a political guess. There are some already registered assault rifles that could transfer but would have to be kept in the home only, no carrying. They will be hard to find and most likely in .223 caliber.
You can have handguns in any common caliber and 12 ga. Shotguns in semi-auto, pump, double barreled etc. Glocks, CZ, Beretta, Sig Sauer, Walther, Jerico, and Bull are the popular quality handgun brands. Mossberg and Remington are popular shotgun brands. Franchi makes a 14″ pump in 12 ga that is sold as a regular shotgun and can be included on a carry permit, legal and nice for the car. One can get plastic shoulder stocks for some glock pistols and Jerico pistols. The stocks are not a restricted or controlled item. This is called a short barreled rifle in some countries. The most popular handgun calibers are 9mm and .40 but there are a lot of 45acp., .380, and .22 pistols available. Anyone who thinks they cannot defend themselves adequately with a Berretta or Glock handgun and a 12 ga pump shotgun in an urban environment does not know what they are talking about, end of story.
A person is only allowed to purchase 700 rounds of ammunition per month for each gun owned, range ammo excluded. Most manage without shedding any tears. Importing guns is a possibility but they are never going to consider more than two guns being imported. A forty two gun collection is either an arsenal or a store to the customs officials, forget it. Same with your 35,000 rounds of ammo. We have quality shotgun ammo and premium Magtech, handgun ammo in the gun stores. The gun and ammo variety in the USA is not here but we have anything you need for functional self-defense. No handloading. That is considered an ammunition manufacturing facility in most Latin America countries.
One can own an unlimited amount of firearms in their home. Each firearm has a title certificate for it similar to a car title. A person can only have 12 weapons included on their carry license. Rotating guns on the license is possible but a big pain in the neck, ill advised. There are at least 18 gun stores in Guatemala City and the suburbs. There are a lot of guns in Guatemala. We have 100,000 security guards most with a Mossberg 12 ga maverick pistol grip or a .38 caliber revolver. We keep our homes, communities, stores, malls, restaurants safe that way. It does not let the criminals take root.
This paragraph is so extensive because a lot of people are escaping police states and gun ownership is a cherished right and we applaud and support this right. On the other hand no law says you have to own a gun and many people do not own guns. Guatemala is a free country and we do not impose our will on people.
Knives and Edged Weapons Many people carry machetes on their belts, usually in the countryside. Can be startling at first since it looks like a sword. They use them to work on the land. A single edged folding knife with a blade of 3.9″ or less can be carried in a pocket or on the belt in an urban area but is not restricted in the country. There are no size restrictions in the code for non-folding knives. There is a prohibition against automatic knifes, stilettos (not sure of legal definition) and daggers (again not sure of legal definition). If you ask where assisted folders etc stand the answer is we do not know. Could be construed as an automatic or not? Same for flippers. Laws not defined clearly. Generally speaking knives are not considered a prohibited item and enforcement is not tight, but follow the law. This section was included because many of our clients are escaping from oppressive police states and their rights are very important to them and thus to us as well.
Drivers License Of course you can have a driver license as a resident. It is a bit bureaucratic and some red tape. You can drive on your home country license for some time while you adjust into your new home.
Health Care You will find the health care better than North America and Europe. The Doctors almost always have English. The staff is three times nicer than what you’d expect. The hospitals are cleaner and far cheaper. A hospital suite is about $165 a day in an expensive neighborhood. Pharmacies generally do not require a prescription and drug prices are about one third of the USA price.
Pharmacies deliver, many round the clock. Doctors make house calls for $25 to $30. Dentists are about 25% of the USA price and are very good. Veterinarians also make house calls for same price and are excellent. If the pet needs to go into for x-rays etc they transport for you. Without the oppressive prescription laws you can treat a lot of pet infections yourself by just buying the drugs or the pet store will help you out. We have a lot of homeopathy practitioners. There are chiropractors and naturopaths. There are some health food stores and organic food is becoming more and more available. Plastic surgery is popular and affordable. In a word health care way more affordable and better.
Real Estate We live far better than North Americans or Europeans imagine. Most of our single family detached homes are at least 500 sq. meters. A sq. meter is 10.75 sq. feet. Most housing that is top drawer will run $900 to $1100 a sq. meter. In the countryside real estate prices are lower. The more rural the lower it gets. It is common to see homes of 800 to 1000 sq. meters. Hacienda homes will run up to 1800 sq. meters. For a perspective one can get a 3000 sq. foot (not meter) executive townhouse in a gated community with armed guards new for $200,000 with fenced yard, garage etc. Check out a community called Antigua, Guatemala in google. You can get a great townhouse there for $150,000 a beautiful patio home $250,000 to $350,000.
Beaches We have beaches on the Pacific and Caribbean. Simple but acceptable beach homes can be had for $100,000 to $150,000. The Pacific beaches are about ninety minutes from Guatemala City. Beaches are warm and humid.
Weather Guatemala is at about 5000 foot altitude. It is 55 to 75 degrees year round. Homes have no air conditioners or heaters. Think of savings on utility bills. We do use fans, usually ceiling fans. It never snows except on the very top of the volcanoes. Warning: Do not bring ice skates, they will rust.
Schools There are a number of k-12 private schools. They are generally bi-lingual english and Spanish. The schools have campuses with playgrounds etc. They are far nicer than USA schools and the teacher student ratio is much lower. Costs vary from school to school but will be a fraction of USA price.
Domestic Help A live in maid runs $175 a month plus you feed them and supply uniforms. A gardner handyman can run $400 a month if you need one every day. A driver would run $500 a month live in. A nanny for the kids would run about $225 a month live in. Elderly folks can hire two maids and a driver and avoid going to a rest home. There are always two servants on premises and they can go on car trips, to the doctor, shopping, beauty parlor etc. They do not have to clean, cook or drive. Beats the heck out of the alternative.
Food The food is close to organic or free range meat. Prices are a fraction of USA prices and quality is wonderful. Numerous fruits priced so low almost for free. All kinds of vegetables, breads, juices etc. The food is Central American style not Mexican so it is not very spicy. We have restaurants offering anything you could want including: French, Greek, Italian, Steaks, Chops and Ribs, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese. Middle Eastern, German and much more.
Internet We have 1 meg DSL and cable connections available.
Cell Phones We have great cell phones, 3G etc.
How to start Call, email or Skype us. We will create an immigration case file for you. We will have you send us scans of the documents required for review by one of our lawyers. If the documents are not in order we will have you correct them before coming since it is much cheaper and easier this way. Next after the documents are in order you will need to schedule a trip to Guatemala. The hotels will send a shuttle bus to pick you up at the airport. We will have one of our English speaking drivers collect you from the hotel and take you to our executive offices to begin. A bi-lingual associate from the law firm will accompany you to all the needed visits to government offices for fingerprinting, signatures, photos etc. You never go to government offices yourself. We do require a $1000 deposit in order to open a file and begin the work. This fee is 100% applied to the Pensionado fee. It is not an additional fee. This is paid by wire transfer.
1. First you fill out an online order form. Click Here
2. Next you send us scan of passports of all parties applying (husband, wife kids, etc). These are sent in an email as a file attachment to
3. Then we will forward wire instructions to you. We do need to have the $1000 fee paid before we can schedule an appointment. You can pay the remaining fee when here in cash or by wire transfer. You could also elect to pay the whole fee before coming as many immigration clients do for convenience.
4. Then you come to Guatemala.When you come for your appointment you remain here and process for the Pensionado. Figure about three weeks. You will not be busy every day so there will be time for sightseeing. We have beaches, Mayan Ruins, Volcanoes to hike up and there is always Antigua. One could always drive over to a nice white sand beach, all inclusive hotel in El Salvador like the Decameron with a three and a half hour drive time. In about four hours you can be in Mexico where there is a lot of cheap shopping. In any event many of our clients just enjoy a nice rest hanging around the swimming pool at one of our many five star resorts. Warning Our food, beverages and wines are so good here do not even think about dieting.