Expats living in Belize are the experts when it comes to helping newcomers learn about healthcare in Belize. Here are 9 healthcare tips for people moving to Belize and those already living there.
Belize is Not a Good Place to Be When You Have a Medical Emergency
"I broke my arm down in Belize in Corozal. I went to the local hospital. They gave me a Voltaren injection and set it. They were not allowed to give me anything for pain. I had to go to a pharmacy and get some codeine. I just walked in a got it. I don't think people seem to grasp the idea that in third world countries, at least in Belize, there is hardly any health care per say. I had a bad fall and found a US trained internist who practices in Belize. My buddy down there, who has bad heart problems, has to fly back to the states every time something comes up. I do know some go into Chetemal, Mexico and pay out of pocket totally for services rendered. They are not operating under the system we are operating up here in the States," described one expat in a discussion about public vs. private health care facilities in Belize.
"I worked both public and private and the former, though essentially free is really grim- a notch above rattles and leeches. Many of the MDs are Cuban, poorly trained and speak no ingles. The private is excellent for basic or minor problems. The Northern Clinic in OW where I worked had a little inpatient unit with very good specialty care and very attentive nursing but only one spoke English. I had a patient though who needed emergency eye surgery and went to the Hoy clinic in BZE where after the procedure the anesthetist took off before full recovery and he was wheeled out semi consious in an office chair because there were no wheelchairs. He is still blind in that eye. In Consejo I had a fellow who got cut up by a bush hog and 911 was inoperative and it took 90 min to get an ambulance and the paramedics tried to stick the IV while in motion on that crappy road to Corozal. He lost the leg. I am familiar with the health care in Mex, Nic and Costa Rica and it is first world and inexpensive. No comparison. I had lunch with the only neurosurgeon in BZ and he was very good but the infrastructure he needed to deal with head injury etc was not there. The moral is not to relocate to BZ unless you are in perfect physical and mental health and are not accident prone. Even so, Corozal is close to the first rate Clinico Carranza in Chetumal which is affordable. As for kids there are some terrific pediatricians as good as any up north, but the infrastructure is not there for anything beyond minor issues," cautioned another expat living in Belize.
Routine Medical Care in Belize
"We are very pleased with the care we have received thus far. We have not had to avail services from anywhere but private doctors. There is a small hospital in Corozal but we do not know much about it. We live outside of town in a more rural area but we have been told that there are ambulances. There are several private clinics in town. We went to Belize City to see a cardiologist. We were extremely pleased with the quality of care we received. Complete bloodwork and EKG's and ultrasounds were done all on site and the doctor spent over an hour with us going over all of the results. This is better care than what we received in the US. Also, we were able to get a appointment within less than a week. The cost for everything for both me and my husband was equal to what I paid for one month's premium of my health insurance back in the states. That insurance would have also cost me copays on the tests themselves," wrote one member in an expat report about healthcare and health insurance in Corozal.
"Healthcare - small stuff you just pay for direct. There is a public medical center in Placencia, plus a private clinic. Both doctors do good work. The pharmacy is well-stocked, and the pharmacist, Nina, is very helpful. For serious stuff/emergencies there no hospitals closer than an hour drive, and preferably you want to get to Belize City - 3 hours drive, or emergency airlift," said another expat in Placencia.
Many Retirees Choose to Live in Corozal to be Close to Quality Healthcare in Chetumal, Mexico
"Corozal is close to the first rate Clinico Carranza in Chetumal which is affordable," said one expat. Another said, "I do know some go into Chetemal, Mexico and pay out of pocket totally for services rendered." "Each area of Belize has its proponents but the proximity to the amenities and medical care of Chetumal make Corozal a no brainer," added another expat.
Expats in Belize Should Consider International Health Insurance
"You can have the best, most expensive, insurance there is, but at 3 am when you have a heart attack there is nothing anyone can do, especially on the Cayes. If you have a disease that requires medication, those meds are probably sold here at a very reasonable price. If you actually need doctor/hospital care, then choices and chances are slim. There are some great doctors here, but they are working with very limited resources," warned one expat. For that reason, many expats in Belize purchase expat health insurance that provides for medical treatment abroad and covers being evacuated out of the country in an emergency. "We are going to look into getting an international health insurance just in case one of us has an emergency that can not be handled here or in Mexico," commented one expat in Corozal.
How to Find a Doctor in Belize
"Word of mouth is a great way to find a doctor if you need one. Also, be willing to travel to Belize City or Chetumal Mexico to see specialists," advised one expat.
Bringing a First Aid Kit to Belize
When a family moving to Belize asked about what to put in a first aid kit, one expat offered a great list. He recommended bringing, "A first-aid manual, sterile gauze pads of different sizes, adhesive tape, adhesive bandages in several sizes, elastic bandage, steri strips, splint, antiseptic wipes, soap, antibiotic ointment, hydrocortisone cream (1%), acetaminophen, ibuprofen, ciprofloxacin 500 tabs, tweezers, sharp, scissors, safety pins, disposable instant cold packs, calamine lotion, epi pen, alcohol wipes, oximeter, tooth preservation kit, plastic non-latex, gloves, flashlight, a blanket, mouthpiece for administering CPR, list of emergency phone numbers, garlic mash for snake bite, portable defibrillator as the local machines are often not inspected or charged and flares."
Cost and Availability of Prescription Meds in Belize
"Most of our prescriptions cost us less or equal to our copay in the US without having the cost of a monthly premium on top of that. We have gotten almost all of our medicines from the states here and have not needed a prescription for even one. A lot of them cost less than what we were paying with some being the same as our copay with our insurance back in the US. There was one of my husbands we could not find but the cardiologist we saw determined he no longer needed to take it. If they don't have the exact same drug, they have one that is compatible. Again, we have been very pleased. There are several pharmacies but we have found Evergreen to be the one we like best. Also, you can get prescriptions in Mexico with no problem as well," explained one expat.
If You'll Need Pregnancy Tests, Bring them from Home
"This is not about giving birth in Belize, but about the pregnancy tests. If you are living in a third-world county where you do not have access to the 'EPT' style tests be leary. My husband and I have used what I call 'Army surplus' tests where there are no directions only to have numerous women tell us they are not accurate. So far, they have been as we have not conceived, but if you are trying to get pregnant, take a bunch of PG tests that have a good reputation," advised another expat.
Having a Baby in Belize
A woman who had a baby in Belize City described her experience, "While I qualified for NHI (National Health care) there are a lot of lines waiting and you do not get the consistency of having the same prenatal DR. at the birth of your child. I had to pay out of pocket for all of my lab tests and ultrasounds averaging approximately $100 US a month. My private doctor was fantastic but as the pregnancy progressed I began to realize I was not going to be able to afford a private birth in a private hospital. Which could range from $2000 BZ to $5000 BZ. So I ended up having my final checkup at Karl Husner Medical Hospital. On the final visit I happened to get my personal Dr. Doing her NHI rotation and as it turned out I was suffering from preclampsia so I was rushed in for an emergency inducement. In a public hospital that best thing to remember is that you are your best advocate they do not tell you much they are used to people who do not have a ton of medical knowledge so the staff do not feel the need to communicate what is going on. I found I had to be really kind of pushy and ask what they were doing giving me and ask why and if the nurses did not know I had to ask for the head nurse etc." When asked what she would do differently if she had another baby in Belize, she said, "I would go private all the way."