Pros and Cons of Living in Belize
Summary: Anyone thinking about moving to Belize should carefully consider the pros and cons of expat life in Belize. The article includes insight from expats about the cons (crime, limited healthcare, poor road conditions and more) and the pros (beautiful beaches, friendly people, low cost of living and more).
Belize is a tiny country with a population of close to 400,000 people. From 1862 - 1981, Belize was a British Colony, which is why its official language is English. Anyone considering a move to Belize should carefully weigh the pros and cons of living there.
Belize is a beautiful country and many vacationers fall in love with it. But, vacationing vs. living are two very different things. You'll have to take off the rose-colored glasses and get real about the realities of life in Belize. The majority of expats living in Belize have a very realistic picture of the pros and cons. They love the adventurous lifestyle, friendly and diverse locals and expats, low cost of living, beautiful beaches and ease of speaking English. But, they don't ignore the high crime rate and extremely limited access to quality medical care. Poor road conditions, extreme humidity and lack of amenities are other cons often mentioned by expats.
Pro: Life in Belize Can Be an Adventure
"We love it here, we have never looked back. 85 degrees sunshine all year around and gentle breezes blowing off the sea. Great people, great ethnic food, a mix of cultures (Spanish, Mayan, foreigners, belizians, garifuna) make this place really worth it. We didn't want to do the Ambergris Caye.... Live on a beach thing. We are close enough to the beaches if we want them, but have mainland and wildlife and masses of exploring to do. We are active in wildlife conservation and busier than we have ever been. Our expertise in our fields has been welcomed with open arms, this really is a country where you can make a difference, if you want to, How many people have had two types of endangered species In their car? We have helped capture and transport an injured orphaned baby manatee to rehab, and facilitated the handover of captive howler monkeys to rehab. My husband advises the govt and the coalition on oil industry matters. We live a fulfilled life, with diving on tap, it doesn't get better than this. It was the best move we have ever made. Like everyone else we have spoken to, our advice is to do it sooner than later, and enjoy," said one expat.
Pro: English is the Official Language of Belize
As a former British colony, English is the official langue of Belize. Belize gained its independence from the UK in 1981. According to the CIA World Factbook, 63% of people speak English, 57% speak Spanish and 45% speak Creole. (Note: many respondents were bilingual.) "The ability to communicate in English makes living here so easy," admitted one expat.
Pro: The Friendly People
"The friendliness of the people. The multicultural aspect of residents and tourists that you meet every day from all different countries. Conversation flows, and is a constant learning opportunity," said one expat. "Being such a friendly people, the Belizeans are easy to be around," said one expat.
"People are diverse, expats, locals, Mayans, Spanish etc... they are very friendly and accepting of differences. It's a tourist town, when the cruise ships come in once or twice a week. So, there are always loads of strangers about town, speaking different languages etc. Most locals are very friendly and welcoming of strangers," explained an expat living in Belize City.
"I choose the San Ignacio area as it has the best local downtown, expats and locals mix well together, the folks are so friendly and the Expats are like my other family," shared one expat.
"No matter where we went, top to bottom, east to west, the people are the nicest people I've ever met or seen from the Jungles of Brazil to the North of Saskatchewan, and either coast, the nicest folks I ever met," confessed one man who took an exploratory trip to Belize and met up with many members of the forum while there.
Siestas and the Laid-Back Lifestyle in Belize
One expat wrote, "I've learned to accept the culture and pace here and even enjoy it. Around noon, for example, many businesses, banks and government offices close for a 'siesta' time. Keeping this in mind, I have learned to shop or do business in the morning or afternoon. Oftentimes I take a siesta too! I appreciate being reminded that it's important to live as stress free as possible, and this includes appreciating the pace of the culture and not expecting North American precisene. Remembering not to be in a hurry! The day is plenty long and there is always tomorrow." "I immediately had to adjust to the easy going attitude toward time. The day is as long as it is light, so there is generally no hurry," added another.
Pro: Low Cost of Living in Most Areas of Belize
"My partner & I live on Caye Caulker on $3000/month, which includes ALL our monthly expenses such as storage until back home ($100+), Medicare, life insurance, everything. Rent is $1200/month (2br/1ba) 850 sqft, 3rd lot back from eastern shore, south village area. A very nice home/lot by local standards. We live modestly, eating out maybe 2-3 times a month and do not have cable (stream all tv). We do not have a car here (no cars) but we do have a gas golf cart & related expenses (reg, insurance, maintenance). Yes, the cayes are more 'expensive', however, that is in context to mainland costs, not to North American costs. "Expensive" is a relative word and more easily established by real time experience, based on personal preferences. For what you have available, you will live very comfortably, no matter where you chose. The only way to know is to visit here, spend time as a tourist (3-5 days), then spend time as a 'resident' and grocery shop, cook, stay home at night and see if it's something you can do, and afford long term. You'll get a good sense of 'expensive' for whatever region you choose to do this in. The time researching in person is invaluable in comparison to what you get in here," advised another expat in a thread about the cost of living (COL) in Belize.
"We sold our home in Pennsylvania, which gave us the funds needed to purchase our lot and home. Now we are debt free in Belize. Consequently, we are fully able to live off of our Social Security, and occasional deductions from IRA's, etc. We are very comfortable on the whole, and do not feel that any of the prices in Belize are too high," wrote on expat in Hopkins, Belize.
Pro: Belize's Beautiful Beaches
The best beaches in Belize are in the Cayes - Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker are the largest islands. Expats often recommend Placencia on the mainland for its beaches. Additionally, Hopkins is another spot with good beaches.
Con: Crime in Belize
In the US State Department's Belize Travel Advisory it states, "Belize is rated high for crime and has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world. Gang members and other criminals use violent means to resolve disputes. Visitors should exercise caution throughout Belize, particularly in the south side of Belize City and remote areas along Belize's borders due to high crime. Crime may occur anywhere in Belize, and criminals frequently target tourists, including those at resorts and on the roads and river ways. Crime, including sexual assault, armed robbery, and murder remains high and is distributed evenly throughout the country. Sexual harassment and/or assault of persons traveling alone or in small groups have been reported. Most crimes remain unresolved and unprosecuted. A lack of capacity, resources, and training impedes the ability of local police to effectively investigate crime and apprehend offenders. Thefts of cash and credit cards happen frequently in some areas of Belize. It is believed several credit card fraud rings are currently active in Belize, particularly in San Pedro. Scams occur in Belize, especially in resort areas. Tourists, in general, are particularly vulnerable to these crimes, resulting in visitors being pick-pocketed, robbed and/or extorted. Women traveling alone or in small groups are targets for sexual assault, even in tourist areas."
When we asked aretiree in Belize City if there was a lot of crime in her area, she replied, "Supposedly... yes. Belize city is one of the most dangerous cities in the world... But it only has 60,000 people in it, mostly during the weekdays. The killings tend to be gang related, drug related. In a specific area, south side, We live on the north side, in a very safe area. Our home is surrounded by a tall concrete wall, and our windows do have burglar bars on them. We have three large dogs which act as any further deterrent. I live here very happily, and feel very safe."
When someone considering a move to Belize asked about touring the country along, one expat replied, "You shouldn't have any issue traveling alone if you use standard "good travel policy" (not flashing a wad of cash, not being drunk and unruly and don;t bring undue attention to yourself, and be pleasant). the Belizean people are extremely friendly and helpful (obviously, there are a few bad seeds everywhere in every culture) but for the most part you will find everyone happy, friendly and helpful."
Con: Access to Quality Healthcare is Extremely Limited
According to the State Department, "Emergency services will be either unavailable or significantly delayed. Serious injuries or illnesses normally require evacuation to another country. Medical care for minor ailments is generally available in urban areas. Advanced medical treatment is very limited in Belize City or Belmopan and is extremely limited or unavailable in rural and remote areas. Pharmacy services are generally acceptable in larger cities. Specialized prescription medications may be completely unavailable. If you bring your own prescription medications, you must carry a current doctor's prescription for each medication."
"Belize city has the three best hospitals in the country. For simple things they are very good and cheap compared with the US, but for cancer and that sort of thing people go to the states. You can get private medical insurance as a member of the caricom, which in our case includes treatment elsewhere, if it is not available here in Belize. People who don't have medical insurance, use Guatemala city, Merida Mexico, or Panama for medical procedures. For members of the public, using public health centers and hospitals the waits can be very long and the care, patchy. I would not suggest people come here with terminal illnesses, as belizes not equipped to deal with that," reported one expat.
Con: The Roads in Belize are in Bad Shape
When a newcomer asked if it's feasible to drive a sportscare in Belize, one expat replied, "Not really, roads are generally in not great condition and if it's a low suspension vehicle you will have issues with all the speed bumps." "The actual roads in Belize are poor (being generous) and the vast majority of local residents live in areas that nessecitate traveling off these metaled roads at least part of the journey. Warning: Belize roads kill all vehicles, or at least considerably shortens their lives. Knowing of or finding for yourself a good mechanic asap, is essential. Must agree coastal places, nearer the sea the salt corrosion problem will be much worse as well," added another expat.
"Driving transport costs will be much higher than in the US as gas is around $5us a gallon and the roads are very hard on Vehicles. Public transport is mainly OLD ex school busses imported from US (some with new paint jobs) and are cheap but 'chicken busses.' Taxis are cheap and available in most larger villages and towns. Cycling small engined motor bikes are popular means of transport by the local population. Again the roads are awful and the main control is by 'Sleeping Policemen' or speed bumps most have signage but not all. There are few traffic lights but there are lots of roundabouts at major junctions," explained one expat in answer to questions from someone thinking about retiring in Belize.
Con: The Humidity Can Be Oppressive
If you're moving to Belize, you may need to learn a new word, humidex, which basically describes how hot it feels with the heat and humidity combined. "Getting used to the humidity was probably the most difficult for us, but we are adapting," commented one expat. "We've lived a lot of places, both high temp and high humidity, but we were not prepared for the non-stop humidity (high 80s temp plus high 80s humidity) with norespite. We're in our late fifties, not skinny and this has been our biggest challenge. Advice - Spend the extra $200 to $400 extra per month for a cement block home with glass windows with the A/C," advised one expat.
Con: You Won't Have the Comforts of Home
"Even when you are going to a country where your country tongue is spoken, don't think it is going to be a cinch. There are customs and traditions, behavior that are different and standards do differ. No Large food supermarket like back home, literally No sidewalks on streets, No real taxi service or company to call. Well, you get the idea: all the little comfort things one takes for granted in a country like Canada were absent there," confessed one expat.
How to Decide if Belize is Right for You
If you've taken the pros and cons into consideration and are planning to make the move or come for an extended stay, there are a few standard precautions to take:
- Rent before you buy. No matter how amazing that beachside property with the low price looks online, DO NOT BUY a property before you have lived and rented in the same area of Belize.
- Don't start a business right away that requires a significant upfront investment.
- Choose a good health insurance plan that allows you to travel outside or be evacuated out of Belize for medical care. Even if you are young and healthy, an expat health insurance plan can literally save your life.
"Visit for a reasonable length of time, rent a place while here and take time to explore and discover if this is the dream you expected, or wanted. There is time later to 'burn boats' when you decide you have found your 'place.' If you decide after a while its not the dream you want and return to your homeland that is not a failure either of the would be expat or the country they decided not to stay in," advised one expat.
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About the Author
Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.
Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.
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