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  • Simon Dauphinee

Expat Life in Belize: Tips, Insights and Realities- Part One

Updated: May 6


Flag of Belize blowing in the breeze with the sky in the background

Life in Belize is an exciting blend of challenges and rewards. Packing up moving continents for a season each year or indefinitely has inherent challenges, as does life once you get here. Many people move to rid themselves of the problems in their home countries. That's all well and good, and Belize is a great option for those looking for more freedom. Yet, it's important to recognize that no country in the world is without problems, and you may simply swap old ones for new ones.


Despite the innate challenges, moving to Belize can be a rewarding and positive life-changing experience. Moving here was not what I imagined, but I wouldn't change it. The key to surviving the move and settling into a new home is to release attachment to outcomes, trust your gut, and respond to ‘problems’ with a positive attitude. 


It's also important to remember that you are a guest here. Unless you take the time and effort to become a resident or citizen, it's not your place to complain, impose customs from back home, or attempt to change the country or its people. I'm not saying don't volunteer, participate in charity, or improve living conditions for local people.

I'm simply saying don't attempt to force your way for your benefit. Unfortunately, there is a history of that in Belize and elsewhere. Put plainly, respect your host country, be grateful for their acceptance of you, and appreciate it for what it is. 


I digress. Now that my rant is over let's explore some common features of expatriate life in Belize. In this sweeping guide, we'll cover everything from weather and safety to work permits and renewing visas—everything the aspiring expat should know and eventually experience.


Is Belize a Third World Country?


Some say Belize is a third-world country, but that's an outdated term from the Cold War era, which is more political than economic. By contemporary terminology, a ‘third-world country’ is a developing or low-income country. According to the World Bank, Belize is an “upper middle-income country in Central America.” On the world stage, it's classified as a developing country. The qualifier is the infrastructure, governmental, and bureaucratic systems, which aren't as established as those in the home countries of many expats. This is both a blessing and a curse. Since the GDP is low compared to developed countries, the government isn't as well funded as those in Europe, Canada, and the US. As such, they don't have as much reach. Belize isn't your typical “big brother” state; to some, that's good. For this reason, many Belizeans I speak to feel they have more freedom than their northern, developed neighbours. 


On the other hand, attempting to get anything done- cue the under-your-breath profanities- like getting a driver's license, receiving your land title certificate, or applying for a work permit, are often time-consuming and dirt-kicking experiences. You must exercise extreme patience in daily life, with Gandhi-esque resolve, to accomplish ‘routine’ tasks. However, the daily ‘hiccups’ can lend well to a slower pace of life if you choose to see it that way. The country may be landbound, but ‘island time’ is alive and well in Belize.


Belizean Economy


A bunch of bananas growing on the plant

Belize is part of CARICOM, a fifteen-member, intergovernmental community of Caribbean nations. Belize actively participates in various CARICOM initiatives, including trade agreements, joint economic projects, and cultural exchanges, contributing to the overall development and prosperity of the Caribbean community. Through its membership in CARICOM, Belize strengthens its ties with fellow Caribbean nations and reinforces its commitment to regional integration and cooperation.


Belize exports various goods, including seafood, wood, sugarcane, and bananas. However, tourism is its primary industry and main source of income.


Borders, Infrastructure & Shopping


Borders

There are only two official borders in the country: one in the north with Mexico and the other in the northwest with Guatemala. As a result, all imports, which are many things in Belize, come through these two places. For the most part, entering and exiting into Belize is easy. When exiting the country, it helps if you speak Spanish. 


Expat Shopping in Belize


Fruits and vegetables on display for sale in a market

There are no big box stores or international chains in Belize. Grocery shopping, especially in the south, can be pricey and frustrating as product availability is sometimes limited. This challenge is overcome with patience and the understanding that a ‘one-stop shop’ isn't a thing here. You will save yourself from many headaches by accepting that you must visit multiple stores to find everything you need. The bonus is that you will increase your knowledge of the area in which you reside and the likelihood of meeting new people.


If malls, convenience, and the on-demand nature of North American life are your thing, Belize is not for you. On the other hand, if you prefer slow living (except for driving, of course), shopping in independent stores, and perusing markets, you'll fit right in. 


Shipping to Belize


Many cities have everything you need to live comfortably with the caveat that there will be an increased time to find everything. Again, those looking for a slower pace of life will find this part of Belize's charm. Mailing and receiving packages is commonplace but not to home addresses. Mail is picked up at a post office or a designated third-party location. Items from Amazon and other online stores are available through companies like Belizean Queen, who will import and deliver goods to your door for a premium. Others, like Arrow Freight, require you to pick up your items or arrange a third-party delivery service. 


If you bring personal belongings into the country by shipping a container, you will need a customs broker and must pay duty on the contents. This can be pricey but depending on the items and your budget, it can be worth shipping items into Belize. Many expats do this, though the availability of more fashionable furniture and appliances has improved.


Roadways


motorbike on dirt road in the jungle

The roads here are a mix of paved and dirt. Major routes are paved and maintained, while many side roads are not. Most highways are in good condition and routinely maintained, and new roads are constantly under construction. If you read a description of an “all-weather road,” prepare for a bumpy ride. There is a lot of development here, with many commercial and residential construction projects underway. This is one of the many reasons Belize is a great place to invest and live.


Schools

There are both public and private options available for school-aged children. Public schools are free and mandatory for children six to fourteen. Private schools, called International Schools, are found in established expat areas and are believed to provide a higher standard of education but at an annual cost per child. 


Health Care


A healthcare worker

The healthcare system in Belize is a blend of public and private services. Public healthcare is provided by the Ministry of Health and Wellness through a network of hospitals, health centers, and clinics nationwide. While these services are affordable and accessible to Belizean citizens and expats, they may vary in quality and availability. The private healthcare sector, consisting of hospitals, clinics, and medical professionals, offers higher standards of care and quicker access to services for those who can afford it. The best medical care is found in Belize City. Although I do not have any personal experience with them, many expats have said that Belize Medical Associates provides top-notch care. I do have experience with St. Luke private hospital in Belmopan and recieved adequate care, standards of Canada. Expatriates often opt for private healthcare due to its higher quality and reliability. Belize continues investing in and making improvements to its healthcare system. For expatriates looking to receive the best care Belize can provide, it is recommended that you visit Belize City or Belmopan. Returning to one’s home country is commonplace for anything serious or life-threatening.


An Expat Health Insurance plan is a viable option to provide peace of mind while living in Belize. Providers like AXA Global and others offer foreigners living abroad a range of coverage options. Depending on your coverage, expect to pay $1200- $2000/person. School-aged children are typically a little less.


There is a lot more to discuss, so stay tuned for Parts Two and Three in the coming days.

If you need a change and are ready to move, The Green House by the Sea is a stunning turnkey property in the heart of the fast-growing Maya Beach community in Placencia, Belize. Contact us today for more information or to book a showing.

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1 Comment


suisunali
May 06

Population is just under 400,000 (2022 Census), private school are religious and available in all areas of the country-not just expat areas, high schools are private/fee based. There are many good doctors available, as are public/private clinics/hospitals that are on par with Belmopan/Belize City. I’m finding both articles-Part 1 & 2 to be “vague” with information that can be found more accurately. If the audience is for tourism, nicely written. If the audience is for those interested in actually considering a move to Belize, I would like to see more accuracy & concise details.

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