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  • Simon Dauphinee

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

Updated: May 14


 golf cart parked on sandy ground next to palm trees and the water's edge

Religious Beliefs and Practices

Belize's religious beliefs and practices reflect the country's diverse cultural milieux. While Christianity is the predominant religion, with Roman Catholicism and various Protestant denominations being the most widely practiced, Belize is also home to other faiths, including Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Rastafarianism. The country is also seeing a quiet resurgence of traditional Mayan spirituality as indigenous groups reconnect with their suppressed cultural roots and practices in shamanism, polytheism, and animism. 


Most elementary schools, high schools, and some colleges in Belize are managed by the Christian establishment. Despite a sizeable Christian presence across the country, religious diversity is a cornerstone of Belizean life. Religious freedom is enshrined in the country's constitution, allowing individuals to practice their faith freely. Churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues can be found throughout Belize, serving as focal points for worship and community gatherings. Religious festivals and holidays are celebrated enthusiastically, bringing together people of different faiths to share in each other's traditions and customs. Overall, the religious landscape of Belize is characterized by tolerance, diversity, and a deep reverence for spiritual beliefs and practices.


Immigration


a passport with stamps

Residency & Work Permits for Expats in Belize

To work in Belize, you need either a work permit or residency. Both applications take time, and residency requires that the applicant remains in Belize for 350 days in a 365-day period before you can apply. Once applied, you cannot leave beyond fifteen days while your application is processed and residency approved. Once approved, you can come and go as you please. Both applications come at a price, which fluctuates depending on who you speak to. This could result from the revamping the Immigration Office recently went through to route out corruption. There is also an option to apply for a temporary residency, but the benefits of that are debatable. The best practice is to speak with an immigration officer in Belmopan or Belize City to receive the most relevant and accurate information before applying. No matter your choice, you better limber up because you'll have to jump through hoops.


Visitor Permit Extensions

The Immigration Department requires that you renew your visitor permit regularly, every 1-3 months, depending on who processes the renewal and what office you go to. I have renewed in both Independence and Belmopan and have found the process smoother in the latter, although, depending on the day, that office can be busy. The renewal fee is 200 Belize Dollars (100 USD; the Belize dollar is pegged to the greenback at 2:1) per person per month, including children of all ages. Typically, retirement-age individuals get 3 months, which is only a convenience, as it still costs the same monthly. Make sure to bring enough cash for multiple months if it's offered, and it works for you. It's important to understand that if you pay for three months and then leave the country after six weeks, you forfeit the remaining six weeks. A new stamp is issued with each new entry, and any previous visa extensions are void and nonrefundable.


Cost of Living

The cost of living in Belize varies depending on where and how you choose to live. You can live cheaply if you let go of your attachment to standard North American comforts. If you insist on imposing standards from home, the cost of living will be the same, if not greater, than in your home country.


Food


a woman in a fruit stand

Groceries

Grocery shopping varies by area, but it tends to be less expensive the further north you live. When I visited earlier this year, I found groceries, fresh fruit, and vegetables and eating out the cheapest in Corozal. Some of the best shopping is found in Belmopan and Belize City, as they have greater availability and variety of goods. No matter where you are in Belize, you will pay a premium if you insist on buying back-home brands like Ruffles, Campbell Soup, Oreos, etc. If you must have those items, I recommend trying regional versions instead; they are often just as good and are a fraction of the price. My best recommendation is to leave all that stuff behind and dive into the abundance of fresh local fruit, vegetables, fish, and meat available at local markets. 


From Restaurants to Street Food, There is Something for All

There are as many places to eat in Belize as there are price points for your budget. Touristy areas or attractions will typically cost more to eat at than the ubiquitous roadside shack. As alluded to earlier, different areas come with different price points. Even in the tourist-heavy Placencia, you can find affordable food amongst the pricier establishments. The most affordable dining option is the roadside or market stand. You can fill your belly for just a few bucks with various items, like burritos, tacos, or tostadas. Many food stands make their tortillas fresh in front of you, too. Word of advice: make sure your gut has adjusted to Belize for a solid month before you stop at your first small-town eatery or roadside stand! You’re welcome.


Phone and Internet

The cell phone plans and home internet are affordable. Connectivity and signal strength vary depending on your location but are generally good. There are two main suppliers: Digi and Smart. I don't have any experience with Smart, but Digi has been as decent as any telecommunications company can be. I’d take them over the maligned Rogers from Canada any day.


Vehicle Registration and Insurance of All Kinds


4x4 vehicle in the jungle, driving through a river

Registering a vehicle is more affordable in Belize, with a typical cost of around two to three hundred BZD a year for a large automobile like a truck or SUV. Vehicle insurance is considerably less than home insurance, although I have yet to make a claim (thankfully). Perhaps a reader with relevant experience can comment below. For context, I currently pay around $500 BZD annually and drive a ten-cylinder Ford E450. Home insurance is reasonable unless you opt for hurricane coverage, which significantly increases costs more than you would be used to at home. If you are a permanent resident, insurance providers will also cover you for health insurance. 


Utilities

Municipal water access varies from place to place, but for places with it, it's $0.01 per gallon, provided by Belize Water Services (BWS). For areas without municipal water, rain catchment, wells, pumping from rivers and streams, or trucking in water is commonplace. At the Green House by the Seam in Maya Beach, Placencia, BWS is working to install metered water, which greatly reduces costs and increases convenience for the residents. Electricity, provided by Belize Electricity Limited (BEL), is by far the highest utility cost for those living in the country. Supply isn't always stable, with planned and unplanned outages being commonplace. Belize has in-country power generation but not enough to fulfill the country’s demands. As a result, the country purchases the remainder of its supply from Mexico. Recently, Mexico has been dealing with its power shortage and has reduced Belize’s supply. Unfortunately, this comes when the entire Caribbean is experiencing record-breaking heat.  Most areas of the country are affected by the rolling blackouts caused by BEL load shedding. However, the more touristy areas experience less of these as they are prioritized due to the importance of the industry for Belize’s GDP. It's important to remember that outages often bring power surges, so having high-efficiency appliances or surge protectors will prevent damage to anything with a plug.


Solar, as elsewhere in the world, is costly but readily available with many solar supply and installation companies. An adequate solar setup will significantly reduce reliance on the grid and decrease monthly electricity bills if you can afford it. 


Retiring in Belize


Retirement aged man

Many nearing or entering retirement age choose Belize for this much-anticipated stage of life. It is a retiree paradise with warm weather, tropical beaches, lush jungles, and lots to do. Those looking to retire in Belize have several options (link to Immigration Section), one of which is the Qualified Retired Persons (QRP) program overseen by the Belize Tourism Board (BTB). Geared towards retirees seeking a tranquil lifestyle, the program offers various perks, including tax exemptions on foreign income and duty-free privileges on importing personal belongings and vehicles. Eligibility requires applicants to be at least 40 years old and to receive a minimum retirement income of $2,000 monthly or $24,000 annually from a foreign source in approved currencies (USD, GBP, EUR, and CAD). However, certain restrictions apply: QRP participants cannot work despite gaining residency status through the program. They must also deposit their annual income into a Belizean bank account. Additionally, transitioning from QRP to residency or a work permit forfeits previous tax exemptions, which are reassessed, and taxes are owed.


Volunteering

Volunteering is a common pastime for all retirees, whether in Belize or not. It is a staple activity for many retired expats in Belize. Volunteering requires a permit unless you are under the QRP program (although this was not always the case and is a new and added benefit to the program). The Rotary Club is an active organization, as is the Humane Society branches throughout the country. Many expats volunteer to organize sporting events, like the End of the World Marathon or local pickup basketball and football (soccer). Whatever your preferred way of giving, there is probably an organization for it; if not, you can always start your own.


Finding Friends: Expats in Belize


Friends on a beach at sunset

Most cities, larger towns, and established tourist areas have active expat communities. If you move to one of these areas: Corozal City, Orange Walk town, Belize City, Belmopan, San Ignacio, Hopkins, or Placencia, you will find lively expat communities. They typically volunteer, give back to their communities, set up businesses, organize events and gatherings, and participate in annual festivals. Depending on your interests, finding like-minded individuals shouldn't be a problem. Interests run the gamut from the health-conscious yoga practitioners to the sedentary, smoker-drinkers types. Many expats are fifty-plus, but there is a growing cohort of young diaspora with school-aged children. When looking for ‘your people,’ it's best to be patient- it's not a big country, but it's surprising how long you can live somewhere and still meet new people when you are out and about. If you don't click with anyone immediately, don't feel discouraged, and stick with it. 


Knowledge is Power: Life in Belize is What You Make It


Becoming an expat in Belize presents a unique blend of challenges and rewards. While adjusting to a new environment can be overwhelming, embracing the slower pace of life and maintaining a positive attitude can lead to a fulfilling and enriching experience. It's essential to approach the transition with an open mind. Remember that Belize, or any country, has its complexities and nuances. Respecting the local culture, customs, and laws is paramount, as is recognizing the privilege of being a guest in another country. Despite the bureaucratic hurdles and occasional frustrations, Belize is a vibrant, multicultural country with stunning natural landscapes and a welcoming community of locals and expats alike. Ultimately, the key to thriving in Belize lies in adaptability, patience, and a willingness to embrace the adventure of expat life in this diverse and beautiful country.


Thanks to all who have reached out to provide feedback on the blog. Much of it is positive, and I am grateful to those who have subscribed, commented, and read the posts. If you have a topic of interest, please comment below, and I'll do my best to include it in an upcoming post. Thanks again!


If you need a change or 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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2 Comments


fontanada
May 11

I am truly enjoying your blog. And I look forward to the next entry!

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suisunali
May 11

A 6-pack of Oreos (brand name) is $1.50 at Sansco in Cayo, small packs of Fritos & Cheetos are the same. Sometimes the brand names are cheaper 🤣 comparison shopping is still a thing. Nice overview of generalities in all 3 parts. As always if you are thinking of moving to Belize, come for 28 days, live as if you were going to live here, spend time in different areas, each District is so very diverse from the others. This 3-Part series gives very broad & generalizations of a perspective of Belize from one point of view. Please come, visit, generate your own point of view. You’ll come to love Belize just as the author does.

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