Living in Belize
Belize in a Nutshell
Belize is quite spread out, but most of the people living in Belize can be found in just a few areas around the country. There are many small towns in the rainforest and jungles that may be suited for those looking for inexpensive, small-town living. Or for a bit more of a budget, those looking to live coastally or on an island can do so, as well. Two cities to avoid, however, are Belize City and the capital city of Belize, Belmopan. Belize City is overpopulated, quite poor, and considered the “crime capital” of the country. Belmopan is inland and located next to pretty much nothing, with very little to do (unless you work for the Belizean government).
6 Places in Belize to Consider for Expats
So you’re thinking about living in Belize, but you’re not sure where to move to. Most expats have chosen the following 6 places, and for good reason, which I’ll detail below: San Pedro Town (Ambergris Caye), Placencia, Caye Caulker, Cayo, Corozal and Punta Gorda (Toledo).
If you’re an ocean lover, a fisherman, a scuba diver, a sailor or just love a laid-back Caribbean island lifestyle, then Ambergris Caye is probably the place for you. There is a large, vibrant expat community of Americans and Canadians living there already. Besides all the ocean-related fun things to do, Ambergris Caye usually has a few different businesses for sale for those not yet ready to retire. There are still great deals to be had on real estate, as well, for those with a little patience. Of these 6 options, Ambergris Caye is the most expensive, but still relatively cheap when compared to most of the US or Canada.
Placencia, a seaside town located at the tip of a peninsula on the mainland, is about a 4-hour drive south of Belize City. Placencia has the feel of an island — being surrounded by the ocean on three sides — with the advantage of being on the mainland, allowing you to easily travel throughout the country by car. The expat community there is a little more mature, with most being retired and looking to lead a leisurely lifestyle. Real estate prices in Placencia have gone up quite a bit in recent years, but there are still good deals to be had.
Caye Caulker is a small island south of Ambergris Caye, about a 30-minute boat ride away, but is much smaller and less developed. It is widely known as a “backpacker’s paradise” and attracts travelers from all over the world. This is where you want to live if you like a small-town feel and enjoy the sea. Like Ambergris Caye, most people get around on foot, by bicycle or in a rented golf cart. It is a little bit cheaper to live in Caye Caulker than Ambergris Caye and there will be many real estate opportunities as it becomes more developed in the future!
Cayo District is made up of rainforest-covered hills, tropical jungles and is full of lazy rivers and beautiful waterfalls. It is inland, bordering Guatemala to the west, and contains many Mayan ruins (such as Cahal Pech and Xunantunich). San Ignacio Town is the main city of Cayo, and it has a ‘frontiersman’ feel to it because of a large Mennonite community in the area. Cayo is one of the least expensive areas when living in Belize, and there are some very inexpensive land and property deals available there.
Corozal is located on the water, but not the Caribbean Sea. It is in the northernmost part of Belize, bordering Mexico and sits on the coast of Chetumal Bay. Like Placencia, you get the best of both worlds by living on the mainland and by the water. The expat community is fairly small in Corozal, but is on the rise as more and more North Americans discover it. If you must live on the water, but don’t have much money, Corozal may be a great option for you.
Punta Gorda is in the Toledo District, widely known as the “Forgotten District”. Very few expats live there, but Punta Gorda is the most authentic part of Belize and is slowly becoming a popular destination in the country. Although it is located on the coast, not too many tourists make the trip there just yet. The cost of living and real estate are very affordable in Punta Gorda
Cost of Living in Belize
The average Belizean makes $420US per month and that’s what they live on. There aren’t social programs here, like welfare or food stamps, so people in Belize have to live on what they earn.
I know a couple who lives in Cayo on a budget of only $600US per month. I also know a guy who lives on Ambergris Caye and can’t seem to get by on less than $6,000US per month. The point I’m trying to make is that Belize is a relatively inexpensive place to live, but just like anywhere else, you can choose to live a more lavish lifestyle if you want.
One thing I am certain of is that no matter where you decide on living in Belize, your US or Canadian dollar will stretch further here than there. A few things that are much less expensive in Belize are health care (okay, maybe not for Canadians), property taxes, income taxes, most types of insurance (much less litigation down here), rent, parking fees (none!), fancy wardrobe (don’t need it), cell phone service, cable TV and household help. However, if you live on Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker, electricity can be expensive if you’re not careful with the air conditioning. Oh, and many grocery items, especially those imported from the US, may be a little higher in price.
My best advice if you live on a fixed budget: Live like a Belizean… sometimes.
Living in Belize:
Top 10 Reasons to Live Here
- Most people speak English!
- It’s close to the US and Canada; it’s easy to make quick trips home
- Businesses in Belize accept the U.S. Dollar for goods and services at a 2-to-1 exchange rate. The U.S. Dollar has been pegged at 2 Belize Dollars ($1USD = $2BZD) since 1982 and has never varied. This makes it so simple to figure out what things cost!
- Good for your health. People who live here tend to walk more and eat better and because it is so beautiful, they just have a better outlook on life each day.
- Things to do. If you get bored in Belize it is because you are boring! There is so much to do and see here: sailing, fishing, snorkeling, Mayan ruins, bird watching, hiking, etc.
- Belizeans are happy and nice… mostly. The people here are not driven, which can be both refreshing and frustrating. “Belize time” means “some-a-time”.
- Property rights are similar to back home if you decide to purchase land or a home. Belize law is based on British common law.
- You can afford to live on a beach in Belize if you want to. Try that in California or Florida!
- Start over in Belize. When you arrive, you will be new to the expats in Belize, which means you have a chance for reinvention.
- It is so beautiful here. Whether you choose to live on an island, surrounded by aqua blue waters, or in the waterfall filled rainforest; you will be surrounded by beauty on a daily basis.
Living in Belize:
10 Things No One Tells You
- People like, no, LOVE to drink. Tourism naturally lends itself to those who like to celebrate while on vacation so many of the tourist spots are full of bars. This attracts expats who like to drink as well. It is not uncommon to see people drinking beer with their breakfast or driving about San Pedro in a golf cart with a drink in their hand.
- There are no franchises here. If you are a fan of fast food like McDonald’s or KFC, forget about moving here. There are no Starbuck’s or Walmarts or Targets here. Many people actually find this refreshing.
- English is the official language and widely spoken, but most Belizeans prefer to speak Creole (Kriol) or Spanish and usually do when they are with family or friends.
- If you eat like a Belizean (stew chicken, rice, and beans) food is cheap. If you eat like an American or Canadian, food can get rather expensive. A can of coke costs $1US, a six-pack costs $6US, and a 12-pack costs $12US… lol… no price break for quantity down here.
- If you tend to be very detail-oriented, are considered uptight or have a prickly personality, you’re probably not going to make it here. Things take time, people do not live with the same sense of urgency as back home and the people here have a much more laid-back attitude. This can be frustrating for some… ahem.
- Utilities go out…often. You will randomly lose cable. The internet will go down. Your water will stop working. And the mother of them all, the electricity will go out, which causes you to lose them all. It doesn’t just go down in bad storms, (although that is sure to bring it down), power outages occur fairly often.
- If you live on an island, you will need to rent (or buy) a golf cart. You can, of course, walk or ride a bike, and many do, but a golf cart is the choice of most expats for transportation.
- Most businesses here that are for sale are not worth what the owners are asking for. Do your homework, be patient and be prepared to walk away from most deals. Your best bet is to start your own business.
- Belize has monopolies. One of them is Bowen & Bowen (beer manufacturer and distributor). If you want to drink beer, you drink Belikin (product of B&B). You will not find Budweiser, Coors, Miller or even Mexican beer like Corona or Pacifico.
- The Internet is slow. And expensive… another monopoly. BTL owns the backbone, so no matter who you pay, you’re really buying BTL. I currently pay $125US per month for unlimited, 8MB download speed.