Moving to Belize
I’m Thinking of Moving to Belize. What Do I Need to Know?
I meet a lot of tourists that are on vacation in Belize for the first time and by day three or four, they usually ask me the same question, “I’m thinking about moving to Belize. How can I live here”?
“The loneliness of the expatriate is of an odd and complicated kind, for it is inseparable from the feeling of being free, of having escaped.”
– Adam Gopnik, Author of ‘Paris to the Moon‘
Working in Belize
My first answer to people that ask me the question of how they can move here is, well, another question to them: “How will you earn a living? If you have money saved up, great! If not, you will need to create an income stream.”
Belize is very protective of their jobs market, which means getting a job as a bartender or gardener or even a scuba instructor is not likely to happen. Your best bet is to “buy a job” or work on the internet. There are dozens of ways to make money on the internet, but I’m not going to go into that here.
“Buying a job” means buying a business here, and there are dozens for sale. My best advice on this is to take your time and more importantly, do your homework. I see a lot of people buy other people’s problems. I call it “the bigger fool” competition: You see a bar or restaurant for sale. It seems like a nice business, the numbers look good, you’re new to paradise, and you’re excited to make a living, so you buy it. Six months later the reality of how much work is involved has sunk in and you’re looking for the next buyer. If you’re set on buying a business, let me know and I’ll be glad to help guide you to the right purchase for you.
I’ve got great news for you: You will never have to give up your citizenship! Even if you eventually gain Belizean citizenship; you would simply have dual citizenship. Your options are:
- The QRP Program if you qualify, which you can read about on our retirement page here
- Gain your residency status
- Simply pay the monthly visa fee ($25US for first 6 months, then $50US thereafter) and get your passport stamped. Many choose this option, especially in the beginning, but it can be quite a hassle to go to the immigration office every month.
- Qualify and file for Citizenship
Leaving Mom Behind
Another problem some people have in thinking about moving to Belize is leaving their family or friends behind. If you’re the type of person who talks to their mom every day and gets together with her at least twice a week, you’re probably not a good fit… unless you bring her with you! Otherwise, technology has made connecting with friends and family from Belize easier with Skype, Facebook video messenger and WhatsApp. But sometimes, it just isn’t the same.
Say Goodbye to Starbucks
Another thing you’ll have to overcome to make the move is the lack of some things taken for granted back home. There are no Starbucks, Walmarts or McDonalds here. No big fancy malls with Macy’s and Nordstroms to go shopping at. Belize is a third world country, which translates into the lack of conveniences like the above, as well as slow and spotty internet, weekly power outages and less-than-par banking. We call this “the price you pay to live in paradise”.
Healthcare in Belize
Basic healthcare is free so you don’t really need to purchase health insurance. There are clinics set up in all major cities. Go to the clinic, put your name in, wait, see the doctor… it’s that simple. Wait times can take a while so it is best to get there early. Each clinic also has a well-stocked pharmacy and if the doctor prescribes you something, the drugs are free or low-cost. If the clinic pharmacy does not have your prescription, you will need to pay for it at a local pharmacy.
There are a few hospitals with 24-hour emergency rooms. There are also a couple private medical facilities in Belize City. If you have a major medical concern (heart condition, cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc) you will need to maintain health insurance back home with occasional visits there.
A friend of mine married a Belizean woman and had a baby here. They opted to go with a doctor at a private medical facility instead of the public clinic and in doing so, had to pay for each visit as well as the birth. Each monthly visit cost $25US. For the birth, they had the entire medical facility to themselves, the doctor and a nurse were present for the birth and they spent the night in the medical facility. The total cost was $500US.
A friend of mine who recently moved to Belize had an umbilical hernia (belly button sticks way out). At the hospital in the US, they quoted him $15,000US for a procedure to repair the hernia. A few years later, he moved to Mexico, where he was quoted $3,300US for the same procedure. Upon recently moving to Belize, the same procedure ended up costing him $155US at a hospital in Belize City, where he successfully had the procedure done.
If you are thinking of moving to Belize and have kids, then you want to know about the schools. The bad news is that school isn’t free for kids; the good news is that it is very inexpensive. The US pays for most schools primarily through property taxes. Here, property taxes are very low. Most public schools will cost you $50-$100US per month per student and private cost only slightly more at $125-$250US per month. You will also need to buy books at the beginning of the term, which totals another $50-$75US one time expense.
Students are all required to wear a uniform ($50-$75US for two sets) at both public and private, through all grades. The elementary schools have Infant 1 (kindergarten), Infant 2 (first grade), and Standard 1-6 (second grade through seventh). There are no junior high or middle schools. Kids next go to High School, where they call the grades First Form through Fourth Form. Most kids graduate at the age of 16. If they chose, they can continue on to Fifth and Sixth Form and get the equivalent of an AA Degree.
So that is the framework of the education system, but what is the quality like? Well, as you can imagine, teachers are not paid very well. They often rely on parents to help out with needed school supplies. The great news is that most teachers chose the profession as a calling and so they tend to be more passionate about the job than their wages would inspire. Class size is often a barometer of quality and most classes average 20-30 students.
Crime & Safety
People are people wherever you go in the world and, unfortunately, some of them are bad. Compared to most countries or major cities, Belize is a relatively safe place to live. The crime rate in Belize varies greatly depending on where you are. Crime in Belize City is much higher than anywhere else in the rest of the country. However, most crime there is gang-related, and rarely towards tourists. So if you are not in a gang, you’re pretty safe.
Most experts put crime in two categories: violent crime or property crime. If you are able to eliminate the opportunities for petty crime, you would eliminate 99% of the issues here. Violent crimes are pretty rare here in Belize, especially with regard to tourists or expats.
Packing & Moving Household Goods
If you’re moving to Belize with a filled container, then you can fit it all in there. If not, max out your luggage weight every time you or a friend/family member visits. Keep in mind that there are no Walmarts, Targets, or other major department stores that have everything you would ever need for your home. However, there are a few stores that supply most of your needs & necessities.
If you are renting, or even buying, your home will usually come fully furnished, which includes most kitchen items, bedding and towels. That being said, if you have expensive sheets or towels or a favorite pan, bring them. Laptops and cellphones have 100% import tax on them here, which makes buying them in Belize is expensive. Bring them if you can. Leave most of your clothes behind. It never gets cold here so only bring one sweatshirt for that one night a year when it drops below 70F. You will never wear a suit or tie. Pants are a rarity and most shoes will simply collect dust. Sell them all or give them away, you won’t need ’em.
General Monthly Budget Example (USD)
Total Budget: $1,500-2,500 per month
Finding a Place to Live: Should I Rent or Buy?
My best advice is to rent here for at least six months before you buy anything. Unless you’ve visited many times, it is good to get to know the people and the lay of the land. There are always deals to be had on buying real estate…if you’re patient. I have partnered with a few property managers and have added most of their long term rental properties here. If you know you want to buy something, then please check out my real estate section here.
The Best and Worst of Moving to Belize
In summary, here are some things to consider before moving to Belize:
- Most people speak English
- Businesses accept US Dollars
- The Belize Dollar is pegged to the US Dollar
($2BZD = $1USD) since 1982
- Proximity to US and Canada makes it easy and inexpensive for quick trips home
- Varied options for where to live: Beachfront, Island, Mountains, Jungle
- So much to do: Extreme sports, water sports or mainland activities
- Relatively inexpensive for most to live here
- Free healthcare for most issues
- No McDonald’s, Starbucks, Walmarts or Targets (most think this is also a plus)
- No Macy’s, Nordstrom’s or Mall shopping
- No Opera, Theater and only a couple Movie Theaters
- Slow, spotty, relatively expensive Internet
- Power outages are common
- Difficult to find a job here
- Rainy season if you’re not used to rain
- Hot and Humid during the summer
- Mosquitos during rainy season