8 Pros and Cons of Expat Life in Belize

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Traveler on a pier feeding seagulls on the Caribbean island of Ambergris Caye in Belize
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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Live and Invest Overseas.

One thing that attracts many expats to Belize is its tradition of privacy.

It’s difficult in this world of ours to keep our lives private, but in Belize your life is still your own.

1. No Need to Learn a New Language

The Caribbean Island of Ambergris Caye, Belize.
james bommarito / Shutterstock.com

Expats who choose Belize also like that the language in Belize is English.

“Learning Spanish wasn’t something I wanted to deal with,” full-time Belize expat Tony Lauria admits.

2. Belizeans Are Friendly

Retired couple laughing and smiling on the beach
wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com

However, what every expat I’ve ever known in Belize says they appreciate most about life in this country is its people.

“We find the people in Belize to be wonderful and friendly,” echo Belize expats JD and MaryAnn Longwell.

“Belize is one of the top 10 happiest countries in the world. When they say ‘good morning,’ they actually mean it.”

Downsides of Living in Belize

A thatched-roof bungalow over the water at sunset in Ambergris Caye, Belize.
OLya_L / Shutterstock.com

But everywhere has its downsides and Belize is no different. While expats love to wax poetic about their beloved new home, they are also the best ones to look to for insights into where and how Belize falls short.

To give you an idea of the types of obstacles you might face, we polled some Belize expats on what they’d be most likely to complain about.

1. Infrastructure

Caye Caulker, an island in Belize
Aleksandar Todorovic / Shutterstock.com

Top of that list is the infrastructure. For many, it’s the biggest challenge associated with living in Belize.

You have to be prepared for sometimes unreliable cell signal and less than high-speed internet. If the thought of that makes you crazy, Belize may not be for you.

Road infrastructure in this country, too, can be lacking.

As Belize expat Wade Hahn explains, “Belize has four highways — one that goes north, one that goes south, one that goes west, and the Hummingbird Highway. You can assume that all other roads are dirt or gravel. This makes driving difficult even in the best of circumstances sometimes.”

2. Transport in Belize

San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize - November, 15, 2019. An image of a yellow taxi van driving down the cobbled street.
OLya_L / Shutterstock.com

“Any vehicle you buy or rent should be four-wheel-drive, because, again, most of the roads are dirt. As well, though, you don’t want a vehicle that’s too big. The in-town roads are narrow!

“Buses are safe, cheap, and colorful … but not for everyone. You never know what might be in the seat next to you — could be a box of puppies or a crate of chickens. Be prepared for anything if you try your hand at these buses.

“An exception are the buses that travel from Belize City to and from Cancún. These take you through the Mexican Riviera Maya and are not Belizean buses but Mexican ones. They’re big and modern with bathrooms and televisions. This can be a great way to travel up to Cancún.

“Why would you want to travel to Cancún? Because from there you’ll have more, and often cheaper, flight options for travel to and from the States.

“Taxis are not metered, and fares are highly negotiable. Drivers can quote prices that are double the going rate, so don’t be shy when negotiating a fare and always negotiate before getting in the cab. The fare for a ride between Belize City and the airport is set, though — at US$25.”

3. Checkpoints and Pot Holes

Corozal, Belize Welcome to Corozal sign
Mel Gonzalez / Shutterstock.com

Part-time Belize expat Con Murphy continues, “Police in this country don’t really patrol, so you don’t have to worry about them pulling you over for speeding on the highway. However, they do set up checkpoints.

“The main thing they’re checking for is car insurance … so make sure that if you have a vehicle in Belize, you also have insurance for it. Even the shortest drive could have you passing a police control.

“Oh, and which side of the road do Belizeans drive on? The side with the fewest potholes.

“Living in the country, you can drive on your foreign license for one year. Then you’ll need to get a local Belize driver’s license. To get your local driver’s license, you’ll have to take both a written and a driving test.”

Fortunately, the language here is English, so this isn’t a big deal. The cost is US$50.

4. The Mañana Attitude

Looking from a Cabana in Punta Gorda Belize toward the Caribbean Sea
Jonathan C Wear / Shutterstock.com

“Infrastructure concerns aside,” Wade adds, “living here, you need patience.

“Belize moves at its own pace, and Belizeans are on mañana time. Monday may mean Monday but not next Monday.”

5. The Wildlife

Bird in the Cayo District of Belize
J.L Levy / Shutterstock.com

“Birds are noisy. They wake us at the crack of dawn most mornings,” Con says. “And bugs are a part of life here. This is the tropics, after all.”

“Ants came into the house,” Belize expat Cathy Thayer explains, “and they found something in our storage area they liked. We had a sea of ants coming in to feast.

“On the other hand, we also have ‘cleaner ants,’ as they’re called, that migrate through every four or five years. They clean out spider webs, mites, etc. They’re actually a wonderful help!

“When they come to your place, just go out for a few hours. When you get back, they’ll be gone and your house will be a lot cleaner.”

6. Shopping in Belize

San Ignacio, Belize, public food market
Miroslav Denes / Shutterstock.com

“Belize has no big department stores,” Cathy goes on. “You must look for what you want in small shops, and you’ll find things in unusual places,” she explains.

“The best place to find electrical parts in San Ignacio is the Esso station in Spanish Lookout. You can buy Victoria’s Secret-style underwear at the bakery. They have some drawers off to one side. We bought our car insurance at the auto-parts store and our phones at the local hotel.”

“Check your canned goods before purchase. I bought three cans of beans,” Belize expat Amma Cary told us, “and two cans out of the three had no beans — they were all juice.

“So now I shake my bean cans to make sure they have beans in them and not just bean juice. A friend bought a can labeled green beans but opened it to find corn. These are U.S. brands coming from the United States.”

“Don’t ask if a price is in U.S. dollars or Belize dollars,” Wade advises. “Assume that everything is priced in Belize dollars. If you ask, they may tell you U.S. dollars and you just paid twice as much as you should have.”

How to Be Happy in Belize

Beach in Hopkins, Belize
Localista Designs / Shutterstock.com

“This is a beautiful country with beautiful people. If I could offer you one final word of advice,” Wade says, “it would be this.

“When you come here, embrace what Belize has to offer. Embrace the country and the way of life it offers. And adapt. Don’t bring the United States with you. Come here to discover Belize. Come with an open mind and an open heart. Belize will reward you with the adventure of your lifetime.”

The key is to understand the trade-off you’re making.

Belize is a small, poor country with a small, underfunded government. Thus, the lack of development and infrastructure.

On the other hand, a small, underfunded government also means less intervention in your day-to-day life. Less regulation. Less restriction. More privacy. More personal independence.

It’s all a matter of priorities.

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