Life in Belize can be a culture shock for many new expats. Long-term Placencia resident Gary Peterson outlines some of the common challenges that newbies face and need to get used to, from finding accommodations, shopping, and transport to biting no-see-ums.
So you’ve decided to move your family for a new life in Belize. It was time for a change and you want your children to experience something new.
You’ve scoured the Facebook groups, asking the crucial questions. And you’ve believed all the answers. Except for the ones you ignored, of course.
After collating all the suggestions, you’ve narrowed down the regions you want to check out and followed the sound advice to come down and visit in person first, before anything else.
As most should and do, you’ve booked some time on Ambergris Caye, Corozal, and the Placencia Peninsula. Visiting different areas will give you options for rentals, locations, and costs. You’ll get an idea of what vibe you prefer, and how convenient each location is for shopping and schools.
Although I don’t have children, I known a few expats who’ve moved here and enrolled their kids in schools. Homeschooling is an option, too.
You’ve also followed advice (I hope) and rented a house or condo instead of a hotel.
If you’re moving to Belize, you want to live like a local, shopping and cooking for yourself. You won’t have that experience at a resort.
And then scouring the local stores for your favorite brand of cereal, and not finding it can be eye opening. You’ll learn – especially on the islands – that fresh fruit and veggies are scarce and expensive.
Also, buying pasta without crawling critters in the package can be challenging. These are good things to experience right off the bat.
After your initial visit (I’d recommend visits – plural) where you’re fine with your location, your schools, how the shopping is, etc., it’s decision time. Can you live in Belize or not?
Once you’ve made the mega decision to move to Belize, there are many more decisions to make after that. Even if you know where you want to live and when you want to come down.
Will you rent or buy? If you rent for a year or three, will you look for something to buy down the road?
As far as renting goes, homes can be few and far between, and long-term renting may be harder than you think. Most rentals here are more for the short-term tourist market rather than for expats.
And if you buy or build your home in Belize, choose a reputable realtor, with good local references. Remember, realtors in Belize don’t need any training or experience. Anyone can call themselves a realtor.
Also remember finding a quality builder isn’t easy in Belize, if you build a house. During your first travels around Belize, you’ll notice many homes and developments that have started and stalled for many reasons. Scams are not unheard of.
My advice is to choose a Belizean contractor or builder, rather than another expat. Beware the smiling friendly builder/contractor from the U.S. or Canada who tells you all about the homes he’s built in Belize.
Many of these guys will take your home design and get bids from local Belizean contractors. They’ll subcontract to the cheapest local company and charge you an inflated price to build your home.
Cut them out and go directly local yourself.
If you research and get local references, you’ll find someone good. You’ll see homes they’ve built, so you’ll know what you’re getting, and for much less.
And what about work?
Can you support yourself and your family without working? Or will you work remotely for your company in your home country? Maybe you can freelance as a digital nomad. Do you have any skills you can sell that way? Or will you start your own business in Belize or even buy an existing business here?
Then there’s transportation.
On Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, this is easy: water taxi or golf cart. But on the mainland, you’ll need a car or truck to get around.
Some expats will ship or drive a vehicle down from the States or Canada, while others will buy a car in Belize.
This is a learning curve because of most vehicles here in Belize average at least 100K miles on the clock. But bringing a vehicle from abroad, or brand new from a dealer, incurs heavy duties and taxes.
That’s why many expats choose the QRP Program. It gives you a year after you’re accepted to bring in a vehicle, boat and airplane, duty and tax-free. From my experience, this can save you a bunch of money and is well worth the many hoops you must jump through.
Next, let’s discuss one of the biggest complaints I hear from both tourists and new expats: biting insects.
It’s easy to spot tourists and newbies because everyone wears shorts with arms and legs exposed. Large, red, swollen, itchy, and painful bites are all too visible.
Finding the right insect repellant is key, whether you bring it with you, or buy a local concoction.
Mosquitos, sand fleas, no-see-ums, and doctor flies are the main predators. Most locals and long-term expats will tell you you build immunity after a while, and they stop bothering you.
If you make the right decisions and get past the various irritants and culture clashes, you can have a great life in Belize.
Remember, the Belizean people are friendly, honest, helpful, with endless smiles. Return that attitude and your life in Belize will work out just fine.