Everyone has the ability to picture in their minds what they may experience with any scenario. When it comes to thinking about moving to an exotic location such as Belize thoughts of sunny skies, warm weather, sandy beaches, beautiful Caribbean waters and relaxation come to mind. It’s a wonderful thought but it may not be totally based in reality. Don’t let the daydream overcome you – make your decision to move to Belize with all the information in front of you whether it is good or bad. Being realistic about who you are and what you expect is extremely important. Doing your research is essential but to also keep a skeptical eye on the information you’re finding is imperative.
Some important factors to consider with any move are the following;
- What is the cost of living? Based on my monthly income or budget will I be able to live comfortably?
- What is the process to rent or buy property – can I own the land I am buying as a foreigner?
- What are the different areas of Belize like?
- Will there be language barriers?
- What about health care? Do I need insurance to cover me in Belize? What is their medical care like?
- What is the infrastructure like? Will it be easy to move around in the country? Will I need a vehicle?
- What are the people like? What should I expect as far as cultural differences?
- Will I find friends easily? What will my social life be like?
- Can I function appropriately on “Belize Time?”
- Can I easily bring my belongings to Belize? How much does it cost?
- How do I get to Belize? Will I be able to move easily in and out of the country?
- What is the food like? Will I be able to purchase the things I am accustomed to using?
- How hot is it?
- Will I be able to handle the bugs?
- What programs are available to stay long term in Belize? Can I become a resident?
- How do the expat communities behave? Does everyone get along?
- Will I be able to have high speed internet, cable and reliable phone service? What will it cost me?
- What about the crime? Will I be safe?
These are just a few things that should be taken in to account when making the decision to move to Belize. So now you have the questions – where do you find the answers?
For some of the questions, such as the process to obtain residency, you can find reliable information by doing online searches. For many of the other questions you need to find firsthand accounts from people who have already experienced a life in Belize and this information can sometimes be difficult to find. The Belize Forums can provide snippets of information on a wide variety of topics about Belize and you can also post your own questions on the forum if you need specific information. Otherwise blogs are a good source of information.
It is also a good idea to get a feel for the news in Belize. Knowing the current events and happenings in the country you are thinking of moving to is very important. Spending time looking over the online news sites for Belize will prove to be beneficial in giving you a general feel for the country. Just keep in mind that news anywhere loves to focus on the negative and news in Belize is no different.
The information you should focus on before a visit to Belize is the following;
- Cost of Living
- Bringing your belongings into Belize
- Will I be able to move easily in and out of the country?
- What programs are available for long term stays in Belize?
- Will I be able to have high speed internet, cable and reliable phone service? What will it cost me?
- What about the crime? Will I be safe?
Cost of Living:
The biggest factor in determining your cost of living in Belize will be where you want to live within the country. One thing to keep in mind is the fixed exchange rate between the US dollar and the Belizean dollar is $2BZD = $1USD. Living on one of the cayes will always be more expensive than living on the mainland simply due to everything being imported in. Also, a town like San Pedro on Ambergris Caye is Belize’s biggest tourist destination and prices are set accordingly. Going out to eat in San Pedro can run you about three times what it would in Corozal (Northern Belize).
My mom and I lived off of $1,200 USD together and many can easily live off of $1,500 USD as the Yahoo Finance article stated. I also have expat friends who live well above that number and some who live below it. Your standard of living will weigh heavily on what your cost of living is. If you buy local products you won’t be spending nearly as much as if you need to buy products imported in from America. If you drink local beer and alcohol you will not be paying nearly as much as if you want Absolut or any tequila.
In Belize you will own the property you purchase as a foreigner. There are no restrictions on noncitizens owning property, no capital gains taxes and low property taxes. That is not where this issue ends though; there are many things to research when looking at buying property in Belize. As a foreigner you will be perceived as having a lot of money – no matter what your financial situation is. This means you really should shop around and ask around when looking at property and getting prices. Talking to other expats (this would be a good Belize Forum topic to post) about their experiences would be very helpful.
If you decide to buy rather than rent then you will need to consider the fact that you will need to make arrangements for your house to be cared for anytime you leave the country. There are two reasons for this; weather/natural disasters and safety – you do not want to leave your home unattended for long periods of time or you may come back to find it stripped. You can use a property manager for this, some people rent out their homes to expats traveling through or you can find someone you trust who can look after the property for you while you are away. I have friends who have families stay in their home while they are away. I have also house-sat for friends while they have been gone.
Belize’s official language is English so if your native language is English you will not have any problems with language. There are other languages spoken in Belize depending on where you are within the country such as Spanish in the North and South. In Corozal I would run in to a few people who only spoke Spanish but for the most part the people know and speak English. Any paperwork or contracts you may deal with in Belize will all be in English as well.
Bringing your belongings into Belize:
There are a few options to consider for getting your belongings to Belize. The two most popular are shipping items in a container by overseas freight, shipping overland via Texas or driving through Mexico hauling a trailer. You can also send items through the postal service but I would recommend this only for small packages because shipping to Belize can be quite expensive. As far as cost goes you can expect to pay around $2,000 for a 20 foot container shipped overseas from Miami (not including import duty). The cost tax on importing your goods to Belize can be quite high depending on the item. The percentage charged based on the value of your item can be anywhere from 5% to 45%. With vehicles there are several taxes you will get charged coming into the country if you plan on staying longer than 30 days – dependent upon the make, model, engine and year of the vehicle you could be looking at up to 70% of the value for newer vehicles. This percentage drops down quite a bit if the vehicle is an older model. Belize does offer a Qualified Retired Persons incentive program which has provisions for bringing vehicles into the country.
I know folks who have shipped containers from the USA to Belize and I know folks who have driven their belongings through Mexico. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Shipping a container is a much more stress-free option to pulling a trailer through Mexico but it will also cost you a lot more. If you are familiar with Mexico and speak a fair amount of Spanish (in certain situations it can be adventitious if you pretend you don’t speak Spanish) then driving through to Belize is a viable option. I have a friend who has done this about five different times with no problem.
My mom and I chose to go a different route. We only brought what we absolutely needed in a few suitcases ($350 excess baggage charges for me) and planned on buying the rest in Belize or getting it in Mexico. This worked for us and we have been able to bring additional items into Belize on trips we take back and forth if we need anything.
Getting to Belize
It is relatively easy to get to Belize from the states. You can fly in to Belize International Airport in Belize City, you can fly to the Cancun International Airport in Mexico and take a bus to Belize or you can drive through Mexico. There are a few other options when flying in to Mexico but the most popular is through Cancun. My first choice if flying directly into Belize City if I can find a deal on the ticket but what we have found more often than not is that it is about twice the price to fly to Belize City compared to flying to Cancun. So our normal route is in and out through Cancun and we either take an ADO bus (large air-conditioned bus) or hitch a ride with a friend who may be going that way. It takes about 6 hours by bus and about 4 in a private vehicle to get from Corozal, Belize to Cancun, Mexico or vice versa.
The borders are not too daunting either. The process to go through the Mexican border is fairly easy and involves completing their immigration form and showing your passport to be stamped. Just remember to hold on to that immigration form because you will need it later. To go into Belize you will be required to bring in your luggage and any items you purchased while outside of Belize which can be subject to search and import duty charged by the customs officials. Otherwise you will show your passport and be asked how long and where you are staying before they stamp entry. When you leave Belize expect to pay an exit fee of $37.50BZD ($18.75USD) or if exiting through the Belize International airport the fee is $39.25USD and only payable in US currency.
QRP, Work Permit, Residency or perpetual tourist:
If you decide to make Belize your full-time home then looking into either the Qualified Retired Persons program (QRP) or the requirements to obtain residency are you best options. Both the QRP and residency allow you to import in certain items (including a vehicle) without paying import duty.
The QRP is an option for those who are looking to retire to Belize and meet the following criteria;
- You are 45 years of age or older
- Meet the income requirement. The applicant must have a monthly income of at least $2,000USD.
If you are moving to Belize to start a business or work then you will need to obtain a work permit. These will range in cost dependent upon what you will be doing. You can also qualify for residency after a year under your work permit.
The last option is just maintaining a tourist card while you are in Belize. This option would best suit someone who has no intention of residing in Belize full time and therefore would not be able to fulfill the time requirements to gain residency. There is also no long term commitment with this option. Your passport will be stamped with a 30 day entry when you first arrive in the country and then if you stay beyond those 30 days you simply make a trip to the local immigration office for an extension. This extension will cost you $25USD for the first 6 months and $50USD after those 6 months. You will pay this fee to the sub-treasury and get your stamp at the immigration office.
High speed internet, Cable TV and Phone:
Yes, in most parts of Belize you can enjoy all of these modern conveniences. Internet availability varies depending on where you are located. In Corozal Town I was able to hook up to a high speed DSL connection with BTL (Belize Telecommunications Limited). There are a few downsides with the internet access in Belize though – the biggest being that they block VOIP. This means you must have a VPN to use Skype or other VOIP software. We also had to pay a $1,000BZD set-up fee as a foreigner (the cost for a Belizean is around $300BZD). We later learned that you can have a Belizean set this up with you for the lower price. There is an option to bring in a satellite dish and sign up with a service such as Hughsnet. There is a cost of approximately $5,000 to bring a satellite dish in and install it, but it may be worth it for you to avoid using BTL.
Cable television is sold through a couple providers and runs about $45BZD per month. There are a range of channels shown (about 100 in total).
Phone service is reliable in Belize – there are two main providers Smart and Digicell (through BTL). You pre-pay for minutes to call out or text but you can receive calls for no cost. Occasionally international calls go down but that isn’t very common. You are able to make international calls from either the Smart or Digicell phones.
Crime is always one of the main topics when people hear you are contemplating a move to Belize and it may be one of your main concerns as well considering the statistics on Belize lately. I have traveled all over Belize and have never felt I was in any danger. I have gone out at night with friends; I have gone to many festivals and parties around the country and stayed out until early in the morning without any trouble. Most of the crime is centralized in Belize City and I didn’t spend much time there. When I did go into Belize City (I went to a Morgan Heritage concert at the BC Civic Center and spent New Year’s Eve in Belize City) I went with my good Belizean friends and never had a problem. I personally wouldn’t go out around Belize City by myself though. Anywhere else in the country most of the crime is between friends and family and won’t affect you. That being said, there is always the chance of random crime targeted at anyone but this is true of any place in the world.
I have had friends who have had items stolen that are let outside their house at night so it is important to be aware of where your belongings are and keep anything valuable locked down or stored somewhere at night. Having a dog in your yard sends out a clear signal that your place is protected because most dogs in Belize are used as protection and if you have one in your yard it is assumed that he is there for that purpose.
The bottom line is that you should be smart anywhere you live.
For more stories from Belize visit www.belizedragonfly.com