Some questions about Belize just need to be answered by your own visit to the country. You can read all you want about a place but you really won’t know how you will feel about moving there until you experience some things yourself. Like I said in the introduction to this series, I moved to Belize without having visited and ended up loving it but there are people who have visited Belize and told me that they hated it so it’s all about the personal experience. In this post I want to focus on why you will want to visit Belize before you really make your mind up about moving there.
The questions you may have that I personally feel should be answered by a visit to Belize are:
- What are the different areas of Belize?
- 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?
- Will I find friends easily? What will my social life be like?
- Can I function appropriately on “Belize Time?”
- What are the grocery stores 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?
- How do the expat communities behave? Does everyone get along?
Once you are in Belize get ready to learn and experience as much as you can. Put yourself in situations that you would if you were living there rather than just traveling. You may already have an idea of what district within Belize you want to focus on but if you do not then let’s go over those first. I will touch on the most popular expat destinations so please keep in mind that there are other locations that are home to expats as well.
What are the different areas of Belize?
Corozal District is a popular spot for retired expats. This is where I lived for the two years I was in Belize and it continues to be my mom’s home. We lived in Corozal Town but many expats choose to live outside the town limits but within the district of Corozal.
Corozal is the Northern-most town in Belize which means you would be extremely close to Mexico, specifically Chetumal. The city of Chetumal has approximately the same population as the entire country of Belize so you can imagine that your options for items to purchase are much higher and you are allowed to bring in most products for your own use with the exception of a few such as cigarettes and meat.
Corozal town is located on the Corozal Bay which comes in from the beautiful Caribbean Sea.
San Pedro (Ambergris Caye)
Ambergris Caye is Belize’s largest island and San Pedro town is located on Ambergris Caye. San Pedro is one of Belize’s main tourist destinations and right off the world’s second largest barrier reef. If you want to live the island life in Belize then San Pedro may be the spot for you. Tropic Air and Mayan Island Air both fly in and out of San Pedro to both Corozal and Belize City and there are water ferries that will take you to either location as well.
Since San Pedro is a tourist hot spot and on an island, the cost of living is substantially higher. You will still be able to keep your costs down through buying local and staying out of some of the touristy restaurants and bars but you should expect to be spending a bit more.
Orange Walk town is located beside the New River and between Corozal and Belize City on the Northern Highway. You can find more commerce happening within Orange Walk town compared to Corozal so many expats living in villages such as Progresso (Corozal District) make the shorter trip to Orange Walk for supplies rather than over the hand-cranked ferry to Corozal.
San Ignacio (Cayo District) is located on the Western side of Belize and is surrounded by the Macal and Mopan rivers and about 10 miles from Guatemala. You will not get the beach or the bay but you will still see much of the beauty that Belize has to offer. San Ignacio and Santa Elena make up Belize’s second largest urban area. This area gets quite a bit more rainfall every year than Northern Belize. San Ignacio is also a popular tourist destination in Belize with many backpackers visiting and the Cayo District offers a wide variety of outdoor activities for those of you seeking some adventure. San Ignacio is very close to the Mountain Pine Ridge region where you can see some of the beautiful waterfalls that Belize has to offer.
If you are looking for a mainland spot in Belize but still want the beaches then Placencia would be worth looking at. Placencia has the best beaches on the mainland and a growing expat community. Placencia is located on a peninsula with the Caribbean Sea on one side and a lagoon on the backside. While visiting Placencia about a year ago in 2009 there was a fair amount of construction and progress surrounding the town including the main road into the peninsula being paved. Placencia also has a regional airport for quick flights around Belize.
Punta Gorda, or PG as you will come to know it in Belize is located in Southern Belize. Travel to Guatemala is very easy from PG – I’ve taken the 90 minute water taxi ride from PG to Livingston with absolutely no trouble. The Southern Highway has recently been paved and is one of Belize’s best highways – it was an incredibly smooth ride from the Southern Highway on to PG for us. PG is located within the Toledo District and an easy jumping point to the south end of the barrier reef for snorkeling and diving as well as an easy boat ride to some of the southern cayes.
Each of these locations have a different feel so unless you really only have one or two locations in mind it may be worthwhile for you to check out all of them before you make a decision.
Now onto figuring out the rest…
What about health care? Do I need insurance to cover me in Belize? What is their medical care like?
I believe it is hard to just read about Belize having adequate health care from an article so my suggestion would be to visit a doctor or clinic on your visit. Maybe even check out one of the hospitals. In my experience the healthcare in Belize was just fine. I went to the doctor a few times for routine check-ups and blood work and it was safe and inexpensive. I paid $35BZD to visit a doctor in a private clinic and $50BZD for a gynecologist appointment. I felt totally comfortable in both these settings.
The healthcare costs are so minimal in Belize that I chose to simply have a global health insurance policy which essentially covered my costs if I needed to be air evacuated to the US and treated there. It was about $50/month and had a $5,000 deductible.
Prescription costs are also minimal and you do not need a doctor’s visit before purchasing the medications you need.
What is the infrastructure like? Will it be easy to move around in the country? Will I need a vehicle?
If you are going to be living in Belize then I would highly suggest you have a rugged vehicle to move around the country. My mom and I had a small Saturn which we purchased along with our property. The car wasn’t in great shape to begin with and we are basically confined to driving it around Corozal because I don’t trust it to get us anywhere else safely. A Jeep, Land Rover or any pick-up truck are popular choices as well an ATV. The roads are rough – you will learn this very quickly on your visit to Belize. There are some main highways going through Belize, the Northern Highway, the Western Highway, Hummingbird Highway and the Southern Highway and these are all paved and in fairly good condition. The problems will happen when you start to venture off the highways and hit the dirt or gravel roads. There are potholes everywhere.
You may also have to deal with the hand-cranked ferries in certain parts of Belize, such as Corozal, where it can be a novelty at first but you may quickly tire of the length of time it takes to go a relatively short distance. My suggestion is to venture out a bit on your trip – see what the conditions of the roads are like in the areas you are thinking of hanging your hat and see if you can tolerate it.
What are the people like?
Belize is a culturally diverse country. There are all sorts of people there; Kriol, Maya, Garifuna, Mestizo, Mennonites, Chinese and Lebanese are a sampling of the types of cultures you can expect to find. In my experience with Belize the people are extremely friendly. When we first moved to town everyone was willing to help us and we felt very welcomed into the community. The people of Belize are the number one reason I love the country so much and I have gained many good friends with many different perspectives on life.
Be as open and friendly as possible during your trip – talk to everyone you can. I expect you will find the same friendliness that I did but experiencing this first-hand is a must. Also keep in mind that as a foreigner you will be perceived as being rich and you will be approached for handouts. I don’t give money to people coming up to me on the streets (and once these people in Corozal got to know me I am rarely approached) but I will occasionally buy food or non-alcoholic drinks for these people. You may also find that you are charged a premium on certain items simply because you are a foreigner – this happens less when you are living there and part of the community but don’t be surprised if it happens during one of your visits.
Will I find friends easily? What will my social life be like?
This is entirely up to you. There are many opportunities to find friends in Belize. My mom and I have many Belizean friends as well as expat friends and this is the approach I would suggest. There are many expats who choose to make friends solely within the expat communities but my opinion is that they are completely missing out on the opportunity for some great friendships. In Corozal there is ample opportunity to participate in activities within the expat community to meet new friends and I suspect this is the same for the expat communities all over Belize.
My social life in Corozal was whatever I felt it should be that week. Corozal is a quiet town but there are things to do. Some weeks I was perfectly happy swimming and kayaking in the bay and not going out at night at all while other weeks I wanted to get out and party. Whether it is a private party or a bar in town I could easily find a spot to go meet friends and have a great time.
During your trip go out to some of the bars and strike up conversation with the other people there – ask them what they do around town for fun. Find out what is happening around town during your visit and make a point to check some of these activities out. Seek out other expats within the community and ask them what their experience has been like.
Can I function appropriately on “Belize Time?”
Belize Time is slow and easy going. There are very few things that happen in Belize on time and if this is important in your life then you may be in trouble. You may already be familiar with ‘Island Time’ and have an idea whether or not the lifestyle is for you but if you are not then get to Belize and see how you function with a much slower pace for everything. I would also suggest tackling this with a resident’s eye rather than a tourist’s eye because it’s one thing to be on Belize Time while you’re on vacation and another to be on Belize Time for everything in your daily life.
What are the grocery stores like? Will I be able to purchase the things I am accustomed to using?
There will be a lot of things you are used to purchasing in the states, in Canada or in the UK that you simply will not be able to get in Belize. There are stores that import items from the US but it really isn’t a lot. You will find yourself buying a lot to bring back to Belize on your trips to visit your home country. During your visit to Belize go into the local grocery stores and see what is available. Most stores are going to carry very similar items but ask around because there may be one store in town that caters to foreigners who want to buy these imported items. Corozal has one such store called D’s Superstore located on College Road.
Once you make your home in Belize you will be surprised that you really don’t need as much as you thought you would and can get by with what is available within the country. If you are close to Mexico you can also purchase a much wider variety of items and typically at a fraction of the cost.
How hot is it?
Belize is hot and humid. There are two seasons, the rainy season and the dry season. During the rainy season the humidity is much higher but there is always humidity in Belize. It stays around 85°F on average but can dip to around 65°F and escalate to around 100°F depending on the season. If you haven’t experienced this type of climate then you must experience it before you decide whether or not you will be able to handle it.
Will I be able to handle the bugs?
There are a lot of mosquitoes in Belize and there are more during the rainy season (typically June through October). They will drive you crazy on your visit to Belize so bring along some bug guard (I recommend Avon Skin So Soft bug spray). There is some good news though – your body will build immunity against the bites (typically). It took about three solid months of living in Belize before my body started to get used to the mosquito bites. I still get bit but instead of giant welts and insane itching for days, my reaction consisted of itching for 10 minutes and done.
They still bite me though and you will have to experience this to know if you will be able to handle it. Just remember that it will get better.
How do the expat communities behave? Does everyone get along?
This question will be hard to answer until you are already living in Belize as an expat. If your visit to Belize will be a long one then you may get a taste of it but if you will only be touring around the country for a couple weeks it will be hard to get a feel for this topic.
In my experience the expat community in Corozal was dysfunctional. Yes, I have many expat friends there but everyone seems to love to talk about everyone else and usually it isn’t all roses. I have been gossiped about for various reasons (some totally not based in reality) and it was usually pretty ugly when it happened. It could have been very hurtful and ruined my experience in Belize if I would have actually cared what was being said. The key here is to not care about what other people are saying about you because they will say something. Read my blog post about my experiences with gossip in Belize.
My suggestion would be to seek out expats during your visit and see what topics of conversation come up within those groups. Does conversation steer easily towards what other expats in the community are doing? This is a clear indication that a gossip culture is rampant and you will have to decide if you will be able to deal with that.
I have seen and heard fairly insignificant gossip and I have seen it take pretty ugly turns.
I hope this gives you an idea of what to look for and pay attention to during your visit to Belize before you make a decision to move.
For more stories from Belize visit www.belizedragonfly.com