Moving to Belize? Here’s a guide from Expater Britteny

The thing I love most about this blog is connecting with women from all over the world and learning from each other’s lives. In this interview I chatted with Expater Britteny about her life in Belize. Whether you’re moving to Belize, or just curious about another way of life abroad, read on…

expat in Belize

About Britteny

My boyfriend and I came to Belize as part of what was supposed to be a months-long trip through Central America.

We were working high-stress jobs in New York City and were both burnt out. Plus, my dad recently passed away and I was in desperate need of a change in scenery.

So we quit our jobs, gave up our apartment and began traveling. Caye Caulker, Belize was our first stop on our trip, and we loved it so much we never made it to our other destinations. Instead, after about three months, we decided to move to the island permanently.

The truth about moving to Belize

I guess it’s probably true for a lot of places, but I think the process of moving to Belize can get oversimplified by the media.

Certain items you need to live and work here take far longer and much more work to obtain than you might think.

They can also be more costly due to all the extra steps you need to take. For example, getting a local bank account took months of back and forth and an unbelievable amount of paperwork. We needed letters of recommendation from our banks in the U.S., as well as multiple character references, among many other requirements.

The same was true for our work permits and residency. We’d go to the immigration office — which is located on another island — with all the documents they said we needed only to be told we needed one more document or an additional signature on a document. But someone else who was applying for the same permit as us could go to the office on another day and speak with a different immigration officer and need a completely different set of documents.

These additional documents take time — and usually money — to obtain and if you live on Caye Caulker, it also requires another boat ride to and from San Pedro or the mainland.

lifestyle Belize

The cost of living in Belize. How much do you need to live comfortably in Belize?

We consider the cost of living in Belize to be relatively affordable, but we moved from New York City, where everything is incredibly expensive. We live in a one-bedroom apartment in a gated complex with a nice patio area and pay $1,350 BZD a month ($675 USD). Our apartment in New York City was a similar size and about double the price. We have lived in more expensive places on the island as well — a two-bedroom home and another apartment-style unit with a pool, which each cost $1,750 BZD ($850 USD) per month. There is a range of housing options in Caye Caulker to fit a variety of needs and budgets.

We have an air conditioner that we run at night, and our electric bill averages about $220 BZD a month ($110 USD). Water is a flat rate of $55 BZD per month ($27.50 USD) and Internet is free. I cook almost all of our meals and spend about $750 BZD ($375 USD) on groceries every month. You can get a decent meal for $10-20 BZD ($5-10 USD) and there are also great street food options for even cheaper. Of course, there are also higher-end restaurants where a meal will cost you more.

Neither my boyfriend or I have medical insurance. There is a public clinic and a private doctor on the island. We have both visited the private doctor for various reasons and found it quite affordable. Between the co-pay, testing and prescriptions we received, the visits cost, on average, about $115 BZD ($57.50 USD). Also, certain things like birth control pills that would require a prescription or a trip to Planned Parenthood in the U.S. can be obtained at the pharmacy with no prescription for about the same price you’d pay back home.

This isn’t a peculiar cost, but one thing I love about shopping here/eating out is that GST (General Sales Tax) is included in the price, unlike in the U.S. where tax is added at checkout.

Since you can’t drink the tap water in Belize, you need to budget for bottled water as well. We buy five-gallon jugs that cost $5 BZD ($2.50 USD) each after you pay a $15 BZD ($7.50 USD) deposit. We go through about a bottle every two days and spend roughly $75 BZD ($37.50 USD) per month on drinking water.

Most of the stoves and ovens here are gas, so that’s another item to budget for. We have a small tank of gas that usually lasts us about a month and costs $35 BZD ($17.50 USD) to refill.

moving to belize guide for expats

Is Belize safe?

Overall, I feel very safe living in Belize. Our island is quite small, and crime is minimal. That said, other parts of the country can be more dangerous, but I’ve never felt unsafe here.

I follow the same safety tips here as I do anywhere else I travel — don’t wear flashy jewellery, don’t leave your valuables unattended, etc.

We have a 9 p.m. curfew currently due to COVID-19, but before that was implemented, I, for the most part, would not stay out too late alone without my boyfriend to walk/bike ride home with me. Nothing has ever happened to make me feel like I need someone with me when I walk home late, but better safe than sorry.

expat in Belize

The pros and cons of moving to Belize…

Firstly, what are the main advantages of living in Belize?

I personally love the laidback nature and simplicity of life in Belize. The motto on our island is “Go Slow,” and people here truly live by it.

I don’t feel pressured to wear makeup or dress up when I go out. People here rarely ask “What do you do for a living?” like they do in the U.S.

Everyone operates on island time — which at first, as a New Yorker, I found incredibly annoying — but now I’ve come to appreciate. My boyfriend and I have really learned to slow down here and truly enjoy life. There is no “rat race” like there is in New York City. We live a much simpler, more minimalist lifestyle here.

Of course, I still get stressed with work deadlines and other issues, but living here has taught me that there is more to life than your career and there’s no use stressing over things you can’t control.

Living here has taught me that there is more to life than your career and there’s no use stressing over things you can’t control.

Secondly, the fact that we live on an island with no cars — and therefore have to walk or bike everywhere because we don’t own a golf cart — and the lack of chain restaurants and food delivery services like Grubhub make it easier to live a healthier lifestyle.

You can, of course, still get takeout or buy junk food at the grocery stores, but there are also plenty of fruit and vegetable stands that make healthy eating accessible and easy.

life in Belize

Now, what are the disadvantages of living in Belize?

One disadvantage is the lack of employment opportunities for foreigners who can’t do their jobs remotely or afford to buy a business. This hasn’t personally affected me because of my ability to do my work remotely, but it has affected my boyfriend (who was a packaging engineer in the U.S.)

If you’re an office assistant or bartender or retail worker in your home country, you’ll have to find a new way to make a living in Belize because jobs like those are reserved for Belizeans. I completely understand why the government does this, but also think it’s important to call out for anyone looking to move here.

Belize seems like a popular place for US Americans. Is that true do you think? If so, why?

There are definitely a lot of Americans here in Belize. I think the proximity to the U.S. and the ease of travel to and from the country is one of the main reasons. You can fly from Belize City to Houston, Texas in about two hours and Miami, Florida in about three.

Belize is also the only English-speaking country in Central America, so there is no language barrier to worry about.

Finally, Belize is cheaper than many Caribbean islands that are popular among American retirees. A lot of the expats here are snowbirds — they come here for six months or so when it’s wintertime where they’re from and then return to their home country for the rest of the year. Of course, there are plenty of us who live here full-time too.

Belize

Can a US citizen move to Belize? I think you’re ok to rent a house, buy property, but not to work? How was the visa process for you?

US citizens can absolutely move to Belize. You can rent and own property, but you can’t work without a work permit.

If you want to live here but don’t plan to get a work permit, you should get a tourist visa that will need to be renewed every month.

We applied for a work permit shortly after moving here, but because it takes months (or longer) to get approved, we had to get a tourist visa in the meantime, which we renewed every month. After our work permit expired (they are good for one year), we applied for residency.

You can only apply for residency after you’ve lived in the country for a full year straight (you’re allowed to leave the country for two weeks during the year period but no longer). Now that we have residency, we no longer need to worry about a work permit or tourist visa.

If you’re going to be in Belize long-term, I think residency is absolutely worth it. It is expensive — we paid $4,000 BZD ($2,000 USD) each — but if you don’t get it, you have to go to immigration every month and pay to extend your visa, which adds up over time.

Where to live in Belize. What are your recommendations? 

We love living on Caye Caulker, but there are countless other parts of Belize that are great for expats as well.

San Pedro, located on Belize’s largest island, Ambergris Caye, is another popular destination for expats. San Pedro is much larger and busier than Caye Caulker, and it has more restaurants, nicer grocery stores and other amenities that make it attractive to expats who want to live the island life, but still want some of the comforts of home.

Whenever my boyfriend and I visit San Pedro, we joke that it feels like we’re back in New York City. Caye Caulker is definitely the ‘laidback, live simply’ kind of island.

On the mainland, Placencia and San Ignacio are very popular as well.

The great part about Belize is that it’s quite small, so in a very short amount of time, you can go from the beach to the jungle to the Mayan ruins.

My recommendation for people thinking about moving here would be to visit several different locations before making their decision. Each area in Belize has its own unique qualities that make it special.

Belize nature

Tell me about jobs in Belize

Belize protects its job market, therefore, a foreigner can’t move here and take a job that a Belizean could do.

What most people do instead, and what my boyfriend and I did, is buy an existing business or start their own.

We own a liquor shop — Caye Caulker Liquor Bin — and also operated a guest house until we lost our lease there due to COVID.

Belize thrives on tourism, so any business that falls within that industry — accommodations, tours, restaurants, etc. — is a great option.

I also run my social media marketing business remotely from Belize. Being a digital nomad is also an option for people who want to move here but can’t afford to buy a business or aren’t old enough to retire.

Personally, I would not recommend moving here with no job lined up, unless you have significant savings to live off of.

Moving to Belize with family

My boyfriend and I don’t have any kids (unless you count the adorable cat we adopted here!), but we have several friends who have made the move here with children.

I can’t speak for the parents here, but if I had kids, I would have no problem moving them to Caye Caulker or Belize in general. I don’t think there is an issue as far as security or healthcare.

I have heard that the education system is not as strong as it is in the U.S. or other first-world countries, but there are still some great schooling options here.

Some parents on Caye Caulker choose to send their kids to school in San Pedro or Belize City, where there are more options compared to Caye Caulker.

In my opinion, the experience a child would get living in a foreign country is an education in itself. The internet is also pretty reliable here, which would make remote schooling a viable option too.

Belize countryside

Settling into life in Belize

Overall, I feel really welcome as a foreigner here. I have had negative experiences with locals who were less than thrilled about another American moving to their island, but the positive encounters I’ve had far outweigh the bad ones. The people here are generally very welcoming and kind.

In terms of my tips, I’d say get involved with the community and explore as much as possible.

When we were vacationing here, we participated in community trash pickups and volunteered at an event at one of the local schools. If you’re coming to Caye Caulker, I recommend spending some time at Sports Bar. It’s a go-to spot for locals and expats and a great place to meet people.

In New York City, I could go sit at a bar by myself and not interact with anyone. Here, that’s not likely to happen. Everyone is friendly and curious about newcomers. Before you finish your first drink, someone will probably approach you to say hello.

If you put yourself out there, new friends will find you. Every area has its neighborhood bar and hangout spots, so just do some research beforehand.

All in all, is Belize a good place to live? 

I think Belize is a fantastic place to live if you like a laidback lifestyle, warm weather and friendly people.

Belize is affordable, there’s a strong expat community and the country itself — from the beaches to the jungle — is breathtakingly beautiful.

It’s also easy to travel to and from the U.S. and explore other Central American countries. We recently went to Honduras, and the plane ride was only about an hour long. I’ve taken an easy, three-hour ferry trip to Mexico and during normal times (pre-COVID) affordable buses ran regularly to Guatemala and Mexico.

life in Belize

Top tips for anyone moving to Belize

Do your research, but if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. There are a few Facebook groups where expats and locals alike answer questions from others considering moving to Belize. People here are generally very eager to help others looking to join our community. As expats, we’ve all been in your shoes and want to help make your move as seamless and enjoyable as possible. Most locals also go above and beyond to ensure visitors have a spectacular stay. They are proud of their country and want people to love it as much as they do.

I’d also recommend people visit for a few months before they make a permanent move. It’s one thing to visit for a week and have a great time on vacation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have the same experience living here full time.

Don’t move here expecting life to be the same as where you came from. Belize is a developing country, and a lot of first-world luxuries aren’t common here. There are many things my boyfriend and I don’t have here that my friends and family back home say they couldn’t imagine living without — central air, a dryer, a dishwasher, large supermarkets with a wide variety of products, chain restaurants, etc.

Many items that you can find easily in the U.S. simply don’t exist here — or they can be challenging to find. The last time I was in the U.S., I remember going to Meijer and being stunned by the countless brands of cat food available. Here, there’s one, maybe two brands to chose from. That’s the case for a lot of products.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, expect the unexpected — but don’t let the fear of the unknown scare you away.

When we were trying to open up our liquor store, our liquor license was initially denied. We eventually got our license, but the months that followed this rejection were challenging to say the least. We met people we thought were looking out for us but turned out to be using us in an attempt to make a quick buck. We put our sweat and tears into a dilapidated hotel only to have it taken from us during a global pandemic. We’ve faced times so trying we thought we should just quit. But we didn’t.

We’ve built such a beautiful life in a country we’re proud to call home. We’ve made friends we’ll cherish forever and made memories we’ll never forget.

If you’re passionate about moving to Belize — or anywhere abroad — I’d say just do it. Don’t expect it to be easy, but know that it can be worth it.

Britteny’s top tips for moving to Belize

tips for moving to Belize

  1. Research online, but don’t be afraid to ask locals and foreigners for help, too.
  2. If possible, visit several locations in Belize before you move to get a feel for the place. Be aware that a holiday is not the same as a life here.
  3. Be mindful of your expectations. Belize may not have all the mod con luxuries, but it does have a beautifully simple way of life.
  4. Expect the unexpected. Life in Belize can be tough at times, and sometimes the media oversimplify what life is really like here.
  5. If you want to meet new people, try to be open and meet people here half way. Getting involved in the community, for example volunteering is a great way to integrate and find your feet.
  6. Consider hidden costs – factor in everything from drinking water to visas.
  7. Be prepared for paperwork. Getting a work permit, residency and visa takes time (and patience).

For more on Britteny’s life in Belize, follow her on Instagram at @brittenydee

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