Part I: Why do some people choose to move to Belize after a vacation here?
Canadians and Americans make up the bulk of the expat population in Belize. So why is it that some individuals move here? Here are the top reasons given…
1.) The weather – once some people experience year round summers, it is VERY hard to go back. Most of the US experiences 4 seasons, and many people do genuinely love to experience that. For others – they are just summer people. And the weather in most of the US (and definitely north of there!) does not cut it. Except for southern Florida, it does get “cold” in the winter. For those that are uncomfortable when the weather dips below the low 70’s, you do have to be close to Miami or south of there.
2.) Why don’t people just live in the southernmost parts of the US? There are a lot of great places to live in the US, where it does stay warm enough for most folks. In general – there is a vibe in the Miami area that does not match what everyone is looking for – for others, it is perfect, and Miami grows every year for this reason. Key West is a crowd pleaser for many – but it is one of the most expensive places to live in the US, and a bit challenging to get to. There are also many other choices on the southern tip of Florida, so to dig a bit deeper…
There is a different culture and vibe in Belize, and for some people, when they show up here, they feel at home. What are some of these cultural differences that make it better to live in Belize for some people….each one deserves its own section – read on!
3.) Lack of materialism – appropriate attire for Belize is flip flops or bare feet, and you are welcomed everywhere in what you might wear to the gym in the US. It doesn’t occur to you after a while here why you’d need a designer bag, jewelry, expensive shoes, fancy car, or most of the electronic toys that are part of everyday life in North America. The longer you are here, the less money you find you spend and the less you feel you need. If you are partial to a minimalist lifestyle and have felt turned off by the “keep up with the Jones’s” culture in North America, this could be a big reason you are drawn back here. For those that have lived here for a length of time – it is generally quite shocking and uncomfortable to experience the materialism cultural difference when they return to North America.
4.) A “swim at your own risk” mentality – Many people find it very refreshing (and at first, overwhelming and even confusing!) that the restrictions/rules/regulations in Belize are very different than the US. This does NOT work for everyone – in fact, there are some that are put off by this lack of regulation, and they feel safer in places that have a list of rules posted everywhere you look. And in fairness, if you do have an issue of some sort, this difference in structure can cause you to long for home or get cultural fatigue.
Things like drinking a beer while driving your golf cart, the fact that golf carts are allowed like cars in places in Belize; the fact that you can swim with sharks or jump from high places without signing a waiver; walking on the beach with a drink (even if it is in glass!); if you want to rent out your space, or start a business, compared to a tourist place like New Orleans or Key West – the barriers to entry are wildly different; major differences in the regulations needed to build – this one can again be a positive or negative, but if you desire to trust in what you are building, with a permit, you have a different amount of freedom compared to what you can do in the US; enjoying the vast amount of small businesses that pop up by locals, right next to their homes sometimes, where they provide wonderful authentic food or experiences, and I could go on and on. It is a different day to day lifestyle here. I would describe it as a bit of a libertarian mentality – those that prefer to live and let live, think for themselves, decide for themselves what level of risk to take, who want less restrictions than the US will find it refreshing here.
5.) Nature – There are parts of Belize that are just jaw dropping, and this is enough for some people. There are parts of Belize that look like the very best parts of the US all in one. I wrote this in my first few months of living in Placencia, and it is still true:
“The peninsula is very special and unique. We drove onto the peninsula the first time we came. The drive is so gorgeous and special….you go from watching the Maya Mountains, which look like Hawaii, to driving through what feels like a North Carolina shoreline…..to arriving at Hilton Head-like homes (Plantation area and North)….to driving through Maya Beach, which looks and feels like 1940’s Florida (at least what I imagine it did 🙂 ), to seeing authentic Belize culture in Seine Bight (this town is rough around the edges, but friendly, right on the water, and tons of local character), to arriving in the village, where not a structure is over a few stories high….everyone is friendly…..Caribbean-colored wooden homes and businesses….one cute restaurant and shop after another…and throughout this whole drive, you can see the lagoon and Maya Mountains on your right, and the gorgeous Caribbean the whole time on your left, and palm trees everywhere. I have never been in a place that had so many charming natural aesthetics.”
Also add to this that ALL THE BEACH IS PUBLIC! And you can find fun, lively beach action, or the prettiest remote stretch without another person in sight. And as this post is not specific to Placencia, I will add that I have never seen prettier water than Ambergris Caye, and the whole coast of the country has retained a vintage beach town feel that does not exist in the US.
6.) So add to above – cost to live here. You may read complaints that it is very expensive in Belize. It is for certain things, but if you give it some time and experience, you figure out how to live more cheaply here than you ever could in the US – let alone a popular beach town in the US. When people see that the real estate prices look like the US, and that a bag of Doritos is $6us at the store, and that gas is twice the price of the US, some say forget it, why would I live here without all the first world benefits?
Here are some ways this happens….property tax is pennies on the dollar compared to the US. It is almost nothing. If you compare this to the real costs of owning on a coast in the US, it is not even comparable. Water, gas, cell phone, are much cheaper here, electricity is relatively expensive, but this is somewhat in everyone’s control how much they want to use. Internet is reasonably priced – again this is a complaint here, but after 4 years here I can say I truly do not understand the complaints about internet access, speed, or cost – I am an average computer user and I experience no difference, and the cost is less here for us than in the US. Most people do not need a car here. If you do, you will only have one, and rarely use it. You walk and bike everywhere. If you get a golf cart (and let’s face it, this is a fun and charming way to get around!), there is no comparison in cost in every way to a car in the US. There are very few stores or things to buy – because the materialism needs are SO much less here – I barely spend money on anything here outside of food. Imported food and wine are expensive, period. But who doesn’t love the idea of farmer’s markets for shopping – which are way cheaper than any food shopping in the US. Local chicken, rice, beans are super cheap. And another huge money saver, which deserves its own section next…
7.) The entertainment is cheap, free, and plentiful – people who love it here are people who can sit on a pier or dock and enjoy their surroundings…….bike rides, swimming, happy hours, horseshoes, walks on the beach, hiking, relaxing in a hammock, kayaking…..all year long. Because some parts of Belize are set up for entertaining tourists – you find so many great activities that provide endless fun – trivia nights, movie nights, karaoke, games, drink specials, live music, dinner specials – there is something every night, and for the cost of a drink or two, or dinner less than $10, you can have fun any night you choose. Not to mention the many festivals, and the random things you see, like the high school band marching through town, or a fisherman fighting with pelicans and sea gulls as he’s cleaning his fish.
When I am in the US – the entertainment and cost is SO different. Socializing in the US usually involves movies, pedicures, expensive dinners, yoga classes, themed parties like makeup or jewelry which revolve around buying things, of course shopping, theme parks, miniature golf, trampoline gyms, Chuck E Cheese, golfing, skiing, and the endless ways we spend our money for entertainment. It adds up!
8.) Some random things – fatigue over the political climate in the US – and this is everywhere, you can’t get away from it, but by being a guest in another country, I can promise it feels much less personal and upsetting no matter what side you fall on. People also often ask about crime in Belize – seeing that I just read about multiple carjackings and gunpoint robberies near my hometown – please consider that while theft here is common, it is usually the result of leaving things unsecured or crimes of opportunity (leaving doors unlocked, leaving things unattended). The rarity of guns, organized crimes, and nonexistence of mass shootings…while the police here are limited compared to the US, so is access to weapons that can be used against you here. Meeting people from all over the world – who are usually pretty interesting! Although you do find this in some parts of the US – plenty of us are from places where we see very limited demographics and backgrounds. The tourism culture – to succeed in Placencia or Ambergris Caye, you really do need to enjoy this kind of environment. I love the energy of new guests, the signs directing guests to the best snorkeling excursions, the happy hour with local music on the chalkboards at Barefoot Bar, seeing backpackers get off the water taxi, things like crab races and chicken drops, the many booths and stalls the locals set up for tourists, etc….it gives some people a feeling of a perpetual vacation, and some of us find that’s the best way to live!