The beautiful Central American country of Belize enjoys a Caribbean climate and boasts a culturally diverse and rich nation.
Formerly the British Honduras and still a part of the Commonwealth, Brits have been migrating to Belize for decades to enjoy the treasures of this, largely, unspoilt piece of paradise.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at the best (and worst) of what Belize has to offer for expats seeking a new start in a warmer climate.
- 1 Why Move to Belize?
- 2 Belize Visa Requirements for Brits
- 3 Way of Life in Belize
- 4 Popular Areas for Brits
- 5 British Communities in Belize
- 6 Belize Essentials
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Why Move to Belize?
With English as its official language, a year-round average temperature of 26-28oC and a low cost for a good standard of living, Belize is a popular destination for Brits abroad. Covering an area of just 22,800 sq km (roughly the same size as Wales) with a population 368,000 people (the same as Cardiff alone), Belize has the lowest population density across Central America.
The country’s economy is not strong globally but it is relatively stable and relies heavily on its production and export of petroleum, industrial minerals and crude oil as well as agricultural crops such as bananas and sugar.
Tourism is becoming more of a priority for the government of Belize and with visitor numbers trebling the resident population the industry is set for development. There are also five large commercial banks in the country and the last five years have seen big growth in the number of entrepreneurial start-ups in the tourist and service sector.
Belize Visa Requirements for Brits
As part of the British Commonwealth, British Citizens do not need a visa to enter Belize and are granted a period of stay for up to 30 days.
You can extend your visitors visa for BZD$50 (£20) per month for up to six months and BZD$100 (£40) for each subsequent month thereafter.
You can remain in Belize on a visitors visa for up to 12 months
Extensions need to be arranged with the Belize Ministry of Defense and Immigration and you must be able to prove that you have both the means to support yourself for the duration of your stay (and extended period) as well as a valid means of onward travel.
You may also be required to show additional documentation such as a police record from the United Kingdom, details of your health insurance as well as bank statements. Finally, you will also need to ensure that your passport has at least six months’ validity beyond the period of your final extension period (e.g. if you wish to stay in Belize until 31 October 2017 then your passport must be valid to at least 1 May 2018).
The Belize government has formal guidelines as to the provision of a work permit but they are not as strict by comparison as those of the US or Australia. Persons intending to work in the country must meet prevailing skillset requirements. In addition, they must be able to provide evidence to prove they can support themselves for the duration of their stay, a police record from their country of residence.
Desirable skillsets are usually in professional or skilled trades and work permits are not generally issued for manual labourers or non-skilled work. Investors, businesspeople and entrepreneurs can obtain work permits but will need to show evidence of the nature of the business they are conducting along with evidence of self-sufficiency.
Applications should be made in person to the Ministry of Labour and are issued for periods of six-months or more and are valid for one year. Fees for your permit vary depending on the kind of work you will be undertaking but details can be obtained from the local Commissioner once you present yourself at the Labour Department. Residents and citizens do not need a work permit.
Other Types of Visa
To obtain residency you must have been living in Belize for 12 months and not been outside of the country for any more than a total of 14 days within that period. If you wish to apply for residency, then you can stay in the country on a visitor’s visa but you must extend the visa as per the guidelines above before applying for residency at the end of your 12 month stay.
Residents of Belize can apply for full citizenship after permanently residing in the country for a period of five years. The government does not currently take into consideration the amount of time an applicant has actually spent in the country but there are rumours to suggest that this will change.
As with all visas and permits, citizenship must be applied for in the country at the local Immigration Office.
The Belize Tourism Board runs a programme designed to incentivise retirees to emigrate to the country. Known as the “Qualified Retirement Persons Incentive Program”, eligible people should be able to demonstrate a consistent and permanent income from their retirement (pension, investment or otherwise). Benefits include free passage without the need for visas (including independents) as well as tax exemption and duty exemptions on imported household and personal effects.
Volunteers in Belize must also apply for a work permit and, as well as the documentation detailed above, must produce an official letter from the charity for which they are working confirming details of the volunteerism. In addition, the applicant will need to provide evidence of how the cost of living will be met (either by the charity or personally).
Way of Life in Belize
The lifestyle in Belize is relaxed and reflective of a western culture. Family life is an important aspect of the culture and children are raised in extended family groups.
Predominantly a Christian nation, Belize is home to a large number of ethnic groups including Mayans, Creoles and Garifuna. Europeans have also made the country home and the nation is very welcoming to immigrants.
The country is multi-ethnic and is populated with a demographic of European, African, Asian and Amerindian people. As a result, the culture is an eclectic mix where diversity is celebrated. There are plenty of public holidays to celebrate the nations heritage including Baron Bliss Day, Independence Day and Carnival time.
The nation enjoys a wide and ranging mix of leisure activities including cycling, football and basketball. Music is also a big part of Belizean culture and there are traditional and modern blends of Belizean music to enjoy across the country.
The cuisine is largely a result of the amalgamation of the country’s mix of ethnic backgrounds and is similar to Mexican and Caribbean food but with its own distinctly European style.
Although homosexuality was decriminalised in 2016 it is considered socially unacceptable to be openly gay. Gender equality is also an issue with only 48% of women contributing to the labour force (compared to 82% of men) and the country has the lowest female to male ratio for primary school enrolment.
Whilst is not necessary to carry identification whilst in Belize, it is recommended to keep a photo ID with you at all times.
The crime rate in Belize is relatively high with majority of incidences being gang related; predominantly in Belize City. Gang warfare is isolated to known hotspots in the city and violent crimes are usually a part of this scene rather than spilling into the general population or targeting tourists for instance.
There are no cultural or religious restrictions on the dress code in Belize and you will find that most people dress in a similar way to the rest of the Caribbean or Central America. Clothing is casual but formal occasions will require smart dress.
The most popular way to travel is by bus. Most major towns and cities have bus terminals and there are some bus stops in principal locations; however, it is more common to flag down buses on the road if you need to use one.
The road network is not terribly good and there are only four major arterial roads across the country. These are defined by having asphalt surfaces and being two lanes wide. The rest of the network is unpaved and rough in places.
The international airport is in Belize City but domestic flights run across the country with dozens of smaller airfields and airports.
There is no rail network in the country but you can use the sea to travel around coastal communities.
A tropical country, Belize’s climate is distinguished by two pronounced seasons; wet and dry. In the south of the country the dry season lasts from February to April and, in the north, between January and May. The wet season is marked heavy and, sometimes, wild storms which can bring as much as 150 inches of rain (south).
The average temperature varies from the coast to the higher inland, particularly the plateaus of the Mountain Pine Ridge which can be quite cool. Coastal areas receive an average temperature of around 26-29oC. Whether the season is wet or dry, temperatures remain uniform and is one of the main draws to the country for expats.
Belize does experience hurricanes which tend to occur during August to October. Some storms have caused extensive damage in the past and can result in storm tides as well as devastating winds.
Cost of Living in Belize
According to the internet database on world living, Numbeo, the cost of living generally in Belize is around 20% lower than that of the UK. (net of rent). This is an aggregate of the information across all major towns and cities in the UK and Belize so regional differences will vary. However, there is no doubt that the cost of living in Belize is comparatively cheaper.
The average rental prices in Belize are over 65% lower than those in the UK. We compared the cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment in the seaside town of Placencia, Belize £360.79 with that of Brighton, UK £860.71, making Belize 58.08% cheaper.
By comparison the prices in Belize City (£343.30) and London (£1,678.38) result in a difference of 79.55%.
Both long term and short term lettings are relatively easy to come by in Belize with most towns and cities having a wide range of available properties. Leases are in English and are similar to those available in the UK. They should detail the terms of the let including what is and isn’t included in the price plus any furnishings. Most properties require you to pay for your utilities directly and the utility companies often require expats on visitors or working permits to pay large deposits. If you have a residency permit or citizenship, then these should be waived.
You can find properties to rent with luxury features such as swimming pools but by and large the rental market offers functional properties over luxury. However, hiring help such as garden and domestic staff is quite common and you can find agencies in most towns and cities or simply ask for recommendations.
The majority of consumer goods and services are much cheaper than the UK but there are some exceptions. The online database for global cost of living comparisons, Numbeo, cites the following costs for these standard cost of living indices:
|3-course meal for two||£50.00||£20.23||-59.55%|
|Cinema Ticket (new release)||£9.50||£6.07||-36.07%|
|Pair of premium jeans||£56.30||£23.39||-55.28%|
|Monthly internet subscription||£21.29||£99.23||+366.07%|
|Packet of cigarettes||£9.00||£2.83||-68.51%|
|Bottle of mid-range wine||£7.00||£10.47||+49.62%|
|Loaf of bread||£0.94||£0.99||+5.98%|
|Pay as you go mobile /min||£0.14||£0.21||+55.51%|
|Utilities (one bed apartment)||£139.56||£84.68||-39.33%|
Overall, most consumer products (particularly those that are imported from across Central and South America or the US will be cheaper than the UK but services such as mobile and broadband are much more expensive.
Buses are the most common way for locals to travel and the costs are comparable to the UK with a single one-way ticket costing just 15.86% less at £2.02. However a monthly pass in Belize would be significantly cheaper, costing just £16.16 instead of £60.00, or 73.07% cheaper.
Despite being a major exporter of petroleum, the cost at the pumps is not significantly lower in Belize. One litre of fuel costs £0.96 and is just 11.37% lower than the UK average.
Taxis are equally as comparable with the cost of 1km journey costing 15.73% more than in the UK; however, waiting and starting fares are cheaper.
Purchasing a car is on average 50% more expensive than in the UK.
The typical cost for private tuition in schools across Belize is just £20 per month. This is significantly cheaper than in the UK and reflects the low salary paid to teachers (just £850 per month).
Popular Areas for Brits
The Cayo District
Situated in the west of the country, The Cayo District is the second most populous region of Belize. Bordering Guatemala to the west, the area is home to two national parks and is the centre of the country’s ecotourism. The capital city of Belmopan is situated in the north and offers good trade and commerce. The region is characterised by the fertile farmland and rolling hills carved by slow-flowing rivers and picturesque tropical backdrops. The twin towns of Santa Elena and San Ignacio are both popular communities for Brits and offers bustling and vibrant location to establish a new, adventurous life.
The peninsula or Placencia on the east coast of Belize is renowned for its long sandy beaches lined with palm trees. A popular tourist destination yet free from the overcrowding of cruise ship tourism the town has a freshwater lagoon which is home to manatees and salt-water crocodiles. There are plenty of leisure activities in the town such as diving, snorkelling and water-sports. Real estate here is sought after for the views across the Caribbean sea and nearby Maya mountain chain. The town is still charming and, as yet, unspoilt, retaining much of the character of its colourful and friendly residents.
Situated to the north of the country and bordering Mexico, Corozal sits on the charming Bay of Chetumal. The town is cheaper than many similar locations further south and offers much the same way of life, standard of living and welcoming inhabitants. The area has a Spanish colonial feel to its architecture and cuisine yet characterised by the typical Belizean jungles and coastline.
Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker
Popular with American and Canadian expats, the islands of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker are located off the eastern coast of Belize in the Caribbean Sea. Anyone wishing to relocate to the Caribbean will find property prices amongst the lowest in the region yet they are more expensive than on mainland Belize. There is little wonder as to why as the islands offer a true paradise of white beaches, crystal clear warm waters and relaxed, peaceful way of life. There is plenty to do on both islands including activities on the water, bars and restaurants as well as shopping and exploring the natural wonders. Island hopping and mainland transport is made easy by Maya Island Air.
British Communities in Belize
Due to the fact that Belize is such a small country with a low density of population there are relatively few areas which attract expats in great numbers. Belize City is a popular location for shopping and getting any business transactions done as well as for schooling but beyond that most expats locate themselves in small towns and coastal communities.
The jobs economy in Belize is poor and with a population growing at one of the highest rates in the Western Hemisphere is likely to become more competitive. Unemployment figures hover around 10% .
The government acknowledges that lack of education has resulted in gaps in the jobs market and there is a need for certain skills within the country that cannot be met internally.
There are funding issues with public infrastructure and the country relies on overseas investment as well as tourism to bolster its economic output of exports.
Agriculture, tourism and minerals are a mainstay for the country’s GDP and jobs within these sectors are more prolific than in other industries.
The immigration department is keen to welcome entrepreneurs to the country particularly those who are interested in investing in the country’s own start-ups. However, the slow broadband speeds, lack of co-working spaces and poor public infrastructure can make this tricky.
40% of the people living in Belize are considered to be below the poverty line and the country has a large foreign debt burden as well sizable trade deficits. These factors contribute to an economy which is fragile with weak growth and tight public spending.
There are seven hospitals and around 60 public health clinics in Belize offering primary health and dental care to the population. The general public healthcare is of a low standard commensurate with that of a developing nation. Improvements have been made over the last decade that have helped boost the quality of care but there are still challenges of supply shortages, operational problems and funding issues.
In addition, there are three private hospitals and approximately 50 private clinics across the country.
Your health insurance should cover you for any emergencies or treatments of accidents but private health care is affordable and of a good standard.
Bringing Kids to Belize
The schooling system in Belize is based on the British education system but there are only a handful of international private schools to choose from. The literacy rate in Belize is quite poor being one of the lowest in the Western hemisphere. Though the government is now following a new education strategy to improve these figures the national school system is not comparable to the UK.
This picture changes around the country with rural communities falling well below the higher standards of the capital, Belmopan or in Belize City. Many expats choose to home school.
The average age of the population is 19 and there are plenty of young people and children around the country. There is a lack of ‘Western conveniences’ with which to entertain children but, in place of cinemas, skating rinks and shopping precincts, you can certainly offer children the opportunity to explore the wonders of nature. This is particularly evident if you are situated by the coast where children can enjoy plenty of activities on the water.
There are dangers native to the country of which children need to be safeguarded including snakes, scorpions and other wild animals.
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