From the upcoming Kindle edition of one of my books on Belize, here are the reasons I hear that expats like Belize. (Later, I'll post why they say they DON'T like Belize.)
Over the years, I’ve interviewed, talked with or heard from via e-mail hundreds of people who have moved to Belize or who plan to do so, and I’ve asked them this question: “Why did you choose Belize?” I’ve gotten many answers, but these are the most common:
“I like speaking English.” You don’t have to learn a new language to live in Belize, because English is the official language. You don’t have to struggle with grammar and syntax in an unfamiliar tongue. While Spanish and several other languages are widely spoken in Belize, and many Belizeans are bi- or trilingual, everything from street signs and newspapers to official government documents are in English. From your first day in Belize, you can shop, dine, chat and gossip without having to thumb through a dictionary or cast about for the right verb ending.
“I love the warm, sunny climate.” It never frosts or snows in Belize. The climate ranges from sub-tropical to tropical, similar to that of South Florida. As long as you’re comfortable with warm to hot temperatures, perhaps tempered by cooling breezes from the sea, you’ll like Belize weather. As a bonus, you’ll never have to pay for heating oil again.
“I feel welcome here.” Belize is not a Never-Never Land where everyone loves everybody in perfect harmony, but the fact is, by and large, Belizeans are as friendly a bunch of people as you’ll ever find. Belizeans take people one at a time. Whether you’re black, white, brown or green, short, fat, ugly or beautiful, rich or poor, you’ll find acceptance in Belize. Your neighbors will say hello to you on the street, check on you if you’re sick and share a joke with you over a Belikin at the bar. And they may try to hit you up for a loan. For the most part, Belizeans genuinely like Americans (and Canadians and Europeans). At the official level, the Belize government welcomes retirees and others, especially if they bring some resources to the country. The Qualified Retired Persons Incentive Program (see below) is administered not by a bureaucratic immigration department but by the Belize Tourist Board, and they generally provide approvals within three months.
“I enjoy the lifestyle here, doing things outdoors and on the water.” Belize offers relatively little in the way of cultural activities — museums, art galleries, the arts. But it makes up for it with a wealth of options for those who love the outdoors. You can garden year-round. The saltwater fishing is some of the best in the world. Boating, diving, swimming and snorkeling can be as close as your back yard. For the more adventurous, there are caves and ancient ruins to explore, rivers to canoe and mountains to hike.
“Though Belize isn't the cheapest place to live, I can live better here for less money than where I came from.” Belize is not the cheapest place to live, and in some areas of Belize an American lifestyle will cost U.S. prices or higher. Overall, however, expats in Belize say they can live larger than back home, enjoying some luxuries such as a housekeeper or meals out. Investment income, pensions and Social Security checks seem to stretch a little farther in Belize. While some items such as gasoline, imported foods and electricity cost more in Belize, other things including medical care, housing, insurance and household help are significantly cheaper in Belize than in the U.S., Canada or Western Europe. Although Belize has a few half million dollar houses and condos, you can rent a little house for US$200--$400 a month, set up a made-in-Belize cabin on your lot for US$20,000, build an attractive new home for US$60,000 to $150,000 and buy a waterfront lot for US$75,000 to $100,000.
“I thought I could never afford to live on the beach … but I can in Belize.” If you’ve seen the prices for beachfront lots in Florida, South Carolina, Massachusetts or California – often hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars – you know that oceanfront living in the U.S. is out of the question for most people. In Belize, beachfront lots aren’t as cheap as they used to be, or as cheap as they still are in places like Nicaragua, but you can still buy a buildable lot on the Caribbean for US$50,000 to $100,000. Lots a row or two back from the sea start at US$15,000. And you can put a storm-resistant concrete house on the lot for US$50 to $90 a square foot. So, with a little patience and planning for around US$100,000 to US$200,000, you can own a small new home right on the water.
“I appreciate the fact that Belize has a stable, democratic government.” You don’t have to worry about a coup in Belize. Politics in Belize is highly personal and can be rough and tumble, even dirty, but Belizeans take their democracy seriously. The voter turnout in the last national election was almost 75%. Along with Costa Rica, Belize has the most stable political system in the region.
“I’m glad I escaped from America’s consumer society.” In Belize, you won’t find Starbucks, McDonald’s or Wal-Mart. Global franchise businesses are almost unknown. That can be frustrating when you’re trying to find a cheap home appliance or a quick meal, but on the plus side you don’t need to spend your life accumulating stuff.
“I like living on Belize time.” Like many sub-tropical and tropical countries, Belize offers a slower way of life than the frenetic pace of life in many more developed countries. If you don’t get it done today, there’s always tomorrow. Slow down. Be cool. Don’t make your blood boil. “I’ll be here at 7:30 Monday morning” really means, “I’ll try to get there early Monday but if I decide to go fishing I’ll be there sometime Tuesday.” Not everyone can adjust to this way of living, but for those who do it has a lot of appeal.
“I feel healthier here.” As I discuss in detail later in this book, Belize does not have the high-tech, state-of-the-art medical care available in the U.S. or even in countries like Costa Rica or Panama. But the Belizean lifestyle can be very healthful. You eat fresh fruit and unprocessed food. You walk more and ride less. You stay outside in the clean, unpolluted air rather than being cooped up in a climate-controlled box all day. You go home for lunch or take a nap at mid-day. In Belize’s balmy climate, your arthritis and other aches and pains seem to fade away. Many people who move to Belize start feeling better within a few weeks. Quite a few lose weight. Blood pressure levels go down. Of course, you can also live an unhealthy life in Belize — watching cable TV all day, drinking all night and eating fried foods and lardy beans and rice.
“I like the people of Belize.” If you’re a people person, you can’t help liking Belizeans. Belizeans come in every shape, background and color, but nearly all are open and friendly. They love to have fun, and there’s always an excuse for a party or a celebration. Expats in Belize are also an interesting bunch, usually with an independent streak and sometimes downright eccentric.
“There’s always something to do or see here.” If you’re bored in Belize, it’s your own fault. Belize is a natural wonder. You could spend the rest of your life just learning about the flora and fauna of the country. Belize is home to thousands of species of trees and flowers, hundreds of kinds of birds and butterflies. The culture of Belize is wide and deep. The history of the Maya in Belize goes back thousands of years. Garifuna came to Belize in the early 1800s; Hispanics have trickled in over the past several hundred years; Mennonites came here in the 1950s. Every group in Belize has a fascinating history to explore. When you tire of intellectual pursuits, you can take trips to the enchanting corners of the country, to the high hills of the Mountain Pine Ridge, to the endless caves of the Chiquibul wilderness, to the lush rainforest of Toledo, to the many islands in the Caribbean Sea and to the 190-mile long Belize Barrier Reef.
“I like the wide open spaces of Belize.” With only a little over 300,000 people in an area the size of the state of Massachusetts (population: 6,400,000), Belize is one of the least densely populated countries in the Western Hemisphere. Outside the cities and towns, you can often drive for miles without seeing another human being. In that regard, Belize is like a little, subtropical Alaska. Or like Florida 50 years ago.
“I don’t have to worry about losing my property here.” Property rights are protected in Belize through the traditions of English Common Law. In some countries, if you leave your house or land unoccupied, squatters can move in, and it’s almost impossible to get them out. Legal documents may be written in a language you don’t understand. Powerful local interests can take your property through tricky legal — or illegal — means. In many parts of Latin America and Europe, the legal system is Civil Law based in some cases on the Napoleonic Code, very different from the system in the United States. But Belize shares with America, Canada and the United Kingdom a legal system based on English Common Law. In Belize, private property is respected and protected. Foreigners can own property virtually anywhere in Belize, with exactly the same rights and protections as exist for Belizeans. Squatters cannot take your property. The Belize legal system isn’t perfect, and lawyers in Belize are almost as costly as those in the U.S., but it’s a far better system than, for example, in Honduras.
“The U.S. dollar is accepted everywhere in Belize.” Belize has its own currency, the Belize dollar, so technically the American greenback is not the official monetary unit of the country. As a practical matter, though, the U.S. dollar is accepted anywhere and everywhere in Belize, and the Belize dollar has been pegged for decades at the rate of 2 Belize to 1 U.S. dollar. Anything of substantial value, such as real estate, is priced in U.S. dollars. This means that prices in Belize are more stable for American dollar holders than they would be if the Belizean currency floated against the dollar. It also means that in periods when the value of the U.S. dollar declines sharply against the Euro, yen and many other hard currencies, prices in Belize remained about the same as always for Americans. (Of course, during periods of appreciation of the value of the U.S. dollar, prices in Belize do not become cheaper for U.S. dollar holders.)