The beauty and the relaxed lifestyle of Belize has attracted many a foreigner to her shores. Some find the climate kind to ageing bones, others just like the change of pace. Here we provide a sampling of average prices for land and goods, as well as some general advice on making the adjustment go smoothly.

Real Estate (in US Dollars)
It's impossible to say "it will cost you 'x' amount of dollars" to live here, because it depends entirely on where you want to live and what type of amenities you need. Before you believe someone who says you can live here on $500 a month, be sure and find out where they live, and whether that type of housing and location is what you had in mind.

An apartment in Belize City can cost $1000/month and up, yet a house in Ladyville (towards the airport) can be rented for only $150/mo. (one bedroom) to $250/mo. (three bedrooms). A house with acreage in the Cayo district could rent for as little as $300/month. A vacant town lot can cost as little as $5000 to $10,000. On Cahal Pech hill, in San Ignacio, a treated pine house with a great view, three bedrooms and an 85' x 100' parcel of land is selling for $120,000. Undeveloped acreage can cost from around $500/acre for large parcels (100 acres) to $2500/acre for smaller parcels (20 acres). Generally speaking, house prices in San Ignacio range from $25/sq. ft. for raw finishing to $40-50/sq. ft. for plusher surroundings. A sea front condo on Ambergris Caye can cost $250,000; as would a large parcel of undeveloped beach property either on the cayes or the mainland coast.

The last word of advice on purchasing property in Belize is don't buy anything until you've seen it in October or November--the peak of the rainy season!

Food (in US Dollars)
Despite all the talk about imported goods being very expensive here due to high rates of duty, food prices are still pretty reasonable from an outsider's point of view. Prices for grocery items vary widely from store to store, and you can save a lot of money by shopping around for the best bargains. The biggest problem is remembering which store has the best price on which items. I have seen the same box of Kraft Grated Parmesan Cheese in one store for $4.00 and $7.50 in another! Whether one was mistakenly under- or over-priced remains a mystery. In Belize City, the supermarket prices are lower than out in the districts, but fresh produce is cheaper in the districts than in Belize City.

The best prices and quality on fresh produce can be found at small stands along the streets, or the local markets. All produce prices vary according to season, but the average price per pound for tomatoes is $ .75 to $ 1.25; onions, $ .40; cauliflower, $ 1.75; cucumbers, $ .40; potatoes, $ .45; cantaloupe, $ .60; and eggplant, $ .50. Fifty cents will buy 6 to 8 oranges (twice as many during the seasonal glut), 6 to 8 bananas, one huge mango, or one small papaya. Availability for many fruits and vegetables varies widely according to season since they are grown locally or imported from nearby areas only. The good news is that you can grow just about anything in your backyard, pretty much all year.

Here are the average prices for some familiar items:

Chicken wings: $1.85/lb;
Chicken breasts: $1.50/lb
Beef Rib steak: $3.00/lb
Pork chops: $3.00/lb
A quart of long-life milk: $ 1.80
Lunch meat $ 2.25
Bay's English Muffins (6) $ 4.00
Large loaf of whole wheat bread $ 2.60
Toilet paper (1 roll) $ .45
Box of salt $ 1.50
Del Monte catsup $ 1.50
Box of raisins $ 3.35
Pasta (dried, imported) $ 3.50
Sweet biscuits (imported) $ 3 - 4
Bounty paper towels (1 roll) $ 3.40
Local beer (1 bottle) $ 1.25
Local Rum (liter) $ 8.00
Wine (avg. French or Calif.) $12 - $15

Your drinking habits will have more impact on your cost of living than your taste for cuisine. The quality of imported wines tends to be unreliable, probably due to the heat and storage problems, and you may find yourself switching to local rums and brew, which are more refreshing, anyway. However, there are a couple of premium wine and spirits importers that would be more trustworthy (and expensive). After your palate and cooking habits have adjusted to the local fare, smart shoppers could live very comfortably on $100 per week for two people, including liquor.

Tips for a smooth transition
Before you sell your house and car, pack up your Bermuda shorts and head for Belize, be sure to make a couple of extended visits here. If you are particularly fond of a specific area, check into renting a house for a few months and see how the place suits you. The best reason for coming to live here is wanting a different lifestyle from what you leave behind. Unless you live in southern Florida, you won't need most of your present wardrobe.

Plan to move here during the winter season (especially if you're coming from a cold climate). The temperatures are cooler, and you'll have a chance to acclimatize yourself more easily. Take it easy for the first few months...don't jump into your normal jogging routine the day you arrive. Your body will take about six months to reach an equilibrium of sorts, and start to feel normal again. After about a year, you'll actually be reaching for a sweater on cooler days! Most people crave and eat a lot more salt than before-this, along with drinking a gallon of water a day, helps prevent dehydration.

Learn to walk slowly. A good pace is about half as fast as normal. You'll still arrive in plenty of time (being punctual is not a Belizean trait nor requirement), and you'll be a lot more comfortable when you get there. Accept the fact that things don't always get done when you want them, but they usually will by the time you really need them. Let's face it...if Belize weren't so different, you probably wouldn't have wanted to come here in the first place!

The optimal way to bring your personal effects into Belize, if you have a full or nearly-full container load, is to pack the container right at your residence and ship it all the way to Belize City from there. You will find shipping companies that do this by searching the yellow pages.

There are no duties or taxes on personal effects brought with you, provided everything has been used at least one year; this is particularly true in the case of computers and appliances. For ease and speed of processing by Customs, your personal items should be packed, and labelled, completely separately from anything else that may be dutiable, such as new or business related items. It's very helpful to have an itemized list of everything in the container, including the approximate value of large items and appliances. This list doesn't have to be overly specific-for example: Four cartons of clothing; two cartons of household linens; dining table with four chairs; etc. This may prevent having to completely unpack every item of the container here. Some office-type equipment is considered dutiable, even though you only use it at home, such as a fax machine. This could also apply to certain types of machinery and tools. Personal computers, however, are duty-free.

If you purchased the container (cost: $3000 to 5000 depending on its condition) you can have it trucked to your residence in Belize with the seal intact. Local truckers charge $100-200, depending on the distance. The Customs agents will then come there and inspect it as you unload. This costs extra (about $ 25) since they come after their normal working hours. Bear in mind that you'll have to pay duty on the container, too, if you own it! The duty rate is only 5% of the purchase price, but you may be charged tax, as well (currently 15% VAT). If you did not purchase the container, the shipper may require that you unload it at the dock, in which case you'll need to arrange for a truck to transport the loose items to your residence. Your shipper can provide you with all of these details. You can hire plenty of spare muscle, as well as trucking service, at or near Customs House in Belize City.

You can broker your container through Belize Customs yourself, if you like, but it's a little complicated, and unfortunately, many folks at Customs House are not anxious to guide you through the process. If you persist, you can do it, but you'll have to find out which forms you'll need, and then you have to go to Angelus Press to buy them. You must purchase the guide to completing the forms as well as the book of code numbers (both available at Customs) in order to fill out the forms properly.

If you simply go to Customs House and look around the halls for an independent broker, instead of calling one in the yellow pages, you can bargain over the charges, and probably get a rate of $50-100 for the whole process. I would say it's worth the cost to save the frustration, but be sure to bargain, or you'll pay too much! Whether you do it yourself or not, the whole process takes at least an entire day.

If you have used televisions and appliances that are in good condition, you are better off to bring them with you. They can be expensive to purchase here, due to high taxes and rates of duty. Also, it may be easier to shop at home for new, speciality items (and pay duty on them here) than to try and find them in Belize. The basic word of advice is, if there's any possibility you'll need something here, bring it. It takes a long time to find out where to buy specific items (if they're available), and your transition will go more smoothly if you've already got it. And, as for all that miscellaneous "stuff" that has filled your closets all these years... if it will fit in the container, after the essentials are in, bring that, too.

Customs agents are generally quite accommodating about personal effects, and you will likely not have to pay any duty on anything that is used. You can check with Customs in advance, if you have any specific questions about dutiable items. Their phone number is: 501-2-77405.

Please note: If you are not a Belizean citizen, in order to clear your personal goods into the country, whether you bring them with you or they arrive later, you must have official documentation from the Dept. of Immigration, stating that you are now a legal resident of Belize. You have to be IN Belize to apply for residency, contrary to most countries' policies. You have six month's time after your arrival, in which to import your personal goods duty free, and you must have been in Belize the entire time.

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