Photo Credit: Olivera Rusu Photography
There are many reasons why Expats choose to move to Belize. Its warm climate, diverse cultures and the overall relaxed lifestyle of the country are just a few of the reasons. Moving to Belize, however raises several questions for expats and the whole process appears daunting especially when you may not know what to expect when it relates to the health care system, the education system, cost of living and other aspects of your new life in Belize. Here, we will provide you with a guide that we believe all expats moving to Belize should know.
Healthcare in Belize
Belize has a relatively well established medical care system both at the private and public sector level. In Belize, there are hospitals or poly clinics in every major city and town in the country with eight public hospitals and approximately 70 public health facilities that you can have access to. Anyone can attend these clinics or hospitals. Having medical insurance is recommended but not mandatory, for expats that are moving to Belize to gain access to healthcare.
There are two main private hospitals in Belize- Belize Medical Associates and Belize Healthcare Partners which are both located in Belize City. These private hospitals offer Pharmacy, Radiology, Laboratory and Operating Theatre Services. They employ doctors specializing in several disciplines including Paediatrics, Neurology, Dermatology, Internal Medicine, Obstetrics, Gastroenterology and Urology. These private hospitals are considered the best in Belize due to the higher level and type of care given by the doctors and staff at these institutions. The cost of a consultation at these private institutions range between US$25.00 – US$30.00 while the cost of a doctor visit at a public hospital is usually free or at a very low fee.
Education in Belize
Expats moving to Belize with children should also be well informed about the education system in Belize. Belize offers many private and public educational institutions. The Belize school system is based on British education, which is broken into three levels: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary. Children enter the education system at the age of five and begin their eight years of primary education. They attend two years of Kinder referred to as “Infant” classes in Belize, followed by six years of Grade School which is known as “Standard” classes in Belize. They then spend four years in High School/Secondary School. After which, students enter into the Tertiary Level system at Sixth Form which is a two-year course, where a student can earn an Associates Degree in a variety of majors including Science, Arts, Business, Sociology and Psychology. There are several Sixth Forms throughout the country including St. John’s College, Junior College, CorozalCommunity College and Muffles Junior College. Thereafter, a student may choose to attend the University of Belize or Galen University to attain a Bachelors Degree – this may take between 2 to 4 years depending on the major that the student chooses.
The cost of Education varies. Public primary Schools are considerably cheaper than their private counterparts as public primary schools are free with the exception of a small yearly registration fee, books and uniforms. Private Primary schools such as Island Academy in San Pedro amounts to approximately $3,000+ a year.
The cost of a High School education in Belize also varies depending on the institution. Saint Catherine’s Academy, for example costs $500 a year (tuition & fees). Furthermore, attaining a Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Belize would cost around $675 a semester, which is tuition for 15 credit hours. In order to be enrolled in any school in Belize, a student Visa must be acquired from the Immigration Department. The cost of the student visa for primary and secondary schools is US$25.00 per school year, and the cost of the student visa for the tertiary level is US$25.00 per semester.
The Immigration Process is one of the most crucial questions that expats have when moving to Belize. If you are moving to Belize wishing to one day retire then you should consider these two options to be able to reside in the country. These options include becoming a Qualified Retired Person or becoming a permanent resident.
The Qualified Retired Person Program (QRP) is manned by the Belize Tourism Board and was implemented to assist all those individuals moving to Belize. Benefits of having QRP status includes exemption from all taxes on income and receipts, exemption from all import duties and taxes on personal effects upon first importation into Belize and exemption from all import duties and taxes every five years on a personal motor vehicle.
To be qualified for this program you must be over 45 years of age, be a non-resident of Belize and have a pension of at least $2,000.00 USD per month. If you acquire QRP status you will be allowed to come and go from Belize without the need for an additional visa. However, this does not give you “Residency” status, you will be able to work but not be gainfully employed and you can never qualify to become a citizen of the country through the QRP Program.
Requirements for expats moving to Belize include filling out an application form and providing supporting documentation that include a Birth Certificate, Marriage Certificate, Police Record, Passport Copies and Proof of Income.
If you would prefer to eventually become a citizen of Belize then applying for permanent residency is the best option for you. You can only apply for the Belize Permanent Residency after you have continuously resided in Belize for one year. This application is done at the Immigration Department Office in Belmopan City. The application process involves filling out an application form, taking an HIV test, submitting a police record and giving two recommendations. Once your application is approved you will be able to seek employment without the need for a work permit and travel in and out of the country with no restrictions. After 5 years you can then apply for full citizenship. The application fee for permanent residency for U.S. Nationals is US$1,000 per person, but the fee may vary depending on your nationality.
Life Style and Entertainment
One of the main reasons expats choose to move and retire in Belize is for the laid back lifestyle that the country emanates. If you are in need of a relaxing environment with delicious fresh cuisine, beautiful weather and amazing adventures, Belize is the place for you.
Belize has many attractions, world-renowned – for land and water lovers alike. Expats moving to Belize should know that there are many activities that you and your family can partake in while living in Belize. You can visit the Great Barrier Reef which is the longest in the western Hemisphere. You can visit our many beaches and go, fishing, snorkelling and scuba diving. You can also visit the Mayan Ruins which are scattered across the country such as Altun Ha and Xunantunich.
Belize also offers a lively night life for those expats moving to belize as there are several restaurants and night clubs through out the country.
Cost of Living
The Cost of living in Belize is also one of the reasons why many expats are moving to Belize. In general, Belize has a very affordable cost of living. It is not the cheapest country in the Caribbean or Latin America, but it takes less to live in Belize than in most places in the US, Canada or Europe. It is believed that a couple can live comfortably on approximately US$1,500 per month. You will find that dramatic savings can be found in domestic labor, utilities, food and construction. Below are the average costs of living expenses that may be incurred while living in Belize. The cost of living also varies depending on the location that you choose to reside. The below amounts are in US dollars.
Cable TV: $25
These are just a few important topics that all expats moving to Belize should know and should do some research on. If you are moving to Belize and want more information the Belize Tourism Board and Belize’s Immigration Department can provide some more useful information.