15 Things No One Told You About Living in Belize

In the blogging world, it’s all about lists these days – and I guess, when they have a bit of substance, there is nothing wrong with that.  They are orderly, informational and easy to read.

So, here’s my list – of things that I learned in my last 9 years living in Belize.  Many…like the signs planted all over Caye Caulker, Belize, I may not have learned without moving here.   It’s a pretty simple but solid piece of wisdom.

Caye Caulker Belize Go Slow Sign

Especially when expanded upon.

Go Slow We Have Two Cemeteries, Caye Caulker, Belize

Some on my list are not so deep.

Here are the 15 Things that I learned living in Belize.


1. Though English is the national language, most people don’t speak it at home or with friends – Belize is a small country – and the only one in Central America that is an ex-British colony.  We are bordered by Spanish-speaking Guatemala to the west and south and Mexico to the north.  While English is the official language and is the predominant language in all schools, at home, almost all Belizeans speak Kriol or Spanish.  Some speak Garifuna or one of the Mayan languages.

Shane on Raggamuffin Tours - a native Kriol speaker
Shane on Raggamuffin Tours – a native Kriol speaker

Kriol is a language unto itself – and while it’s often described as a heavily accented, slang English, it has so many different words and phrases, it can take years for an outsider to pick up on all of its nuances.

2. Time has a different meaning – “Island time” is real.  And it’s not carelessness or lack of respect, it’s both a “go slow” mentality and an actual system that sometimes everyone seems to know but me.   Get to the bank and there is one teller (for some reason the other 8 desks are closed) and 25 people in front of you?  Get in line…often you’ll get chatting with the other people in it.  Invited to a birthday party that starts at 4pm?  Ask a Belizean for the real time people are going to show up.  I’ve been the one arriving as the balloons are being delivered more than once.

3. Groceries are expensive – If you want to eat any imported items, it’s going to cost you.  I think all of us do it when we first arrive.  You try to shop and eat like you did back home…$15bzd boxes of cereal, $3bzd apples, $18bzd Doritos.  All those things are delicious.  But, man, there goes your budget.  Learn to eat like a Belizean.  Rice, beans, chicken, flour, sugar, IN SEASON vegetables and fruit, are very reasonably priced.  Or there is some DELICIOUS low priced food out there.  Your pocketbook will thank you.

Plus, the food is DELICIOUS.

Stewed Chicken Rice & Beans Belize's National Dish

4. No one will look at you askance if you are drinking a beer with breakfast – This “rule” is great for some and horrible for others.  If you are the type that just likes a beer with his fry jacks, once a week, great!  Everyone minds their business and that’s a nice thing.  BUT if you are the type who came down here because you were drinking too much or sliding down a slippery slope of addiction, the permissive attitude of Belize, especially the more touristy areas, can be dangerous.  Are you moving to Belize because you love it?  Or are you moving to Belize to escape yourself?  Choice 2 never seems to work out that well.

A Michelada or breakfast beer or hangover cure. Beer with spices and worcestershire.
A Michelada or breakfast beer or hangover cure. Beer with spices and worcestershire.

5. You Can’t Always Get What you Want aka Control Freaks Beware!  Belize is a different country, a very different culture.  If you want things to operate like they do in the States or if you often find yourself starting a sentence with “Well, in Canada, the city council does this or that…”  You are going to find yourself in a downward spiral of disappointment and frustration.

6.  The check isn’t going to be delivered to your table as soon as you finished eating – In the US, we usually “dine and dash”.  If your plate isn’t cleared as you finish your last mouthful, you may get antsy.  In Belize, there is a much more laid back mentality (catching a theme here?).  Sure sometimes it may be slow service, but often, wait staff feels rude giving you the check – as if to say GET OUT.  Most of the time, you are going to have to ask for it.

7. The Internet is getting better…slowly  Belize has long been known for having some of the slowest & most expensive Internet in the Western Hemisphere.  (They don’t mention that in the tourist brochures…now do they?)  But it is getting better.  SO much better.  My 4G Mi-Fi is a little gift.  When you move down here, make sure to check out ALL of your options.

8.  It Can Be Really Tough to Make Friends – There are lots of different factors at work here (a list within a list!)  a.  It’s harder to make friends as you get older  b.  Many of us live in tourist towns that are quite transient  c.  Living in Belize isn’t for everyone – many people try it for a year or two and it’s not the right fit.  Volunteering, activities like SUP or Crossfit…all good places to meet people.

9.  If you are “city folk”, you learn that cats and dogs have balls!  Well the male ones do  I’d honestly never seen them.  Enough said.

Puppy Astro on North Ambergris Caye. I don't think he has them...but I just like this picture.
Puppy Astro on North Ambergris Caye. I don’t think he has them…but I just like this picture.

10.  The leading question when you meet someone is not “What do you do?” When I lived in New York, what you did was who you are.  If that’s the first thing I ask someone here, I almost feel like I’m attacking them…it seems like a very judgemental question.  And one for much later in the conversation.

11.  Buying an existing business does not mean that you are going to make money (no matter what the ad says.) – Turn Key!  Positive cash flow!  touts BusinessforSale.com.  Where you live, would you just take that at face value?  Would you buy anything (for more than about 50 bucks) sight unseen?  Would you consult no one but the seller?  Would you not stake yourself out at the business for a week or two and undercover check it out?  The same rules exist here!  Small business is small business.  YOU are not going to revolutionize the bar scene in San Pedro.  Trust me on this one.

And you are going to lose money if you think you are going to just unlock the door and then go lay on the beach.  Small business means hard work anywhere.

12.  Electricity and water are not guarantees – Though what might be guaranteed is that power is going to blow on Christmas Eve, for at least a few hours.  Sometimes we overload the system, sometimes, the Mexicans turn off our power supply on Ambergris Caye, sometimes, the water company is waiting for a part.  It just happens.

13.  Belize has seasons – Belize…ahhhh Belize.  You are picturing temperate days and sunny skies.  And yes, that is true most of the time.  But we do have seasons.  We get some cold spells in the winter with night time temperatures dipping into the high 60s.  Windy springs and HOT summers with rainy nights.

The beach at Tranquility Bay, North Ambergris Caye, Belize

14.  You are probably going to be awed by the view out your window or down your street every single day – and something unspeakable beautiful will hit you about once a week…if not more  This little country is packed with the most amazing beauty – from a drive thru the misty Maya Mountains to dolphins swimming by the reef to just the view in Central Park, I’m still shocked every day.

The view from the hilltop at Sleeping Giant Resort.
The view from the hilltop at Sleeping Giant Resort.
Gorgeous Ranguana Caye off of Placencia.
Gorgeous Ranguana Caye off of Placencia.

15.  It’s pretty critical to be somewhat laid back and have a sense of humor – if you are an immigrant to this country, you have…well…a bit less pull.  Sure, like everywhere, money talks but you are a visitor here – in a different country, a different culture.  You need to go with the flow.  If just that statement “go with the flow” makes you cringe?  Belize may not be your perfect fit.

I could go on.  And I bet those who live here could too!  Please feel free to comment below and add to the list…or let me know what you think of mine.

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15 Things No One Told You about Living In Belize.

  • Heidi Strub Nelson

    I have been following your posts for a few months, and I thank you for this and all the information! We will be taking our exploratory trip to SP in June. I hope to convince my husband to move there, sooner than later! Now, about those restaurants in the States hurrying you out the door. Here in the South (NC is my current home), we do have to ask for the check, and we never feel hurried. 😉

    • Good to know! Maybe it’s just a NY/NJ thing 🙂


    What surprised us the most is that it’s cheaper to eat out than it is to cook and paper towels and toilet paper are expensive!

    • As a single person, it is almost ALWAYS cheaper to eat out. I eat out for lunch…a HUGE plate of rice and beans and chicken, often at Briana’s $9bzd…and then kinda nibble for dinner.

  • Michelle Kosin Jesus

    I always find it interesting when I read other people’s blogs or reviews on trip to San Pedro and they say the food is expensive. Yes it is if you only eat like you did in the US. I understand the craving for something from back “home” but when I am there I always eat like a local because it is so delicious and inexpensive. Nothing beats fry jacks and a Belikin for late b-fast early lunch on a lazy day!

    • For sure…but I think I went thru the culture shock part a bit…after about a year, I wouldn’t even look at rice and beans again. Was ‘off them” for about 2 or 3 years and then re-discovered them…and now eat them almost every day.

  • emmalewis

    Many of these things apply to Jamaica (where I live) too. But we are trying to change some things – abolishing “Jamaican time” for example, and Internet has improved dramatically.

    • Abolishing! I’d be very curious how you do that!

      • emmalewis

        Haha! Maybe that was the wrong word!! We are working on making it a thing of the past should I say… 🙂

  • FJL

    I would like to add one more…. Bugs, many that bite. For those of us with O+ blood and Mediterranean heritage (i.e. bug magnets), bring some repellent. My great February trip there was only marred by 4 different types of bites, likely including bed bugs (you get what you pay for).

    • BED BUGS!?!?! Those I have no encountered…and the more you live here, the less itchy the bites get. Honestly! Fire ants, though, I get a bite maybe a few times a year and they TORMENT ME!

    • Two words: Botlass flies. Not on the Cayes, but on the mainland. My fault for not wearing bug repellent all the time. And yes, fire ants, but being from the southeastern US, those I’d dealt with before. Never the Botlass!

  • Miranda

    Great post, Rececca. I know you like signs, so I just emailed you one. Enjoy.

    • I’m not sure I got it! I LOVE THEM 🙂

  • Miranda

    About the bugs: I haven’t had too bad of a problem with them. I don’t use bug spray any more because the scent of it makes me sick to my stomach. This trip, I’m trying the old tried and true, Avon Skin So Soft oil bath spray.

  • Susan

    Good post, thanks! So what is the leading question? (ref #10).

    • Hmmmm…good question. Expat to expat – where are you from. Locals? Just “wadda gwan”…or what’s going on 🙂

  • Carla

    True dat! I moved to Caye Caulker about 9 months ago – living, learning, and loving it (for the most part)! The irony of #1 is when I find myself in one of the grocery stores, owned by the Chinese, trying to read the label on a can of food, which is written in Spanish, while I’m in an English speaking country! With #12, you might add gas to the list. For those cooking with gas, you are most likely to run out at a crucial moment (house full of guests), on a weekend, when you can’t get a refill! But when you look at the view, it’s all good!

    • Ha. I will add that…now that I have an electric stove (blech), I forgot about propane! Very good one.

      • Kat

        We have two small gas cans, so when one always runs out at a critical time, you can just hook the next one in. And then fill the empty one right away ( yeah, right…). We do the same with 5 gallon water also.

  • Dan

    Wow, fantastic entry, one of your best that I’ve read and I read all of them. Love your blog. Keep up the good work.

  • i better say nothing, to this ”15 things” request.

    • Debbie Griffith


  • Jill Burns

    Good info, thanks for the heads up!!

  • Jeanne

    Love this! So informative and fun! What are your top 5 restaurants on the island?

  • Sandie in Belize

    Great info, excellent list! I tell people who are considering moving to SP that you need to possess 2 things to be happy here & call this “home” ~ 1. Infinite patience & 2. A great sense of humor. Without those, you might as well not unpack.

  • Robert Harper

    I love the post. I have thought of doing something like this on our Caye Caulker blog, talking about what we have learned our first year. Would you tell me about your Mi-Fi? Who do you use?

  • Bobby Nuvolini

    Hello from Portland Oregon! I am selling my home soon and am looking to relocate to Belize permanently. Very much interested in AC, but my tried and true profession is in the hospitality industry (20 years, mostly tending bar). Thanks for the heads up on the difficulties of securing such positions. Hoping an extensive resume with stints in Alaska and Hawaii may merit at least some considerations. At any rate, I’m going for it…see you soon!

    • Go for it…you don’t want to live in regret…

  • Ella-J

    last time we visited we rented a house in placencia so we could cook some ourselves and because my son and his wife came with us. We saw “dis be fi wi chicken” on a package of chicken. after some internet research and asking a couple locals we found out that the chicken comes from a kriol farm and it is “for real” or free range chicken without any hormones etc. It’s almost like it’s a whole other country!
    fi wi man

  • Cynthia Ornellas

    Thank you for the insight. Some of it I already knew, experienced, or had a good idea of. But, you did give me a few things I either hadn’t thought of or had not yet seen. I puchased some land and will be building my retirement home in the near future. Thankfully, none of what you have presented here do I consider a deal breaker.

    • That’s good. I wish you tons of luck 🙂

  • Margaret West

    Just found your blog! Such great information! My husband and I are going to San Pedro the first week in September of this year and staying for a week. We are also looking for property to maybe move there or spend winters there for now. Scary for us. We live in rural southern Wisconsin. We are going to have lots of time to explore. Maybe we can visit and meet you while we are there. Possibility?

    • sanpedroscoop

      Don’t be scared! There are lots of people who do it. September will be HOTTER and quieter than winters down here…but you definitely need to visit! 🙂

      • Margaret West

        Thanks for getting back to me! What is the average temperature. In September?

  • Val Wait

    Great info! Hubby & I have been researching retirement places south of the US border for years. Next stop in October is Placencia. I have high hopes! Thanks for sharing all this wonderful insight & information!!!

  • MaryJeanEtb

    #8 is actually the scary one.
    Is this in general, or more specific for San Pedro and tourist towns?

    • sanpedroscoop

      Tough to say…I’ve only tried it here in San Pedro!

    • SPmQQse

      i’d say…..you will always be….”gringo”

  • Chris Murphy

    Any tips on a jumping off point to sort of recon a possible move with renting for a while first? Appreciate it….GREAT ADVICE on here, very informative 😎

  • Lisa Parham

    Great article, very informational, I like when people include details, I am a laid back person and can not wait to get there, living that is.

    • sanpedroscoop

      Hurray! On your way?

      • Lisa Parham

        Thank you. Yes my plans are for October or November. Do you have any suggestions for a 2bedroom in caye caulker or any where else close to water for reasonable rent?

        • I don’t…rentals are tough! The local paper, real estate companies and word of mouth 🙂

    • SPmQQse

      you may be 20 yrs too late….for ”laid back”…!!!

      • It’s all relative! Compared to my old life in Manhattan this is WAY LAID BACK. Compared to 20 years ago here, it’s sped up.

        • SPmQQse

          ”sped up”…..i believe, is being way too soft/liberal/kind.