How to Be A Good Expat

How to Be A Good Expat in Belize or…Anywhere

Relocating to a new country can be exciting and…terrifying.  Paperwork, packing, pet transfer, saying good-bye to friends and family…there is so much to focus on during the process, and even more when you arrive in your new country.  For the first few months and even the first few years, it can be SO easy to focus on the differences between your old home and new.   To focus on the details of your totally new daily existence rather than examining the big picture.

I get it…I did the same when I moved to Ambergris Caye, Belize 13 years ago.

So here is my list of tips…let’s call them “success strategies” for those who are moving abroad – and more specifically, those moving to Belize.  Ideas that are helpful to keep in mind…even before you make the physical move.

I’d love to hear from you!  Especially from those who have made this transition.

What advice would you give would-be expats?

A note:  There is controversy around the word “expat” and rightly so.  Have you ever wondered why white foreigners living in the country are expats and all others are immigrants?  The word denotes hierarchy…and privilege.  I agree with that and want to be careful about that but I think I’m using it here correctly.  Those who generally come from America and sometimes Canada and to a smaller degree, Europe.  People that moved to Belize because they fell in love with her on vacation.  A HUGE PRIVILEGE whether you packed up your tiny backpack and bought a one-way ticket or you built your dream retirement home on sprawling beachfront property.

For many of us in Belize, we bypassed what can be the biggest hurdle to living abroad – learning a new language.  It was a part of what probably drew you to Belize- being able to chat with and really get to know the people that live here.

So I can get on to some other points.

Come here and operate here legally

Belize is a very open country.  You can visit easily…you can apply for your work permit…Belize allows foreigners to own land and to build.  But there are rules and regulations.  And often processes can be slow…

Take that into account when you come here!  Just because you may see another bending a rule or paying off an official, does not mean you are free to do it.  Do not come as a Qualified Retired Person and then work.  Do not buy a boat and “secretly” take visitors on tours for money.  Or build your home without the proper permitting.  It’s illegal.  You may think no one knows or cares…but you live in a very small place…where everyone works in the same industry (tourism).  Don’t start out in a position where you are taking work from a citizen of your new country or your neighbors may begrudge you.  It’s not a good way to start your new life.  It’s an ugly look.

THINK about how illegal immigration practices are being viewed by so many in the US right now.  And know that you too are an immigrant.

Sideline the “Must Do” Mindset that may have gotten you great success 

Waking up each morning with an extensive to-do list may have been a huge part of your day in your previous country.  You may have gained much of your success at work and at home based on this practice.

But things move at their own pace in Belize and more often than not…you can only get one or two things done a day.  If you are going to get frustrated by that, you might be in trouble.

See Grocery Shopping On Ambergris Caye – it’s NOT one-stop shopping.

Be Open-Minded

EVERYONE thinks they have a good sense of humor, good taste, and everyone thinks they are open-minded.  Moving to a new country will test this…every day.  Belize and the US have different cultures and different practices that you may not see when you visit before moving.  The way YOU do things is not automatically better…it’s different!

In the same vein, try not to start sentences with “You know where I am from, they…”

If You Are Coming Down here to work, Expect to work HARD to Succeed or even “Make It”

I get messages from many people that say “Before I move down there, I am looking to buy a small business so I have some income and something to do when I move”.

Well…you’ll certainly have something to do!  If you are coming to Belize and plan to buy a business, expect to work hard or harder than you would at a similar business in the US.  But imagine that you are running that business in a very specific and tricky seasonal market, often with LOTS of competition.

The idea of buying a beach bar and stopping in to collect “your check” is…a dream.

Take Help and Advice Offered

Trust me.  I know the “American way”.  I worked on Wall Street as a bond trader for a bunch of years.  I was a single woman in the city…an Army of One!  I could do anything and everything on my own.

You just moved to a new country – one that you may have visited twice or twenty-five times in the past.  You do not know everything.  No one expects you to know everything about life in Belize.  No matter how many hours you’ve spent on Facebook message boards about “Moving to Belize”.

No one expects you to know everything.  Ask for opinions.  Accept offers of help.  Ask people that did what you are planning to do.  In person.  And listen!  Take it all with a grain of salt, of course.  I’m not saying take all advice willy-nilly.  But if your neighbor “criticizes” the fence you are planning on building or the tree you are planning to plant, listen.  Don’t just bristle and shut down.  The person who was born here probably has some good stuff to share.

Embrace the Local Culture

As easy as it seemed to move to Belize – no language barrier, everyone is incredibly friendly – this is still a different country, a different government system, and a different culture.  Though you can find foods you are used to and TV and movies and music that you know, branch out!

Learn about the government and history.  Know the local holidays.  Watch and read the local news.

Appreciate the differences and try to stop comparing.  (It’s human nature…it’s HARD, I know!)

Take It Easy

Gotta chink in your armor?  Belize has the tendency to magnify the vices or weakness.  Trouble with your marriage that you are hoping beautiful Belize might help remedy?  Do you enjoy having a few too many drinks now and again?

Ambergris Caye, for much of the year, hosts thousands of tourists who may be having a Bloody Mary every morning at 9am or…may be single and ready to mingle.

If you are moving here to “get on the straight and narrow” – you might find it very difficult.

Figure out Belize City

This is my most specific tip.  But I think it’s an important one.  Belize City is the largest city and still the commercial hub of the country.  Most tourists shy away from the city but if you live here, it has a ton to offer.  Shopping, restaurants, a great small museum.  And at some point, you are going to need to go over for an errand or an appointment.  It’s a fun day trip and a nice break from the island if you are feeling “island-fever”.  Get comfortable with Belize City.

Be polite

I know…OBVIOUS.  But think before you have a meltdown at the bank about “your rights” or shout in your most self-righteous voice “Do you know how much money I’ve spent in this town?”.   Meltdowns do happen…make sure you go back and apologize.  Being kind and polite and friendly will get you farther than anything else.

Imagine a foreigner shouting “Do you know how much money I’ve spent in this town?” in your town hall in Kansas City, Missouri, or Ridgewood, NJ?  I cringe to think of it…

Harsh but true:  Belize was here before you and Belize will be here long after you.  Because you believe you have invested X amount of dollars or spend Y amount in town every day or you’ve employed Z amount of people, you are a visitor here.

Smile and say Good Morning…afternoon and night. 🙂

That’s my list.  I mean it to be helpful…and would love to hear if you have any thoughts or additions.

Here’s a Pinterest Pin if you are a pinner 🙂

How to Be a Good Expat

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