Living in Belize is fantastic. But it can be a very BIG adjustment when you move from another country…from the US or Canada. And while I’ve been here full-time for over 15 years now and it is my home (I just submitted my application for citizenship!), I learn something new pretty much every day. It might not always be a fun learning experience – like look at that fun bird! It might be a few days of trying to figure out how to get someone to help you fix your sink.
And that uncertainty – not the weather or the sea or the food (oh the food!) – is my favorite thing about living in Belize.
So, here’s my list of the top things I’ve learned in those 15 years. “Go Slow” is a fun vacation sign when you see it when you first visit – but it’s a solid piece of wisdom that I work on weekly…
It’s a critical element in: How To Be A Good Expat
Even more meaningful when it’s expanded on with this Caye Caulker sign.
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.
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.
Just wait until the first person asks you if you are bex.
Read: Languages of Belize & Do I Need to Speak Spanish in Belize?
2. Time has a different meaning in Belize
“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 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.
Have you been invited to a birthday party that starts at 4 pm? Ask a Belizean for the real-time people are going to show up. I’ve arrived before the family even started decorating more than once.
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 as you did back home…$15bzd boxes of cereal, grapes $8-10bzd/pound, $18bzd Doritos, wine and champagne. The vodka or whiskey you love in the states. All those things are delicious. But, man, there goes your budget.
Learn to eat a bit more like a Belizean. Rice, beans, chicken, IN SEASON vegetables, and fruit, are very reasonably priced. BBQ, breakfast tacos, local delis, panadas, street food are also very affordable. Try to replace your gin and tonic with a local rum and tonic.
Almost everything imported to Belize is costly. Just keep it in mind.
Here is my guide to grocery shopping in San Pedro.
Plus, Belizean food is DELICIOUS. (Here’s my take: All About Belizean Food)
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.
5. You Can’t Always Get What you Want aka Control Freaks Beware!
I know it seems obvious when I say it, but Belize is a different country, a very different culture from what you may be used to.
If you want things to operate as 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 know what the Mayor should do?…”
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 has REALLY improved over the last 5 or so years
Belize had long been known for having some of the slowest & most expensive Internet in the Western Hemisphere. (We are now #79 in the world with pretty good speed)
When I first moved here, certain websites (like Skype) were blocked – the signal was often in and out, and the top speed was akin to dial-up.
But it is better – SO much better! Prices have gone down, and speeds up. 2 years ago, we could finally stream channels like HULU and Netflix. What a game-changer!
That being said, the majority of people still have to buy credit and data for their phones to access the internet; we don’t have mobile connections. Wi-fi passwords are generally available at most businesses but when just walking around town? I am unconnected.
I bet that’s hard for you to imagine!
That being said, you may head to a jungle location and find that the internet is spotty at best. Just ask before you go if it is an issue for you. Often it’s a great chance to really relax.
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 – people try it out for a few months or a year. Or snowbirds arrive just for a few months in the winter. c. there is a wide range of people here – people from all parts of the US and Canada…Belizeans…lots of different cultures and values at work.
Living in Belize isn’t for everyone – many people try it for a year or two, and it’s not the right fit Lots of the socializing takes place around bars. And that can be hard if you don’t drink. Volunteering, activities like group exercising like yoga or Crossfit, SCUBA diving is another way…all good places to meet people, but it can be tough.
9. If you are “city folk” like me, you learn that cats and dogs have balls!
Well, the male ones do – I’d honestly never seen them and clearly hadn’t given it much thought. Enough said.
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.
Maybe this one is projecting – “Wait…you can make money blogging?” 🙂
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. And if you are the 100th bar opening in town, you are not only going to have to work hard but you are going to need to differentiate yourself in some way.
Tough! (My April Fools Blog a few years ago about a new bar owner)
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 nighttime temperatures dipping into the high 60s – you’ll see Belizeans in hats, gloves and often parkas. We have windy springs (the “Easter winds) and HOT summers (especially late summer August and September) with rainy nights.
We also have mosquitos in those rainy times. And I can’t recommend this brand’s bug products enough during those times! I love the lotion and the spray. Not greasy, no gross smell, stays on for hours, doesn’t melt your nail polish or fishing line.
14. You are probably going to be awed by the view out your window or down your street every single day – and something unspeakably beautiful will hit you about once a week…if not more
This little country is packed with the most amazing beauty – from a drive through the misty Maya Mountains to dolphins swimming by the reef to just the view in Central Park, I’m still shocked every day.
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 because Belize is such a tiny country – votes also talk. 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” or “easy does it” 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.
And if you are a Pinner (one who Pinterest) – Pin away by pressing the button below. 🙂 Wait…does Pinterest still exist?
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.
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.
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!
Haha! Maybe that was the wrong word!! We are working on making it a thing of the past should I say… 🙂
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!
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 🙂
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
Thanks SO much 🙂 That made my day.
i better say nothing, to this ”15 things” request.
Good info, thanks for the heads up!!
Love this! So informative and fun! What are your top 5 restaurants on the island?
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.
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?
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…
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
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 🙂
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?
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! 🙂
Thanks for getting back to me! What is the average temperature. In September?
Hi Margaret. Found this blog recently and saw your from Wisconsin. My wife and I are from Fort Atkinson and took our honeymoon to Belize 7 years ago. Since we’ve had the dream of moving there. Have you moved there or just taken trips? Any insights would be helpful as far as retirement to such a beautiful country.
Hi! We should meet for coffee or dinner ! We are still here in Wisconsin. Contact me via email.
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!!!
#8 is actually the scary one.
Is this in general, or more specific for San Pedro and tourist towns?
Tough to say…I’ve only tried it here in San Pedro!
i’d say…..you will always be….”gringo”
I have found that to be total opposite. But I am a very outgoing person. I am on the expats site and I friend people on FB. I go out of my way to meet people and remember their names. That being said I live ten miles north so it’s hard for me to do night activities alone so I miss out on a lot of social things. But meeting all the people here is what I love the best!
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 😎
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.
Hurray! On your way?
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 🙂
Hi Lisa, Did you move to Belize? I am planning to move to Ambergris in one month. Was it easy for you to find a studio or an appartment?
Hi Marie, I did not move yet, that was my plan in Nov 2016, plans are delayed, I am happy for you, let me know how you like it. I hope to meet you there one day. Happy travels.
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.
”sped up”…..i believe, is being way too soft/liberal/kind.
i want to come in Belize. so i need to contact local expert. may i get any contact person?
I am wondering how bad the internet situation actually is. Can I count on a internet signal anyday 24/7 if I pick the right place in Belize to live?
We can’t even count on power that much! But if you have enough back up systems – probably 🙂
We are actually getting high speed internet!
I want to warn all people who are living or thinking of living in Stan Creek. Shopping at A&DS I is PAINFUL! I have been here 20 years as an hotel owner. I have spent thousands with Andy Kulyen. They have a no return policy on nothing. Think twice before buying anything that has a no return policy. The sign is huge, rdead it! Beware that once out of the store no reason matters, no return.
I butchered my 660 pound pig, needed a huge freezer. I bought the most expensive, a Frigadair, up right freezer, $1,800 cash. I was told it had a year guarantee. It stopped working less than 90 days. On a Friday it started to scream late in the afternoon. I call Andy. He gives me the number of a repairman who doesn’t answer. The nightmare begins as my $3,000 worth of frozen food is rapidly defrosting. I was told Andy was gone. I am panicked no repair man, no Andy. I call Saturday morning, no Andy. Told I must call on Monday. I use my friends phone Andy is there, oh my. I speak with him, ask can I get another replacement since my freezer is full of my expensive pig. He lied to me saying he did not have one or the same one or any freezer in his huge store. He promised to send a repair man. Finally Sunday a repairman shows, he doesn’t fix the freezer, meats defrosting, still. Monday I am told I must bring the freezer to him. Impossible no one to move it . I ask him to pick up since he said it must go back to Belize City to be fixed. How stupid, send a repairman! I am not feeling good about his customer service skills, I asked what do I do with all my meat?He said give it away. Not at all happy!! Andy has committed to picking my freezer up on Monday. I have now rented a freezer. It was finally repaired on Tuesday. He informed me because I had a bad attitude he was not going to help me with my freezer I bought from him it is now Tuesday . A real f_____ you is what he was saying. I am desperate at this point. Truley have a real genuine bad attitude. It is again broken, not freezing not even 90 days, still less than 6 months since purchased. He told me Monday a repairman would come to service my freezer. He never showed, still today a no show or a call back. I have spoke with him twice now with a promise to be called back on the time frame of a service man. I call again not available. I do believe I will have a bad attitude if no call back and most of all no repairman!
Please understand my frustration. Do not buy at A&DS. I am not a selected few. Ask anyone who shopped or has to shop there how painful it is to be subjected to such indifferent customer service. AVOID A&DS LIKE A PLAGUE!
Belize sounds like a lot of the international/tropical island living out there everyone thinks is so idyllic – until the reality sets in. We’ve been doing some one week stays south of the border in various locales. It’s really hot like Florida with more mosquitoes and less screen. Many areas are isolated and have few of the conveniences taken for granted in the states. Television, internet, drinkable water, competent health care; just to name a few. I am finding I am too spoiled to live ‘affordably’ in paradise.
I love it – but yes – it is not paradise every day all day. I mean…no where is. The weather now is HOT…seriously hot and the bugs are out. And for sure…the cheap places are going to be rustic for the most part. It’s definitely a trade off. I’d guess that more than half of the expats that move here find it was a good experience but they miss too much stuff.
Hello, how would the taxes with a pension work in Belize? Is it beneficial to own a home in the states and also in Belize or have dual citizenship if that is an option? What I’m getting at is will it be beneficial to have taxes taken out in the states or will Belize taxes save someone more in the long run.
Rebecca, you crack me up!! #9 is true but SAGA and I and other visiting vets are doing our best to “fix” that problem!
I love that fiber optic is now spreeding accross the country. We live in OWT and just got ours last week. It’s a game changer for us as a family of 6.
I live the Bay Area in California and I am seriously considering Belize as my home. I need to have a decent internet connection as I am in IT. 🙂
Isn’t this an old posting? I’m certain I’ve seen it before…
You are good! I first wrote and posted in 2016 but it was a popular one! So I wanted to tweak and repost…
Yes it was-and still is 😀
Ok, I’ll bite…what is a bex?
I bet it is British ex-patriot since that term is pretty common
Oh! Sorry I didnt’ get back to you. Bex is Kriol for vex or angry.