Life On Ambergris Caye: Things I Tooked For Granted Until I Moved to Belize

Exiting Your Comfort Zone:  Belize is Not Just Cocktails and Beaches Or “You Don’t even Know what You Don’t Know”

I’ve read countless articles about expat life, many written by people who haven’t moved abroad yet or are in the first few months in their new home = “the honeymoon phase”. They talk about shedding possessions for simplicity, embracing new cultures, and keeping an open mind. They’ll shed old resentments as easily as winter coats and snow boots, and Belize will buff out their flaws, making their new life simple, easy….better.

They touch down in Belize and declare:  “I will never again focus on a few ugly trees…I will now ONLY see the big beautiful Belize forest!”

Gorgeous ocean view at Ray Caye
The view at Ray Caye in Southern Belize

Here’s the real story…moving abroad will likely force you to confront your autopilot life. It won’t be all day, every day, but it will be hard.

In ways you never expected…didn’t even know to expect.  Just because things in your new life might be simpler, it doesn’t mean they are going to be easy.  And sometimes it’s the little things that we can get mired down in.

Here’s my story…just as an example.

I grew up in suburban New Jersey, close to New York City, with its conveniences, benefits, and opportunities. My upbringing wasn’t perfect, but I had access to a great public school system, lived in a safe community, had access to medical care, and expected to go to college, with my parents/grandparents paying for it. All in all, it was a huge cosmic lottery win.

If anyone asked me what the luckiest thing that ever happened to me in my life it would be where I was born.  A blessing for which I had zero responsibility.

And because I made some choices – good and bad – and burned out early from the “rat-race” that I just knew was NOT meant for me, I found myself in a position to move to Belize at the age of 33.  Moving to a place I fell in love with during a one-week long vacation.  And a bit of running away from “real life”.  I was going out on an unsteady limb.  And I’ve learned…I mean, good lord, I’ve learned so much.

There comes a time when your expat life is no longer “on vacation.” You know it’s not a vacation when you move, but it takes a while for the adjustment to hit home. You realize you didn’t even know what you didn’t know.

It took me a few years.  I’m still working through it 16 years later.  It’s a process!

Here are some things that I took for granted when I moved to Belize

Power is always on and if it is not, it’s a BIG F-ING DEAL

I can remember a few times in my 33 years in the States when the power went off.  When I was small after Hurricane David and in NYC during the 2003 Northeast Blackout (off for 24 hours in NYC? It was worldwide news). 

Both outages were so significant, that they have their own Wikipedia pages and I still remember them today.

View from above San Pedro town
View from the Spindrift Hotel in San Pedro

Here in Belize, the power may go out for 2 minutes or 20 hours (though that is relatively rare) – it can be scheduled by the power company to do tinkering or upgrades or it just might be that “Mexico has cut the power to Belize”.  This sort of thing happens a few times a month.  Brownouts and power surges can and do fry your electronics.  That’s just the way it is.

Water is unlimited

Turn on the faucet, water comes out.  That’s just how it is…how it always was.  Well…not where I live in Belize. 

We collect water from our rooftop into our cistern and that is the water we use during the year.  Most of the water is collected during the rainy season (July to December)…the cistern overflowing during the rainiest of the nights and then in the spring?  The rain stops.  And by summer, the cistern empties and you may be forced to BUY water.  (Not just the small monthly fee I was used to paying for my NY apartment) 500 gallons delivered to your home on a flatbed truck and pumped into the cistern for hundreds of dollars!  We then try to limit showering and all water use.  Water is not something to take for granted.

Say good-bye to your Hollywood Showers.

Gas Just Comes Out of Your Stove

In the States, gas magically comes out of your stove. Here, you buy and refill heavy tanks of butane in town and lug them home. A strong back and a wrench are involved.

In the same vein, that waste is flushed down the toilet and it just disappears

You’ll see the signs in so many bathrooms in Belize.  DO NOT flush toilet paper, put toilet paper in the bin.  Or something along those lines.

Ewwww…put TP in a stinky bin sitting by the toilet?  Yes.  In most spots, waste is not just whisked away to be dealt with somewhere else.  It moves into a septic system – that is on your property and trust me, you do NOT want to have problems with this system.


Rain.  In the NE United States (I lived in NJ, Mass and NYC), you can expect rain.  Not all the time…but every few weeks?  And it’s just a minor annoyance.  Don’t forget your umbrella.

Rain clouds over the beach

What you CAN expect is that it gets REALLY hot and humid in the summer…as temperatures approach the mid-90s, everyone just expects that it will rain and “the heat will break”.  Rain comes – generally in the form of a strong thunderstorm…temperatures “break” and it cools down.

Wrong.  Here in Belize, there are months where we get ZERO rain (aka “the dry season”) – February thru May…sometimes June…no rain.  Not a mist or a passover.  Nothing.  All things (including you) acquire a semi-permanent layer of dust.

And when it rains in Belize – it doesn’t get cooler.  It gets HOTTER.

Drinking Milk with Every Meal

When I was a kid, it was a given that you would consume milk with every meal.  Cow milk – that comes refrigerated at the supermarket OR…when I was little – brought to our house 2x a week by the MILKMAN. Even if you don’t use it every day, it is available. Always. A staple of life. 

Here in Belize – milk is seen very differently.  Because dairy cows are not that well adapted to the heat of Belize – and because refrigerated shipping, while on the rise, is still a luxury.

Canned milk is the norm.  Carnation evaporated milk.  You can now also buy Lala Boxed Milk – but it’s imported from Mexico.

Fresh milk, ice cream, sour cream…it’s all expensive, if available at all.  Make sure to check expiration dates as well.  Unlike milk in the USA, the demand/turnover is not high…so it’s best to check before you buy.

If you are fresh milk lover, Western Dairies on Ambergris Caye gets in their shipments on Tuesday. They also make a MEAN vanilla soft serve.

Supermarkets have EVERYTHING On Your List, the Selection is Endless

When vacationing in Belize,  I ate in restaurants or purchased take-out food…and when I stopped in a market for snacks, the differences from what I was used to just seemed fun.  Who needs a Diet Pepsi when you can drink a delicious Orange Fanta in a glass bottle!  I don’t need my favorite protein bars, I can eat local plantain chips.

It becomes a bit more challenging when you move here – a daily scavenger hunt to gather ingredients you desire. 

Life can’t be all Orange Fantas.  I wouldn’t have any teeth.

Fantas lined up by color
A rainbow of Fanta – including the elusive Root beer

Here’s what you will not find:  Pre-prepared foods – chopped bags of salad greens, in fact, most salad greens most/all of the time.  It will be a hunt to find many imported fruits and veggies (from strawberries to asparagus to peaches)  And when you do find it, it’s either SUPER EXPENSIVE or…not in the best state.

It has probably traveled in a refrigerated container to Belize.  You are not going to find a whole aisle of the supermarket labeled:  Keto-Friendly or Vegan.  Maybe one or two items but the selection is sporadic and expensive.

Pumpkins in San Pedro
Pumpkins for sale at the fruit stand across from Tan’s Market in San Pedro

And just because you saw ripe mangos or bread or cookies in a store last week, doesn’t mean they have them this week.  Inventories are restocked with much less frequency, if at all.

Additionally…you might find you have strange hankerings for foods you didn’t even eat when you lived in the US – every once in a while I will have a primal urge to eat a steak or a Big Mac.

There are no fast food places in Belize.

Here’s My Guide to Grocery Shopping on Ambergris Caye

You Can Find All Local Information on the Internet

Many businesses in Belize do not have websites and some have no social media at all.  If they have either, they are not always meticulously updated.  This may seem crazy if you are moving from the US but you can not just google “best tailor in San Pedro Belize” or “golf cart mechanic on Caye Caulker”.  You can not always see a business’s hours online or find out if they carry the item you want….or click and buy.

So much information is word-of-mouth.  You are going to have to make actual phone calls!   It takes a while to get used to!

This also applies to the weather forecast!  In the US, you can look up the hourly forecast in your zip code and get a very good sense of what to expect.

Here?  Not so much.  A summer day in Belize can be hot sun, dark clouds, and rain showers all in one hour.  Tropical weather is always unpredictable.

Here is the best site for weather by a long shot.

When You Call the Police, Ambulance and/Or The Fire Department, They Arrive Immediately

They might or…they might not have transportation to your house.  Or not enough guys are on duty.  Or the fire truck is having issues.  They absolutely do the best job that they can and things are improving each year…but things are not always 100%.

Most communities across the country do not have ambulance service or guaranteed 24-hour medical care.  And San Pedro JUST got a 24-hour private hospital – just this month! A HUGE DEVELOPMENT.

It’s all just something that even though I never needed it, I assumed was always there.

In that same vein…

Veterinary Care, Even 24-Hour Vet Care, is a Given

Many communities do not have full- or even part-time vet care.  There are times when our island, Ambergris Caye, does not have a veterinarian available.  And if you have an emergency, you would have to fly/take a water taxi to Belize City during the day.

One of our FOUR Belizean potlickers – Frannie

Fitting In

One of the reasons that I felt SO comfortable moving to a new country by myself, without a job, at the age of 33 is because Belizeans are so warm and welcoming.  I immediately felt at ease when I was in Belize.

And I still do.  BUT…I’ve lived here for 16 years, full time, and I am not “a local”…and I’m not “a tourist”.  My spot is…well…hard to describe.

I still feel American – I am taxed in the US and I vote in the US.  I have strong opinions on US politics and issues…and a healthy sense of patriotism for the USA though I only visit for about one week a year (and I’m generally dying to get back home/to Belize after just a few days). 

But I also love Belize…so much.  It is my home.   When people ask me how long I plan to stay here…I’m momentarily confused.  I LIVE here.

In fact, I just got my citizenship in Belize in August!

Even though we speak the same language and watch much of the same TV, movies, video games, and music videos, I…will always be…different.  There will be assumptions made about me and I will make assumptions.  It’s human nature I guess.

Often, if I haven’t seen someone for a few months or even a few years, he will start the conversation with “Wow!  I didn’t know you were still here!”

Because…most gringos that move down here DO leave.  The majority of them do.

This sense of “otherness” is not Belize’s fault – I just wasn’t born here. And I don’t feel it every day, or even every week. It’s just there.

And as you can tell, hard to explain!

I moved to Belize because I loved it.   And I stayed because I love it.  But it’s about trade-offs.

I swapped my subway commute for a bumpy 7-mile golf cart with no windshield.  I swapped my heels and suits for cut-offs and flip-flops.  I swapped dark cold winters for forever sunshine.  I also swapped dry cleaning and an automatic dryer for a somewhat manual washing machine and line-drying (it sounds more romantic than it is).

I swapped a sense of comfort for a sense of adventure – a life that keeps me on my toes.  And it’s worked for me.  So far, so great.  These 16 years have been the best of my life.

I love my community, I love this island, I love the natural beauty of Belize, I love that all my days are different.

But it doesn’t work for everyone.  So I hope these things give you something to think about…I didn’t even include Amazon Prime!  And DVRs!  And the Apple Store and Target!…especially if you are planning expat life.

Everyone thinks they have a good sense of humor.  Everyone thinks they have common sense.  And everyone thinks they are pretty flexible.  You are about to test all three.  Good luck!

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  1. Linda on December 28th, 2023 at 10:37 am

    GREAT article! Thank you for this and all your posts. I am about to make my third trip to Ambergris Caye and I can hardly wait to get there!

    • San Pedro Scoop on December 29th, 2023 at 9:46 am

      It sounds like you are hooked. I GET IT! 🙂

      • Missy Watts on January 1st, 2024 at 2:15 pm

        Great article. Belize is on our short list for retirement and we plan to visit soon. I’ve been following you for about a year now and your information is so helpful. I don’t think San Pedro is for us. I’d like to find a community there with a central water system and cistern back up, and a vet! Does it exist?

        Thank you!

        • Sharon Phillips and David Phillips on January 8th, 2024 at 9:05 am

          you should visit my new home down the road from the writer. I am currently building the second home on the property. I will rent rooms or the whole house 2024 for any good offer. (only this year) I am from Ypsilanti Michigan and are aware of the many pros and cons. Yet I have conquered most of the cons. no cheap but it can be conquered. So if you pass the (once called) Costa Blue, around the corner (3 minutes pass Costa Blue) a cute brown cottage looking house and a big house right next to it, stop and talk to Thomas Medina. (my caretaker and builder) He will tell you how we mastered the water problem, electricity problem and the best way to grow great veggies. I’m will be there next week and spend about 4 weeks a year, and plan to open a school and a church.

  2. Holli Driver on December 28th, 2023 at 10:39 am

    Great article and so true!! I live here part-time for 3 years. I love the simplicity. Miss the Korean kimchi craving when it comes calling.

    • San Pedro Scoop on December 29th, 2023 at 9:46 am

      Yes…and people will say: well…why don’t you make it! But cravings come and go and fermenting cabbage is alotta work! 2 years ago I made corned beef – pickling spices and weird pink salt…and it was delicious. But I don’t think i’ll be caving to that craving for at least..a decade!

  3. Frank j on December 28th, 2023 at 10:52 am

    When you get to the day you have lived more than half of your life there (and you will), through yourself a party and call yourself a ‘Local’

    • San Pedro Scoop on December 29th, 2023 at 9:44 am

      When I travel on the mainland and talk to tour guides or taxi drivers, I tell them I’ve been here for 16 years and they immediately say “OH…you are a local then”…but on the island, that is not the sentiment at all. Hmmm…right now I’m 16/50. I’ll reach half in…when I’m 69. Oh boy.

      • Sharon Phillips and David Phillips on January 8th, 2024 at 9:09 am

        You are what you think you are! I ve been coming down since 2000 and I feel like a local. Most people think I am Belizean and when I am there, I am.

  4. Mimi Wells on December 28th, 2023 at 10:56 am

    Your comments ring so true. I have and am working in the U. S. with au pairs from all over the world. Most stay with their same host family for two years. Their meaningful friends for the most part are other au pairs either from their own country or other nationalities, but rarely Americans. I tell them this analogy when they prepare to go home: when you come to America you are wearing yellow sun glasses. The yellow reflects your country’s language, customs , friendships, lifestyle etc. In America you shortly realize that everyone here is wearing blue sunglasses. In order to fit in, you adjust and get yourself a pair. When it is time to return home to your country and you are asked by family and friends, “ What is it like in America?”, your response is that “Everything is GREEN!”. They will have more in common with other au pairs!

    • San Pedro Scoop on December 29th, 2023 at 9:42 am

      I love that. It’s so spot on. It’s like you are wearing a tinted lense but had no idea you were wearing sunglasses at all.

  5. Susan Alonzo on December 28th, 2023 at 11:34 am

    I live in Guatemala and can relate to so much of what you described. I do visit Belize, I do enjoy this slow paced lifestyle, yet I do miss eating many of the American foods. Nice article. I enjoyed reading.

    • San Pedro Scoop on December 29th, 2023 at 9:41 am

      Thank you. Where in Guatemala do you live? If you don’t mind sharing…

  6. Jane on December 28th, 2023 at 11:37 am

    So true. I live in Placencia and absolutely love every minute of it, but certain things are challenging – shopping being one of them. The water here in Placencia is in great supply and drinkable from the tap. As for butane – we call the “gas guy” when the butane in our tank runs out. He cruises around our area all day long and will arrive in a small tanker within 5 – 30 minutes to fill up your tank. Very convenient in a place where convenience is in short supply.

  7. HARRIETTE JEANNE FISHER on December 28th, 2023 at 2:09 pm

    Another great article. Thanks for posting. It made me think of one (of many) little jokes (some not so funny),
    ? How can you leave Belize with a million dollars?
    A. Come with two!

    • San Pedro Scoop on December 29th, 2023 at 9:40 am

      A CLASSIC! And I don’t think you can leave with one. I don’t think you leave until it’s all gone!

  8. Diane Shepherd on December 28th, 2023 at 2:51 pm

    Only in Corozal since August and living in an area where I am one of only a few foreigners
    ( yes, THAT is what we are!) I have the benefit of having traveled/lived outside the States thanks to Uncle Sam. And, yes, there is a learning curve in terms of cultural differences. But, having moved my parrot here ( a very LONG and cumbersome process) and adopting a dog and cat, I am here until the Lord takes me.

    • San Pedro Scoop on December 29th, 2023 at 9:40 am

      Traveling with a PARROT! Now that sounds like an amazing blog post. I’d love to hear more about your journey. I write so much about MY experience – but there are people living around the country with such different situations. I need to figure out how to share.

  9. Rob Stark on December 28th, 2023 at 7:00 pm

    Thank you for your quick response to my questions about our upcoming trip down. We had been visiting every year for multiple weeks for about 15 years before we retired almost 6 years ago. We gave some very serious consideration to moving to Ambergris Caye. We’re definitely not barflys, just homebodies. But we had been down enough to know the ins and outs and decided we were better off just continuing to visit and staying in the US. Kids, healthcare, and dietary habits all played a factor.

    • David Martin on December 28th, 2023 at 7:41 pm

      When I read your headline:
      Exciting Your Comfort Zone: Belize is Not Just Cocktails and Beaches – I thought OMG, Rebecca wrote an adults only Scoop!

      …oops, my bad:
      “Exiting ”
      Imagine my disappointment.

      • San Pedro Scoop on December 29th, 2023 at 9:38 am

        Dang sorry to disappoint. Can you provide me a brief outline that you’d like to see in the adults only post? 🙂

        • David Martin on December 29th, 2023 at 6:19 pm

          Well I ‘could’ provide an outline but then I’d be giving away the idea for My blog when I move there 😏

          Just kidding. Although during the last several years I have had numerous ideas for somewhat adult subjects many readers might be interested in. Give me a few days, I’ll send you an email…

    • San Pedro Scoop on December 29th, 2023 at 9:39 am

      I think that makes sense – there are so many factors at play! Visit often 🙂

  10. Bill on December 29th, 2023 at 5:23 am

    From the song “Down in Belize,” Jerry Jeff Walker- “when they say right away, they just may not mean today!”

  11. Nick Marsz on December 29th, 2023 at 7:35 am

    We moved to Placencia 2 years ago , although some of the issues like grocery availability etc are true , we have city water , no real power issues ( do have surge protectors and can get one that protects your whole house for $100 Us ) and the natural gas Refill comes door to door at about 24hrs notice or less.
    Certainly this country has its issues but I feel like half of these problems listed are due to living on an island.

    • San Pedro Scoop on December 29th, 2023 at 9:37 am

      Half most certainly could be. The village water is a HUGE plus – and San Pedro has that for those in town or south of town. Just not up north. I forgot to add Banking in Belize! credit cards and making payments. They are not huge problems…just stuff that takes getting used to. Gas delivery sounds amazing!

    • John on December 31st, 2023 at 8:51 am

      Can you please share the whole house surge protector you recommend for $100 US?

  12. Bob Bichler on December 29th, 2023 at 10:08 am

    Given that we both lived in NJ at earlier points in our lives, I wonder if you could help me wrap my head around something when it comes to the cost of living there. I know you can’t really have an apples to apples comparison since life is so different in each place, so I’d prefer to know this instead. Do you feel like you spent more money living in the NYC area (for whatever it was you spent money on) or in Ambergris Caye (for whatever it is you spend money on). Not more or less per “thing”, just in general for all the “things”.

  13. Ed on December 29th, 2023 at 6:51 pm

    Love Belize! I leave Tuesday for my 3rd trip!

    • San Pedro Scoop on December 30th, 2023 at 8:59 am


  14. Selena Tillman on December 30th, 2023 at 3:22 am

    Hi admin, You always provide great resources and references.

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  16. Jeff on December 31st, 2023 at 9:13 am

    On our last trip to this wonderful place called Ambergris we decided this is going to be home. It was the beginning of October, we had literally the entire pool and condo complex to ourselves.
    A beachfront unit had a for sale sign and we signed on the dotted line. The experience begins… it was a bit tricky but finally after a few months of paperwork the deed was in our name. Changing the power to our name was another interesting process.
    We got here the day after Christmas for our first night… after a interesting meeting in a back room at customs and a few hundred in fees off to our new home. What happened to our quiet place??? Kids screaming and running around the pool.. the hot tub is full… it’s noisy… hummm. Time to buy a golf cart. A permit to purchase a golf cart? Oh boy where is town hall??? I need what? A Belizean driver license, a laundry list of requirements and $100.
    Our adventure continues….I have a hammock under my backside overlooking the Caribbean Sea so it is, what it is, a leaning curve. Hmmmm Sunday BBQ at Marge and Kenny’s yummmm.
    Looking forward to many years making la Isla Bonita our home. Happy New Year
    Jeff and Sherry

    • Sharon Phillips and David Phillips on January 8th, 2024 at 9:25 am

      Former Teacher. I am building the second house 3 minutes from Costa Blu . I plan to start a school and a Church on the North side. (eventually) Been coming down since 2000 and love the challenge of defeating all obstacles. Coming Jan 18 to put on Solar.

  17. Carla on December 31st, 2023 at 11:52 am

    This is an excellent blue print for expats wanting to relocate, especially to islands or outside of the U.S. As Californians who moved to Hawaii, we took fruits like strawberries and cherries for granted. They were so expensive, we just stopped buying them. But, like you said, it’s about trade offs. We didn’t have strawberries but we did have other local fruits we couldn’t get on the mainland. We discovered Belize and Ambergris Caye two years ago and loved it! Continued happiness to you in your chosen homeland. It truly is magical!

  18. Peter on January 4th, 2024 at 9:15 am

    There’s always a cost. Paradise is never free. I’m a widowed Kiwi, who bought a large Catamaran in Honduras, then sailed around Guatemala, while I loved Rio Dulce, the language was always difficult. Belize is English. NUMBER ONE. Yes it’s more expensive, and supplies are limited, but everyone can communicate, although many speak Creole, they all know English.
    What’s missing is, SOCIAL INTERACTION, with the Expat Community. I’m not suggesting, segregation, more, common expat discussions, and in my case, chances of finding a partner/ wife, to share paradise with. I live alone, full time, with four Queen Cabins, all with ensuites, and am reluctant to take on the challenges, of inter Cultural personalities. Any one interested. I’m 66, going on 45.
    [email protected] KiwiPete.

    • Sharon Phillips and David Phillips on January 8th, 2024 at 9:29 am

      Hey when I finish me second house (3 minutes from Costa Blu) I will have an Expat Party and invite all.

      • San Pedro Scoop on January 10th, 2024 at 8:25 am

        We live about 1 mile away!

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