16 Things No One Told You About Living in Belize: 2024 Update

Living in Belize can be fantastic.  But it can be a very BIG adjustment when you move from another country…from the US or Canada.  While I’ve been here full-time for over 17 years now (holy crap) and it is my home – I became a Belizean citizen last summer, I still learn something new pretty much every day.  It might not always be a fun learning experience – like look at that coool colorful bird!…it might be a few days of trying to figure out how to get someone to help you fix your sink.

Things, they say, are simple in Belize but they are never easy.

Title: 16 Thngs No One Told you

And that uncertainty – not the weather or the sea or the food (oh the food!) – is my favorite thing about living in Belize.

View from Blue Water Grill
The view from Blue Water Grill in San Pedro

So, here’s my list of the top things I’ve learned in those 17 years.  “Go Slow” is not just 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

Go Slow Sign Caye Caulker
Sign in Caye Caulker but also words to live by!

Even more meaningful when it’s expanded on with this Caye Caulker sign.

Go Slow We Have Two Cemeteries, Caye Caulker, Belize
No Hospital sign on Caye Caulker

Here are the 16 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.

Tacklebox San Pedro

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.

A friend recently told me that her grandson visited from the States and kept asking her: When are we going to the beach? What time will we go to lunch? What time are we going to…

You get the picture.  She told him that there is no time in Belize – that things happen when they happen.  It doesn’t have the death grip it has on us in other countries.

It’s a good way to look at it – but it’s veeeery hard to adjust.

3. Your Groceries are expensive 

If you want to eat any imported items, it will 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 $8-12bzd/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. (You don’t need to go 100% immediately!) Rice, dried beans, chicken, IN-SEASON vegetables, and fruit are very reasonably priced. BBQ, breakfast tacos, local delis, panadas, and 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/Slippery Slope for Vices

This “rule” is great for some and horrible for others.  If you are the type that 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 (mind ya business), 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 will 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?).  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.

Meat Pies in San Pedro

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 #105 in the world with decent 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 vast majority of folks still buy credit and data for their phones to access the Internet; we don’t always have connected mobile internet. Wi-fi passwords are generally available at most businesses, but when just walking around town, I am pretty 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.

If you plan to work from home – remotely – this is something you want to consider.

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.

downtown San Pedro

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 exercise like yoga or Crossfit, and SCUBA diving are another way. They’re all good places to meet people, but it can be tough.

9. There are Stray Animals – Additionally, Many Pets and Strays Aren’t Spayed & Neutered 

Where I grew up (suburban NJ), I don’t think I ever saw an unneutered dog. I’m sure I wasn’t looking hard, but it shocked me when I got to Belize. I had never considered that a cat had balls. (I clearly hadn’t thought it through.)

Many animals here aren’t fixed. Some folks (especially guys, I find) are unwilling to get it done. Even if offered for free.

You will also see dogs outside during the day and night—some are pets that go on walkabout during the day, and some are strays. We have an amazing humane society on Ambergris Caye, but it’s hard to keep up with when dogs aren’t regularly spayed and neutered.

10. When you meet someone, the leading question is NOT “What do you do?”

When I lived in New York, what you did was who you were. If that’s the first thing I ask someone here, I almost feel like I’m attacking them. It seems like a very judgmental question and one for much later in the conversation.

Beach at Estels

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 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.

You will lose money if you think you will 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 will not only have to work hard but also 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…

This is even more true now! In the summer of 2024, we are experiencing a bit of an electricity crisis with our national power company.

What might be guaranteed is that power will 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.  

Winter -> Easter Winds -> VERY Dry Season (Dust/Mainland Fires/Sahara Dust) -> HOT SUMMER -> Potential Storm Season -> The Very Rainy Season –> Repeat

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, and October and November can bring rain for a few days in a row…

We also have mosquitos during rainy times, and I can’t recommend this brand’s bug products enough during those times! (It’s a game changer) I love the lotion and the spray. They are not greasy, have no gross smell, stay on for hours, and don’t melt your nail polish or fishing line.

The beach at Tranquility Bay, North Ambergris Caye, Belize

14.  You will probably be awed by the view out your window or down your street every 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.

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 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 and voters 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.

Crazy Gringo Sign
A joke (I think) but you don’t want this to be what you are known for!

16. Laws You Never Thought About in the US or Canada…They are Not a Thing Here or Just Never Ever Enforced

In NYC, I never ever thought about zoning. But in Belize, you can build a beautiful dream home on the beach and that empty lot to your south. It could become a noisy golf cart repair shop or a huge grocery store with neon signs or a 6-story building that obstructs your view.

The lot next door might be 80’x80′, and that new grocery store neighbor or restaurant that plays live music until 10pm might take up every single square inch of that property.

Speeding industrial trucks racing by your vacation home at 4 am? It could be a thing. Don’t make assumptions based on what you used to experience.

You get what I’m saying.

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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13 Comments

  1. Allen Willey on May 13th, 2024 at 10:56 am

    This could be 11.5, or #17.

    Like time in Belize, Truth is relevant. Belize is a poor country, so creativity is essential. The Belizians are good people in general. Doing business, like building a home, requires an understanding of what is acceptable. This varies quite a bit from the States. Sadly, “scammers” find Belize to be quite hospitable. The fact that a scammer was caught “red handed” doesn’t mean you won’t see him or her, doing business in the same community a week later. Verification of upfront payments and progress payments require a skill very few people have.

    • San Pedro Scoop on May 16th, 2024 at 2:54 pm

      Creativity yes. I was just used to doing things the way they are done in the states. Sink broke? Pick up phone book (now google), call the right person, make the appointment (usually that day) or run to the hardware store and get the needed piece. Everything is just soooo convenient. Here…you gotta work for it!

  2. Jonathan Vance on May 13th, 2024 at 3:54 pm

    My wife and I had our honeymoon on the island and fell in love with the people and the beauty all around. We bought a condo north of San Pedro and we are so happy when we’re there and hopefully we will get to spend at least 3 to 4 months a year. We have made a lot of friends there and hopefully we will make more in the future. It’s a different world but we love it, we love the slower pace of life and the culture. It’s a dream come true for us.

    • John Iwinski on May 14th, 2024 at 7:06 am

      Thanks for all The info…
      Planning on Buying Late this Year
      Can you Provide a Good Lawyer
      Thank Again..

  3. Pedro garcia on May 13th, 2024 at 4:04 pm

    Thank you for this information I want to move to san pedro
    When I m going to retire

  4. Cindy Evans on May 13th, 2024 at 5:24 pm

    You as always are spot on. We have been here 5 years and Belize has made us better people for their culture and acceptance

    • San Pedro Scoop on May 16th, 2024 at 2:52 pm

      It’s made me more patient and accepting for sure – but sometimes I was dragged there kicking and clawing! Thanks for the message 🙂

  5. Vernon Wilson on May 13th, 2024 at 6:27 pm

    I learned a Beatitude in Belize that was left out of the Bible.. I am sure Jesus said it but one of the scribes drank too much wine and forgot to write it down….” BLESSED ARE THE FLEXIBLE…FOR THEY SHALL NOT BE BENT OUT OF SHAPE😂🤣😂🤣

    • San Pedro Scoop on May 16th, 2024 at 2:52 pm

      AMEN.

  6. Holli on May 14th, 2024 at 10:21 am

    Great article! I love that I have to ask for Mt check. In the states, they take your plate & utensils while you’re still chewing. It’s so annoying!

    • San Pedro Scoop on May 16th, 2024 at 2:52 pm

      Americans are always in a rush to get somewhere. I’m not so cuaght off guard when my plane touches down and EVERYONE grabs their phones and starts making calls and…it’s some sort of frantic rush to not miss anything! My phone (which doesn’t work in the US anyway) is useless!

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