Taking the Plunge
Since you clicked on this page, the idea of living in Belize has probably crossed your mind. Once that happens, the questions begin. Not only have I been where you are right now, but because I have decided to live in Belize full time I probably have been asked all the questions you’re thinking of. So, this page is dedicated to answering all your questions about living in Belize. If I missed something, just shoot me an email at tacogirlbelize[at]gmail.com and ask.
The Visa/Work Permit/Residency/QRP/Citizenship Questions
Everyone who comes to visit Belize is given a 30-day visa which is simply a stamp in your passport. This visa is renewable every 30 days as long as you are well behaved and not breaking any laws. For the first 6 months, it costs $25 USD or $50 BZD each month to renew and then it jumps to $50 USD or $100 BZD per month forever after, unless you leave the country for a week or two, in which case it starts over again at $25 USD. The process itself is simple. Walk into the immigration office with your passport and tell them you need to renew your visa. They will determine whether it is $25 or $50 USD and give you a slip of paper, which you take to the Treasury Department (which is at the opposite end of the building) and pay. They will give you a receipt, which you take back to the immigration and they then stamp your passport and you’re good to go for another 30 days. Don’t be late, they will often give you a little leeway of a day or two, but you don’t want to push it. The penalty for being late, you can be fined, kicked out or both. Please note it will seem as though you lose a day each month, but because there are 31 days in some months, to average it out they always make the renewal one day “sooner” than you might think.
If you want to work in Belize, you must obtain a work permit. It costs $1,000US per year. Many people get around this by working online in some capacity but this is still considered gray area. It is required that you reside in Belize for 6 months before applying for a work permit.
Belize residency may be filed for after living in Belize for a year without leaving the country for a total of 14 days. It costs $1,000 US once you are approved. You must also have a clean police record in Belize, take a couple medical tests, proof of income or a bank statement that you can sustain yourself. There are no official procedures on the Labour/Immigration section of Belize Government website so the best thing to do is check at your local immigration office, which is where you also can pick up an application. Be sure to make a file folder with copies of everything before you turn it in. Once you have your residency, you are no longer required to have a work permit or obtain the monthly visa stamp.
QRP (Qualified Retired Person) is a nice program for those who qualify and want to retire and live in Belize. It is administered by the Belize Tourism Board and the fees of $1350 USD is payable to the board. While it doesn’t give you permanent residency, citizenship or allow you to work in the country; it does give you the freedom to come and go as you please without the need for an additional visa. You may also bring in a vehicle and all your personal effects tax exempt. To qualify you must be at least 45 years old and have proof of income of $2,000 USD per month.
Citizenship may be obtained if you live here for 5 continuous years after getting residency or marry a Belizean and live here for one year. The application process is similar to the residency. There are no fees associated with the citizenship application.
So now that you are living in Belize legally, how do you earn money?
This is definitely one of the top questions I get. Some people buy a business, however, you need a work permit to physically work at it. Many people work on the internet. It might be running a blog like this one or working for a company in your home country that allows you to work offsite. The Belize government is very protective of its workforce and so if you are applying for a job that most Belizeans can do, such as bartender, you won’t get it. Starting your own business is always welcome of course and there are many niches that can be filled. Your best bet is to bring enough to live on for a few months to a year and chances are you can find something once you get here and become part of the community.
Okay so now onto some of the basic type questions.
Where is Belize? Belize is just south of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on the Caribbean and is part of Central America. It takes about 2 hours to fly here from Houston or Miami. It is often compared to the size of the state of New Hampshire. Belize has a population of only about 370,000 but now receives over 1 million tourists each year.
How’s the Weather? The climate is considered sub-tropical. The average annual temperature is 82° F. I’ve never experienced it get colder than 65° F or hotter than 100° F. Humidity can be a bit much at times which makes it feel even hotter. The rainy season that directly coincides with hurricane season; June 1st to November 30th.
Time Zone? Belize does not observe daylight savings so March to October it is equivalent to Mountain time and October to March, comparable to Central time; also known as GMT-6.
Money? Pretty much everywhere you go will take US dollars. The Belize dollar is pegged at 2 to 1, which means if something costs $5 USD, it is $10 BZD. This makes it really easy and has been this way for over a decade. US money is pretty widely accepted here though you will likely get local currency back as change. ATM’s are readily available and will only give you Belize dollars. Not all businesses here take credit cards so be sure and check first if you are planning to pay with plastic.
Language? As Belize was a former colony of the British, almost everyone in the country speaks English. Most also speak a local dialect of Creole/Kroil and many speak Spanish. Other local languages include Garifuna. Maya Ketchi and Maya Mopan.
People? Belize is quite the melting pot, comprised of the indigenous Mayan, Spanish, Mexican, Garifuna, British and the more recent immigrants from Lebanon and China. Sprinkle in the US, Canadian and European expats and you will see, there is a great deal of diversification.
Religion? With the melting pot of people, you get quite a variation in religion as well.
Food? The local favorite dish is stewed chicken with rice and beans. If you love your McDonald’s or Starbucks you will be in for quite a shock as for the most part. You will not find franchises in Belize. The local Chinese food shops have taken the roll of fast food provider and serve, burgers, fried chicken, pork shops as well as all the regular Chinese food choices. You can always find nice restaurants around town if you want to dine a bit more upscale.
Tipping? Tip like you do in your own country, and more if the service is good and you can afford it. Since wages are low tipping is very much appreciated in Belize. For things like tours I often do a head count of how many staff are there and tip $5 BZD a head which would buy each person a beer at a bar.
A few more things to consider
Belize is still considered a developing country so do not expect it to be like where you came from. As mentioned above, we there are no fast food chains and to get to a Walmart you have to go to Mexico. Get used to the idea things taking longer to get done. The electricity and sometimes water goes out occasionally, often seemingly for no reason or without warning. The internet is slow and expensive and it often goes out as well. The government is very protective of business and imposes stiff import taxes on things like alcohol and electronics.
Would I do it again?
Absolutely! Living in Belize has changed my life forever. I love living on an island in the Caribbean where you can still see children playing with marbles. I could never go back to 6 months of winter no matter where life takes me. Once you live here, there is a shift that happens that allows you to move from the tourist economy to the local economy. You figure out how to get things at a better price and how to get things done. Besides the weather and beaches, I love the community of people who live here. This island has a way of “weeding out” those who really don’t belong here and leaving behind those that do 🙂
Who wouldn’t want to spend their days in a place that looks like this?