Living Abroad in Belize
Making the Move
© Lan Sluder, from Living Abroad in Belize , 1st Edition.
Used by permission of Avalon Travel Publishing. All rights reserved.
Before you even think about moving to Belize, spend some time in the country. Come experience the country firsthand, so you can make an informed decision. So, let's say you've done your due diligence, and you're ready to make the move. How do you go about doing it? There are three main options for those wishing to live or retire in Belize or spend extended periods of time in the country: You can enter on a tourist card or as a Qualified Retired Person (if you fit the bill), or you can apply to become an official permanent resident. Each status has advantages and disadvantages.
Moving with Children
Belize is a country of young people—the average age of the population is only 19—so your children will probably have many opportunities to meet other children their age. Belizeans love children, and children are welcome almost everywhere. It's rare to find a restaurant or any other business that doesn't allow children to enter. In many respects, most of Belize is the way the United States was in the 1950s or earlier: Children play outside all the time, walk or ride bikes to the store or school, and hang out with friends. There are very few “soccer moms” in Belize who spend their days driving their offspring here and there.
Whether your children adapt well to Belize or not depends on what expectations that you both have. If their lives have revolved around going to the mall, seeing movies every weekend, and eating fast food, they're probably facing a serious adaptation problem-there are no malls or fast-food places in Belize and only one movie theater in the entire country. On the other hand, if they like to be outdoors, and especially if they enjoy activities on the water (no place in Belize is more than a few miles from the sea, a lagoon, a bay, or a river), they'll be in heaven.
Young children do have to be watched, as they may not recognize the dangers of scorpions, snakes, Africanized bees, and other wild creatures. In some neighborhoods in Belize City, children may be endangered by gangs and drugs.
Finding toys, children's books, and children's clothes may be a challenge in Belize, especially in rural areas. Libraries are few and far between, and none is large.
Schooling is obviously a concern for expats with children. About 85,000 Belizean children are enrolled in schools of all types, including almost 65,000 in primary schools and 14,000 in high schools. Schools vary widely in quality of teachers, equipment, and facilities. In rural Toledo, your local school may have few textbooks, no library, and perhaps not even electricity or running water. In Belize City, the best schools are quite good indeed, and motivated students will be well prepared for a rigorous college. Most Belizean schools do teach religion as part of their daily curriculum, and that may be an issue for some families. Some expats home-school their kids.
Moving with Pets
Dogs and cats can be brought into Belize without quarantine. Owners must get a certificate from a veterinarian after an examination not more than 48 hours before to shipment stating that the animal is free from infectious diseases and has been vaccinated for rabies not less than one month and no more than six months before departure.
Bringing a pet into the country falls under live animal importation and is regulated by the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA). Domestic pets are allowed to enter the country provided their owners have a valid import permit, international veterinary certificate, a valid rabies vaccination certificate, and that their pets have been inspected by a quarantine officer. There is a US$12.50 entry fee, plus a US$12.50 fax fee.
To apply for an import permit, request an application form from the Permit Unit of the Belize Agricultural Health Authority, and then return the completed form to the same agency. The date of arrival must be specified. Approved permits will be faxed to the applicant at a cost of US$12.50 to be paid at the point of entry on the day of arrival. If you don't follow this application process, you will be subject to a US $100 violation fine in addition to the US $12.50 entry fee.
Small dogs and cats can usually be carried in the cabin of scheduled commercial airlines. For larger animals, American and Continental are two of the airlines flying into Belize that ship pets. Pets are transported in pressurized cargo holds. Charges vary depending on the weight of the animal. Continental charges about US$200 to fly a 50-pound dog from the United States to Belize. There are also cargo airlines that transport pets, including AmeriJet, which has service from Miami to Belize. You can also drive through Mexico with your pets.
Not all pets adapt well to Belize's subtropical climate. Mange and venereal disease are endemic. Rabies occasionally shows up in rural areas, vectored by vampire bats and other wild things.
Belizeans generally do not have the same view of pets as Americans do. They rarely allow dogs in the house, for example. Dogs are used more as watchdogs than companions. You don't see many cats in Belize. It's possible they've been eaten by the dogs or wild animals. In rural areas, you will see a number of wild animals, such as howler and spider monkeys and the smaller wild cats, kept as pets (even though it is often against the law).
What to Take
Foreign residents in Belize are split on how much to bring to the country. Some see a savings in bringing everything you may need, especially if you have a duty exemption on household goods.
On the other hand, many who have moved to Belize say it's best to bring as little as possible with you. After all, you won't need a lot of clothes. You can buy furniture cheaply in Belize, and you can find appliances and other household goods either in Belize City or Chetumal, Mexico. Amazon.com and other companies will ship books, CDs, and other items to Belize. You may want to store most of your household goods in a storage facility back home. Then, after you've been in Belize for a while, you can return to your storage space to pick up the items you decide you really need.
You will probably want to bring the following items to Belize if you are setting up housekeeping, as these are hard to find or expensive there, or will be expensive to ship later.
- good-quality sheets and towels
- high-quality mattresses
- high-quality pots and pans, silverware, and other kitchenware
- hobby equipment
- specialized hand and power tools
- fishing and diving gear
- top-end electronics
You can ship bulky items by sea or overland. Small items can be shipped via the postal system. You can drive your vehicle down through Mexico or ship it by sea.
Ocean and Overland Freight
Sending goods in a 20-foot container from Miami is likely to cost you about US$2,000, not including import duties. A 40-foot container may cost you US$4,000 by the time you get it to your home in Belize, again not including any import duties.
Hyde Shipping is probably the most used and recommended shipping company serving Belize. It offers freight sailings from Port Everglades near Miami to Belize once and sometimes twice a week. Both 20-foot and 40-foot containers are available. Tropical Shipping also offers weekly freight service from Miami to Belize.
There are freight consolidators in Miami who will assemble your goods, crate them where necessary, and put them in a full or partial container-for a price. Small items can be shipped to Belize by air or surface mail, which is fairly dependable, or by fast but expensive airfreight services such as FedEx or DHL. Speed Cargo in Miami can ship small boxes via freighter: A 20-cubic-foot box might cost under US$100.
You can also move goods to Belize overland from Texas. One recommended mover is Elbert Flowers at Cayo Adventure Tours.
Yucatan Express has offered on-again, off-again pedestrian and vehicle ferry service on the Canadian ferry ship Scotia Prince. For a short time, it ran in the winter from Tampa, Florida, to Mérida, Mexico, and to Puerto Moreles near Cancún. However, this service has at least temporarily been discontinued. It is possible service will resume in late 2005, but this time from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Veracruz, Mexico.
Customs brokers in Belize can be very helpful in smoothing the way and getting materials quickly released from customs. They will meet your goods when they arrive in Belize, fill out the paperwork, and have the goods forwarded to their final destination in Belize. It will make your life a lot easier if you have a local customs broker working for you. Be sure to check references.
Storage in Belize
If your home isn't ready for occupancy yet, what do you do with your goods after you get them to Belize? Storage facilities in Belize, other than those owned by the government, are few and far between. Edgar's Mini Store in the Vista Del Mar area of Ladyville, near Belize City, was the first ministorage facility in the country. Dave Edgar established it in 2002. As of press time, it was for sale. Another storage facility is on Ambergris Caye. Caye Mini Storage offers monthly storage for US$.15 per cubic foot-an eight-foot-wide, 12-foot-deep, and 10-foot-high container is US$144 a month.