Moving to Belize Could Be the Best Decision You'll Ever Make

Moving to Belize

From its secluded beaches to its steamy rain forests, Belize is a country of diverse natural beauty. Its slow pace of life makes it a popular tourist destination, and the cost of living is still low. For the more adventurous traveler, activities can include a trek into the jungle in search of Maya ruins, spotting parrots, toucans, and maybe even a jaguar along the way. It's true that Belize is no longer the most affordable place to buy property, but this country has other benefits: economic stability, a stress-free lifestyle, and a cost of living that is good value when compared with the U.S. (or even other Caribbean destinations).

It is still undeveloped and sparsely populated so there's a lot of room (on the beaches, in the jungle, in the rain forests) for you to stretch out, and there are only three highways traversing the country (one goes north, one goes south, one goes west). Tourism here is booming. A dozen years ago, the planes from Miami to Belize City were full of Belizeans returning home from their visits to the States. Today, they are full of Americans. We asked one reader why she was moving to Belize: "The simple answer is quality of life--we're looking to improve ours. In Belize, we know our lives will be blissfully free from the commuter crush, 24-hour news, workaday stress...Belize is a land of few cars, abundant fresh food from the sea and the trees, and great natural beauty," she said. What makes Belize such a popular destination? They speak English. If you don't enjoy the idea of learning a new language but still want a place in the sun, then Belize is the place for you.

Where to Buy

If beachfront isn't your first choice, maybe you would prefer being surrounded by the rain forest, mountains, and rivers, or Maya ruins and caves. For this, the Cayo remains the unsettled (and affordable) frontier. And it's our favorite part of Belize.

Cost of Real Estate in Belize

Though Belize has a top-flight offshore banking structure, beautiful landscapes, and an English-speaking population to recommend it, the cheap property is not one of the attributes you'll find here. Though prices for real estate have not changed much in the last two years, they are nevertheless higher than what you'll find in Guatemala, Honduras, or Nicaragua, for instance. Property prices vary greatly in Belize from one area to another. They generally are highest in Belize City, on Ambergris Caye, and in Placencia, and lowest in remote rural areas. In large tracts, raw land is available in Belize for under $100 an acre, but access may be poor and surveying costs may exceed the cost of the land itself. Home prices range from under $15,000 for a simple Belizean-style home in a small village to $500,000 or more for a luxury home on the beach in San Pedro. Even with appreciation, real estate prices in Belize are still inexpensive by the standards of the U.S. or most of Western Europe.

The Benefits of Moving to Belize

Belize's government wants you to invest in the country. If this investment benefits the community, then your business may be eligible for significant tax relief for up to 20 years. Belize also offers one of the few remaining secure and private locations where you can protect your wealth with confidence. In an age when foreign governments are gaining access to accounts once thought to be sealed, the security and privacy Belize guarantees is certainly an advantage. Belize also has some of the region's most lenient residency laws. You can declare permanent residency even if you only spend two weeks of the year in the country.

Moving your Household Goods

When moving your household goods to Belize, you can start by choosing an American moving company, but that firm will still have to deal with a Belizean relocation firm for the final leg of the trip. Most experienced expats say the best strategy is to select the Belizean company first. This firm will then choose the American company that it wants to work with. When you fly to Belize, you’re allowed to bring in items for personal use and not for resale. These typically include clothing, medicines, toys, a laptop computer, books, and up to four liters of hard liquor and/or wine. If you have any doubts about what you can bring, ask the airline, a Belizean relocation company, or the Belizean Embassy in Washington.

Why I Moved to Belize

By Laura Diffendal

Video Transcript:

My name is Laura Diffendal, and I am the Belize Correspondent for International Living. Today I wanted to share why I moved to Belize. Every expat has a good story of why they moved abroad and it’s interesting to take a minute and explore people’s personal reasons and see if they match some of the things that you’re looking for yourself.

I am going to start with the question I most often get—why Belize? Where else did you look and what were you comparing Belize to?

First, a little background information on me. I am from Cleveland, Ohio. It’s a wonderful city and I’ve nothing but good things to say about it. But the weather is very cold. I was a little tired of the eight months of grey weather and cloud, and I also felt like it was a big enough city, you know, with over 1 million people in the metro area there that I was often like a small fish in a big pond. And so, those were some of my main drivers before I even started to identify countries I liked.

I did go to many, many areas in the tropics. That was what I wanted. I wanted to live outdoors and I felt like I had a lot of catching up to do with outdoor living because I had spent so much of my life indoors. I started to look in Florida and Puerto Rico, many, many places in the Caribbean. Panama, Roatan, Costa Rica, and many people would have stopped their searches somewhere else because they wouldn't have gone to one of those places. And that would have been their place. They would have felt at home and that would have met all of their needs. And for me, I loved all of those places for different reasons. Nothing but good things to say and I would visit all of them again.

But when I landed in Belize, very early in 2014, I landed in Ambergris Caye. And when you land at Tropic Air, they have a painted little billboard that's still there to this day and it says, “Welcome Home.” When I got off my puddle jumper flight, that's exactly what happened, I felt like I was home. When I talk to a lot of other expats here that chose Belize, that was there feeling, too. And it's a hard feeling to explain. You may have it. You may not have it. But those that have it come back again and again and again, and you will find that Belize is one of those places that you get very emotionally attached to and I will go into why that is.

If you're not terribly seasoned or you're not looking for the challenge of living in a country where you have to learn a new language to connect, Belize is the only English speaking country in Central America. And that goes a long way. I came down here to start a business and needed to connect with staff, and that English speaking population went such a long way to making me feel like I would be able to do it so much faster, so much easier, and not have some of the barriers I would have had other places. It was very important to me to be in the tropics and also to be in a place where I felt there was more of an opportunity to have a more meaningful impact in a community than I was able to do in Cleveland.

I’ve had the experience, over the last six years, of what it is like to be part of a small group and the profound and meaningful impact you can have in a small country, small villages, and towns. It’s a country that is young and is still in sort of the foundational growth phase. And that was very important to me. That doesn't mean that's right for everybody, but it was very right for me. And as I mentioned, I wanted to come here and have a business. I'm not quite at retirement age. And over the six years, I have had a very, very positive experience here in starting businesses. I have two small hotels in the country, one in Placencia and one in Ambergris Caye, and one of those has a bar-restaurant. So if you're looking to start a business, the paperwork, the laws, etc. are going to feel quite comfortable to you because it's the same foundational framework as American laws.

One of the most wonderful changes about Belize is the very low property taxes. This is one of those universal positives that you'll hear a lot of expats mention. We are talking a small amount. It is a very significant difference. The same property in Belize may cost you $100 to $500 a year for property taxes in a very popular coastal area, while in the U.S. you'd be looking at more like six figures for property tax.

The next reason that I really started to feel at home in Belize, and this is one of those, you'll either feel it or you won't believe it, is that it’s the most non-materialistic place that I have ever been. And I found that so freeing. I didn't even know I was looking for that. I didn't know that was a positive for me. I didn't even realize it was happening. You get turned into a minimalist whether you were intentionally looking for that or not. And the reason is it's so embedded in the culture here. Nobody walks around with fancy bags or shoes or clothes. It looks quite out of place. It’s absolutely fine to walk around about like I am now. Like you're going to a yoga class with $2 flip-flops. I never spend money on clothes and you can just wear a sundress. You can dress up a little bit here and there, but it's just not necessary. A lot of people go around with bare feet. So I really enjoyed that freeing feeling of not keeping up with the Joneses and not paying to do things.

Belize is not the cheapest place to live in Central America. But Belize is very rustic and very natural. And the things that we do here for fun are hiking, swimming, going to the beach, having a barbecue, going to a friend's open-air bar, lots of games, live music, walking the beach, walking our dogs. It's things that don't cost money. And you save a lot of money because in the U.S., to spend time with people, it was about going out for a nice dinner, maybe you go and get your nails done, you play golf, or pay for a yoga class. So that has been maybe one of the main things that have kept me here and frankly, it has made me even a little uncomfortable when I’m back in a culture where that materialism is very important.

The Belizean culture, I found, is somewhat like the Midwest culture that I came from. There's a lot of value placed on hard work, modesty, grit, resilience, and leaving things better than you found it. People that come to Belize with the mentality of I want to leave things better than you found it—and it is authentic and genuine—you are definitely going to find an easier path and more acceptance.

Sometimes I take a quick trip back to the U.S. and when I get back here it will wash over me why I moved here. I'm reminded of all of those reasons again. And when I say I’m far from home, one of the great things about Belize is that it is only a two-hour flight to Miami, to Houston.

I spend most of my time right now on the island of Ambergris Caye, which is known as the very fun, energetic Jimmy Buffett Island. And I also spend time in Placencia which is sort of a quieter, bohemian place, much calmer and much less crowded, a lot more like tranquil, open beaches. The balance of those two places is really spectacular because if you couldn't decide which one you might want for the long term, you can try them both out. What a lot of expats do here is a vacation on one and live in the other based on what they want the majority of their lifestyle to look like.

In Ambergris Caye, if we want a little taste of that lazier, quieter beach life, we can take a 20-minute ferry over to Caye Caulker for the day, which is probably one fifth the size of Ambergris Caye and much more laidback and slow. Their motto is “go slow.”

Now, a lot of people say that Ambergris Caye is very touristy. You have to put that in context because touristy in Belize is not touristy in the U.S. There is still a lot of authentic culture in Ambergris Caye. There are times that the downtown San Pedro town gets very busy. And so when you want something quieter, fewer cars, fewer golf carts, fewer tourists, you have an option to escape very quickly.

So when I thought about my reasons for moving to Belize, these were the motivations that bubbled up before anything else did.