There is a common thread in the conversation that many expats have when they first move to Belize and try to find long-term rentals—it is hard to do. There are many reasons for this, and I’ve experienced them while trying to rent in two of the most popular areas of Belize, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, and Placencia.
There are several factors that are important to know going in to your search: where the best areas are in town to live, how to find your rental, what is actually available, and what expats wished they knew before they rented.
In Placencia, there are several distinct areas of town where expats live. Placencia is a gorgeous, 16-mile peninsula with an endless beach, palm trees, sparkling Caribbean views, mountain views, and houses of every color and style. The most popular choice is to live right in the village, because you don’t need a car, and everything you could ever need is steps away. However, some expats in search of more privacy and more bang for their buck like to live two to three miles out of the village.
The other popular option is Maya Beach, which is about a 20-minute ride into Placencia. Many people pick this location because it’s extremely peaceful, and you tend to get a lot more for your money. There is a small, almost exclusively expat, population in this section of the peninsula.
In San Pedro, there are also distinct areas where expats live. Many live in the town of San Pedro for the same convenience reasons as Placencia. There is also a second bustling expat area south of town. The heart of that area being Crazy Canucks bar. Some expats live even further south where there is still a brutal, dirt road, but they’re rewarded with having a larger seafront plot of land, and the peace and quiet they are seeking. North of town, over the bridge, is expat paradise. There are miles of undeveloped waterfront land here, many sprawling condo complexes, resorts, and some of the best North American-style bars and restaurants. The town north of the bridge is mostly new and mostly occupied by expats, so there is less authentic local charm.
After you decide what area fits your personality and needs, the next step is how to find the rental. In the U.S., you would go to realtor.com, HotPads, Craigslist, or Apartment Guide. This does not exist in Belize—not even close. There is no MLS system in Belize, or a central source of information. In Placencia, there is a long-term rental group on Facebook, and I have found this to be the best source of listings. However, I would guess 60% of the possible rentals are not going to show up there. You need to ask around in the village to find these ones, and call when there’s a “To Rent” signs in the window.
In San Pedro it is even harder. In my own attempts at finding apartments, I’ve found that it’s a matter of chasing people down; real estate agents, office managers, anyone you know who is connected to the rental system.
When beginning their search for a long-term rental many expats initially think they need a water view, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, stainless appliances, a pool, fully furnished, etc. However, what many actually find is that you don’t need to rent that water view, the views are everywhere to enjoy for free. Belize is all about living outdoors, and you may figure that you need way less inside space than you thought you did. With one of the largest “pools” in the world, steps away (the Caribbean Sea), you may not need that extra amenity, and there are plenty of resorts that will allow expats in to swim in their pools.
On the rental market, you can find anything from a simple, very inexpensive wooden house on stilts, with the most basic, cabin-like features; to a three-bedroom, three-bathroom home with water view and resort amenities.
For the most part, the cost to rent in Belize is less than in popular resort towns in the U.S. At the higher end of the rental scale in Placencia you can find a three-bedroom, three-bathroom property with a water view for about $1,300 a month. In San Pedro you can rent a two-bedroom, two-bathroom home with resort amenities for about $1,200 a month, again this is at the top-end of what’s available to rent.