Is Belize a safe place for an expat to live?

I am thinking of a retiring and am researching destinations. As Belize is an English speaking country and it rated in your top 10 I was pleased. However when I researched the crime rate in Belize I was shocked to discover how bad crime is in Belize.

As per the U S state department because of the extremely high murder rate Belize was rated the 6th most violent country in the world. How does a country that was rated by the US state department as being the 6th most violent country make it onto your top 10 list of places to retire?

Ann Kuffner – Expat

ann kuffnerPietro,

If you spend more time and dig deeper into the statistics related to crime in Belize you will find that Belize City screws the numbers for the entire country. Belize is very small, having 330,000 residents in the country, so in averaging numbers one location can have a major impact. The majority of murders occur in Belize City, where there are gangs.

And the border with Guatemala tends to be risky, because in general Guatemala is a country of high violence and crime. But the areas IL recommends are safe. Petty theft has always been a problem in Belize, as it is in most poor countries. But violent crime against expats is highly unusual. We advise that any travelers be cautious and not where flashy jewelry, or leave their phones and computers in areas where they are easy to steal.

Unfortunately, there were two recent murders of expats in the Cayo region, both in remote areas. The Cayo abuts the border with Guatemala. Both of the expats were alone, and in areas where there was no one around.

These murders are troubling, but they are in an isolated area of Belize. And for expats who plan to move to the Cayo my advice has always been to stay away from the border.

And the Belizean government, being sensitive to the extensive negative international media coverage, is holding high level meetings on how to beef up police coverage in the area where these crimes occurred. Belize is dependent on tourism as a major source of their income, so does focus on increased security in tourism and expat regions.

Areas such as Ambergris Caye, Corozal, Caye Caulker and Placencia are safe places for expats to visit or live. But it is the nature of the US Government to be very conservative in their advice related to travel abroad.

I’ve lived in Belize for almost 8 years, full-time, on the island of Ambergris Caye. And I’ve traveled extensively all over the country, alone and with my husband, without ever feeling unsafe. I lived in Detroit as a child, and in Oakland, California, as an adult. Thoughts of drive by shootings and gratuitous violence have never crossed my mind since I moved to Belize. When compared to any major city in the USA, Belize is significantly safer in the areas of the country where expats live. When I turn on the nightly news and see what’s going on in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, in particular, I am oh so relieved to be living in Belize.

Ironically, my Belizean friends have recently been telling me that they hesitate to travel to the USA because of the excessive number of mass shootings…

The key is to know where it is safe, and where it isn’t, just as any other country. We only recommend the safe areas of Belize to IL members as possible areas to settle.

Is it Safe to Live in Belize?

I am Laura Diffendal and I am the Belize correspondent for International Living, and we’re going to do a quick video today on safety in Belize.

Belize is a very small country, about the size of New Jersey, and it is sometimes in the news because of a relatively high crime rate or murder rate. A lot of this is because we have Belize City which has a population size of around 50,000 people. There is organized crime only in Belize City. The population size outside of there is 380,000, unfortunately, the crime in Belize City skews the statistics and there is not enough population in the rest of the country to absorb the crime rate. So unfortunately, the whole country of Belize suffers because of the high crime rate in Belize City.

However, Belize City is not a place that we recommend for most expats to live. That would be considered a place for an experienced seasoned expat who knows which parts of the city to go, which parts to avoid. In the areas of San Pedro, Placencia, Cayo, you’re going to find crime rates pretty comparable to anywhere else in the world that expats live. If you took out Belize City from Belize, the crime would just be right in the middle, the same as anywhere else.

So is it safe to live in Belize? You will find the vast majority of expats, especially those that live in Placencia which is considered a small town, will say they feel very safe. In Ambergris Caye, because it is a little bit closer to Belize City, they will have a little bit more crime there. For the most part, it happens late at night. It happens when people are trying to buy drugs. It happens when people are very drunk and not following common sense.

Petty theft is high throughout the country. That is something to be aware of. Probably in anywhere you’re going to travel outside the U.S., petty theft is high. Where there’s tourism, there’s going to be petty theft. But being aware of that and taking some precautions goes a long way.

Is it Safe to Travel in Belize?

There’s a wonderful regional jet system. They call them puddle jumpers. They’re very safe, great safety ratings. The water ferries to the island of Ambergris Caye are very safe, although there’s only one highway system and it would be considered about like a country road in the U.S. and it’s not considered, highly safe compared to, let’s say, the highway system in the U.S. Most people get around. They say driving is comfortable for them in Belize.

Is Drug Use Allowed in Belize?

As I mentioned drug use earlier, marijuana is now legal in Belize. It’s a little bit subjective because you’re allowed to have a very small amount on you and you’re allowed to smoke marijuana on a private property. They still don’t really want you doing it in public, so I would not recommend doing it anywhere except for private property.

Is Prostitution Legal in Belize?

Sometimes people will ask about prostitution in Belize. It is illegal but, like a lot of places in Central America, you are going to find it in certain bars and there’s a kind of an understanding in each town where that occurs. It’s really not something in the news or something that you’re going to hear too much about.

What Areas Would You Avoid in Belize?

As far as where to avoid going in Belize. If you are not a very seasoned Belize traveler, I really recommend starting out in Placencia, Hopkins, and Ambergris Caye. You’re going to feel comfortable in those places. You’re going to find a lot of expats. You feel pretty safe in those areas. And after you get a little bit of a comfort level with the culture in Belize, I recommend trying Cayo and Corazol. Corazol’s close to the Mexican border and Cayo is close to the Guatemalan border, so you’re going to find a little bit of a different culture there. It’s a little bit less tourism driven, which makes it feel a little bit more, exotic, a little bit different. And with that goes wanting to understand a little bit more Spanish and a little bit more integration with the local culture and probably areas that I suggest you know what you’re doing a little bit more in Belize before you visit. Hopefully that helps, and we hope to see you in Belize soon.

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