If the answer to all of life’s difficult questions is “Belize,” then why don’t some expats succeed here, while others do?
It is not unusual to say goodbye to someone on whom we were about to bestow with Belize-friend-for-life status. More and more, it becomes clear that if you want to be here for the long-haul you have to behave more like a Rolling Stone than a Beatle.
Ok, you can insert your own pop or rock bands in there, but the point is, the Stones are still around making music and filling stadiums while the Beatles are but a fond memory. And there are reasons for that that transcend living a crazy rock-n-roll lifestyle.
Sigh. Never mind.
Instead of belaboring this analogy I’d like to give you some specific reasons why people don’t make the cut as ex-pats in Belize. Since I have only been here for a year and a half, I won’t pretend to speak authoritatively on this subject.
These answers come from folks who have lived here much longer, for the most part.
You see, this question generated a lot of discussion recently on a Facebook page devoted to expats and ersatz expats.
I get the feeling that we’re all ersatz expats until we have lived here at least two years. That is probably why I still name my blog “Bound for Belize,” even after a year and a half. I feel as though I am still moving toward Belize — emotionally, intellectually, socially, politically, spiritually — and will be for quite some time.
I can say “I am from Belize” but I dare not yet say “I am a part of Belize.”
So, here is how the question of why some expats don’t make it was put to the membership of a expat forum:
“It bothers me a bit to hear people not make it here. They come excited, and leave heartbroken. What is the disconnection? Why do some find Paradise and others find misery? Shame to waste that much time, money and effort … “
It is a great question but, based on 78 responses that I read, there is no single answer. Apparently there are lots of reasons why people don’t find their Paradise in Belize.
They fail to manage their expectations
Arriving with a rigid preconceived notion of what Belize is like can be dangerous. That could be a perception picked up during a one-week vacation here, or a notion promoted by real estate agents or companies that market to future expats or even from reading blogs like mine that perhaps celebrate the good times over the tedious ones.
A lot of people buy the stunningly beautiful postcard image and don’t see what is beyond the frame until they get here. Sometimes life here is like an amazing postcard image. Often times it is not.
“People think about the vacation in paradise,” says a contributor. “But don’t think about really living in paradise. Especially when it’s a foreign country. When you vacation, you are leaving your normal day to day behind — drinking more, hanging on the beach all day, trying new restaurants every day.
“That’s not how most lives go on a day-to-day basis.”
As one writer says, “There should be some ‘expectation management.’
“When you live somewhere permanently, you have to accept that you are no longer on vacation. You are ‘home.’ While on vacation, there are some things you can tolerate living without, or accept inefficiencies. (As an expat), you have to prepare yourself and embrace those ‘inconveniences.’ Some people cannot.”
In other words, while on vacation, the plumbing is someone else’s problem. When this is your home, the problem is all yours.
As another writer puts it, “Often times they have unrealistic expectations and have no idea what the country is really like.”
And another: “Because you have to leave the USA or some other country behind, do not expect the same lifestyle. It is a different culture and style.”
And how is an expat to know what the country is “really” like?
Research, research, research
“They fail to research the smaller details,” offers one writer, adding a tongue-in-cheek checklist: “Speak English? Check. Palm trees and Beer? Check. OK … that’s everything I need to know to go live my life in paradise!”
Sometimes ersatz expats ask the right questions but the answers bounce off like solar you on sunblock. You can almost hear the frustration in the voice of longtime expats who have answered the tough questions over and over, like this one:
People come here and ask questions about jobs, medical, children’s education, buying property and everyone spends a lot of time answering their questions. We tell them to come visit first and find the right place for them. We tell them to rent for a year before buying. We tell them to bring LOTS of money. We tell them that the medical is not good if you have major issues. We tell them most businesses will fail. People do not listen, sadly enough.
There’s no doubt about it, Belize can be an impulse buy.
Especially if you are coming off the best damned vacation of your life and are heading back to yet another Midwest winter.
I should know. Rose and I read up a lot on Belize but we only spent 18 days traveling the country before deciding to move here. Eighteen days! What were we thinking?
Clearly there is always much more to learn before moving than you will ever have time for.
The reason why people move here is huge
This is a pretty common theme: “The people who packed it in within two years were looking for paradise — which doesn’t really exist — or were running away from something, rather than moving toward something.”
In other words, Belize isn’t an escape, it is an opportunity.
As one writer puts it: “Many come with baggage and think it will go away with a move to Belize. The problem with that is they only accumulate more baggage to add to the baggage they already had.”
Others echoed this theme:
- You have to be happy with yourself first and foremost. A change in environment will not do it. Even if it’s paradise. Happiness comes from within.
- Alcohol and pre-existing problems cause the failure.
- The relief of warm winters wears off and they realize the rest of the year is hotter than the sun.
Don’t just sit there, do something
Ex-pats who don’t last often “fail to get involved in something/anything — language classes, community work, gardening, animal rescue — anything other than sitting around all day every day drinking.”
It is so true. While you most likely can sit around and drink all day, just like you did when you came here on vacation, your life as an expat promises to be a short one, at least shorter than you might have planned.
A failure to assimilate into Belize culture
Why do people move to a foreign country and then try to make it as much like their old life as possible? That is a question more than a few expats ask. A certain amount of assimilation is needed before you can feel truly at home.
One observer puts it this way:
Those who fail have this one thing in common from my observation; They come to a foreign country with foreign culture, government, rules, practices ( like “right now” means never ), currency, etc.
They ship all their stuff from wherever, so that they feel comfortable. They build a house like the one they left, so they feel comfortable. They fill it with ‘stuff,’ so they feel comfortable. Then they complain about the government, food, the government, etc. Then when something breaks, they can’t understand why they can’t find anyone to fix it, or if they do, they have to wait several weeks for a part that … was available at the local hardware store.
I hear, How come this? and Why not that?
Two years seems to be the point of return. At 1.5 years, I see it beginning to unravel. They leave hoping to sell fast. Their nightmare begins. Sadly, more don’t listen to others more. They try to make their new home exactly the same as the old one in another country in which they left. Why they left in the first place is beyond me.
Adaptability, patience, attitude and acceptance
A friend who has been living in Belize for more than 20 years has a single simple phrase — a mantra really — that he he says when life just isn’t working: “This is Belize.”
One writer sees it this way: “It takes a certain mentality to accept Belize as it is and enjoy what it has to offer. Not everyone has that mentality and that is a good thing in my book, as well.”
Here’s an example of how attitude can work against you in Belize:
“We watched a guy with an attitude one time in Immigration. All he did was yell and say ‘Back where I come from this doesn’t happen.’
“Yeah, right. He was asked to sit down and would get called next. He sat for a very long time.
“Attitudes here is everything. Show just the slightest bit and you’re toast. I’ve made the misfortune of doing that by accident. It can be frustrating at times but just have to go with the flow.”
Arrogance also can lead to an expat’s undoing. Surprisingly many people come down here eager to change Belize “for the better,” before they even understand what Belize is all about. One writer recalled an expat who was eager to “teach the Mennonites how to plant and grow food.”
Think about that.
By now you probably have figured out that the list of reasons why some people pack it in is mirrored by the list of why others make Belize their home for life.
And also that the list is endless, varied and nuanced — and not uniformly applicable to everyone. There are people who succeed and flourish despite possessing some of the “negatives” listed here.
I could go on and on, but I’m beginning to hear the coughs and shoes shuffling in the back rows.
So, here is just a scattered sampling of the many other reasons people give up on their Belize dream and head home — or to another country:
- Some people are unhappy no matter where they are.
- Sometimes they get homesick for their native country.
- Some crave cultural and intellectual stimulation not found in Belize.
- Sometimes they feel alienated by the locals and can’t find enough people of their own culture to connect with.
- Sometimes they think they can make a living in Belize, and frankly that is super duper hard to do.
- Some get tired of having to struggle to find things they want, or wait on things to arrive from the States.
- It is expensive, even to live like a local.
- It’s a lot easier for things to go wrong than right down here.
- For some it might be one thing that just drives ‘em nuts … maybe it’s the bugs.
- Medical needs — if they are significant, Belize is not the place to get them taken care of.
The best advice that I read comes off like a Buddhist Hallmark card but it really thick with truth worth heeding: “Home is where the heart is … peace comes from within … you need to come home.”
And that’s it. With peace in your heart, you can live anywhere.