I want to move to Belize, what do I need to know . . .

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Life in "paradise" isn't always sunshine and blue water. Sometimes, like last week, a storm hovers around the edges and the water takes on  a spectacular emerald sheen. And the rain, when it comes, is life quenching.
Life in “paradise” isn’t always sunshine and blue water. Sometimes, like last week, a storm hovers around the edges and the water takes on a spectacular emerald sheen. And the rain, when it comes, is life quenching.

Found this question on a Belize expat site to be absolutely adorable: “I am seriously wanting to make the move by the end of the year…what do I need to know?…”

It took me back to those very early days when we crossed that invisible line, too. “We’re going to make the move. My, god, I don’t know a thing about Belize!”

What do you need to know?

Sometimes we love this life to death. This little guy was a popular denizen of Mexico Rocks, a popular snorkeling site along the reef in Belize. Until a tour boat ran over him last month, a fatal error.
Sometimes we love this life to death. This little guy was a popular denizen of Mexico Rocks, a popular snorkeling site along the reef in Belize. Until a tour boat ran over him last month, a fatal error.

In all sincerity, how to use the search mode on the Internet.

There is a huge amount of information out there and yes, a lot of it is scattered all over the place and a lot of it is misleading.

But it is a good start.

When seeking information about Belize, the best thing you can do is read the readers’ comments and other replies to any statement. Chances are, for every statement of “fact” there will be a half-dozen replies taking exception — in a half-dozen different ways.

One of my favorite observations about Belize: “For every story, there are three stories.”

Which is probably why the gossip is so good. You hear one salacious rumor and then you quietly tell yourself “Wait for it … wait for it …” Then, boom. A whole other version or two or three emerges, completely upending the juicy morsel you were first fed.

Rumors, gossip, diatribes, suspicions, conspiracies — these make up a rich diet in some expats’ lives.

Sometimes mine.

Continuing with the themes of great contradictions, this juxtaposition of signs in the window of a southern San Pedro pharmacy always cracks me up.
Continuing with the themes of great contradictions, this juxtaposition of signs in the window of a southern San Pedro pharmacy always cracks me up.

I also like this one, related to the above: “Nothing is as it seems.”

Never go with the first story you hear. Wait for the variations to unfold and then do your best to sift through this crazy-ass bouquet for the truth.

Which is another way of saying that Belize is a wildly diverse and complex country in which there is no one truth.

Helpful, I know. (He says with a gentle hint of sarcasm and commiseration.)

But embrace that fact and you will thrive.

It also helps if you know how to read human nature.

Jose cruises up and down the coast of Ambergris Caye harvesting fresh coconut water. Want to know what hard work is? Try climbing coconut trees in bare feet then spend the day cutting open the nuts to pour each cupful of water into jugs. The of course, you must head out to sell your product ....
Jose cruises up and down the coast of Ambergris Caye harvesting fresh coconut water. Want to know what hard work is? Try climbing coconut trees in bare feet then spend the day cutting open the nuts to pour each cupful of water into jugs. The of course, you must head out to sell your product ….

Peruse enough replies on Belize expat help sites and you will soon be able to sift out the racists, the chronically cynical, the bitter, the bubble-wrapped recluses, isolationists, the trolls, the real estate agents and developers, the speculators, the  promoters and cons from the people who sincerely want to help you with hard-earned information gleaned from actual experience.

Always ask yourself if the person feeding you information has something to sell. And it doesn’t have to be just real estate.

Another good thing to know: You and me? We’re different.

When somebody asks something like “Where’s the best place to live in Belize?” understand that the answers will be as varied and conflicting as the number of people responding to them.

That’s called “asking a qualitative question” which, by nature, draws a qualitative answer.

For example, I have spent my entire adult life on or near the ocean. I need to look out and see a vast body of water, even if I don’t jump in it and go swimming every day. It comforts me. It gives me perspective. Some people have a dog or cat; I have the ocean.

Now, if you were going to ask me if it is better to live in the jungle of western Belize or on the shore of Ambergris Caye, I’d say it was a no-brainer — even though I have never lived in the jungle of western Belize for more than a few days.  And I’d expect a forceful challenge from a host of mainland expats. Rightfully so.

Another great contradiction: We trash the island we love so much. This gives you an idea of what we are up against. One of these trash piles is at the foot of the bridge in San Pedro.
Another great contradiction: We trash the island we love so much. This gives you an idea of what we are up against. This trash pile is at the foot of the bridge in San Pedro.

Hand in hand with this: Belize is a land of contradictions. A well-known gent on this island, for example,  is a former Grand Wizard of the KKK who thrives among the racially diverse and mostly harmonious community of San Pedro. Go figure. There is great wealth and great poverty. This is a deeply religious country that is saturated with American missionaries intent on saving the souls of  the already deeply religious. It is a gloriously beautiful country in which people think nothing of tossing plastic bottles and Styrofoam food containers on the ground beside the road.

The one piece of advice you will hear over and over is to come visit. Stay a while. Make up your own mind.

We made up our mind after touring the country for a mere 18 days while staying in some unrealistically lovely resorts and visiting Mayan ruins and nice restaurants.

How naive can you get? Huh?

On the other hand, we got very lucky and met wonderful people all over the country, Belizeans and expats. They cared about our quest and didn’t try to sell us on their way of life. Face to face, people are extraordinarily helpful here and I am still trying to repay the early kindnesses we received.

People in general want to see you succeed. They know from their own experience that moving to Belize is a huge step.

So, yeah, don’t sell the ranch just yet. Come on down and knock around for a while. Buy somebody a Belikin and start (gently) pumping them with questions.

And here I have to backtrack on myself. Some of the people with the most objective and useful information that we found in our early quest were realtors, both in San Ignacio and San Pedro. “Looking to buy” was not part of their criteria of engagement. I wave at one of them every time I see him (I’m still that grateful!) and I’m pretty sure he has no recollection of who I am or the hours we spent talking in his office a few years ago. Another, from San Ignacio, gets a huge hug every time we bump into each other.

Some people are just generally and uniformly helpful to everyone.

Our friends John & Rose, for example. I hesitate to mention them by name because John’s blog keeps him busy answering the ersatz expats’ pleas for help. We met, blogger-to-blogger, and got on extremely well. So well in fact, that John and Rose opened up their home to us when we first landed for good, and still had no home of our own.

People here are generous like that.

Another benefit of boots on the ground is that you will get to see the Belize that is what I like to call “outside the edges of the postcards.”  If you can look at the less picturesque sides of Belize and still feel like it can be home, you’re in.

The life for many here is hard. Many are poor and under educated. And hungry. A lot of the housing here would be abandoned if it were in the poorest communities in the United States. I am sometimes amazed that there isn’t more “thefting” from expats, who must seem terribly wealthy and self-absorbed to many Belizeans.

But if you only focus on this, you will miss the real heart of the people of Belize. Despite what you may hear, Belizeans are hard working people. Just visit a construction site and imagine yourself in their position for a day.

Some people hold as many as three jobs to compile a small income.

Recently, I gave a ride to a woman who cleans houses in the morning, sells plantain chips on the streets in the afternoon and is on call as a masseuse. She walks everywhere because she can not afford a bicycle.

One who could afford a bicycle, a teacher, had it stolen in November. Now she rises early and walks to her classroom, from southern San Pedro to San Mateo every day.

Then there are the two men named Jose. One paddles out to the reef every day at around 11 a.m., in all kinds of weather, to harvest fish, conch and lobster which he sells when he returns with the setting sun. The other bicycles north at sunrise with a machete and a couple dozen empty jugs which he fills with the sweet water he harvests from freshly cut coconuts.

I know a waiter at a wildly popular waterfront restaurant who hustles all day and then walks across to street to bar-tend until 11 p.m. at another establishment.

These are the people who populate my Belize.

And I am so proud to know them.

You won’t meet any of these people in a Facebook chat group. But you need to meet them when you do visit. Their quiet dignity and labors have so much more to say about the character of this little nation than all the crime statistics on a website.

And by the way, in my relatively short stay here I have met excellent electricians, plumbers, craftsmen, doctors and dentists. It is like dating. You kiss a lot of frogs until you find the one that turns into a prince/princess.

The other day, I ran into a former security guard I know who was hobbling around downtown San Pedro on crutches. He showed me the jagged scar on his left knee from a crippling construction site accident. We hung out and caught up on our families while waiting for Lino’s Meats to reopen after lunch. Javier had nothing else to do, so he rode around with me in the golf cart the rest of the afternoon as I paid bills at the various utilities, collected mail and did a little shopping. Javier’s random decision to join me  made for a very pleasant afternoon.

Probably the last bit of advice for now, this one learned very early in my newspaper career: There is no such thing as an absolute.

A labor lawyer told me that just before I was about to testify in a union-organizing case against my newspaper. Tell the truth, he admonished, but try not to over-qualify every statement.

In other words, when someone tells you everyone is a thief, all cops are dishonest, all politicians are on the take, the government is corrupt, everything is filthy, blah, blah, blah …. edge away from them as quietly and as quickly as you can. (Hey, this applies in the U.S. as well.)

Find the sliver of light among the darkness and head for it.

Almost everyone and every situation has good qualities worth focusing on. Even me. Even Donald Trump. Even Hillary Clinton.

Revel in the good that you find, especially if it is something like a glorious sunset on a lagoon-side dock with friends.

Because that is ultimately what living in Belize is all about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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36 thoughts on “I want to move to Belize, what do I need to know . . .

    Maryellen Bonavita said:
    January 6, 2016 at 9:52 am

    That was a very helpful blog! Loved it, thanks for writing of your experiences in Belize … very helpful!! Maryellen Bonavita 814-715-1181 2319 Caldwell Corners Road Brookville, PA, 15825 maryellen2319@windstream.net

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      January 6, 2016 at 10:19 am

      Maryellen,
      Do we know each other? I graduated from Brookville High School in 1968! My brother, Jim, lives along the Clarion in Clarington.
      Thanks for your message!

      Like

    Connie Nelson said:
    January 6, 2016 at 10:00 am

    Wow Robert, you hit the nail on the head. Excellent piece! Thank you.

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      January 6, 2016 at 10:19 am

      Usually it is my thumb that gets the hit. Thank you!

      Like

    Greg747 said:
    January 6, 2016 at 10:02 am

    Don’t know you, but I like your writing and my better half and I agree with your sentiments…
    We were recently in Placencia…beach was filled with sea grass and strewn with trash…instead of bitching as arrogant American tourists, we helped rake a bit, then went hunting for sea beans and shells and found amazing beauty and treasure instead of complaining about the rain and trash that came floating in from elsewhere.

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      January 6, 2016 at 10:23 am

      Fantastic, Greg! Thank you for sharing that.

      We do a once a month trash pickup along the roadside here and some visitors have volunteered to help. Other visitors donate trash bags, gloves and “pick-up” sticks (so good for aching backs!).

      We are in control of our own realities. We can choose to bitch, as you say or d something about it.

      Thank you!

      Like

    tacogirl said:
    January 6, 2016 at 10:07 am

    Well said.

    Like

    Susan said:
    January 6, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Honestly Robert…I love your blogs! Please keep them coming…

    Like

    Kathy Chavis said:
    January 6, 2016 at 11:20 am

    Bravo, Bob! The first “honest & truthful” information for anyone wanting to move or retire to the Caribbean and have chosen Belize. We are 3 months out now from our one-way flight to San Pedro from North Carolina. We traveled the Caribbean for 10 years to many islands. Researched countries to live in last 3 years. Two trips to San Pedro for “boots on the ground”. We are ready for “the big move” to Belize. It has been a learning experience. Hope to meet you and Rose A. one day soon.

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      January 6, 2016 at 12:29 pm

      Kathy, I feel like I know you already — a bit! — from your postings here and on Facebook. Looking forward to meeting you guys!

      Like

    Rob Chodowski said:
    January 6, 2016 at 11:54 am

    Great article and advice. If you’ve ever lived in a low-income, rural area in the US like we do (in the forest), the conditions we’ve found in Belize don’t differ that much with the exception of the people. We’ve enjoyed our Ambergris Caye living experience as limited as it has been and hope to make it permanent in a few years, contributing to the local economy, but the friends we’ve made, such as yourself and especially the “locals” make this more of a community than our own experience in the US. Ultimately, the caring, friendly, and giving nature of the Belizeans has been one of the main attractions for us personally. P.S. 14 more days!

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      January 6, 2016 at 12:30 pm

      Well said, Rob. Thank you. See you guys n a couple of weeks!

      Like

    Dave said:
    January 6, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    Nice article. My wife and I have been coming to San Pedro for four years. We will be there Jan 21 for about 12 days. If I had my way, we would be in San Pedro at least 3-4 months per year working into full-time. The wife is not quite that ready. I would love to visit with you on this subject.

    Like

    lifeagain said:
    January 6, 2016 at 4:11 pm

    Nice post Bob,
    One Question…at that moment in that specific place and spot….did you take out a plastic bag, bend down and pick up the trash that you saw and thought so much of to take a picture? I am not saying you had to clean up the Island or even a neighborhood….just that one spot you wanted us to take notice of. An after picture of the cleaned up location and letting people know to be prepared to make an difference and the results thereafter.

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      January 6, 2016 at 4:29 pm

      The photo was taken at the onset of one of our monthly roadside cleanup projects. So, yes. Right after the photo, we cleaned up every speck of it.

      Like

    jack g said:
    January 6, 2016 at 8:33 pm

    Dude! great post as are all 9 for this year boy you are keeping your promise….. to write more often! Success to your Mexico trip!! May is not soon enough!! Cheers!!

    Like

    SPmQQse said:
    January 8, 2016 at 1:22 am

    the thing people need to know the most…..b4 moving to belize…is that they could be murdered and or robbed, at any given time.

    Like

      jack g said:
      January 10, 2016 at 7:55 pm

      “could be murdered and or robbed, at any given time”./ Your chances are much greater in Miami trust me on That!!

      Like

        Ann llewellyn said:
        November 13, 2016 at 7:25 am

        After 15 years in Belize all the murders I heard of were personal,not random. Treat Belizeans well and they will reciprocate. Do not pay money up front to anyone but particularly not to ex-pats who can skip the country. I miss it a lot but had health problems associated with age so had to leave.

        Like

      Randi said:
      January 26, 2016 at 5:28 pm

      I have lived in the inner city of Baltimore, Maryland most of my life. Belize doesn’t scare me in the least..my family just bought our second place in San Pedro two weeks ago. (One for our son, one for ourselves). We will be down for good in a couple of months. Cannot Wait!!!
      -The “help out with the Boca Del Rio fire” family…Robert will know who that is!!!

      Like

        robertjhawkins1 responded:
        January 26, 2016 at 5:58 pm

        Remember you well, Randi! Welcome back!

        Like

    bobbi levendowski said:
    January 8, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    that can happen anywhere you live!!!!

    Like

    David said:
    January 9, 2016 at 8:30 am

    Hello Robert – What a great blog, and so on-point. My wife and I fell in love with Ambergris Caye in 2010 when our daughter got married there, and have been traveling to the island every year now for the past few years. We have made very good friends with expats and locals alike, and enjoy the company of each and everyone of them. Everyone has a story – and when we tell people our story that we have bought land on the island and plan to move there in the future, the kindness and helpfulness of our new found friends truly does shine – the expats offer guidance for how they made the move, and the locals offer assistance for when we do make the move. There are many good people in this world, and I think Ambergris Caye has a good share of them. Please keep up the great writing!

    Like

    robertjhawkins1 responded:
    January 9, 2016 at 9:35 am

    Thank you, David, especially for sharing your experience. I must agree, this island has a bounty of good people. Even some of the rascals and pirates are good people, at heart, entertaining at minimum! Stay in touch!

    Like

      Barry Bennett said:
      January 15, 2016 at 7:55 pm

      Pirates!! Does that mean I shouldn’t sail around Belize? I’m retired and taking sailing lessons with having my own sail boat within the next year. Belize was the first place I wanted to sail to and maybe even leaving the boat during the summer months. But if you have pirate problems there, that might not be a good idea.I haven’t been to Belize yet but from reading blogs like yours and others and photo’s I really like the thought of living and sailing out of Belize during the winters. Please give me your thoughts about this. (pirates)
      Barry

      Like

    CHUCK CHAVEZ said:
    January 23, 2016 at 4:57 am

    Robert, Thanks So Much For All The Honest & Sincere Information On Belize, I Have Always Wanted To Visit And Probably Live In Belize. I Am Planning Om Going To Belize For A 2 Week Visit In August. Do You Think This Would Be A Good Time Of The Year To Visit Belize? I Now Live Tapalpa, Mexico. I Am Retired And Was Born In Albuquerque, N.M., However, I Lived Most Of My Life In Huntington Beach, CA. I Do Miss The Beach And Warm Weather… Thanks Again! CHUCK

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      January 26, 2016 at 5:58 pm

      A little warmer and wetter but fewer tourists — August is fine!

      Like

    Kimberly Lairson said:
    January 27, 2016 at 11:15 am

    Looking for smaller plot of land Not in expat village.Want to live Belizean,any suggestions for a realtor?

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      January 27, 2016 at 2:36 pm

      Kimberly, it all depends on where you want to live in Belize. The country is about the size of Massachusetts and offers many different environments — jungle, farmland, village, coastal, island, grasslands, mountains. I would suggest you come up with a location first then ask a more specific question on a countrywide expat forum, like “Belize Expats” on Facebook.

      Like

    steff said:
    December 11, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    Love this blog just found it thankyou. We will be visiting for a boots on the ground January 2017 if you have time we would love to meet up for lunch or dinner when we are in San Pedro if possible.

    Like

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