Moving to Belize: a complete guide for Americans

Gabriela Peratello

As an English speaking country with stunning natural scenery, friendly people and a relaxed way of life Belize is a popular destination for US expats.

If you’re thinking of moving to Belize from the US this guide includes all you need to know to weigh up your options. We’ll cover moving pros and cons, details about moving to Belize with a family, and even moving to Belize with pets.

To help you cut costs when you manage your money across currencies we’ll also introduce Wise and the Wise Multi-currency Account. Hold, send and spend in dozens of currencies with the mid-market exchange rate and no hidden fees. More on that later.

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📑Table of Contents

Belize quick facts

We’ll get into the details of what you need to know as an American moving to Belize in just a moment. First, an overview.

CapitalBelmopan
LanguageEnglish
Population400,000
CurrencyBelize dollar (BZD) — USD widely accepted
Government typeConstitutional monarchy, parliamentary democracy
ReligionRoman Catholic majority with a large Protestant community
WeatherSubtropical — warm year round

Moving to Belize from the US: can you do it?

You can travel to Belize from the US as a tourist without a visa¹. But, if you’re planning on staying for the long term, or want to work while you’re there you’ll need to apply for the appropriate visa or permit.

Belize actually makes it fairly easy for expats to enter the country and put down roots. One popular option is the Belize Qualified Retirement Program (QRP)² which lets anyone over the age of 35 who can prove a regular income settle on a long term basis.

Under the QRP you can also settle in Belize with your dependents, who have the right to earn and invest in the country. More on different Belize visa types in just a few moments.

Moving to Belize with family: things to keep in mind

While Belize is often considered a great place to retire, it can also be a fantastic option for people looking to relocate with kids. The combination of a low cost of living, great weather with outdoor activity options and friendly people makes it a good choice for a move with family.

If you’re thinking of moving to Belize with kids you’ll probably want to decide on the type of school you’re interested in before you choose a location to live. Many expats with families choose to live in areas like Ambergris Caye which is safe and covered by international school options — but this can be a relatively costly option. Entry to prestigious independent schools can also be a competitive affair.

An alternative is to use public schools — which are generally considered to be a fairly high standard, but offer a curriculum based on the UK system. This may make it harder for kids to reintegrate back into the US curriculum at a later stage if you decide to head back home.

Moving to Belize with pets: what you need to do

You’ll be able to take your pets to Belize when you move, as long as you get all the right paperwork in place in advance.

You’ll need a valid import permit from the Belize authorities and a veterinary health certificate provided by a USDA registered vet.

Your pet will also need a valid rabies certificate and may be subject to quarantine requirements. Get the full details from the US Department of Agriculture³ and the Belize Animal Health Department⁴.

Moving your stuff to Belize

If you’re heading to Belize and shipping your entire household goods, you’ll need a specialist international relocation service. The costs involved in moving large and bulky items can be fairly high, so you may decide to limit what you ship. Generally shipping is arranged on the basis of taking a 20 or 40 foot container to hold everything you need.

If you’re moving under the QRP program there’s no import duty on household goods as long as you bring them into Belize in the first year of residency.

Immigration and visas: Belize visa types

Belize visa types are issued for⁵:

  • Tourists
  • People who want to work in Belize
  • Students
  • Retirees

As a US citizen you don’t need a tourist visa to enter Belize, and can stay for up to a month. If you’re staying longer you’ll need to get a visa stamp every month to cover your extended stay, and can then switch your application to permanent residence after a year if you’d like to.

Usually permanent residents can apply for Belize citizenship after 5 years if they meet eligibility criteria.

If you’re working in Belize you’ll need an employment visa and a temporary employment permit. Your employer can apply for your permit once you arrive in Belize — or you can make your application yourself if you’re self-employed.

We also previously mentioned the retirement visa — the QRP. This is a popular option, as it allows any US citizen over 35 to reside in Belize and bring their spouse and children under the age of 18 with them.

As a QRP visa holder you won’t be able to work or own a company, and you’ll need to prove you have an income of at least 24,000 dollars a year.

Your dependents are entitled to work in Belize, and you also get a few other perks like duty and tax exemptions and the opportunity to buy a property or land to develop.

Permanent residency

Once you’ve been in Belize for a year you can apply for permanent residency. This is a relatively simple process, although you’ll need to gather some paperwork and pay a fee. The full documentary requirements and procedure is laid out on the Belize immigration authority website⁶.

📃 To apply for permanent resident status in Belize usually you’ll need
  • Your valid passport and additional passport photos
  • A medical certificate
  • A clear police record
  • Proof of financial stability
  • Documents for any dependents who are with you in Belize

avoid-big-transfer-costs

Cost of Living in Belize

The cost of living in Belize is generally low compared to the US, making it a popular place for expats on a fixed income like retirees.

Naturally how much life in Belize costs will depend a lot on where you choose to live and what you like to do for fun — but overall it’s possible to have a good quality of life for a relatively low cost.

You can find lots of information online about average prices in Belize — try a site like Numbeo.com for user aggregated data which is continually updated.

Cost of moving to Belize

When you’re building your Belize budget you’ll also need to think about the one off and ongoing costs related to moving. These can range from shipping your goods to getting a visa or establishing residency. One common way to settle in Belize is to arrive as a tourist and then pay on a monthly basis for new visa stamps until you’ve been in the country for a year and can apply for residency.

Each visa stamp involves an extra fee, which all mounts up and should be budgeted for in advance.


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Living in Belize: the basics

Belize is famed as a laid back place to settle and live. Let’s look at some of the basics you should know about if you’re considering moving from the US to Belize.

Housing

Finding the perfect place to live in Belize will depend on your personal preferences and budget. But with housing costs are overall lower than in many places in the US, you should be able to find something that suits you with a little research.

There’s no restriction on expats buying or renting a place in Belize, including buying land. However, it’s worth knowing that there have been some high profile problems with fraudsters and scams which target US citizens buying property in Belize⁷.

Make sure you have the support of a reputable realtor and property lawyer to keep your investment safe.

Renting

Renting out a place when you first arrive in Belize can be a smart move. It’ll give you more of a chance to check out the different types of property and neighborhoods, and make a longer term decision on where you’d like to stay in the country.

Find a perfect rental property by engaging a local realtor in the city or area you’d like to live.

Buying property in Belize as an expat

Many expats in Belize choose to buy properties to live in or as an investment. As a result there are lots of services catering to Americans who want to buy a home in Belize, including real estate agencies and legal practices.

It’s important to have good support from qualified professionals when you buy a home in Belize — you’ll also want to learn more about the property purchase processes, and carry out due diligence checks to make sure the property you’re buying is in good condition.

Check out our full guide to buying property in Belize

The health care system in Belize

You’ll need to make sure you have adequate health insurance when you visit or move to Belize. Advanced medical care is limited even in major cities, and even emergency care may be unavailable or delayed in rural parts of the country.

The US State Department advises that serious injuries or illnesses are likely to require medical evacuation in order to find adequate treatment¹.

Banking and taxation

Having a local Belize bank account may help you settle into the country and get essential services like internet and a cell phone set up. You can open a Belize bank account easily enough in a bank branch, and in some cases may even be able to set up your account online for convenience.

People earning up to 26,000 BZD a year are exempt from income tax. Income above this amount is taxed at a flat 25%⁶. However, tax is always fairly complex so it makes sense to get professional advice before you move to Belize to make sure you’re on the right side of the law.

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Education

Belize public schools follow a curriculum which is based on the UK system. There are also private international schools which offer education based on the US curriculum if you’d rather stick to a familiar system. Another alternative is to homeschool — this is fairly common among expats living in Belize.

It’s worth knowing that getting a place at a popular private school can be a competitive affair. If you want your children to attend a specific school you’ll need to start making arrangements for this as soon as you can to avoid disappointment.

Getting around in Belize

The US State Department warns that road conditions in Belize can vary widely, with many roads lacking markings and shoulders¹.

Drivers and cyclists may not obey traffic rules which can create chaotic conditions on the roads. You’re advised not to attempt to drive at night and to note weather conditions before setting out as some roads are prone to flooding.

Taxi services are available, but buses are usually only used for longer journeys. Buses and taxis may not offer safety features like seatbelts and airbags.

Quality of life in Belize

You’ll probably already know that the quality of life in Belize is considered to be fairly high — especially based on the cost of living. Belize tends to run on island time, with a laid back and relaxed atmosphere.

That makes it an especially good place for people who no longer need to work, or for raising a family without so many everyday stresses.

Culture and people

Belize may be a fairly small country, but its population has a mixed history which leads to a vibrant culture. You’ll find a mix of Creole culture, Latino influences and the remnants of British systems and ideas from when Belize was a British colony.

Connectivity: internet and mobile

In rural areas you may struggle with both internet service and cell phone coverage. This can cause problems in emergency situations. However, in cities and more affluent areas connectivity is generally good.

You’ll want to check out the options for getting internet and phone coverage before you select a place to live, for convenience’s sake.

Getting a job in Belize as an expat

Belize is a popular retirement destination, but that’s not to say expats can’t work there. Expats work in a range of industries, with many teaching English, working in ecology or ecotourism, or for NGOs.

If you’re planning on working in Belize you’ll need to check out the options for getting the right paperwork in place — if you’ve been offered a job in advance of traveling to Belize your employer may be able to help with that.

Is Belize safe to live?

Belize has a high overall crime rate, with some areas which can be particularly risky. However, much of the reported crime is gang related, with expats and visitors more likely to be involved in petty crimes like pickpocketing and thefts.

The police in Belize have limited resources which can make it hard to report or follow up after crimes have taken place.

Expats in Belize will need to consider personal safety when choosing a place to live and where they travel to. However, with sensible safety precautions, Belize can be a safe place to visit or live.

Best cities to live in Belize as an expat

Not sure where to look for a new home in Belize? Kickstart your research with these popular expat destinations.

Corozal

corozal

Corozal is right on the Mexican border, and the most northerly region in Belize. It’s a popular place for both visitors and expats, with stunning natural surroundings and a range of places to eat, drink and shop.

Corozal is a cheaper place to choose as residents can easily cross the border to shop, saving money. Sarteneja, in the Corozal area, is a quiet town which doesn’t see huge tourist numbers, making it an attractive place for those looking to settle somewhere peaceful.

Toledo

toledo

The district of Toledo isn’t on the radar for many expats moving to Belize — but it’s growing in popularity. There’s not much in terms of nightlife or the typical facilities looked for by tourists — in fact tourists seldom head to the area, making for a calm and quiet experience.

However, the options to get out into nature, and enjoy the very best Belize has to offer in terms of beaches, rainforests, fishing and exploring more than make up for the low key entertainment scene.

Ambergris Caye

ambergris-caye

Ambergris Caye is the largest and most popular of the Belize islands. It’s about 40 miles long but only a mile wide, with beautiful beaches to enjoy.

There’s an established expat community and good facilities here, making it a relatively easy place to live as an expat. Take a look at the main town of San Pedro or if Ambergris Caye isn’t for you, nearby Caye Caulker is a cheaper and quieter option.

Cayo

cayo

On the other end of the spectrum from Ambergris Caye is Cayo. Here expats are typically looking for a secluded and self-sufficient place to live, often running an off the grid homestead.

It’s possible to live cheaply in Cayo while maintaining a good quality of life. Check out San Ignacio if you think Cayo might be the right place for you.


Summary: moving to Belize, the pros and cons

Belize offers an enviable lifestyle, and a low cost of living. It also makes it fairly easy for US citizens to live, work and retire there. Although some areas of Belize have higher crime rates, often issues are gang related — which means most expats don’t end up involved in anything more than the types of petty crime you might face at home.

Belize is popular with retirees and people on a fixed income thanks to its low costs, but it’s also a great place to raise a family, with an increasing number of international schooling options.

Still not sure if Belize is right for you? Check out these moving to Belize pros and cons to help you decide.

ProsCons
  • Quality and cost of living
  • English speaking, and a short flight from the US
  • Friendly people
  • Getting a visa and even permanent residency is relatively simple
  • Established expat community
  • Great climate and natural environment
  • Safety is an issue in some areas
  • Healthcare isn’t as strong as in the US
  • Road quality is poor increasing internal travel risks
  • International school places can be tricky to secure due to competition with other expats and affluent locals

Use this guide to start your research into moving to Belize from the US. And don’t forget to look at Wise and the Wise Account as a perfect way to cut your costs when you have to travel, send or spend in foreign currencies.


Sources:

  1. US State Travel - Belize
  2. Belize Tourism Board - Retirement program
  3. APHIS - Pet travel Belize
  4. BAHA - Entry requirements
  5. Belize Immigration - Visa types
  6. Belize Immigration - Permanent residence requirements
  7. FTC - Belize real estate
  8. Belize.org - Tax regime

Sources checked on 01.19.2022


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