When deciding where you want to settle down after retirement, you may have your eye on a tropical environment like Belize. After all, with its white sandy beaches and year-round warm weather, it’s practically paradise. However, there are plenty of downsides to consider before you start planning your move.
Reasons not to retire in Belize include the volume level in many areas, unpaved roads, pesky bugs, wild animals, premiums on imported goods, subpar healthcare, extreme heat and humidity, high crime rate, and natural disasters, among other factors.
While these issues don’t mean that you need to rule out Belize on your list of retirement destinations immediately, it’s essential to explore the drawbacks to make an informed decision. Read on to find out what you need to know about retiring in Belize (and why it’s not a good idea).
What’s the Process of Retiring in Belize?
Many people who retire in Belize do so through the Qualified Retirement Program (QRP). Run by the Belize government, the QRP allows eligible people from outside of Belize to retire in the country permanently.
In order to qualify, you must:
- Be a retired person 45 years or older
- Only have dependents — including your spouse and children — under 18 years (or under 23 years if you can provide a school enrollment certificate)
- Be a beneficial recipient of a pension or annuity of USD 2,000 monthly or USD 24,000 annually from a source outside of Belize
- Be able to provide a written undertaking to deposit the amount in a bank, credit union, or a licensed financial institution in Belize
- Pass the security clearance by the Ministry of National Security in Belize
- Be able to remain in Belize for a minimum of 30 consecutive days annually
Once you’re accepted into the QRP program, you’re entitled to:
- A QRP resident card that allows you to remain in the country and permits multiple entries into the country without a visa
- Duty exemptions of personal and household effects, as well as personal vehicles, within the first year of acceptance into the program
- Tax exemptions from all taxes and duties on incomes received from outside of Belize, as well as capital gains and inheritance tax
The QRP program is flexible and convenient for expatriates, and it doesn’t take very long to process your application. However, you could also opt to go down the path to becoming a full resident.
To become a Belize resident, you need to spend 50 to 52 weeks in the country during the full year. Then, you can complete and submit your residence application.
As soon as you land in Belize, you automatically get a 30-day tourist visa. You can renew the visa every 30 days for up to 12 months. It costs $25 per renewal for the first six months, then $50 per renewal for the last six months.
Each time you renew your visa, you must prove that you’re financially self-sufficient by showing that you have $60 for each day or $1800 for the month. After you’ve been in the country for a full year, you can apply for residency.
Why You Shouldn’t Retire in Belize
Retirement in Belize may be relatively simple and straightforward, but that doesn’t mean you should jump at the chance. Even if it’s ultimately the right decision for you, you’ll want to consider all of the drawbacks first, like these:
It Can Be Hard To Find Peace and Quiet
Parties and festivals are pretty standard in Belize, and it’s common to hear your neighbors blasting music until 4:00 or 5:00 AM. While you may be used to hearing that from teenagers where you live and promptly filing a noise complaint, residents of all ages love to party in Belize. Even churchgoers will play loud music in worship, and everyone will sing along loudly.
If you’d like to avoid music while still enjoying what Belize has to offer, you can search out a remote area where it’s a little bit less lively. However, you may have to do extensive research to find a quiet place that has what you’re looking for. Alternatively, you could also plan to travel or visit family during festival season.
The Roads Are Bad
Belize only has a few paved highways, and they’re all built to service the country’s major cities. Therefore, almost all of the more rural roads and side streets are gravel or dirt. This primitive infrastructure can make driving more difficult, and it may also decrease your vehicle’s lifespan.
You may also face more danger when driving on unpaved roads, especially during the night and in rainy weather. The streets can get slick due to rain, and bridges often have low guard rails, making you more susceptible to major accidents.
On top of that, local drivers can use the same driving signals to mean different things, which can quickly get confusing. Therefore, it’s important to maximize your following distances to give yourself plenty of time to react.
Getting Around Can Be Unsafe
Even if you’re not driving your own car, it’s essential to be cautious when finding transportation in Belize. Buses and cars don’t often yield to pedestrians, so pay attention to where you’re walking. Additionally, if you’re exploring at night or in an unfamiliar area, you’ll want to try to find a taxi if possible. However, taxi services can be challenging to find in some less-populated areas.
However, even when you happen to find a taxi easily, it’s vital to maintain vigilance to avoid putting yourself in a dangerous situation. You’ll want to identify taxis by their green license plates and only hail those from reputable establishments.
You Might Not Be Able To Find Your Favorite Stores
While you’ll probably be able to find everything you need in Belize, you may not be able to find everything you want. Especially if you’re coming from a place like the United States and Canada, you may be surprised at the non-consumerist culture in Belize.
Similar to many developing countries, it doesn’t have much non-essential shopping or large chain stores. Therefore, you’ll probably find yourself shopping at a lot more local markets.
You’ll Have To Pay a Premium on Goods From Home
If you’re really missing stuff from your favorite stores, you’ll have to pay a pretty hefty tax to get it in Belize. According to the International Trade Administration, import duties in Belize range from 0-45%, with an average rate for commodities at about 20%. You can get various food items and medicines with no added tax, but certain goods like automobiles, fresh peppers, and pepper sauces are taxed at 45%.
Health Care Is Less Advanced
Compared to many developed countries like the US and Canada, health care in Belize is pretty subpar. Local hospitals offer basic medical services, but they’re not nearly as reliable for emergency care and specialized procedures. Many even recommend that you travel home to get serious medical treatment if possible.
However, if you can’t get out of the country to get treated, or if you just need basic services, Belize City has the three best hospitals in the country. Therefore, go to Belize Medical Associates, Healthcare Partners, or the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital if you need medical treatment. One upside of health care in Belize is that their service fees are generally very reasonable, which can be preferable for minor issues.
Some recommend that expatriates in Belize spring for international health insurance with evacuation coverage. It’s typically pretty affordable, and it’s definitely worth it to have access to higher-quality medical care in case of an emergency.
Belize Has a High Crime Rate
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Belize consistently ranks among the world’s five worst countries for homicides, averaging about 40 homicides per 100,000 residents.
While the Overseas Security Advisory Council says that there’s no evidence that criminals actively target US citizens, expatriates can be especially vulnerable because of their lack of familiarity with the culture and landscape, as well as their perceived wealth.
While living in Belize, or even just traveling temporarily, it’s essential to be cautious. To stay out of trouble, you’ll want to practice safe habits; here are some tips:
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
- Don’t physically resist a robbery attempt.
- Be extra cautious if you’re visiting ATMs and banks.
- Don’t dress in a way that displays signs of wealth, such as wearing expensive clothes, watches, or jewelry.
- Store valuables and cash in a secure location.
- Never leave valuables visible inside of a parked car.
- Keep your wallets and cash in your front pockets or in a bag around your neck to avoid pickpocketing.
- Keep your doors locked at all times, even if you’re home.
- If you have visitors, meet them in the lobby of your building.
- When driving, make sure that you have a cell phone, spare tire, and other emergency equipment in your car.
- Try to avoid walking or traveling alone.
- Look both ways when you’re crossing the street.
- Set your car alarm to deter vehicle thefts and break-ins.
- Don’t hitchhike or accept taxi rides with strangers.
- Keep an eye on your food and drinks when going out.
- Don’t accept snacks, beverages, gum, or cigarettes from strangers.
Although many say that the police officers in Belize are generally friendly and helpful, they often lack the training and resources to respond to serious criminal incidents. Therefore, while you should know the emergency line in case something happens, you might not want to rely on the police to help you out of dangerous situations.
Natural Disasters Are Common
Belize experiences a variety of natural disasters, including hurricanes, tidal waves, floods, and landslides. Most incidents, including hurricanes and flash floods, are more common along the coasts. Fire disasters are also relatively common in urban centers and forested areas, especially in Belize City, where houses are closer together. The low water pressure and inadequate supply of fire hydrants also make these situations challenging to stop.
Additionally, even though Belize doesn’t really experience earthquakes of its own, it is close to the boundary of three tectonic plates. Therefore, it’s still prone to residual effects from seismic waves.
The Heat and Humidity Can Be Difficult To Handle
While the warmth is probably one of the main reasons that you’d consider moving to Belize in the first place, the climate can be a little bit overbearing for some retirees.
The country typically undergoes two seasons–the dry season with less rainfall and cooler temperatures and the rainy season with higher temperatures and humidity. Fortunately, they’re each relatively easy to predict, which means that you can schedule your flight accordingly if you only plan to live in Belize for part of the year.
The dry season typically runs from December through May, with the coolest temperatures falling in December, January, and February. The wet season typically runs from June through November, with the highest rain occurring in September and October.
Overall, Belize has an average temperature of around 84°F (29°C), and humidity typically hovers around 83%. On particularly steamy days, it’s beneficial to live in a cement block home with air conditioning. Sturdy accommodations may cost you a high premium, but it will be worth it to get a safe haven from the elements.
Bugs and Animals Are Everywhere
If you’re squeamish around bugs and wild animals, Belize probably isn’t the place for you. Especially with the humidity, it’s pretty common for bugs and snakes to be out and about, not even just outside but also in your home. Additionally, you’ll probably have to deal with chirping and squawking from birds early in the morning, as well as wild animals running onto the road in front of your car.
The humidity often contributes to the presence of this wildlife. Fortunately, you can avoid some of the more intrusive pests by choosing a house or apartment at a higher elevation, out of range from many spiders, scorpions, and reptiles.
You Won’t Find the Same Entertainment From Home
If you’re like many retirees, you may want to settle down somewhere where you can enjoy the performing arts, like theater, opera, or dance. Unfortunately, Belize is not the place to do that. While you may be able to watch a musical at the local high school, you won’t be able to find the same level of production that you may be used to in your home country.
Belize is better known for its rich history and culture than for its love of the arts. For that reason, most Belizeans get their entertainment from partying, hanging out with friends, and dancing on the beach. If you end up choosing to retire there, you’ll probably spend your leisure time trying local dishes, going on history tours, and attending annual festivals.
The Upsides of Retiring in Belize
Retiring in Belize isn’t all bad. After all, there’s a reason why so many expatriates take advantage of the QRP. Now that we’ve gotten all of the downsides out of the way, I’ll talk a little bit about the positives.
The Cost of Living Is Very Affordable
Unless you’re dead-set on enjoying imported food that you may be used to from back home, you can keep your dining budget pretty low. You can often find local produce and homemade dishes for sale at a very reasonable price, and it’s all extremely fresh. Additionally, alcohol is also sold for pretty cheap as well. Local drinks like rum, beer, and vodka cost about $2-3 each at a bar.
Since the minimum wage is about USD 1.75 per house, household employees like maids, cooks, and landscapers are very affordable. However, utilities and cell service will typically cost about the same in the United States, if not more.
Everyone Speaks English
If you’re coming from an English-speaking country, it can be a little bit overwhelming to spend your first few years of retirement trying to learn a new language, or at least trying to find your way around when you can’t understand anyone.
Fortunately, in Belize, you won’t have to overcome a language barrier. That means you can dive right into learning about the country and making new friends.
It’s Relatively Easy To Navigate
While it’s essential to be careful as you walk around in Belize, it’s pretty easy to find your way around. Therefore, you’re not very likely to get lost, even if you’re traveling solo. You just have to make sure that you walk on main roads and stick to traveling around during the day or in a large group.
Whether Belize sounds like a nightmare or a paradise for your vision of retirement, every place has its pros and cons. If you’re still interested in seeing what it’s like, I’d recommend checking it out for yourself. Take advantage of its 30-day tourist visa and see if it has what you’re looking for.
While you’re visiting, make sure you take the proper precautions. Travel in groups, stay away from the south side of Belize City, and pay attention to your surroundings. Most importantly, have fun, and enjoy everything Belize has to offer!
- Belize Tourism Board: The qualified retirement program
- International Trade Administration: Belize – Country Commercial Guide
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime: Home
- Overseas Security Advisory Council: Home
- TripSavvy: Weather in Belize
- Worldometer: Belize Population
- US News: 7 reasons not to retire in Belize
- International Living: Cost of living in Belize
- International Living: Retire in Belize
- PAHO: Risk management – Belize
- US News: How to retire in Belize
- Belize.com: Top ten reasons why you should consider living or retiring in Belize
- Benzinga: How to retire in Belize
- OSAC: Belize 2020 crime & safety report
- International Living: Healthcare in Belize
- TripSavvy: Is it safe in Belize?
- Travel.State.Gov: Belize travel advisory
- YouTube: 15 reasons NOT to retire in Belize! Don’t live in Belize!
- Caribbean Culture + Lifestyle: 8 reasons not to retire in Belize in 2021