Hearing the cries of howler monkeys during her weekly office meetings isn’t why Cynthia Roberson moved from Kissimmee, Florida, to Belize in 2013 — but it’s certainly one of the perks of living amid the jungle of this Central American paradise. Although Roberson has no immediate plans to retire from her financial controller job with Chaa Creek Resort in San Ignacio, she knows that she definitely will retire in Belize someday. Medicine is cheap, as is car insurance, groceries and every other living expense. Plus, the love affair she’s enjoying with the forests, beaches and reefs isn’t one she’s ready to give up on any time soon.
What jobs can I find?
All available jobs are first offered to Belizeans, advertised in the local paper for two weeks. Thus, the more specialized a position is and more likely that only you can fill it, the better the odds that you’ll be granted a work permit.
“We have thousands of waiters in Belize,” says Roberson. So don’t expect to score a job serving, despite the country’s 800 hotels and resorts. But most resorts are hiring. Americans should keep an eye toward specialized fields such as accounting, graphic design, PR, marketing, IT and Web design.
Roberson works as the head of accounting of Chaa Creek Resort in San Ignacio, a town in the country’s interior, just shy of the Guatemala border. She was asked initially to consult on a month-to-month basis for a year, at which point she qualified to apply for a Belize work permit, sponsored by Chaa Creek.
Her advice for finding work is this: “Find a solid employer and establish a relationship as a first step.”
Another option is seasonal work. Resorts commonly hire from outside the local pool of candidates to fill the need during high season, November through April.
Where do I buy groceries?
Think of grocery stores as you would friends — you’re going to have to build a network. “You learn that this store always has fresher bread than the others,” says Roberson. “And this one imports more things from Costco, and might be more likely to have a box of Cheerios.” Life in San Ignacio means you’ll never want for a supply of fruits and vegetables. Says Roberson, “You can buy everything imaginable and it’s all cheap — you get 10 bananas for $0.50.”
But if you’re an expat, you will likely be jonesing for foods common to stateside life. For Roberson, that list is long. She misses cottage cheese, Greek yogurt and Breyers ice cream. She adds, “And although we have tortilla factories on every corner, you can’t get a hard taco shell.”
What are the health care options?
Health care in Belize is like pizza in the U.S. — cheap, easy and readily available.
“I can get in to see my doctor in 10 minutes, as opposed to the three weeks it took to make an appointment back in Florida,” says Roberson.
Plus, lab results are usually provided the same day as the visit, which is possible because the hospitals aren’t bombarded by thousands of people, according to Roberson.
Similarly, prescriptions are ready almost immediately. And they’re so affordable that much of the retired American expat population forgoes health insurance.
“I pay $100 Belize dollars for my monthly meds, which is about $50 in the U.S.,” she says. “And a doctor visit costs about $17 USD.”
Because she’s been so impressed by the local healthcare system, Roberson says she’d stay in the country for treatment for anything from a broken bone to a colonoscopy. But like most expats around the globe, if anything life-threatening arose, she would fly home.
How do I move my belongings?
You may want to hold off on moving to Belize immediately with all your furniture and more. Those who acquire permanent residency are allowed one shipment, typically one container, completely free of duty tax. But of course you’ll need items in the interim. One way around this is quite a long way around.
Says Roberson, “My brother drove my Toyota pick-up — loaded with my computer, printer, clothes and some other must-haves — from Florida down through Mexico to Belize.”
How do I bring pets?
A permit from the Belize Agricultural Health Authority grants your dog or cat entry into the country. Cats and dogs will need proof of recent rabies vaccination, and dogs also need shots to prevent distemper, hepatitis, Leptospirosis and Parvovirus. Cats will also need proof of vaccinations against Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis and Panlenoopaenis.
Will online retailers deliver?
Amazon, as well as many major online retailers, won’t ship directly to Belize, but that doesn’t mean you need to give up Web shopping entirely — just keep in mind the gratification won’t be instant. For a fee, many Belize residents opt to have online purchases sent to a freight forwarder, such as Cayo Cargo, which then delivers to the Central American country.