October 22 2006
Detroit, Michigan, USA
-In which country and city are you living now?
Caye Caulker, Belize
-Are you living alone or with your family?
With my husband (met him here) my middle daughter (24 years old) and granddaughter (4 years old). I have 2 other daughters and 4 grandchildren who live in the U.S.
-How long have you been living in Belize?
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Belize?
When my youngest daughter went into high school in 1997, I made the opposite decision of all of my friends and I did not plan on buying that next gigantic house and encumbering myself with a huge mortgage for the next 30 years. I decided to cash out when she graduated and do something for myself for a while, even if I failed at it.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
At that time, no. Now it requires much more documentation and money.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
I was on my (now ex) husband's insurance for the first year, but he changed jobs and so I was dropped off. I have no health insurance, and it doesn't bother me. No, really, it doesn't. We have somewhat socialized medicine here, Cuban doctors, and if I needed serious surgery I would go to Guatemala, Mexico or Cuba.
-How do you make your living in Belize? Do you have any type of income generated?
I started my own business about 6 months after moving here. It is an art gallery, which makes sense because I'm an artist. I added the cafe and coffee bar 2 years ago. I could never live on Belizean wages, which are anywhere between $75-150 U.S. a week.
-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
The local language is English, although everyone speaks Kriole and Spanish. It's definitely important to observe the local customs, and to always remember, no matter how nice people are to you, that you are still a stranger in a strange land, in their land. There is always going to be some resentment toward you. Even though I have a Belizean husband who was born and raised on Caye Caulker, I'll still get some ignorant person saying "GO HOME" about once a year.
They are usually drunk.
My mother, when she visited this year for the first time, commented that Belize is the friendliest country she has ever been in. I think that is partly because it is so small, everyone knows everyone or is cousins with them.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I went through a period about 3 years ago where I missed my family terribly and almost went back, but the thought occurred to me...I would have to get a REAL job. When one of my daughters and granddaughter moved here, that changed everything. Plus I go back and visit once a year, which even though it's not enough, it's still something.
In Belize, I like to swim, ride my bike, work on my computer, read and of course work on my art.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I would like to show my art in Europe. I would like to travel to Cuba for the art scene, and to be able to travel more in the off season here.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
On Caye Caulker we live in a half-renovated clapboard house. In the half that is renovated, we have 2 apartments for tourist rental. We live in the unrenovated part, though; it's right on the beach. I can't complain (even though I do). We also have a house on the mainland about 30 miles from Belize City that is mine. It's a smallish three-bedroom house on about an acre, in an area near the Belize Zoo. Until a few years ago, jaguars roamed that area. With the exception of this subdivision and a few restaurants, there is nothing in either direction for 20 miles. The house on the mainland was $30K U.S.
The house on the Caye was built by my husband over a period of 40 years and has 12 rooms, 5 bathrooms, houses our 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment with an office, verandah and kitchen and 2 more apartments on the second floor. The first floor has a restaurant that seats about 75, an ice cream parlor and my art gallery and cafe. It occupies a block on Caye Caulker. It's built on what was the Alamina estate which was divided up between Norman's brothers and sisters in the 70s. The value is probably about $500K U.S. now.
There is no prime beachfront property available on Caye Caulker, his family owns several blocks. To buy a lot in the interior of Caye Caulker will cost you $30-100K U.S. depending on the condition: if it needs to be filled, etc. The cost for building on Caye Caulker is more than double what it is on the mainland.
-What is the cost of living in Belize?
On Caye Caulker it is high, especially if you buy from the local grocery stores. We go into Belize City once a week and do all the shopping for the store and for home. I don't keep such good track of those things since we eat in the cafe most of the time. Imported foods are about double what you would pay in the U.S., all other food like meats and fruits are about the same price as in the U.S. However, our income is much lower.
Electricity in an average home is around $100 U.S. a month. Rent and everything on the mainland is much cheaper than on the Cayes. Here, everything has to come in by boat or plane. You can rent a really nice home in San Ignacio (on the mainland) for less than $500 U.S. a month. On Caye Caulker you can rent a dump for $500 U.S. A water taxi to Belize City or San Pedro is $15 U.S. round trip. If you live on the economy, making workman's wages you will struggle, if you come here with a pension and an income of $2000 U.S. a month, a retired couple can live lavishly.
-What do you think about the locals?
The locals in Caye Caulker are very nice. They are primarily Spanish and Maya. The rastas who come out from Belize City, Dangriga, Hopkins and Seine Beight prey on female tourists, and that is not so nice to see. We have an influx of people from other Spanish-speaking countries like El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala because Belize has some of the highest wages in all of Central America.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Belize?
The import duty is atrocious and the government has just implemented a 10% GST tax. The cost of gas is more than double what it is in the U.S.
On the other hand, income tax is 1.75% of your gross, and you have to earn more than $3000 U.S. to pay income tax. The country is very eco-conscious and eco tourism-conscious. However, if you plan on making a million dollars, make sure you bring two million.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Belize?
Bring enough money to sustain yourself for more than a year while your paperwork is being figured out. Do not despair, it all gets sorted out in time.