Belmopan, Belize Report of what it's like to live there - 06/09/15

Personal Experiences from Belmopan, Belize

Belmopan, Belize 06/09/15

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. Third expat experience.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

There are direct flights from Belize City to Miami that are short (two hours) but expensive.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Houses are large with nothing taking more than 10 minutes to drive in Belmopan.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Anything imported will be expensive. The grocery stores are hit and miss. Sometimes they run out of something important (like peanut butter) for weeks but will have three shelves of mouth wash.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

We ordered most things we needed from Amazon.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

No fast food...but a couple pizza places and a Chinese restaurant deliver. There are a few decent restaurants, some local and some run by expats.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Tons of bugs. Little biting flies, mosquitos, tarantulas, scorpions, poisonous snakes.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO through the Embassy.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Very reasonable. The local minimum wage is extremely low, so our nanny/housekeeper charged US$3 per hour.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

No.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

We knew of several cases of credit card fraud while we were there. I avoided using mine unless it was a trusted establishment. ATMs inside the banks seemed to be safe enough.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

English is the official language.

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6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes. Roads are barely paved and sidewalks are nonexistent.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

No trains. Buses and taxis are not recommended.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

SUVs are good as roads off the few main roads are not paved.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, but it's espensive. We paid about US$125 per month. And the local cable company seemed to be pirating the signal from the States.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Our cellphone was provided by our employer.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No quarantine required, just an import certificate from the agricultural health authority. Vet service is awful. We used the local vet a couple times and left wondering if he'd had any formal training at all.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

No. Wages are low and unemployment is high.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Tropical business casual.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Belize has one of the top five highest murder rates in the world. The culture is very revenge-based with high poverty, so there is a lot of violent crime both for locals and tourists (muggings, rapes, pirate attacks on boat charters). Belize City is extremely dangerous.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Medical care is sub-par. Anything serious should be treated in Miami.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

In winter it's not bad, but in the summer they do a lot of slash and burn farming, so the air is filled with smoke. The smell even gets into the houses.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Lots of tropical plants and allergies.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Tropical. Very pleasasant in the winter, but hot and humid with thunderstorms in the summer and the occasional hurricane.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

We did not have experience with the international school. But there is one, QSI. And people seemed to like it.

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2. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

No preschools/daycares available. There is a playgroup that meets for a few hours in the morning. Otherwise everyone uses nannies.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Very small. Some like it, some hate it.

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2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

It's a very small town. Single people could easily get bored unless they make an effort to do a lot of exploring and diving. I imagine the bar scene would probably be rather dangerous. Families and couples would have to be creative as well.

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3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

No. Homosexuality is illegal in Belize and it is a very macho culture.

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4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

I would say yes. We had some strangers who were overtly rude to us because we were white and not local, especially in the Garifuna (Caribbean-African) villages.

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5. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Mayan ruins, diving, snorkeling, zip lining, cave tubing, visiting the iguana farm, visiting the Mennonite settlement (Spanish Lookout), resort hopping.

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6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Slate carvings, handmade jewelry, diving.

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7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Mayan ruins, diving on the reef.

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8. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

No.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Romantic Caribbean illusions.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen and bug repellent.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The Dogs of War with Christopher Walken was filmed in Belize City.

The Mosquito Coast with River Phoenix and Harrison Ford gives a good picture of rural Central America.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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