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?

We lived in Kathmandu, Nepal before coming to Belize.

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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?

Our home base is the East Coast of the U.S. Direct flights to Miami, Houston and Atlanta are quick but expensive.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We've been living here for 16 months of a two year tour.

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

U.S. Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

The housing compound is absolutely beautiful. The houses are spacious and nicely designed - some say this is the best housing in the Foreign Service. Most people are on the compound, which can sometimes feel small but is great for young kids.

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

Groceries are cheap if you buy local brands, expensive if you buy imported American brands (and everything is Kraft).

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

My favorite sunscreen and bug repellent.

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

No restaurants are fast - call ahead to order or order and then go do an errand if you want to be efficient. The food in Belmopan is not great but there are decent tacos, wings, pizza, hummus, and Belizean barbecue. For great food you need to go to Placencia or another tourist spot.

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

There are lots of mosquitoes and noseeums; occasional scorpions and tarantulas keep it interesting. Bring your insect repellant and you'll be fine.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO

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

It is inexpensive (US$3/hour) but there aren't a huge number of great helpers.

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

There is a decent little gym at the Embassy, a gorgeous 25m pool at the compound, yoga and group dance workout classes available in Belmopan.

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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?

Not a big deal at the grocery store, but you can get cash at the embassy or the bank for use in the market. We haven't had any trouble.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

I don't know. There sure are a lot of churches!

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

Everyone speaks English. Most also speak Spanish and Belizean Creole, which can be helpful.

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

It would be challenging. Only a few roads are even paved. There are almost no sidewalks in all of Belize. But Belmopan is a quiet place so getting around would likely be less difficult than other places.

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Transportation:

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

No trains. Get the telephone number of a reliable taxi and keep him on call. Plenty of tourists ride the inter-city buses but I haven't tried them.

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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?

A car with some decent clearance is useful during the rainy season but any car will do most of the year. Just make sure it is reliable because you will want to get out of Belmopan and explore Belize every other weekend!!

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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?

Available, pretty reliable. US$70 for about 2mbps unlimited, so fairly expensive for what you get.

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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?

Bring your unlocked phone from the States and buy a SIM card here.

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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?

Not really.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lots, with animals, kids, etc.

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

Business casual at work. Belize is very relaxed so pretty much anything works.

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Health & Safety:

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

There is a high homicide rate but those appear to be targeted attacks. And the usual security concerns in the developing world but nothing too serious.

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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 poor. If you get ill here, you must be medevac'd. If you get seriously ill here, you're in trouble. Even Kathmandu has far better medical services.

But no real post-specific health concerns. The bends, perhaps? Diver's might want to look into DAN membership.

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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?

Beautiful. A bit smokey during the burning season but nothing compared to real pollution in a big city.

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

Long gorgeous dry season, intermittent daily rains from June - Thanksgiving.

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Schools & Children:

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

There is a relatively new QSI here. We had a short, and very good experience with them when we first arrived and they had a nursery school program. That was discontinued this year. Unfortunately there have been many reported problems this year. There will be a new head of school arriving in August and hopefully that will improve things. Because the school is so very small (unaffordable for most Belizeans and non-embassy expats) the makeup of the embassy families largely determines the size and morale of the school.

For teens/high schoolers we've heard that self starters do well but their experience is diminished by the absence of peers and organized extracurricular activities like team sports or a school play.

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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?

Yes. KLIC is a decent, inexpensive daycare/playschool option walking distance from the Embassy housing compound. It offers half day play space and social interaction for a very low fee.

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3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

There is an excellent tennis pro who comes to the compound. An okay swim instructor who comes to the compound. Older kids can do soccer in Belmopan.

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Expat Life:

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

The embassy community is small. Some people love it and some hate it. You need to protect your happiness and make friends in the wider expat community.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Leave town. House parties. Go to the beach/cayes.

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

This is a good city for introverts and people who can make their own fun. There is really almost nothing going on in Belmopan so extroverts may suffer from a lack of social interaction. There are a very few okay restaurants in town. Pretty much the only activity you can count on is grocery shopping. There is a nice, small expat community who you should definitely befriend. From my observation, anyone can have a great time here but it is easiest for families with small children. We say we are 90 minutes from paradise!

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

I don't really know. There is unfortunately significant overt homophobia among Belizeans.

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

I have found Belize to be the least racist place I have ever been. I didn't even realize how racist everywhere else in the world is until I came to Belize where the color of your skin really seems not to matter so much.

There is a strong evangelical Christian feeling in Belize and people are not afraid to tell you about it or ask your beliefs.

Women running in Belmopan can expect the police and soldiers doing their morning exercise to cat call. It is very intimidating. Other than that I haven't experienced prejudice against me for being a woman.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Scuba diving, snorkeling, quick relatively inexpensive beach trips, magical jungle lodges, learning about ancient Maya culture and visiting the Maya sites. The End of the World/Placencia Half Marathon and Marathon. Great cycling with a fun local club.

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

There are an amazing number of different ways to experience all the natural beauty that Belize has to offer. Two years is the perfect amount of time to see it all! Really, it's too much to list here but there are great hikes, birding, jungle exploring, and swimming just a very short drive from Belmopan - and the rest is easily accessible on the weekends. It's a very small country but there is so much to do here.

I love buying a pound of fresh tortillas for a dollar from little houses!

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

Beautiful wooden furniture and bowls.

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

World class scuba diving, gorgeous jungle lodges, excellent birding, lovely weather and wonderful people.

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10. Can you save money?

Only if your spouse doesn't book you into a hotel every other weekend.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Just how sleepy it is.

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

Yes.

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

Stuffy suits.

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4. But don't forget your:

Bathing suits!

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

The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman's Fight to Save the World's Most Beautiful Bird,

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus,
and
"Your Man in Belize" (a little harsh on the Belizeans - and, in fairness, on the State Department, too - but very funny, nonetheless)

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