There are no two ways about it: Belize lends itself to raising kids… a bit like a grandmother that promises adventure but also offers safe cuddles.
Belize is not the retired-folk-only place that it was a few years ago. Nowadays it is family-friendly: azure waters and white-sand beaches ideal for building sandcastles (not to mention proximity to the States so grandparents can pop over to be buried in the sand by the little munchkins at the drop of a hat), steeped in seaside tales of pirates, and gowned in limitless inland jungle adventures…
Ambergris Caye, home to the largest expat community in Belize and the country’s most developed island, is unadulterated, unpretentious Caribbean… the sea, sand, and sunshine of the Caymans or the Virgin Islands… without the price tag. On the other hand, if you want coastal Belize, you have Placencia and Dangriga. Head to the hills inland and you have the Cayo, where the appeal isn’t sand and sea but wide-open spaces, a back-to-basics lifestyle, and really cheap land.
But no matter which part of the country you go, Belize has a “no shirt, no shoes, no problem” lifestyle. It boasts never-ending summertime and is a place where kids can play outside safely, just like we did when we were younger; a place where your family can grow up on wholesome local produce and in a multicultural society where everybody lives side by side.
There are no language upheavals (Belize speaks English), and our expert on the ground, Con Murphy, had no problems when his daughter was born in this Caribbean paradise.
On the subject of health care, Con explains “Cayo has four hospitals: La Loma Luz 7th Day Adventist Hospital and San Ignacio Hospital are in San Ignacio, and Belmopan has the Cayo Regional Hospital 22 miles away… The nearest hospital to Placencia [on the coast] is in Dangriga, about one or one-and-a-half hours’ drive away from the village.” The Independence Village Clinic is currently being upgraded to become a hospital.
Indeed, Belize is a place where building your family life can actually become a reality, whether it’s a nest made up of timber or bricks and mortar or with a sea view or jungle canopy—as you wish…
But, like any relocation, whether national or international, being in the know always gives you the upper hand. So here are some tips for building that dream family home in Belize…
Not By The Hairs On Our Chinny Chin Chin!
Nearly everything about building in Belize is different from North America. It will definitely be an adventure, with plenty of learning about your adopted home. But remember, with good design the wolf can do what he wants… that house is going to stay standing.
The biggest difference between designing for Belize and for most North American locations is sun and heat. In a four-season climate, most of us desire to have light and even direct sunlight into the house. In Belize, it’s always hot (average temperature 80°F). The amount of sun shining into the house can make the difference between pleasantly livable or not.
There are two ways to protect yourself from the often fierce sun of Belize: substantial overhangs outside the windows or window treatments inside. The advantage of building overhangs is that you can then still receive the breeze while being protected from the sun.
To cool off in Belize you can always resort to the North American approach of ferocious air conditioning, but electricity is costly. Even if you have solar power, air conditioning will up your costs significantly. Battery replacement (about US$800 per battery, every five years) is also an issue. A system for a house with one air-conditioning unit requires five batteries.
As to setup expenses, our correspondent Kacie Crisp tells us, “The initial cost for my solar-powered air conditioning system was US$21,000. However, a traditionally air-conditioned house would run closer to US$60,000 or more.”
Talking of prevailing breezes, try researching this yourself. Our Belize expert Kacie Crisp explains that when she and her husband were planning their house, they were told the breeze comes from the east. “It does come from the east, but the northeast. We would have rotated our house a good 30 degrees if we’d known this. As it is, the one wall that has no windows (in the kitchen) faces that northeast direction. The back porch, which faces the river, stands due west!”
There are many ways to take advantage of those gentle yet constant winds. Kacie’s husband researched this online before they moved and discovered a plan called the dog-leg design. It originated in the American South, and he found a modification applied to construction in Panama.
The dog-leg design features a large open hallway with high ceilings that stretches from the entryway to the back of the house. In Kacie’s house, the back is the living area, because it faces the river. The bedrooms are closer to the entry, as they followed the dog-leg idea. A key feature of this design is two rooftop vents to suck the hot air out of the house.
Even before they moved in, as Kacie’s husband was doing the finishing details on the house, he found “the wind whips right through the whole house,” which is a cooling and much desired event in Belize. The bathroom and closet, for example, are closed off from this wind tunnel, and much hotter for it. Windows aimed towards the wind also keep the bedrooms somewhat cool, and that is the difference between a comfortably sleeping baby and you up small hours of the morning calming cries of irritability.
Besides sun and wind, tropical rain is another factor to consider in design. When they moved into a rental house, the agent advised Kacie and her husband to always close the windows when they went out. Funnily enough, this wasn’t to prevent crime (this part of Belize is far safer than most U.S. cities). It was in case of sudden rain showers. Obviously rain coming directly into the house through the windows is not desirable—it damages drywall, windowsills, and whatever else it contacts. And rain can sometimes come horizontally in Belize.
Kacie’s house is designed with 6-foot overhangs outside all windows. In most cases, they won’t have to worry about the windows being left open. These same overhangs also block direct sunlight from coming into the house in most places, most of the time. Their contribution to livability is multifaceted.
Another aspect of design is whether you wish to follow the Belizean custom of building your house on stilts. If you live near a river, this might be prudent, but Belizeans often build their houses raised on stilts even if they’re nowhere near a floodplain. Rising damp from mere puddles is reason enough to favor stilts. The design originated in order to avoid dangerous animals creeping or slithering into the home (far less common these days, by the way). It also allowed prevailing breezes to flow through the home in days when fans hadn’t been invented. Today stilts allow you a sizeable square footage of shaded space where you can park your car, lawn mower, garden equipment, kids’ bikes, and anything else that might not fit in your house. Stilts also intrigue children.
“Mommy… clowns have stilts—but a house… Now, that’s cool!”
A Helping Hand
If you think Belize is the key to the life you want to live, but need help to overcoming the challenges in moving your family overseas, you should consider joining Belize Circle. As a Belize Circle Member we’ll take care of it for you—our Members’ Liaison Team will be your personal, dedicated in-country concierge… plus, with just a call, you could speak in-person with all of our top Belize experts at our sold-out Live and Invest in Belize Conference (or any other upcoming Belize events—no need to fork over money to attend our in-country conferences… they’re on us… for life).
Plus, it’s your last chance to join Belize Circle for a steal. First, we can only accept eight new members. Second, next year, we’ll be raising the price of Belize Circle Membership by a full US$1,000. If you’ve been waiting to join the Belize Circle, it will never be more affordable than now.
Hope to see you in Belize soon.
The Editors of Live and Invest Overseas