I was vacationing in the Caribbean all the time.
I was working 50 weeks a year, then I spent every 2-week vacation in the Caribbean.
That meant 14 days a year I was happy.
What if, I finally thought, I were to move to the Caribbean?
Then I’d have two days each weekend to enjoy being in the Caribbean. Even without taking a vacation, that’d mean I’d be happy 104 days a year!
I’m no math wiz, but it seemed like a no-brainer to me.
It happened to be around Christmas that I was having these thoughts.
I was working as a management consultant, and I was traveling a lot. That year, I bought Christmas gifts for the front-desk staff at the Holiday Inn in Knoxville, Texas, and I thought to myself:
I am spending too much time at the Holiday Inn in Knoxville, Texas.
I am traveling way too much but for the wrong reasons.
That’s how I ended up in Belize.
Well, that’s how I ended up in the Caribbean…
It took me three years to choose Belize. I knew I wanted the island life, but I found that most islands in the Caribbean are really expensive.
Then, in my online searching, I happened upon Belize. I’d never thought about it before.
As I researched, I found that:
- The language in Belize is English…
- The country uses common law…
- Business owners are not required to have liability insurance…
I intended to run my own business, so that last one was important to me. It suggested a non-litigious society.
I also found that Belize is a much cheaper alternative to most Caribbean islands.
How Do You Move To Belize?
First, you find the right place. We knew we wanted to own and run a business, so we were on Business.com searching for the right match for us—right business, right location—for three years.
Second, you have to tell your parents that you’re moving. My parents didn’t understand at first. Finally, I mustered the courage (as a 40-something) to say, “Mom, dad, you’re not the boss of me!” Eventually we won them over. Today, our families love Belize as much as we do, but you should be prepared for the tell-your-family step. It can be the hardest part.
Third, you sell everything you own. We posted everything—the bed, the couch, the TV, everything—on Craigslist. We gave ourselves two weeks to sell everything. It sold in 3 hours and 12 minutes. All of it. There was a bidding war for our television.
Next, you get on a plane and you fly to Belize.
Biggest problem when we arrived was finding a place to live. Every single rental listing we found on the internet was out-of-date. No worries, though, because everyone in Belize is a real estate agent. Everyone has a house to rent or to sell. Once you get connected, you won’t have trouble finding a place to rent. You just need to be careful who you deal with. The real estate industry is completely unregulated. This is Belize. This is the Wild West. And we expats in Belize… we like it this way.
My most important piece of advice for anyone thinking about moving to Belize would be to buy local. If you stick with imported foods—Doritos and Jack Daniel’s—your cost of living will be way more than if you go local—taquitos and local rum.
My second most important piece of advice is that you must plan around lunch. Lunch is one of the most important things that occurs in Belize, and it occurs every day from noon to one. Everything closes. I’ve been next in line at my bank at two minutes before noon. The teller asked me what transactions I wanted to do. I told him I had three transactions to make. He told me I’d have to come back after lunch because two minutes wouldn’t be enough time to do everything I wanted to do.
As the owner of a beach bar, I am on vacation 365 days a year—but I’m not on my vacation. I am on my customers’ vacation. I am on your vacation. If you’re coming to Belize with the intention of running a tourist business, this is an important point to realize. You will be living in a vacation paradise… but you will not be on vacation. You will be working. Expats who come to open businesses thinking they’re going to be on perpetual vacation usually end up going out of business.
It’s About Getting Involved
Ambergris is a very close-knit community. San Pedro is a good old-fashioned small town. Everyone knows everyone. And everyone helps everyone.
Getting involved with local charity groups is one of the best ways to become part of the Ambergris community, and also one of the best ways to fill your days if you’ll be moving as a retiree. At my bar, our preferred strategy for raising money to help our Ambergris neighbors is racing hermit crabs.
We have raised US$78,000 racing hermit crabs in three years. We’ve put two local kids through college and are currently putting three others through college, as well. We’re sponsoring five local kids in elementary school, we’ve donated more than 400 desks to local schools, and we’ve started a library. It’s impressive what you can do racing hermit crabs. My dad always wondered what I’d do with my electrical engineering degree…
What else do you do here? I live on an island. Belize also offers a totally different lifestyle in the Cayo District. But out on the island, you’d better like water. You’d better like being on the beach. And you’d better have an idea for something to do with your time beyond hanging out at the beach. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself at the bar drinking all day every day. Not a problem for me, because I own the bar. But I’d suggest you might want to have something else in mind. Again, I really recommend becoming involved as a volunteer with one of the local charity groups.
How often do I go back to the United States? I’m from Cleveland. Why would I go back to Cleveland? LeBron left. No more reason for me to be in Cleveland. Seriously, I don’t miss being “back home” at all.
What about the medical care? My hobby is woodworking. Two years ago, I managed to cut my eye with a nail. Big cut. While on the island. I was on the mainland in front of an optical surgeon within an hour-and-a-half. He performed surgery. Put nine stitches inside my eye ball. Fixing things took a total of three visits. Grand total—including the surgery, the hospital, the doctor, the tests, the meds, everything—was 2,500 Belize dollars, which is US$1,250.
And my vision is perfect.
Biggest challenge for me living in Belize has been the lack of variety. Living in Belize and living on an island anywhere, one thing you sacrifice is choice. Our choices for many things are limited. We have abundant and delicious fresh fruit, for example… but only three or four kinds. If you want anything more exotic, you’re out of luck.
Bottom line, what do I think today, six years later, about my decision to move to Belize?
I’m happier than I ever was living in the States. I can honestly say I’m a truly happy person here. And I’d say that says it all.