17 Pros and Cons of Living in Belize

Belize is a small Central American country about the size of Massachusetts, with just 400K residents. The country borders the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The Belizean people received their independence from Britain in 1981, meaning Belize has only been a nation for the last 40 years. During this time, the country has tried to balance economic growth with environmental preservation. Belize is home to some of the best rainforests and coral reefs in the world, which makes it attractive to tourists.

In the following, we will summarize the pros and cons of making Belize a full-time home, rather than just a great vacation spot.

13 Benefits of Living in Belize — Pros

An aerial photo of the Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize. A coral reef is seen in the blue waters.

First, we’ll look at the positive aspects of Belize that make this country attractive to expats. 

1. Low Cost of Housing

One of the primary reasons to consider moving to Belize is the overall lower cost of housing is much lower than that of America. Expats can buy a nice home for $100K and a luxury home for just $200K. Rental prices are a similarly inexpensive $1000-$2000 per month. Of course, if you really want to live frugally, there are plenty of local homes that will cost you very little. Popular inexpensive areas for expats include Punta Gorda, Corozal, Cayo, and Sittee River. Popular expensive areas include Caye Caulker, Placencia, and Ambergris Caye.

2. Summer All Year-Round

The average temperature in Belize is around a high of 85 and a low of 70. Temperatures in the mountain area can be cooler than the coast, but the coast does have a nice sea breeze. Most of the population survives well without modern air conditioning. The country receives a lot of rain, totaling 60 inches in the north and a whopping 160 inches in the south.

3. The Beaches

With 200 miles of coastline against the Caribbean Sea, Belize has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with golden/white sands and turquoise/clear waters. It is interesting to note that 100% of beaches are open to the public; there is no concept of a private beach. All docks are also open to the public during the day. You can hop on a boat and visit some of the 200 islands off the coast and you will find pristine beaches.

4. Adventure — Reefs

A scuba diver swims in blue waters. A colorful coral reef is seen at the front of the picture

If you are interested in a little more excitement than a beach can offer, then Belize has plenty of opportunities for you. Specifically, the country has the four Rs of adventure: reefs, rainforests, rivers, and ruins.

Just off the coast of Belize is the 200-mile long Belize Barrier Reef, part of the second-largest coral reef system in the world, behind only Australia. This UNESCO World Heritage site accounts for approximately half of the tourism in Belize and is a world-renown location for diving and snorkeling. The reef is also home to over 500 species of fish, providing not only wonderful photographs for the tourists but also driving a thriving fishing industry. 

5. Adventure — Rainforests

Approximately 60% of the Belizean land area is covered in tropical rainforests, and 75% of these forests are protected by the government. This gives Belize some of the most pristine rainforests in the world, home to an amazing variety of animals and plants. Belize has over 500 species of birds, 250 types of orchid flowers, and five different types of wildcats including the jaguar, ocelot, and mountain lion.

6. Adventure — Rivers

One of the top ways to experience the Belizean rain forest is by paddling down some of the country’s 35 rivers. Along the larger rivers, such as the Macal, are plenty of companies offering guided and self-guided tours of the river and nearby attractions. The geology of Belize offers a unique adventure called underground paddling, where the rivers flow through cave systems large enough to traverse via boat or tube.

7. Adventure — Ruins

A photo of a Mayan ruin. There appears to be a stone statue of a face, mounted on the side of a stone structure

The last of the four adventure Rs in Belize is the ruins of the ancient Mayan civilization that occupied the country a thousand years ago. Belize is the heartland of the former Maya people and visitors to the country can visit over 600 Mayan archeological sites. Major attractions include Caracol, Xunantunich, Lamanai where you will find exotic ruins such as pyramids, temples, tombs, and ancient jewelry. There are also a ton of more mundane buildings like houses and community buildings, and remnants of common goods such as ancient pottery. Tour guides are available at many locations, or you can wander the ruins yourself.

8. Fresh Farm Food

One of the major reasons the Mayan civilizations thrived in the area of Belize is because of the country’s fertile grounds, warm weather, and ample water. Agriculture continues to thrive today with agriculture being the country’s #1 economic activity. The main crops are sugar cane, bananas, citrus, and corn. The country’s farmers also provide much of the food consumed by locals and served in local restaurants. These crops are organic, fresh off the vine, and very inexpensive.

9. English is Common

Belize was a British colony until its independence in 1981, so it is not surprising the official language of Belize is English with 63% of its population speaking the language. English is the language spoken by government officials, schools, and corporations. Spanish is also spoken by 57% of Belizeans and Creole by 45%. Belize offers English-speaking visitors and expats a unique chance to experience Caribbean and Central American culture without a major language barrier.

10. Obtaining Residency is Easy

Belize is welcoming to expats and makes it easy for American and European citizens to obtain work permits, open businesses, become permanent residents and eventually become citizens in the country. Expats will initially enter the country with a 30-day tourist visa. This visa must be renewed every month by filing some paperwork and paying a small fee. After spending a year in the country, you can apply for residency, and pay a $2,000 fee. After you have been a resident for five years, you can apply for citizenship. 

11. Very Rural

If you are looking for a location without major urban densities, then Belize is a good fit for you. Belize is a small country, about the size of Massachusetts (9000 sq miles). It is also a lightly populated country with just 420K citizens (about the same as the Worcester metro area in Massachusetts). That gives Belize an average population density of 47 people per square mile, about half of the average US density of 93 people per square mile.

12. Infrastructure is Decent

Despite being a country with a very rural landscape, the utility infrastructure in the country is decent thanks to significant government investment over the last few decades. With the exception of a few isolated villages, every location in Belize has access to electricity and running water. 

The country’s power is not perfect, but it is fairly dependable. Most residents survive without personal generators. 

The country has a lot of water available via its rivers and there is even a reverse osmosis plant on the coast. To cleanse the water, the government uses a lot of chlorine, which makes the water relatively safe, just not very appetizing to drink. Many locals also collect rainwater in private cisterns.

Most of the country also has access to landline telephones, cell phone coverage, and high-speed internet. The quality of these services may not be perfect, but they are adequate for most needs.

The one area of Belize infrastructure that has not been modernized is its road system. There are about 1600 miles of roads in the county, but only 300 (20%) of these are paved.

13. Tax Benefits

Expats that live in the country for 183 or more days are considered by Belize to be a resident when it comes to tax purposes.

For income that is earned through a Belizean company, all residents are charged a flat income tax of 25%, with the first $14K of the income being exempt. Any taxes paid to the Belizean government can be deducted from your US taxes.

There is no Belizean tax on income that is earned through a non-Belizean company. There is no tax on pension income, no estate tax, and no capital gains tax.

If you can live in Belize for 330 or more days, the US tax system will allow you to exempt $108K of your income from US taxes.

Finally, there are more complicated methods to further protect income and assets from taxation by passing the money through easily-created Belizean corporations.

4 Drawbacks of Living in Belize — Cons

A photo of a river. Surrounding the river on all sides is thick, green rainforests

Next, we will look at the aspects of Belize that may make you pause plans to expatriate there.

14. Crime

Belize has one of the highest murder rates in the world at 34 murders per 100K population. This is 7 times higher than the US murder rate of 5 per 100K. However, please remember that Belize only has 400K residents, so the total number of murders is around 120 per year. For comparison, the US has 22K murders each year. 

The vast majority of violent crimes occur amongst the local gangs in the southern part of Belize City. Given the importance of tourism in the country, violent crime against travelers and expats is rare. Visitors to the country are most susceptible to crimes of petty theft.

However, it is important to note that the country’s police force is understaffed and underpaid, so victims of petty crime may not get a lot of attention from the police. Worse, there is a risk of police demanding bribes.

15. Poverty

Belize is the 36th most impoverished country in the world, with 41% of its population living below the poverty line. This is triple the US poverty rate of 15%. The minimum wage in the country is just $1.60 USD and the average income is about $800 USD per month. However, those with a college education could make triple this average. 

The most impoverished group is the indigenous Mayan population, many of whom survive as sustenance farmers. There are still a small number of Mayan villages that lack access to electricity and running water.

16. Cost of Gas and Imports

The Belize economy is heavily weighted towards agriculture and tourism. The country simply doesn’t manufacture a lot of goods. Thus, finished goods must be imported from outside the country, causing the price of these goods to increase due to transportation costs. In addition, the government of Belize relies heavily on a 20% import tax which further increases the cost of goods.

The fresh food that locals eat is very affordable (Pro #8), however, expats demanding processed food may find the cost noticeably higher than seen in America. Imported gasoline, which is not subsidized by the Belizean government like it is in America, can cost twice as much as the US ($7 a gallon). Milk and milk products also come at a high price.

You should also be aware there is no Walmart in the country, and there are very few American fast-food restaurants. 90% of Belizean businesses are micro or small in size. It is common for expats to travel north over the Mexican border to reach American-style commercial business.

17. Healthcare

The public healthcare available to Belizean citizens for free or low costs is generally considered poor quality, as the government does not have a strong enough tax base to invest in grand public hospitals. 

However, expats are able to purchase decent healthcare at three private hospitals and 50+ clinics across the country. Expats usually find their local clinic to be adequate for day-to-day medical needs and they go to private hospitals for emergencies. For complicated procedures, it is common for expats to seek care in Mexico or back in the US.

Private health insurance is available for expats in Belize, but given the low cost, most expats simply pay of out pocket for their medical care.

Is Belize Safe?

An aerial photo of a seaside town in Belize. Small, brightly colored houses can be seen, tightly packed together. There is blue waters on all sides

Belize has problems with gang-related violent crime, especially in the southern section of Belize City. The vast majority of these crimes are against the local Belizean population. Given the importance of tourism in the country, violent crime against travelers and expats is rare. Tourists and expats that stay away from illegal activity (e.g. drugs, prostitution, gambling, etc) should not be at risk of violent crime.

Visitors to the country are most susceptible to crimes of petty theft, and diligence is needed to keep valuables locked and out of plain sight.

How to Make a Living in Belize?

Belize is generally favorable to Americans and Europeans that want to enter the country to work and/or open a business. The barrier to entry (e.g. cost, bureaucracy) for starting a new business is low. Expats often open businesses catered to tourists and other expats, such as hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, tour companies, and more. With English as the official language, there is also a need for English teachers in the schools.

With the rise of remote working and decent internet access across the country, expats are also moving down to Belize while continuing to work remotely for their American companies.

What are the tax benefits of living in Belize?

Expats that live in the country for 183 or more days are considered by Belize to be a resident when it comes to tax purposes.

For income that is earned through a Belizean company, all residents are charged a flat income tax of 25%, with the first $14K of the income being exempt. Any taxes paid to the Belizean government can be deducted from your US taxes.

There is no Belizean tax on income that is earned through a non-Belizean company. There is no tax on pension income, no estate tax, and no capital gains tax.

If you can live in Belize for 330 or more days, the US tax system will allow you to exempt $108K of your income from US taxes.

Finally, there are more complicated methods to further protect income and assets from taxation by passing the money through easily-created Belizean corporations.

Is Belize Safer than Mexico?

The tourist and resort areas are equally safe in both countries.

Overall, yes Belize is probably safer than Mexico. Outside of the tourist areas, there are violent drug cartels in a few parts of Mexico, but these cartels do not have a strong presence in Belize. 

Also, Belize is much more dependant on tourist dollars than Mexico is, so Belize is more likely to put more resources against protecting the tourist areas.

Finally, Belize is smaller than Mexico and has fewer mountains. There is simply less space for bad guys to hide in.

Can you Use Medicare in Belize?

No, Medicare cannot be used outside of the United States.

Retired American expats often maintain their Medicare-A coverage, as that is usually premium-free for retirees. However, this plan can only be used if the expat returns back to the US for healthcare. 

Related: Cost of Living in Belize: What Does it Cost to Retire in Belize