Imagine a country where its only 395,000 peaceful English-speaking inhabitants can enjoy the fishing the Caribbean Sea, sailing to over 200 fanciful islands, hiking through lush forests, strolling over rolling hills, climbing low mountains, amazing climate, and visiting impressive waterfalls and all in an area the size of Massachusetts.
This is why Belize, Central America is becoming a top international retirement destination for expats. In fact in 2020, MoneyWise rated Belize as one of the top 20 countries where you can retire on $150k.
But, is it really possible to retire in Belize and live comfortably off the average monthly social security payment of $1,500?
We have consulted with expats and residents of Belize to find out what it really costs to there.
Table of Contents
Cost of Living in Belize?
First, let’s talk about Belize currency. The Belize dollar is bound to the U.S. Dollar and has a stable exchange rate of 1 U.S. dollar to 2 Belize dollars. U.S. Dollars are also accepted in the country as a form of payment.
If you come into Belize with more than $5,000 USD in currency or the equivalent, it must be declared on the customs form. To keep everything easy, all prices quoted in this article will be in U.S. dollars.
Belize Cost of Living Index
Now let’s talk about the Belize cost of living index. The cost of living indexes compares the average need-based living expenses for food, shelter, transportation, energy, clothing, entertainment, and the like.
It is an accurate method for comparing costs against a base city. In our example, the base city is New York, New York, U.S.A. The following chart compares the cost of living in several Latin American countries relative to prices in New York City and Canada.
Belize has the lowest rent index in comparison to Mexico, Panama, and Costa Rica. The cost of eating at restaurants is only slightly higher than Mexico. Belize has the second lowest cost of living index in our comparison.
Realistically, however, comparing the New York to Belize would be like comparing a big apple to a pomegranate seed. We need to factor in rural America. So, let’s step back and look at the national averages.
What are Utility Costs in Belize?
Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) is the main provider. They charge on a graduated use schedule. The more you use, the higher the rate per kilowatt hour. An average home with a small 10 cubic foot refrigerator, washing machine, WI-FI service, and floor fans can expect a monthly electricity bill to be between $18 to 25 dollars. If you want to include wall mounted air conditioning, you should expect your electric bill to be $75 to $150 or more depending on the amount of use, home insulation, and size of the home.
Almost every home in Belize has access to potable water. For the most part, the water is safe to use, though many expats and locals prefer to buy their drinking water. Drinking water is sold in 5-gallon water bottles for $2.50. Municipal water costs vary based on the location. In many rural villages it is charged at a flat rate starting at $2.50 per month. In larger towns, the water is metered with monthly rates varying between $10 to $35.
There is no natural gas service in Belize. Residents use butane to cook with. The price per gallon averages $2.10. A 100-pound tank that holds 25-gallons and costs about $50 to fill should last between six to nine months depending on the use.
There are different providers of cable in Belize. They offer U.S. channels along with the three national tv stations and four channels that broadcast local ads, news and local radio stations.
All the cable companies we surveyed charge $15 USD per month. The Internet is also available with a bundled price of between $21 and $40.
Belize has spent the last several years installing fiber optic cables throughout the country. They now offer some of the fastest internet in all of Latin America. There are two providers: Smart and Belize Telemedia. Smart offers unlimited wireless broadband starting at 5 Mbps download for $14 a month and 20 Mbps at only $45 a month.
Belize Telemedia also offers wireless broadband, but they are the star of the fiber optic show with a basic plan at 30 Mbps for $35 plus $5 a month for the modem rental. They offer speeds up to 120 Mbps.
Smart and Digicel, owned by Belize Telemedia, also are the two telephone providers in Belize. They both offer prepaid and post-paid plans. Most locals opt for the prepaid plan and they can buy credit at nearly every little corner store and shop in the country.
You can also use your phone credit to buy data as you need it. The per-minute rates are high averaging around $0.25 per minute. Most Belizeans prefer to text anyway. Bundles of text messages are purchased with phone credit.
One really cool feature of the Belize mobile phone situation is that once or twice a month both phone companies will offer “double up.” During a 24-hour period, any amount of purchased credit (up to $250) is doubled. You can use the bonus credit to buy text message bundles and make phone calls.
What are Food Costs in Belize?
You will find that locally grown food in Belize is cheap no matter where you go. Every town has a market where you can get fruits and veggies, both local and imported. For example, on the mainland you can expect to find fresh vine-ripened tomatoes for about $1 a pound. Local oranges and bananas are 8 for $0.50. A dozen eggs are around $2.00. Flour, rice, beans, white and raw sugar are all government price-controlled staples.
Imported items such as romaine lettuce, grapes, peaches, mushrooms, and asparagus will have an equal or higher price than in the United States and will usually only be found in markets that are frequented by tourists. Apples, however, can be found everywhere – but don’t expect a big variety. There are four types: red delicious, gala, golden delicious and granny smith. You can expect a small apple to cost only $0.50. But then, who needs North American fruits when you can get locally grown pineapples for $1.50, huge juicy mangos for $0.50 each, silky avocados for $0.50, and just picked papayas for $2.00?
The Mennonites in Spanish Lookout are the main suppliers of eggs, chicken, beef, and pork in the country. The meat is sold frozen to ensure purity and safety. Chicken breasts average around $1.50 a pound, ground beef $2.00 and pork chops about $3.50 a pound. The only real drawback is the lack of aged beef. Red meat tends to be tough and lacking flavor – so don’t expect a tasty porterhouse steak, but the beef works well in stir fry and stews.
Nearly all of the grocery stores are run by the Chinese. You will find a nice selection of local and imported items. Products from the United States will cost between 20 to 30 percent more than in the States. There are, however, usually Mexican equivalents that cost much less and taste the same. Though catsup is not one of them. On the other hand, you will find that the Coke in Belize tastes so much better than in the States. Instead of being made with high fructose corn syrup it is made with locally produced cane sugar. If you really want a treat, get it in a glass bottle. A 500 ml bottle of Coke will only cost you $0.75 including the deposit on the bottle.
Beer and rum are produced locally, but other spirits are imported and are subject to high import taxes. A bottle of Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon might only set you back $6 in the States, but that same bottle will cost you $14 in Belize – so you can imagine what happens to the prices of more quality beverages. All things considered; a couple can reasonably expect to spend between $150 to 300 a month on groceries – depending on their feasting habits.
Cost of Restaurants in Belize?
The restaurant selection can be pretty sparce unless you are in San Pedro or Placencia. You will find a Chinese restaurant on nearly every corner and Belizeans flock to them for the $3 fried chicken and French fries.
You will find an assortment of Belizean restaurants serving mainly beans and rice with chicken, pork or beef for around $6. If you order a fried fish dinner, expect to pay around $7 to $10 and expect to get the whole fish – including the head.
There is plenty of Mexican-ish street food vendors selling fried tacos, empanadas, and burritos. You can get a Belizean “bellyful” for only a couple of dollars.
What are Transportation Costs in Belize?
There are three quick ways to get around in Belize. You can use the public bus system, local taxis or you can obtain a private vehicle. Have you ever wondered what happens to U.S. school buses when they wear out? The get sent to Belize to be used as public transportation.
Every city has a bus terminal and you can get a bus to stop for you just by waving them down. There are no tickets needed to ride the bus. Just get on and sit down. The conductor will eventually approach you and ask where you are going.
The fare is determined based on your final destination. The minimum charge is $1 and the fare for say a 2-hour bus ride to anywhere in the country shouldn’t cost more than $5.
In Belize City and Belmopan there are smaller buses and vans that service as inter-city public transportation. They are usually unmarked. Just ask a local and they will point them out. Expect to pay $1 or $2. Regular taxis are usually private cars. You can identify a registered taxi by their green license plate. The standard short trip fare is less than $5 per taxi, not passenger.
Vehicles in Belize have an exceptionally high resale value. For example, I have a friend who owns a 1992 Toyota 4×4 pickup. In the States you would have to pay someone to take it off your hands.
In Belize, they could get $7,000 for it tomorrow. This is especially true for Toyota trucks and 4Runners and Mazda SUVs. Vehicle insurance is cheap but full coverage basically covers medical costs and personal property damage.
That Toyota pickup is fully insured for about $150 per year and the annual registration costs $100.
While vehicles can be expensive to buy, they are cheap to keep running – especially if you own a Toyota. Parts are cheap and considering the wages in the country, labor is even cheaper. The downside, however is that fuel will be one of your largest expenses.
The cost of regular gasoline averages about $5 a gallon and has gone up to nearly $6 due to the high governmental taxes.
Cost of Living by Area
Living costs in Belize are going to vary depending on where you live – just like in the United States. If you’re seeking the island life where shorts, flip flops and a Belikin beer in hand is the dress code, then you will need to be prepared to pay over 40 percent more than on the mainland.
San Pedro is officially a peninsula in the north of Belize, but due to the terrain, it’s only accessed by private boat, water taxi or plane. San Pedro offers residents the feel of a Mexico destination with all the culture of Belize.
Prices here are considerably higher than anywhere else in the country; but there are also more entertainment options and a higher quality of life. The average monthly cost to live in San Pedro, Belize is $2,720.
Placencia is a seaside town located in the south of Belize. It’s also located on peninsula which is accessible via a newly paved road. It is home to some of Belize’s finest resorts and multi-million-dollar homes.
The quaint sleepy village has some nightlife and an above-average selection of restaurants. While the rent is near average, the cost of food and dining is quite high. The average living expenses in Placencia are just over $2,000.
Corozal is located close to Belize’s northern border with Mexico. It takes just a short drive and a few minutes through the boarder to cross into Chetumal, Mexico – the promise land to most Belizeans.
There you can visit the local cinema, shop at a small mall, eat at McDonalds and visit Walmart. Groceries and clothing are substantially cheaper in Mexico and most residents of Corozal cross the border to do their shopping.
You can find American-style homes and plenty of expats in the village of Consejo east of Corozal. Retirees can live comfortably on $1,600 USD a month.
San Ignacio is located inland on the western border with Guatemala. It is home to stunning Mayan ruins, idyllic rolling farmland, and one of the most beautiful rivers in all of Belize. For foreigners looking to retire away from the coast, San Ignacio and its sister town of Santa Elana are the top choices.
The fresh food market is the best in the country. The cost of living here is 15 to 20 percent cheaper than the national average for expats. You could expect to live comfortably in San Ignacio for less than $1,600 a month.
Punta Gorda is the southernmost town in Belize. It takes nearly six hours of driving to reach there from the international airport in Ladyville. Many residents prefer to leave their vehicle at home and fly up on one of the nation’s two airlines, Maya Island Air or Tropic Air. It’s located on the coast, but without the soft sandy beaches found in Placencia.
There is a great little fresh market but it lacks a nightlife and much in the line of. This is a great destination for a couple looking for peace and quiet, beautiful scenery, and gentle people. As one of the cheapest expat retirement destinations in Belize, Punta Gorda can be thoroughly enjoyed on less than $1,500 a month.
While most homes that will appeal to Americans or Canadians will have air conditioning, it is not entirely necessary. Yes, Belize can get hot and is humid most of the time, but it is not unbearable. For those outdoor enthusiasts, using fans and natural ventilation makes adjusting to the outside temperature much easier and they can live comfortably on about $1,700 as a national average.
Air-conditioned homes rent for more and their occupants can expect their electric bill to triple, at a minimum. This brings the national average living expenses with air conditioning to start at $1,900 U.S. dollars per month.
Does that mean that it’s impossible to live in Belize for less than $1,500? Absolutely not. But it all depends on your standard of living. I know lots of expats that move to Belize and after living a close-to-American lifestyle for a while, decide to simplify and adopt some of the Belizean customs.
They move out of the expat retirement destinations and into smaller villages. They forfeit air conditioning in favor of fans. They rent a more Belizean-style home and eat more of the local foods. They still own a vehicle, however, and enjoy some of the finer imported goods.
But with this sort of lifestyle change, a couple could reasonably live on around $1,100 a month. Now, I wouldn’t recommend moving to Belize and starting with that budget or lifestyle. It’s sort of something you slide into after adjusting to the climate and the culture.
What is the Average Income in Belize?
You may be shocked to learn that the minimum hourly wage is only $1.63 in Belize and has been such since May, 2012. For a standard 45-hour work week, a minimum wage employee will earn only $293 per month. However, farm laborers, on average, earn only $10 a day for their labors which will total only $240 each month. Those with Associates Degrees can expect to earn around 220 percent more than minimum wage. This equates to only $5.35 an hour or around $965 a month. This proves that it is possible to live on around $1,100 – if you are willing to live like a local Belizean.
Buying Property in Belize
There comes a time in every expat’s life when they find themselves in love. Next comes the need for the commitment of buying a house.
Buying property in Belize is very similar to buying a property in the United States – albeit a much cheaper process. There are no restrictions on foreign land ownership and residency is not required – though it is recommended. Expats in Belize have the same rights as citizens when it comes to land ownership.
You can purchase property direct from the owner by using an attorney or you can use a real estate agent. You will find familiar franchises such as Century 21, Re/Max, and Keller Williams. There is also an assortment of local real estate companies.
Residential real estate commission rates are the same as in the U.S. at 6 to 8 percent and vacant land is at 10 percent. Just as in the States, commissions are charged to the seller, and hence the service of a buyer’s agent is free.
As a word to the wise, just make sure you use your own attorney and not one that is associated or recommended by your agent. This helps to ensure transaction neutrality.
There has been cases when the property “owner” did not have a legal title but only a government-granted land lease or that the title was transferred without their knowledge. It happens. So, for your own financial security, make sure to obtain legal counsel.
How Much Do Houses Cost in Belize?
In a recent survey of 80 house listings in Belize – that is homes that would appeal to a foreigner – the average price of a 1,500 square foot home was $340,000.
Home prices in Corozal will be one of the cheapest. You can find a stick-built, two bedroom/one bath home for a little over $100,000; a two-bedroom cement home for around $155,000 and a luxury home for over $300,000. Waterfront homes in the expat village of Consejo Shores can be purchased for less than $500,000 and a quarter acre cleared waterfront parcel will set you back only $75,000.
If you are looking for waterfront living, then Placencia is an excellent option. This is expat heaven with the Caribbean Sea to the east and the lagoon and view of the Mayan mountains to the west. The average price of an expat-quality residence or condo along the peninsula is $428,000 for 1,900 square feet of living area. Private waterfront homes will be around $650,000 and up. There is an abundance of condominiums that offer gorgeous views, pools, spas, dining and maintenance-free living. Prices start at $169,000.
San Pedro and Ambergris Caye also offers waterfront living with the average price being $450,000 for 1,600 square feet. You can find older one-bedroom condominiums starting at $95,000 and modern luxury waterfront residences for $1.3 million and nearly everything in between. Inland lots can be found for less than $50,000 and beachfront lots start at $109,000.
Let’s not forget about San Ignacio, Cayo where expats who love the green trees instead the blue ocean go to get away. Home prices are considerably cheaper here than anything on the east coast with average prices found in our survey to be under $120,000 with 1,000 square feet. You will find a lot more wood construction rather than concrete. The area is less affected by hurricanes and flooding, so this construction method poses less risk. You can find simple starter homes for around $50,000 and or a three-bedroom/three-bath home downtown will only set you back $200,000.
What are the Closing Costs in Belize?
Just like in the States, property transactions are handled through an escrow service. Typically, the buyer will put a 10 percent down payment on the purchase after executing an Agreement for Sale. Closing will typically occur within 30 to 90 days. In Belize, the buyer covers all of the closing costs. A purchase transaction is frequently negotiated and completed using U.S. dollars, though Belize dollars can also be used.
You can expect to pay a 5 percent government-imposed stamp/transfer tax on the purchase price after the first $10,000. Buyers will also need to pay for their legal fees which includes a title search. Belize attorney fees will cost around 2 percent of the purchase price. If you use a real estate attorney from Belize, then title insurance is not necessary as the Government of Belize will guarantee Belize Land Certificates and clear Deeds of Conveyance.
If you have other questions about property purchasing in Belize, I recommend you visit the website for Wrobel & Company. While we are not recommending one attorney over another, their site has some valuable information about property purchases.
How Much are Property Taxes in Belize?
Belize property taxes are incredibly cheap. Once a property is improved, the property tax rate is lowered to only 1.5 percent of the assessed value. Unlike the United States where the assessed value is typical 50 percent of the market value, Belize assessments are only 10 to 30 percent of the property’s market value.
What are Some Other Expenses?
In addition to regular monthly expenses, one also has the incidental expenses that pop up from time to time. For example, we all need new clothing. In that area, Belize is sorely lacking. The retail shops generally stock clothing manufactured in Guatemala. The quality is poor and the sizing is unreliable. Another option is to visit the many resale shops. Have you ever wondered what Goodwill does with clothes that don’t sell in the States? They ship them by bales to Belize. My recommendation is to do your clothes shopping when you return to your home country. It will be a much happier experience.
If you ever need childcare or a housekeeper in Belize, there will never be a shortage of volunteers. Nannies in Belize not only look after your children, but they also are willing to take care of household chores. Prices are negotiable, but a fair rate for a day’s work could be as low at $10. Just make sure you discuss discipline because physical punishment is still allowed in Belize.
We cannot forget the monthly entertainment expense. That really comes down to what you classify as entertainment. There are two movie theaters in the country. One is at the Princes Hotel and Casino in Belize City and the other at Paradise Theater in San Pedro. Admission will be around $7.50 plus popcorn. Speaking of casinos, besides the official casino in Belize City, you will find small gaming establishments throughout the country. There are three golf courses in the country. The best course is on an island 45 minutes by boat from San Pedro with green fees around $200. There are 9-hole courses both in Consejo Shores and in Belmopan with prices starting at $17.50. The common Belizean pastime is to hang out at a local bar and shoot some pool. A bottle of the local Belikin beer shouldn’t cost more than a couple of dollars.
Can I Get Good Medical Care in Belize?
The medical situation in Belize is interesting. Most villages and all of the main cities have government-run hospitals and polyclinics. Medical visits are free as are some medications. Additional testing such as x-rays, MRI’s and ultrasounds are paid by the patient at a greatly reduced rate. Expat residents can qualify to receive this “free” treatment; but just remember the old adage “you get what you paid for.” That is especially true about healthcare in Belize.
For more serious ailments or if you are in search of better service, there are plenty of private clinics. You can expect to pay $25 for a doctor visit. Many medications do not require a prescription and local pharmacists are very helpful. On the other hand, the dental care in Belize is equivalent to the States and will at least half. You can find more information about the medical care in Belize by visiting Belize.com.
Because there is no level one trauma center in the country and the skill for very technical surgeries or treatment options are just not available in the country, it can be a good idea to obtain medical coverage from their home country.
What Taxes Will I Need to Pay in Belize?
Belize income taxes are withdrawn from employee paychecks at the rate of 25 percent, however, the first $7,250 is exempt. Foreign income is tax-exempt. Additionally, there are no capital gains taxes in Belize.
Expats who decide to start a registered business in Belize should be prepared to pay business taxes which vary depending on the trade or profession. The tax starts at 0.75 percent and in most cases caps at 15 percent. There are income exemptions which keep most small businesses from paying any business tax whatsoever and a great many sole proprietorships are unregistered.
The tax that affects expats and locals alike is the General Sales Tax (GST) or value added tax (VAT). At a rate of 12.5%, it can add up quickly. It applies to most goods and service with an exception to some basic food items. In nearly all cases, the tax is included in the price of the individual item.
Non-residents are required to pay a departure tax when they leave the country. If you are flying out, then the $39.35 tax will be included in your airline ticket. The fee is less if you leave by land or sea.
All non-residents are required to renew their tourist visas each month at an immigration office. For the first six months, the monthly fee is $25. For every month thereafter, until he or she leaves the country for at least 14 days, the monthly fee increases to $50. The tourist visa is stamped into your passport.
Another tax that can unwarily affect an expat is the import tax or customs duties. These are levied on anything that is imported into the country. That includes if your brother sends you an anniversary gift. When you pick it up from the post office, you will have to open it there for inspection and pay approximately 30 percent of the value, including the shipping. The import tax can go as high as 80% of the value. This is one reason why the price of vehicles in Belize is so high. If you would like more detailed information, you can get individual rates at the Belize Customs website.
It is interesting to note that Belize residents can import personal household effects free from customs duties as long as they have been owned for at least one year. Under the Qualified Retired Persons Incentive Program, expats do not have to become residents to residency benefits. If an expat meets the requirements, they will no longer have to pay the monthly tourist visa. They qualify for import tax exemptions on personal and household effects, vehicle, aircraft and boat for one year.
How Much Do I Need to Live Comfortably in Belize?
Belize can be the ideal retirement destination. It has a stable government, reasonable laws, relatively few taxes, and easy money exchange. Housing prices are significantly lower than other parts of Central America. Plus, the cost of living is considerably lower than in the United States. Depending on where you retire to and the quality of life you would like to maintain, you could realistically live on a budget of $1,700 to $2,000 per month on the mainland and $2,700 in San Pedro.
Written By Amanda Foth
Amanda has over 25 years of real estate appraisal, sales and property management experience in the United States. She fell in love with Belize after coming down to do some volunteer work. After permanently moving there in 2008, she has toured through every part of Belize and has experienced life both as a tourist and as a resident. She has made more friends than she can count and is considered a Belizean by the locals. Amanda is uniquely qualified to offer practical advice to those considering a move to one of Central America’s undiscovered jewels.