After visiting Belize annually for a few years, researching immigration requirements, reading about other expatriates’ journeys, and saving up for a big move abroad, my family and I relocated to Placencia about six years ago. We’ve put down roots in this charming coastal village and absolutely love our life here near the Caribbean Sea. But it isn’t just rainbows and rum punch all day, every day. I often tell people in a tongue-in-cheek manner that moving to Belize is easier than you think… and harder than you can imagine. We had our fair share of missteps and trials in the beginning, and we continue learning (often from our own mistakes) about life in Belize and how best to navigate this tropical existence. If you’re considering moving to Placencia, I want to share with you just a few tips and things you should know before you go.
Adjust Your Expectations
Perhaps you vacationed in Placencia and you fell in love with the area’s natural beauty, vibrant culture, friendly people, and great food, and you decided to make the Peninsula your new home. It’s a familiar story! I hear it time and time again from holiday makers: “This place feels like home, it is so comfortable and welcoming. I could totally see myself living here!” I completely agree, obviously, I thought the same thing, but it should go without saying that living somewhere is a much different experience than visiting somewhere.
Going from carefree vacationing in a hotel or resort to the reality of renting or purchasing your own home can come with some unexpected challenges. If you’re used to urban or suburban living in North America or Europe, you may experience some growing pains as you adjust to using a septic system or having to hail a Butane truck to supply your cooking fuel. You may find that utilities are spotty and power outages or interruptions in water service are fairly common occurrences. This is a developing nation and that means we’re getting better all the time, but you shouldn’t expect First World amenities.
Make a Lifestyle Change
You make a move like this to start a new chapter in your life, not to replicate the life you already have! Make the move and a major lifestyle change at the same time. This usually means leaving the corporate world, escaping mainstream consumerism, slowing down, breaking your Keeping-Up-With-The-Jones habit, and enjoying a more active and outdoorsy lifestyle. I personally changed my diet dramatically when I moved to Belize.
It wasn’t a planned or conscious adjustment but the convenience foods I reached for in the US just weren’t available in Placencia grocery stores (or they were of dubious origins or prohibitively expensive). I used to be the queen of Lean Cuisine and ready-to-eat salads from a bag. Now I shop for whatever seasonal produce hits the shelves of my neighborhood vegetable stand and enjoy a complete homemade meal of rice and beans from local take-aways for the same cost as microwaving a lousy frozen dinner.
With year-round tropical temperatures, being outdoors is commonplace throughout most of Belize and you will find that most shops and restaurants in Placencia are open-air. The main modes of transportation are walking, bike riding, and golf carts. Many Placencians make leisure time a priority and dedicate a good amount of energy towards the pursuit of their hobbies whether that be diving, fishing, pickleball, or golf. We haven’t got museums, sports stadiums, or cinemas but we make our own small-town fun and if you are so inclined, there are always community service opportunities to be found.
Follow the Rules
Follow the rules as best you can, even when you don’t fully understand or agree with them. Most people’s path to full-time residency follows a monthly or yearly visa renewal process. Make sure you keep your visas in order and provide Immigration with all the background and paperwork they request. This may take several office trips to accomplish but don’t become outwardly frustrated, remain humble and obliging and remember that you are a guest in this country. Never try to skirt the law or work without a proper permit; if you’re in Belize on a tourist’s visa your rental home should be licensed by the Tourism Board. Belize in general, but Placencia specifically, is a small place where everyone seems to know everyone, and it is not likely to go unnoticed if someone isn’t following the rules.
Placencia is a paradise by many people’s definitions, including mine! Perhaps no place on Earth is perfect, but in my opinion, Placencia is pretty darn close. The splendid climate, laid-back atmosphere, and close-knit community are the top reasons I feel privileged to call this place home. Maybe you’ll be my neighbor someday!