Belize is one of those paradise, sun drenched, Caribbean destinations that inspire people to want to sell all their belongings, give up their job and open a beach bar where they can spend their days swinging in a hammock and drinking coconut cocktails. The truth is that some people have done just that. Some have been successful and lived their dream, while others have returned from whence they came, broke, bitter and somewhat wiser. If you are thinking of moving to Belize, it’s important to recognize that both outcomes are very real possibilities.
Belize is a laid-back country where ‘going slow’ is the normal pace of life. This may seem wonderful when you’re a tourist, but it can be difficult to adjust to on a full-time basis. People may not reply to emails for days, weeks or ever. If a plumber says he’ll come tomorrow morning, that might just mean in three tomorrows. When you ask someone to get you something in a store and they say ‘right now’, that actually means that they’ll do it when they get around to it. If you are invited to a party at 7pm and you turn up on time, you’ll probably find that you are the only one there til 10pm or even later. They say that if you come to Belize with a great deal of patience, you’ll soon lose it but if you come here with none, you’ll soon get plenty of it.
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The people of Belize are friendly, kind and diverse. There are many different cultures, ethnicities and religious beliefs in Belize. In the west, you’ll find Mennonites working the land and producing much of the food that Belizeans consume. In the south, you’ll find a mixture of Kekchi and Mopan Maya people living in traditional villages. You’ll also encounter Garifuna people with their cultural roots from both Africa and the West Indies. Further north, in Belize City, is the heartland of Belizean Kriol people and even further north than that are the Mestizo and Yucatan Maya villages of the Orange Walk District.
Just when you think you knew everything about Belize and its people, you’ll discover thriving Chinese, East Indian, Lebanese and Jordanian communities celebrating their own cultures around the country. So, while English is the national language of Belize, people there speak at least 10 different languages. A significant number of Belizeans speak 2-3 languages or more.
Because Belize is very close to North America and its laws are based on British law, it can be very easy to believe that day to day life in Belize will feel familiar. Nothing could be further from the truth. Belize has a robust and vibrant culture that is absolutely unique and Belizeans are steadfastly proud of it. When some folks come to Belize and discover how different it is from their home, they try to change it to make it feel more comfortable to them. People do not appreciate that in Belize.
Belizeans love people from around the world to come and make a home in Belize. However, they expect you to respect and accommodate their way of life, not the other way around. If you want the true friendship of your neighbors in Belize, the best way to do that is to appreciate and participate in their community activities and to embrace the way that they do things, no matter how strange and different they may be to you.
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If you want to move there, come and visit. Make the time to get to know the country and its people. Don’t make assumptions about your ability to adapt to it or Belize’s ability to adapt to you. Visiting as a tourist will not give you insight into what it’s like to live here. Spend a few months renting in the country. You’ll know if it’s right for you because you’ll fall in love with its beauty and charm, warts and all. If you come to visit and wake up just thinking about those warts, you’ll know you’ve made a smart choice not to give up everything to make that move. It might be time to look for another paradise that suits you better.