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No doubt, they are a 'strange brew' the ex-pats down in Belize. They come from many different directions to arrive in paradise. In their past lives, some were lawyers while others were computer geeks. Many arrive dreaming about opening their B&Bs or a scuba diving operation or that beachfront bar and restaurant where they can gather together to talk about life in the tropics from the local perspective. Although they collectively refer to themselves as ex-pats, as the old song sung by legendary Texan singer and songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker reflects, ultimately, they are all "just another gringo in Belize".

Geographically they arrive to Belize from points around the globe though most tend to be from Canada or the US states of California, Oregon, Texas or North Carolina. Before they decide to visit as a tourist or to make the leap of fate to pack it all up to go to Belize for good, they spend countless hours surfing the Internet for the right hotel or dive operator or jungle outfitter to make it a real adventure. If they are planning to stay beyond a week or two, they pound out email after email to every real estate agent in or out of Belize asking questions about where to find cheap oceanfront land or does the river frontage tract flood or how far is the lot to the nearest town.

Before they head south or even once they become established, they spend countless hours gathering in chat rooms like the most popular There they argue amongst themselves or talk authoritatively about what it is like to travel about the country or live life on an island. Hiding behind names like 'travelinmama', 'moon boy', 'coolfrankf' and 'cloudbusterb', they discuss hot topics like safety and security and banking and immigration requirements and beer and the availability of ATM machines.

The chatting on-liners even have their own set of Gods like 'Greg' or 'Tony' or the legendary and self proclaimed 'Lan "The-Belize-Answer-Man" Sluder'. Mr. Sluder offers on-line books that you can purchase via downloading. He also is the co-writer of a guidebook on Belize and Guatemala. He spends a lot of time in the Belize Forum answering questions as well as offering philosophical chatter about the current in-country political atmosphere and whether or not paradise found is on the verge of becoming paradise lost. All the same he is considered some kind of a guru to the ex-pats who seemingly have nothing better to do than to talk about the effects of cruise ships on their place in the sun.

If they end up being a genuine 'ex-pat', once they relocate to Belize, they face the real challenges, for living in a place or only visiting once a year makes a huge difference. To become a resident of Belize takes a minimum of a full year of living within the country before you can even apply.

The residency process in turn requires monthly visits to the local immigration official in order to apply for an extension to your tourist card which is granted free of charge upon arrival via ground or air transport. Currently the fee is under review but reports are that it could cost upwards of US$50 per month just to renew the card making Belize by far the most expensive country to extend a visit in all of Central America. You are also only allowed to leave Belize for two weeks during the yearlong waiting period.

Usually, after a few months in paradise, some ex-pats start to re-think their move. Although they truly believed in their heart that the acclimation to living in Belize would be a cakewalk, for many they learn quickly that the reason you go on a vacation in the first place is to get away from where you live the rest of the year. Additionally, soon ex-pats discover that they are looked upon with a discerning eye by their neighbours who question every move they make, for it's hard for someone who was born and raised in a so-called developing country such as Belize to understand why anyone in their right mind would ever move from the US of A or the like to the jungle bush.

Many in the ex-pat community are attempting to live in Belize on fixed or limited incomes. In order to supplement their income they had planned that small cabana hotel or that Internet Café or to design websites or even to write that lifelong goal 'the novel'. But when they realize that the immigration and labour laws of Belize are in place to protect the Belizeans and not so much to support the dreams of ex-pats, the hurdles become huge. For if the ex-pats think the lengthy ordeal for gaining Belizean residency can be costly, they are baffled by the requirements for work permits that can cost as much as US$1500 per year.

As for being employed by a Belizean owned company, first that employer must prove that no Belizean can qualify for the position. Despite the realty that rampant unemployment especially in the countryside continues to plague Belize, no matter how talented the ex-pats might think they are, the Belizean people know what it takes to survive and are therefore talented in most of the tasks required for professional as well as unskilled segments of the workforce.

Events like the annual Placencia Lobsterfest are popular get-togethers for ex-pats, locals and tourist in Belize
After six months to a year or two a high percentage of the ex-pats simply 'burn out' on Belize. It usually is due to a culmination of too many days lounging about sucking cigarettes or ganja as well as guzzling too many cups of coffee, too many bottles of One Barrel Rum or countless cases of Belikin beer. Then there is all that frustrating time spent in the bank line getting money wire transfers or tapping the keyboard in order to chat online in the forums within the confines of the Belizean Internet network that only recently got DSL.

Although the ex-pats talk about 'one for all and all for one' and how they need to work together for the common good, in the end the ex-pats either in business or simply socializing amongst themselves, are only looking out for number one. They ultimately don't care a hoot about whether or not their comrades can handle both the mental and physical challenges of living life abroad. And just when you think you're one of them you discover that once you leave the room the conversation is consumed by what your ex-pat peers find to be flaws in your character.

And then one morning the ex-pat awakes to a new day in Belize to the sheer reality of all that wasted time. They realize that while they were trying so desperately to become one with the true Belizeans by buying their new friends round after round at the local 'cool spot', sadly the ex-pat learns the hard way that they should have been paying a little more attention to watching their life savings dwindle. In time they turn to look at their reflection in the mirror and realize crystal clear the cracks that were in their lives they left behind. Tragically it is at that point when they come to terms and see for the first time, they are just another gringo in Belize.


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