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".
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.
they head south or even once they become established, they spend
countless hours gathering in chat rooms like the most popular
BelizeForum.com. 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.