Belize Expat Health Insurance Guide
Often described as Central America’s hidden gem, Belize is ethically, culturally and ecologically diverse. Much Like parts of Guatemala and Mexico, the country is home to the ancient Mayan tribe.
Due to its location, Belize is the only country in Central America without a coastline on the Pacific Ocean. Instead, Belize’s shores give way to the magical allure of the Caribbean Sea.
On the mainland, visitors will uncover vast expanses of dense tropical jungles, ancient Mayan ruins and a plethora or nationals parks and reserves, home to an abundance of exotic wildlife species, including the only jaguar reserve on the planet.
Despite being relatively unexplored, Belize’s mainland and islands continue to attract individuals and families looking to visit and live in both a peaceful and picturesque setting. The chilled vibe, quiet beaches, rich history and diverse landscape on offer holds much appeal compared to its more developed neighbouring countries.
Residents and visitors alike enjoy a year-round subtropical climate in Belize, with temperatures averaging 26-29°C. The coolest months are experienced between November and January and the hottest months are between May and September. However, as you might expect, exact temperatures do vary considerably across locations within the country. For example, you are likely to experience much cooler temperatures in the mountain areas that the lowlands.
There are two dry seasons – March until May and August until September. The remaining parts of the year see plenty of rain, with an annual rainfall averaging 1,300 in the northern regions and 4,500 in the south.
Humidity is high, averaging around 83%. However, the cool ocean breeze is often enough to bring relief.
Belize is prone to hurricanes and these tend to occur within the hurricane season, which is between June and November. Therefore, it is important for visitors to be prepared for living in a country’s that is susceptible to hurricanes.
Belmopan Average Monthly Temperatures and Rainfall
Belizean culture is heavily influenced by its rich history and surrounding nations. In the 16th Century, the region was first claimed by the Spanish Empire, closely followed by the British.
Despite many battles, Belize thankfully escaped the bloody civil conflicts which took place throughout the majority of Central America in 1980s.
The people of Belize are found to be warm and welcoming, making it almost impossible for visitors not to be instantly captivated by the endearing essence of the country.
With many different ethnic groups residing in Belize – Maya, Mestizo, Creole, Garifuna, East Indian, Mennonite, Chinese, Arabic, European and American – there is an unusually harmonious integration across the country. Individuals share a collective culture, whilst also proudly standing true to their unique heritage and ethnicity.
Belize is home to the ancient Maya, which is one of the most mysterious civilisations on the planet. Known for their development of astronomy and hieroglyphic writing, their magical way of being lives on to this day.
Recent archaeological discoveries have even revealed that Belize was, in fact, the central hub of the ancient Mayan civilisations. Belize’s Mayan people continue to be an integral part of the country’s heritage and their synergistic way of relating with neighbouring communities is clearly an aspect that has strongly shaped present-day Belizean culture.
The landscape of Belize is that of lush forests, rich in wildlife and speckled with Mayan ruins dating back thousands of years. For such a small country there is so much on offer – from snorkelling in the crystal-clear waters of the world’s second largest Barrier reef to glimpsing a jaguar in its natural habitat.
Unlike other countries in the region who favour Spanish as their native language, as a former British colony, Belize is the only one with English as its official language. This means English is used within government, education and the majority of media channels.
However, more than half of the population of Belize is multilingual, with Spanish also a popularly spoken language.
The country’s unofficial native language is Belizean Creole, which is an English based Creole language, closely related to those of surrounding Caribbean island nations. This language is typically used for informal and social communications among residents.
Thankfully, for visitors and expats alike this English-Caribbean hybrid is fairly easy to translate.
|English Phrase||Belizean Creole Translation|
|Are you from Belize?||Yuh da Belize?|
|What is the time?||Da weh time?|
|What’s your name?||Weh yuh naym?|
|Good morning!||Gud maanin!|
|What’s up?||Weh di gaan an?|
|See you later||Si yoo lata|
Among Belize’s Mayan inhabitants, there are three distinct spoken languages – Mopan, Yucatec Maya, and Q’eqchi.
There are a few ways to get around Belize, although some modes of transport are far more costly than others.
Whilst Belize does have several highways, these are not your typical highway and are simply properly surfaced and maintained roads, consisting of two lanes. Other roads across the country resemble more dirt tracks in relatively poor condition.
Expats who are used to right-hand driving will be pleased, as Belize is one of those countries that use the right-hand side of the road for driving.
Within the larger cities, you can more easily find hire cars, although its worth noting that these can fairly pricey and fuel also isn’t cheap. However, expats keen to venture out should avoid driving at night due to the poorly maintained roads, so head out in day light hours and be sure to experience the scenic delights available on the Hummingbird Highway.
For shorter stays, visitors usually opt for public transport and taxi travel is a popular way of getting around.
Legitimate and licenced taxis will display green plates but are not required to show clear identifications. As such, it is a good idea to ask for a recommended driver from local trusted establishments. Taxis are also not metered so you will need to agree a fare with the driver before you begin your journey. Moreover, taxi drivers in Belize also often fulfil the role of a tour guide, so this is worth considering when weighing up your budget and options.
Public transport is by far the most budget friendly mode of transport in Belize and the main way for locals to get from A to B. Therefore, opting for bus transport is the perfect way for expats to experience an authentic Belizean lifestyle, where you will meet many interesting people and learn more about the culture.
Standard buses stop in each village, so be sure to choose the express buses if you need to reach your destination quickly.
Belize’s islands are also a popular destination for visitors and the best way to reach these is via the various water taxi or via one of the local airlines. Private boats are also available to hire.
The government agency responsible for the healthcare sectors is the Ministry of Health (MoH). Available healthcare systems are either privately or publicly funded, yet both focus on providing quality of care at affordable prices.
With several active initiatives to improve healthcare provisions, it is clear the Belizean government takes the health of its residents seriously. Among these initiatives, was the introduction of the National Health Insurance programme which aims to further shape and improve health outcomes and performance.
In cities and larger towns, hospitals are of good quality and high standards. Among the seven district hospitals which provide public healthcare, there are three regional hospital which provide the broadest range of services.
Within more rural locations, are smaller clinics aimed are providing primary medical and dental care to rural communities. Such clinics are poorly maintained and significantly understaffed, and these do compromise the quality of care available.
In general, in direct comparison to standard medical care available in EU countries and North America, the standards are of course considerably lower. Therefore, expats should be prepared and in some serious medical cases, it may be necessary to be sent to the USA for treatment which will be at the cost of the patient.
The private healthcare sector remains a popular choice and provides much needed additional support to the public service, particularly in expensive areas such as imaging service provisions. Private healthcare can be easily funded via healthcare insurance policies.
The official currency of Belize is the Belize dollar and notes come in $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100. Visitors may also find that in some places, both US dollars and BZD are used for quoting prices and US dollars are generally accepted in most establishments. However, to be on the safe side, expats should aim to use the local currency which should avoid confusion and the potential to unknowingly overspend.
ATMs dispensing Belize dollars are available in all major towns and urban centres. If you need to access money from a foreign account, you can do some at the following banks:
- Belize Bank
- Scotia Bank
- Altantic Bank
It is also worth noting that you are likely to be charged two fees – one from your bank as an international usage fee and also from the local Belize bank.
As cash is the standard and most widely used form of payment, you may not be able to rely on your credit card. However, in larger establishments, you may be able to pay via credit card. Belize also doesn’t really have official money exchanges like other countries, to ensure an advantageous rate, it is advisable for visitors to bring most of their cash already converted.
Expats looking to open their own bank account can do so with relatively little stress. However, you will need the following documents in order to open a bank account in Belize:
- Two references/recommendation letters
- Proof of residence – unitality bill or letter from landlord if renting
- Two forms of identification
The education system of Belize follows a similar model to the UK, but it has also been heavily influenced by the US syllabus. It is also compulsory for young people between the ages of six and fourteen to attend school. However, although primary education is publicly funded, as a mostly poverty-stricken country, families often struggle to fund additional resources such as books and uniforms.
Lesson are taught in the national language which is English making it easier for expat children to adjust. Due to the popularity of the country as an expat destination, there are also a growing number of international and bilingual schools for expat families to choose from. Some of these follow British or American curriculums.
Popular international schools include – Belize High School, Caye Caulker Ocean Academy, QSI International School of Belize and San Pedro High Street. Tuition rates vary and be anything from $2,000 to $7,000 per year.
The school system consists of three levels and once a child has finished high school, they can progress to Junior College which are usually a two-year programme. Belize also has one main university, however, a large proportion of students seeking degrees head overseas for more choice.
Food & Drink
As with most other culturally diverse country’s you can expect this diversity to spill over into many aspects, including the available cuisine. A blend of ingredients from early Maya, British, Spanish, African and more recent cultures certainly makes for a truly unique and interesting array of dishes.
In some cases, eating Belizean cuisine can quite literally transport you back in time, with some dishes still served today originating thousands of years ago. Tamal and Cochinita Pilbil are two such dishes which formed part of the earliest Maya cuisine.
More typical and everyday Belizean meals consist of a combination of rice and beans, meat, stews, salads and soups. Popular dishes expats and visits might like to try including: Tamalitos – over-roasted corn mashed with coconut milk, sugar, salt and butter, stuffed into a corn husk and steamed. Sere – fish soup cooked with coconut milk, cassava, plantain and spices. Panades – a fried snack filled with beans, cheese or smoked fish. Salbutes – mini fried tortillas topped with tomato, cheese, onion, cabbage, chicken and avocado.
A popular condiment for those who love a bit of chilli heat, Marie Sharp’s hot sauce will hit the spot. The sauce is made from the very potent local habanero pepper and varieties range from mild to extremely hot.
Mealtimes are treated as community events where people come together to cook and eat. As such, you will find a large proportion of businesses close for lunch to enjoy this communal activity.
Belizean desserts usually feature local fruits such as Soursop, Cassava and Craboo. These are made into ice creams, cakes and puddings. If you are in Belize for the festive season you must try the Belize Fruit Cake which is a traditional rum cake popular around the holidays. There are two types of fruit cake – Black Fruit Cake and the White Fruit Cake. Christmas in Belize is not complete without Belize Fruit Cake.
An ice cold Belikin beer is the perfect accompaniment to a meal and is a popular beverage among locals and visitors alike. The name Belikin is one of the ancient Maya names for Belize and translates to ‘Road To The Sea’. Belikin is an indigenous beer and the only beer made in the country.
For wine connoisseurs Belize has some locally made traditional wines – cashew wine is made from the fruit (rather than the nut) of the cashew tree. It is a sweet wine which can be quite potent depending on where you source it from. Other wines include craboo, blackberry, sorrel, ginger and mango which are also made locally and best served chilled.
In a conflict prone part of the world, Belize is relatively safe in comparison. However, it has by no means been protected against the widespread drug trade and relentless poverty.
Whilst gang and drug related crime and violence do occur in other areas, Belize is generally a very safe country to visit and with plenty of police monitoring popular areas, you can feel more assured. Particular areas such as the Southside of Belize City are best avoided due to the high level of crime. Expats visiting the city would do well to travel within the tourist areas and avoid venturing out alone at night.
As with any country, visitors should remain cautions with strangers, although most are friendly and helpful. Visitors will further lower risk by remaining alert, using common sense and keeping money and valuables hidden from view. It is also wise to check official websites before travelling to get the most up to date information, but do bear in mind that such websites often highlight the dangerous aspects – with less emphasis on the fact that most visitors have a trouble free experience.
As a safety precaution when visiting during the hurricane and rainy seasons, be sure to stay well informed via updates from local authorities.
Prior to travel, expats should visit their GP to ensure all of the relevant vaccinations have been administered. Moreover, due to some areas experiencing previous tropical disease outbreaks, travellers are encourages to check official websites for current health risks and get up to date information on precautions to avoid contracting tropical diseases which pose a risk in Belize. These include Zika virus and Chikungunya virus.
Places to Visit
Belize is fast becoming one of the most popular visitor destinations in Central America and for good reason. The country has so much to offer – from diverse culture, rich heritage and exquisite natural landscapes and wildlife. There is so much experience in this small country, but here are some of the must see attractions for visitors to consider adding to their travel itinerary.
Actun Tunichil Mukhnal
Also known as the Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre and located near San Ignacio, this cave is an ancient Maya archaeological site. Although not the most accessible – visitors will need to hike and cross rivers – it is a popular attraction and well worth a visit. Inside the cave lie sacrificed human remains and pottery.
Belize Barrier Reef
The pristine habitats of the Belize Barrier Reef spans 185 miles of the country’s coastline and is a NESCO World Heritage Site. Situated half a mile off the coast of Belize, the Barrier Reef is the second longest in the whole world. It is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the country and is home to one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet.
Great Blue Hole
This giant marine sinkhole is located 43 miles off the mainland within Lighthouse reef. Measuring some 300 meters across and with a depth of around 124 metres, this unique natural geological phenomenon is understandably a prized hot spot for scuba divers. Within this unique system are thriving populations of tropical fish, sharks, coral formations and stalactite-filled caved.
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
Part of the Maya Mountain range, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary covers more than 400 square kilometres of protected rainforests and river systems. This vast habitat is home to an abundance of wildlife including the endangered, visually striking bird, the scarlet macaw. The sanctuary is also home to the magnificent big cat, the jaguar. The scenic opportunities are numerous, with breath-taking waterfalls and stunning peaks and dense tropical rainforests. This is definitely one to put on your itinerary.
Resting on a plateau, elevated to around 500 meters above sea-level and located in the Cayo District, Caracol is the largest of the country’s ancient Maya archaeological sites. Situated in the depths of the jungle, Caracol is steeped in history, featuring temples, tombs and pyramids. A must see attraction for anyone visiting Belize.