24 October 2017

Bill Graham - Expat in Belize

Bill Graham - Expat in Belize

We’ve had the chance to talk to Bill Graham, 56, a Canadian expat who has moved to Belize with his wife. Mr Graham, who has been living there for almost three years. Read more about his/her experiences in the full interview below.

Q: Where are you from originally?
A: Ontario, Canada

Q: What made you move out of Canada?
A: We choose to leave Canada in search of a less stressful lifestyle. 30 years in construction was taking a painful toll on my body, especially during long cold Canadian winters. My wife (Lorilee) had also been diagnosed as having two minor strokes from her years as a manager in the stressful food service industry. Her Doctor's advice was, “quit your job now, or die soon working”. We were both the type of people that became foreman/managers of whatever business we had worked for in the past, so just finding another job was not going to be a solution as we would probably just find ourselves in the same situations again within a short time.

Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?
A: We ended up in Belize, but I must admit that when initially looking for a solution to our lifestyle problems, leaving Canada had never crossed our minds. I began researching alternative job opportunities that would be easier on my body and hopefully allow Lorilee to retire. Then... one day an ad popped up on my computer, “Retire to Costa Rica...”. As I read it, for the first time I realized that the promise of a considerably lower cost of living, along with a more relaxed lifestyle, might actually allow us to retire early in the tropical climate that my knees, neck, and back were screaming for, and of course the slower laid back lifestyle would offer the stress relief that Lorilee’s Doctor had prescribed. Like most people we researched Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, and Belize. In the end we chose Belize because of its close proximity to Canada, and of course being the only English speaking country in Central America should certainly make the transition to a new culture easier.

Q: How long have you been living in Belize?
A: We Moved to Belize in November of 2014. So almost three years now.

Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?
A: I live with my wife Lorilee. She loves the slower lifestyle and the warm and friendly people. We both have found Belize (for the most part) to be everything that we had hoped it would be.

Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?
A: Yes, being away from family can sometimes make you sad especially during special occasions. However, our family members were spread apart back in Canada and we only got together a couple of times a year. We actually see family more often now via video chats. That is a piece of advice I would share, spend some time with relatives before you move especially those that are not computer savey. Take time with them to be sure they know the basics of how to email, or use Facebook or a platform of your choice. I strongly recommend that you choose a video chat platform and train your friends and family to both initiate and receive invites to chat. This live face to face live interaction is almost as good as being in person, except for the hug of course.

Q: What do you think about the locals?
A: We have great respect for the locals that we have met. Many people in Belize struggle from day to day, however for the most part they are not preoccupied by what they don’t have, but rather are happy, thankful, and count their blessings for what they do have. Everyone has been warm, friendly, and helpful to us. We have found that mutual respect goes a long way and that the locals will accept expats until we prove that we are not worthy of their respect.

Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in Belize? How did you manage to find a social circle there?   
A: In all honesty we have several acquaintances and only a few friends. We don’t frequent the bars where most expats gather to meet, and prefer to keep more to ourselves. As they say in Belize, “keep your circles small, and the beer cold”. We don’t usually distinguish between expat and local, but with the question being asked, I would say we have more local acquaintances.

Q: How does the cost of living in Belize compare to your home?

‚óŹ    Q: How much is a cup of coffee?
A: Coffee is not as big a part of the culture in Belize as it is in Canada. You will pay 1.50 BZD (.75 USD) for a cup of coffee. You will usually receive a cup of hot water and a spoon, and then be shown to a table where you add instant coffee, sugar, and powdered creamer yourself.

Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Belize?
A: Yes, do your research. Opening a bank account is becoming more and more difficult for visitors and those with non-resident status. The process requires more documentation than we were used to in Canada. You will want to know prior to moving what the requirements are to produce original documents and bring them with you if you hope for approval in Belize.

Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?
A: Our experience has been that most processes cannot be completed with one trip. Even after completing an application with everything requested, you will often be asked for additional paperwork or sent away to have other pieces notarized or something. The reason? I believe the main reason is that while processes are often well documented somewhere, officials are not trained on the intent of a rule, and its interpretation is left to the discretion of each individual official. This difference in interpretation can often lead to considerably different experiences for each applicant.

Q: Would you say that healthcare in Belize is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?
A: We have found basic health care to be quite reliable. We have only had a few minor problems, all three times the issues were correctly diagnosed and treatments cleared things up quite quickly. I understand that more serious problems often have to be treated in Mexico or in your home country, but I honestly have no experience with that so my opinion would only be hearsay.

Q: Did you secure a health insurance in Canada or Belize?  What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?
A: This is a personal question that  in my opinion has to be answered by each individual based on their own comfort level, family history, and current health condition. In our case we are healthy, in fact the two inhalers Lorilee used in Canada for COPD are no longer required in Belize. We have chosen at this time to not have insurance, instead we pay as we go for health care. A trip to a private doctor has cost us 35.00 BZD (17.50 USD) and a visit to the local public hospital was free as is the prescribed medicine if it is in stock at the hospital pharmacy, otherwise you will have to buy at a local pharmacy. Also, many drugs can be purchased without a prescription (except narcotics) so if you have a recurring problem that you know a particular drug will remedy, you can probably just pick it up yourself.

Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to Belize? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?
A: Lol, United airlines was our mover. We moved to Belize with two suitcases each and our pet pooch Phoebe.

Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?
A: For me the biggest issue was getting used to the extreme heat of the hotter times of year. But I did, I remember when we first moved that an evening when the temperature dropped into the low to mid seventies was perfect for a comfortable sleep with no top sheet, now those temperatures have me pulling up the top sheet and scrambling to the closet for a wool blanket.

Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Belize?
A: Not to sound cliche, but the positives are the warm and friendly people, a slower more laid back way of life, and the cleaner fresh meat and produce that is available for a healthier lifestyle. The biggest negative is also the slower lifestyle, for example if you need your computer repaired, it may be 3 weeks before you get it back. That been said though, it is not reasonable to enjoy the benefits of a slower lifestyle and then be upset when that same lifestyle becomes inconvenient. “it is what it is” and we all must learn to go with the flow.

Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?
A: Belize relies on and caters to the tourist industry. “Visitors” as we say, can enjoy many activities ranging from the many Mayan Ruins, to Cave Tubing and zip lining, to the beauty of snorkeling or diving on the largest coral reef in the Western Hemisphere.

Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?
A: We have no plans to move. But I would say expats must always have an exit plan in case a relative may rely on you to care for them in the future, or some other unforeseen circumstance arises.

Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?
A: My first tip would be, be prepared to immerse in the culture. Those that are successful here are those that embrace the slower lifestyle. One must be able to accept the inadequacies of most processes. The little things will become the highlights of your day. And, if you want to live with all the comforts and conveniences that are enjoyed in Canada (and other first world nations) with a tropical climate being the only difference, you may be disappointed.

Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Belize?
A: Yes mine at https://billdoesbelize.com