1 September 2016

Sandy Smith - Expat in Belize

Sandy Smith - Expat in Belize

We’ve had the chance to talk to Sandy Smith, 54, an American expat who has moved to Belize with her husband.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: California


Q: What made you move out of USA?

A: Wanted to do Christian Mission work in an English speaking country


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: We’re now living in Colorado – no longer in Belmopan, Belize


Q: How long have you been living in Belize?

A: Two years


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I was living there with my husband. He adjusted better than I did. He did not get sick.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I miss clean supermarkets and food I can trust will not make me sick,


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: I love the locals. They are racially diverse, yet they get along really much better than in other countries. Many nationalities are represented here. They are VERY laid back and difficult to motivate. Many seem sad about their living situations. Unless they are small children, I don’t hear much laughter from them.


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: I think Americans have a bad reputation in Belize. They tend to come in and want to change things that Belizeans don’t want to change. Belizeans are especially wary of older American men because paedophiles have come to Belize to misuse young girls (especially on Ambergris Caye). I made friends that would talk to me and wave, but not really do anything outside of business or ministry with me. In a small country population wise, you feel like you know everybody, no matter where you go. It has a small town feel. I did meet and befriend some Americans down there too, but did very little socializing, since it is dangerous to go out after dark. Everything has to be done in daylight hours. One missionary was murdered in Valley of Peace, and another was shot at on a bridge and crashed and his wife was in a coma from spending too much time submerged after being thrown from their car. I have heard d that if Americans live in villages, it is highly likely they will have a gun to their head at some point. The police do not respond when called. Our school had a bomb go off that would have locked down any school in the US. The principal called the police, and they never showed. One lady told me when she called them; they asked her to come pick them up because they didn’t have a vehicle. Belize City is very dangerous. It seems like there is a murder a day there. I read of a couple who were sitting outside their home who were both shot, and while they were at the hospital getting treatment, their house was robbed.

American Embassy staff tends to keep to themselves in their own compound, but I met a couple of them.


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


  • How much is a cup of coffee?

A: Don’t drink it. Don’t know.

  • How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: Maybe $US6 per meal. We routinely ate on Fridays at a chicken stand a few doors down from Caladium, next to a bar that has delicious habanero salsa. We also enjoyed a Mexican place started by a Dr from Cancun next to Casa Pan Dulce with great tacos and grilled chicken. There is also a cheap but good place for coated chicken tender sandwiches on Western Highway in Camalote called Tony’s.

Stay away from the dollar tacos in the open market and roadside bar BQ stands – a great way to get explosively sick!

  • How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: The nicest meal we had was at the Mahogany Hall in Bullet Tree Falls. It was a wonderful delicious meal outdoors accompanied by a dramatic lightning show with large lightning bugs as well. Very memorable, but I have no idea what it cost. Definitely worth it!


Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: Don’t know. Never bought.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Belize?

A: Scotia Bank opened one for us with some reluctance.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: They are not computerized yet and do everything with big written ledgers. You have to wait in long lines and go back often because of their rules and restrictions. You cannot work on a tourist visa. It’s like going back to the 80s.


Q: Would you say that healthcare Belize reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: No. We were warned by the travel medicine department of Lahey Clinic in Boston not to trust or go to any physicians or hospitals n Belize. HIV is huge in the population there. If you need medical assistance, purchase a Medjet plan to be evacuated from the country and make sure you have insurance that will be accepted in either Mexico, Guatemala or the US – the only place you can trust the medical care.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in your home or Belize? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: Medjet Assist for evacuation and something that will be accepted in Mexico, Guatemala, or the US as far as insurance.


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: We packed up our SUV and a 17-foot trailer with everything we owned and turned it over to Stanley Herrara from King Children’s Home in Cotton Tree at the border of Mexico. It was a test of faith to hand out stuff over to a stranger for a dangerous trip through Mexico, but he made it and became a great friend to us. He is reliable, and we would highly recommend him in dealing with customs agents, etc. This was a good way to have our stuff the same time we arrived. Otherwise, if we would have shipped a container, we would have had to wait a month and deal with vermin picked up from the ship.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: Isolation.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Belize?

A: Positive – the plants, butterflies, and birds are gorgeous. The reefs are in great shape if you enjoy snorkelling or diving.

Negative: You have to know up front to soak everything you buy at the market in a sink with a capful of bleach then air dry. You have to steer clear of questionable food. Do NOT buy frozen peanut treats from old ladies out of igloos that they make from bad water. The Chinese markets have different standards of cleanliness and don’t always consistently freeze the meat. It is very easy to really sick from food (I had to leave the country as a result of this) You need to use bottled water for everything, including brushing your teeth. There is no way to stop scorpions from getting into your house – if you can fit a business card through a crack in a door or window, they will get through. I woke up with one on my pillow stinging me, which makes it very hard to sleep after that. They can kill small pets or children, so beware! My neighbour counted 50 in her house. There are three seasons in Belize: mud, smoke, and dust. They burn trash with no care for the toxicity of the combustion products. The unpaved roads will take a toll on your neck, back and vehicle. The gas is not unleaded, even though it says it is. You will need to remove your catalytic converters when you come into the country (they are very expensive to replace since they contain platinum) because the gas will gum them up quickly and cause you car to be sluggish and require maintenance, I hope you have great shocks on your vehicle. Potholes are wicked!


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: Placencia and Maya Beach are nice. We never got a chance to go to the Cayes, but they may be nicer. Green Hills Butterfly Farm is nice, and if you go further down that very bumpy road, you can go to Francis Ford Coppola’s place which also sounds like a treat. Chaa Creek and the DuPloys Botanical gardens are nice (nice enough for Prince Henry to stay there)


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: Already moved back to the states.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Eat and drink carefully and do not get sick! Never go to the hospital there.

Read the book “When Helping Hurts” by Corbett & Fikkert before going down. It might make your ministry much more effective.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Belize?

A: Mine is Ramblinsan.wordpress.com