1 August 2016

Wendy Miller - Expat in Belize

Wendy Miller - Expat in Belize

We’ve had the chance to talk to Wendy Miller, a Canadian expat in her mid-fifties who moved to Belize in Central America.

Mrs. Miller first made the decision to live her dream to live in a tropical country in January 2012. However, her start in Belize was not at all smooth-sailing with her family members falling ill back home and her husband’s inability to join her. During her stay, she also got bitten by a stingray but thankfully for her, Belize’s healthcare system took care of her medical costs.

About life in Belize, Mrs. Miller shared the pros and cons, “We enjoy life here because it’s more laid-back and has fewer rules but it’s those attitudes that contribute to some of the inefficiencies that we experience. The lack of education, lack of trained personnel in many customer service fields can cause expats to question their choice on moving here and become impatient with the process. Also, the lack of respect for the environment is evident.”

Mrs. Miller now works as a real estate sales professional and learns to cook local food in her free time. Read more about her experiences as an expat in Belize, in her full interview below.


Q: Where are you originally from? 

A: I’m originally from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.


Q: What made you move out of Canada?

A: As much as I love Canada and love being a Canadian, the root cause for moving away from Canada was a desire to live in a tropical location.

Q: Where are you living now? 

A: I’m living in Punta Gorda, Toledo District, Belize, Central America.


Q: How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: It was a process of elimination that took place over several years. We looked at Philippines, Thailand, Spain, Portugal but the time zone differences were too great for us when it came to trying to keep in touch with family back in Canada. We then started looking at Caribbean countries and after taking into consideration the financial requirements for some countries and the fact that many are Spanish-speaking, we determined that Belize was where we wanted to go. English primary language was a key factor but so was the fact that the judicial system is similar to Canada (innocent until found guilty), the political system is democratic, relatively stable and similar to Canada. And, the entry requirements were low.


Q: How long have you been living in Belize?

A: I arrived for the first time in January 2012, learned that my mom was sick at the end of September, and returned to Canada untill the end of January 2013.  I came back at the end of January 2013, and for health reasons, I returned to Canada at the end of April 2013.  My husband and I returned to Belize at the beginning of October 2014 and are still here.

Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in Belize?

A: The most difficult experience I had was being lonely. The first two times I was here I was on my own, my husband was back in Canada, looking after his mother. When I went back in April 2013, I was not planning on returning without my husband. It took longer than we were hoping to return because we were looking after my mother-in-law after she developed dementia and couldn’t be left alone.


Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance was particularly difficult in Belize?

A: Overall, I would say the process hasn’t been difficult obtaining work permits. As I am a Canadian citizen, I didn’t need a special visa to enter and remain in Belize other than getting my passport stamped on a monthly basis. I have not obtained international health insurance.


Q: What was your experience with these?

A: Some would say I’m not particularly smart when it comes to health insurance as I have not purchased the international health insurance. Costs are prohibitive and for the most part, healthcare in Belize is very reasonably priced. I have had opportunity to use the health care here in Belize and I was not disappointed. I was stung by a stingray in February 2013 and received care at the government run hospital in Punta Gorda. Overall, the experience was very positive, and I received the care and the medications all without cost to myself. Day after day I had to return to the clinic to have the wound taken care of and new bandages/ointments applied and day after day this service was provided with care and free of cost. My care did not involve an overnight stay at any time.

Twice now I have had to obtain a work permit. Generally, the work permit has a term of one year, after which you would apply for residency but since I had to return back home twice my residency application couldn’t be submitted when the first work permit expired. I used a lawyer to assist with getting the work permit the first time and the process took approximately five weeks. Not bad, I believe. This time, I had the temporary employment permit in my hands in about four weeks but the process hasn’t been completed as I still need a couple more documents before immigration will stamp as approved. I used a facilitator who put together all the paperwork, made the trips to the government offices in Belmopan and generally stayed with the paperwork until the permit was approved. My biggest issue is that I have been told I need to go to Dangriga to obtain a tax number however, the representative at the immigration office didn’t provide any details of what I needed to take with me. If I was able to find out what I needed before making the drive to Dangriga, I may have saved myself a day of driving and bureaucratic runabout by obtaining the information via the internet.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: My husband came with me this time.


Q: If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: This lifestyle was something my husband and I had discussed for years, most of our married life has been spent dreaming of the time when we could relocate.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people?

A: I found it very easy to make friends and meet people. They were very friendly. There is a vibrant Facebook community with all the wide variety of interests to discuss, which helps considerably. 


Q: Do you mainly socialise with other expats in Belize?

A: I do mainly socialise with other expats but that isn’t by design, it just happened that way. I do have a couple of families that I am friends with. We spend birthdays, graduations, and holidays together. 


Q: How did you manage to find a social circle in Belize?

A: Punta Gorda is not an expat gated community so I stand out with my Caucasian skin. The expats greet each other on the streets, and we become friends just by virtue of going through the same experiences.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area?

A: Oh man, I think that is a difficult question to answer because of different tastes. The area has fishing, snorkelling, scuba diving, trail horseback riding, ziplining, cave tubing, swimming, hiking, cycling, exploring, bird watching, gardening, socialising, and of course, visiting the restaurants.  Sitting in a hammock sipping a cold drink is also a pleasant option.


Q: Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: Don’t be timid. Get out there, hire a guide, explore, and take part in the culture and events. Make the community your own.


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

A: The cost of living, overall is much less expensive. Electricity is expensive, but water is inexpensive. Land prices are all over the map but still much less expensive than back home in Ontario. The cost of some fruits and vegetables are very reasonable, but potatoes are more expensive than back home. Tomatoes are about the same price.

  • How much is a cup of coffee?

$2.00 BZD

  • How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

$10.00 BZD

  • How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

$30.00 BZD

  • How much is a bottle of wine?

$27.00 BZD if it’s imported, local rum is $16.00 for 750ml

  • How about a pack of cigarettes?

Don’t smoke, don’t know


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: I honestly don’t put too much thought into this.  To me, they are human beings, same as I am. who just happened to be born in a different location.  


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

A: The positives are that my money does go further, I love the weather even when it’s the rainy season, the pace of life is much slower and more relaxed, leading to less stress overall. The climate is pretty good for my skin as well.

The negatives are infrastructure-based. We enjoy life here because it’s more laid-back and has fewer rules but it’s those attitudes that contribute to some of the inefficiencies that we experience. The lack of education, lack of trained personnel in many customer service fields can cause expats to question their choice on moving here and become impatient with the process. Also, the lack of respect for the environment is evident. Schools are in the process of teaching respect for the environment but I think it will be a few generations before the education shows in the real world.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: For sure, but I don’t believe in living my life for them. I have two grandchildren and I am really close with the elder one, but I also know that when her turn comes to spread her wings and fly, it’s likely that she won’t consider me in her decision on where she wants to go or what she wants to do.  We all only have one shot at life and there are no do-overs, no mulligans so I believe it’s important to take the opportunity when it presents itself. It doesn’t have to be permanent.


Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: Sometimes I get homesick, but it disappears pretty quickly especially when I hear the weather reports back home. And thank goodness for the internet. We have video chats, we have Facebook and we have magic jack with a local number so I can call them and they can call me at no more cost than if I was sitting in my home in Waterloo. It’s not the same as getting a hug, but when I hear my granddaughter’s voice on the phone and she says in a big girl voice, “Hi Tutu” I know that we are still close. Also, Canada is a big country and I don’t see many of my relatives from year to year so being in Belize really isn’t that big a shift for us. I call my sister, I call my children, I call my dad and I spend hours on the phone with my girlfriends. We video chat with my mother-in-law and all is done with little notice that I’m not in Canada. In the past, when I was here by myself, my husband would turn on the webcam at a family function so people who were there could chat with me, I could see what was going on, and it was some semblance of participation. We likely will do that again with the kids.


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

A: I have no direct plans at this time to make any more changes. If we do move again, it will likely be back to Canada.


Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: The hardest time I had was when I was here by myself, after being stung by the stingray and having to stay off my foot so it could heal. I was lonely, couldn’t do anything, couldn’t go anywhere and my desire to be here any longer just disappeared. 


Q: What tips can you give other expats living in that country?

A: Join in, don’t segregate yourselves.


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