Expats in Belize: Ambergris Caye

Expats in Belize

Emily Owen

Rebecca, author of the blog ‘the San Pedro Scoop’, traded bonds on Wall Street before she became an expat in Belize. On her first summer trip to the island of Ambergris Caye, she couldn’t shake the feeling that the universe had somehow brought her here. She fell head over heels for the warmhearted locals, teeming diversity and natural beauty she found in abundance on the small Caribbean island. When the time arrived for her planned return to the United States, she experienced more than the typical end-of–vacation blues. It was like she was leaving the place that was meant to be her home all along. Six months later, Rebecca packed up her Manhattan apartment and joined a growing number of expats in Belize who have flocked there from around the globe.

Of Belize’s 200 plus islands, Ambergris Caye is the largest as well as the most popular among expats, and for good reason. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second largest in the world, protects the island’s twenty miles of Caribbean coastline. The reef’s Great Blue Hole is one of the world’s most popular scuba destinations. On shore, a cool ocean breeze wafts over the island, and coconut and mangrove trees providing shade for weary beach goers. Warm welcomes radiate from barefoot locals, who seem to have mastered the art of relaxation almost to its perfection. Visitors to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye’s only town, easily become acquainted with other foreigners and locals at the town’s lively bars and night clubs. Caribbean weather, good company, and serene natural beauty are only a few of the reasons why so many expats take up residence in Belize.

The entire country of Belize is slightly smaller than the state of Massachusetts (about 9,000 square miles), but the travelers that have arrived from all over the world throughout its history have effectively transformed the country’s population into a melting pot of diverse cultures and traditions. The Caye was originally the tip of the Yucatan peninsula, until Mayan settlers dug a channel separating Ambergris Caye from Mexico, making this historically important maritime trading hub more accessible. The richly layered history of the Caye creates an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue, enticing modern adventurers who long to unveil its secrets. The island once served as a hideaway for pirates looking to bury their treasures. Later, Mennonite farmers from Germany and the Netherlands arrived seeking the refuge offered by the island’s solitude.

For expats looking for a fresh start in a new place, Ambergris Caye is easily within reach. Its pristine beaches seem a world away from bustling city life, but the island is the northeastern-most of all the Central American nations and only a two-hour trip from Houston, TX. The historical influence of the colonial British eases the transition for North Americans relocating to the area. Belize was the only Central American nation colonized by the British. It’s the only country in Central America where English is the official language, and where the British legal system had a strong influence on the country’s legal structure. The country’s close proximity to the U.S. and the familiarity of its language and legal systems eases the transition for expats arriving to Belize and further enhances its appeal.

The recent influx of tourists and travelers to the island has contributed significantly to Belize’s economy, which used to rely primarily on exports to stay afloat. Despite the country’s tourism-driven economy, however, 80% of the country remains unsettled. An abundance of opportunity remains for those wishing to explore the island’s lush natural habitats, which are remarkably intact. Ambergris Caye has a long history of global travelers arriving to seek out the tranquility and solitude the island offers in abundance to its visitors. The trend continues with expats from all over the globe, who choose Ambergris Caye as the quintessential reprieve from the rat race that characterizes much of Western life.