Interview with (serial) Expats- The Tomasians

Expat families come and go in Belize. Many move back to their home towns for various reasons: schools, sports, medical reasons, they couldn’t make the finances work, immigration was a hassle, or any number of what-have-you’s. Belize isn’t for everyone but regardless of why people choose to move on, a resounding commonality is that they’re grateful for the experience and happy they “tried.” I met expats, the Tomasian family, when we moved to Placencia. They’ve since moved on to Mexico and I thought it would be really interesting to ask them why. Why wasn’t Belize the best fit for your family? Why Mexico over another location? Let’s get nosy with mom, Courtney, and find out why she’s moved house so often with her husband, Dan, and 2 girls, Carysn and Sonni.

When and why did your family make an international move?

My husband, myself, our 2 daughters and our 2 English bulldogs moved from NC to Placencia, Belize in early December of 2016. We had always talked about “one day” leaving the US, but it was always just talk…until it wasn’t. I was not happy with the state of things in the US, as we were heavy in the 2016 “election season.” My husband and I were ships passing in the wind, both working different hours so that I could primarily stay home with our children. We were always broke, stressed, overworked and wishing for a better life. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but one night in July, I was driving home from a client appointment and I heard something on the radio. I instantly thought, we have to go. I went home and immediately said to my husband…remember how we always say one day we will travel? Well, that day has come. Luckily, he was fully on board! So, we discussed how to make it happen and set off on our plan to secure my husband’s job online, deciding on a “where,” selling our belongings, and booking our flights! We were just crazy enough to do it!

What went in to your move? What planning and prepping did you do?

Somehow, we managed to do all of the planning and prep between July and early December. To look back on it now, I’m amazed at all we accomplished! We quickly decided on Belize, but deciding on Placencia took a little more time. I began joining Facebook groups related to living in Belize, googling anything I could think of regarding moving internationally, raising kids outside of their home country, etc., and watching anything I could find on YouTube. My husband said I went “Belize crazy,” and fully expected nothing but Belize talk from then until we moved. We then told everyone we knew that we were leaving, sold everything we could do without, listed our house for sale, and began the process of finding buyers for our two vehicles.

When and why did you decide to move on from Belize?

After being in Belize for a year or so, we knew that it wasn’t going to be our forever. We loved living in Belize for so many reasons, but as they say, Belize isn’t for everyone. Belize is not the inexpensive place it once was, and certainly not what many tout it to be. We found the expense to be too much, as it was taking away from our ability to enjoy life there. We also realized that our girls were not as fulfilled as we would like. They were missing organized sports and activities. They wanted things that just weren’t a part of our life in Placencia. We had seen many people going from living in Belize to living in Mexico, specifically Merida, Yucatan. I began the online research again and before we knew it, we were on our way to Merida to scout out what ended up being our next location. When we left Belize, it had been 18 months since we arrived.

What are the pros and cons of life in Belize vs Mexico vs the US?

For us, the pros of living in Belize and Mexico are similar. We have a slower paced lifestyle. We enjoy life far more than we were able to in the US. We live where other people vacation! What could be bad about that?! Well, there are a few things. We do miss certain conveniences, and we especially missed availability of certain things while in Belize. More is available in Mexico, but certain things still are difficult to find or super expensive to buy. Good quality clothes, certain food items, toys and homeschool items can be difficult to source in both Belize and Mexico. Another con that we weren’t expecting, but have dealt with a lot is that as an expat, we often have friends who are from many parts of the world and have many different stories and reasons behind their decisions to live outside of their home country. This, in itself is a wonderful pro, but the con that often comes with that is that we and especially our children develop friendships with people who eventually leave. It never gets easier to lose friends, and we were not prepared for how often that can happen. On the flip side, we also are often the ones leaving. While we feel that our children growing up in multiple cultures and experiencing so many things that they would have never experienced living in the US is an incredible thing, we definitely feel that sadness that comes from being more transient. Another pro that we love is that our children are learning not only about other cultures, but also learning other languages. My husband and I struggle with learning Spanish, but our children have excelled like we could have never imagined they would. It is so incredible watching and listening as they speak with friends and adults in a near perfect accent and with such ease and confidence. As for comparing cost of living in Belize, Mexico, and the US…we got far more life and beauty and culture in Belize, but we found ourselves still stressing about money and having to say no to a lot of the fun things that we really wanted to do, in order to stay on budget. In Mexico, we get so much more for our money in just about every way. We are able to do the fun things and say yes as often as we actually want to. We are able to save money, live in a beautiful place by the Caribbean Sea (we are in Playa Del Carmen now), eat well, live in a slower paced, more health conscious active community that is not full of the stresses we feel in the US, and often in Belize. Overall, Mexico works best for us between the three, and the US was by far the least fitting for us, both cost-wise and for general quality of life.

What do you wish you’d known then that you know now or what advice would you give for a family contemplating a move similar to yours?

Hmm, I’m not sure there is any particular thing that I look back on and say I wish I had known ahead of time. I feel like our journey has been a really positive one, overall, and worked out exactly as it should have. I have gotten some great advice over the last 4+ years, so I will pass it along to the next person. 

-Expect things to go wrong and to be tough for the first 6 months. Expect to doubt your choice. Give it time and you will settle in. -Remember that even if you think you are prepared for things to be different than what you are used to in your home country, you aren’t prepared enough, lol. You will make assumptions about how things are and how they should be and your assumptions will be wrong more than they are right. You can’t imagine how many things can be different, until you’re in it. Go with the flow. It’s the only way to adapt. 

-Don’t get wrapped up in the expat drama. This is a great one. Expats are a mixed bag. They are a wealth of knowledge, and also a giant bag of trouble. I say that with love…and as a card carrying member of the expat gang. I can’t even begin to count the number of Facebook groups and internet forums and the like that I have joined over the years. They all are full of some of the best, first hand advice and knowledge and I credit these types of groups and the expats in them for really making our dream of leaving the US a reality. I learned so much there. However, I have also seen some really unkind behavior and bad advice on the same groups. It is important to have a tough skin when mingling with expats…whether online or in person. It doesn’t matter where you go. Everywhere is a “small town” where expats are concerned. And you can guarantee, everyone has an opinion. Remember why you came to wherever you are…take the info and leave that drama for someone else. Your “happily ever after” will be much better that way.

I also have 2 pieces of advice coming from me. This first one isn’t just from me either. You will hear it a lot…Be careful who you trust. Vetting people isn’t always easy and truly can not be done well until you have “boots on the ground.” Do not make any big plans or decisions from afar. Do. Not. Sign nothing. Trust me on this. I speak from experience. We moved to Belize without ever having been there. It was crazy and fun and worked out in the end. But it came with bumps. One of the biggest bumps was a con man in Belize. We did everything “right” and he still got us. Vetted him, got his ID, asked in the Facebook groups about him, etc. The only thing we could have done differently, and what would have prevented him scamming us…wait to do business with him once we were in Belize. But when you move with your husband, 2 kids, 2 dogs, and what’s left of your life’s belongings, you don’t want to have to move a second time, right? It seemed much EASIER to just do it once. It was easier, but certainly cost a lot more! Wait until you can look people in the eye and speak to them to decide if they are trustworthy. Ask EVERYONE about them. Vet like you have never vet before. It will make for better relationships, but also lower your risk of those who do want to take advantage. 

My best advice from me to every future expat, be open to change. Be open to the first “perfect place” not being the forever place. Be open to life looking different, often. Since we have moved a few times now, people always ask us how long we plan to be where we are. We always have the same answer…forever! Our plan has always been to stay where we have moved forever. But we learned quickly that what we think about a place before we move there and what we think of that place over time changes. Our wants and needs in life change. We change as people. Naturally, that means that where we want to be can change. And that is ok. When we arrived in Placencia, we fell in love. We made great friendships, had great experiences, and lived in one of the most beautiful places we could imagine. We planned to live there forever! Then, it just didn’t feel like home anymore. We miss it and have such great memories, but our life took us to Merida. When we arrived in Merida, we fell in love! We made more great friendships, had more incredible experiences and absolutely loved our life in Merida! We thought we would be there forever! Then, recently, Merida didn’t feel like home anymore. It wasn’t what we wanted anymore. We missed the sea. We missed beach life. We wanted different things than what we wanted 2.5 years ago, when we left Placencia and moved to Merida. So, we did it again! We moved to what seems like the best of both worlds…Playa Del Carmen. So far, we have been here for 7 weeks and we are loving it! We have extra curricular activities for our daughters. We have amazing friends. We are having incredible experiences. We are close to the sea again…everything feels like home. We plan to stay here forever. But who knows how long forever will be. Always be open. Live life now. Don’t wait for someday. Ride the wave. That’s the best advice I think I could give.

About the author

Megan Rodden

never met a vacation she didn't like. Megan is a self-centered, snarky, unambitious derelict... like most of her peers.

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© 2014 Megan Rodden and Phil Nagengast.