It’s been asked and answered on the expat Facebook groups dozens of times; is Belize a good fit for families with teens? The short answer is: no. In this post we’ll explore the reasons why moving to Belize with older children isn’t recommended and why many expat families with teens move back or move on.
The High School Experience isn’t comparable to North America
Public or private, a high school education in Belize just doesn’t measure up to the high school experience in 1st World countries. Maybe for certain families this is acceptable or perhaps even preferable but the majority of expat teens want to attend HS in their native country. Even if the level of academics is the same (it’s not), high schoolers in Belize will miss out on most of the extraneous activities that are so formative. I think back on my high school “career” and the electives I got the chose or the sports and clubs I could participate in and how that taught me lessons in time management, sharpened interpersonal skills, gave me autonomy over my achievements (or poor performance), and honed my personality.
You won’t find a Future Business Leaders of Belize Club, or a robotics lab, or a rock wall, or probably even a decent Theatre/ Drama program in a Belize high school. Field Hockey? Lacrosse? Even Competitive Swimming isn’t on the activities list. Now I’m not saying sports and clubs are the most important part of HS, but they are a big part and most parents with the means to do so will choose to send their teens to school in North America so that they have these opportunities.
They can’t get jobs
With a lack of extracurriculars, maybe you’re thinking your teen could instead focus their time and energies on entrepreneurial endeavors; learn the value of hard work and earn that almighty buck. Your first after-school-jobs are just as character-building and developmental as your school work. I think it’s really important for young people to work and have to answer to a boss that isn’t their parent or teacher and to develop a real-world value for money. Unfortunately, until your teen is a (social security) card-carrying permanent resident, they can not work in Belize.
This is a poor country (59% of it’s people live in poverty) with a generally youthful population but high rate of unemployment. The country’s minimum wage is $3.30bz ($1.65us) an hour. As nice as it may be in theory for your expat teen to get a gig bussing tables or manning a gift shop or serving ice cream by the seaside, that’s a racket for Belizeans strictly.
Teens find it hard to make friends but easy to find trouble
Its easy breezy for little kids to make friends anywhere they go; my 6-year-old can make a new bestie during a 15-minute grocery store dash, but for most of us we find it increasingly harder to make friends as we age. Transplant teens often struggle with loneliness and feeling like an outsider. All the local kids their age already have their clichés and it can be hard to make inroads with them. Local teens have likely gotten wise to the expat-revolving-door and may keep newly immigrated friends at arm’s length, knowing the odds of them leaving are high so they shouldn’t get too emotionally invested.
Unless your teen is super in to fishing or something, there’s really nothing here for them aside from trouble. I know that sounds ugly and teens across the globe are drawn to danger but I think that especially here in Belize parents need to be hyper vigilant and combat adolescent rebellion. Promiscuity, under age drinking, and drug use are the three big things to worry about but keeping a close eye on your teens’ mental health is paramount too. Depression, anxiety, eating disorders- if any conditions develop or worsen while you’re here you will quickly find out firsthand that the health services available are very limited.
I know this post is a real downer and it’s not meant to crush the dreams of aspiring expat families but I want this blog to be an honest guide and real-life review of life in Belize. That means shining light on the bad of Belize because no place is paradise and life (anywhere, everywhere) is full of disappointments. With so much rose-colored-glasses info out there on why you should move here immediately, I think it’s important to sometimes write about why you should pump the breaks or at least re-adjust your expectations.
With all the pitfalls of moving to Belize with teens, there is one shining benefit: strengthening your family’s bond. Expat families (sometimes out of choice, sometimes out of pure necessity) spend HEAPS of time together. If you’re looking to slow down and reconnect as a family and really strengthen your relationships- I can’t think of a better way to do it than with a move abroad. So maybe the rewards outweigh these drawbacks and your family would do just fine… I guess you won’t know unless you try.