Thursday, June 27, 2013

Slices of Life from Belize: June 27, 2013

'Tis the Season

Avocado season, that is. Man, I do adore them and have to resist the urge to eat them every blessed day. It seems every market stall has lovely green stacks of this delectable fruit. We are lucky, because Fernando has a bunch of avocado trees on his property and feeds my addiction on a regular basis. 

You think it's any coincidence that our limes are ready for picking now too? 

Can you say guacamole?

But sad to say, sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. So what to do with ripened avocados when there are too many to eat at one go?

Freeze 'em. Yup, my friend Bruce clued me in on this secret when he produced guacamole at a dinner party during the winter. 

All you need to do is scoop out the avocado, put into a freezer bag, squirt some lime or lemon juice over it, and smush it up a bit. Toss it in the freezer and it will be ready whenever you are. 

The other thing I do is if I am only using half an avocado (a rare instance, I admit), is squirt the leftover half with some lime juice and pop it in the fridge. It will keep its lovely color and texture easily for a day or two.
Mystery in the Spice Department

Walk into almost any grocery store here and you'll almost always find a display of spices -- mostly in small plastic packets. Some stores have a broad selection, others more limited. But one thing they all seem to carry in this area is Epsom Salt

And I have no idea why.

I mean, I know what Epsom Salt is and have even used it in a bath now and again. But why have it in the spice aisle? I've gone online and Googled the heck of it, but I haven't found any culinary reference for it.

If anyone has any thoughts, shout 'em out in the Comments section or shoot me an email.

Quirky Cat Litter

Back in April, I shared our quest to find kitty litter. In the last two months, it still has been difficult to find. A couple of stores in town have started stocking it again, but hardly in big quantities.

And while we managed to get our hands on some, the issue still remained on what to do if supplies run short again. I took to the Internet and started doing some research for litter alternatives that I could get here in Corozal.

And I bet you'll never guess what I found that really works.

Chicken feed.  I emphasize the "feed," 'cause when I told my friend Colleen about it, she thought I said "chicken feet." Ummm, not so much. Anyway, the feed is readily available, cheap (excuse the pun), bio-degradable, has no discernible odor, and clumps better than regular cat litter.

When we reached a desperate moment about a month ago, I used it all by its lonesome with great results. Now that we have scored a few bags of regular litter, I use the feed as an extender. The cat is happy, so we're happy.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Our Journey to Permanent Residency - Part Four: First Interview

On our June 11 jaunt to Belmopan, we came away with our residency package being submitted to Immigration and an interview date for yesterday.

Our appointment was scheduled for 9:00 am, so we hit the road around 6:00 am, armed with our paperwork. I took the wheel for the 2 1/2 hour drive down and was treated to being passed by a bus on a curve, playing chicken with oncoming traffic trying to pass slow trucks, and a severe downpour while on the Western Highway. Oh, and one speed bump that came out of nowhere. In other words, a typical driving experience for these parts.

One of the few elusive signs to let you know about bumps in road

But we arrived safe, sound, and even a bit early for our interview. One other couple was standing outside the interview office, so we figured we may not have to wait real long before our turn came.

A few minutes after 9:00 a.m., an officer opened the door and asked all of us inside. The gentleman we were assigned was very nice. Turns out he lives in Corozal and knew exactly where we live.

Other than wanting to know why we wanted to live in Belize, the entire interview consisted of him asking questions that had been covered on the application form. The whole thing took no more than 10 minutes. He let us know that our packet would be sent to the Special Branch office at the Corozal police station and to expect a call from them for an interview in the next couple of weeks.

That was it.

With the interview over, we hopped back in the car and made the reverse trip home. We thought about stopping for lunch, but it was still fairly early. I must say though that there was one little place on the way back advertising armadillo on their menu board that made us pause -- but we gave it a pass. In a weird sort of way, we ended up having almost the same driving experiences coming back as we did going down -- bus passing on blind curve, games of chicken with oncoming traffic, and more downpours.

We got home tired, but satisfied this stage was over and done with.

You might also like:

Our Journey to Permanent Residency -
Part One: Hopping on the Crazy Train
Part Two: Chasing Paper
Part Three: Road Trip to Belmopan

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Quick Bites

It's been a couple of weeks since I posted anything relating to cooking. But that doesn't mean I haven't been playing in the kitchen. It means I've been lazy about taking photos.

And while I plan to get my act together to blog about some new recipes very soon, here are a couple samples of what's been for dinner this week in the Wright house:

With avocados being back in season, I put together this sandwich the other night. Turkey, cheese, tomato, romaine, and avocado served on a toasted roll. Quick, easy, yummy.

Roasted shrimp bathed in garlic infused olive oil, served on a bed of couscous, along with pan grilled zucchini slices with a healthy drizzle of balsamic. Total cook time for the entire dish? About 15 minutes. Total time for David to clean his plate? About 2 minutes.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Eyes Have It

David was in need of a new pair of glasses. Yes, it had been some time since his last eye exam. But besides that, his frames have taken quite a beating. I enter into evidence, Exhibit "A":

See that gloppy piece on the right-side hinge? That came about when that part broke last year -- literally hours before we were to board the plane to move here. There was no time to get them fixed before we left. At first, a bit of carefully placed sticky tape worked. But once we were here in Corozal, he found some epoxy and made a more stable repair. That lasted for a bit, but it meant the hinge was toast, so he couldn't fold his glasses. Over time, the epoxy gave out and, as he was flying blind in making the repair, a bit more epoxy got applied than was probably necessary. It took to looking like some weird cocoon. Not pretty.

You might also take note of the lack of any cushioning component on the curved ear pieces. That happened because of our puppy, Olivia. Not longer after adopting her, she found David's glasses on his nightstand. A new chew toy!

As places such as LensCrafters don't exist here, we needed to find some way to get this man some new eye wear. A Belizean friend of ours told us about Zenni Optical. We checked out their website and were impressed by the number of frames and the prices. I mean, really, when was the last time you found prescription glasses for under $30 USD that you would actually wear out in public? Plus they can do bifocals, progressives, and sunglasses. In addition to the huge selection, the site allows you to upload a picture of yourself so you can see how any of the frames look on your face. You can also see a 360-degree view of all the frames and zoom in on any details. Hey, they even ship to Belize!

But before being able to place an order, David needed to get his eyes checked and get a prescription. We heard of an eye doctor here in town, whose name escapes me at the moment, located on the same street as the Income Tax department. Anyway, David made an appointment and went in for his exam, which cost a whopping $25.00 BZD / $12.50 USD. The doctor has a limited selection of frames to choose from, and they run around $400 BZD / $200 USD. Tack on the lenses and the cost would go up to $875 BZD / $437.50 USD.

We decided to do a cost comparison with Zenni. Turns out that David could purchase two pairs of glasses (frames and lenses) for $276.00 USD, including FedEx shipping to Belize. Hard to beat that. But the proof would be if the they got the prescription right and the package could indeed find it's way here on a somewhat timely basis.

David placed his order on a Sunday. The next day, the glasses were done and shipped. It's worth noting that while the website shows Zenni's location is in California, it must be only their office. The actual manufacturing is done in China. So yes, the glasses were done and shipped from China by the next day. We kept an eye on the tracking progress and found out they arrived in Belize City on the Friday the week the order was placed. There seemed to be some hold up there for a day or two, but when David called the FedEx office on Monday, he was told the package was on a plane from Tropic Air (one of our local airlines) and was en route to Corozal.

Sure enough, yesterday we stopped by the Corozal Tropic Air terminal (about a two-minute drive from our house) and out David walked with his glasses.

And guess what? He didn't have to pay one cent of duty.

So here's what he ended up with:

Both pairs have titanium frames. The pair on the left came with a free pair of clip-on sunglasses. The pair on the right came with two pairs of magnetized clip-on sunglasses, one which was included in the price, the other free. Each were packed in plastic cases and came with cleaning cloths and even a mini screwdriver, should minor adjustments need to be made.

So the delivery time was a winner, but what about the prescription, fit, and overall quality of the glasses?

It turns out that on both pairs the right lens is just a tad off. David can see well for distance, but reading up close is a bit fuzzy. We suspect the eye doctor might have made a small miscalculation. The overall fit on both pairs is fine. However the lenses on the left pair are smaller and more rounded than the website showed. The pair with the magnetized clip-ons needed small tweeks to the nose pieces, but that was it. The quality of the frames were as good as anything we could have found in the States.

So would we use them again? Sure. Matter of fact, I've been checking out some frames for myself!

BTW: This isn't a paid advertisement. Just sharing our experience.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tropical Depression 2: Fashion, Pets, and Bugs

You may have heard that Tropical Depression 2 paid Belize a visit. Here at Casa Wright, it has been something of a non-event. Yes, we had some heavy rain and gusty winds yesterday. But so far, no thunderstorms. Today some intermittent showers. That's been about it.

We made a trip into town this morning to buy some groceries. Usually, I try to make some effort to look reasonably presentable. But with a mucky lane and puddles galore, it was clearly not a cute shoe or clothing day.

Instead it was a day for practicality:

Combine these with my hair slapped back in a ponytail, under a baseball cap, and boy, you're talking about a fashion statement just waiting to happen. Oh, and let's not forget the good dousing of the perfume of Belize -- Off Active. You would not believe the mosquitoes that have come out. And these suckers are fierce! Even with bug spray, they somehow can bite through your clothes.

Our pet kids have, for the most part, been riding out the rain by hanging out inside the house and not doing much of anything except...


...and sleeping.
That's Tanya under the chair, with Bronte sacked out on top of the other.
However, Olivia wasn't going to be deterred by no stinkin' rain drops. At every opportunity, she wants to be outside, running around like a maniac, and finding every puddle in the yard. That, of course, means that when she comes in, she has to be toweled off:
This is not an experience she enjoys. And in spite of our best efforts, there are still paw prints throughout the house. Suffice it to say, I have put off doing any cleaning until the storm is outta' here.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Our Journey to Permanent Residency - Part Three: Road Trip to Belmopan

With our issues with the local Immigration office seemingly resolved and our Permanent Residency packet pulled together, it was time to organize a road trip to Belmopan. There we would arrange to have our police record taken care of, submit our entire packet to Immigration for acceptance, and hopefully come away with a confirmation number and appointment for an interview.

Dave and Dianna Rider decided to join us, as they had some final touches to put on their paperwork to become citizens of Belize. So at 5:00 am on Tuesday, we all piled in our car and started the trek.

The drive to the nation’s capital is about 2 ½ hours. And other than passing through an occasional village, there is almost nothing to look at except vast expanses of bush and sugar cane. One might think you could put your car in cruise control and relax. But we’re talking about driving in Belize. When you aren’t inadvertently playing a game of chicken with oncoming buses and trucks barreling down the highway in your lane, there are the oh-so-subtle speed bumps that seem to come out of nowhere.

Sometimes there is a sign letting you know a bump is coming up, but most of the time the signs are non-existent. Trust in the fact, if you hit one of these bumps doing any speed, you, your passengers, and car will feel the effects. To illustrate this point, there was one bump that snuck up on us and ended up breaking the mechanism that holds the passenger side mirror to the car. While we could have had Dave – who was riding shotgun – hold the mirror in place for the entire trip, David busted out his MacGyver moves and did a quick repair.

Behold the power of duct tape
We reached Belmopan around 7:30 and headed directly to the Police Headquarters.

We had been advised by friends to be sure and get there by 8:00, so we were in good shape. When we walked in, there was only one other person in the waiting area. The closer the clock got to 8:00, more and more people showed up. Around 8:15, a woman came out and distributed police record application request forms to those in the room. It got interesting because there are few flat surfaces to write on and not everyone had a pen.

The application form was straightforward, with spaces to enter your name, address, passport particulars, etc. You also need to provide three color passport-sized photos. As a point of reference, the one-day turnaround to get your police record is only available on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.

In the meantime, more and more people came into the room. The woman who earlier distributed the forms came back out and asked everyone to form two lines. Now here’s the thing about this sort of request here in Belize: do not assume that just because you were the first one to enter a room that you will be the first one served. To be frank, people just butt in line. It’s been very hard to adopt this practice, as that kind of move is generally considered bad manners in the States. Here? Not so much. We did manage to get closer to the front of one of the lines, and as most of the people in front of us only needed the application form, our turn to be served came fairly quickly. We handed our completed applications to the officer, along with our pictures, got a receipt, and could now find our way to Immigration.

A short ride around the corner, we found the office and parking area. When we entered the Immigration office there were two long lines. Turns out that most of the people in front of us were there to get passports. However, the line for nationality and residency quickly grew and snaked out the door and down the outside walkway. Inside we at least were out of the sun, but as there are was only one chair outside the door we needed to go into, everyone cooled their heels by standing.

A young guard at the Nationality/Residency door ushered people through, though not always by who was next in line. Our turn finally came and after a bit of wait inside the office, met with an Immigration officer. If body language was any indication, the young lady we met with was the poster child for ennui. Oh so slowly she paged through our packet. She examined David’s application and when she saw he was retired and there was a copy of Sworn Declaration of Support (a.k.a. Chattel Form), she pulled my application out of the mix. Then she looked at the copies of our passports. If you recall, we had them copied together on one sheet of paper, then cut in half. She let us know that wouldn’t be acceptable. Each passport needed to be copied on a single sheet of paper. Fortunately, there is a small kiosk in the parking lot, which could do the copying job.

When she looked at our medical exam forms, she wanted to know where the results of our TB tests were. I said that we didn’t have any TB tests done, because it wasn’t on the checklist. After showing her the checklist, she sighed, and gave us a pass on that one.

Ultimately, she let us know that she would accept our application, but we had to provide the passport copies and, of course, our police records. So off we went to the kiosk in the parking lot, leaving Dave and Dianna waiting in line for their turn.

I must say that the woman who runs the kiosk, Copy Express, was cheerful, helpful, and incredibly efficient. By the time our copies were ready, Dave and Dianna had taken care of their business and were waiting at the car. We didn’t look forward to having to stand in line again just to drop off the copies, and decided we would try to follow Belize line protocol and butt our way forward. Turns out, we ran into the young guard on our way in. We explained we just needed to drop off copies, and he escorted us not only to the front of the line, but inside the office. At the first opening, we presented our copies to the officer.

Much to our surprise and delight, she wrote out a confirmation receipt of acceptance and gave us an appointment date/time for our interview. All that was left for the day was to stop by the Police HQ in the afternoon, pick up our police records, and get them to Immigration before their 5:00 pm closing time.

We practically did the Snoopy Dance all the way back to the car. With that one, little piece of paper with a tracking number, we knew there should be no more hassles with our local Immigration office. And while we will still need to pay the monthly $100 stamp fee for each of our passports until we are approved for residency, we felt confident it would only be for a short time.

When we rejoined Dave and Dianna at the car, we decided this momentous occasion called for a celebration of sorts, which only means downing a Belikin or two. As we had already decided we would spend the night in Belmopan, we made the drive our hotel to grab some drinks and see if we could check into our rooms.

I had made reservations at the Yim Saan Hotel a few days prior. Its website advertised they not only had a restaurant on premises, but coffee makers, AC, and WiFi, plus the rates seemed pretty reasonable.

While the restaurant didn't open until 11:00 am (we were about 30 minutes early), we asked the woman behind the counter if we could check into our rooms. She directed us to go back outside and down the walkway to find the door to do that. On our way, we ran into the owner who directed us back to the restaurant where his wife would help us out. After a bit of discussion, which at times was a tad convoluted, we were shown to our rooms.

On the downside, there were no coffee makers. But the rooms were clean, hot water was plentiful, and there was air conditioning. I immediately grabbed the AC remote to get that cool, dry air going. Only problem was that all the control buttons were in Chinese. Fortunately, there was a helpful, hand drawn instruction sheet taped to the wall:

Just loved to see that we could "sleep the wind." 

All the rooms on our second floor came with a small balcony. There was just one tiny problem with Dave and Dianna's door leading out to theirs. The door handle was gone. Dave checked with the woman back down in the restaurant, and she came up to show him how it's done: Just open the sliding window next to the door, reach your hand out, unlock the door, and voila!

After getting settled in, the restaurant was open for business. After downing a couple of beers and lunch, we decided to do a short exploration of local Belmopan stores. To be honest, there's not much to see or do in town, unless you have some business with the government offices.

But we did spy this interesting building:


We learned from a passerby that it might be a casino, but what a funky style. And why finish the top bit, but not the rest?

Anyway, after exploring the area we headed back to the hotel. After cooling down a bit, it was time for us to head back to Police HQ. We figured that as they told everyone the police records would be available around 4:00 pm, the place would be packed. And sure enough, even though we got there about 3:15, there was not an empty seat to be found.

We went up to the window and asked the officer if our reports were ready. He had mine, but David's wasn't available at that point. We hung around until the next batch of reports arrived, snagged that, and hightailed it to Immigration. As an aside, I'm sure you will all be relieved to know that we aren't wanted criminals.

Before we went into the Immigration office, we did a quick pit stop at the Copy Express kiosk and had a copy of the police reports made for our records. Then it was off to the office. Compared to the lines we encountered earlier in the day, the place was empty by comparison. In short order we handed in our police reports and our work was done. I can't begin to describe what a feeling of relief it was.

We hooked up with the Riders back at the hotel, and a bit later headed out to a restaurant we saw earlier in the day to have dinner. The Blue Moon Restaurant is, in my humble opinion, one of the best places we've eaten at since moving here. The food is excellent, the service is great, and the owner is welcoming. Located at 1533 Constitution Street, do give this place a try.

After a long day of driving, running around, and whatnot, all of us were exhausted. Sleep came easily and a good night was had by all.

The next morning, the four of us checked out of the hotel in desperate need of coffee. We headed to the market (located near Police HQ) and made a beeline to the first place we saw serving food. The owner brought out four large mugs and after a bracing cup of Nescafe -- no brewed coffee around -- and breakfast, we hit the road to Belize City.

It took about an hour to reach our destination. After a few missed turns, we found the stores we were looking for, loaded our purchases in the car, and headed for home after a stop around Orange Walk for lunch.

At the end of the day, we were happy to be home and thrilled we were able to accomplish our mission to submit and have our residency package accepted.

The next step? We head back to Belmopan for an interview with an Immigration official on Friday, June 21.

Be sure to check back to see how all that goes.

You might also enjoy:

Our Journey to Permanent Residency -

Part One: Hopping on the Crazy Train

Part Two: Chasing Paper

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Postcard from Paradise

So here was something fun and unexpected: The folks at International Living found our blog and asked if we would be interested in writing a postcard about our choice to live in Belize.

When you have a minute, read about our Simple, Laid-Back, Caribbean Life.

Our Journey to Permanent Residency - Part Two: Chasing Paper

While things seemed to come to a screeching halt for obtaining the forms needed to apply for Permanent Residency, we started hearing and reading about other folks who were encountering similar problems with the Corozal Immigration office. And while it was comforting to know we weren’t the only ones having issues, the question still remained on how everyone could get correct and consistent information.

In a series of emails and conversations with fellow expats, any of us having problems were directed to send our experiences to the Director of Immigration. A number of us sent her emails, but it initially seemed that no action was being taken.

But then came the first whiff that change was in the air when we had to go back to get our stamp from Immigration this month. We were told in May that we would have to wait until we were living here for at least 14 months before we might be given the application packet. We had also heard that we should be prepared to hear that we must apply for a work permit, even though we have no intention of employment.

In the meantime, a couple we know needed to make a trip to the main office of Immigration in Belmopan, and offered to pick up the forms we needed. With those in hand, we knew we wouldn't need to cope with the guy at the Immigration office on that front.

So when it was time to go and get our monthly stamp, we decided that our best course of action was to be polite and agree to whatever Mr. Big Fish in a Small Pond had to say at Immigration. When he looked through our passports, he said that since we’ve lived here a year, we should apply for the QRP program. We explained that we had already paid duty on all of our belongings when we moved here, and been living here a year already, so it really wasn't the program we were interested in. The officer then said that we should apply for permanent residency. We resisted the urge to bang our heads on the counter.

We asked if he would be able to give us the forms (even though we had them, we were curious to see what his response would be). His answer: Yes, he could give us the forms. He found the application and medical forms, which he promptly handed over. I asked if there was some sort of checklist for whatever other documents we may need. He initially said there wasn’t and that it was all spelled out in the application. But right after that, he dug one out and handed it over. I then asked, because I couldn’t resist, if he could check off which items applied to us. He couldn’t. On the high side, we at least made some forward progress. However he was adamant that the next time we came in for a stamp, we needed to show that our application packet had been accepted and be able to provide the confirmation number.

With the basic application packet in hand, we could move ahead tracking down the other forms, get copies made, and have everything notarized.

We started with the Application itself. With Belize being very much a male-dominated society, it was no surprise that it is assumed the man is applying for residence, with the woman being a dependent. The information needed to complete the form is relatively straightforward. For instance, supplying your address, nationality, marital status, DOB, names of dependents (if any), work history, etc.  There is a spot where you are requested to insert a dollar amount of held capital. Per solid advice from friends, we entered the amount of our property and car here in Belize. We were also advised to fill out a form for each of us.

Our Land Certificates (sorta’ like Deeds) were our evidence that we acquired land in Belize. We also had our birth and marriage certificates.

The only other items left to track down were getting our local bank and income tax statements, having a doctor complete our Certificates of Health, including the blood tests for HIV/VDRL, and getting the Sworn Declaration of Support form.

So bright and early one morning, we headed into town. Our first stop was the Income Tax office. The purpose of this form is to let Immigration know we receive no taxable income from running a business in Belize or that kind of thing. The gentleman at the desk couldn’t have been more pleasant or helpful. In no time at all, he had the form completed, stamped, signed, and in our hands. Cost: $0.

From there, we went to Atlantic Bank where we have a checking account. Now as a point of reference, when government forms state they want a “bank statement,” it’s not what you may think. What it means is a letter from your bank that essentially says that you’re a customer in good standing, maintain an account or accounts at that financial institution, and either an average or specific amount of those account balances.

The customer service rep at the bank knew exactly what we needed and promised to have it ready by 8:00 am the following day, which is exactly what happened. Cost: $0

Then we were off to get passport photos. There’s a little shop here in town called Dave’s Photos. The owner, whose name is -- you guessed it -- Dave, is awesome. We walked in and were immediately taken behind the partition to have our pics taken.

Do yourself a favor and make sure your shoulders are covered. I was wearing a tank top, because it was beastly hot and humid. Dave’s assistant (who I think may be his son) went in the back room and came out with a T-shirt for me to put on over my tank top. Granted, it was a bit small, but what customer service! As Dave has a digital set-up, in no time flat we had multiple, color photos. And do make sure you get at least three copies of your photos, because you’ll need those extras for when you request your police record and if they get misplaced during the approval process. Cost: less than $20 BZD /  $10 USD for 16 color photos.

The other great thing about Dave is that he can also make photocopies and is a Justice of the Peace. They act as notaries and, believe or not, are not allowed to charge for their JP services. But we still had a few things to do before we were ready for this piece of the process.

Off we went to see Dr. David Reyes located just a couple of blocks away. We walked in thinking we would be making an appointment for later in the week. So we were really surprised when he popped out of his office and, as there were no other patients, were told he could do our exams and blood work on the spot.

We had heard that some doctors will just fill out the medical form without doing an exam, basically taking your word that you’re in good health. Dr. Reyes, however, gave each of us a fairly thorough going over. As far as our blood work, instead of having to draw a vial of blood and have it processed by a lab, he took a couple of drops from each of our fingers and popped it into small test kits to check for HIV and venereal diseases. In a matter of seconds, the blood work was complete. Cost: $214.00 BZD / $107.00 USD for both exams and blood work.

In the space of just a few hours, we had the majority of our paperwork. If someone had told me that was possible, I would have laughed myself silly. All that was left was obtaining our police record and tracking down the Sworn Declaration of Support.

Now if you go to a local police station, it can take about three months before the report is complete. However, if you go to the Police Headquarters in Belmopan, they can turn it around in a single day. Don’t ask me how or why, it’s just the way it is. We figured we would wait until we went to Belmopan the following Tuesday and get the report then.

That just left the pesky Sworn Declaration of Support. No one seemed to know what we were talking about. While we were told we could get the form in Belmopan, David decided to run the gauntlet at the Immigration office to see if our favorite officer could be of any help.

He walked in fully expecting to come out empty handed. But lo and behold, there on the counter were forms for the taking, including everything to do with residency. And behind the counter, two new people. The woman couldn’t have been more helpful. When David inquired about the form we were looking for, she guided him right to it. He came home in a state of shock.

But then it was my turn to be shocked when I read the form. Remember when I mentioned that Belize is a very male dominated society? Well brace yourself. Here is what the Sworn Declaration of Support form is all about (the following quoted text is verbatim from the form):

The husband/common-law husband/father/brother or whatever other role a guy might have with a wife/common-law wife/mother/sister/fill-in-the-blank female has to “solemnly and sincerely declare that they have known the female/dependent for X number of years. She is (fill in the blank) Nationality having been born at (fill in the blank location) on the (fill in the blank date). I have been living with (fill in female/dependent name) for over X years. She is my (fill in the blank relationship, i.e. “wife”). It is my wish to support her application for Permanent Residence. I hold myself fully responsible for her financial support during her Residence in Belize. I earn an income $ (fill the blank amount) monthly.”

See what I mean? Some of us, only half-jokingly, have come to call this the “Chattel Form.” I mean, really, in this day and age only a man can provide an income? What about women of independent means? What if they want to live here and can easily provide for themselves? Would they still have to have a man vouch for them? Aaaarrrgghhh! I'll step off the soapbox now.

Now that everything, except the police report, was in our hot little hands, we could take the next step of having copies made and having everything notarized. But just to be on the safe side, a good friend of ours offered to have our packet looked at by people in the know to ensure everything was in order. Turns out we were in good shape – all the pieces and parts were in order.

As far as copies go, I wanted to err on the side of having too many than not enough. Yes, more trees had to be sacrificed, but after hearing stories of misplaced paperwork, it was worth the extra paper and cost. We opted to have three copies made of everything except our photos, which we already had plenty of copies.

A lesson we learned is that if you are a couple, do not have both your passports copied on a single sheet, then cut apart. While you may save a few bucks initially, you will end up having to copy them individually on a full-size sheet of paper. Apparently, Immigration wants that extra space to use for whatever stamps they need to put on the document copies. Oh, also remember to copy the front and back cover of your passport, along with any blank pages.

While we had used a company here in town to make our passport copies, we ended up going back to Dave’s Photos to have everything else done and to have him notarize every single sheet. I don’t know how he did it and not have hand cramps from all those signatures, but everything was done the same day.

Now all that was left to do was to make arrangements for a road trip to the Immigration office in Belmopan to submit our packet.

Part Three of our journey is coming up!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Our Journey to Permanent Residency - Part One: Hopping on the Crazy Train

After being here for a little over a year, the road map of our daily lives here in Belize is somewhat predictable. However, for the last week or so, we needed to take a detour and hop on the Crazy Train to get all our paperwork together to apply for Permanent Residency.
When making the decision to move here, we knew there were a couple of options for retirees. We did a great deal of research into the Qualified Retired Persons (QRP) program, as well as the requirements for Permanent Residency. At the end of the day, we felt the Permanent Residency road was the right one for us to take.

We understood we would need to live in the country one year before applying, and not leave the country for more than 14 consecutive days until our application was approved. Each month, we would go to the Immigration Office here in town to renew our 30-day stamp. For the first six months, the stamp cost $50 BZD or $25 USD each. After that six month time period, the stamp cost goes up to $100 BZD or $50 USD each, per month.

One of the perks we liked about Permanent Residency was that once your application was approved, you no longer needed to get those monthly stamps and could even travel to Mexico without having to pay the $37 per person exit fee.

We met a handful of couples who were going through or had just completed the residency process not long after we arrived, so it was interesting to hear their stories on how fast/slow, easy/difficult the whole process was.

One thing pretty much everyone agreed on was that it wasn’t necessary to wait until your one year anniversary of living here to request the application, medical form, and the checklist for required documents.

And what, you might ask, are those required documents? Well, here is the verbatim list, and in case you were wondering, as far as I can determine none of the forms are available online:

  • Evidence that you are in the country legally for one year prior to application (Copy of Passport pages or Refugee Card).
  • An Immigration Fee in the sum of BZ $___ will be charged upon approval.
  • Alien Registration for yourself and members of your family over the age of sixteen if you remained in the country for at least six months.
  • Recent Police record for yourself and all members of your family over the age of sixteen. To obtain a Belize Police Record you must have been in the country for at least six months.
  • Documentary evidence that you have acquired land in Belize or that you have access to land if you make such a claim.
  • Certificate of Health including HIV & VDRL tests for yourself and all members of your family.
  • Three recent passport size photographs of yourself, wife and children if they are to be included. (Photographs must be included).
  • Wife’s/Husband’s Birth Certificate.
  • Marriage Certificate.
  • Sworn declaration of support (from husband or common-law husband). [Note from me: I’ll elaborate on this document in my next post. But any woman with even the teeniest feminist bent should be forewarned that your blood pressure will probably spike.]
  • Recent Local Bank statement or otherwise where means of financial support is not indicated.
  • Temporary Employment Permit if you are or wish to engage in gainful employment.
  • Income Tax Statement.
Now not every one of these items are mandatory for every application. It depends on why you’re applying for residency. In theory, your local Immigration officer should be able to check off which documents apply for your particular situation. And this is where we first stepped on to the Crazy Train. 

When we went to the Immigration office last month, we asked the officer if we could get the residency application and checklist, as we had been living in the country for a year. He told us that we needed to be in the country for more than a year -- 14 months to be exact -- before he would consider giving us the forms. We said that we had checked various Belize websites, including the one for the City of Belmopan (the nation’s capital), and the information that was posted noted one only needed to be residing here a year. He told us the websites were not the authority, he was. Also he mentioned that the City of Belmopan website was not the "official" website. When asked what site was the "official" one or where we could locate documentation with all the prerequisites to getting the paperwork, he was not able to tell us.

When we said that even if we had to wait another two months, would it still be possible to receive the forms in advance so we could start pulling together the necessary documentation and ensure we would be able to file all the paperwork on a timely basis? He told us no; he would only give us the forms after we had been here for at least 14 months, should he decide to.

This is the same guy who told us a few months ago that he wouldn’t stamp our passports unless we could provide a street address. Well, here in Ranchito there are few, if any, properties with a street address. We politely explained that fact and said we had a Post Office box. That wasn’t sufficient, and we were told we needed to bring in some form of proof that we lived here, such as utility bills, plus we needed to supply a current financial statement to prove we were monetarily self-sufficient. He made it clear that he would in no way provide the passport stamps unless the paperwork could be furnished to his satisfaction. We were able to provide all the information he was looking for, but it seemed odd that no one had ever requested this stuff before.

Ironically, we came to find out that this same officer told one of our friends – who has only been here six months – that she must apply for residency as soon as possible. When she said that her understanding was that she needed to live here for a year, she was told she was wrong; after six months, applying for permanent residency was mandatory. When she asked what forms she would need, she was told that the Corozal office had none of the forms, and she was given no information on how else to obtain the forms.

Another friend was told by this same officer that she couldn’t apply for permanent residency at all unless her parents were from Belize. In lieu of that (and I might add an impossibility), she could apply for a work permit. As she has been retired for some time from a job she had in the States, she has no plans on starting work again. When she explained all of this, she was told that the only other option she might have would be to enroll with the QRP program, but Permanent Residency was out of the question.

And yet another person we know was told that she couldn’t apply for anything, and in order for her to get an extension for her tourist stamp, she would need to leave the country for two weeks.

I also might add that prominently displayed on one of the walls of the Immigration office is the Serenity Prayer. It dawned on me that it probably wasn't there for the workers, but those of us who had to frequent the office.

Needless to say, with all this conflicting information, we were confused, frustrated, and feeling at a bit of a loss as to what our next steps should be. As far as anyone knew, none of the other districts in the country were having these problems, just Corozal. We also weren't sure if there were enough Belikin's in the country to provide the much-needed stamina to continue our quest.

But during the next couple of weeks, a series of interesting events came into play.

Stay tuned for Part 2 - Chasing Paper

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Be Careful What You Wish For

Back on Friday, I mentioned that we were still waiting to find out when our corner cabinet and desk would be delivered, as well as our Amazon order. Well, later that day we received an email from the contractor saying delivery of the cabinet and desk would take place on Saturday around 11:00 AM "or so".

We knew from experience that the chances of the delivery happening at 11:00 were slim and none. So we weren't surprised when that time came and went. But then more time came and went its merry way. Finally, around 2:30, the truck pulled into the driveway. Not to be a smart ass (well, maybe a little), that's a reasonable on-time record for these parts.

We figured it would take a couple of hours to install the corner cabinet, and we were right. Once again, the dulcet sounds of a hammer drill echoed throughout the land as the cabinet was bolted to the wall. Then it was time to attach the pull-out shelves and cabinet doors.

Just one small problem. It seems that instead of assembling the unit in the shop to make sure everything was copacetic, the builder decided that all was well. Problem was that once the cabinet door was attached, you couldn't pull out the sliding shelves. Seems the designer (ahem, mi amor) made a miscalculation. Ooopsie!

In spite of that issue, everything else was fine and the finished pieces are beauties:

And check out all the storage space!

For the desk, there's a pull drawer for the keyboard, plus a spot for the printer (bottom shelf on right), and room for files and whatnot.

On the left there are shelves upon shelves and on the right are two very cool features. See that box at the bottom? Well, David built that to store our dog food. The top not only lifts up, but the box tilts forward for easy clean-up. And as it's on one of those sliding shelves, the whole thing pulls out and the lid of the box can be used to place pots to be filled with purified water.

The water jug will be on a sliding shelf right above the dog food box. You can see one of the slide hinges on the left, above the box. Totally cool, huh?

Of course, you-know-who had to check out the installation within seconds after the contractor left.

The shelves are now back at the shop being trimmed down a bit, and they should be ready in a few days...or so. In the meantime, we'll move my computer to the new desk, and I'll be able to pull up any of my recipes and be able to see them at a glance, while being right there in the kitchen. Groovy!

By around 4:30, the installation was complete, and we took a deep breath, poured ourselves a drink, and toasted our latest additions.

But the fates weren't done with us just yet. Around 6:45, after no sooner finishing dinner, the phone rang. It was Roy, from Roy & Sons, calling about our Amazon delivery. As he has always called the day before delivery, we just presumed he was going to let us know he would be stopping by on Sunday.

Ahhh, nope. Roy was at the end of the lane saying that he wasn't sure his truck would make it to our house, in case the lane was all mucky from a recent rain. We would need to meet him at the lane entrance to get our stuff.

David hustled to grab the car keys, while I took care of tethering the dogs so they wouldn't run out the gate. Just as David got the car to the gate, Roy's delivery truck arrived. Seems he had a change of mind about the lane conditions.

After off-loading our boxes, including a 300-pound generator, off David went to the shop for the handcart. We got that box loaded up and moved under the palapa.

Everything else we hauled inside and we had a small fest of opening everything else. One of the items that David purchased was a new pair of Croc's. Now here's an irony for you. When he looked at them this morning, there was a small sticker saying they were made in Mexico. Go figure.

Anyhow, within less than 24 hours of posting about not hearing about our deliveries, everything had arrived. Funny how fate works sometimes.

P.S. If you enjoy reading our posts, why note cast a vote for us to win the Best Belize Blog, which is sponsored by It's quick and easy. Just type in your name, whatever comment you want to leave about our postings, and assign us a star rating. For those of you who have already voted, a big thanks!