How long before I can get on Belize’s Healthcare?
by Brett Andrews
About Healthcare in Belize
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Belize’s healthcare system services residents’ medical needs through both public and private sectors. The Ministry of Health (MoH) oversees the entire healthcare network, controlling and funding the public health system on its own. All residents, including expats, are entitled to medical services from the public health facilities.
While it’s paid for by tax revenues, Belize’s healthcare system in general is somewhat underfunded. The country only has about 410,000 residents, making it difficult to collect enough revenue to fund more robust health networks. Much of this funding goes to Belize City and Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH), the country’s top-ranking public hospital. The public system also relies on 60 state clinics and seven other state-run hospitals.
Its private health system is generally of higher quality, particularly for specialized care, though not everyone can afford it. Those who can pay for private healthcare experience more modern facilities and shorter wait times than the public system. Most physicians in Belize speak English and Spanish. Dental care here is both high quality and affordable, creating a destination for medical tourism.
With its lower funding and developing healthcare system, Belize is limited in its ability to service more complex conditions like cancer and heart disease. Many expats travel to nearby Ecuador or Mérida, Mexico to seek treatment for serious conditions; they should also consider choosing better equipped countries for healthcare like Panama. U.S. retirees may arrange semiannual returns to the States to use their Medicare, using Belize’s public system for minor treatment.
Pharmacies in Belize tend to charge less for prescriptions than the U.S. locations. Many medications that require prescriptions are available over the counter here, as well, though they may be sourced from other countries than the ones U.S. pharmacies use (e.g. Nicaragua or Mexico).
Finding a Physician
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Finding your new general physician (GP) in Belize is a bit indirect, compared to other countries. Instead of registering at a local medical office or being assigned a GP, most expats say that word of mouth is the way to find your new doctor. Check in with Belize’s expat Facebook groups to get recommendations.
If you need to see a specialist, you’ll most likely need to travel to the larger cities like Belize City or out of the country. A referral may be needed to see a specialist within the country.
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Expats can access the public healthcare system by registering with the Social Security Board (SSB), either in person or online. This is available to both temporary and permanent residents in Belize. Social security registration is required for all children 14 or younger. Employers will deduct your contributions from payroll, if you’re working, while others can pay directly to SSB.
Public healthcare is administered by a network of hospitals, clinics, and medical practices throughout Belize. The Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH) in Belize City provides the most comprehensive care, while smaller facilities can be found across the country. Waits can be long for serious conditions at public hospitals, though public clinics can handle more minor medical needs easily.
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Private healthcare is available in Belize for those who can afford the extra costs. It’s funded by patient fees and provides a wider range of services than the public system. International insurers like Cigna offer private insurance options that cover Belize and other Latin American countries.
Although private healthcare only employs about 25% of the medical staff, it’s largely considered to be superior to the larger public health system in terms of equipment, speed of service, and facility quality. Belize Medical Associates (BMA) in Belize City is the largest private hospital, a 100-bed facility offering surgery, inpatient care, and more.
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Paying out of pocket for medical treatment is certainly an option in Belize. The public healthcare system charges nominal fees for services, while the private sector charges more for superior service. A day’s stay in a private hospital costs about $200 USD out of pocket, for example, and surgeries range from $500 – $5000 USD. This is remarkably less than one would pay in the U.S. healthcare system.
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- Schedule final appointments with your primary care physician and any specialists you see.
- Research your medications for availability in Belize and find alternatives where needed.
- Stock up on prescription refills until you can get to the pharmacy in Belize. It’s a dance because you’ll save money by filling your prescriptions in country, but it may take time for you to learn your way around.
- Print out and keep photographic records of all prescriptions. Bring meds in original packaging with a letter from your doctor detailing your condition, the drug, and its generic name.
- Request your medical records and, ideally, upload them to a cloud server where you can access them anywhere. Alternatively, printouts, desktop files, and thumb drives also work.
- Ask your providers for referrals abroad. You never know!
- People usually find physicians by word of mouth. Ask your local pharmacist or expat Facebook group for recommendations.
- For public healthcare, register with the Social Security Board (SSB) and get your social security card.
- For private healthcare, apply for private insurance and get medical center names. Visit your expat Facebook group or other forums to ask for recommendations.
- See your family doctor and get prescriptions and referrals.
For more information on finding a physician, enrolling in the public option and more, click the Get Started button below to download our free healthcare reports for a growing list of countries: