Belize is an increasingly popular destination for internships in Central America. Though situated in Central America, Belizeans consider themselves to be more Caribbean. Belize is the only country in Central America with English as an official language, and their ability to operate in English enables those without Spanish language skills to more successfully complete internships in Belize. Another popular reason to intern in Belize is its immense diversity. With a mix of Mayan, Garifuna, European, Chinese, and even Mennonite communities living alongside migrants, combined with the nation’s biodiversity, the cultural and environmental landscape of Belize is endlessly fascinating.
Environmentally speaking, half of the country is forested and it is home to the second biggest barrier reef, after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, making it is a paradise for biologists, conservationists, and anyone who loves nature. Since Belize is such a small, underpopulated country, there are a few select locations with internship opportunities. Belize City is the largest city, but visitors usually pass by due to its history of gang issues and high crime rate.
Instead, the northwestern town of San Ignacio is by far the most popular destination for internships in Belize, and will offer the most variety. It is a well known tourist area, but hasn’t let that ruin its authentic feel. San Ignacio sits near the confluence of the Macal and Mopan Rivers so nature expeditions are easily accessible. A recent redevelopment has made the main street more pedestrian friendly and provides a great central hangout full of restaurants, bars, and shops all in one convenient location. Many health-related internships can be found here, as well as placements with community-development NGOs.
Benque Viejo Del Carmen. This small suburban area has a population of about 6,000 and is located on the western border of Belize less than a mile from Guatemala. It is a haven for both historical and environmental exploration offering locations like the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich and kayaking expeditions down the Mopan River nearby.
Rural Areas. Conservation internships in Belize tend to be outside the urban areas in the various national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, such as Caves Branch River or Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. For those interested in taking to the water, the various small islands and caves in the Caribbean Sea have countless marine conservation internships in a paradise like settings.
Conservation. Environmentally focused internships in Belize are the most popular type of placements, with marine conservation being particularly popular. Marine conservation programs are often tied in with scuba diving certifications and responsibilities focus on collecting data, learning about the environment, and sometimes local clean ups. There are many NGOs that offer volunteer internship placements that can be turned into development internships for those prepared to commit to a longer placement.
Healthcare. Access to modern healthcare is hit or miss and government resources are greatly centralized around Belize City, often leaving the rural populations to fend for themselves. Hospitals in Belize take on interns for rotations so health interns are able to shadow health care professionals. They can also teach safe hygiene practices, help implement public health initiatives, and assist with research. San Ignacio and the nearby area is where many opportunities are found and placements in a local hospital can give interns experience in many specialty areas such as: urology, gynecology, dermatology, pharmacy, dentistry, ER work, and general practice.
Education and Social Development. There are many NGOs in Belize that tackle community issues, such as domestic abuse, drug education, general education, and counseling. Some estimates state that less than half of Belize’s population is “functionally” literate so there is a continuous need for proper education for both youth and adult students. Internships in social development and education can be widely tailored based on your interests and the needs of the community.
Salary & Costs
Internships in Belize are always unpaid, and generally have a placement fee associated with them that cover the intern’s accommodation and in country support. Belize is still considered a developing country, and therefore organizations operating within the country are not able to provide payment to interns. Instead, the internship work in Belize will help serve local communities, address environmental issues, and provide interns with great hands-on experience as well as the chance to make a real difference.
The cost of living in Belize can be kept fairly low, though there are some surprisingly expensive items – gasoline is more than double the price in Belize in comparison to the U.S., and imported items can often include an import tax of up to 50 percent! However, public transport is inexpensive and easy to navigate, and local produce is cheap.
Accommodation & Visas
Since Belize is both a tourist destination and a popular naturalist or conservationist country, the types of accommodations available during an internship is dependent on the type of internship you participate in and where you do it. Many areas have access to nice hotels, hostels, and resorts, and some organizations give interns the option of arranging their own housing. Other organizations have housing that is especially arranged for interns, ranging from group apartments, to homestays, to houses on the beach.
Electricity is 110-volt and has U.S. style outlets which makes for easy use of any electronics you need during your trip. However, the power source itself is not always reliable in areas. Intermittent “brownouts,” or periods without power, can be commonplace and some housing will not have access to hot water. This is something you can discuss in detail with your provider and should remember when deciding which internship in Belize is a good fit for you.
Visas. Citizens of the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe, do not need a visa to intern in Belize. Though a tourist visa is only good for 30 days or less, so if you would like to do a long term internship in Belize or hope to travel in Belize after your internship you may need a special visa, or will need to leave the country and return.
To enter Belize, your passport should be good for six months and include empty pages. It is also vital to have proof of departure so be ready to show your plane ticket home. Tourist and non-Belizean citizens are also required to pay an exit fee of $40 so have some extra cash when heading home.
Benefits & Challenges
- English, USD, and Electricity. The transition into an internship in Belize can be very easy for someone from the United States. English is an official language, the appliances from home will fit into the outlets, and there isn’t even a need to exchange currency!
- Safety. Unfortunately, the crime rate in Belize is rather high. This is one reason that working closely with an organization, following their advice, and staying in their accommodations is recommended.