January 8, 2007

Immigrating to Honduras 2007

I receive many emails from people who are considering moving to/retiring in/investing in/looking for work in Honduras. I'm always a little surprised, thinking to myself, "Well, if you read my blog, do you really think I'm going to recommend it?" Life is hard in Honduras for so many reasons, even when you have the money to live a comfortable lifestyle. On the other hand, I appreciate your confidence in me to give you the 'straight scoop.'

While I enjoy hearing from people and I've made some good friends through these correspondences, I'm just going to have to say that I can no longer give that kind of advice.

First, I'm not qualified to answer many of the questions. Some need to be asked of an attorney or three, and you will probably receive three different answers. The residency rules have changed since I moved here and can change almost daily, depending upon which government worker you are dealing with at the moment.

Second, it is absolutely draining to me to try to answer the numerous, very detailed questions. I've always tried to help as much as I can, especially when I see that people are talking of things that are risky, either financially or safety-wise, or clearly have on their 'rose-colored glasses.' But it has just become too time-consuming and I don't want to be responsible for life-changing decisions that someone might make.

Here is the advice that I will give:

1. When reading about Honduras online, consider the source. Is it from a real estate agent, travel agent, tourism agency, or anyone else who has something to gain? Is it from a tourist who spent a week in a luxury hotel or a backpacker who enjoys roughing it? I'm so amazed at some of the information that I read about Honduras that sometimes I just laugh out loud.

2. Always remember that the Bay Islands and the mainland are worlds apart. Information that applies to the Bay Islands may or may not be accurate for mainland Honduras. My experience is only with mainland Honduras. The Bay Islands may offer more of the comforts and conveniences that North Americans are used to, but the cost of living is much higher, too.

3. If you want to know what it is like, come here and rent a house or an apartment for 3 to 6 months to see if you really like it long term. Don't sell everything you own and move here after a week's vacation or even two or three vacations here. Day to day living here is a lot different than being on vacation. According to the attorney who handled my residency, most people return to where they came from within 6 months to a year.

4. Learn Spanish before you come. Classes probably will be less expensive and more professional in your local community college. Online courses are available, too. Of course, once you are here, talking with native Spanish speakers will help to improve your Spanish and your accent, but without some basic Spanish abilities, learning by speaking will be very difficult.

5. Be prepared for culture shock. It is real and it will happen to you. Accomplishing the most simple things in your daily life can be so stressful. It isn't like moving to another state with a lower cost of living. Finding out that you can't trust anyone, even people who you thought were friends, leaves a very empty spot in the pit of your stomach.

6. Don't rely on what the Honduran Consulate offices in your country tell you about immigrating. They are wrong more often than right. Relying on bad information from the Houston Consulate cost us several thousand dollars and untold stress and worry. The newspapers are full of complaints by expatriate Honduran citizens about the bad service they receive from their own consulate. If they don't care about helping the Hondurans they are there to serve, think about how much they enjoy screwing up us gringos.

7. Don't even consider buying property until you have found a trustworthy attorney and checked his references. There are many crooked attorneys and fraudulent land transactions. People, both gringos and Hondurans, lose their money on bad land deals all the time, even those with experience. I personally know two Hondurans who were cheated out of their property by their own attorney and another by the government. Don't rely solely on the US Embassy list of Honduran attorneys as it is rumored that there are crooked/incompetent attorneys on that list, too.

8. The government of Honduras wants immigrants who bring their money from other countries (US $2,500 per month) or who make investments here (US $50,000), not people looking for jobs. And even though they offer residencies to those with a proven, reliable outside income, they make it extremely difficult and time consuming to obtain that residency. Most teachers, missionaries, and other volunteers that I know of come on a 3-month tourist visa and must leave the country every 3 months in order to renew their visa. Due to the time, expense, and red tape required to get a residency or special presence permit, it just isn't worth it for most people staying only one or two years.

9. To the best of my knowledge, immigrants may not legally take jobs, except for certain explicitly defined jobs, such as teaching, government contractors, missionary or other charity work. Honduras doesn't issue work permits or "green cards" like many other countries do. Even if you could legally find a job, salaries are generally 10-20% of what is paid in the U.S. An average salary for a middle-class worker is around U.S. $300-$400 per month, minimum wage is around $100 per month.

Okay, so where can you go to get the information you need? I wish I could give you an excellent overall source like this one: The Real Costa Rica, but there just isn't a website like this for Honduras. I do suggest that you read this site − much of the information is very similar in Honduras. Just multiply the negative things by two and divide the good things in half and you'll have a better idea of life in Honduras. After all, there are many more Americans in Costa Rica, Mexico, and Panama than there are in Honduras. There are logical reasons for this.

Other websites that may be helpful:

U.S. Embassy Consular Sheet for Honduras Read this entirely. The dangers in Honduras are very real and anyone considering moving to Honduras should be aware of them.

U.S. Embassy Regional Security This page is a real eye opener. There are other topics on this US Embassy in Honduras site that will be of interest to you.

US Embassy overview of the residency process: This site has some basic information about residencies. Unfortunately, the details of the requirements of the various types of residencies are in Spanish.

Doing business in Honduras A downloadable US government publication on doing business in Honduras is available by clicking on the link near the bottom of the page.

US Library of Congress Country Study A very detailed, but not currently updated history of Honduras.

Honduras This Week Online (English) A weekly English-language newspaper. The site is not organized for research − for some reason they don't use permalinks and many of their page links don't work at all − but it is worth perusing. You can also sign up for a weekly summary email.

Honduras media If you read Spanish, check out the Honduran newspapers.

Honduras Living Yahoo Group My friend "Don Godo" and I have started a new forum about moving to and living in Honduras. If enough people get involved and share what they have learned with others, this could be a very good resource for people moving to Honduras. You can join by clicking this link or by entering your email address in the Yahoo box at the top of the sidebar. It is a brand new group, but we already have 37 members and YOU can help us to make it bigger and better!

I hope that helps you in your quest for information and if I find any other useful information, I'll include it in my blog. If you know of other informative sites, please let me know so that I can include those, too.

Updated April 2008. Click here.
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