April 21, 2008

Immigrating to Honduras, revisited

This post was originally published in January 2007 and was updated in April 2008.

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 misinformation 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 6 months or more 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 in Honduras is a lot different than being on vacation. According to the attorney who handled my residency, half of the expatriates 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. Don't believe those websites mentioned above that always say that English is widely spoken; it isn't on the mainland.

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. Check out these cultural differences articles, 47 of them as of April 2008, and that's only scratching the surface.

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. And don't ever consider building a house unless you will be here full time to supervise the work.

8. The government of Honduras wants immigrants who bring their money from other countries (US $2,500 per month for income residents or US $1,500 for retired residents) 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, it sometimes is 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, most expatriate residents may not legally take jobs, except for certain explicitly defined jobs, such as teaching, government contractors, missionary or other charity work. Those married to Hondurans may be allowed to work, but non-citizens must obtain Honduran work permits or "green cards" like in many other countries. Tourists are not permitted to work. Coming to Honduras looking for work is like going to the Sahara to look for water. 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 $150 per month.

10. If you are planning to immigrate, don't buy your airline ticket, ship your belongings, import your car or pets, or buy a house until you are clear as to what the residency rules are! It could be a very expensive and stressful lesson for you.

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 − so 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: 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. If you don't read Spanish, try using the translation feature on the Google Toolbar for the articles in which you are interested.

8 Rules for Investor Survival in Honduras: Scary to read, but the advice is so true.

Blogs of Expatriates in Honduras: Check out Honduras-Blogs.com and the Honduran blogs that I read in my links section. Personally, I think there is no better way to get an understanding of what day-to-day life is like in a foreign country.

Honduras Living Yahoo Group: A discussion forum about moving to and living in Honduras in January 2007. This is a very good resource for people thinking about moving to Honduras and for those already here. You can join by clicking the link above or read more about the group here. As of July 2011, our group has more than 1,200 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.

A followup to this article: Do you disagree?

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