Relaxed, Happy and Healthy in Caribbean Belize
For years, Lucky and Erin Ivy say, they were living proof of the phrase “you can’t see the forest for the trees.”
“We were living in Texas and both working high-pressure, 10- to 12-hour days, six days a week,” says Erin. “I worked in property management and Lucky ran a division of a multi-million-dollar lightweight concrete company. He was overweight and needed medication for high blood pressure.”
Then in 2004 – the day after returning from a sailing adventure in Placencia, Belize – Lucky made a routine trip to the doctor’s office. “His blood pressure was normal. The doctor was shocked,” says Erin.
That helped focus the couple on a permanent move. They sat down and made out a five-year plan, developed a strict budget, and began downsizing.
A healthier life wasn’t the only reason to move. “Placencia is a quaint seaside village at the end of a peninsula with the most loving population of locals and expats you will ever meet,” says Erin. “After just a few days everyone knows your name and remembers it six months later, even if you are only there part time at first.
“Plus, Belize is English-speaking and has a wonderful QRP (qualified retired persons) program, or you can become a resident. Its currency, the Belizean dollar, is two to one with the U.S. dollar, making it an easy transition.”
Over the next four years, Lucky and Erin stuck to their plan, took several vacations to Belize, mixing pleasure with research, and bought property in Maya Beach, a mostly expat community about eight miles north of Placencia. Then, in 2008, Erin and Lucky saw one of their favorite properties in Placencia for sale online.
“We had met Captain Jack on our first trip to Belize in 2004, when he showed us the home and cabanas he was building. We fell in love with it then and there. It is a small resort located on the lagoon just a few minutes’ walk from the Caribbean Sea. The main house and rustic cabanas are set in a lush tropical garden. The support beams are tree trunks artistically carved with crocodiles, monkeys, toucans, and mermaids. We rushed down and made an offer, which was accepted,” says Erin.
“Jack sold the resort for $875,000. We sold almost everything we owned, including the property in Maya Beach, and cashed in all retirement funds to make the $500,000 down payment,” says Erin. “What a relief it was to leave five-lane, bumper-to-bumper traffic and adopt a bicycle as our primary means of transportation. Culture shock? You bet… and we loved it.”
“Instead of grabbing a Starbucks rushing out at 5:30 a.m., we now linger over our coffee while gazing out at the exquisite Caribbean sea, palm trees, and white-sand beaches− scenery so beautiful that we used to fawn over it in magazines and postcards. We still wonder if life this relaxing and enjoyable might be a dream from which we have yet to awaken.
“It’s like being on vacation all of the time. Home to the longest barrier reef on this side of the world, Placencia has some of the best snorkeling, sailing, and fishing anywhere. There are hundreds of islands to explore. Forget that fancy expensive fishing equipment; just tie a hook and weight to the end of a hand line and you will be rewarded with the next dinner entrée. Between the walking, biking, and a healthier diet, Lucky lost all of his extra weight, without even trying.”
If you eat local, food is very reasonably priced here. You can buy lobster tails from local fishermen for $8 per pound and all kinds of fish filets for $3.50 per pound, although it is even less expensive and more fun to catch your own.
Whole chickens are about $1 per pound. Locally grown fruits and vegetables are also cheap, like pineapples for $1 each; mangos and papayas for fifty cents each; tomatoes, potatoes, and cucumbers for fifty cents a pound, and everything is grown organically. Imported foods are expensive; for example, potato chips are $7 a bag. At that price one quickly stops eating junk food.
“We have a clinic in the village that is free for residents. Erin and I obtained our residency three months ago, thereby qualifying,” says Lucky. Major medical is handled in Belize City, a short 20-minute flight or easy three-hour drive. The local clinic is available for non-residents as well at a low cost.
Expensive wardrobes and even shoes have almost become a thing of the past for the couple. Lucky prefers to go barefoot in his new Caribbean home and saves his shoes for special occasions and visits home.
“We truly believed that our Western lifestyle was going to send us to an early grave, so other than wishing our extended families were with us, too, we have never looked back,” says Erin.
Editor’s note: Below, we’ve put together a free guide to retirement in Belize for online readers. It will tell you everything you need to know about the QRP:
Guide to Belize’s QRP
The Belizean government has instituted a program designed to incentivize you to spend more time there. In order help you ease into life in the English-speaking Caribbean, they will welcome you as a permanent resident with a pathway to citizenship and a Belize passport. The initiative It’s called the Qualified Retired Person (QRP) program—it resembles Panama’s popular pensionado program.
Anyone forty-five years and older can qualify for the program and they can also include their dependents (including spouses and children under the age of 18, or up to 23 if enrolled in a university).
To be designated as a Qualified Retired Person under the program, applicants must receive a monthly income of at least $2,000 through a pension or annuity that has been generated outside of Belize.
There can be quite a bit of paperwork involved—the company paying the pension has to be able to show that it has been in operation for at least 20 years by submitting proof of registration. It also has to certify the value of the pension and demonstrate that the payments will be lodged in a financial institution in Belize.
You will then need to present two bank references from the company that is sending the pension and the company granting the pension must present a document outlining its pension scheme. You will also be subject to a background check to be carried out by the Ministry of National Security.
Once you designated as a Qualified Retired Person, you will be entitled to import all of your personal effects, including your car, a light plane or a boat if you have one, without being liable to pay any import duties or taxes. This exemption stays in place for one year from when you’re first granted QRP status and you can move your goods in more than one go if you wish. One stipulation is that your car must be no more than three years old.
You will also be exempt from the payment of taxes on income received from any source outside Belize, be it from work or from investments.
To start off, a non-refundable application fee of $150 must be submitted with each application. If you’re accepted, you need to pay a further $1,000 plus another $750 per dependent. Finally, you need to pay a fee of $200 before you’re issued your Qualified Retired Person Residency Card. That makes a total of $1,350 plus $750 per dependent.
What You Will Need
If you decide to apply, you will need a birth certificate for yourself and any dependants, a marriage certificate if one of your dependants is your spouse, a police record issued within a month of your application, full certified copies of yours and your dependants’ passports, proof of income from your bank, a medical exam cert including AIDS test and four passport photos of you and each of your applying dependants.
If you qualify for the scheme, you are officially not allowed to work. However, we hear that this is not strictly enforced. Qualified Retired Persons are required to submit a yearly bank statement which shows that they have been complying with the program’s financial requirements.
Although you can come and go as you please once you qualify, you are required to spend at least one month in Belize each year (it doesn’t have to be consecutive) in order to maintain their status as a Retiree Resident.
The QRP scheme is operated by the Belize Tourism Board. For the full details, or to download application forms, see here.
Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. To get full access to all past and future articles and to receive the magazine in the mail or online each month, simply click on the below button to subscribe to International Living magazine at the special introductory price of $49. You will get instant access to the current issue of the magazine as well 10 years of back issues. As an added bonus, we will also send you a FREE report – How to Retire in Paradise on $30 a Day. (You can cancel your subscription at any time.)