Belize: English-speaking Caribbean With a Tiny Price Tag
From its Caribbean shores to its jungle interior, Belize has great natural beauty—blue water, deserted beaches, and inland retreats where you can explore Maya ruins, tall waterfalls, rainforests, and rivers.
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- Capital City: Belmopan
- Population: 334,297 (July 2013 est.)
- Climate: Tropical; very hot and humid; rainy season (May to November); dry season (February to May)
- Time Zone: GMT 6
- Language: English, Spanish, Creole, Mayan dialects
- Country Code: 501
- Coastline: 386km
I’ve never seen such blue water as the Caribbean in Belize. I couldn’t keep my eyes off it, whether I was cruising around by boat, watching tiny islets fade into the distance… swinging in a hammock strung between two palms on the beach…or beating that tropical heat with a cold Belikin beer in the shade of a palm frond-roofed beach bar. Belize has a lot to offer those seeking a new life abroad. The low cost of living means a couple can live well on $2,000 to $3,000 or less a month.
Born in snowy but beautiful New Hampshire, as a child I spent many cold and unpleasant winters in northern New England. Like most other kids from the area, I spent a lot of time stuck indoors, watching TV during those long winters… Hardly surprising that, by the age of 18, the palm trees of Hollywood started looking good to me. But in reality, it wasn’t the place for me; the Pacific Ocean in Southern California and neighboring Baja was still a tad too cool for my tastes. Eventually the tropics beckoned me further south. After exploring the magnificent mountains of Colombia, and both coasts, I was hooked on Central and South America.
In the middle of Corozal, Belize, you’ll find a lively square where people meet to eat and talk in the shade of coconut palms and almond trees, or on benches under the clock tower. I like to spend time there and Sundays is when Corozal is most alive with people. Many have the day off and the park is full of a diverse mix of people—a multitude of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds live in harmony. The people are friendly and outgoing. Most wave or say hello to you as you walk by.
I sit on our deck and gaze out toward the Belize Barrier Reef, not 300 yards away, in the Caribbean Sea. The postcard-perfect, white sand and the green palm trees quickly give way to shimmering strips of blue and green—colors of the sea determined by a brilliant sun, azure sky, and sea grass and sand on the ocean floor. There is one other color that catches my eye: the dry gray mud that spackles my legs and feet. “Here I am, at 64 years old,” I think, “and every day I get to pedal my bicycle through mud puddles.” I can’t begin to tell you how happy that makes me feel.
After years of working hard, I’ve traded Michigan’s four seasons for Belize’s two (wet & dry)…and I’m loving it. Now, I’m enjoying Belize’s year-round greenness, the chance to be by the water all the time, and the joy I’ve found in simplifying my life. In Michigan, I worked for 20 years as a consultant for our state’s educational department. Before that, I worked for Michigan State University. When I left, I gave away a closet-full of suits and I’m reveling in the freedom of wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops for nearly every occasion. No more ironing, no more dry cleaning, and no more bundling up for me!
It’s another languid, relaxing Sunday on Belize’s Caribbean coast. Settling in a at Estel’s Diner on the beach, we order our favorite breakfast—huevos rancheros with homemade salsa. Then it’s back to a blissful reverie, gazing out over the mesmerizing Caribbean Sea. Sitting here, I wiggle my toes into the diner’s soft, warm, sand floor—no shoes needed… The scene outside is idyllic. Rays of sunlight skitter off the sparkling surface of the calm sea…
I discovered the potential of ecommerce 14 years ago when I started my online maternity store…from my kitchen table. At the time, I was searching for a business that offered me the freedom to work from anywhere and the flexibility I needed to care for my young children after my husband was diagnosed with cancer. I found it in ecommerce. In its first month, my first site brought in $7,000. I was ecstatic. And it grew from there. I turned my online business into a multi-million-dollar business in a short amount of time.
A relatively small town (about 10,000 people) set on a grid, Corozal is mostly a collection of small shops, restaurants, and simple homes. But this is a bustling burg, with walkways and parks lining the vast, turquoise Corozal Bay. The bay gives it that Caribbean feel. Locals lounge in the shade of the town square, and in the small farmers’ market you’ll find oranges, potatoes, carrots, and succulent mangoes. You can walk away with a week’s worth of fruit and vegetables, plus dry goods and any imported must-haves available at local grocery stores, for under $50.
Water taxis, essentially small high-speed ferries, are a great way to travel from mainland Belize to the offshore islands, Ambergris Caye, the most visited spot in the country, and laid-back Caye Caulker to south. You can also travel to remote spots around Ambergris, between islands, and even as far as the town of Chetumal, in Mexico. Travelers often fly in to the international airport in Belize City, take a cab to the ferry landing of one of the two major companies Caye Caulker Water Taxi and San Pedro Belize Express, and then motor over to the islands.
Unlike the more popular beach towns in Belize, Punta Gorda—in the Toledo District—is seldom crawling with tourists. And you’ll find few expats in Punta Gorda, compared to towns like Corozal, San Pedro, Placencia or San Ignacio. Upon visiting earlier this year, I learned that a growing number of expats are visiting and trying out the region to see if it’s a fit for them.
In the 2014 Fast-Track Your Retirement Overseas Package we’ll introduce you to more than a dozen beautiful places in the world where you can live a caviar lifestyle on a hot dog budget.
Perhaps you long for your own cottage on a quiet beach… a grand apartment in a city vibrant with concerts and cafes… a mountain villa where the air is crisp… or even your own vineyard amid gently rolling hills…
Places where expats and tourists gather are good locations for a food enterprise that gives them a taste of home— particularly when it comes to a daily staple like bread. Central America simply doesn’t have the same bakery tradition as the U.S. or Europe, which means you can find a hungry market for European-style loaves, pastries, wholegrain, sourdough, croissants, and more. Belize is a case in point. With tourism increasing more than 10% year-on-year since 2011 and a real estate boom reaching even into the less expensive areas like Corozal, San Ignacio, and Punta Gorda, the market for specialized bakeries is strong country-wide.
Corozal, on the northern edge of Belize, might just be the perfect retirement destination. It’s certainly captured the hearts of the 1,000 or so North American expats who call it home.
When Anke and David Doehm, both 53, were looking for a place to open their clothing boutique, they had a few requirements. It had to be in a spot with good tourist traffic, be a safe location, and be a nice place for their four kids to grow up. And as residents of Hawaii for seven years, they figured a beachside location wouldn’t hurt, either.
The spread of the British Empire through trade, colonization, and conquest brought the English language to far-flung corners of the globe. But even as that empire declined and shrank, the language was left behind. And with English becoming the language of business and diplomacy, that influence is in no danger of going away.
It’s been over 30 years since my first Caribbean vacation. I spent an unforgettable week in the Virgin Islands at a posh resort on a tranquil bay. Back home in the U.S. I often revisited my memories of that trip, fantasizing about what it would be like to live on the Caribbean Sea.
Every visit I make to the Toledo region of Belize brings unexpected discoveries. Some folks call it the country’s “forgotten district,” and it’s true that Toledo is a bit of an enigma. On the surface it appears peaceful and serene. But look closer and you’ll find a contrasting alter ego. This Toledo is wild, untamed, enticing…
Belize is well-known for its aquamarine Caribbean waters, Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, idyllic cayes and miles of coastland. But not all expats opt for a coastal lifestyle. An increasing number have been captivated by the Cayo District’s charms. They’re drawn to the verdant broadleaf jungles…lush Maya Mountains…meandering rivers…and mystical Mayan ruins… Some come to stake out a piece of fertile land… Others yearn to live off the grid…
Rounding a bend in the road, you catch your first glimpse of the bay of Honduras. The stunning silhouette of Guatemala’s mountains to the south provides the perfect backdrop as the light scatters off the sparkling Caribbean water. The skies are a cloudless blue and a series of houses painted different colors, here white, there yellow, another green—and all with neatly-groomed yards—greets you along the coast road into the town of Punta Gorda.
Imagine making money online, doing what you love to do, in your spare time. That’s exactly what I am doing now. I take photographs of everyday things while on vacation. I upload them to a stock agency and advertisers, graphic artists, and other people buy them. Some of my photos are selling repeatedly on a stock agency that I work with…like the ones I took of a few tropical drinks we were about to start sipping while watching the sun set upon the Caribbean Sea in Belize.
“Plenty of everyday people are choosing to live on the water full-time—in their retirement,” says InternationalLiving.com editor Jason Holland, author of the publication’s new report. “After a bit of training and hands-on experience at home, they’re tying up beside mega-yachts in the Mediterranean, finding large floating communities of like-minded expat sailors in the Caribbean, and island hopping in the Gulf of Thailand, heading wherever their fancy takes them.”
My husband and I just returned from a trip back to the USA, to spend quality time with our family. After such a trip it’s natural to reflect upon why we relish our lifestyle in Belize…and there are many good reasons. We first visited Belize in 1999; almost a decade later, in 2008, I moved permanently to Ambergris Caye.
If you’ve ever yearned for your own Indiana Jones-style adventure, be sure to add Belize’s most infamous cave to your bucket list. ATM—full name Actun Tunichil Muknal—is your ticket to the ancient Maya underworld, or Xibalba. Also known as the “cave of the stone sepulcher,” it’s near san Ignacio in the Cayo District, and it’s where the Mayas of old performed their sacred rituals long before Europeans came.
We’re both 50 years old, we live on a Caribbean island, and we love running our restaurant,” says Jackie Feldman, who—along with her husband, Adam— moved to Ambergris Caye, Belize, three years ago. “We have great friends and our family regularly visits to share our experiences. Isn’t that what so many folks dream about?”
As luck would have it, Judy’s sister and her family had moved to Ambergris Caye before “Temptation Island” put it on the map… Judy notes, “We chose San Pedro because we had been visiting my sister and her husband since they moved to Belize about 23 years ago. We fell in love with the island through those many visits.”
Chicago natives Brad and Christine Schofield have always loved the beach and the water. As their children were growing up, family vacations always seemed to be centered on the sand and sea. As time marched on, their dream to own an inn on the beach headed toward reality. Brad (56) was a manager in the restaurant industry, and most recently general manager of a Chicago environmental company that processes waste cooking oil for the restaurant and hotel industries. Chris (53) owned her own interior design and room renovation business.
From bond trading in New York to running a bar in Belize, Rebecca Coutant made the overseas move. But it was only when she started blogging that she found something she really loved…and now it’s her income as well as her passion. “Five years ago if someone had suggested that I’d be a professional blogger, I would have laughed,” says Rebecca. “I wasn’t much of a writer or photographer. I just look at it as sharing my experiences with friends. That’s always fun. And now I love the freedom of being self-employed.”
Before moving to Belize, the Cordts lived quite a different lifestyle in New York and New Jersey. They owned several successful clothing boutiques in New York and were involved in the local Greenwich Village scene. Their historic home, in nearby New Jersey, was a 15-minute commute from work. They were engrossed in the hustle and bustle of a metropolitan lifestyle, surrounded by 9 million others.
If you like easy-going people…a chilled environment…a warm climate…and an income of up to $5,000 a month, then owning a beach bar might be just the lifestyle career for you. After all, if your customers are predominantly tourists, they are at their most relaxed and happy when they come into your place. And the profits from serving them can be considerable.
There are few things that can motivate me to rise before the sun. But on a calm, hazy April morning I arrived at Garbutt Marine’s dock before 6 a.m., as the sun was rising… I was joining a ReefCI day trip to the Sapodilla Cayes, in search of Belize’s most beautiful beach. The other participants had fishing on their minds…
Atlantic beach towns that take you back in time…a foodie’s paradise in Southeast Asia where dim sum stalls beckon…an arts-rich bohemian haven in South America full of cafés and concerts… All over the planet you’ll find hidden gems like these—spots that rarely, if ever, earn even a passing mention in the popular press. It’s not surprising. Almost no publications bother to keep outposts abroad anymore. The quality and scope of international news coverage—and our understanding of and empathy for the world—has suffered for it.
Two years ago Duane and Judy Allen moved full-time from Tampa, Florida, to Ambergris Caye, Belize. “I always wanted to live right on the beach, but not in a condo,” says Duane. “I wanted a home, and space around me to roam. For years I scoured Florida’s coasts, looking for an affordable property. But everything was out of reach.”
Belize is a small country, with only 330,000+ residents. Ninety percent of businesses here are small or microbusinesses, making it a good place for an overseas venture. I’ve lived here full-time for six years now, and I know expats running all types of businesses. It’s surprisingly easy. For example, Frik De Meyere, owner of Belize Wind Energy and a real estate agent with Mannsfeld and Associates, says he spent 80% of his time on paperwork back in Europe. But in Belize, paperwork only takes 10% of his time.
You’ve just weighed anchor on another night of bliss, lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of your sailboat in the calm sea. Before you is a small cove lined by craggy cliffs. Clear blue waters end at a white-sand beach. You’ve had it all to yourself for the last week. It was supposed to be just an overnight stop. But it was so beautiful, you decided to stick around. After a quick dip, you’re enjoying a cup of coffee and a light breakfast on deck as you contemplate which island paradise you’ll go to next.
Once you stroll Belize’s unspoiled beaches and explore the flora and fauna of its rainforests, you may become afflicted with what’s known as the “Belize Factor.” Simply put: you find that once you return home, you have an uncontrollable compulsion to return. Time and again …Perhaps even to stay.
The attributes of a life of ease in Belize have been well documented: beautiful warm weather, friendly people who speak English, and lovely sand beaches with the Caribbean Sea lapping at the shoreline. Those are just some of the reasons my wife Char and I are considering Belize as our retirement destination.
Nadege Thomas lived in Toronto, Canada for 22 years where she was a successful financial planner. But as the pressures on her sector mounted and the cold weather wore her down, she began to yearn for an easy life in a balmy, tropical environment. “After 22 Canadian winters, I had had enough of the cold and was looking for a warm place,” she says.
Ann Kuffner first started dreaming of living in Belize full-time when she was in her 20s…but it wasn’t until six years ago, at the age of 57, that she finally left behind the corporate life in the U.S. to enjoy all that the Caribbean island of Ambergris Caye has to offer.
In the popular imagination, it’s the great capitals of Europe that get the most attention. Tourists flock to Paris, Rome, Madrid, and London for the big-city flair, museums, and monuments. It’s the thing to do. And granted, you should seize any opportunity to stroll the Champs-Élysées on a beautiful spring evening or explore London’s international cuisine and regal parks.
Meeting people is often as simple as taking a trip into town. Ambergris Caye is an active community. People get involved, and they enjoy the outdoors. Any day of the week you’ll run into people walking or running on the beach, riding their bikes into town—to run errands, work in their businesses, donate time at the Saga Humane Society, or meet friends at a favorite hotspot for lunch…