Belize: English-speaking Caribbean With a Tiny Price Tag
Belize is quintessential Caribbean but with Maya roots.
Over 200 pristine cayes (islands) are scattered along Belize’s coastline—each surrounded by crystal clear, turquoise seawater that teems with brilliant fish, coral, and sponges.
A favorite pastime on the cayes is to relax in a hammock, under a gently swaying coconut palm, while sipping an icy Belikin beer, or a pina colada… It’s the perfect spot to relax and watch the frothy white waves wash against the Mesoamerican barrier reef… For those who live on a caye, the living reef is so close it’s a visible touchstone, a reminder of its many wonders. Diving, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, sailing, and surfing are pleasant activities in the shallow waters inside the protection of the reef…
The Caribbean seascape you see from the mainland is equally stunning. Placencia’s 17 miles of golden sand beaches are perfect for long, leisurely strolls and days spent sunning or picnicking near the sea. Sailboats, cruisers, and catamarans come and go from the deeper water docks, or idle in the calm, protected waters at the tip of Placencia Village.
From Placencia it’s a short drive to a host of other mainland activities such as hiking, bird-watching, and zip lining.
But Belize offers much more than the beauty of the Caribbean Sea and Mesoamerican reef. It’s complimented by the lush, wild jungles of the Maya Mountains, with tumbling rivers, mysterious Maya ruins, and awe-inspiring rainforests. The Cayo region is rich with productive farms and the perfect spot for homesteading expats.
A small country barely the size of Massachusetts it’s easy to travel from one part of the country to another. As one adventurous expat eloquently described his rational for moving to Belize, “I can be Jacques Cousteau in the morning—diving in the blue hole, and Indiana Jones in the afternoon—exploring a Maya cave in the jungles...”
Belize offers other advantages. As a British Commonwealth country, English is the primary language, making it easy for expats to transition. This little country is also well known for its open-arms attitude toward expats who wish to become residents, or to open a business.
Talk to expats who live in Belize and you’ll hear a common theme…Belizean people are warm, helpful, and made them feel welcome.
Most expats who live in Belize today moved from the USA, Canada, Britain, and other European countries.
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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
Living in San Pedro, on Belize’s Ambergris Caye, I’m a bit spoiled. It offers spectacular Caribbean Sea activities and lifestyle options. So I don’t typically need to take a vacation to anywhere else in Belize. But I recently spent a wonderful week checking out Placencia and it far exceeded my expectations. Each morning I woke to find a calm, glistening sea, it’s surface smooth as glass…a delightful way to start the day!
On my first trip to Granada, Nicaragua several years ago, I stopped in a small bookshop in the historic colonial quarter, just a few blocks from the main square. It was evident the owner—an expat from California—was a lover of literature. Classics…science fiction…travelogues…histories…and more lined the shelves. As I chatted to him, it emerged that he got started when he was just passing through Granada and, looking to make a bit of extra travel money…he laid books out on a blanket on the street to sell.
Every hillside, every valley, was brushed with the vivid, appealing colors of nature…crimson and orange flamed hues of flamboyant trees in full bloom contrasted with the soft blue and mauve blossoms of what appeared to be jacaranda trees… The entire countryside of Belize’s Cayo District was bursting with color. A recent trip to this area reminded me how much it has to offer. I relish living on the country’s Caribbean coast but every now and then I love to escape and indulge in the Cayo’s raw, bold beauty.
A popular expat hub, the Belizean island of Ambergris Caye is no stranger to visitors. From August 6 to August 8, the island welcomes an influx of a different kind, as performers and artists from across the Maya world descend on Ambergris for the International Costa Maya Festival. This colorful event is a spectacle of music, dance, and food, as the region’s Maya ancestry is celebrated in vivid style.
Jacques Cousteau once declared the Blue Hole in Belize to be one of the best diving spots in the world—and few would disagree. The Blue Hole, part of the Lighthouse Reef system, is an almost-perfect circular limestone sinkhole that is nearly 1,000 feet wide and more than 400 feet deep. This striking ocean feature sits like a giant blue pupil in a sea of turquoise.
You gaze out from your veranda each morning onto a sea often as smooth as glass, shimmering as sunrays dance upon its surface. As far as the eye can see, north and south, are miles of gorgeous beaches, peppered with inviting, thatched-roof palapas at the end of docks. Red, yellow, and other brightly colored kayaks sit above the surf line, ready for the next joy ride.
Neither Yvonne nor Michael Bauche qualiﬁed for a pension in Canada. And so the adventurous duo decided to embark on a round-the-world trip that has seen them visit Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Portugal, Italy, France, and the Caribbean. “We cut our expenses in half,” says Yvonne of their new life on the road. “Running two cars, paying for electricity, gas, phone, cell phone, internet, food, and eating out used to cost us almost $4,000 a month. Our average expenditure is now about $2,000, and we live and play very well on that.”
Take a short trip to the Port Honduras Marine Reserve to snorkel or fish. Or spend a few days in the sapodilla Cayes, near the barrier reef. If you time it right, you may encounter a majestic whale shark. ReefCI runs a marine research outpost at Tom Owen’s Caye. You can spend five days there, scuba diving and taking part in marine research, for less than $1,000.
There are many countries around the world that offer you the right to residence without having to be physically there. The biggest benefit of having residence in another country is the ability to avail of offshore and financial protection strategies that would otherwise be unavailable to you as an America citizen.
Lara Goldman is living her dream in Belize. She lives just 100 yards from the beach for a fraction of what it would cost in the U.S. As a single woman who owns her own home on Ambergris Caye, her outgoings come to just $1,500 a month. She found this perfect home on her very first trip to Belize in 2006.
The English-speaking island of Belize has a lot going for it. For a tiny country, it packs a big wallop when it comes to charm and scenery. For the would-be expat—especially if you’re looking for real value—there are many areas deserving of your attention. Places where you can live the laid-back, Caribbean lifestyle of your dreams.
Toward the southern end of Belize, you’ll find a 17-mile-long peninsula that has become a center of expat activity and tourism in recent years. Developments and homes can be found up and down its length, as can beautiful beaches and views of the blue Caribbean. But Placencia Village, the walkable community at the peninsula’s far southern tip, is where Paul Petit and his wife Gail decided to settle.
Before moving to Belize, Polly Alford lived a cushy life in southeastern England. She had a lucrative job with an IBM partner company, drove a convertible Volvo, owned a comfortable home, and vacationed several times a year. But she wasn’t content…Whenever Polly returned home from an exotic diving vacation, she wondered what it would be like to live a different lifestyle…in an exotic location…where she could indulge her favorite passion, scuba diving. So in October 2003 she gave in to that yearning.
In November 2011, Patrick Snyder made his ﬁrst trip to Belize, to visit his brother. Planning to spend a month, he stayed for seven. He then returned home, took care of his personal affairs, packed his belongings, and returned to Belize in 2012. “I like the peace and quiet in Punta Gorda, and the slow pace of life. I enjoy being right on the bay. People here are friendly. I live simply and it’s been easy to make new friends. At this point in my life, I could not ask for more.”
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Caprice Parkes and Joe Singh’s rustic lifestyle is very different to the life they left behind…and they love it. The couple lives in Chan Chen Village, in Belize’s northern Corozal District, abutting Mexico. Young “retirees” at only 43 and 45, Caprice and Joe actively work a 22-acre homestead, and are largely self-sufficient. “We grow our own greens, spinach, lettuces, okra, beans of different sorts, herbs, cassava, sweet potato, onions, and fruit trees,” says Caprice. “Joe goes fishing and hunting with the locals from our village. We can pretty much eat for free most days. We raise chickens and turkeys and will shortly start raising pigs.”
When Steve, 58, and Kathy Wade, 61, from Myrtle Beach, first visited Belize’s Placencia peninsula almost 12 years ago they were smitten with the friendly locals, tropical vibe, unspoiled beaches, and blue Caribbean, so they decided to make the move. They made the right choice. Over the years, development and more tourists and expats have come to the area. And services have improved to keep pace. You can get high-speed internet everywhere. The road was completely paved four years ago and real estate has boomed with new developments being put in up and down the peninsula.
It took a trip to hell to show me all the heavenly delights Belize has to offer. It’s probably not the hell you’re thinking of, and I didn’t get there the way folks usually do. This particular hell is Xibalba, the Maya underworld. And I got there on a raft.
My wife, Suzan, and I love scuba diving, and Belize has always been a favorite destination. The second-longest reef on the planet runs along Belize’s Caribbean coast, and the diving is world class.
It’s Friday evening, nearly 5 p.m., and the Lady Leslie feels as eager to slip its bonds and head to sea as we, its passengers, do. This is, after all, a sunset cruise, and the ostensible reason for our sail seems to be too rapidly slipping toward the western horizon of Ambergris Caye, the Belizean island on which we all live.
Furniture to fill their new home…shop and car repair tools…TVs…scuba diving gear…a brand-new computer…decorative tiles…and “too many clothes” for the warm, tropical climate and their relaxed lifestyle. When Barry Munson, 60, and Dena Carey, 58, joined Belize’s Qualified Retired Persons program five years ago, they brought a shipping container full of household goods and possessions.
It’s ideal weather in Belize right now for lounging in a beach hammock, under a palm tree, as the emerald green and turquoise shaded waves gently lap up on the warm, golden sand beach… What could be better than sipping a frosty refreshment while gazing out at a tranquil seascape?
I get a couple of emails a month like this from International Living readers: “I’ve been doing my research as you suggest. I know I want to make my move abroad, but no matter how many likely destinations I cross off my list, I still have too many to choose from. Where should I go?”
Exactly one year ago, I was sitting on my couch in snowy Cleveland. At that time, I hadn’t left Northern Ohio for more than three weeks at a time. I was spending my time watching International House Hunter shows and researching on every travel blog and forum I could…trying to find out if living in Central America was a realistic dream for my husband, Dave, and I.
The gentle waters of Peru’s Madre de Dios river lap the shore just inches away. A welcoming breeze begins to push away the jungle heat. Iguanas scurry about chasing each other in a game of tag. I am totally relaxed as the resort’s masseuse works on my tired muscles in an outdoor cabana. My morning was spent trekking through the jungle in the Peruvian Amazon where I discovered brilliantly colored plants and heard the unfamiliar sounds of nearby wildlife. Now I’m taking a break for a massage inside the thatched-roof cabana by the river.
People often ask about my transition from a hectic life in the U.S. to the laidback Caribbean island lifestyle of Ambergris Caye, Belize. Admittedly, it surprised even me how quickly I adapted, considering that I’d spent my entire life living in metropolitan areas. But since we moved to Belize from the San Francisco Bay area, our lives have been enriched beyond our wildest imagination, with adventures galore.
As we move into May, the northern hemisphere continues to warm up, affording you more and more opportunities to get out and explore this weird and wonderful world. The Swiss Alpine town of Le Gruyère is renowned for its cheese, and the town celebrates this heritage with its annual cheese festival. As you’d expect, the world-famous cheese to which the town lends its name will take center stage. Unpasteurized, and still produced in the high Alps using methods honed over centuries, Gruyère cheese is known for its fruity flavor when fresh before developing a more earthy taste as it ages. You can also see traditional Swiss cheese-making techniques for yourself and explore a range of Alpine handicrafts, including exquisite crocheting and lacework. The event takes place on May 3.
“I’m just a beach person,” says Debbie Cooper, 63. With that attitude, it’s no wonder that she and her husband, Bruce, 66, have called the tiny Caribbean isle of Caye Caulker 12 miles off the coast of Belize home for the past 13 years. There are no cars on the island, and it receives a fraction of the tourists that Ambergris Caye, 11 miles to the north, does. Homes and restaurants on the beach face an impossibly blue sea framed by windswept palms. Lobster is a specialty when it’s in season.
A new report from the editors of InternationalLiving.com ranks and profiles the five best tropical-island paradises for retirees today. Spread throughout the world, these islands are unique—but they share certain characteristics: They’re warm, offer good infrastructure, provide acceptable healthcare facilities either on-island or nearby, and they represent good value—a couple can live comfortably from $1,500 a month, housing included. “Something about the word ‘island’ makes the mind race to ‘escape,’” says InternationalLiving.com’s executive editor, Jennifer Stevens. “On an island, the pace slows, you live in the present, you shed concerns right along with your closed-toed shoes.
Imagine waking up in the morning and enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee before heading out your back door to get breakfast. You gather eggs from your hens. Tomatoes, peppers, and herbs, all from your kitchen garden, as well as homemade goat cheese, are added for an excellent omelet. The fresh-squeezed orange juice comes from your trees. Life in the cities and suburbs of the U.S. can mean being far removed from the origins of the food we eat. If you dream of getting back to the land, you’ll find hobby farms with fertile soil, ideal growing conditions, and great locations throughout the world.
In this article, we outline the best five tropical island paradises for retirees. These places meet all the criteria needed to make them perfect retirement havens. As well as looking the part, all five of these islands—spread throughout the world—are becoming easier to get to as more and more flights open up to and from North America. Many tropical getaways have been consumed by commercialism, leaving them beyond every reasonable budget. But the islands on our list remain affordable, as attested by our expat experts on the ground. On some, it’s possible to live for as little as $1,500 a month including rent.
Lots of expats are already living their dream Caribbean lifestyle… Taking leisurely walks along the coast, cooled by the enticing Caribbean breeze…swimming and snorkeling in the living aquarium of the Caribbean Sea…feasting on fresh fruits, seafood and lobster…indulging in afternoon catnaps in a comfy hammock…meeting friends for a fresh catch lunch at a seaside café…Here’s the good news—this idyllic Caribbean lifestyle is still possible for those with a decent Social Security income—if they know where to settle, and how to cut corners…
Turquoise blue water, white sand, palms swaying in the breeze, and a cold drink in hand…it’s the setting for a new life on one of Central America’s picture perfect Caribbean islands. In a place like this, the cares of the world melt away and you are very much on island time.
Last year Kenneth Fung made his long-held dream of a snowbird’s life a reality. An accountant and project manager from Calgary, Canada, Kenneth first visited Belize in 2010. He was first drawn by Belize’s natural beauty. The country is a haven for those seeking tranquility and nature, a place where breezes make for natural air conditioning, and you’re lulled to sleep by waves lapping on the shore after a day of scuba diving and learning to husk coconuts.
In International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index 2015, we ranked and rated the 25 best retirement havens in the world. You can stretch your dollars in any of them and live better than you can back home—for less. But the ﬁve below offer the lowest cost of living and come out on top in the Cost of Living category in the Index.
If you like the sound of a laidback, English-speaking, Caribbean retirement at an affordable cost and with easy access to the States, you can’t do much better than Ambergris Caye, Belize’s largest island. Ambergris has racked up a series of impressive “best island” awards over the last few years; the island received a Traveler’s Choice Award for Best Island for 2013 and 2014. But Ambergris Caye is much more than a tourist destination. It’s a perfect retirement haven. Every day I can enjoy the gorgeous Caribbean Sea and the sight of waves crashing on the offshore Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. The Caribbean’s aquamarine hues never fail to dazzle me…
“I love the greens and blues,” says Washington native Deb Crofutt of her new life on a tropical island. “I love the smiles on the faces of everyone I make eye contact with. I like being away from the hustle and bustle of home and the pressure to own ‘things.’ I spent so many years working in the corporate world just to have stuff. This is a simpler, better life.” Imagine the feel of the warm sun on your shoulders as you walk along a pristine white sand beach stretching to the horizon, fringed by palm fronds and the sumptuous blue ocean.
Among other benefits, those in the program can import household goods and vehicles (cars less than three years old, a boat, or a light plane) tax-free within a year of approval. They are also exempt from paying any tax on income or investments generated outside Belize. The couple brought in a shipping container’s worth of household goods to start their new life near Bullet Tree Falls Village, just outside San Ignacio, the regional capital of the Cayo District. This region in the interior is known for its jungle, mountains, and agriculture. The couple’s North American-style house, which includes a large courtyard and swimming pool, sits on a double lot near a narrow river. A solar power system, which cost $65,000, enables them to be completely off-grid.
“When looking at great retirement destinations overseas, low costs and affordable real estate may be well and good, but you need to feel at home,” says InternationalLiving.com editor Steenie Harvey. “How easy is it for expats to integrate into each country? Do the locals speak good English or do you need to speak the local language? Are the locals welcoming and friendly toward expats, and is there an existing expat community with lots of groups and clubs to join?” InternationalLiving.com’s just-released annual Global Retirement Index ranks and rates the best retirement havens in the world today in eight categories and Ireland, New Zealand, Malta and Belize each receive a perfect score of 100 in the Index’s “Fitting in” category.
Panama, Ecuador, Belize and France offer the best retiree benefits in the world, according to International Living’s just-released annual Global Retirement Index 2015. In a bid to entice expats, these countries have assembled attractive benefits packages, which offer huge savings for foreign retirees on everything from travel to utility bills to medication. Topping the “Retiree Benefits and Discounts” category in the Index is Panama, which offers the best incentives for retirees in the world.
Vietnam has plenty to offer expats, including some of the best beaches in Asia, an extremely warm and friendly population, low costs, wonderful weather, and cultural and natural splendor unsurpassed anywhere else in the region. From its colorful and energetic cities to its lush, tropical rainforests teeming with exotic plant and animal life, Vietnam has become a magnet for tourists and an exciting destination for adventurous expats. In this month’s cover story we guide you through some of the country’s most appealing destinations, reveal how incredibly affordable it is, and provide a quick guide to retiring here part-time…