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
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.
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…
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…
Jim and Kathy Suits had long been planning to move outside the U.S. for retirement. English-speaking, with a tropical climate, and close to North America… little Belize offered a lot to a couple looking to retire abroad. Plus, the feeling of independence they experienced there, and the focus on personal responsibility and family values, had great appeal for the Suits. Belize’s Qualified Retired Persons (QRP) program was one of the main factors in their deciding on Belize. This program makes the transition to a new life in Belize quite easy for expats…and cost-effective. “I liked the QRP. I like the tax advantages. It does have some drawbacks. You don’t get to be a resident. You’re a permanent tourist. But it makes it easy for someone to come down and retire without a lot of headaches,” says Jim.
Jamie and Barbara Quinion have no regrets about their move to western Belize. “We’re not just living our dream of the good life,” Barbara says of the couple’s new life in the ancient Maya village of San José Succotz, in Belize’s Cayo District. “We are living the ‘excellent life!’” Five years ago, they decided to sell their winery in Canada and move abroad, for several reasons. “What attracted us to Belize is that it’s English-speaking—that was a big plus—with a good climate, really friendly people, and incredible diversity for such a small country. We live in the farthest point west on the mainland, where we go swimming, tubing, hiking, biking, birdwatching, or just enjoy the great view from our property.”
Encompassing Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, Guatemala, Belize, and parts of El Salvador and Honduras, La Ruta Maya (the “Maya Route”) covers the territory of the Maya civilization, which reached its height from 250 to 900 A.D. One of the New World’s most advanced cultures, the Maya had written language, mathematics, a sophisticated calendar, and architectural skills that saw them construct massive temples and spectacular cities, many of which still stand. However, the Maya were never a single empire; rather, kings ruled over small territories surrounding a city.
When looking at great retirement destinations overseas, low costs and cheap real estate may be well and good, but you need to feel at home. How easy it is 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? Whether it’s through shared passions, shared learning experiences or volunteering, the easiest way to become part of a community or acquire a friendship network is to get involved in an outside-the-home activity. This will help tremendously with integrating.
International Living’s just released Annual Global Retirement Index 2015 highlights the best places in the world to retire. This Index ranks the top 25 countries in the world for retirement in eight important categories. There are many perks available to retirees when you move overseas and one of the eight categories weights Special Benefits for Retirees. These special retiree benefits will help you save big. See below for the benefits you’ll receive in Panama, Ecuador, Belize and France—all four countries topped the Index in this category.
“Belize has a lot to offer those seeking a new life abroad. There’s a feeling of opportunity and possibility, of a place being shaped right now…a country where retirees can find a comfortable place or someone with an idea can start a business,” reports InternationalLiving.com editor Jason Holland. “It’s not as established as some of the other tourist destinations in the region, so there’s still lots of room for new businesses that fill a gap in the market.” With a population of 330,000, Belize offers plenty of empty, wide-open spaces. Located below Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, this is picture-postcard Caribbean. It’s a country of Maya temples, seaside condos, jungle lodges, and colonial mansions.
Imagine waking up every morning to catch the sun gloriously rising over the shimmering Caribbean Sea…that’s exactly how Peter Nolan, and his wife Lesley, begin their days on Ambergris Caye in Belize. From their second-floor deck, strong cup of tea in hand, they greet each day taking in the sunrise and breathing in fresh, healthy sea air. Any afternoon they can stroll out to the end of the dock near their home and relax under a palapa, with a good book, surrounded by shimmering aquamarine waters. They often meet their friends under the palapa, where they chat and enjoy the cooling sea breeze. On other days they jump right in and enjoy the crystal-clear, 82-degree water and cavort amongst the brightly colored tropical fish…
Ten years ago it was mainly scuba divers, anglers and adventure travelers who knew of Belize’s natural treasures. At that time few tourists could point to Belize on a map. But there’s been a growing buzz about Belize for the last few years. The constant press coverage about predictions of what would happen at the end of the Maya calendar (December 21, 2012) catapulted Belize into the international spotlight. Ever since, tourism numbers have been on the rise. And a growing number of Baby Boomers are retiring there.
If you dream about a different life… one lived on a sun-dappled beach… or in a colonial, history-rich town… or some exotic big city abroad… but you need an income to make it happen, sooner rather than later… Then you should know: There are proven, flexible ways you can fund your life overseas… and get paid to do something you genuinely enjoy… So you gain the freedom to pick up and go… travel when you feel like it… live in a place you love… and all the while earn $12,000… $25,000… $40,000… even $85,000 a year or more…
In a handful of noteworthy places on the planet right now, you could own a world-class property for $150,000 and have it throw off $1,000 a month, right from the start. These are what I call “exceptional markets.” Places where you’re looking at as much as an 8% yield… more than double the norm. But you don’t need mounds of cash on hand to get in – often less than $20,000. And these are gains you can pocket with little-to-no effort.
Eighteen years ago Penny Sue Leonard visited Belize for the first time, on an assignment to teach nursing practices at hospitals. She was so impressed that a year later she left Orlando, Florida, and permanently moved to Punta Gorda in the south of Belize. “Something drew me in. The fact that it is so far off the beaten path. I fell for this part of Belize. I already loved the whole country, but Punta Gorda just pulled at me.” While she was initially attracted by Belize’s beauty and the warm waters of the Caribbean, another big draw for Penny was that English is the primary language. And the lifestyle in Punta Gorda is affordable. “It is so much less expensive to live here than in the U.S.,” she says.
The original Riviera (from the Italian word for “seashore”) sprang up in southern France and the bordering region of Italy. Upper-crust Brits, northern Europeans, and—later—well-heeled Americans flocked here for the beach resorts, casinos, and parties. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald had a villa here in the Jazz Age, although it’s said he was a horrible party guest. The term riviera has been adopted by regions all over the world, in places where the sun, surf, and vacation vibe live on. And when we hit the new-school rivieras in the developing world, expect to get a real bang for your real estate buck.
The low cost of living in Belize means a couple can live well on $2,000 to $3,000 or less a month. Established expat communities make for a ready supply of new friends, and it’s English-speaking, even if it’s the second or even third language for many locals. (I spoke only English during my time there and had no issues.) Plus, it’s easy to get to from North America, thanks to daily flights.
I couldn’t keep my eyes off the Caribbean Sea in Belize—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. Established expat communities make for a ready supply of new friends, and it’s English-speaking, even if it’s the second or even third language for many locals. (I spoke only English during my time there and had no issues.)
Scott and Michelle Lyons planned to move to Mexico when their kids went to college. But when Michelle went on a cruise that stopped in Belize…their plans changed. “When I discovered that English was the language in Belize, I knew I had found something that would work for us,” says Michelle. The impossibly blue waters, soft sandy beaches, and wonderfully warm climate of beautiful Belize also helped win the couple over. From the sparkling sea filled with palm-lined islands to the verdant jungles teeming with wildlife, Belize beckoned with an enticing blend of relaxation and adventure…a tropical paradise.
This postcard is a special delivery, direct from Belize’s Placencia Peninsula. I’m on an editorial assignment in the Stann Creek District and I have to admit, life seldom is sweeter than this! After spending the better part of Monday flying and driving, I arrived at my destination—near Maya Beach—anxious to settle in and check out our friends’ beach home. Also prominent in my mind was which of the many recommended restaurants we’d pick for that night’s meal. But we’ll return to that topic later… The next day, after a solid night’s sleep, I walked out onto our bedroom veranda to behold a cloudless, brillian t blue sky, the sun’s rays reflecting off a sea surface as smooth as glass. In other words, the perfect day to explore the beach…
Belize’s Placencia Peninsula is 17 miles of white sands, blue Caribbean waters, and gently swaying palms. The paving of the road the length of the peninsula has opened it up for development, with homes and condos ranging from luxury to affordable.
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…