“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…
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.
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.
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…
When Harry and Barbara Jones were planning their retirement abroad, they had several countries in mind based on their research: Panama, Costa Rica, Belize, and Ecuador. They scouted Costa Rica first because they had been years ago on a cruise and were impressed with the country. After that first trip, they never made it anywhere else. The warm and friendly people, the low cost of living, and the natural beauty sold them. The couple, from Charlotte, North Carolina, at first looked at property on the beach but weren’t fans of the heat and humidity. So they headed inland and up into the mountains of the Central Valley, specifically the town of Grecia.
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.
Expats are drawn to Placencia by the laid-back lifestyle and tropical climate. If you’re into listening to reggae at a beach bar—you can do that. Boating? With several marinas and anchorages, it’s a center for sailors and other boaters. You can fish, snorkel, and scuba in the surrounding waters. And the small village at the tip is a walkable community of cafés, restaurants, boutiques, and more. And you can always just relax on the beach— without the crowds.
Here at International Living, we tell stories about the world nobody else tells. When somebody asks me what we do, that’s what I say first. I say it because most folks carry around a worldview forged by the news they read. The headlines scream war and catastrophe…politics and disease. But calamity gets outsized attention. Our news comes to us through a mainstream media lens and it’s filtered by a measure of superiority. What you realize, though, once you pick up your passport and get on a plane, is that beyond our borders there exists a whole other world that the shock-seeking headlines ignore.
Although world-renowned for its idyllic Caribbean beaches, Belize has a lot more to offer than just sun, sea, and sand. For a country smaller than most U.S. states, it harbors incredible diversity. Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker define the words “island paradise.” You can explore the exotic jungles of the Cayo District or relax in the thriving expat hub of Placencia. Plus, the country’s growing expat communities makes it easy to make new friends. Other factors play their part: The low cost of living ensures comfort on a budget, daily flights from North America make it easy to get back home, and Belize is English-speaking, meaning there’s no problem mixing with the welcoming locals.
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.
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.
More and more baby boomers are taking their retirements overseas, report experts at InternationalLiving.com, who say they’re seeing a significant increase in demand for their research and services. Today more than half-a-million retirees receive their Social Security benefits abroad. According to International Living editor Dan Prescher, that likely under-represents the actual number of Americans retired overseas.
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…