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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When Cliff Wilson Jr. discovered that his parents were leaving San Francisco to move to Belize and set up a sailing business, he had just one reaction: “Can I come too?” At the time he was working as director of a ski resort in Tahoe, but the sparkling waters of the Caribbean were impossible to resist.
Since moving to Belize full-time in 2012, empty nesters Christine Cotten and her husband Tom ease into their day. Morning time for them on Ambergris Caye starts with a coffee on the pier in front of their beachfront condo, watching the sun rise, golden and glowing, in a purple sky.
We’d finished dinner almost an hour earlier. But we were still in the restaurant. Our host was back after a few weeks away and it seemed the whole town wanted to catch up.
So there we were, my husband David and I, retired in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Nestled in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, we had a lovely home in a great development and spent our time remodeling, doing volunteer work, and getting on with our lives.
For such a small country, Belize packs a big punch in terms of what it offers expats. It tops IL’s list for ease of integration, with expats reporting that they fit easily into the local community there.
Michael and Amanda Cyphers retired early partly to give their 14-year-old son, Colin, a better way of life, away from the hustle-bustle of their Las Vegas suburban home. They find they have more quality family time now in Belize. “I have more time with my husband and son, because I’m away from the 101 things, the 3,800-square-foot house, the cars, everything we had.” We live a humble life here.
For many years Belize has attracted people from all over the world who want to live in the sun while taking advantage of the country’s real estate bargains, low cost of living, protection of assets and terrific fishing and diving.
All is quiet in the condo where we’re staying on the paradise island of Ambergris Caye, Belize. I’m up early. The world hasn’t yet come to life. When my five children wake up we share a breakfast of fresh mangoes and pineapple with black beans and rice seasoned with coconut oil. We wash it down with some cold coconut water. Locals call it pipa and it’s cheap and plentiful on a palm-fringed island like this one. After breakfast, it’s time for the pool where we laugh and splash and play until lunchtime.
“In 2004 we’d looked at property in Belize and decided to let the euphoria settle down while we really thought it out. But then a day came when it took me two hours to go 60 miles on the Florida Turnpike and cost me $13 in tolls. That was the final straw. I had it. That was the turning point. I called Kim and told her to contact the real estate agent.”
Five hours of driving on paved highways with jaw-dropping views of mountains and farmland brought us from the international airport in Belize City to our destination: Monkey River Village in the Toledo District, the southernmost area of Belize. We parked our truck and hopped on a boat taxi for the five-minute ride to our new but temporary home, a two-story Caribbean-style home…
When my husband and I first started dreaming about taking a six-month “family sabbatical” with our four young kids somewhere in Central America, we’d considered Costa Rica and Panama as well as Belize. But then I met a British couple who lived in southern Belize. We stayed in touch and they often gave me advice about our unfolding plans.
At just 25 years old, Emily made a decision it takes most people years to make. She was working 50 plus hours a week in a stuffy office building in Boston. Although her work in the field of environmental advocacy was interesting, Emily realized she was settling into a typical career path of long hours and little sunshine. She wanted something more…
Belize, the little Central-American nation, casts a spell—especially on those with a spirit of adventure. Attractions include the warm, English-speaking people, the natural beauty and the air of freedom and opportunity. A young country (only independent from Great Britain since 1981), Belize has a low population and plenty of empty, wide-open spaces.
Wedged against the Caribbean Sea, Belize has no strategic importance to anyone. Maybe that’s why it has such a peaceful history. Four hundred years ago, pirates would lie in wait among the 200 islands scattered off the coast. But these days, all you’ll find hiding on the cayes and islands are divers, sailors and anyone looking for an affordable way to enjoy total privacy.
On a recent visit to Belize’s Cayo District, near the border with Guatemala, I found something interesting happening… It wasn’t the low prices—I expected those. The Cayo has long been popular with expats for its low cost of living, and it lived up to its reputation. In and around the town of San Ignacio, where most expats live, I saw a number of small homes renting for $400 to $600 a month…
Lots of tourists to Belize never make it to little Punta Gorda. It’s just a bit too far off the beaten path for most folks. PG, as it’s called, is way down in southern Belize. It’s small (only about 5,500 people), and—although it’s right on the Caribbean—there isn’t much beach. Yet it’s one of my favorite places in the whole country. And if you love nature, it probably will be one of your favorites, too… Sea and sky seem to go on forever here. And inland is lush green jungle, just waiting to be explored.
Fifteen years ago, Diane and David Hisle took a vacation from the Caribbean island of Nevis to visit a friend in the interior of Belize. At the time they were living on a 65-foot schooner called The Alexander Hamilton. Life on board was good, and the couple had no plans for a change. Yet what they found in the small riverside town of San Ignacio enchanted them so much that they never left.
These days Caye Caulker, a five-mile-long island off Belize’s Caribbean coast, has the laid-back, beach-bum vibe that brought expats to nearby Ambergris Caye 20 years ago. The streets on Caye Caulker are still packed sand. Most people get around by bicycle. And for those who come here, life is all about the water. Small-town, island beach life isn’t for everyone. But if it’s for you…
Many visitors to Belize head east to the Cayes (pronounced “keys”) to sail and scuba dive on the world’s second largest barrier reef. Others drive west to explore the country’s extensive Mayan ruins. Some hike in the central rainforests. But few people make it to the—still authentic—Caribbean retreats of the south.
Living in Boise, Idaho, Rick ran the state drinking water program and Darla had a career in radiation oncology. In 2000, they took their customary two-week vacation and visited Belize. “It was our first visit to Central America and we were impressed with the beauty of the country and easy pace of the residents,” says Rick.
Ever since settling in the Toledo district of the country in 2005, Chris and his wife Sue have been surrounded by a tropical wonderland of flowers, trees and animals. Life is simpler in Belize. Unobtrusive government, healthy food, a friendly, laid-back population, and a cheap standard of living make life easier all-around, says Chris.
Walk down any street or narrow village lane in tiny Belize (only about the size of the U.S. state of Rhode Island) and you’ll hear any one of a half dozen or more languages—pretty remarkable in a country that’s less-populated than many U.S. cities (320,000 inhabitants).
On this, my second trip to Belize, in 1980, I’d come to dive the world’s second largest barrier reef, just offshore the small towns of Seine Bight and Placencia in southern Belize. Flying by tiny sea plane was the easiest and fastest way to get here…as the dirt road from Belize City was perilously rutted and would take an entire day (if you were lucky and popped only one tire).
Whatever you’re looking for in a tropical paradise: diving…real estate…connecting with top attorneys…Caribbean beaches…the retiree program that sweetens the deal for anyone over 45-years-old…rich mountain pastures…offshore wealth protection strategies…and much, much more…this video has it all.
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 places deserving of your attention. Places where you can live the laid-back, Caribbean lifestyle of your dreams.
Of course, cost of living alone does not make a well-rounded retirement. In fact, affordable beach is only a small part of the real Belize story. It’s easy to fit in…everyone speaks English…they don’t levy taxes…and consistently defend their asset protection laws in international courts.
Times were good until the economy began its downturn, crashing the real estate market. We were concerned that our retirement savings wouldn’t see us through, so we began looking overseas for a place where our ever-shrinking nest egg might last longer.
In Belize, more than 40% of the country is protected as national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and marine reserves. But this lush ecological paradise is not just a haven for wildlife. Belize encourages offshore business and welcomes foreigners as local residents, too. In fact, if you’re looking into your residency options, Belize should be high on your list.
People are like shoes. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and styles. And one size never fits all. The more research I do about living, working, retiring, and doing business overseas…the more apparent it becomes that this is not a “one size fits all” idea. Everyone has different dreams, perceptions, and lifestyle requirements.
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. Belize was the reason. 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.
Grab your bathing suit and flip flops (that’s all you’ll need) and head for Belize—the only country in Central America where English is the official language. Expats here report that the monthly cost of living in Belize, on average, is about $1,800 (about $60/day). In Belize you don’t need much…
Fresh air makes you hungry, of course. Just an hour south of Belmopan we stop for lunch. Beneath a giant open-air palapa we’re served more food than we can possibly eat…grilled shrimp and heaping mounds of the coconut rice and beans Belize is famous for. All this for $5 each—and washed down with deliciously cold Belikin beer.