The verdant, jungle-covered hills of Roatán rise suddenly from the vivid blue sea. It’s a tropical paradise…without the high costs you might expect from a Caribbean destination.
These days a small but active group of retirees and other expats live on this long and narrow island, whose total population is about 80,000.
They share 32 square miles of white-sand beaches, undeveloped natural areas, funky tourist-oriented beach towns, traditional fishing villages, bustling market towns, and more.
When talking about Roatán, it’s important to understand the different lifestyles and characteristics of each section, as it changes along its 48 miles of length (it’s five miles across at its widest).
The west side of the island, including communities like West End and West Bay, is the most developed and most frequented by tourists. Go to the middle of the island and you have larger towns like French Harbour and Coxen Hole. Most expats don’t live here. But with hospitals and medical clinics, banks, larger grocery stores, hardware stores, government offices and other services, they often visit to run errands.
The farther you go east, there’s less development. Here you have mostly seaside villages. Expat communities tend to be small, with homes on the hillside overlooking the water, or on a stretch of virtually private beach. It is quieter and isolated out east, with the nearest sizable settlement a 30- to 45-minute drive away.
Part of the country of Honduras, Roatán—which is 30 miles offshore—is world’s away from the mainland. Although Honduras is Spanish-speaking and it is spoken on the island, English is also widely used thanks to its historical link to England (it was once a British colony).
Retire in Roatán
If you’re searching for a warm-weather climate, a lower cost of living, slower pace, surrounded by natural beauty…with plenty of services and amenities, retirement on Roatán could be worth a closer look.
It’s easy to make the place your full-time home. A residence visa for retirees, known as the pensionado, requires only $1,500 in income for life from Social Security, a pension or some other similar guaranteed source. This covers the applicant and a spouse as a dependent.
An international airport, with direct flights every day to multiple destinations in the U.S. and Canada, means getting to and from home (or having visitors come down) is easy.
You’ll find multiple housing options on the island, from lots to homes to condos. Ready to build lots on the water go for around $100,000, or a lot with a sea view will start from $50,000. Beachfront condos—one- and two-bedrooms—can be found for under $200,000, while hilltop homes with panoramic views of the surrounding jungle-covered hills and Caribbean start from $150,000. And if you’re a boater, you even have the option of getting a boat-access only home for under $200,000.
As far as grocery shopping, you have plenty of choices here. A local grocery store chain has plenty of items imported from Europe and North America. And a specialty market stocks good wine and gourmet meats, cheeses, and more. You’ll have to do without some favorite items from the U.S., but a lot of the time these can be substituted with domestic brands.
Lifestyle in Roatán
As an island, it’s no surprise that life on Roatán revolves around the beach and the Caribbean.
It’s a haven for scuba divers, with sections of the Meso-American Reef, which is the world’s second largest, just offshore (it surrounds much of the island). Take a boat a few minutes from the shore and see dozens of species of tropical fish, sea turtles, coral in a rainbow of colors, and more underwater wonders. You can even snorkel from right off the beach in some spots, including the famed West Bay beach.
Roatán is the perfect place for an active retirement in many other ways too. The boating is excellent, with plenty of smaller islands in the surrounding area to visit. And, of course, just spending an afternoon on the clear turquoise water is nice too. If you fish, you’ll be in heaven. Snapper, wahoo, tuna, and more are abundant in these waters.
But watersports aren’t the only thing to do. If you prefer to relax in the shade, with your toes in the sand, there are dozens of beaches to enjoy. Some are virtually deserted. Some might have one little beach restaurant. Some are residential and virtually private—but it’s a quick walk for you if you live in the community.
Others, like West Bay and West End, are packed with people, with resorts, condos, beach bars, and vendors abundant, with a soundtrack of Latin music and reggae.
Cost of Living in Roatán
A retired couple can expect to spend about $2,000 to $2,500 a month for all their needs on Roatán.
Let’s start with housing. Rents start at about $500 a month for an apartment or condo within walking distance of the beach. You’ll pay around $800 to $1,000 for something right on the water. Homes—two or three bedrooms—with views or close to the beach will run you $1,000 and up. These prices are for long-term arrangements generally, where you’ll sign a lease of three months or more.
If you’re renting short term, rates will generally be higher during the “high season” (December to April) . Also because of limited housing stock it can be hard to find a rental, especially during high season. It’s best to find and reserve something as early as possible.
Renting or buying a home in such a beautiful location in Roatán is a fraction of what you pay in North America or other Caribbean islands. But the lower cost of living is seen in your everyday expenses, too. Local restaurants offer delicious and filling meals for around $6 a plate. Beers are $2.
But this is an island, and everything is imported. So you won’t find bargain prices on these items. Expect to pay U.S. prices for staples at the grocery store. Also, top quality fresh fruits and vegetables (at least what isn’t growing on your property), though cheap at local markets, are more difficult to come by.
You can get fresh off the boat fish (snapper, tuna, and mahi mahi, for example) and lobster for a fraction of what you’d pay in the U.S. or Canada. And the fisherman might be your neighbor!
Here’s an example of a monthly budget for a couple living on Roatán:
|Rent (two-bedroom apartment)||$1,000|
|Gas & Water||$40|
|Cell Phones (2)||$50|
|Groceries & Household Items||$300|
|Streaming Media Accounts||$45|
A Love Affair with the Honduran Island of Roatán
by Amanda Walkins
It isn’t hard to understand the love affair expats have with the little island that I’m happy to call home: the blue skies and turquoise seas, the endless sunshine, and lush, jungle-covered hills.
It’s a love affair that continues to suck more North Americans and Europeans into its vortex. Those expats who live on the island of Roatán, Honduras will tell you they couldn’t stand another harsh winter, or another day in their fluorescently lit office, or yet another advertisement telling them what else is missing in their lives. Roatán offers an escape from all that.
I made my escape two years ago. Do you want to know how many times I’ve regretted it since? Not once. Not when the polar vortex hit North America, not when the iPhone 6 came out and people waited in line for hours to be the first to buy it.
Instead of spending my life waiting in line for the next best thing, I spend it soaking up the sunshine and salt air, reading in my hammock on the beach, watching the sunset over the water, and chatting with friends and strangers alike.
When is the last time you went to a restaurant and didn’t see people sitting at the same table but paying attention to their phones instead of their friends or family? You almost never see that here—we live in the present. We don’t spend our money on gadgets, but on experiences. Maybe that’s why life is so affordable—we don’t waste money on things. Rather, we enjoy the experiences of lounging at a seaside bar to watch the sunset and perhaps spend $2 on a local beer to cool us down from the day’s sunshine.
We don’t spend tons on rent either. Even living right on the beach won’t cost you an arm and a leg here. My two-bedroom, beachfront apartment runs me about $750 per month with all utilities included (including HBO, Showtime, and STARZ in my cable/Wi-Fi package that runs me $75 per month). I even pay for a maid service—something I never could have afforded back home.
Because of the low cost of living in Roatán, I have been able to purchase a scooter for transportation, as well as a small boat just for fun.
I also go out to eat several nights per week, share drinks with friends, and I regularly host barbecues at my house—all without flinching at the cost. And, no, neither I nor most of the expats living here are independently wealthy… Yet because of the low cost of living here, we not only get by—we enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle.
As I said, it certainly isn’t hard to understand the love affair expats have with this little island…