Retiring to Belize

Retirement-age Americans have been migrating south for decades.  If you had limited funds  you moved to Florida, but if you had money and a sense of adventure you might opt for south of the border— Mexico, Costa Rico, Panama, the island of Roatán north of Honduras, and, increasingly, Belize.  Land and houses are relatively still relatively cheap in all five countries.  (Considerably cheaper than Sarasota, FL for instances, although Sarasota now has so many medical facilities it’s become a very desirable place to spend your declining years—in stark contrast to Belize.)  Many Central American countries have well-established expatriate communities, so you have the advantage of neighbors who speak the same language you do.  Because the countries I mentioned are all third-world countries, if you want a little luxury in your life, many retired people can easily afford to hire a cook and a housekeeper (usually the same person) and a gardener.  But Belize has one advantage all the other countries lack:  your neighbors aren’t the only ones who speak English.

A bachelor's house in Toledo District.  He did the plumbing and electricity himself, but the washer and dryer, far left, come from Guatemala.  (Photo by Joan Fry)

A bachelor’s house in Toledo District. He did the plumbing and electricity himself, but the washer and dryer, far left, come from Guatemala. (Photo by Joan Fry)

If you’re thinking about retirement in Belize, I would probably make a list of what’s important to you and then prioritize.  What is most important to you?  The ease of speaking English throughout the country, no matter whom you’re dealing with?  Is it medical care?  Is cost a factor, or the deciding factor?   I would then suggest you read my previous posts on the subject.  After that, visit www.belizeforum.com and see what people say about the subject, and the questions they ask.  And hunt around—there are several blogs by people who have moved to Belize.  Some of those people are still there.

If everything still sounds positive to you, it’s essential to visit.  And since so many people drive to Belize from the States (and sometimes from Canada), and because you will probably want to drive your own vehicle there—packed with a lifetime of stuff—I would advise you to drive when you visit.  You will have to drive through Mexico—and you will have to find out what that entails as far as passports, visas, car insurance, etc. are concerned.  Once you’re in Belize, visit several places.  If “living on the beach” is your number-one priority, the only way to know if you’ll like one particular beach town better than all the rest is to visit every beach town on your list.  (This list is different than your “priority” list.)  Stay in that town with the lovely white beaches a while.  Soak up the ambiance.  Talk to the locals.  Some people who move to Belize have visited it only once.  They stayed in one single town and decided that’s it—this is where they want to spend the rest of their lives.  Others have investigated several towns, in several different districts, before they decide.

Visiting first will also give you a more realistic view of what it costs to live in Belize.  Many people think the U.S. dollar will go further in Belize than in this country.  That may be true of some places—towns that depend heavily on tourism (San Pedro in Ambergris Caye, for example)—and those that are physically closest to the U.S. (again, San Pedro).   But in general, goods are expensive unless they’re local (true of lumber and food).  If you decide to retire to a beautiful but remote inland village, you’ll pay more for certain items because they’re imported, and the farther they have to travel, the higher their cost will be.  In certain areas of Toledo District, for example, only produce is sold at the market in Punta Gorda.  But sooner or later someone will drive up to your house and find out if you’re interested in buying other produce, dairy products, fresh meat, and specialty items such as a ham.

As for the move itself, some people drive down with all their belongings.  Once they reach their destination, they have, theoretically, everything they need, unless they plan to stay in a hotel or rent a house somewhere while waiting for their own house to be built.  Other people drive down and ship most of their belongings.  Others fly down and ship all their belongings, and don’t buy a car, truck, van, whatever, until they’re in Belize.  Certain car and truck models, for example, are available to buy in Belize—either new or used—that aren’t available in the States, and I’m not talking off-brands.  I’m talking about Ford and other major U.S. companies.

Retiring to another country is a bigger deal than living in Vermont and moving to Florida, so make sure you have enough money in the bank to get back to Vermont in case things don’t work out the way you expected.

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