My husband and I have talked about going to Belize for years, long before we even started putting our plan for early retirement into motion. My reason for wanting to go to Belize was simple. I wanted to swim in Shark Ray Alley, off of the country’s stunning Ambergris Caye (pronounced “key”) and give the Caye’s sharks a belly rub, much like those I give to Blondie, my lazy and lovable golden retriever.
Now that we are seriously plotting our retirement, Belize has become even more desirable, as not only a travel destination, but as a possible destination for retirement. Here’s why:
The official Language is English.
Easy Access By Plane
More and more airlines are starting service to Belize. Currently one of the main US hubs for reaching Belize by plane is Houston. American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Southwest, and United all offer service from Houston to Belize City. The flight from Houston to Belize City is less than 3 hours and the time change is within 1-2 hours of all time zones in the continental US. We are taking a Southwest flight from Denver to Houston to Belize when we take our trip.
American currency accepted and Prices are Negotiable
ATMs are scarce in some parts of Belize. The government ties the monetary exchange rate of 1 US dollar = 2 BZ dollars. This allows Americans to pay for most of their purchases in US dollars, without having to worry about finding a bank that will change money into BZ dollars or knowing the current exchange rate. The business may give change in Belize dollars or American dollars, but that is part of the fun…not quite knowing what type of money you will receive back. It’s like that game show where people choose doors, but instead of having a llama lurking behind one door, there’s mixed currency.
Prices on everything are negotiable too. Haggling is a skill in this part of the world and sticker prices mean nothing. I was able to get a discount on our scuba diving simply by asking over email. I gave no reason why I wanted to pay less, just simply asked. Their response was, “of course,” and with that I saved $50 on our scuba tour…I should have asked for more!
Retirement and Residency Visas are Easily Obtained
Belize is very welcoming to American retirees. In fact, Belize has a Qualified Retired Persons (QRP) program, aimed specifically at Americans, Canadians, and UK residents, which incentivized residents of foreign countries to retire in Belize. Belize benefits from the influx or foreign money and investments and QRPs benefit from the significant tax breaks and low-cost of living.
Plus, the process to become a QRP isn’t difficult. Since QRPs are not allowed to work for a Belize owned company, many start small businesses that employ local workers, further benefiting the Belize economy.
Applying for a Belize QRP status is straightforward. A simple application verifying the applicant’s health status, bank account balance, and proof that the retiree will have a minimum income of $2000 US Dollars per month is all that is needed. The total application fee is a one-time lump sum of $1150.
The only downfall is that to be a QRP, applicants must be 45 years of age or older at the time of retirement. We will be 41 when we retire, but luckily we can apply for residency. Residency requires we enter the country on a tourist visa, and extend that visa every 30-90 days until we have resided in Belize for one year. After we have lived there one year, we can apply for residency by submitting a $1000 one-time application. And then when we hit 45, we can switch to QRP status by following the steps previously discussed.
Belize is a tax haven for ex-pats. Residents and QRPs don’t pay taxes on any of their income so long as the income doesn’t originate from a business or person living within Belize. This means foreign income, such as that from the US, isn’t taxed. Hence, any and all money coming from a US retirement fund or rental property isn’t taxed. Also, capital gains from any non Belize investments are not taxed.
The one tax that can’t be avoided is property tax on any homes or land owned in Belize. However, property taxes are lower than in the US and are kept that way to drive development. Currently, Belize property taxes ranges from 1% and 1.5% of the assessed value of the property. For example, on a home with an assessed value of $450,000, property taxes would be between $450-600 US dollars for the entire year.
Cheap Real Estate
Belize has interesting real estate laws. In fact, anyone can become a realtor in Belize. No education or certification is required to be an agent. This has led to a lot of locals becoming real estate agents. And since there are no licensed real estate agents, there is no licensed MLS system to list properties. A lot of finding real estate is based on whom the realtor knows and what inventory they are aware of at the time.
Luckily, Belize also has favorable ownership laws for foreigners. Non-residents can own land and property with the same right as Belize residents. Our goal is to buy a piece of beachfront property and put up three tiny houses, about 500-800 square feet each. One house would be for us to live in and the other two would be rentals that we could rent out when we chose. The average wage for common labor (clearing land, hauling materials, masonry) in Belize is around $10/day, so building a house or three wouldn’t be near the cost of doing the same in America. For example, ocean-view lots in Placencia, on the Caribbean coast, sell for less than $30,000. In comparison to many other Central American cities, this is a steal.
Incredible Sea Life and Activities
I want a retirement filled with adventures and adventures that include interacting with animals always make it to the top of my list. Animals (specifically cute animals) make all activities better. And Belize has loads of sea life, including one of my favorite animals, the shark. Belize has loads of sharks and stingrays and other delightful sea life for scuba divers and snorkelers to explore. When I retire, I want to walk out my door and dive in a place that seems like an aquarium exploded.
Also, the sharks here aren’t the giant, man-eating ones featured on Shark Week. Instead, Belize, and particularly Shark Ray Alley are home to a large population of nurse sharks. Nurse sharks are the lazy sharks of the ocean and are known to hang out at the bottom of the ocean floor and move very slowly. They are not aggressive towards humans and the sharks are so used to interacting with humans, that many of the sharks will actually welcome the humans to touch them. Some will even lie in people’s arms and act like the want a hug.
Equally Incredible Jungle Life and Adventures
Adventure isn’t just for the ocean. If we need a break from the ocean, it’s nice to know there are a plethora of other activities waiting just inside mainland Belize. Some of the most popular activities are Cave Tubing, Ziplining, and interacting with wild animals like those at the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary & Jaguar Preserve. If these activities don’t make someone want to get out of bed and go play, I’m not sure what will. And remember, most prices associated with these activities can be haggled down with only a slight ask.
Belize isn’t just rich in adventure; it’s also rich in culture and history. The Mayans were active in Belize until the Europeans arrived and killed many of them off with disease. Although the Mayan civilization has long since vanished, their history and architecture remain. One of the most stunning archeological ruins in Belize is Altun Ha. The Mayans founded Altun Ha in 900 BC and the city was eventually abandoned around 1000 AD. Now, it’s a popular tourist attraction and a great day hike. For those looking to avoid tourist areas, there are smaller, lesser known ruins also dot the area and make for more adventurous hikes.
Ever since we visited Australia and got a taste of life without a cell phone or work email, we’ve craved more of it. Belize has internet service, but it’s not like the US where internet access in every small restaurant and store. People in Belize are still able to function without it and don’t need to be connected around the clock.
Even the popular tour companies in Belize generally take a few days to respond through the internet and when they do respond, it’s a quick response of “yeah, that’s fine” without a lot of fluff or excess explanation. I think they are having too much fun enjoying the outdoor life to spend much time on the internet.
Island life and Caribbean time is all about kicking back with nowhere to go and nowhere to be and just enjoying the here and now. And that is exactly what we are looking for when it comes to retirement.
This is the starting point for our retirement journey. We plan to learn a lot more while we are there and see if Belize stays as a contender. Right now, Belize has a reputation as a desirable place in Central America, but it hasn’t reached the climax point like Costa Rica and some Mexican tourist cities have. As more and more tourists arrive in Belize, there will be more businesses and more demand for properties. And where there is higher demand, as there will in the coming years, there will be higher prices. So if we love it, we hope to jump on a property as quickly as possible.