It was a scene worthy of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Two members of the WesMoss.com content-creation team recently traveled deep into the Central American jungles of Belize. After a journey that required a small prop plane, a long drive down a two-lane “highway” and a 90-minute boat ride up a monkey-lined river, my colleagues stumbled upon an awesome discovery amid some stunning Mayan ruins.
No, it wasn’t an ancient gold skull. It was an American woman happily living out a carefully planned overseas retirement. She is one of about 400,000 US citizens who are retired in foreign lands. While Belize Betty’s ideal retirement destination may or may not appeal to you, she and her husband are part of a growing trend – foreign retirement rose 17% from 2000 to 2015 and is expected to continue to grow over the next decade as more Baby Boomers turn in their office keys.
Betty’s story, which my team heard as they walked through the remains of a once-thriving 3,000-year-old Mayan city, offers insights that might be useful as you consider making Belize, or some other country, your retirement home.
The journey that brought Betty and her husband to Belize began years ago at their kitchen table where the couple began discussing, then plotting their post-career escape. They did tons of research and singled out International Living magazine as a great source of insight and information. Once they had narrowed their list of possible retirement locations, they used vacations to check-out the candidate spots.
Perhaps the most important lesson her experience offers is: know what you want (and can live without) before you start mapping possible new hometowns. Betty and her husband are from Chicago. So, no surprise, warm weather was near the top of their retirement must-haves.
Belize certainly checks that box. Betty lives in Corozal, a northern seaside town near the Mexican border where the high temperature is in the 80’s year-round and lows are in the 70s. And, yes, it’s humid. This is a tropical locale, after all.
Cost of living was, of course, another factor for Mr. and Mrs. Betty. They wanted to live as comfortably as possible on their savings, Social Security and modest pensions. Again, Corozal met the mark. While the cost of living in Belize is significantly lower than here in the US, many of Belize’s beautiful coastal areas are growing in popularity with tourist and retirees. This development has sent housing prices and other costs on a steady upward arc.
Because Corozal isn’t a tourist destination (yet) the cost of living is below the national level. A couple who owns their home in Corozal can live nicely on about $1300 a month. Those who rent will need more like $1700 a month. You can lease a good-sized modern house for $750-$1000 a month.
Groceries costs are reasonable, especially if you shop smart by purchasing in-season produce and locally-produced packaged goods that are not subject to Belize’s high import taxes. Betty noted that electricity is somewhat expensive, so they are mindful about their usage. Gasoline runs about $6 a gallon.
As to knowing what you can live without, well, Belize does have some potential deal breakers.
Medical services are limited, which could be problematic if you have an ongoing health issue.
Similarly, infrastructure and public services that we take for granted in the US are often lacking in Belize.
You might also be in for some culture shock. There is little opportunity for recreational shopping in most of the country. No malls, Macy’s or even Target. Hamilton won’t be coming to Belize anytime soon either.
And if regular jaunts home are important to you, budget accordingly. Roundtrip airfares from Belize City to the US average about $1000.
Retiring overseas isn’t for everyone. But with lots of honest thinking and careful planning moving somewhere like Belize could be the adventure of a lifetime; one that offers the twin treasures of personal fulfillment and the peace of mind that comes from knowing your nest egg can support you and your dreams for as long as necessary.
Those gems are worth more than anything buried in those Mayan temples.
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