Retiring in Belize
So you fell in love with the Belize experience, outdoors and indoors, met some expats who bought their beachfront lot for a song, and want to do the same for your retirement years? Here's the scoop on what you can really expect if you decide to follow suit.
Belize can be enchanting for potential retirees. The climate is frost-free. Land and housing costs are still moderate, especially compared with already popular areas of the Caribbean. The official language is English, and the historical and legal background of the country is more comparable to those in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain than most other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean. Belize has a stable and democratic, if sometimes colorful, tradition. Recreational activities, on land and in the Caribbean, are almost limitless.
But there are some drawbacks: high costs for food, gas, and household items; high import duties; crime and drug problems; culture shock for those unaccustomed to the ways of a semitropical, developing country with a true multicultural society; growing resentment of foreigners; plenty of red tape; increasing taxes; a 5% transfer tax on real estate purchases by foreigners, payable by the buyer (buyers of new condos or houses pay 5% transfer tax plus 10% sales tax); and, most importantly for many retirees, medical care that in many cases isn't up to first-world snuff.
If retirement or relocation in Belize still sounds like a good option for you, there are three options to look into:
The Qualified Retired Persons Incentive Program. It's run by the Belize Tourism Board, and anyone at least 45 years old is eligible to participate in the program. It requires a pension or other reliable income of at least US$2,000 a month. Contact the tourism board for more information (www.belizeretirement.org).
Official Permanent Residency. Requirements and benefits are similar to those of the Retired Persons Incentive Act. With official residency, you can work in Belize. Before you can apply, you need to live in Belize for a year first, leaving for no more than two weeks. Permanent Residency applications are handled by the Belize immigration department and often take a long time for approval.
Regular Tourist Card. Many expats simply stay in Belize on a regular tourist card. Upon entry, you receive a free visitor permit, good for up to 30 days. This permit can be renewed for up to six months at BZ$50 a month. After that, renewals cost BZ$100 a month. After 12 months, it's necessary to leave the country for 72 hours and start the process again. Renewals are never guaranteed, and the rules could change at any time.
The best advice for anyone contemplating retiring or relocating? Try before you buy. If possible, rent an apartment or house for a few months. Be cautious about buying property. Real estate agents generally aren't licensed or regulated, and because the pool of qualified buyers in Belize is small, it's a lot harder to sell than to buy.
Living Abroad in Belize, by Lan Sluder (author of Fodor's Belize), is a handbook for those considering retiring or relocation in Belize. The author interviewed scores of expats and retirees in Belize to help provide readers with a realistic view of the pros and cons of living here.
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