Let’s fast-forward to Belize’s unique appeal to U.S. retirees: It’s the only south-of-the-border country whose official language is English. Until 1973 it was called British Honduras, and was a crown colony of the U.K.; it was granted full independence in 1981 (although Queen Elizabeth II is still head of state). Another goodie: It’s catching up to Panama and Costa Rica’s retiree perks. Its Qualified Retired Persons program, known as the QRP, offers benefits and a fast track to residency status.
Squeezed between Mexico’s Yucatan coast and Guatemala to the south, sparsely populated Belize is a Central American paradise, with tropical jungle flora, endless white beaches, an aquamarine Caribbean sea, some of the world’s best reefs for snorkelers, fishing to die for, Mayan ruins, and even casinos. Most expats settle either on the largest island, Ambergris Caye, or in Corazol Town on the mainland’s northern tip. Ambergris Caye has the fancy restaurants and condos, including million-dollar properties. It can be as expensive as South Florida (Leonardo Di?Caprio bought an island west of Ambergris Caye). The Corozal district, a few miles’ drive from the Mexican border, is far more affordable. Corozal expats live a laid-back life, with year-round outdoor play (boating, hiking, swimming, diving), but are still only 20 minutes from the malls and cineplexes of Chetumal, the capital of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo.
After many visits to Belize, Atlantans Walter and Terri Fisher, 55 and 49, built a “concrete ranch house” with a water view for $125,000, including the lot. “The house was finished in 2007,” Walter reports. “Last year we sold our house in the States, got off the corporate treadmill, and moved here. I drove down in my truck on my own, and Terri—and five cats—flew down. We’re completely happy, though it’s tough being this far from family.”
A former educator, Audrey Shabbas, 68, moved to Corozal from Berkeley, California, with two of her four children three years ago. “We looked at Nicaragua, but Belize had what we wanted—water all around,” she says. “We bought a home with one-third of what we got for our Berkeley house—and it’s three times as wonderful. I’m very blessed to be here.”