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Jan. 29, 2020, 2:10 p.m. EST

‘To hell with it’: She ditched Canada at 56 for Belize, where a couple can get ‘everything you could imagine’ for under $50,000 a year

She moved to a beautiful, laid-back island in 2013 — and now, for a surprising reason, she’s returning to North America

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By Catey Hill, MarketWatch

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Rents aren’t supercheap: For example, Mar rents out the two apartments on her property for about $750 and $1,100 per month each, and she says that you can rent a one-bedroom oceanfront condo unit for about $1,500 a month. She estimates expenses for groceries are about $350 or $400 a month, though she notes that you may spend more if you opt for imported foods. (She’s seen a bag of Lay’s potato chips, for example, sell for about $6.)


Marlene Houghton
Mar and Rob’s B&B

Mar’s electricity for the past month, with two air-conditioning units, was about $300, she says, while TV, cable and internet total about $100 a month. Gas is pricey, at about $6 a gallon, but many people get around town in golf carts (which you can buy, though it takes “a pile of paperwork” to do so, Mar reports).

International Living magazine estimates that, if you’re frugal, you can get by on $2,000 a month. Sample monthly expenses might include:
• Rent: $850
• Electricity: $250
• Water: $35
• Cellphone: $50
• Internet and land line: $35
• Cable TV: $24
• Transportation: $50
• Gym membership: $100
• Food: $600
• TOTAL: $1,994

It’s important to note that living on Ambergris Caye is often more expensive than in other parts of Belize, in part because many things have to be shipped to the island. For example, Houghton points out that brand-name items can be pricey, as can electricity. Real estate, too, depending on what you buy, can be expensive — with some properties going for upwards of $1 million.


iStock
The main street in San Pedro, in southern Ambergris Caye, where the main mode of powered transportation is a golf cart.

Health care: For small health issues, there’s a clinic on the island, and for more serious needs people tend to go to Belize City on the mainland or to Mérida, a larger city in the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula, Mar says. Health care is inexpensive in general; Houghton says she pays about $25 for a routine doctor’s visit on the mainland. But she says she’ll go back to Canada if she needs a major procedure.

Residency/visa: Belize’s Qualified Retired Person (QRP) visa is “one of the most accessible retirement programs available,” MarketWatch sister publication Barron’s wrote earlier this year — and is available to retired people over 45 who can prove income of at last $2,000 per month . Its perks include tax exemptions on income, but it does cost $1,000 to apply.

Cons: The fact that an Ambergris Caye resident may need to leave the island for quality, major medical care may be a big drawback for many retirees, and there are less expensive options if you want to retire by the beach. And Ambergris Caye does not have a large airport (you must go to the mainland for that). Plus, the U.S. government has put the country of Belize at a Level 2 on its travel advisory , asking travelers to “exercise increased caution” due to crime.


Marlene Houghton
The coffee shop is called MarBucks.

Bottom line: Though Houghton says she loves Belize, she’s put her home, coffee shop and B&B on the market and plans to set up a new home base in the United States. The reason? Her business has done so well she’s working more hours than she wants to at 63. “We’re reaping what we sowed,” she says. “But now we want to do more traveling.”

Still, she says, the couple plans to purchase an apartment in Belize to maintain the close friendships built there. “For me, it was an adventure — it is an adventure,” she says.

A previous version of this story incorrectly said that Ambergris Caye had a championship golf course and some waterfalls. It does not. The story has been corrected.

Catey Hill is MarketWatch's senior content strategist. She writes about how to upgrade your life, and helps readers find great deals on products and services. Follow her on Twitter @CateyHill.

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