By International Living
Mention the word “ Caribbean ” and most people think of places like Aruba, the Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas , and other tourist-rich dollops of sand. The region conjures well-deserved images of crystal-clear waters and white-sand beaches.
And there’s no question: If you like sun and sand, these islands are great for a vacation. But move there? Most folks assume it’s just too expensive and don’t give it another thought.
But that’s too bad. Because the Caribbean is bigger than many people realize. And when you look beyond the mass-market shores the tourist brochures describe, you’ll find a variety of sun-splashed islands well worth your attention. They’re not only beautiful… but a lot more affordable than most people realize.
Belize, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Mexico all offer islands off their Caribbean coasts—islands that share the same turquoise-blue waters and powder-white beaches you expect when you hear “Caribbean”—only you won’t pay a fortune to live on any of them.
Read on to find out more about five Caribbean islands that won’t break the bank…and two that just might…
1. Ambergris Caye, Belize
English-speaking Ambergris Caye is the largest island in Belize at 25 miles long and a little over a mile wide, and San Pedro is its only town. About 30 years ago, Ambergris became a hot spot for divers and fishermen thanks to the Belize Barrier Reef, just a half-mile offshore. This natural wonderland of living coral supports a dizzying array of marine life, and it’s the main reason Ambergris has seen its recent (and significant) growth.
Until just a few years ago, San Pedro was a little fishing village that catered to adventure tourists coming for the scuba-diving and deep-sea fishing. The main motorized transportation on Ambergris Caye at that time was golf carts (which remain popular, though there are many more cars on the island today). San Pedro is now the second-largest town in Belize District with more than 15,000 people, surpassed in size only by the former capital, Belize City.
Expats give up little living on Ambergris Caye. Power, water, cellphone coverage, and internet are reliable…and you can buy most necessities for daily living on the island. Regular water taxis and flights make it easy to take a quick shopping trip in Belize City, or Chetumal, Mexico . The selection of quality restaurants and bars is constantly expanding.
For between $2,950 to $3,150 a month, a couple can enjoy a comfortable retirement in Ambergris Caye—a budget that includes the cost of a house or apartment rental. If you own your own home on the island outright, then expats report it’s possible for a couple to live quite comfortably on less than $2,000 a month.
“Belize has taught me to relax, go with the flow, enjoy the small moments,” says Donna Ehart at her Caribbean home. “Before moving here, I was a workaholic and constantly stressed.”
Donna and her husband, Timm, run Coconut Café Restaurant in San Pedro, on Ambergris Caye. They welcome visitors with fresh squeezed orange juice and food made from scratch. Think tropical french toast, freshly-made tortillas, and burritos that make your mouth water.
It wasn’t always like this. Back in the U.S., Donna and Timm’s busy careers in the software industry involved three-hour commutes and 16-hour days. “We’d say, ‘This can’t be what life is all about. We should move to the tropics and have a little place on the beach,’” says Donna. “That was our guiding light.”
Down time in Belize offers several activities that create a sense of community for expats. Donna says, “I was part of Rotary for a while and assisted with several community service projects. They included helping the police department implement a 911 program, bringing the circus to San Pedro, and implementing a summer sports program.”
A lot of people say Donna and Timm were brave to move to another country. Donna disagrees. “No, it’s not hard. The people of Belize are amazing and welcomed us with open arms. It’s a major change in lifestyle but a good major change.”
Ambergris Caye is no longer a sleepy little Caribbean island hide away. But for expats who prefer to live in an active community that offers both convenience and the natural beauty of the surrounding Caribbean Sea, it has much to offer.
2. Roatán, Honduras
An emerald escape in the western Caribbean, Roatán has quietly graduated from secret divers’ getaway to livable island haven. Just 50 square miles, this green, hilly island off Honduras ’ northern coast is long and skinny, fringed by a reef rich with sea life and garnished by white-sand beaches.
The beaches here are quiet and pristine. Life is laid back, lived in rhythm with the sun and the surf. No big-name resorts. No “spring break” strips. No high-rise developments. This is old-school Caribbean…though fitted out with modern conveniences…
For less than $175,000, you could have a two-bedroom Caribbean home right on the water in a quiet neighborhood with no tourists—your own private getaway. If you stayed just part of the year, you could rent your place out to help cover your holding costs.
This is an island where “normal” people can buy a vacation home or permanent digs to live out their sunny, low-cost, and comfortable retirement. The infrastructure is good and getting better all the time, with a new power plant online and the recent opening of a hospital with specialist care and a 24-hour emergency room.
Life on an island is often more expensive than mainland living—almost everything has to be imported, after all. But relative to the rest of the Caribbean, Roatán offers excellent value. aily life, lived well, is affordable on Roatán—a budget of $2,000 to $2,500 a month, all in, for an average retired couple. Cost of living always depends on lifestyle, and products imported from the U.S. are comparable to U.S. prices. But with pineapples for $2, good wine from Chile for $6 to $8 a bottle, grass-fed ground beef for $4 a pound, and $5 for a plate of grilled chicken, salad, plantains, rice, and beans at a local seaside restaurant, you can’t help but save money.
“Living on Roatán, I love outdoor activity…swimming, diving, boating—it’s great that way,” says expat Martina Leitch, who runs a B&B with panoramic sea views. “And out here, it’s blissfully quiet.”
“The cost of living is amazing,” says Martina, a Canadian who has called this island home for 12 years. The first six years, she spent her winters in the busy West End. The last six she’s lived full-time off the grid far on the east side, near Port Royal, in a hilltop home—her B&B/restaurant—with panoramic ocean views.
The vibrant expat community on Roatán means you’ll never be short of friends or things to do. Boating trips to nearby cays…parties, cookouts, potlucks, and other celebrations…beach barbecues (celebrating nothing other than living in paradise)…dinners out… The social life is great. And there are plenty of beach bars and restaurants.
Bottom line: Roatán is great for good-value, laid back living in the sun. Culture vultures will get bored, but if you like to dive, snorkel, swing in a hammock or sit with your feet in the sand, you’ll want to linger.Get Your Free Caribbean Report Here:
3. Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Isla Mujeres is about 8 miles from Cancún in Mexico , but this laid back island is a world away from the hustle and bustle of its more tourist-developed older sister. Before Cancún existed, Mexicans and a few adventurous foreigners went to Isla Mujeres for some of the best beaches and water sports in the world—diving for coral, swimming with dolphins, and sailing on a crystal blue sea.
Clear, azure waters and white-sand beaches are never far away, and the cost of living is far lower than a similar lifestyle would cost back in the States. You can own a one-bedroom, two-bathroom penthouse condo with a view from $230,000 or rent a one-bedroom place for $700 to $1000 a month, according to local expats.
At the age of 55, Rob and Julie Goff had had enough of the cold, the snow, and their ongoing business pressures. When they realized they could have a full-time life on a Caribbean island, they quickly took action.
They packed up, sold out, and traded the cold weather and stressful lives for an island life of warm, turquoise water, tropical weather, zero stress, and the freshest seafood imaginable. “We took advantage of the opportunity. It wasn’t a tough decision,” Rob says.
The Goffs used the funds from the sale of their home and business to build their new island home. It covers about 2,000 square feet, and they spent about $700,000, all total.