I turn you over today to new Correspondent Ann Kuffner, who shares the story of how she and her husband have launched new and wondrous lives in retirement in the tiny Caribbean “Safe Haven” of Belize:
“Initially, I was attracted to Belize by its natural beauty and environment, including the opportunity it offers for scuba diving and water sports.
“Thinking back to when this country first got my attention, I realize that, then, I wasn’t in a hurry. I had a lucrative career. I wasn’t thinking of making an international move. Instead, my husband and I invested in a vacation home on the island of Ambergris Caye. For eight years, we traveled to Belize yearly, to relax and to scuba dive.
“I wanted to be sure before committing to something as dramatic as a move to another country. When I did think about the idea, I mainly considered living in Belize part-time.
“But then came 2008, and everything changed. My best friend and co-worker, a 50-year-old senior VP, lost her ‘secure’ management job. Would I be next? I knew the time had come for me to get serious about making a move, even a full-time one. As more financial and political landmines exploded around me every day, I began to plan my escape.
“In the end, I chose Belize because it provided me with a safe haven in this difficult time. And moving here allowed me to retire eight years earlier than if I had remained in the States.
“Through Belize’s QRP program, I obtained my residency in less than four months. That part was easy. The difficult part was making the decision to make the move in the first place.
“Now I live on ‘Temptation Island.’ Remember the 2001 Fox reality show? The Hollywood producers left Belize long ago, but the beauty and charm of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, remain. This short-lived TV show provided great exposure for this little country!
“I moved to Belize as a QRP retiree, but I wasn’t seeking ‘retirement’ in any conventional sense. My goal was and is to remain active and to participate fully in life.
“Now I’m involved in an athletic club on Ambergris. It’s easy to stay healthy here, especially as I can work out at the club most days.
“Perhaps the most important point to be made is that you don’t need a big retirement account or income to live the good life here. My husband and I are living a great life, and we get by on much, much less than we were spending to live back in the States.
“As I packed my bags for Belize, I knew that the U.S. economy was in serious trouble. But it wasn’t clear how bad it would get. I’m relieved to have escaped in June of 2008.
“Like everyone else, our investments and 401Ks have taken major hits. But my husband and I will be OK. The cost of living here is very affordable. And the banks are secure.
“If all you know about this country is what you saw on ‘Temptation Island,’ you’re not alone. Belize remains seriously under-appreciated.
“It gained independence from Britain in 1981. The government is stable and democratic.
“This is a small country, with a population of fewer than 350,000. You never have the feeling of being lost in a crowd.
“Did I mention that English is the official language? That sure does make life easier.
“And, again, Belize’s international banks are rock solid. This was a key requirement for my husband and me as we shopped for a ‘Safe Haven’ for ourselves and our money. Belize banks are required to keep 24% of their assets on deposit liquid at all times.
“Banking is the second-most-important industry in Belize. The first is tourism. This is a peaceful, eco-tourist retreat. There are more than 540 species of birds here…4,000 species of flowering plants…and 700 species of trees. Nearly 40% of Belize is protected as parkland and nature preserves.
“Belize boasts the second-largest barrier reef in the world. This incredible underwater resource teems with colorful fish, coral, and unusual marine life. And, of course, the reef makes the waters off this country’s coast a fisherman’s and diver’s paradise. Maybe you saw Matt Lauer’s NBC Today Show special last November that highlighted the beauty and significance of Belize’s reef system.
“The country also boasts the modern conveniences you need to live comfortably. Easy Internet access allows you to continue working, if you want, and it makes it easy to stay in touch with friends and family back home.
“Over the last 30 years, the number of Americans moving overseas has quadrupled. At least 3 million U.S. citizens a year are venturing abroad. Another 7.7 million are considering it.
“Taking sanctuary from the U.S. economic meltdown in a foreign country may seem like a huge step. After all, you have family, friends, and roots in your hometown. But you can take this in stages…you can make the move as you’re comfortable.
“And you don’t have to become a full-time expatriate if you don’t want to. That’s one of the best parts of Belize’s QRP program. You can take advantage of the benefits it offers even if you spend only a few weeks a year in the country.
“Most North Americans realize that their quality of life is declining. At the same time, countries that once seemed remote are now within easy reach. And they have much to offer.
“We pay a high price to reside in North America. For many, the price has become too high. I’m one of those people.
“But I understand how intimidating the idea of relocating abroad can be at first. Again, that’s a big part of the reason Belize makes so much sense. It offers one of the most user-friendly and most affordable foreign residency programs in the world.
“It also allows for a quality of life that, for my husband and me, is the biggest benefit of having made this move. I love the small-town environment here. We don’t have movie theaters, galleries, and the sophisticated things you get in a big city. But the island is truly beautiful. We spend a lot of time outdoors.
“And we enjoy a rich social life. It is easy to get to know people, and there are many volunteer activities to get involved with. Music is big, as are festivals and special events. Most music is free, and everyone, it seems, is a musician…”