Northern Belize is a remote region of tropical rivers, hardwood forests, traditional farms, sleepy rural villages, and breezy Caribbean seashores. This is a refreshingly off-the-radar place where residents embrace a simple, friendly, by-the-sea lifestyle. It is also the best value destination in Belize and one of the best options for an affordable retirement in the Caribbean.
Northern Belize is an area of about 2,500 square miles and the point where the Caribbean and Central America meet. As that geographic juxtaposition suggests, the population is diverse, and it is becoming more so as North American retirees are beginning to recognize what this overlooked part of Belize has to offer and settling here in growing numbers.
Northern Belize’s remoteness is part of its appeal, but remote living has its disadvantages, especially in retirement. This is why the proximity of this part of Belize to Chetumal, Mexico, just across the border, is so important. The town of Corozal in Northern Belize is a gateway town to Chetumal and from there to Merida and Cancun beyond. In Northern Belize, you could enjoy a bargain Caribbean lifestyle with easy access to shopping, city distractions, and medical care in Chetumal.
Belizeans are known for their hospitality. Plus, they all speak English, so new friendships are quickly and easily made. Corozal is home to an established and growing expat community, but this group is well integrated with the local Belizean community. Living here, you could fill your days sailing around Sarteneja, horseback riding at Chan Chich, kayaking at Orchid Bay, fishing at Bacalar Chico, or bird watching at Crooked Tree Lodge. And you wouldn’t ever lack for company, Belizean or expat, if you wanted it.
While some expat retirees are prepared to be pioneers and carve a homestead out of the jungle or maybe plant a farm, most prefer to settle in a town. The three most appealing places for expat retirees are Sarteneja, Corozal, and Orange Walk. There are also expat pockets developing in places like Four Mile Lagoon and Gringo Lane. In recent years, planned communities have developed specifically with foreign retirees in mind.
Property taxes are minuscule in Belize. This is a plus for those looking to save money on taxes, but it also means that municipal services are thin on the ground because there aren’t funds to support them. So, organized and private communities typically appeal to foreigners. These are places where you can enjoy a laid-back, bargain Caribbean lifestyle in Northern Belize while maintaining a North American standard of living.
Retirees settling in this part of Belize are launching businesses ranging from restaurants, bars, and bed and breakfasts to construction services and farming. Others expats are truly retired, choosing to spend their days deciding which book to read next or which restaurant to boat over to for lunch.
Corozal, which is both a town and a district, maintains a friendship list so expats can stay in touch and know what’s going on. Every Wednesday, foreign retirees and residents meet at Jam Rock Restaurant for darts. One Thursday per month is the Corozal Women’s Forum. Fridays are for happy hour and potluck dinners in expats’ homes. The third Saturday of each month is Art in the Park, when local artists set up tables to display and sell their work. There’s a local chapter of the Rotary Club, a sailing club, and full moon concerts in front of the Corozal House of Culture.
Despite the growing expat influence and excluding most waterfront property, real estate in this part of the country is still priced for the Belizean market. This is unusual and likely won’t continue much longer. The presence of foreign buyers eventually translates to pricing for foreign buyers. This hasn’t happened yet, which means there’s a window of opportunity.
As anywhere in the world, waterfront land is the highest priced and much more expensive than inland property. Inland you can find larger properties suitable for farming. If this idea interests you and you’re willing to dig deep and talk to the locals, you can find land for as little as US$1,000 per acre.
Still, the cost of waterfront property in Northern Belize is a bargain compared with prices out on Ambergris and Belize’s other cayes, and an even greater bargain compared with values elsewhere in the Caribbean. It’s possible to buy a sea-view lot for as little as US$30,000 or a small but turn-key casita in some of the development communities in the region for less than US$200,000. And a seafront house in Sarteneja built to U.S. standards on 1 acre of land was recently on the market and listed for just US$299,000.
Kathleen Peddicord is the publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, offering retirement and overseas living advice in her free daily Overseas Opportunity Letter and the monthly Overseas Retirement Letter. Her preceding essay was originally published by U.S. News & World Report.