The world’s best buys on beachfront property in 2021 are to be found in Northern Cyprus, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, and Belize.
These are the findings of our 2021 Global Property Survey, the index we produce each year detailing what it costs to own property in the world’s top locations for living or retiring overseas.
The survey considers the cost of buying two-bedroom, two-bath apartments, of between 70 and 100 square meters (about 800 to 1,100 square feet), in neighborhoods where an expat retiree would be comfortable and likely to buy.
If you dream of retiring to the beach, here are your five most affordable options in 2021.
As well, each of the markets presents good rental investment opportunity, making them top choices for places to buy for part-time personal use and generating cash flow in the local currency when you’re elsewhere.
#1: Iskele, Northern Cyprus
Northern Cyprus, located in the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Turkey, is not at the top of most Americans’ list, but this former British colony has a lot to offer. This is the best of the Mediterranean at a fraction the cost of living the Med life elsewhere. Northern Cyprus is also a safe, welcoming country with developed tourism infrastructure, including clubs, casinos, and luxury hotels, all more affordable than their counterparts in France or Italy.
In addition to the low cost of everything, the main attractions are the sand and the sea. It’s possible to own an ocean-view condo with direct beach access for as little as US$75,000 at current exchange rates (real estate in Northern Cyprus trades in British pounds). It’s also possible to buy with developer financing, meaning low capital requirements up-front.
Look specifically along Iskele (pronounced ee-skeh-leh), on the eastern coast. This region is known for the nicest and longest stretch of beach in the country, as well as its seafood specialties.
Retirement in Northern Cyprus would mean a life outside the more familiar comfort zones of Europe and the Americas. If you’re up for an adventure at this stage of your life while stretching your retirement budget to buy you a bona-fide luxury standard of life on one of the world’s most beautiful stretches of coastline, Northern Cyprus should be at the top of your list.
#2: Santa Marta, Colombia
Fifteen years ago, Santa Marta was a work in progress, rough around the edges in some areas and downright seedy in others.
Today’s Santa Marta is a different story. Its downtown has undergone a restoration effort that has revived its Spanish-colonial parks, churches, and homes to their former glory. New elements have been introduced, as well, and the city now boasts an attractive seafront park, excellent seafood restaurants, cafés, boutique hotels, and even a cruise-ship port. These upgrades have attracted interest from around the world, and tasteful condo projects have sprouted up all along this coast, offering an impressive diversity of beach living options.
Festive and friendly El Rodadero, with its longer, wider, better-kept beaches and small-town feel, is the most popular location among expats. Along El Rodadero’s beachfront is a boardwalk lined with palm trees where people come to walk, exercise, and take in the views. The energy picks up after sundown, and central Rodadero takes on a party feel, with live music and people of all ages out to socialize.
In 2020, property prices increased by 23% in dollar terms. Continued appreciation is expected. Meantime, you can buy a two-bedroom seafront condo in a new building for about US$175,000 at the current rate of exchange between the dollar and the Colombian peso.
#3: Fortaleza, Brazil
Brazil is a beach-loving nation, and Fortaleza, capital of the state of Ceará in northeastern Brazil, famous for its long stretches of glorious white-sand shores, resorts, restaurants, and vibrant nightlife, is one of the country’s top beach destinations. Thanks to recent increases in the numbers of international destinations serviced by the airport here, it’s easier than ever for North Americans and Europeans to discover the merits of Fortaleza, too.
Fortaleza is a quintessential Brazilian beach town. Fishermen offer their daily catches from wooden tables set up along the boardwalk. Men shimmy up trees on the city beaches to bring down fresh coconuts to sell for their water. All over the beaches, you see ever-active Brazilians playing volleyball and soccer, kitesurfing and practicing yoga.
Fortaleza is also one of the most populated cities in Brazil, meaning big-city amenities to support your life at the beach. Beira Mar Avenue is the city’s beating heart, with wide, leafy avenues that extend until they narrow out into small streets.
Brazil’s middle class has been growing at a rate of 1% a year, fueling development along its sandy coasts. Ceará in particular is benefitting and a good choice for a rental investment. Fortaleza’s market appreciated in Brazilian real terms in 2020 but dropped in value almost 16% in dollar terms, creating a buy-on-the-currency-dip opportunity. Good beachfront options begin at US$100,000.
#4: Mazatlán, Mexico
While Americans spending time in Mexico and investing in its property market is nothing new, most focus their attention on brand-name destinations in the country like Puerto Vallarta and Playa del Carmen, resorts that represent the gold standard of opportunity for a Mexican property investment. However, another city is emerging as a compelling alternative.
Mazatlán lies 9 miles south of the Tropic of Cancer on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. Like Fortaleza, it’s a big domestic tourism destination, offering the unique chance to enjoy the conveniences of city living with sandy beaches on your doorstop. Mazatlán is flanked by almost 11 miles of mostly contiguous beaches and warm, swimmable waters. Its coast is lined by a long boardwalk where, on any given night, the majority of people you encounter are Mexican. Unlike most Mexican resort towns, this is a real city of about half-a-million people.
However, Mazatlán is attracting a small but growing number of expats attracted by the pleasant year-round weather, the authentically Mexican lifestyle, and the opportunity to own a piece of beach property at a bargain price. You can buy on the sand or front line to the beach for half the cost of owning much farther back from the beach in Puerto Vallarta or Playa del Carmen.
Another feather in Mazatlán’s cap is its historic center, which stands out among Latin American colonial zones because it extends for more than just a few blocks. Founded in 1531, the historic center features colorful Spanish-colonial architecture and cobblestone streets lined with fine-dining restaurants, cafés, and galleries and competing with the beaches for the attention of expats finding their way here.
Despite the pandemic and global recession, sales remain steady and inventory is dwindling.
#5: Ambergris Caye, Belize
English-speaking and less than a three-hour flight from the southern United States, Belize is well-loved retirement haven and second-home destination. Lapped by Caribbean waters, its long coastline is punctuated by bays and inlets and dotted with hundreds of cayes—sandy, low-elevation islands that sit atop the coral reefs.
Ambergris, the biggest and, thanks to Madonna’s “Isla Bonita,” best-known caye in Belize, is 26 miles long and 1 mile wide, surrounded by turquoise waters, and skirted along its eastern side by the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. The diving and fishing in these warm, life-rich waters are world-class. Sunshine is abundant year-round, the locals are friendly and welcoming, and you can establish residency simply by showing up and entering the country as a tourist.
Prices on Ambergris dropped by 10% in 2020 as a result of travel restrictions, but this market should rebound quickly after the pandemic has passed. You can buy today on mainland Belize for less than US$100,000, but prices are higher on Ambergris. This isn’t the budget destination it was a few decades ago, but it is still a bargain compared with higher-profile Caribbean markets.
Pre-pandemic, Ambergris’ short-term rental market was active, with strong occupancy rates thanks to high levels of return visitors. Property taxes in Belize are absolutely low (tens of dollars a year), helping boost investment rental yields.
Founding Publisher, Overseas Opportunity Letter