“Initially, I was attracted to Belize by its natural beauty and environment, including the opportunity it offers for scuba diving and water sports,” writes Correspondent from that country Ann Kuffner.
“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
“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 in that country. 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. This is a small country, with a population of fewer than 350,000. It gained independence from Britain in 1981. The government is stable and democratic. Perhaps most interesting: 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 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…”
P.S. Belize’s QRP is perhaps the most user-friendly residency program in the world right now. You can qualify as young as 45 and with a monthly income of as little as US$2,000.
Furthermore, as a QRP, you could live in this beautiful sand-fringed country tax-free…even if you’re an American. We’ve been telling you for years about the many benefits of foreign residency in this country of reefs, ruins, and rain forest, referring you to friend and international attorney Joel Nagel for help establishing QRP residency in our favorite Caribbean haven. Joel is not only an experienced international tax authority, he’s also been involved in the development of Belize’s Qualified Retired Person (QRP) program since its inception. Joel understands, perhaps better than anyone, both the benefits and the requirements of this unique foreign residency option.
As a QRP, you enjoy an exemption from duty on any personal belongings and household goods you bring into the country with you, as well as your car, boat, even light aircraft (all of which can be replaced every three years, again duty-free).
In addition, as a QRP, you are exempt from tax in Belize on any income earned outside the country. If you’re an American, establishing yourself as a Belize QRP can also help mitigate and even eliminate your tax burden back home, depending on your circumstances.
The last time we wrote to you about the benefits of Belize’s QRP program, the response was overwhelming. So great, in fact, that Joel simply wasn’t able to respond in a complete or timely manner to everyone’s questions.
We need a more efficient and effective way to communicate the many benefits, as well as the practicalities and the particulars of this important program to Live and Invest Overseas readers, Joel and I agreed. Joel went away and then came back to me just this week with his solution:
“Let’s do a Webinar,” he said. “We’ll offer it free, just so we can be sure to respond in full to all your readers’ questions.”
So that’s what we’re planning. With the help of Internet technology, Joel will host an expert panel of folks who live and work in Belize and who can speak from firsthand experience about the benefits and advantages of being a QRP resident in this country.
“Kathleen, reading your recommendations to retirees, I’ve noticed that Uruguay keeps popping up, and I’ve wondered why.
“For years I have maintained that Uruguay has to be the most boring country in the world, in part because of its topography. Most travelers I know agree with me on this.
“Now, in one of your recent writings, I see you use the word ‘boring’ in connection with this country. Finally, you’ve made the pertinent point. I would advise anyone considering this little country for permanent living to visit for a week (more than plenty of time to realize just how dull the place can be) beforehand.
“Because it is situated in South America does not mean it has a South American flavor. Uruguay is nothing like Argentina or Brazil.”
— Irene P., Peru
“Kathleen I have a question about living in a foreign country that I have never seen you address.
“I was interested in going to your seminar in Panama in February. In fact, I found a fantastic house in that country and even negotiated a good price with the seller. I was making arrangements to buy the house and then to make my move.
“Then a friend told me that Panama does not like or welcome gay people and that there are no laws to protect gays in this country. He explained that gay marriages are not recognized in Panama and that gays in this country are often assaulted. Maybe you should inform your readers that Panama is not gay-friendly.
“I guess I lose out on a nice US$300,000 house You lose out on a conference attendee. And Panama loses out on another US$300,000 or US$400,000 that I was going to invest in a new business there. Everybody loses.”
— Ray F., United States
Panama Editor Rebecca Tyre replies:
“I must respectfully disagree with what your friend has told you. I don’t know if your friend is Panamanian or living in Panama, but I have been living here for nearly five years and have never experienced anything like what your friend describes.
“I have quite a few good friends who are openly gay. Some are Panamanian, some are expats. I spend a lot of time with these friends, going to bars, restaurants, shopping malls, etc. Sometimes I’m alone with my friends, and sometimes they bring along their same-sex partners. I have repeatedly asked them if they feel accepted in Panama, and they all have assured me they have had absolutely no problems living in this country and being openly gay.
“You find homophobes all over the world, but, in my experience, there is less homophobia here in Panama than in North America (I’m Canadian). Violence against homosexuals is rare in this country. The few cases that I’ve heard about have all involved transsexual prostitutes.
“There are gay bars, clubs, social networks, and events throughout Panama, but the gay community is not isolated. You’ll meet gays in ‘straight’ bars, too.
“I encourage you to come visit Panama to see for yourself before you shut the door on your plan to move here. Don’t take my word for it, but don’t take your friend’s either. Make your own decision after you’re spent time here. If you do come visit, let me know. I’d be happy to introduce you to some of my friends.