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Permanent Vacations in Belize
That well-tanned lady relaxing under a palm tree on the beach may not be a tourist after all. She could be an expatriate who decided to chuck it all and move to Belize. Thousands of Americans, Canadians, Europeans, and Asians have already done so or have bought property and plan to move later, perhaps after retirement.
Attracted by low real estate prices, a frost-free climate, and an awesome spectrum of activities, many expats are drawn to Belize, especially to Ambergris Caye, Corozal, Placencia, and the Cayo. Ambergris Caye has an idyllic Caribbean island atmosphere. Corozal Town and its environs have Belize's lowest living costs, and Mexico is right next door. The Cayo appeals to those who want land for growing fruit trees or keeping a few horses. Placencia has some of the best beaches in Belize.
With houses renting for as little as BZ$400 a month (though some in San Pedro go for 10 times that amount), and land selling at prices last seen in the United States in the 1970s, retirement dollars can stretch far here. Beachfront building lots go for as little as BZ$100,000-BZ$150,000—still pricey, but cheap in comparison to oceanfront lots in Florida or California. There are no major restrictions against foreigners owning land in Belize. Moreover, with English as an official language and English Common Law forming the basis of Belize's legal system, Belize is very accommodating to expats.
In late 2001 the government unveiled a program called the Qualified Retired Persons Incentive Program to attract retirees to Belize. In exchange for depositing BZ$4,000 a month in a Belize bank for living expenses, and proving that you have the resources to do so, anyone aged 45 and older can get official residency, along with the right to import household goods, a car, boat, and even an airplane tax-free. The application costs about BZ$2,900 and is relatively painless. After getting Qualified Retired Persons status, you have many of the rights of a Belize citizen except you can't vote or work for pay. The Belize Tourist Board (BTB) administers the program, and details are available on its Web site, www.travelbelize.org.
Several hundred QRP applications have been approved to date. It's a wonder that more people haven't applied: 70 million baby boomers in the United States alone are expected to retire over the next 5 to 20 years. Many of them will be looking for alternatives to cold winters and high prices up north.
For those not quite ready to retire, it's still possible to move to Belize, although work permits are difficult to obtain, and salaries are a fraction of those in the United States, Canada, or Western Europe. The best option may be to invest in or start a business in Belize that employs Belizean workers, thus paving the way for a self-employment work permit and fast-track residency.
Of course, Belize isn't for everyone. And Belize, as seen from the perspective of a full-time resident, isn't the same as the Belize that's experienced by vacationers. Expats anywhere face culture shock, and Belize presents some special situations, including lack of high-tech medical care and a higher risk of theft and burglary than back home.
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