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The region’s hottest retirement destinations

 While others debate the merits of which destination is the hottest retirement locale in the region, Caribbean Business Report takes the pointers from Chris Williams of Orchid Bay, Belize as we share his top five choices.

Orchid Bay in Belize (Photo:orchidbaybelize.com)

Two things to note about this list; Williams focuses on the Central American and Spanish-speaking side of the region, and secondly, you would need about US$24,000.00 annually in retirement income to live comfortably in any of these destinations.

Belize

Naturally, because Williams works for property developer, Orchid Bay in Belize, this country would make his number one spot.  Williams writes, “Belize is at the top of many lists as the best place to retire in the Caribbean, and for good reason. Not only is Belize utterly stunning and only a 2-hour flight from the southern US, but it’s also the only Latin American country with English as its official language. Real estate is affordable, US dollars are accepted, its economy is stable, and its legal system is based on British law. The locals, which make up a diverse mix of cultures, are friendly and welcoming to expats, and there is a strong sense of community in Belize.”

Ambergris Caye, Belize (Photo: osmais.com)

Williams points out to the financial incentive offered by the Belize government to draw the expat market. “Retiring in Belize comes with the perk of its Qualified Retirement Program (QRP). This program offers retirees who are 45 and older, valuable tax benefits. This includes not having to pay taxes on foreign earned income, and you can import personal goods, including cars, boats, and more – tax and duty-free. Besides the minimum age requirement, qualified retirees must prove they have retirement plan income or another form of regular income that’s at least US$2,000 a month or US$24,000 a year. You must also take up residence in Belize for at least 30 consecutive days per year.”

Panama

From Belize, Williams points to Panama, a country that has strong historical ties to Jamaica from the 1950s when the Panama Canal was being built and many migrated there to do work and settled into the community.  However, Williams takes a broader approach to determining why Panama is a good space for retirement.  Williams calls Panama, “luxurious, yet low-cost.”  He then continues and states, “Housing and healthcare are much less expensive than one would expect, and a retirement visa can offer discounts on transportation, entertainment, food, and utilities. A retired couple can live comfortably in Panama on about US$2,000 a month. Panama also uses the US dollar, which makes budgeting easy to calculate.” 

Bocas Town, Panama. (Photo: thebusinessyear.com)

That said, Williams cautions that Panama may not be the location for the still busy retiree.  He explains, “It’s worth noting that Panama’s laid-back culture can be a double-edged sword. Panamanians are known to be cheerful and sociable, which certainly puts expats at ease. But the nation’s lifestyle is often slow-paced and heavily centred on a partying culture. If you are looking for somewhere quiet to live and prefer that your personal and business needs are taken care of as quickly and efficiently as they are in the US, Panama may not be the right fit for you.”

Honduras

Now this country is in the heart of Central America and not what one would readily think of as the Caribbean.  Nonetheless, Williams includes this in the list and explains why. “Honduras is appealing to North American retirees thanks to its reasonable cost of living, the predominance of the English language, and friendly citizens. It’s only a 2-hour flight to the U.S., and its developing infrastructure is leading to an increase of expats taking residence here.” 

Roatan, Honduras (Photo: travelmavenmama.com)

Again, there is a draw back.  Williams writes, “Even with its improving infrastructure, Honduras is not as developed yet to the level of comfort many American retirees would expect. Therefore, the quality of life may not be quite what you’re accustomed to in the U.S. There is also a fair amount of crime and poverty in many areas. A happy and safe retirement in Honduras is certainly achievable, but it’s mostly a matter of where in the country you choose to reside.”

Mexico

Another Central American country that Williams is Mexico.  He writes, “There are a plethora of reasons to retire in Mexico. Its proximity to the US makes it easily accessible for back and forth travel, and it has a wide variety of climates to meet your personal preferences. Many real estate developments cater to American retirees, which cost less than they would in the US, and Mexico offers high-quality healthcare at a low cost. It’s no wonder why so many Americans are flocking here for their retirement.” 

Isla Mujeres, Mexico (Photo: isla-mujeres.net)

Williams also notes that, “As Mexico’s is already a popular destination for retirees, this means you won’t be moving to an undiscovered, up-and-coming destination. Furthermore, certain areas may not provide reliable access to amenities like electricity and the internet. Like Honduras, Mexico is a country that has its safe and not-so-safe regions, so a lot of research is needed in deciding where in the country to live.”

Dominican Republic

Williams writes, “The Dominican Republic is desirable to Americans who are retiring on a budget. The country offers white sand beaches, a warm climate, stable infrastructure, and good healthcare. It’s also one of the least expensive Latin American countries to live in, and most retirees can get by comfortably on about US$1,200 a month. There’s a growing expat community as it’s a short flight to the US, and its upgraded airport and new roads and highways make travel within and out of the country easily accessible.”  However, there is a caveat.  Williams writes, “Tread carefully before letting the Dominican Republic’s breathtaking beaches lure you in, as numerous safety risks are currently being reported, and the country’s economic, political, and financial systems can be unstable. Also, if you don’t speak Spanish, you may have difficulty navigating daily life.”