According to Liz Pulliam Weston, writing for MSN Money, some one million American retirees are living abroad. There are numerous countries where the cost of living is considerably lower and where retirement dollars can be stretched a good bit further. This can be a very important consideration for those facing the prospect of retiring on a modest fixed income.

Belize, a small country about the size of Massachusetts (8,867 square miles) and located on the east coast of Central America, is one country frequently considered by Americans contemplating expat retirement living. Formerly known as British Honduras, the country was renamed Belize in 1973, eight years before being granted independence in 1981. Due to its British colonial heritage, unique among its Central American neighbors, English is the official language of Belize.

Retirement living in Belize can be considerable less expensive than in the U.S. but that isn't all the country has going for it. In addition to lower costs of living and frost-free, subtropical climate, Belize boasts an impressive array of cultural and ecological treasures. Lush rain forests, beautiful beaches, the world's second longest barrier reef (longest in the Western Hemisphere), and an extensive collection of ancient Mayan ruins are a few other things that make Belize an attractive retirement living destination.

Belize Qualified Retired Persons Program

Belize actively encourages retiree immigration with its Qualified Retired Persons (QRP) program. The program, administered by the Belize Tourism Board, offers some compelling benefits to those who choose to retire there. The benefits, according to the tourism board include:

  • Importation of personal and household effects free of duties and taxes,
  • Importation of one motor vehicle (no more than 3 years old) free of duties and taxes,
  • Importation of a light plane or pleasure boat (subject to some restrictions) free of duties and taxes,
  • Exemption from all Belize taxation on income derived outside Belize whether active or passive.

Retirees can own property in Belize without the kind of restrictions found in other popular expat retiree countries like Mexico. The government is a stable democracy with a stable currency pegged to the U.S. dollar. As of July 2011, the exchange rate is $2 1 Belize dollar as has been the case for many years. It is not necessary to exchange U.S. currency for Belize currency as the American dollar unlike other currencies is readily accepted everywhere in Belize.

Those who relocate to Belize on the QRP are not considered permanent residents but retiree residents. They are not permitted to vote and are prohibited from working in-country for pay. As a minimum, continued status as a retiree resident under the program requires that the person live in Belize the equivalent of one month each year.

Fees for the Belize QRP Program

According to the Belize Tourism Board, as of July 2011, there is a non-refundable $150 U.S. application fee for the program. A program fee of $1,000 becomes due upon acceptance into the program and $200 must be paid for issuance of a Qualified Retired Person Residency Card. Each dependent of any applicant is also required to pay a fee of $750 to enter the program.

Retiree Program Qualifications

To be considered for the Qualified Retired Persons program applicants must be at least 45 years of age and must provide proof of a monthly income of not less than $2,000 U.S. per month.

According to Lan Sluder, author of Fodor's Belize and the book Living Abroad in Belize, the best advice for anyone considering retiring to Belize is to "try before you buy." Moving from the U.S. to Belize involves coping with the culture shock of living in a developing country with a true multicultural society along with acclimating to the semitropical climate. Sluder recommends visiting the country and renting a small house or apartment for about a month before making the decision about permanent relocation.

A little more than two hours away by air from Houston or Miami, Belize is readily accessible and lends itself to a pre-retirement relocation decision visit. Those considering retirement in a low-cost, sunny Caribbean locale may not need to look further than Belize.