The Ups and Downs of Planning a Retirement in Belize
Sep 23, 2013 5:00 AM PT
A couple of years ago, I wrote on the beginning of my long-term plan to eventually retire in Belize. My wife and I just came back from our latest update trip. Our house plans are nearly finished, and we should start building within 12 months if everything goes as expected.
There have been a lot of impressive improvements since we started on this journey but some disappointments as well. One thing is clear: The sales activity has more than doubled at Sanctuary Belize, where we are building, likely showcasing how many U.S. citizens are looking to escape the country, which increasingly is looking out of control.
I'll share some thoughts on retiring in Belize this week and close with my product of the week: the amazing new tablet from Nvidia.
Progress to Date
Three of the big concerns I had when I first started this project was the lack of high-speed Internet, the nonexistence of smartphone support, and the fact that Belize was blocking Skype, which I use heavily for TV and radio. Well, the good news is that Belize now has point-to-point wireless high-speed Internet (it requires a line of sight connection which my primary lot has) delivering up to 6 megabits of bandwidth.
The best you could get a year and a half ago was ADSL -- which was expensive and sucked. Belize has stopped blocking Skype and has begun to deploy 4G towers that support current-generation smartphones. If you travel there, I'd still suggest using an unlocked or local phone and a local SIM as roaming charges aren't cheap.
Sanctuary Belize has completed a large chunk of the power and water distribution for the development. The marina slips are mostly in, and it is about a year away from finishing most of the initial canals. It has also completed most of the swimming club and has begun to build the Marina Village.
People are reporting that once they build, the number of mosquitos drops significantly and you get used to them in about a month. This is good because pretty much every time I go I feel like I've hung out a sign saying "free food" and leave with substantially less blood than I had when I arrived. However, that does give me room for more rum punches.
The properties have been appreciating nicely and on paper, I've made a substantial gain. That supports the idea that buying early has paid off nicely. Many of the initial problems with regard to getting materials to the site have now been sorted out, and on premises capabilities to build homes and furniture have increased dramatically over the period.
The expertise needed to build green (read solar-powered) homes has increased significantly. Given that electrical power is very expensive and relatively unreliable there, that is a huge improvement.
There are now a number of people living in the Sanctuary and reporting that they are more relaxed, eating much healthier, exercising more and generally far happier than they were in the states -- largely because they don't have to worry about what crazy thing the administration is going to do next.
They also report that with the exception of power, living costs, as anticipated, are a fraction of what they are in the U.S. For instance, having a gardener come and work every day for five days a week costs about $50 a week.
A Few Disappointments
The International Airport, which is 15 minutes away from the complex, ran into some funding problems that stalled the development of this critical resource. This has a double impact, because the airport was going to come with a modern hospital. Right now, the closest modern facility is in Belize City -- about 20 minutes away by puddle jumper plane. I understand the funding is again being sorted out, but it may take another five years or more to complete it.
Sanctuary Belize is still largely sales focused and hasn't begun to switch to a more sustaining model. It is still self-financing, which will slow the development significantly. This will likely create a cart-and-horse issue with most lot owners. They won't want to build until there are stores, and store owners won't want to invest until there are more homes. The villa buildout (think condos) will also lag, because buyers generally won't invest until they have something to buy. The longer a development takes to get to critical mass, the more likely it will fail.
Getting stuff out of the states is still impressively difficult -- you really can't just order from Amazon and have stuff show up. For those of us used to living on an Amazon diet, there will be a pretty big initial disconnect. It isn't just the tariffs, which are significant -- it is just getting the stuff to you. I'm expecting this to get sorted out once there are a few hundred homeowners in the development. With most apparently buying to invest and not build, however, this may take longer than initially anticipated.
Finally there appear to be an unusual number of conflicts both within the firm marketing the property and with the initial set of homeowners and builders. There is a substantial amount of drama and litigation that is ongoing, and if this gets out of hand it could hobble the effort -- particularly if the partners who own the company driving the development become litigious.
Wrapping Up: Still Moving Ahead
Like a lot of folks, based on the massive increase in sales activity at the Sanctuary, we are still thinking that having a retirement plan outside of the U.S. where the living expenses are lower and it doesn't feel like the government is at war with you is a good plan.
The area is truly beautiful and amazing, and the folks are generally helpful and friendly. In Belize, the national language is English, and the legal system is similar to the U.S. Most South and Central American countries use a legal system similar to France, and trust me when I say that really isn't a good thing.
Our Belize adventure continues. I will provide another update when the house is close to being finished. Fingers crossed -- this'll be an adventure!
Product of the week: The 2014 Nvidia Tegra Note Tablet
This is an interesting product in a number of ways. First, the Nvidia Tegra Note is designed by Nvidia, and that allowed it to get the product to market in 2013 rather than missing Christmas.
This is a well-priced -- US$200 -- high-performance tablet designed for artistic creation (it comes with a stylus that can emulate a paint brush); music (full-range front facing speakers, including a low-range speaker); and processing power in line with its Shield handheld gaming product.
Nvidia is going to sell this product through a variety of OEMs, but each offering should be generally identical. The OEMs are basically supplying distribution for the product. If you are in the market for a small, attractive, Android 2014 tablet in 2013 -- so it won't become obsolete in February -- check out the Nvidia Tegra Note tablet, my product of the week.