Although Belize is not the cheapest country, the cost of living is much lower than in the United States. For example, a frugal couple living in modest housing can get along just fine on around $1,200 per month. Retirees who are willing to pay a bit more in return for greater comfort and convenience should expect regular costs above $1,700 for a couple, not including alcoholic beverages or substantial travel. The sections below break down some of the key costs for retirees in Belize to help you get a better idea of what it might cost you to achieve the level of comfort you desire.
Initial Immigration Costs
Belize maintains a special residency program for retirees known as the Qualified Retirement Program (QRP). To qualify for this program and gain official resident status in Belize, you must be at least 45 years old and have proven income of at least $2,000 per month or $24,000 per year, from a pension, annuity or another acceptable source. The qualifying sum must be regularly deposited into a bank in Belize to maintain your QRP status. However, once deposited in Belize, the funds remain under your full control and can be withdrawn or spent at will. Note that retirees with QRP status are exempt from Belize income tax. A person must also pass a security clearance and be able to remain in Belize for 30 consecutive days annually.
As of 2017, several fees are associated with the QRP. The nonrefundable QRP application fee is $150. Once accepted into the program, you must pay an applicant program fee of $1,000, in addition to $750 for each qualifying family member listed on the application (including spouses, children under 18 and in some specific cases, children up to the age of 23 if they can verify they are in school). An additional $200 fee is assessed upon delivery of your official QRP Residency Card. All told, the out-of-pocket cost for QRP status is $2,100 for a married couple. Once retired, there is an annual renewal fee of $50. (For more on the Belize's QRP, click here.)
Apart from QRP Program fees, you also need to consider airfare and other travel costs associated with immigration to Belize. Airfare can vary widely but is relatively inexpensive compared to more far-flung international destinations. The same is true for cargo shipping. In fact, shipping personal and household items to Belize is a great way to get set up in your new home quickly. New QRP retirees are entitled to one shipment of personal and household items into Belize on a duty-free and tax-free basis. You may also import one motor vehicle every five years on a duty-free and tax-free basis.
Cost of Living Comparisons
Belize is quite affordable for the typical retiree, especially compared to most U.S. cities. According to data collected by Numbeo, a crowdsourced database of consumer price information from countries around the world, Belize is substantially cheaper than most popular retirement destinations in the U.S. For example, Numbeo data shows the cost of living for a resident of Phoenix, Arizona, is nearly 40% higher than in Belize. The cost of living in Saint Petersburg, Florida, is more than 80% higher than in Belize. While actual costs can vary widely depending on what constitutes a comfortable standard of living for a given individual, many retirees can achieve an acceptable level of comfort for much less money in Belize than they can in the U.S.
Belize is also affordable compared to popular international retirement destinations. International Living Magazine's 2017 survey of the world's best retirement destinations puts Belize right in the middle of its cost of living index. While the cost of living may be lower in a couple countries and similar in many other countries, the prevalence of the English language in Belize should count as a real and valuable benefit for many retirees.
Typical Costs in Belize
While there is some variance in costs depending on where you choose to live in Belize, Numbeo provides general insight into average housing and living expenses for the country as a whole. Housing costs are generally more expensive in the city center where access to services, shopping and entertainment is more convenient. The average price for a one-bedroom apartment in a city center is about $315 per month, while a three-bedroom apartment goes for a little over $600. Prices for apartments outside the city center are about 25 to 35% lower. Utility costs including electricity, water and garbage run under $100 per month, while Internet access is somewhat expensive at nearly $130 per month.
Fruits and vegetables are cheap and plentiful at markets in Belize, as are consumer staples such as bread, rice, fish, chicken and eggs. International Living Magazine suggests a monthly grocery budget of $150 to $300 for two people, excluding alcoholic drinks. While home cooking is the cheapest way to eat in Belize, good meals in local restaurants and open-air markets are easy to find for $5 or less. A meal for two at a mid-range restaurant costs about $30. International Living Magazine estimates monthly costs of $200 to $400 for dining out and entertainment, but some may choose to spend much less and others much more.
Other incidental and variable expenses include transportation, alcoholic beverages, medical care, clothing, and personal and household items. You may also choose to hire a maid service or a gardener, which typically costs around $130 for 50 hours of service per month. On top of these regular costs, you might also earmark some funds for sightseeing trips to other areas in and around Belize.
If you are on a fixed retirement income, you will be pleased to note the Belize economy has shown price stability in recent years. According to the Statistical Institute of Belize, the country's official source of national statistics, inflation between 1991 and 2017 amounted to about 1.09% per year on average, although that fluctuated quite a bit year-to-year. However, in the last five years the rate has held fairly steady and currently stands at 2.2%.
The Bottom Line
As a retirement destination, Belize has a lot going for it. Retiree immigration procedures are relatively straightforward. The weather is warm and the beaches are pristine. World-class natural and cultural attractions of all kinds dot the landscape, including ancient Mayan ruins, dense jungle retreats and offshore barrier reefs. The official language in Belize is English, and the country is home to a large resident expatriate community, making for a nearly seamless transition to retired life in this otherwise exotic locale.
On top of all these great reasons to consider Belize for your retirement, the country also offers a good standard of living at relatively low cost. Just be sure you can meet the $2,000 per month income requirement for as long as you hope to reside in the country. Though you do not have to spend that much money each month, you do have to set up an automatic monthly transfer into the Belize financial system.