By Mike Cobb
When most people think of paradise it’s usually sunny and warm year-round, crystal blue waters, pristine beaches, stress-free tranquility. Often there’s an icy margarita in there somewhere too. And while different people imagine different versions of nirvana, there’s usually one common thread in trying to take those dreams from fantasy to reality.
Can I find a higher quality of life for a lower price?
If you can achieve that, consider it paradise found. And thankfully you can…you don’t have to suffer Milton’s dilemma. That’s because there is just such a place and it’s only a few hours from your nearest airport.
It’s no secret that for many years the best bang for your North American dollar was Central and South America. But with the overexposure of many traditional expat hotspots like Costa Rica, prices for foreigners looking to relocate abroad have inflated beyond ideal. Consider then, the newest Caribbean darling for in-the-know expats…Belize!
While some savvy international minds have figured out the wonders that Belize has to offer, the country is still in its infancy of growing popularity. With world-class diving, fly fishing, beautiful Caribbean climate and beaches, Mayan ruins in the jungle, colorful culture, and a host of top financial and investment opportunities, Belize is the expat secret that’s about to be let out of the bag.
Real Estate Affordability
For those interested in investing and owning foreign real estate, Belize is a buyer’s market. Whether for commercial property, rental property or even personal property to use for yourself and your family, the economic landscape of Belize is the perfect place for foreign capital injection.
The reason is two-fold – one, while other countries in the region with a developmental head start were receiving press, Belize was waiting just out of sight, working on its infrastructure. When neighboring countries became too pricey, insightful investors turned their attention toward Belize, particularly the island of Ambergris Caye, which is surrounded by the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean. The result is an island with the infrastructure and quality-of-life opportunities to attract tourists and expats in waves. And two, its cost of living hasn’t yet caught up. Real estate prices are increasing as people catch on, but where we stand here in early 2019, assertive investors are still well ahead of the curve.
The heartbeat of any good tourism sector is the ease of travel in and out of the country. With tourist demand and international flights increasing every year into Belize, the Belize City International Airport (BZE) is well underway on a projected 130,000-square-foot expansion and renovation. This includes expanded baggage claim, increased duty-free shopping, additional check-in counters and departure gates, as well as expanded aircraft parking.
In 2011, tourism in Belize accounted for 12 percent of the country’s GDP, bringing in $176M. By the end of 2018, that number had grown to over 38 percent generating over $244M in revenues for the country.
In 2015, 1.3 million tourists visited the small Caribbean nation and in 2016, tourism-related jobs made up nearly 13 percent of the country’s employment. 2017 saw an increase in arrivals in all 12 months of the year, accounting for 7.8 percent growth and monthly overnight arrivals reached highs of 49,000 visitors by December. There was a 14.6 percent increase in overnight arrivals in 2018, which equates to a boost of more than 62,000 visitors to the country.
For two consecutive years, Belize has been featured prominently by National Geographic for both its tourist-friendly offerings and its conservation efforts to protect the famed Belize Barrier Reef. Proudly, due to intensive training and education efforts, the reef in Belize was recently removed from the UNESCO Danger List. Last year, Belize was named in the publication’s “Best Winter Trips 2018,” and this year was the only Central American nation included in the list of “Best Trips 2019.”
Unlike many of the other tourist hotspots in the region, Belize has been able to preserve its unadulterated Caribbean charm. You won’t find any chain restaurants or large shopping complexes. With infrastructure developing to satisfy North American standards of living, Belize has been able to make necessary improvements without trading advancement for culture.
The local color is alive and well, evidenced by the fresh markets, locally-owned shops and restaurants, well-preserved archeological sites, and historical architecture. Those interested in diving, fishing, snorkeling, and incredible Mayan ruins will find unparalleled adventure in Belize. And U.S. expats and investors won’t have to overcome too many cultural boundaries in order to assimilate. English is the country’s official language and many of the local businesses accept U.S. currency.
Belize enjoys a Caribbean sub-tropical climate that many expats find to be a welcome change from their home country. Expect two seasons, rainy and dry, and average temperatures on the mainland falling between 73°F and 75°F, although in the lowland jungles, the daytime temperatures will be in the 90’s. The picturesque island of Ambergris Caye sees average temperatures hovering around 77°F and receives great sea breezes. Anyone looking to escape the weight of Seasonal Affective Disorder will welcome Belize with open arms.
Untapped Investment Opportunities
Belize is the perfect example of an untapped market. Idyllic natural landscape, countless leisure and adventure opportunities, very affordable real estate, a push towards first-world tourism infrastructure, and an undersaturated business market. This means huge potential for those willing to invest in the country.
Pair this with close proximity to North America – less than two hours from Miami and Houston – the ease of opening a business in the country, the English language, attractive banking, trust and corporate registry laws, and you have a formula for success. Residency is easy to obtain and maintain and the locals are very welcoming to outsiders. If you’re serious about dipping your toes into the crystal blue waters of international investing and real estate, Belize is a regional opportunity you should examine right now.
Mike Cobb is CEO of ECI Development, a company that creates value through socially responsible development within communities in Nicaragua, Belize, Costa Rica, Panama and Argentina. More info available at www.ecidevelopment.com.