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Retire in This Welcoming Caribbean Community

Kathleen Peddicord

Residents refer to the little island of Ambergris Caye, Belize, as "La Isla Bonita." Beautiful it is, like the best of the Caribbean. Ambergris Caye is also one of the best places in the world to think about island retirement.

This English-speaking island has an interesting past including Mayan trade post, pirate hideout, Mestizo fishing village, and Fox television's Temptation Island. And it's now home to one of the biggest established communities of expat retirees anywhere.

Ann Kuffner and her husband are part of that community. "I feel very fortunate to be living on this quirky little island at this point in my life," says Kuffner. "For me, the ego-gratification of being a Fortune 500 vice president just doesn't compare with the satisfaction I experience day-to-day living now in this Caribbean paradise." Kuffner walked away from her life in San Francisco six years ago and hasn't looked back since. "Here on Ambergris, I have time to mingle with my neighbors. The weather is comfortable, the lifestyle relaxed and healthy, the environment is beautiful," she says. "And yet I have the critical infrastructure and conveniences that I took for granted while living in the States."

Ambergris Caye is a unique oasis off the coast of Belize. Its biggest appeal, beyond its quintessentially Caribbean assets of azure sea, white sand, and sunny skies, is its community. Belizeans, including those on Ambergris, are generally warm and friendly, and a welcoming community of foreign retirees continues to grow here.

An important underlying element of everything in Belize is a strong sense of independence. According to Belize historian Emory King, "This is a land where virtually every man came looking for freedom: Freedom to practice his religion, freedom to participate in the operation of a free government, freedom to own his land, and to make his own way." In Belize you will find folks in search of peace, freedom, independence, and a chance to start over, including many American baby boomer retirees.

Belize doesn't qualify as a super-cheap retirement destination, but it is an affordable option, especially compared with other Caribbean island choices where you could enjoy a comparable standard of living. Your cost of living in retirement on Ambergris, like anywhere, depends on how you choose to live. Remember, this is an island, meaning everything must be shipped in. If you buy a lot of imported items, rather than locally produced ones, your monthly budget will reflect this.

One of the many appealing things about life on Ambergris is that it is possible to live what could be described as a luxury-level retirement if your budget allows for it. There are nice restaurants, a fine wine shop, a shop where you can buy imported cheeses, spa options, and other niceties that you won't find in some developing-world retirement havens.

"My husband and I splurge on nice wines," says Kuffner. "We eat out several times a week and socialize regularly." However, the couple doesn't have a car, and instead owns one golf cart. Cars are rare on the island. "We own one golf cart, as opposed to two cars, as we did when we were living in the San Francisco Bay area," says Kuffner. "This really cuts our transportation and insurance costs."

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her book, How To Retire Overseas--Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.

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