It’s been widely acknowledged that Americans work too much and for too long. While retirement is seen by many as the perfect opportunity to travel, explore new passions, and enjoy the fruits of many years of labor, for many people retirement seems too expensive. With the high cost of medical care, lightening fast pace of life, and often extreme weather in the United States, it’s no wonder that many look to other countries to spend part or all of their retirement years.
There are many exciting and affordable countries in which to explore during your retirement, but people looking to maximize their money can find some of the best deals for retirees just south of the border in Central America and the Caribbean. This region is known for its impressive history, warm people, beautiful weather, ease of travel to the U.S., and relatively inexpensive cost of living, but the charms don’t end there. Here are some of the incredible programs offered to retirees in these countries.
Belize offers what they call the Qualified Retirement Program, or QRP. This program allows eligible applicants to permanently live, retire, and relax in beautiful Belize.
- Residence Card – You and your qualified dependents (spouse and children under age 18) will receive a residence card which allows you to come and go from Belize without a visa
- During the first year you are enrolled in this program, you receive duty-free tax exemptions on your personal belongings as you bring them into the country. Qualifying items include personal boats, vehicles, and light aircraft.
- Additional tax exemptions – QRP enrollees are exempt from paying Belizean tax on all income received from outside the country, any capital gains tax and any inheritance tax on received funds.
- Must be 45 years old or older
- Must have a pension, annuity, or similar funds of at least $2,000/month or $24,000/year from a source outside of Belize
- You must deposit the funds from above in a Belizean financial institution
- Must pass a security clearance by the Ministry of National Security of Belize
- Remain in Belize for at least 30 consecutive days each year
Application Information: Application can by found on the Belize Tourism Board’s website
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Panama raises the bar on best places to retire with its world-renowned “pensionado” program. This program doesn’t just allow foreign citizens to live in Panama, but also includes incredible benefits for those that do.
- Discounts of up to 50% on entertainment (movie and theater tickets, concerts, sporting events) and hotels; 30% off bus, boat, and train fares; 25% off airline tickets and monthly energy bills and 15% off hospital bills (unless insurance applies)
- One-time exemption of duties on the import of household goods (up to $10,000) and tax exemptions every two years on the import or purchase of a car
- Grandfathered pensionado status. If the laws for acceptance into this program change, your status will remain unchanged
- Must have a pension (or similar) of at least $1,000/month
- Applications for the program as reviewed on a case-by-case basis and do not have a minimum age to qualify
Application Information: You’ll need an immigration lawyer in Panama to complete many of the steps. Learn more about the details of this process by visiting the Embassy of Panama website
While many people don’t immediately think of this South American nation as a prime retirement destination, Ecuador has grown in popularity in recent years. As one of the world’s most biodiverse places, this country is perfect for adventurous retirees looking for excellent value for their money. This program is a little less straightforward than others requiring a temporary visa for the first two years of residency and then a permanent residency visa can be applied for.
- 50% off public transportation, airfare, cultural/sports/artistic/recreational events, and electricity/water/telephone services
- Discounts on property, income, and vehicle taxes as well as a refund of sales tax
- Pay no taxes on foreign income
- Import household goods duty free within 6 months after obtaining residency
- Must show guaranteed income of at least $800/month, plus an extra $100/month for each dependent joining you.
- Note: If the income comes from a source other than pension or Social Security income (like investment dividends or income from a trust), the amount of $800 per month for 5 years ($48,000) must be deposited in an Ecuadorian bank in advance
- Cannot leave Ecuador for more than 90 days in calendar year during first or second year of holding the visa
- Must have proof of private health insurance or must be affiliated with Ecuador’s social security system
Application Information: Ministry of International Relations and Immigration (Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Movilidad Humana) https://www.cancilleria.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/formulario_de_solicitud_de_visa.pdf
From the 1970s to the mid-2000s, the news out of Colombia was not great for anyone looking for a peaceful retirement destination. Between guerilla factions, political unrest, and a deadly drug war, Colombia was seen as a dangerous place for tourists and citizens alike. These days, Colombia is a relatively safe country where you can enjoy incredible natural wonders and lively cultural. While Colombia’s benefits for retirees aren’t quite as robust or codified into law like in other countries, the low financial requirements and low cost of living make this a great choice for retirement.
- Can be converted to a Resident visa after 5 years
- Must be at least 18 years old to apply
- Must have a pension of at least 3 times the Colombian monthly minimum wage (approximately $766 per month as of June 2049)
- A second, almost identical program allows for qualification with non-pension income such as interest or dividends. This program requires at least 10 times the monthly minimum wage or just over $2550 per month
Application Information: Application can be found by visiting the Minister of International Relations website
Author’s Note: This article contains research done in June 2019 and should be considered a starting point of research only. Tax, benefit, real estate, and other laws are constantly changing and you need to consult relevant licensed professionals when making big, important decisions.