In practice, only about 4% of the population speaks English as a first language. Spanish is the most common language, spoken by 46% of the population, followed by the Belizean Creole dialect at 33%. Creole is “Caribbean English” and sounds a little like Jamaican English to the uninitiated. It’s also going to be unintelligible to most Americans or Canadians, at least without a little study.
So, while you will have no problems at all communicating at local banks and government buildings, coordinating the construction of your home or even getting a broken pipe fixed can be a frustrating experience for those who don’t have an ear for languages.
A lot of the “scams” reported are less outright frauds in which a swindler absconds with a briefcase full of your money and more cases of wildly unrealistic expectations mixed with inexperienced and unprofessional developers. Of course, that distinction doesn’t make them any less damaging to the would-be gringo retiree.
So, how can you make your retirement dreams come true without risking getting sucked into a scam or, equally badly, a project that is doomed to fail?
Here are a few basic guidelines if you do plan to invest in Belize, be it real estate or otherwise:
- Do not approach a Belize retirement property as if it were an investment. If your goal is to live in the house, you should view it as an expense, the same way you would consider apartment rent or a mortgage payment at home. Tricking yourself into viewing it as an investment can cause you to overlook obvious deal breakers, such as those Enderle mentioned above.
- Buy an existing property in a finished or near-finished community. Yes, you will pay more than you would in building on a new lot. But you also know exactly what you are buying, you can inspect the property yourself, and you can be certain that basic utilities and roads are in place and that the properties are owned by fellow expatriate retirees and not property speculators. This also makes budget-busting cost overruns an impossibility.
- Don’t be in a hurry. If you are thinking of retiring in Belize, plan on renting for six months or more and doing some real “boots on the ground” research before actually buying. Talk to multiple real estate agents and, more importantly, to multiple residents in multiple communities.
- Plan to learn basic Spanish and basic Creole. Yes, you can get by without knowing either. But if you really want to take advantage of the lower cost of living, you need to know how to haggle with the locals without going through a middle man. Don’t be one of those ugly Americans that believes speaking louder will make the locals understand you better. It will just make you an easy target for every two-bit con artist.
- Hire a reputable lawyer to do a little title research before buying. You can never completely eliminate the risk that a title dispute will crop up at some point in the future, but you can at least massively reduce that possibility by doing the proper research beforehand.
- Finally, use common sense and your instincts. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. And if you feel you’re getting hustled, walk away.
Charles Lewis Sizemore, CFA, is the editor of Macro Trend Investor and chief investment officer of the investment firm Sizemore Capital Management. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. Click here to receive his FREE weekly e-letter covering top market insights, trends, and the best stocks and ETFs to profit from today’s best global value plays.