Each year millions of people from across North America and Europe visit the Caribbean and Central America. In search of a laid back lifestyle in the sun and higher quality of life, thousands choose to stay for good by participating in programs which incentivise retirees to relocate. Here, the Tourism Ministers of Panama and Belize outline the benefits of their countries’ respective programs

Retire in Belize, retirement in Panama

Belize by Hon. José Manuel Heredia Jr., Minister of Tourism & Culture

Home to vast forests, endless Caribbean beaches and the world’s second longest barrier reef, Belize is a land of intoxicating natural beauty. It also offers one of the region’s most attractive retirement programs. Here, the Central American country’s Tourism Minister explains how it works

Hon. José Manuel Heredia Jr., Minister of Tourism & Culture, Belize

Hon. José Manuel Heredia Jr., Minister of Tourism & Culture, Belize

Located on the eastern coast of Central America bordering Mexico to the North, Guatemala to the West and the crystal clear Caribbean Sea to the East, Belize is a strikingly beautiful country with a vibrant culture and unique appeal for visitors, investors and retirees.

The only English speaking country in Central America, located just hours from all major U.S. hubs, Belize boasts a growing economy, booming tourism sector, captivating Mayan ruins, long white sand beaches fringed by gently swaying palms and a coral reef-filled underwater world that has to be seen to be believed. With all this, it’s no wonder that we attracted over a million visitors in 2014. It’s also little wonder that many choose to stay. We are considered one of the best places in the world to retire. Belize was, for example, ranked among the top 20 countries in the world for Quality of Life in Natixis Global Asset Management’s 2014 Global Retirement Index – ahead of Australia and the USA. Thousands of retirees (primarily from the USA and Canada) have chosen to retire here, including 700 participants of our Qualified Retired Persons (QRP) program.

The QRP program, which was introduced by the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) in 2000, allows expats from any country to relocate to Belize as a ‘Retired Resident.’ The program also offers a wide range of incentives, including exemption from tax on all income from sources outside Belize, as well as duty and tax free importation of a vehicle, a boat and a light aircraft. Retirees under the QRP program can also import their personal effects and household items duty and tax free during the first year of moving to Belize.

To qualify for the QRP Program applicants must be over 45 years old and have a minimum monthly income of US $2,000, generated from investments, pensions or annuities. The spouse of the applicant, as well as any children under the age of 18 or children enrolled in college, can be included in the application. Once a complete application is received by the BTB, the entire process takes about 4 to 6 weeks for approval. To keep QRP status, retirees are required to spend at least one month in Belize. Important to note, QRPs are considered non-residents for purposes of banking, which means they can open a U.S. dollar bank account with a local or offshore bank in Belize. QRPs are also allowed to engage in gainful employment as long as most of their business activity takes place outside of Belize and is conducted exclusively with non-residents of Belize.

So, with a stable, growing economy, stunning natural beauty and highly attractive retirement program, Belize is one of the best places in the world to retire.

Panama by H.E. Ambassador Daniel Fábrega, Ambassador of Panama to the UK

With a rapidly expanding economy that has consistently outpaced most of Europe and the Americas, the Central American powerhouse of Panama is pivotal to world trade. Each year thousands of vessels pass through the world-famous canal. However, it’s not only cargo ships that are making a beeline for Panama. Well over three quarters of a million tourists visit each year and thousands of foreign retirees have made Panama their home. Here the Ambassador explains how any why so many people make the move

Panama by H.E. Ambassador Daniel Fábrega, Ambassador of Panama to the UK

Panama by H.E. Ambassador Daniel Fábrega, Ambassador of Panama to the UK

Located at the southern tip of Central America, the Republic of Panama lies at the intersection of the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, as well as at the crossroads of North and South America. Thanks to its geographic location, we have inherited one of the most ecologically diverse environments in Central America and have developed one of the world’s most vibrant economies. Panama has been recognized as one of the world’s top overseas retirement destinations.

Why Panama? Well, besides benefiting from an economy that is expected to grow at a faster rate than anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere in 2015 and a colourful landscape varying from rainforests to reefs, Panama offers the opportunity to live well for less, whether you choose the fast pace of Panama City or the laid back lifestyle of our beachfront communities. Hospitals and schools are international standard, and modern amenities from shopping centers and restaurants to banks and high speed internet are easily accessible. Not only does Panama offer a high quality, but affordable lifestyle, but living here is uncomplicated too. People are friendly and welcoming and the country has a low crime rate. We’re easily accessible too. Tocumen International Airport outside Panama City is only a 2.5 hour flight from Miami.

A thriving economy and beautiful landscape have produced happy people. According to a poll of 133,000 people in 135 countries conducted by Gallup-Healthways Global in September 2014, Panamanians were ranked first for wellbeing. Panama was also ranked 7th out of 151 countries in the most recent Happy Planet Index which ranks countries according to the extent to which they produce long, happy and sustainable lives for people.

It’s therefore little wonder that we are so often included in lists of the world’s top retirement destinations. So, how would you go about relocating to Panama? We offer foreign nationals a number of different residency options. One option that offers a wide range of benefits is the “Pensionado” Program, which is considered by many to be one of the most attractive programs of its kind in the world.

Foreign nationals who obtain residency in Panama through the Pensionado Program are eligible to apply for a host of deep discounts, including 50% off selected entertainment activities, 30% off the cost of bus and train travel, 25% off air fares, 25% off water and energy bills and 15% off hospital bills. There are a range of additional benefits too, including discounts of hotels and restaurant bills. Resident pensionados (retirees) are also entitled to a one-time exemption from duties on the importation of household goods worth up to US $10,000, as well as duty-free car imports or car purchases (every 2 years). Another bonus, pensionado status is guaranteed for life, so long as recipients continue to meet the requirements.

To be eligible for the Pensionado Program, applicants must be over the age of 18 and be able to demonstrate an income of at least US $1,000 per month from a pension (plus $250 per month for each dependent). Spouses, parents or dependent children can also be included in the applications. The application process is fairly straightforward. All required paperwork should be submitted to a Panamanian attorney who will handle your application. Within a few months, you could be approved and be well on your way to a new life in Panama.


This article was originally published in Issue 5 of The Caribbean Property Investor magazine. To read the full issue, click here.