The Best Tropical Destination to Start Your Dream Business
“A lot of people come to Belize for retirement, even if just for the winter, but I’ve been coming here all my life,” says Dan Bingham originally from Ontario, Canada but now a full-time resident of Spanish Lookout in Belize’s Cayo District.
Dan is descended from Mennonites on his father’s side, some of whom relocated to Belize in the late 1940s as a way to avoid military service, in keeping with their pacifist philosophy.
“We would come here during summer breaks,” he says. “My father had stepped away from the religion early in life, and I, being an old hippie, stepped a little further away, but I have always respected the morals and work ethic of our devout family members. It was one of the main reasons I became a teacher.”
Dan spent his professional career as a shop teacher in suburban Toronto. However, woodworking was more to him than simply a way to earn a living; it was a lifelong passion. So when it came time to retire, he decided to move full-time to Belize and launch a boatbuilding business. Today, he and his wife, Liza, also a retired teacher, live in a modest house in a small compound dominated by two larger workshops where Dan, a handful of employees, and a few devoted apprentices build canoes and kayaks by hand.
“I learned about working with wood here from my uncle and built my first boat here when I was a teenager,” he says. “It was a one-man canoe that I took out on the river and fished in, just like the ones we’re still making today.”
As Dan discovered, retiring and starting a business in Belize are fairly straightforward. Under the government’s qualified retirement program (QRP), you can retire there from as young as 45 once you have a proven income of $2,000 a month and meet a few other relatively minor conditions. Once approved for the QRP, expats can buy land, build homes, and own businesses just as Belize citizens can.
Dan Bingham started his dream retirement business—a boatbuilding operation—in Belize’s unspoiled Cayo District.
Another major advantage of retiring to Belize is the cost of living. “An expat should be able to live here in comfort for about $1,200 a month,” says Dan.
Rentals, depending on the area, can be as low as $350 a month. Routine healthcare is readily available and highly affordable. On top of that, fresh produce and other foodstuffs are cheap, meaning a good lunch for two can be $5, while a nice meal in a high-end restaurant might cost just $40.
While most day-to-day necessities are easily available, expats and locals alike often go to Mexico for major purchases, where prices can be even cheaper, though Dan bristles at the idea of the monthly Walmart runs some of his neighbors make. “I keep my money in the local economy as much as possible, even if that means I pay a little extra,” he says.
The affordability of life in Belize and the ease of doing business make it an excellent place to pursue a passion project. The Binghams estimate the average monthly cost of running their profitable boatbuilding business to be $3,500, including their combined salary of $1,000. Boats are made to order except for their smallest beachcomber canoes, which they keep in stock as a sample of their work and sell for $500 apiece.
“When we calculated costs for putting together our little enterprise, I knew from the start I would be selling my boats for about half what they would fetch in Canada. However, I’m still able to pay my people here enough to take care of their families and turn a profit,” says Dan.
“We could have easily moved down here on our pension to spend our days sitting on the beach, maybe drop a line in the water, which we do occasionally, but what a waste,” he says. “What we get out of running the business, aside from the occasional headache, is much more fulfilling. We are part of the greater community here, not just whiling away our golden years.”
Written by John McMahon