Hi, I’m Bill, a 56-year-old Canadian enjoying life in Belize.
Many people refer to this type of move as a new chapter in their lives. For my wife (Lorilee) and me (and Phoebe), it was actually the beginning of a whole new book. To tell you who I was in the “Canada Book” would probably not be accurate anymore as my whole way of life and even many of my pre-programmed beliefs have changed as a result of my experiences and the writing of the “Belize Book” (figuratively speaking) over the past three years. Also in fairness to Lorilee, she is the co-author of our Belize Book. This story is told from my perspective, but it not just My Story or just About Me. This is Our Story and About Us.
The Canada Book (A Summary)
I was born in 1961 on Cape Breton Island on Canada’s East Coast. Throughout my 53 years in Canada, I lived all over Canada and enjoyed what most people would consider a good life. The last 25 years in Canada I worked in the construction industry where I started as an electrician and by the end of my last 20 years with the same company, I had become the senior project manager of their entire custom home building division.
We believed we were happily enjoying the abundance of a first world nation. In retrospect, we now realize that we were really just satisfied with the status quo and were maybe even confusing happiness with success.
Living Life On The Fast Track
Like most Canadians in my industry, I was up and on the road by 5:30 AM. Off to a site maybe two hours drive away, returning home after 7:00 PM. Usually six days a week for most of the year. We were brought up in the Western culture with the belief that if you worked hard you would be successful, and with success, happiness would automatically follow. We believed that happiness revolved around making money and that was dependant on our success in completing our daily “To Do” lists and projects on schedule. Getting things done was the key to having the ability to buy that next new “shiny object” on the market, that is what would make us happy.
“Living to work rather than working to live”
That had become the normal life that we were used to, had accepted, and surely made us happy.
The Train Goes Off The Rails
In 2014 everything changed. For those that may not remember, it was one of the coldest winters in recent history. 25 years in construction was taking a toll on my body. I was eating Advils (Ibuprofen) like candy just to get my aching neck, back, and knees to and from work. Again, something that I believed and had come to accept was that I would work until age 65 just like everyone else. That’s just the way it is. Right?
Then about 7:30 one evening everything changed. I came home from work to find Lorilee sitting on the couch in the dark. I turned on the lights and realized that she had been crying. It was a shock to me because we had a happy life. Right? I braced for the news of a death in the family or some other equally tragic announcement. Eventually, she told me that she hadn’t been feeling well for a while and decided to go to the Doctor to get checked out. That in itself was serious. We were both usually too busy working to make time for a Doctor. Checkups or minor ailments were a major inconvenience to our schedules and were usually left to take their course. Eventually, she pulled herself together long enough to tell me she was diagnosed as having a minor stroke and that her Doctor believed it might have been her second. Her stressful job as the general manager of six locations for a major food service company was taking its toll on her as well.
Time To Rethink What Makes Us Happy
The recent realization that I had to get 12 more years (at least) out of my aching body, along with Lorilee’s diagnosis and Doctors advice to either quit her job or soon die working, I realized that something had to give. We were looking forward to that day when we could retire and do some traveling or play a round or two of golf each week.
I was now wondering what quality of life we would have in 12 years. Would I be able to walk? Would Lorilee be in a wheelchair or maybe dead from the effects of a future stroke?
At this point, I began to Research our options. Still with no thoughts of early retirement or that we would leave Canada. I was hoping to find some kind of online job that would allow me to work another 12 years at something less demanding physically, and that would pay enough to hopefully allow Lorilee to stop working altogether.
I don’t know what made me think about online, I had never been a computer person.
At that time I didn’t know how to do anything other than sending an email, and even that was a process that usually led to a lot of cursing and swearing at the computer while pounding my fists on the desk. Then one day just as I was getting tired of all of the obvious internet scams that promised thousands of dollars a day and six figures in a month, it happened, just like it was meant to be.
One of those ads popped up on the right side of the screen, you know the ones that we all hate and usually just consider spam and hit delete without any consideration. The ad read:
“Retire To Costa Rica on 800.00/Mo.”
Now why I received this ad is still a mystery to me, I had never searched retirement, or Costa Rica, or anywhere else for that matter. Why I read the ad is an even a bigger mystery, as I just said I hate those ads and usually just ignore and delete them. But, I did read it, and as many things happen for reasons that are not immediately apparent to us at the time, it is my humble opinion now, that I was destined to read this ad. At that point, I was skeptical of course, and $800.00/Mo. sounded like a bit of an exaggeration to me, but as I read the ad It was the starting point of a new thought process and my first consideration of an early retirement for both of us in a tropical climate.
Due diligence Research and “The Presentation”
The next day as Lorilee left for work I hit the internet with a newfound sense of purpose and excitement. I was about to secretly research what at first glance appeared to be a new “life in paradise”. Now while this new idea seemed exciting to me, I knew I would have to get all my facts together before even mentioning it to Lorilee. You see that is the major difference between us (the Yin and Yang), I could easily pack up and go on an adventure based on an informed hunch, but Lorilee, well not so much. I new Lorilee would need a well thought out plan that would include a 50-year game plan, you know, just in case we lived until we were 104. The plan would need to be complete with spreadsheets and probably some absolute guarantees that seldom ever exist in life.
After about a week I was ready. I had spent the whole week finding blogs, websites, and lots of information on Health Care, Immigration, Crime, Job opportunities (just in case), and so on. I was sold on the idea and I was sure (or at least pretty sure) that Lorilee would be too. The first conversation went something like this:
Me: “Hey dear I have an idea of how maybe we could both retire early.”
Lorilee: “Oh yeah, Really? How?”
Me: “We could move to Costa Ri…” (she cut me off there).
Me: “You didn’t let me fin…..” (cuts me off again).
Lorilee: “I said NO. I would never do that”.
Lorilee: “Because I said so. I don’t even know where that is.”
Me: “Would you like to see where it is? It has palm trees”.
Lorilee: “No I don’t care where it is. I’m not moving there”.
Me: “ Why wouldn’t you move there?”
Lorilee: “Just because.”
Well, that went back and forth for a bit until I just gave up trying to get her to talk about it. One of the things that I realized in my first weeks’ research was that only a small percentage of people that make a permanent move to Central America actually adapt to the new culture, especially in developing nations.
I knew right from the beginning that the decision to move would have to be hers.
It was well documented that many couples that made the move ended up divorced, or one was constantly miserable, after being forced or tricked into moving by the other. Anyway long story short, a few days later she began asking questions. My job was to listen to her fears and concerns and deal with them one at a time by doing the research together. We found a few blogs and two in particular of people that we both trusted were sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly based on their experiences.
After about five months (around mid-June), even though Lorilee had strongly objected at first, she was now open and even excited by my plan, it was now “our” plan.
Lorilee was even the one that discovered Belize
Being English speaking also stroked the final fear she had of learning a new language, so I was certainly on board and at that point, we came up with a two-year exit plan to retire early in Belize.
The Canada Book (The Final Chapter ~ Exit Plan).
Our exit plan was to figure out all of the things we needed to do to make this move. Sell our home, and decide what would we do with all those shiny objects that we had acquired over the years to make us happy. Oh, and of course, we should probably visit Belize a time or two as well. We booked a trip for Sept. 19, 2014, which should have been the beginning of our journey
Our Early Retirement ~ Accident or Destiny?
Now I believe things often happen for a reason and that the Cosmos works in mysterious ways, usually to give us what we need. These cosmic occurrences are often not apparent at the time. I am so grateful now that Lorilee in particular, and I were able to step out of our comfort zone to take advantage of this cosmic opportunity. In retrospect, I see many instances where this applied to us. It started with the ad about Costa Rica popping up and continued with me reading it rather than hitting delete as I would usually have done. Then, within a few weeks of our decision to move, I found myself without work for the first time in over 30 years. Again it appears the cosmos was providing, that was the perfect opportunity for me to do the minor renovations and upgrades that our real estate agent had suggested would add value and sell our home fast. By mid-July, everything was done. We then realized we were still about a year and a half from our proposed moving date and wondered how long would the house take to sell, and if we would have to do those repairs and upgrades again. Also, I still wasn’t back to work and what we were spending a month in Canada could support us for several months in Belize, over a year and a half that was a good chunk of change.
We decided to list our house. It was listed on Aug. 3 and sold four days later for well over our asking price and closed on Sept. 17.
Now if you’re still following the timeline, that meant we would be homeless for the two days prior to making our first trip to Belize.
Now we had to deal with our belongings, again everything happened as though it was meant to be. We decided what was to be trashed, what nostalgic items we couldn’t part with that would need to find a home with family members (this was mostly Lorilee), and the rest was sold or donated. By Sept. 15th we moved into a hotel, closed the house and waited to make our first trip to Belize a few days later.
Our entire lives had been reduced to two suitcases each, and Phoebe’s travel kennel and toys.
So much for a two-year plan, six months later we were all in and made the move to Belize.
None of this was forced, it just happened, that is why I believe that our early retirement was our destiny and not just a random accident.
The Belize Book (Still A Work In Progress)
Canada To Belize
The Belize Book starts with our first due diligence trip. “Hopefully” we would confirm what we had learned online. A big risk I know, but don’t forget this is our destiny. If you don’t believe in “that stuff” then I guess maybe we just got lucky. Either way, we both immediately fell in love with Belize. My neck, back, and knees stopped screaming in pain within a day, they were telling me (silently of course), that they were going to love Belize. We loved the people that we met, everyone was so very warm, friendly, and helpful.
People referred to us as visitors, not tourists, which instantly made us feel welcomed in their country.
I replied “good morning” to more strangers in Belize in a single day, then I had acknowledged or had been acknowledged by in Canada in probably over a year (not counting the people that worked on my sites). We also realized instantly that the laid-back lifestyle and “go slow” attitude would require some adjustment on our part, but also that it was exactly what Lorilee’s doctor had prescribed. There were no golf courses (bummer) for that round or two of golf that I had hoped to play in retirement, and honestly, it’s probably too hot most days anyway. However, golf carts were the preferred mode of transportation on Ambergris Caye where we first visited. How freakin’ cool was that going to be?
Finally, the turquoise waters and white sands were the backdrops of everyday “life in Paradise”. Who couldn’t easily get used to that?
“Sandals In The Sand”
The first few days of our due diligence trip, what I now refer to others as doing your “sandals in the sand”, were just to relax, wind down, and get a feel for the place. But don’t forget we were now homeless in Canada, so this trip became less of a vacation and more about finding a home and doing the required things necessary to make the move a month and a half later. We hired a couple of locals to tour us around the country. We knew from our online research that even though Belize is a small country it has several diverse geographical areas, climates, and costs of living. For example, the Cayes (islands, pronounced keys) were cooler due to the fairly constant Caribbean Sea breezes and were about the same temperature year round as a result, but they were also the most expensive. San Ignacio in the West was more agricultural and away from the sea. It had more open fields and mountains but also had greater temperature differences throughout the year, some months it’s over a hundred every day and then factor in humidity. But the cost of living was much less. The south had more lush and tropical landscapes but also had much more annual rainfall. We loved San Ignacio but ultimately decided to move to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. We felt the more constant mid 80’s average temperature would help us acclimate to the year-round heat much easier.
Now that we knew San Pedro was going to be our place to land, we began looking for a house. We knew again from our online research that few houses have heating systems, some don’t have electricity or hot water. Belize only has two seasons, “Rainy” and “Dry”, so if you’re not familiar with an area, your property can be underwater during rain season and yet, if your water is rainwater collected into a cistern, that could run dry during the dry season. We wanted a furnished house, with electricity, hot water at all the taps, concrete construction, burglar bars, a security fence, and at least AC in the bedrooms for sleeping.
Our first home in Belize met all of our criteria, not to mention that the view was a bonus. It was right on the water complete with connected backyard ponds that allowed the fish, lobsters, stingrays, etc. to come and go as they pleased.
I do recommend that you to house hunt with a local friend if possible. We would not have even found this house on our own. Firstly, it was not even on the market, our friend convinced the owners to rent it to us. They lived on the mainland and used it as their getaway place on holiday weekends. Also, houses are not usually advertised other than by word of mouth, you have to drive around and ask everyone you see if they know of places to rent. And you might not even know that an available house was there when you first move, our friend went off on many cart paths the ended up at some pretty nice hidden homes that we would never have found. Again as things continue to work out like they were just meant to be, we found our first house late on the first day of looking with our friend. We met the landlords the next day, saw the house, and put down our deposit and secured a six-month lease to get us started. A six-month lease was important to us because in Belize less than six months is considered short-term and tourist taxes are applied. Also, the high season is from Nov. – Apr. and properties go up in price during this period as the influx of visitors usually create a shortage in the market. Our six-month lease would bring us to May. If we decided to move properties would be back at low season prices at that time.
So now by the end of the first week, we had everything decided. Where to live, we had found a home to live in and were finding all of the things that we would need like banks, grocery stores, the Post Office, and so on. We even had Phoebe’s import permit, she was going to love it here too. Can you imagine a dog riding on a golf cart? It’s like a car but with one big open window. If you have a dog I’m sure you can picture her tongue hanging out and her ears flapping in the breeze. We were in really good shape and getting more and more excited to write this new book (again figuratively speaking). I remember on day 8 which was probably on a Sunday we both sat on the beach recalling all the stuff we had gotten done during the previous six months. How we were able to accomplish everything that we needed to on that trip as well. The conversation even went in the direction of did we even need to go back to Canada. We had our two suitcases each with us, we could just call Ms. Elizabeth and see if we could take the house right away. Lorilee did make a commitment to her boss to return until mid-November and although the stress of her job may have been what resulted in the move, her boss had treated her really good and she felt obligated to fulfill her commitment.