Your Money, Your Future
Your Money, Your Future

Retirement on a Caribbean island can cost as little as $24,000 a year

Key Points
  • White sand, palm trees and no need to brace for rush-hour traffic are top items on this list of Caribbean island retirement destinations.
  • When the cost of living is pennies on the dollar, a laid-back beach life overseas is within reach even of those who don't have much of a nest egg.
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If your idea of the ideal permanent getaway includes clear turquoise water and white sand beaches, consider these five Caribbean islands.

You can enjoy a relaxing retirement for just $36,000 a year – and that's on the high end. A report from says these five island locales are beautiful, accessible and, most of all, affordable on an income that's in line with the average monthly Social Security check for a couple.

For an idea of prices for rent, restaurants, groceries and other daily items, try the calculators on Numbeo or Expatistan. Price data may not be available for some areas.

1. Ambergris Caye, Belize

School of fish in Ambergris Caye, Belize.
Luiz Pires | Moment | Getty Images

No longer just a sleepy Caribbean hideaway, the largest island in Belize has a dynamic community. Ambergris Caye is the most popular spot for expats in Belize, according to Escape Artist, a resource for people looking to live abroad. The Belize Barrier Reef, half a mile from shore, draws fishermen and divers.

Two domestic airlines – Tropic Air and Maya Island Air – have frequent flights to the island from Belize City, so getting to Ambergris is easy. You can also reach the island by water taxi.

A three-course meal for two in a mid-range restaurant will set you back $55, according to Numbeo. On a monthly budget of $2,900, or $34,800 a year, a couple can enjoy a comfortable retirement in Ambergris Caye, including rent for a house or apartment. If you own a home, expats report it's possible for a couple to live quite comfortably on less than $24,000 a year.

2. Bocas Town, Panama

Jane Sweeney / robertharding | Getty Images

A tropical archipelago off the coast of Panama may be one of the Caribbean's best-kept secrets. Lying near the border of Costa Rica, Bocas del Toro is a group of nine main islands and a few hundred smaller cays and islets.

The main hub is Bocas Town—a seaside town of brightly painted buildings with many on stilts over the water on the large island of Isla Colon. Bocas, as it is known, is all about water – fishing, water sports and whale watching are popular with locals. A welcoming and organized expat community is involved in island life. Some members have started businesses helping fuel the local economy, some teach and others do volunteer work.

The typical cost of a meal for two at a mid-range restaurant is $30, according to Numbeo. A couple can live here on as little as $16,800 a year, or $1,400 a month, renting a simple, snug, island-style home.

3. Roatan, Honduras

Islas de la Bahía, Honduras.
Zenco Heshiki | Moment Open | Getty Images

About 35 miles off the Honduran coast, Roatan is the largest of the Bay Islands. The island is most famous as a diving destination and retirement haven in the western Caribbean.

The former British colony is affordable, has white-sand beaches, warm weather, cooling sea breezes and a laidback island vibe. Though Spanish is the official language, English is widely spoken, making the island an easy place to fit in. "I have never felt so content anywhere," said Ann Winters, a retiree who lives in Roatan.

Regular flights in and out of the international airport make Roatan accessible. It's quick and easy to see family back home. But it's still out of the mainstream, at least compared with other Caribbean island getaways, keeping real estate and living costs affordable. Dining out at a midrange restaurant would cost $20 for a three-course meal for two people, according to Numbeo. A couple could live well in Roatan on $30,000 a year, between $2,000 and $2,500 a month.

4. Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Pako Rodrguez | EyeEm | Getty Images

About 10 miles from Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a world away from the hustle and bustle of its more tourism-developed neighbor. Instead of cars, many use golf carts for transportation.

Most of the year, the island has a warm tropical climate in the low to mid 80s F. The nearby reef offers scuba, fishing, swimming, boating and snorkeling, and an underwater sculpture museum. The seasonal migration of whale sharks is another draw.

"We often see pods of dolphins feeding just offshore and sea turtles basking right on the surface," said Lynda Lock, a retiree who lives on the island facing the ocean.

Clear, azure waters and white-sand beaches are never far away, and the cost of living is far lower than a similar lifestyle would cost back in the States. A couple can live well on Isla Mujeres for around $36,000 a year, or $2,500 to $3,000 a month, including rent.

5. Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

Sunset at whale beach (playa las ballenas) in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic
Noelia Magnusson Photography | Moment Open | Getty Images

Italian and French vacationers have been coming to Las Terrenas on the Samana Peninsula for decades, and this northeastern beach town has a strong hint of Europe. Along with saltwater and the scent of fresh-cut coconuts, you'll likely smell espresso and freshly baked croissants.

The Dominican Republic has a low cost of living, stable government and terrific weather. It's also three-and-a-half hours from New York. You can leave in the morning and be on the beach for lunch. As well as beautiful beaches, the island's east coast has some of the region's newest designer golf courses.

A three-course chef's menu at a Swiss-German restaurant runs about $35 per person, according to The Lonely Planet. A couple can live in this tropical haven for around $2,000 a month, although most choose to spend closer to $3,000 a month—or $36,000 a year.

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