When it comes to taking your life abroad, the idea can seem very daunting because there is always that sense of uncertainty acting as a road block to your dream life. It’s perfectly normal to feel that way, but becoming an expat is not as hard as you might think. In fact, if you really want to pursue that exotic island lifestyle you’ve only experienced through day dreaming, the benefits significantly outweigh the risks. More and more people are making their way to expat communities so they can live the lives they have always dreamed of. People like you every day are taking that first step and they haven’t looked back since.
One of the best ways to get rid of that road block is to hear stories from real middle-class people who made their way to one of these communities and listen to what they now do and why they’re happy with the choices they made. Mark and Michelle Jacobs are both retired from the U.S. Air Force. They moved to Ambergris Caye from Las Vegas, Nevada, where they still own a home, which now used by their son and daughter-in-law. They recently bought and now manage The Melt Café located in the Exotic Caye Beach Resort and they have been living happily ever since.
Why did you decide to leave the USA and move to Belize?
Ever since 1992, when we took a holiday to the Cayman Islands, I (Michelle) knew I wanted to live in the Caribbean somewhere but because we were still in the Air Force it was pretty much a dream and nothing else. I would always watch House Hunters International and look at properties on line thinking to myself, “…someday, someday”. So after retirement, we continued to work in the corporate world when Mark got laid off from a job with Verizon. He took a contracting job in Afghanistan. I started thinking that if I did the same thing and took a job overseas, we would be able to maybe make our dream a reality. They actually pay pretty well in Afghanistan. We knew we wanted to own a business and some places are easier than others for an expat to own property and a business. We also don’t speak any Spanish and Belize’s language is English so it was a perfect match.
Why did you decide Ambergris Caye was the place for you within the country of Belize?
We chose Ambergris Caye because it’s an Island and because it has the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world. We love to dive and snorkel and there were more businesses advertised for sale in San Pedro than any other location in the country.
In looking at different business’ to buy here,
what appealed to you about the most about purchasing MELT cafe?
Location, Location, Location. The resort in which we are located is called Exotic Caye Beach Resort and it is one of the quaintest resorts on the island with spectacular views. It is quiet and tranquil, yet easily accessible from anywhere on the island within 10 minutes. There’s a very relaxing vibe and charm that attracted us to this place. The café was a jewel originally created by Glenn and Linda Goodwin from Canada. They created a menu that was unique to the island and hired a brilliant staff. Our Head Chef, Margeli, and Waitresses, Patricia and Juanita have been here since they opened the restaurant in November, 2012. They are loyal and dedicated to the success of the business. Since we bought the restaurant, we have added 3 additional staff members, Roxana, Melissa and Mariany who are equally loyal and hardworking women.
What are your goals for yourselves living here?
We just want to live simply and continue to enjoy the people we have met and now call our friends. We also want to dive the entire reef and to expand into additional business opportunities.
What are the goals for your business operation here?
Our goals are to grow with the resort and become a main staple on the island. We want the Melt Café to be a place not to miss while visiting Ambergris Caye. We want to always provide the best service possible and ensure the quality of food we serve is top notch. We’re even thinking about opening a 2nd Melt Café on Caye Caulker.
What have you enjoyed in your first year living & working here
and what have you not enjoyed about the experience?
It’s a beautiful island with great tropical breezes, white sandy beaches, swaying palm trees and beautiful blue and turquoise water. What could there be not to love? The local expat community accepts us onto their island with open arms and kind hearts. Everyone waves to everyone. You get to know your neighbors and the people who run the local businesses. If you meet them once they will never forget your name no matter how long it’s been since the last time you’ve seen them.
The negatives are that you live on an island and everything comes from the mainland so don’t be surprised if you can’t get what you need when you need it. You must slow down…no one is in a hurry here so some things take longer than you may be used to. You will learn to love and appreciate the slower pace…it just takes time. The roads North and South of San Pedro are unpaved and they can be pretty difficult to say the least, especially in the rainy season. However, there is a project that has been approved and being implemented to rectify this.
What are the most critical steps from your perspective for a smooth transition for an expat to have organized for leaving the USA and living in a foreign country like Belize?
Honestly, just go for it…If you don’t like it you can always go home. Remember the reason you want to live in a place like this. You want to get away from the rat race and the “keeping up with the Jones”, the traffic jams, and the long lines at Wal-Mart. You need to have enough money to support yourself for at least 6 months before you can get a work permit to work and you need to wait a year (they’re talking 2 years) before you can get a residency. But you can certainly buy a business …you just can’t work it until you have your permit or residency. There is also another program they offer which is QRP – Qualified Retirement Program. With this program, you won’t be able to work at all, you must have an income of a minimum of $2,000.00 per month and you can ship an entire 40 foot container with your household goods which can include a car, a golf cart, a boat, a plane and anything else you can fit without paying any import taxes.
What was the best advice you were given for getting settled into your new life here and what advise could you offer to other potential entrepreneurs who are considering moving to Belize?
A lot of people come down here and don’t realize that it’s not the United States or Canada. Things are slower here and you can’t always get what you want when you want it at the grocery stores. It’s an island and everything has to be shipped in on a barge or a plane from the mainland. Get out and get around the island make new friends and enjoy the slower life.
How long do you expect you’ll be here living and working here
and what do you predict is in store for the future of Ambergris Caye?
Forever, if they’ll have us. We love our restaurant and the possibility of other ventures. Ambergris Caye is growing both north and south and new resorts and houses are going up everywhere…so if you’re even considering a move either now or in the future, now is a good time to get on board. Our one concern for the island is that we hope it does not become another Cancun or Cozumel. It’s perfect the way it is.