My Life as a Soon-to-Be Expat in Central America

My name is Cindy Billick, and I was born and raised and have never lived anywhere else than in Northeast Ohio, near Cleveland.  I am truly an O-H-I-O gal!  The very high-paced financial services industry is where I have always worked.  My fellow expat-to-be husband of 25 years, Ray, has been in management roles in the equally stressful automobile and plastics industries.    

If someone would have told me 7 years ago that I would fall in love as hard as I did with Central America, I would have told them they were CRAZY!!!  Both Ray and I had envisioned us living in the Carolinas close to the beach, as we looked at vacation property around the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, area – firmly believing this would also eventually become our retirement haven.    

That all changed, we believe for the better, when we took a trip 7 years ago to Costa Rica to escape the brutal cold and winds off Lake Erie in February 2010.  We fell in love immediately with the weather, people, terrain, culture, and lifestyle, including a slower pace of living!  We went back for several years in a row after that initial vacation and then decided to invest in a property.  We purchased a 2 bedroom 2 bath in a boutique condo complex in northern Guanacaste in Playa del Coco, Costa Rica, called Serena Suites.  We also, at the same time, decided to purchase a lot in a development very close to our condo in Coco Bay Estates for a price we could not refuse for investment purposes.  

Very shortly after returning home, we received an email from a realtor in Ambergris Caye, Belize, regarding a condo across the parking lot from the premier beach in Ambergris Caye – a stone’s throw away from the world famous Belizean Barrier Reef.  Ray and I had heard about Belize, formerly known as British Honduras, from family and friends who stopped there while on a cruise, and from other friends who had gone there as part of a diving community event.   Although we now had two properties in Costa Rica, we believed we had to also check out Belize.  Well, to make a long story short, we also purchased the condo in Ambergris Caye from a husband and wife who were retired school teachers and fellow Ohio State Buckeyes.  Additionally, once again we also purchased, for a GREAT price, a prime second-row beachfront lot located in the up-and-coming area on the other side of the island, on what is called the “path of progress.”  We were thrilled!

Our Central America property buying continued less than 4 weeks later.  We were really on a roll!!  Very shortly after arriving home from Belize, we were contacted by a representative of a new development that was underway on the Belizean southern mainland in the Stann Creek District, called Kanantik.  Ray was not at all receptive at the time of returning so soon to Belize.  Remember, we had just purchased both a condo and lot on Ambergris Caye only a few weeks prior!  However, I was so impressed by the Kanantik presentation that highlighted the lifestyle, wonderful year-long climate, and countless amenities; for me it was a no-brainer to go and see Kanantik for ourselves.  In all honestly, I believed we had nothing to lose and, at the same time, we would see mainland Belize up close and personal!  Ray was a totally different story, and the night before we were leaving he told me he did not want to go!  I almost had to literally take him kicking and screaming the next day!  The tour and overall trip was totally unbelievable with absolutely no pressure at all to buy.  Ray was hooked and sold on Kanantik from the time we arrived until the time we departed!!  The Belizeans we met, as well as the American sales staff we encountered, became our fast friends.  Ray made the decision before I did to purchased two lots.  Our idea was that down the road we’d sell one lot and use the proceeds to build on the other lot; however, for now they are both just investments.  We have returned five more times to Kanantik and our Belizean family.  

Our latest and greatest Central American property exploits continued in 2017.  We are now business associates of Mr. Jose Goldner, an American-Panamanian citizen and partner in Briggs Capital, based in Boston, as he launches The Tuna Coast Properties (TCP).  Find their website here.  The untapped, breathtaking beauty of the Azuero Peninsula in southern-most Panama instantly won us over! The Azuero Peninsula provided us a chance of a lifetime to experience a uniquely true Panamanian culture, low cost of living, a truly expat-friendly environment, awesome mountain and ocean views, as well as providing us insight into excellent unmatched Panamanian retirement incentives for expats. What more could anyone ask for?  Ray and I are looking forward to becoming property owners in Panama and being part of the continued migration of expats to this undisputed number-one retirement haven in the world!!!

Ray and I have a delightful dilemma in selecting between all our properties in Central America.  We are by no stretch of the imagination rich.  We have purchased these properties in part by rolling over our employer 401(k) funds to Self-Directed Real Estate IRAs.  This, I believe, allowed us to initially get our feet wet buying international properties with 401(k) funds, which at the time were yielding low or even negative returns.  At first it was very difficult for me as a very conservative financial services professional to see my 401(k) balances drop in my account at work.  However, I was able to soon divert my attention to my Self-Directed Real Estate IRA and see that account grow, and with it, being very satisfied knowing I own a tangible real estate asset – and in a red-hot market!               

Our enthusiasm and love for Central America is NOT currently shared by our family and friends.  We are called “foreign property owners.”  Our real estate transactions have even been described by a few as “anti-American.”  We have defused this kind of attitude and talk tactfully by stating we are investing in our ourselves and our family.  We are establishing what is lacking in investment opportunities in the United States by building generational wealth.  We believe the monies from our investments in Central America will, in turn, be used down the road in the United States, and contribute to its economy.  I see it overall as a win-win situation for Ray and me today, as one-of-a-kind investments and vacation destinations.  These properties also provide us a chance to pass on these properties as part of our legacy for generations to come.  If any readers are on the fence or apprehensive about investing in Central American property, or any international property, I would highly recommend you conduct due diligence in researching a country(ies) of interest and booking a flight to see the country for yourself.  I guarantee you, like Ray and myself, you will be so happy you did!  Please do not hesitate to contact me at Cbillick54@me.com or by phone in the U.S. (216-870-2804) to assist you and answer any of your questions.          

Cynthia(Cindy) Billick
Parma Heights, OHIO
U.S.A.