What it’s actually wish to retire on a Caribbean island — on $3,000 a month

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Julie Lea is in her hillside house from the 1960s high above the sparkling sea and wakes up every morning to the rustle of palm trees, chirping birds and the gentle bleating of goats wandering around on a nearby farm.

Vibrant flowers burst from the gardens that surround her home, and when she gets up early enough to see the sunrise – which she often is these days – from her terrace she watches the West Indian sky erupt from black to gray alternates from pink and oranges and yellow.

“There is something magical about life here,” says the 76-year-old artist and painter, who moved to the Caribbean island of Bequia for the whole day in 2005 with her 50-year-old husband. “We are 50 stories higher. The beach below us, there are endless skies and clouds and activities, we hear the birds in the trees, we are surrounded by nature and flowers. There is a calm that we just love. ”

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She has been dreaming of this life since 1978, when she first saw Bequia from the deck of a steel-hulled sailboat that she and her now-retired husband, Doug, who was then living in Virginia with two sons, chartered with friends. Enchanted by the rich turquoise of the water and the lively parade of people: “The moment we anchored in the bay, I started drawing pictures,” she says. “I was immediately enchanted by this island.”

Though Doug originally hoped to retire in France, and even took a few road trips through the country’s exploration areas, “he quickly realized the winters were cold there,” jokes Lea – who says she never questioned posed that Bequia was the place for them. He added that he was happier in Bequia and indulged in French-language films on the island. After a series of vacations and short stays in Bequia, the couple bought their house there in 2005. Lea now has her own art gallery in town, where she makes money selling her paintings. and Doug has withdrawn from his previous publishing career and loves it. “His idea of ​​dressing up now is to put on a belt,” jokes Lea.

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But Bequia, which is part of the Grenadines in the Caribbean, isn’t for everyone: it’s only 7 square miles and is only home to about 5,000 people. The mosquitos are fierce, the summer can be hot and the pace is slow (people get out of their cars in the middle of the street to chat). But there are also plenty of pros: the daytime temperatures are in the 80s for most of the year, it is not inundated by big resorts and tourists (it is sometimes referred to as “the Caribbean as it was before”), and the beauty is right out of the box. “These are the beaches of my dreams,” Lea says MarketWatch.

What does it cost to live in Bequia?

While Lea doesn’t stick to a strict budget – at almost 77 years of age (her birthday is in July) she jokes that she deserves a little help like a housekeeper and gardener – Lea says, if you are thrifty: “You can take it up $ 2,000 to $ 3,000 per month. “Lonely Planet offers this breakdown of costs on the island, and Retire in the Caribbean notes that retirement in the Grenadines is” lower than in many Caribbean countries. Many expats find it similar to their home country or cheaper. ”

While real estate can be expensive (some of the nicer homes cost over $ 1 million), there are still deals available for around $ 300,000 and rental homes under $ 1500 per month. Eating out can be expensive too: while locally grown fruits and vegetables are cheaper, prepare to pay a lot more for the many things that need to be shipped or flown to the island. (The same goes for the other consumer products.) Lea says food can be expensive on the island, and she and Doug rarely do.

The Leas save money for utilities by having solar panels and eating lots of groceries from the garden – and Lea drives a 1995 Suzuki (which happened to collapse just before our scheduled interview; she is friends with the repair person in town, so it all works out and it only cost about $ 75). They also don’t use a washing machine (she hand-washes most of her clothes and hangs them on the clothesline. If that isn’t possible, she takes them to the laundromat and lets them wash, dry, and fold their laundry for around $ 13). They built a water filter system so that they get their drinking water from rainwater.

What’s your favorite thing about Bequia?

Lea says she may love things about Bequia – the tranquility, the relaxed lifestyle, the natural beauty – but she also says that the islanders themselves hold a special place in her heart. “I love their friendliness and self-sufficiency,” she says. They greet ex-godparents – many of whom are from America, Canada, and the UK (though most only spend part of the year in Bequia) – and hang out frequently to chat (English is the first language).

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W.How is health care in Bequia?

The island has a small hospital, pharmacy, and clinic, but if you need a major procedure you’ll need to take a speedboat or plane – there is an air ambulance service to take you from the island – to a larger hospital like one in Kingston the island of St. Vincent. And Lea says some of her friends have flown back to the US for major health care interventions (here are details on how Medicare – which usually doesn’t cover health care overseas – might work in such a situation). She hasn’t had to do that and gets her annual checkups when she needs them at the local clinic, where she had a “nice” experience and the staff were friendly, she says. Minor treatments are free to attend to, but ex-pats usually leave a donation, she adds. She also notes that there is a dental practice in the hospital – “a handsome retired dentist and his wife / longtime assistant offer their services during the winter months” – and an optician visits Bequia about once a week for an eye clinic.

Do you have the citizenship

Lea is a permanent resident of Bequia, which she joked wasn’t that difficult but did involve “a lot of waiting” and paperwork. You can find more details here. You don’t have to be a citizen to buy a property in Bequia, but there are some hoops to jump through.

Bottom line:

Lea had dreamed of making Bequia her permanent home for 30 years before it happened, and now it is her happy reality (although she admits this is not for everyone and most expats only spend part of the year there) : “We live very peacefully here – we are close to nature, we know where the moon is every night, we follow the stars, we see the sunrise,” she says. “I am so grateful to live here.”

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