Many people dream of retiring to a Caribbean Island, but my friends Bill and Anne “Bunny” Horton actually did it. Four years ago, they packed up their home in Florida and moved to the scenic Island of Bonaire.
Bonaire is a Caribbean Island recognized as a special municipality of the Netherlands. It is part of what is referred to as the ABC islands – Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. Bonaire is the least populated (21,000 residents) and least developed of the three islands. There is modest tourism and has sea salt production as its primary industries. It is a desert island, receiving only 22 inches of rainfall annually and is located outside the ‘Hurricane Belt’ of the Caribbean. The temperature fluctuates between the high 70s to low 90s Fahrenheit. (They use the Celsius scale on Bonaire.)
Bill and Bunny’s first introduction to Bonaire was during a two-week cruise from Florida back to their home state of Maryland with multiple stops along the way. For long-time scuba divers Bill and Bunny, Bonaire offered an amazing underwater experience. But it was during dinner and drinks at a local restaurant that made them realize there was something special about Bonaire.
Sitting at the bar, looking out over the water, they immediately felt comfortable. It wasn’t only the diving, but it was also the warmth of the people. Having worked with the Dutch for much of their careers at IBM and AT&T (Royal Dutch Shell was one of Bill’s last customers), Bill and Bunny were both familiar with the culture.
They also thought it was the perfect place for their son to begin his professional dive certification. Their son actually moved down there prior to their move to prepare for his certification.
Beginning Their Retirement Plan
Back home, Bill had already retired in 2015. Having been declared “excess” by his employer, AT&T, he was given 60 days to either move to Texas for a job within the company or leave. Long ago disenchanted with corporate America, Bill made the decision to take his severance package and leave.
Bunny was still working for AT&T, but she too was ready for a change. Feeling unappreciated, and ready to leave the corporate world, the two began planning for retirement. Previously they had thought briefly of Hawaii, but after a visit there for Bunny’s 50th birthday, it didn’t seem like quite the right fit.
They couldn’t get Bonaire out of their minds and in 2016, they took at two-week vacation to Bonaire to check it out as a potential forever home.
“I don’t want to go home to Florida – I feel like THIS is home,” Bunny told her husband, but she knew she couldn’t retire yet. They spent the next two years planning their “FLExit” (their Florida Exit, as Bill likes to call it).
Fantasy Meets Reality
Bill had always been the numbers guy and set up a budget to see how much it would cost to live in Bonaire. “I came pretty close to the number,” Bill said with a chuckle, “I only underestimated air for our dive tanks and alcohol.”
However, to make the plan work, Bunny would have to stay until 2018 to meet the pension requirements of AT&T.
That didn’t stop them from planning and preparing. Bill joined expat Facebook groups to find out more about what life was like on Bonaire. They met with their financial advisor to ensure their investments would sustain them in retirement. Finally, they started paring down their possessions in Florida and looking for real estate in Bonaire. They were committed to not having a mortgage.
Health Care on Bonaire
One important aspect of Bonaire is national health care for residents. That means that all their health care is paid for by the government. “It’s quality health care,” Bill said. He and Bunny have had to take advantage of the system several times since they moved down there. “There are a few specialists on island,” Bill said. Specialists are often scheduled to come from Aruba, Curacao and even the European Netherlands to treat patients on Bonaire. Sometimes residents need to leave the island for health care, and the island insurance coordinates everything needed. During those times the government not only pays all costs for the patient, but also the caregiver. This coverage includes flights, hotel, transportation and a food per diem.
Realities of Island Life
But both Bill and Bunny warn that island life is not for everyone. There are only four US based businesses on island. There are no malls, no Amazon direct deliveries, even the grocery store has a selection which is very limited on brands and items, in general. “ There may be only 7 salad dressings to chose from rather than the fifty or more that the US stores carry. You may be not see bananas for weeks. You have to get used to that,” they said.
They rely on people coming from the states to bring them luxuries like Triscuits, Cheese-Its, Crab cakes and Berger Cookies (It’s a Baltimore thing.) Two times a year they order a big shipment from Amazon and others to be cargo shipped to the island to get technology items, bathing suits and shorts (all they ever wear), heavy items, even 350+lbs of their cats’ preferred litter (which will last a year or more). The shipments take roughly 2 weeks to receive once they leave Miami, so patience for getting items they want is critical. Of course, this shipping to the island also increases the total cost of the items by as much as 30%.
Also, things happen on Bonaire time. Stores are often closed in the middle of the day for a couple of hours for lunch and then close early in the evening. Roads may have long lasting pot holes or are simply dirt and are not up to the standard most Americans are used to. While there are nice restaurants, there are not a lot of other nightlife establishments.
“I’m over the moon.”
Bill and Bunny have seen many neighbors make the move to Bonaire only to see them then leave after little more than a year. But for Bunny, it’s paradise. “I’m over the moon. I’m so happy, but I’m a simple person,” she said.
“On Bonaire, you can just go to the beach and dive in,” Bunny said. They often scuba dive twice a day, 4-5 times a week. As a marine biology major in college, Bunny said she would even go more often if she could.
They wake up around 10 am, make the bed, eat breakfast, feed the local birds, iguanas and chickens, swim in the pool and dive. They have also worked with the local rescue organizations committed to helping sea turtles and the restoration of the coral reefs.
At night they love going to their tower, a perfect spot for sipping wine while looking out over the sea, the island landscape & the small airport. Parakeets zoom by and neighbors stroll the quiet road and wilderness trails.
After enjoying a nice dinner, Bill and Bunny spend time looking for funny videos and comedy online. If they are lucky, they may even have a few of the wild donkeys come by for a treat of apples. “Even the donkeys smile here,” Bunny said. They are loving life and enjoying being happy.
The day after Bunny retired, she flew down to Bonaire, where Bill had been getting settled in with the house and pets, and they began their new life. Four years later, they have absolutely no regrets.
Before You Move
If this sounds like the life for you, here are the requirements for becoming a resident on Bonaire:
- Pensioners (retirees) need at least $20,000 in annual income
- Need a place to stay (Own a home or have a rental agreement)
- Clean FBI record
- Proof of marriage or have a statement of singularity (A statement that you are single can take up to 2 months to get in the US. Gay marriage is recognized in Bonaire.)
- Animals can be brought into the country as long as they have a USDA health certificate
If you’d like to know more about Bonaire or a Caribbean retirement, Bill and Bunny can be reached at Bill&Bunny@FL4Some.com.
If you know someone who has a great retirement story, send me an email to KarenParis15@gmail.com