Sure, you can discover Belize on your own. You might have even been there on vacation.
But deciding about moving to Belize for good… that’s a different story. Wouldn’t it be great to have an insider take you by the hand and show you what it’s all about to live in Belize?
“To accurately experience a country, you have to step off of the tourists’ path. We want you to see the good and the bad,” says Ben Hefflinger, the founder of Elite Tours Abroad.
We spoke with him and his wife and co-founder Jenna Scarpino about Elite Tours Abroad. Find out if coming on a Belize retirement tour with them might just be your pathway to paradise!
Ben and Jenna, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where you are from, your background, and why and how “Elite Tours Abroad” was born.
Ben: I founded the company in 2014 after finishing law school. My father was considering relocating to Belize, but could not find a service to help him discover the country in the way he wanted; thus the idea for “Elite Tours Abroad” was born.
After passing the Florida Bar, I packed up and moved to Belize for a few months. While in the country, I established connections with business operators in the tourism industry, as well as many other industries.
When I returned to the States, we launched the company and the tours began.
A bit more about myself: I am a licensed attorney in the United States, specialzing in healthcare and international business law. As part of my academic endeavors, I was fortunate to study internationally, in China and Southeast Asia.
A a traveler at heart, my passion has evolved into helping people discover the same sense of adventure. I often think to myself, “If only people knew what life is like elsewhere”. So, I made it my mission to help make that happen.
I am also a technical SCUBA diver, camper, fisher, runner, kayaker – in short, I love anything outdoors.
When you follow your passion, good things will happen. This was certainly true for Ben, and not only in his business life:
“While starting the company, Ben sought the advice of an old high school friend who he had not seen or spoken to in more than a decade. Little did he know that the connection they once had would blossom into an incredible relationship. Now married, Ben and Jenna have turned into successful business and life partners, and it’s working out beautifully.”
Jenna: Unofficially I’ve been part of the Elite Tours Abroad team from the very beginning. I have a professional background in financial sales, so it was logical that I would take over sales and marketing for the business.
My university degree from Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania has provided me with many valuable skills in the field of tourism. Selling discovery experiences is so much more fun (and fulfilling) than selling numbers!
I am proud to say that in the first three months of 2017, we have more than tripled the entire previous year’s revenue. I’ve researched, investigated and learned as much as I can about the countries we operate in so that I can do my job effectively.
Like Ben, I love to be outdoors. I love to run, hike, camp, and explore nature. I am known for getting excited about all of the little things in life that so many people tend to overlook.
I also enjoy international travel. I was born in Germany and have explored the majority of Europe. Since joining Elite Tours Abroad, my interest in Central and South America has piqued.
What makes Belize a great country for retirement?
Belize is often referred to as one of the few remaining undiscovered retirement and investment destinations on the planet.
This is a bit of a misnomer because the truth is that people have been retiring to the Caribbean paradise for decades due to relocation friendly laws and the fact that the main language is English.
It is located south of Mexico and north of Guatemala on the Gulf side of the mainland. It is less than a two hour plane ride from the southern United States.
The country has thousands of islands just off the coast; many of which have become expat havens. Belize itself is just smaller than the State of Massachusetts, covering 8,800 square miles.
The rainforests are unspoiled. The beaches go on for days. The barrier reef, just off the coast, is the second largest barrier reef in the world. It is a dive mecca for divers, snorkelers, and swimmers from all over the world.
The marine life is one of a kind. It is one of the migration paths for the elusive whale shark, and the majority of the pictures you see of them were in fact taken right off the coast of Belize.
No country has only upsides. What do you see as potential downsides for a Belize retirement?
It’s not the United States (or Canada). Which can either be a good thing or a bad thing for people moving out of the USA.
I think a lot of people get very used to life back home, with a Starbucks on every corner, paved roads and highways everywhere, convenient stores and fast-food places at their fingertips, fast wireless service everywhere, etc.
Moving from that to a developing country is definitely a change, but if you’re okay with leaving the noise of the U.S. (or Canada) behind and adapting to a more laid back, simple lifestyle, then Belize will be your perfect place.
What sets your tours apart from other relocation or real estate tour providers in Belize?
I would say there are three things that set us apart from our competitors.
First, we pride ourselves to be innovative and highly connected. Tourism and guided tours are not new ideas, nor are they rocket science. When you hire a tour operator, you are paying for ease, efficiency and knowledge.
The niche market of discovery or relocation tours is small and has very few operators. Monopolies lead to stagnation and complacency. We recognized this as a problem and stepped in to provide a solution.
We have a fresh approach to doing business and refuse to accept the norm. Our connections are strong, from high ranking political figures to professionals within the communities.
For example, I was recently asked to sit on the Board of Directors for Belize’s first domestic hotel chain, which is quite an honor.
Secondly, we have a clear purpose and focus: to help our tour guests determine whether they want to relocate and invest abroad by experiencing the country firsthand.
Our travelers look to us for guidance in who they should use for all of their relocation needs. The tours connect these travelers with various professionals along the way: realtors, attorneys, developers, bankers, healthcare professionals, and immigration specialists.
We normally use the same professionals for all of our tours, deviating slightly for traveler(s) who want to inquire deeper.
Ultimately, the service we offer our customers is one of education. By handling all of the transportation and lodging, connecting our travelers with local professionals, and showing them some fun along the way, we are able to give them a first-hand experience in Belize (or the other countries where we offer tours).
Thirdly, we maintain a continued relationship with our tour guests. We want our guests to be our customers for as long as it takes them to find a location that feels right to them. The first country they visit may not be it.
That’s why we offer tours not only in Belize, but also in other countries (more about that below). Many of our first customers have returned for additional tours, so this concept works out well for our clients and us.
You currently also offer tours in Ecuador and Panama. Which of the 3 countries is highest in demand, and what do you think are the reasons for that?
All the countries we offer tours in (we recently added Costa Rica and Mexico) get about the same attention throughout the year.
Usually, if there is a lot of highlighted talk about one of these countries in an online article or travel magazine, we will see more interest for that country but, again it’s pretty equal across the board.
For your Belize tours, is there a best time of the year to take the tour?
If you can avoid traveling during hurricane season (September to December), try doing that. The country is still very beautiful during rainy season and it’s not packed with as many tourists, but you do run the risk of having solid rainy days, maybe some sporadic strong winds or worst case scenario, a hurricane.
However, if you’re someone thinking of living in Belize year-round it is very important for you to experience the country at all stages of the year.
What’s your top advice for someone considering retiring abroad, in Belize or elsewhere?
Go into it with an open mind. Life is short, so spend your years here on Earth where you are most comfortable and at ease. If you’ve always dreamt of living in the tropics, it’s an easy dream to turn into a reality.
Could we wet your appetite for going on a Belize retirement and relocation tour with Jenna and Ben? Find out more about their company at Elite Tours Abroad, or contact them directly via the form below.
Related: Advantages of Living in Belize