Have you ever seen those shows on HGTV or the Travel Channel about moving to the Caribbean or the “Island Life“? These shows will feature a couple wanting to escape the American grind of congested commutes, cold weather and the every day hustle and bustle of living stateside. On the show a realtor will show this couple three homes, to either buy or rent, and they choose the house or apartment that best suits their new life in “paradise”. For the record, I looked at many more than three homes in order to find our humble abode. Throughout the episode the producers will showcase the local surroundings such as the beaches, snorkeling, scuba diving and beautiful landscapes. At the end of each episode the show will do a three month follow up on how the couple is doing in their new “paradise”. I will now elude to the rest of the story.
Without getting too detailed, as I will have specific posts about different aspects, I will get to the “skinny” of pros and cons to finding your “paradise”. The first thing to take notice of is how I continue to place “paradise” in quotations. I will elaborate. Every mindset is different and that is the beautiful part. If we were all the same the world would be an awfully boring place. However, it takes a special mindset to uproot everything you have learned and lived within your bubble as an American Citizen. Naturally I speak from the view point of not being rich, wealthy or having a well off uncle in the South of France. We are an average middle income family without retirement, large savings or even a net worth greater than that of a pair of coconuts. (The real average hard working American Citizen) With that disclosure made let’s explore the pros and cons. For the example today we will use our move to Tortola British Virgin Islands.
- High cost of living. While gas still is at record lows in the US (around $2.12 / Ga at time of post) we are currently enjoying $3.64 / Ga. Do you like milk? Get ready to break the bank for $11.50 per gallon. Groceries are one of the worst expenses. An average week in the US for us would have consisted of a full grocery cart costing $125.00. Here in the B.V.I. we barely cover the bottom of the grocery cart for the bargain price of $260.00 per week. Our average monthly grocery intake is between $1000.00 to $1200.00 per month without buying anything other than necessities. (Family of three) Let’s move on to rent as I can assure you cannot afford to buy here. For a decent 2 bedroom 2 bath apartment be prepared to shell out $1800.00 – $4000.00 per month in rent. Don’t let me scare you too badly. You can get cheaper rent if you don’t mind living in a dilapidated hole with no AC, window screens, running water at times or even hot water. There is no winter. Thus, many mosquitoes and “chickengonia” so screens are a must.
- Parking and overall consideration for others. Have you ever had that nice man that held the door open for you at the economical US grocery store? Don’t expect that here. Although the people are generally nice and will acknowledge you with a “Good Morning” or “Good Afternoon” it is every man or woman for themselves. Leave a small gap in the line at the local parts store? Sucker! You just lost your place by the local that stepped into your bubble. The most evident view of this behavior can be seen in daily driving and parking. This one has me baffled with the complete ignorance and lack of consideration of others. It is a daily occurrence to be driving along in your one lane of traffic to have the local in front of you to stop, kill the engine and proceed into the bank to do his daily business. Aside from parking in the middle of the street, or on sidewalks (yes, it happens) the actual parking lots are much worse. Another common feature on the island is the “make your own parking spot” slot at your local retailer. Now this fore mentioned slot is, many times, directly behind your parked vehicle which is parked correctly in the provisioned locations for parking motorized transportation devices. (You know – your car) This violator will also block you in, make their two hour shopping walk and never give a second thought to the poor soul they trapped for their convenience. This is just the parking aspect of a vehicle. There is no description that can be put in print as to how they drive in “paradise”. All I can say, in regards to driving, is those defensive driving courses you took will never be as important as they are on the island! I call this the Dr Jekyll and Hyde effect. The driver will wave you on, honk to let you know all is good or even take to the side to give room but then stop directly in front of you to take care of their business leaving you stranded in a pool of vehicles traveling in chaotic fashion on sub par roads. I almost forgot. If you like quiet and peaceful drives this is not for you. The use of horns here would make most New York drivers blush with their obvious love for the use of the car horn.
- Customer Service. This one is simple. There isn’t any customer service. When you do find customer service on the island that business will become your favorite haven from the sloths of rejection given at every turn while doing daily business in the B.V.I. This includes restaurants, grocery stores, hardware stores, auto parts stores, computer stores, shipping services, and …… oh hell ….. everywhere you go!
- Crazy Government Regulations. Again, unless you are wealthy, prepare to spend a fair amount of money to get into the island to live. Most people relocating to the island still have to work to survive. This includes, first, finding employment. This can be tricky as the employer must prove to the government that a “belonger” cannot fulfill this job opening. Once this is done the tides turn on you. The Labor Department will issue work permit papers for you to complete with a Santa Christmas list of stipulations. You must complete medical tests, criminal background checks, Doctors visits and your life story on paper before you can even make the trip here. Once you are here the real work begins. Trips between medical clearance, trips to labor department, immigration, social security and your employer for a signed bond. The costs of all the above can set you back $1500.00 to $2500.00. By the way, this won’t get your family here. You have to apply for dependency visas for them and pay for the same tests, fees and Doctor visits. *(Note added 2/27/2015 – I had a meeting with an official at immigration that was beyond helpful and truly took the time to answer my question thoroughly. This has bolstered my hopes within the government in regards to immigration and family planning.)*
- Schools. If you are moving to the BVI with children prepare to either homeschool or pay for your children to attend private school. A good idea to consider while making a budget to move to the Caribbean is the cost of private school. Depending upon the age of your children, private school will set you back between $1500 – $1800 per month. This is not a misprint.
- Overall. Overall there is a complete lack of common sense, ability to multitask, respect for the environment in which we all live or quality products at a reasonable cost to keep up with the $4.00 per hour minimum wage. Yes, you read that correct …… $4.00 per hour minimum wage. Lastly, if you have a need for speed, as I do, this place may not be for you. In my current vehicle, a 5 speed manual, I rarely ever make it into fourth gear as the roads simply are not conducive to speed.
I start with the cons because, just like I save the best food on the plate to eat last, the pros outweigh the cons once you get acclimated. If I have not scared you with the CONS I will list the PROS. Keep in mind these are the short list. We could go on for days in both categories. However, I doubt my web host would appreciate the bandwidth. Now, what you have been waiting for.
- Weather. The weather in the British Virgin Islands is great. During winter the temperature remains in the eighties with nice nightly breezes. This makes the use of air conditioning very minimal. During the summer months the temperatures do rise into the nineties. However, one thing can be assured, you will not be cold here. Rain showers do happen almost daily. But, these rain showers will last a few minutes, to an hour at most, and you will be back to enjoying the sunny beachside activities.
- Beaches! If you like nice sandy beaches lined with palm trees then this is the place. With over 220,000 tourists coming each year, mostly by way of cruise ship, some of the popular beaches can get crowded. However, if you do some exploration, you can easily access some great beaches where you will feel as if you are the only one there. Beaches and crystal clear water are the definitions of “paradise”. B.V.I. is no exception to this rule.
- Landscape. The landscape and topography are visually awesome in the B.V.I. From lower level beach areas to high peak overlooks the B.V.I. leaves nothing out when it comes to great landscapes. From the more jungle type landscape of Shannon Estate to the rocky terrain of Lava Flow there is no lack of interesting lizards, natural fruits, grand trees and interesting rock formations.
- Laid Back. Want to have a cold beverage on the way to the beach? No problem here. Now while it is illegal to talk on your cell phone while driving it is no problem to have a cold beverage of choice while traveling the island. This mental state passes into many aspects of “island life”. With the CONS mentioned earlier, this is one of the leading factors. However, the laid back mentality has advantages as well as disadvantages. People simply don’t get “worked up” over things they cannot control. I could go into examples. However, this is one you have to figure out for yourself.
- Overall. If you are into water by means of sailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, boating, fishing or just hanging out on the beach you have found your biggest pro. There are more minor pros like that of less rules or guidelines, much lower crime rates that you are used to in the US, (in Tortola only – other Caribbean islands are not as fortunate) once you are settled you generally have great job security, and the people are overall very nice. There is an expat community for US Citizens. However, they are so used to transients coming and going it can be difficult to meet people. This will fade as people see you more frequently.
- The People. Although the people here perform some craziness behind the wheel, when they are not in their cars, the people here are so awesome. Since settling in and spending almost four months here the people I see on a daily basis have began to realize we are not vacation transients. My daily walk to the convenience store next door is filled with smiling greetings, talks with people I have never met before that moment, random strangers buying me a drink and me returning the favor on the next round and the general welcoming of the people has been great. Once a newcomer is settled in and regular the people here simply begin to make you part of the family.
- Crime Rate. The crime rate is very low in the BVI in comparison to other Caribbean islands, or even the average US city for that fact. Of course there is still petty crime here like theft, burglaries and assaults. I was reading last week about the US Virgin Islands combined (St Thomas, St John and St Croix) have have one murder per day on average since the beginning of the year. (2015) Within Tortola BVI the murder rate might reach 2-3 per year. Violent crime is also not as prevalent. Although you might still have a knife pulled if in the wrong place too late at night it is usually a simple don’t fight it and let it go. After all, what property belongings, credit cards or money does a person carry on their person that is worth bodily harm? It can all be repaired.or replaced. On a personal note, I feel completely comfortable (more so than some places I called home stateside) walking about without fear of serious bodily assault or attack.
As you can see, the television shows simply do not give the whole story. Each and every “paradise” is different. I can only speak for the move from the US to Tortola B.V.I. However, the overall picture is the same. Do not be fooled by major media without doing your homework. If you are the average American, as we are, it is just not that simple. Those gifted with a fat wallet, however, will find this an easy transition. F.Y.I. if you intend on purchasing a home here be prepared to shell out $450,000 and up. The $450,000 will get you a nice fixer upper. Maybe that is a whole new HGTV show we should consider? HGTV presents “Caribbean Life Fixer Upper” or “Caribbean Flip-it in Paradise”. My list of pros and cons is not designed to discourage. However, it is designed to educate yourself before making the plunge. As stated in the beginning, these are just a few examples of pros and cons. There are many more things to consider when you decide to live in “paradise”.Share