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Living in Caribbean for one year

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We are planning to take 1 year off and live in the Caribbean, looking at St Maarten as the primary spot. Wish to communicate with anyone living on the economy in St Maartin or other Caribbean Islands. Whats the cost of rentals, utilities, public transportation, Food, etc, medical care available?

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    I'm an Ex-pat living in the Caribbean so maybe this will help.

    First, you show know that most Caribbean islands are independent nations and as such you CAN NOT just show up one day and expect to live or work on those islands as you must compile with a host of immigration laws.

    Second, when you say "living on the economy" do you mean you have to work in order to live/stay on St. Martin 9or any other island). If so, you should know that unless you are a French or EU citizen you cannot work on St. Martin without first obtaining a WORK PERMIT. These are very difficult to get. You have to have a "unique skill" and your potential employer must prove to the local labor department there are no locals qualified to fill the position. The application process can take 6 to 9 months during which time you may not reside on the island and there's no guarantee the permit will be granted. If granted there are fees to be paid and it's doubtful an employer will go through the aggravation and red tape for someone who will only be staying one year.

    Now, assuming you don't have to work but have the financial wherewithal to support yourself while living on the island you'll only be allowed to stay for 6 months before you'll be asked to leave the island. to get around this you'd have to apply for permanent residency. This usually entails investing a substantial sum of money (Think a minimum of $300k to $500K) in Real Estate or a business that provides jobs for locals and proving that you have the financial means to support yourself WITHOUT WORKING!

    You will find similar laws on just about every Caribbean island and if they are not "French Islands" having French or EU citizenship won't help you at all.

    If you are a US citizen you'll find it infinitely easier to move to the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Culebra or Vieques since you will already have residency and work status.

    For a lot of helpful information about living/working in the USVI's go to the Virgin Island Relocation Website (www.vimovingcenter.com). Although geared toward living/working in the USVI's much of what you'll find there is applicable to living on any Caribbean island. There's so much information there it will take you a month to read everything. Also, they have a very active Forum on the website with 10's of thousands of threads that ask and answer every conceivable question you may have and hundreds more questions you haven't even thought of yet.

    In general you'll find that living expenses in the Caribbean are higher and wages lower then they are in the US and Europe - that's the Catch-22 of living in the Caribbean.

    You don't say where you live now but assuming you live in a medium six city/town in the US or European you can expect housing costs to be around 25% to 35% higher than you pay now for a comparable residence. Likewise, food costs will be around 30% to 35% higher than you now pay, Utilities are very costly and could be anywhere from 50% to 100% higher than you now pay. Public transportation, although inexpensive, is no where near as efficient as you are probably use to "back home", gasoline is going to be 25% to 35% higher and cars will cost anywhere from 50% to 75% more than back home.

    Medicare care varies from island to island. Some smaller islands just have basic First Aid clinics, others have small hospitals with few doctors and the larger more populated islands have bigger hospitals with larger staffs. On the island where I live most Ex-pats go back to the US, Canada or Europe for anything other than treatments for colds or the flu.

    Start your research by checking the Immigration Laws on the official government websites for the island(s) you are considering. Then do google searches using such topics as "Living on NAME OF ISLAND", "Living in the Caribbean", "Working in the Caribbean", "Working on NAME OF ISLAND" and you'll find links to tons of information.

    One last word of advice, save up as much as you can BEFORE you make the move. Money disappears fast in the Caribbean. There's an old saying that goes something like this: How do you leave the Caribbean with a million dollars? Answer: Start with 3 million!

    Good luck following your dream.

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    (I have no personal experience but I'm pretty sure you can't just show up as a tourist and stay for one year. That legal paperwork needs to be your first concern, before housing, etc.)

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