Planning possible retirement in USVI

Sep 24th, 2013, 07:29 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Sep 2013
Posts: 21
Planning possible retirement in USVI

We are exploring the possibility of retiring (or at least spending a few yrs after we retire) in the Virgin Islands. We are currently in the San Francisco Bay area. So far we have only visited St Thomas on a recent cruise, so we know nothing! I wasn't that impressed with the area we went to where they tried to sell us diamonds at every turn but I realize the whole island can't be like that, can it? We would like to go back and visit St Thomas, St John & St Croix to make a decision on which island we would like to live. My question is - how can we arrange to go for a visit and stay maybe 3 days on ea island to see which we like? Is there a service available for potential re locators? We do not want to stay at a resort . We want to get to know the island and we will need some direction on the best housing choices for our visit as well as where we would live when/if we relocate. Has anyone had experience with this? BTW- I read that it is more expensive to live in the Virgin Islands. Can it be MORE expensive than living in San Francisco??? If the answer is yes, maybe we will need to consider Ecuador
Thanks much for any and all help.
Urbandoggs is offline  
Sep 25th, 2013, 03:30 AM
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 3,706
It is more expensive than San Fran. Everything has to be imported.

No plans, groups or services for relocators.

Yu really can't go for 3 nights and decided. More like a month. Living is far different than vacationing. You need to stay in an apartment or home away from service resorts, shop, travel, etc like living would do. You need to realize that everything brought in, furniture, cars, etc, are heavily taxed. Everything is expensive, and many items hard to fix (such as appliances for example). It's hot all year and island time to get everything done is the norm.

1 day off a cruise ship gives no idea what it's like!

Roamsaround will give you a great link for moving to the Virgin Islands. Read everything, there's tons of info!

It's not a wake up one morning and decide that sounds like the life, reality is much different. (and your comment about more expensive than San Fran is a clue you have a lot to look into to!)

It's extremely rewarding in other ways, but lots of hard work if up for it. Many do it and love it. It's a simpler life in that many things take forever, so you just give up and do without. But it's an awesome experience.

I assume your American? If you decide Ecuador, keep in mind that there are many laws to look into, the case with many foreigners living. You have tovleave the country every so often, as outsiders only stay for a couple of months at most by laws. You can buy living permits and renew them, but each country has different standards.

Whichever you choose, you need to spend 3-4 weeks not at a resort before you decide. Each country has different laws, and each one fills completely different living vs vacationing.
blamona is offline  
Sep 25th, 2013, 04:49 AM
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 5,537
The first thing you should do is go to the Virgin Island Relocation Website - it's a website dedicated to living/working in the USVI's -

Start at the top left of the Home Page and click on ALL the dropdown links. READ EVERYTHING - there's so much material it will take you a few weeks. Then spend an equal amount of time reading through the 1,000's upon 1,000's of posts on the Forum - you'll find answers to all of your questions and hundreds more you haven't even thought of yet. EVERY CONCEIVABLE SUBJECT has been discussed time and time again.

After you finish perusing that website get a copy of "The Settler's Handbook" and Herman Wouk's "Don't Stop the Canarval" (available on or the USVI Moving Center Website - they are a must read for anyone contemplating a move to the Caribbean.

As blamona said, spending 3 days on an island, while helpful, is not really enough time to give you an idea of what island life is like. You'd be much better off staying for a few weeks.

You have the right idea about making what is known as a "Pre-Move Visit (PMV) - don't stay in a resort but rather rent a condo or housekeeping unit so you get an idea of what it is really like to live on an island. DON'T stay in a beach condo unless you plan on doing that if/when you retire and have the budget for doing so - beachfront property is expensive to rent/buy.

While you are there do everyday chores like grocery shopping, banking, laundry, housecleaning, and any other of hundreds of tasks you do "back home" as you'll be doing those if you choose to live in the islands. Find out what it is like to deal with things like power outages, spotty internet service, higher food prices, fewer food choices, etc. Check out housing costs to see what you can get for your budget. Check out hospitals so you get an idea of what type of medical services are available (many people go back to the US mainland for their medical care.

You are going to find the three main islands are quite different from each other - St. Thomas is more populated, St. Croix is more relaxed and St. John more upscale which one is right for you is something you'll have to decide. Of course, there's always a possibility you may not like living on an island. Often when a couple relocates one person likes living on an island and the other doesn't. Making a longer PMV will help you determine that BEFORE you make a full-tme commitment.

Living on an island is far different than being here on vacation. It's a bit like living in a small town without the ability to leave the small town and make a trip to the "big city". Find out what it is like to deal with local tradespeople and repairmen. For instance, if your refrigerator breaks down it may be 2 or 3 days before the repairman shows up (even though he tells you "I'll be there later, mon!:" Then when he finally does show up you find out you need a special part that has to be shipped in from Miami and he'll have it in 10 days. Meanwhile you have no refrigerator.

Check out car prices to see what kind of vehicle you can afford. Cars are expensive on the island unless you purchase what is known as an "island beater" - an older car with bald tires, bad shocks, poor breaks and a leaky transmission - that will constantly be in need of fixin'.

Now, most people will tell you living in the Caribbean is expensive - why? - because EVERYTHING has to be imported. While it's difficult to tell how much YOU need to live here I can tell you that you'll probably spend 25% to 35% more than you do now to maintain the same style of living you do back on the mainland. The USVI's (and most other Caribbean islands) have some of the highest rates for electricity in the world. And if you are the type of people who need air conditioning to be comfortable when the temperatures and humidity are high (which they are almost year round) then you'll be using LOTS of electricity.

Life in the islands is not simple nor is it sitting under a palm tree all day drinking pina coladas. Be prepared for weekly and even daily frustrations. Something is always going wrong or needing to be fixed. Just this week our phone lines went dead (someone in a backhoe tore down one of the phone lines down the street), the motor in one of our a/c units burnt out, and the igniter on our stove malfunctioned. That list doesn't include the "Sunbrella" fabric on out veranda furniture that's faded and needs replacement, the front gate that needs repainting, the plastic outdoor lounge chairs that have become brittle due to expose to the strong sun, and the wood lice (you call them termites) that are constantly trying to invade our house.

Island life is not for everyone but for those that can adapt it can be a rewarding experience.

Do your research - the more the better- and you'll be able to make an informed decision. Good luck following your dream.
RoamsAround is online now  
Sep 25th, 2013, 06:39 AM
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 416
To follow up on the previous post -- if you like air conditioning, electricity prices are hugely expensive. Most recently fifty cents per kw/hour.
Jimmie is offline  
Sep 25th, 2013, 10:44 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 91,606
Yes, it is expensive on any of the Caribbean islands (depending on your lifestyle of course but likely more than San Francisco).

I would look at Mexico or Central America instead.
suze is offline  
Sep 25th, 2013, 10:46 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Sep 2013
Posts: 21
Thanks very much for the replies! They are much appreciated and I will begin reading the suggested info.

To clarify - I think what I meant to say is that we are 'beginning' the exploration and research process For some time now we have toyed with the idea of moving outside the US to spend some time after retirement (with the thought of moving back to the US at some point). I am an Air Force brat and I have also traveled quite a bit as an adult. I have lived in such places as Hawaii and Guam. So I have lots of experience in moving and also island life.

We aren't going to retire for about 3 years so what I want to do is begin visiting some of the places on our possibility list. Since I am still working we can't go anywhere and stay for a month at a time but I thought we could do 10 - 15 days or so (if we live in an apt or house and not a resort) that would at least give us an idea as to whether we want to continue coming back for longer periods. I can get a feel pretty quickly as to whether the vibe is right and then we can do more research and spend more time there. Since the islands are so different I thought I would start by spending 3 or 4 days on each island (St Thomas, St John & St Croix) to get the feel of the area and look at housing availability and chat with the locals. maybe I could then narrow the search. I have a very good idea of what I like and don't like.

I wasn't actually making a decision to move based on our brief cruise stop (as I didn't really care for the part of St Thomas which we saw but figured there was more to the place than that). We have a few other places on our list (Barbados, Ecuador, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica) We already have contacts for local people (living in those countries) that we know and who can help us somewhat in those countries.

When we took our Southern Caribbean cruise In April I began thinking of the USVI, partly because it is easier for US citizens to relocate there, still get soc sec, & maybe even use our Medicare (I've read that we can't use our Medicare in the other countries I mentioned) We can use our medicare right???

Re cost: I will definitely have to consider those electric bills as I will want to stay very cool Re the other cost of living issues - It is VERY expensive to live in the Bay Area as i think we rank among the most expensive areas in the country. A tiny 1 bdrm in the SF Bay Area starts at about $2,500+/mo (and that's a cheap apt)and our other related costs are equally as high. One of our earlier choices for relocation was Paris, which we have been to frequently (living in an apt)and love very much. However, after much researching - the cost of living there is way too high, the process for re locating, way too complicated and being American is no plus! I am using these costs as a comparison for moving.

If USVI is similar in costs then I can cross it off right away. I'm pretty determined to move somewhere tho so I will just have to continue searching if this doesn't work out. Another reason I am starting early.

Thank you. Any feedback will be appreciated
Urbandoggs is offline  
Sep 25th, 2013, 11:24 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Sep 2013
Posts: 21
Oops, I just had a chance to re read the replies about the cost of living, and all the things that can go wrong I guess its also a consensus that the cost of living is higher than where I currently live and that's part of what I needed.

Thanks for the help!
Urbandoggs is offline  
Sep 25th, 2013, 11:32 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 91,606
I have already done what you describe, vacation many times in the places I like for 1-2 weeks at a stretch. My retirement plans include Puerto Vallarta Mexico and Waikiki/Honolulu in Hawaii.

Even Paris would be cheaper than the Caribbean.
suze is offline  
Sep 25th, 2013, 11:45 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Sep 2013
Posts: 21
Really? I am kind of surprised that it cost so much! Again, I am just beginning to research this possibility and this was the very 1st place I came to for info so I don't want people to think I'm a complete idiot just because I didn't know the cost of living and because I was thinking of going over to check it out.

I lived in Hawaii. My father retired there. I like Maui better.
Urbandoggs is offline  
Sep 25th, 2013, 11:55 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 91,606
I'm single and like a big city, so for Hawaii, for me Honolulu wins.

But my point was that the places I am considering for living full or part time after retirements I have spent a LOT of time in already. I've been to PV 22+ times and counting (going again this fall).

The Caribbean islands economies are tough because the islands are mostly small and mostly everything is imported.
And both real estate and utilities cost a heap.
suze is offline  
Sep 25th, 2013, 01:06 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Sep 2013
Posts: 21
Ok I hear ya. I don't have enough time left before retirement to go anywhere 22 times! But, I can say that I like adventure and LOVE going to new places and meeting new people. I was just over in Africa in a very poor country. Don't want to try that again But, I've up and moved myself plenty of times with people telling me that I couldn't or shouldn't do it. So, I don't let that kind of stuff stand in my way.

However, I am trying to be a little practical this time as we will be living on less so I might have to rule this one out. The boyfriend isn't quite as fond of adventures as I am.

Also, one thing about our choices in Latin America is the language barrier. I don't want to have hang out with the expats because I don't speak the language
Urbandoggs is offline  
Sep 25th, 2013, 01:46 PM
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 5,537
As a US citizen you'll find it infinitely easier to relocate to the USVI's than any other Caribbean Island or South American country since you'll already have citizenship/resident status.

Any other destination will require that comply with that particular country's immigration laws. In the Caribbean, those laws generally require that you 1) Invest a sum of money (usually in the range of at least $300K to $500K) in real estate, 2) Obtain an Alien Landholder's License (fee of 10% to 20% 0f the value of the property involved), 3) that you prove you have the financial wherewithal to support yourself without working, 4) that you are in good health and have medical insurance (and, no, medicare will not cover you outside the US) and 5) you have no criminal record. You'll then have to pay another "fee", anywhere from $2,000 to $30,000 depending on the island, to get your residency certificate. NOTE: Having residency DOES NOT ALLOW you to work on the island. For that you'll need a Work Permit - these are hard to get - require that you have a unique skill and your potential employer must prove that there are no locals qualified to fill the position.

South American countries have similar restrictions so if going either route you need to check immigration requirements for the countries/islands that interest you. You'll probably need a local lawyer to help you through the process which is filled with red tape.

Not trying to put a damper on your dream but you've sent up a few red flags. The biggest being "I was just over in Africa in a very poor country. Don't want to try that again" - if you don't like seeing poverty you may find many of the Caribbean islands are not to your liking.

I'll repeat again, living expenses in the Caribbean are high - it is not a place where the budget conscious will fare very well. Be prepared to spend more than you do in SFO to maintain your same style of living.

Another red flag - you desire not to have to hang around with Ex-pats. in the Caribbean you WILL BE an outsider (even to some extent if you choose to live in the USVI's). Locals are slow to accept new people so the Ex-pat community is going to be your main source for acquaintances, at least for the first few years you are "on island".

Keep doing research.
RoamsAround is online now  
Sep 25th, 2013, 02:20 PM
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 1,122
If you go on they always have an article on the cheapest places for people to retire the pros and cons etc. of each place. I always look at it actually. You can get a lot for your money other places the Caribbean not being one of them. All of these places are outside the U.S. I think Ecuador is usually on there. As for Hawaii I was raised in Southern California. I went to Hawaii and for some reason it reminded me of Southern Calif. I did not really see a huge difference. I think that is why I am not really keen on Hawaii as others are--to much like SC. I think I would love to live in Europe. sight unseen--Paris--wee wee. Yes!
diann24 is offline  
Sep 25th, 2013, 02:29 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Sep 2013
Posts: 21
Sorry for the misunderstanding.

I was in the 4th poorest country in the world, sleeping in a mosquito net, taking malaria pills. The country has no clean water, almost no infrastructure, no doctors and no electricity. The president had been killed in a coup, the new government is corrupt, and the drug trade is rampant. The US embassy had long since moved out. So no, that is not exactly the type of place I want to retire to. I have a project I founded over there and was there for the opening of a school my project funded. We also put in a well and funded a medical clinic for people in the bush. I’ve seen poverty up close and personal.

The statement referencing expats was because I only speak a little French and I had read that in many of the non English speaking countries many people had said that one of the biggest obstacles was the language barrier. I don’t have anything against expats. I would like to be able to communicate more easily with the locals and hopefully be able to make some friends that are not from America, also why I was considering USVI as I thought it was English speaking.

I’m usually a pretty good communicator so not sure where this all went off track.
Urbandoggs is offline  
Sep 25th, 2013, 02:40 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 91,606
Yes USVI is English-speaking.

I know from my time in Mexico, because it's a town with a lot of tourism most local people also speak some, if not fluent, English. So there would be no need to feel isolated or stick only to the Ex-Pat community (although certainly some retirees do that).
suze is offline  
Sep 25th, 2013, 03:49 PM
Join Date: Aug 2005
Posts: 1,522
Dreams are made of this and don't stop thinking about it. You never know what may turn up. However, as said previously,often it is hard, if not impossible to be accepted. Friends of ours spent 25plus years on Virgin Gorda, built a house, bought acreage, taught for free in local schools, were church going,choir leaders, volunteers, and were very good neighbors but they never were thought of as "belongers". It was sad for them to always be outside..They returned in their 70s to Denver. Lots of people go "south" for the cold weather but do not sever ties. Poverty is rampant in the islands outside the resort areas. Life stlye is very laid back and the clock doesn't keep as you are used to in N.Amer. Lots to think about!!
amer_can is offline  
Sep 25th, 2013, 05:53 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Sep 2013
Posts: 21
Thanks for the encouragement. This is something good to know upfront and one of the reasons I wanted to come on the forum. We're older now anyway and we don't have to have a bunch of friends to be happy so I won't take it personal if the people never warm up to us. My point was that I didn't want go over there with the attitude that we would isolate ourselves on purpose.

BTW- What is the reason that outsiders are not accepted?

Re poverty - Yes, we have run into this fact of life everywhere including here in the US - (its just a different poverty). Again, I think I need to see the situation first hand to judge and that is why we planned to go over and stay outside of the tourist areas and see how it is BEFORE we decide.

We are at the point of enjoying our lives and experiencing new things. This is not like when we were younger and had kids etc to consider. We're not locked into living anywhere permanently. Our trial period is a year. After a year, we re evaluate. If it isn't working out, we come home. (this is also a plan I thought would probably work better in a US territory than someplace else)
Urbandoggs is offline  
Sep 26th, 2013, 03:07 AM
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 3,706

Considered the least expensive resort area in the world.

But I have to ask, if you want English speaking places, why did you have Ecuador on your post?

I also know of many the relocated to New Zealand and loved it.

As for your list, Barbados is hugely expensive, I would when comparing apples to apples with San Fran it's much more money for the same.

The rest of your list is all Spanish speaking countries, so I'm confused by your contradictions! Sorry!

And keep in mind, for only 1-2 years, transporting everything is going to be extremely costly! Unless you plan to leave everything behind... To make up the difference, you really need more time than that to get your monies worth. (or keep most stuff in storage in the States, rent a furnished place. )

Another catch 22, affordable places aren't usually walking distance to the beach, or even supermarkets and shops. So you'll need transportation. Many islands don't have public transportation other than taxi. So you might want a larger place with public buses. Cars are not only expensive in the tropics, but high maintenance.

Tropics rusts everything out with salt in air, sand in the breeze. Water and electric are quite expensive. Because I need a/c (I'm American and not acclimated) just for example on a 3 bedroom home (I'm sure yours will be smaller) water is usually $200 monthly, (you can save with cistern, but it has to rain to fill up) and electric runs $1200! (we do have a pool, but without it it's about $800! Maybe it's less on other islands, but that's what I found the norm to be. If you forgo a/c, another catch 22, is while you save on utilities, appliances, tv, all fry without it.

It sounds negative. It isn't. It's quite rewarding. What RoamsAround and I are trying to say, is reality on islands is much different than dreams and tv. In long run it might be cheaper to travel for month or a couple of months different places without relocating.

I have found the most successful islanders to have had the dream all of their lives, and searched it all their lives. Others, including majority, don't make it.

I have a retirement home for when it happens on an island. Have had it for 13 years. Roamsaround lives on an island.

I wouldn't trade it for the world, but since I was 12 I told everyone that's what I wanted out of life. Through the years I've seen tons of people come and go. And be all over the place: live in Caribbean for 2 years, don't like it, move to Dubai or Thailand, then next couple of years somewhere completely different.

Sows like House Hunters International make it look so glamourous, and for some it is.

I'm just saying, and please understand it's just my experience talking, that wanting to live in Caribbean after a 1 day cruise stop you have a lot of homework! (pun intended ;-) )
blamona is offline  
Sep 26th, 2013, 04:49 AM
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 5,537
The reason islanders are slow to accept newcomers is simple - the vast majority of newcomers don't stay on the island for more than a year or two and many last only a few months. So the locals, who already have their circle of long time friends don't open up to strangers (that's human nature) who will probably be gone within a few months.

To the "dreamers" this sounds odd because most people envision an idyllic life of palm trees,sandy beaches, turquoise waters, and beautiful sunsets and they can't understand why anyone would want to leave. While those things are part of island life regular life still goes on. A lot of people move to an island to "escape the rat race". Well, the rats race here just as much as they do anywhere - it's just a different venue. What I'm trying to say is life goes on in the islands just as it does anywhere else and you have to adjust to that different lifestyle.

Most younger people have to work 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet and they have little time left to enjoy the beach. Retirees underestimate the cost of living and realize their nest egg won't last as long as they hoped. Some newcomers can't adjust to not having a change of seasons, others get "rock fever" - that feeling of being confined to a small island with no place to go so they leave in order to get back to civilization, still others have difficulty adjusting to the frequent power outages (we've had brief power outages on our island almost very day this past week) and the constant need to repair or replace things like refrigerators, a/c units, or anything mechanical. The list goes on and on.

Ex-pats tend to be somewhat transient - some are snowbirds who come down just for the winter and even those who live on the island full time tend to spend 2 or 3 months "off island" (usually in the summer months) either traveling our visiting relatives "back home". Others come to the island because they are running away from something (a bad marriage, abusive parents, too much debt, they don't like snow or there's too much rain) and when they get here they find their problems have followed them. In the past 10 years on my island I've seen more Ex-pats come and go then have stayed. Last year alone 5 couples we know left the island - none of them were here longer than 4 years.

Island life is very different from being here on vacation and it's very different than life back in US or Europe. It's not better or worse - JUST DIFFERENT and some people can't adjust to that difference. That's why people like blamona and I will strongly advise you to do thorough "first hand" research by spending some time (weeks. months) actually living in your "dream spot" (making a PMV) so you get an idea of what an Ex-pat's life is really like BEFORE you decide to make the permanent move. I tell people, living on an island may seem like paradise but it is not heaven.

One other comment regarding the PMV - if you can't afford to make a PMV you probably won't be able to afford living in the Caribbean. I know this may sound harsh but it's a fact of life. There's an old saying that goes something like this: Q - How do you leave the caribbean with $1 million? A - Start out with $3 million!

Lastly, I noticed you mentioned Ecuador as a possible place to relocate - I've been there (Quito) and was not at all comfortable from the safety standpoint - all the homes we saw were surrounded by high walls topped with shards of glass or razor wire, they had bars on the windows, many stores & shops had guards armed with rifles standing by the doors. That kind of environment was not conducive to relaxed living.

Again, good luck following your dream - do our homework so the dream doesn't become a nightmare.
RoamsAround is online now  
Sep 26th, 2013, 05:50 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Sep 2013
Posts: 21
RE my list of possibilities, Ecuador was on the list, as was Nicaragua, because we were reading about affordable places to retire (USVI was NEVER on that list) In the beginning I was not concerned about language (I'm still not ruling our non English speaking countries but thought it was worth considering if the language barrier could be less difficult for me My boyfriend speaks some Spanish)

I read that there are some racial issues in Ecuador against Africans, that was a bit of a concern. I know there are problems everywhere, I'm just saying.

To be honest, as we are African American, and after our visit to the Caribbean and after my work in Africa I thought I wanted to consider places where black people were the majority for a change. I took your advice and did more reading last night. It appears that the islanders stick together and being black won't be that much a help I also read more about the issues like the ones mentioned about things not working and the prices.

Its not so much that I am in dream land about living on an island sipping a drink on the beach. That wasn't my point for going and I have already done that in Hawaii (my parents have lived there since 1970). But I am also very much concerned with the plight of the poor, especially poor black people and was hoping to become involved in some effort there as I did in Africa but I hear you about the prices and Im not looking for a money struggle or to be left out. We will be living on less and if less is going to make our lives harder then we might need to reconsider.

I do thank you both and everyone else for helping me and sharing your experiences.
Urbandoggs is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 09:03 PM.