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paxi7294 Jul 3rd, 2010 09:57 PM

Relocating to Caribbean
I am single and am selling my business. I won't exactly be wealthy, but I won't need to work anymore. I am in my 30's; not at retirement age, and most websites I've found have focused on retirees. I want to relocate to a Caribbean island. I've been to the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Punta Cana multiple times. May be interested in any of those or some other islands. I've been researching online, but not finding the answers I need about permanent residency (most websites seem to talk about work permits or extremely high incomes so that they know I can take care of myself). Where/how do I find more information? Are there specialists who deal with assisting with this type of relocation? I may be interested in many different Caribbean islands, as well as Panama or Belize. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

virginia Jul 4th, 2010 04:19 AM

i know next to nothing but here goes.
if you go somewhere besides usvi or puerto rico you may need to emmigrate. you'll need the new citizenship or as an expat most island will require you to leave once a year (this could for be a couple months)
it IS extremely difficult to get work permits. island govts want jobs to go to natives not wealthy americans. on some islands owning a business requires partnership with island native.
buying property is complicated & requires local lawyers to be involved. very time consuming. building is double the effort.

as for choosing location, you really should go there and find out if you actually like it. i've been on a few islands and some places i'd like to live - others not so much. every island has a distinct appearance/atmosphere & starts to feel different after you've been there for more than a week or 2.

i'd strongly advise you start this process differently. list what you're looking for in an island. then go visit the places you think match most of your list. once you've found a place that steals your heart you can find out what's involved with moving to that locale (obviously each place has completely different requirements). you might also choose to actually go live there for a year & see if the reality comes close to your imagination.

if you already have some paramaters in mind tell us and hopefully we can advise you on which islands meet your criteria. why do YOU want to move to an island?

RoamsAround Jul 4th, 2010 05:26 AM

I have a home in the Caribbean so am familiar with what you are trying to do. It is not easy, takes a bit of time and normally requires that you have a decent nest egg. What follows is some general information that is fairly common throughout the Caribbean. This is a complex subject so it's difficult to cover the requirements for every island in a response on a travel forum. You are contemplating immigrating to a foreign country so you'd be wise to consult with an attorney well versed in the legal immigration requirements for the country (island) where you wish to relocate.

FYI - virginia gave you some good general information.

I'll assume you are a US citizen. If so, you'll find it infinitely easier to relocate to Puerto Rico,, Vieques, Culebra or one of the US Virgin Islands as you will already have citizen/residency status. Moving to and working on any those islands is essentially the same as moving across town or to another state. There's a very informative website ( that is dedoicated to people desiring to relocate to the US Virgin Islands. If you read EVERYTHING there you'll get a real good feel for what it takes and what life is life in the USVI's. Much of what is said about living conditions in the USVI's applies to other islands.

The Bahamas, Jamaica, Panama and Belise (as well as all other Caribbean islands except the USVI's as mentioned above) all have some type of immigration requirements - you CANNOT just show up on day and decide to live there. Generally speaking in order to obtain residency you will have to make a substantial (usually a minimum of $250,000US, maybe more depending on the island) investment in real estate or a business that will provide jobs for locals. Doing so, often requires that you apply for what is known as an "Alien Landholder's License". This is basically approval from the local government for you to purchase a home or business. You will have to prove you have the financial means to support yourself while you are on island since you WILL NOT be allowed to work. You will have to pay a hefty fee for this approval (usualy something like 10% or 15% of the value of the property being purchased). It gives you no other rights except to own propery. You will still have to apply for residency if you plan on staying on the island for more than 6 months in any calendar year. And you will have to apply for a Work Permit if you hope to work on the island.

Getting residency DOES NOT automatically give you the right to work. For that you will need to obtain a Work Permit and they are often difficult to get. You must posses a "unique skill" and your potential employer must prove to the local Department of Labor that there are no locals qualified to fill the position. This process can take 6 to 9 months and there's never any guarantee the Permit will be approved. You MAY NOT remain on island while your application is being processed. The Work Permit, if granted, is good for one year and only for that position. You may not work in any other position and there is no guarantee the Permit will be renewed when it expires.

You will generally find housing costs and living expenses are higher and wages are lower than they are "back home". That's the Catch-22 of living and working in the Caribbean.

Just about every island government has an "official" website where you can find the immigration requirements for that particular island. Do a google search using such topics as "NAME OF ISLAND Government"; "Relocating to NAME OF ISLAND"; "Living on NAME OF ISLAND" and you'll find lots of links. Don't forget you'll need a local lawyer to assist you.

Keep in mind that every island is different. If you truly want to relocate to the Caribbean I strongly suggest you do some in depth "first hand" research. This entails actually visiting the island(s) you are considering, spending so time there, consult with local officials. You would do yourself a big disservice if you relied soley on advice you received on an internet travel form. Make sure you know what you are getting into. Living on an island is not all palm trees and pina colodas - it's far different than being there on vacation. Once you narrow your choices do a Pre-Move Visit - spend several weeks or months on the island living like a local, stay in an efficiency apartment not a resort. Cook your meals, do grocery shopping visiting 3 or 4 stores to get everything on your list, do laundry, go to the bank and stand in line to cash a check, go to the utility office and stand in line to pay your electric bill, go to the phone company and stand in line to pay your phone bill (you get the picture), do every day chores, drive around during rush hour (yes there are rush hours in the Caribbean), search for a parking space near where you think you might be working, etc. In other words do the everything thigs you'll be doing if you lived full time on the island. You'll find out life in the ilands is far different than most people imagine.

For what it is worth, we spent the better part of 5 years searching for "our island". Take your time and don't be in a rush - nothing moves quickly in the Caribbean.

paxi7294 Jul 4th, 2010 06:25 AM

Virginia & RoamsAround:
Thank you both for the great advice! It's been my dream for many years to relocate to a tropical area, and I now find myself in the financial position to do so. I realize that I need to do a lot more traveling (non-resort of course) to really see what I like or don't like about each place. In all of my previous travel, I've explored the local atmosphere (not staying in a resort), but realize I need to really try staying at the places I'm most interested in and doing normal day to day things like grocery shopping, banking, driving, etc. I knew it would be a long process, and am glad that RoamsAround mentioned that it took 5 years of searching before finding "their" island.

I want to move to an island for many reasons, some easier to explain than others. I want to live on or near nice clean beaches, where in leisure time I can dive, boat, etc. I want the slower paced, more laid back atmosphere that these places seem to have from my travel experiences. I always enjoy meeting locals, exploring their cultures, and mingling with them. I have minimal Spanish but would study hard if I chose a Spanish speaking location. Otherwise I only speak English. I'm happiest when I'm in warm/hot/very hot temperatures, in the sun (even though there are some major rainy seasons), and near the water. As Virginia mentioned, I will start making a list of exactly what I'm looking for in a new location, then take extended trips to those places. I live in Ohio only because I was born in Ohio. The few states I would have considered relocating to just don't really suit me after my repeated travels to them. After the sale of my business, I have nothing to make me stay here, and want to start really looking into relocating. I realize I have a lot of research to do. I've just started researching and was having trouble figuring out where/how to even start. Your responses both helped greatly with that.

I think my next step will be to research some/all of these websites, learn more about the islands themselves, requirements for living there, etc. Then I will start traveling to the places that seem best suited to me to see if I think I would really be happy there.

Thanks for the great advice. You've really helped give me some things to think about and the knowledge of how to start seriously looking into things.

virginia Jul 4th, 2010 07:40 AM

you mention diving - which gives me an idea.
obviously some islands/areas have much better diving than others (thus more dive companies). i'm thinking you could use this to "test" places. lots of americans, brits, aussies, etc take temporary jobs with dive companies. most are 25-35 and most don't plan to immigrate, but they apparently are permitted to take these specialized jobs. this would put you on an island for a few weeks/months at a time at least. time to meet ppl, shop, bank, do chores, drive, talk to lawyers, get a feel for the place/locals. i have a friend who currently goes back & forth to akumal, mex who does this.
diving island options might include: bahamas, grand cayman, usvi, bvi, bonnaire, mexico, belize, turks & caicos or saba but it's tiny with no beaches.
you'd have to take the extra courses to be dive master < i think that's what it's called - i snorkel but don't dive. and i don't know how hard these jobs are to come by.

of course you know this is the dream of more than half the ppl on fodors. i too would like to go but real estate costs will probably keep me from moving.........heavy sigh.
enjoy the quest.

JeanH Jul 5th, 2010 04:30 AM

Get your hands on a copy of Herman Wouk's 'Don't Stop the Carnival'. It's a bit dated, was written in the late 1950's, but many of the trials and tribulations of moving to the Caribbean portrayed in the book are still very true. It's a fun read.

The only country I have any experience with as far as relocating is Belize. You will not be able to work as a dive master there. To do that, you have to be a citizen of Belize (not just a resident). We bought a condo there with very few hassles.

RoamsAround Jul 5th, 2010 05:00 AM

Also, get a copy of "The Settler's Handbook" (available at or the VIMovingcenter website). It's geared towrd life in the VI's but it's a must read for anyone contemplating a move to the Caribbean.

I'm intrigued by your comment "I want the slower paced, more laid back atmosphere that these places seem to have from my travel experiences". This is a perfect example of why you need to spend some serious time "living on island" before actually making a permanent move. "Slower paced" and "laid back atmosphere" is not always akin to paradise - slower paced means that when your refrigerator stops working and the repairman says he'll be there later he could show up 3 days later than tell you he has to get the replacement part flown in from Miami which will take another 2 weeks. Slower paced means having to wait an hour and a half for for lunch at the local beach bar - while that may seem nice when you are on vacation it's gets pretty old when it happens day in and day out all year long. Laid back atmosphere means everything moves on "island time", business are not always open when you need them, store shelves are not always fully stocked (for instance on our island it's almost impossible to find rye bread or hot dog rolls and the run out of milk 3 days after the boat comes in), there are long lines everywhere. Lastly it leads to "rock fever" - that's the feeling you have to get "off the island" for a few weeks because you are tired of being trapped in what amounts to be a small town where you don't have the ability to drive 30 minutes to the big city or mega-shopping mall.

I'm not trying to disuade you but rather to point out living on an island is often very different than most people imagine. You have to take of the rose colored glasses to see what it is really like. Some people thrive on island life others give up an go back home within a few months. There are two old sayings that are prevallent in the Caribbean. The first goes something like this: How do you make $1 million in the Caribbean - Answer: Start with $2 million. The second is: The Caribbean may be paradise but it's not heaven.

Do your research and good luck following your dream.

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