Second Passports

Living in the Caribbean as an Expat

What's it like living on a small island as an expat?  You're an outsider; you may have different colored skin from the natives; and you may not even speak the same language.

After I acquired a second citizenship and settled in the Caribbean, I found some aspects of life were easier there than in the United States.  Others were more difficult.

One key difference is in the simple act of shopping for clothing, household goods, and groceries—almost everything.  You'll find fewer brands to select from.  For instance, since most food items are imported, you may be able to find Lays potato chips in the grocery store, but perhaps not Tostitos.  Don’t expect stores to be open 24 hours a day, either.  Very few are, and some islands restrict the hours stores can operate.

Nor can you expect to live anonymously on a small island, the way you can in a big city like New York or Los Angeles.  First of all, as a foreigner you will stick out like a sore thumb!  Second, you will have to register your residential address with the police and other government agencies.  Only after you have registration documents in hand will you be able to sign up for utilities and open a bank account.  You may also need to demonstrate that your immigration status gives you the right to live on the island.

Lastly, don't expect that the people you deal with—especially in the government—to do things promptly.  As in many countries, Caribbean people—and especially bureaucrats—don't like confrontation.  They may make promises they can't keep, provide deadlines they have no intention of honoring, etc.  A small example is if someone from the phone company promises to let you know when you can expect to have your phone installed.  You won't get a call back.  You have to call every day and ask when the phone will be installed.  In my case it took eight months until I received telephone service!

If this sounds like "sour grapes," it's not.  I don't regret for one moment my decision to leave the United States.  I don't miss the everyday indignities and privacy invasions I suffered living in my native land.  Except for banks, hotels and some government offices, there is no 24-hour camera surveillance.  The police don't dress up in Ninja costumes and invade people's homes with guns drawn.  The concept of "civil asset forfeiture" where the government can seize everything you own without even accusing you of a crime is unknown.  Indeed, unless you're suspected of committing a serious criminal offense, you're unlikely to come into personal contact with the police at all.

Most of all, I really feel free.  I can express my opinion, travel without being questioned as to where I was or where I'm going, and invest anywhere in the world without being told, "Sorry, we don't accept U.S. clients."

And, if I want to return to visit family and friends in the United States, I simply show the friendly customs agent at the U.S. border my Dominica passport with the U.S. visa sticker.  But it's always nice going home…to the islands.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Nestmann

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