Bridgetown, Barbados Report of what it's like to live there - 12/20/10
Personal Experiences from Bridgetown, Barbados
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Multiple previous assignments overseas.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
3.5 hours to Miami, 5 hours to New York, 5.5 to Dallas, with direct flights from each.
3. How long have you lived here?
More than 6 months.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Government, assigned to US Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is widely varied with mixed condo and stand alone homes. Locations are spread between west and south coasts, all in good locations, but with a wide variety of quality.(One common location is the Millenium Heights compound.)Housing traditionally has been a serious morale issue here - most are put into TDY housing upon arrival, with lengthy periods required before settling in. It will be several months before you get set up with internet, tv and your shipments. Even once you get settled, issues with build quality and generally poor service on island means you need to embrace things not working quite right and be okay with having embassy, utility and landlord service requests sitting for months without action. You have to do without at times, but it remains fairly easy to keep in good spirits when you are only minutes from a beautiful beach, no matter where you are.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Availability is pretty good, but import duties roughly double the price. There is a nice local costco-type store, and decent local grocery options. Produce, particularly fruits, is lacking, and milk is shelf milk, but it is fairly easy to get what you need if you are willing to pay. It is EXPENSIVE to live here, and I can't figure out how there are import duties of over 100% and VAT of 17.5% but a COLA of only 35%.It doesn't come close to covering the expense.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Beach gear, beach gear and more beach gear. Shorts, sandals, swimsuits, snorkel, boogie board, etc. Most kids could go their entire tours here in shorts and sandals.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
US fast food chains, except for KFC, haven't been allowed in Barbados, making the local chain - Chefette - ubiquitous. It is pretty atrocious. Local pizza is similarly locally branded and pretty bad quality. Restaurants choices are somewhat limited, as one would expect in a small place, but there are still some good options. Cost is roughly double the US price.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
Specialty dietary items are hard to find. One would need to adapt as if shopping at a low-end US chain grocery store. There isn't a local equivalent to a Trader Joe's or Whole Foods or a health food store I'm aware of. For non-liquid or non-refrigerated items, shipping things in through the embassy is the best option.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitos are a problem. Dengue fever has been an issue this year, with several from the Embassy infected. There are the usual tropical ant and cockroach populations, but it is easy enough to fend them off.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Embassy Bridgetown has DPO and pouch mail services, a huge benefit.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available, of mixed quality. You have to pay salary, plus register as an employer (a multi-day process for us) and buy into the national insurance scheme. Total cost is about US$10/hour.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The U.S. Embassy has a small gym, as does the main housing compound at Millenium Heights. Others are available on-island for a fee.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Credit cards are widely used and accepted, without major fraud concerns. Bring 'em and use 'em. ATM cards also widely used and accepted. That said, some ATMs don't work with US bank cards -- it is a branch by branch thing, and fees vary widely, even within the same brand of bank. Easier and cheaper to use the Embassy for cash if you work there.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Lots. Barbados among world leaders in churches per capita. Anglican is primary denomination, but Catholic, most protestant denominations, Mormon, Jehova's Witness, Muslim and Jewish options exist.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes. Good local papers exist. TV is either cable (multichoice) or satellite (dish).For either, there are no HD and feeds, there are about 50 channels, and feeds are largely from South America. Most programming is in English, but commercials are in Spanish. Local service providers for both options need better customer service, so expect outages and delays in service. Cost is about US$65/month.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Barbados is English-speaking.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
There is an active disability rights organization that works well with local government, and disability rights are generally protected. However, infrastructure is not what it is in the U.S. and someone with physical disabilities may have issues with local sidewalks (or lack thereof), use of local transportation and even access to some buildings.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are safe and reliable, but expensive. Local busses vary - there are official govt. busses and private ones. All can get very crowded, sardine crowded, and the routes are hard to master for all but the most seasoned. Don't count on local transport -- bringing a car is a must.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
If you are with the Embassy, don't bring a car, buy one here. Because of 100+% duty on car purchases, the local new and used car market is ridiculously expensive for most. However, if you qualify for duty-free import of a car b/c you work at the Embassy, you can purchase your car at pre-duty rates, use it for several years and sell it for what you bought it for. Local dealers are willing to enter into a buyback agreement upon initial purchase, so you essentially get free use of a car for a few years. That said, bureaucratic process for purchase/duty-free status/registration is a pain - expect a couple of months of expensive car rental fees while it gets sorted. It is best to have right-hand drive (we drive on the right here, and left-hand drive vehicles required to post that ON the car).I've been happy to have a small awd vehicle - it is not required, but roads can get a bit roungh in places out of town or after big, sustained rains. Smaller vehicles are preferred for very narrow local roads, and tiny little cars are pretty common here. I feel a bit too big, but okay, in a mini-sport ute.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
No. The standard for high-speed is 4MB/second, which really isn't available here. LIME is the only option currently, and they sell 4MB and 8MB packages, but can't deliver on them. We've got the fastest package and our speeds vary from just under 1MB/second to about 3.1MB/second, depending on time of day and load on the system - we average around 2MB/sec. Cost is about US$100/month if you ever want to go north of about 1.5MB/sec.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Get a local phone, but 3G or 4G networks aren't supported, so smart phones aren't too useful. Locals mostly use older model Blackberries, which the Embassy provides to many staff members. There are two cell phone providers (LIME and Digicel) on island, and cost of calling on either is expensive and each offer similarly mediocre service. Pick your poison. For personal cell phones, some opt to go with LIME to make calls to Embassy (which uses LIME) cheaper and others offer to go with Digicel because of convenience of location or to provide backup in case the other network goes down.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Yes. Ther is a six-month quarantine from the U.S.Some have done a workaround by shipping pets through the U.K.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
There are vets on island with good reputations, and some kenneling options. For serious health conditions or issues, there are more limited local options.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
This is a country of less than 300k people, so opportunities are more limited than in bigger places. That said, many expats do work on the local economy, and there are always options available for work at the Embassy for spouses/partners.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Barbadians are a bit more formal than Americans. Business dress tends towards suit and tie for men, business dresses or suit for women. Casual shorts and t-shirts are common for shopping and errands, but swimsuits are bad form anywhere but the beach. Embassy is largely business casual, except for meetings or events when traditional business attire is expected.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Crime in Barbados is much less of an issue than elsewhere in the Caribbean, and the police are professional and reliable. You will feel safe here.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Dengue fever was an issue this year and remains a concern. Local health care is mixed. I wouldn't be comfortable with any serious health condition at the local hospitals, but the local clinics offer decent, (mostly) U.S. standard health care with (mostly) U.S. or U.K. trained physicians that would be sufficient for any minor health issue.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Air (and water) quality are world-leading. Very little local industry, a small local population and a remote ocean location combine to make Bridgetown one of the cleanest capitals in the world.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Daily weather reports are pretty much the same year round: 80-90 degrees, sunny with a chance of showers, humidity. Easiest place in the world to be a weather forcaster. Tropical thunderstorms can be an issue in summer months, but Barbados is too far south and east to be in serious hurricane danger.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are two main international schools - Providence School and Codrington School. Both are of excellent quality at elementary and middle school levels. High school at these schools requires more follow up, but I wouldn't currently endorse local options above middle school. Both main schools have strong administration teams and teachers, with key difference being facilities and curriculum. Codrington offers an excellent IB curriculum, while Providence follows a UK/Barbados curriculum that is more geared towards strict testing targets. Providence enjoys beautiful facilities located on a national historic site and is very well supplied, largely because of the patronage of billionaire Eugene Melnyk, the owner of the Ottawa Senators. Codrington is less well funded, which shows in aging facilities, but still offers a nice experience for most students. Other local options are also available at the elementary level, such as St. Winifred's, with some good reports from parents.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
It depends. Both Codrington and Providence are small schools, and do case-by-case analysis rather than apply firm national regulations or policies as one would find in the U.S.Both administrations are caring and responsive, but the parent may find themselves doing a bit a trailblazing rather than finding pre-set plans and procedures in place.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Yes. There are many local options, of varied quality. High quality care is available, including U.S.-trained and certified day care, if you are willing to shop around. Personally, I had a bad experience followed by a good one - you just have to interview the providers and monitor.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes. Cricket, surfing and sailing are great options with very good coaching available. There is also a local aquatics center that offers decent swimming training. Other sports do not offer the same quality as available in the U.S.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Medium to Large. Barbados is a retirement destination for many Brits and some Americans. It is also a regional hub for many companies, embassies and NGOs.
2. Morale among expats:
Good. The island is beautiful, the people are welcoming and the quality of life is generally good. There are some hiccups over housing and the generally slow, low quality service, but it is more than made up for by the environment.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
There are touristy spots, local nightclubs and local rum shops/bars, but this is a small island with accordingly limited options. Much entertaining is done in homes and surrounds families. Locals are welcoming and accepting of expats.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is a great family city. Beaches are wonderful and child friendly, restaurants are welcoming. There are unending outdoor activities to keep kids interested, despite limited cultural offerings like museums, plays, etc. Singles can also enjoy the many benefits of living in a tourist destination, but will need to put more effort into making local friends. Nightlife and the dating pool are limited on this small island. All posted here will need to adapt to life on an island only about 2.5 times the size of DC.To avoid feeling trapped in a gilded cage, one needs to take advantage of travel options and become engaged in the vibrant local community.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It would be fine, but there are some issues. There are several LGBT members of the embassy community who seem happy and do not appear to face major issues in their daily lives. However, there is discrimination here, as with most of the Caribbean, and LGBT persons should not expect a US or EU standard of acceptance.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There is some discrimination against Guyanese or Haitian immigrants, but no serious religious or gender discrimination issues.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Getting to know locals, traveling to other nearby countries, enjoying the beautiful ocean and walking in the interior forests on hikes with the Barbados National Trust.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Surfing, snorkeling, swimming, boating. There are also a number of interesting activities, like ziplining, jeep tours, and dozens of other options. But the real joy is getting to the island's interior and most rural areas, where the real beauty of the land and the people are. There are some lovely botanical gardens and interior forests, and a very active National Trust that leads regular activities.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Local rum, sailing or surfing lessons, dozens of interesting tourist activities from ziplining to snorkling to sunset cruises. But to live like a tourist, you'll need to spend like one.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Beautiful beaches, wonderfully friendly locals, clean air and a nice base from which to tour the Eastern Caribbean.
11. Can you save money?
Not at all. Local import duties agenerally over 100%, limited competition, and shipping costs conspire to make life here expensive.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. I enjoy the lifestyle and came with expectations about the slower pace of service and life in general. The beauty, clean air and water, and great outdoor activities are well worth the minor hassles. The Embassy community is strong and supportive, which is a wonderful asset to any country.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes, fast food cravings, island fever and big-city cultural expectations.
3. But don't forget your:
Outdoor activity gear, relaxed outlook and love of island life.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
You have to understand the history of slavery in the region to understand Barbados:I suggest Slave Society in the City: Bridgetown Barbados, 1680-1834 by Pedro L. V. WelchPeople think of the beach in Barbados, but the rural communities are the heart and soul - to get a sense of that, I'd also suggest: The Parish Behind God's Back: The Changing of Rural Barbados by George Gmelch and Sharon Bohn Gmelch (Sep 2001)
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Um . . . I think there was a Miss Marple movie about Barbados.