Bridgetown, Barbados Report of what it's like to live there - 07/11/16

Personal Experiences from Bridgetown, Barbados

Bridgetown, Barbados 07/11/16


1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Okinawa, Japan and London, England.

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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?

Arizona. Flights are 18 hours and route through Miami. There used to be a flight through DFW but it was discontinued. The only airline that flies directly to the U.S. is American Airlines. British Airways has direct flights to London, Air Canada to Canada, and GOL to Brazil.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing here is small. Let me repeat: HOUSING. IS. SMALL. There are NO houses on the beach. There are NO apartments on the beach. Do not expect a large house, or a large apartment, and do not expect to see the ocean from anywhere on your property. That being said, housing is perfectly adequate.

There are two main housing areas, one is in the center of the island and is a gated community with a community gym and pool - lots of families there, very nice. The other is on the southern side of the island and is closer to the beach (CLOSE but not ON and you do not have ocean views) but the apartments are very small - about 1000 square feet and without storage. Don't come to Barbados for the housing...come for the beaches themselves!

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Very, very, very expensive. Plan for everything to be three times as much and half the quality and you'll be fine. COLA is high for a reason. Most everything is available, some of the time, but not everything is available all of the time.

Markets are an awesome deal - there is a major one downtown on Saturdays and some smaller ones scattered around other days. A lot of expats go to Brighton market, which has a play area for kids, arts and crafts, and fresh fruits, veggies and juices. It is only open Saturday mornings 6-10 am and you should go early. Downtown has a dizzying array of foods, spices, etc., but a lot of expats don't brave the crowds which is a mistake - the prices are great, the produce is fresh (a lot of it is flown in or shipped in from nearby islands just for Saturday market and does not make it to regular supermarkets).

Buying produce from roadside stands is also safe and a better bet than the limp veggies and spoiling fruit you will find in all the supermarket chains. If there is a roof over your head when you're buying it, chances are the food you have in your hand is already rotting.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Toys (poor quality and selection on island), Dr. Pepper. Everything else is available and DPO takes a week or less.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

A lot of expats stick to the fancier restaurants, and the food can be good (and the view fantastic) but again, roadside stands are king here. The best fish sandwiches are at Auntie's near the cruising club, go over to Cutters for awesome sandwiches or find the elusive stand in front of the church in Payne's Bay on Friday nights for the freshest fish on island.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Giant snails. They are disgusting and must be dunked in bleach to kill them and their eggs - squishing them shoots eggs everywhere and makes more snails. Otherwise just the regular tropical weather things like ants and roaches. Monkeys can be a pest in some areas but not really near embassy housing.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO. Fast for an overseas post.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

US$50/day. Most people don't have full time staff. Employers must pay into the pension system and the GOB is very strict about keeping track of that.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Plenty of gyms everywhere, the embassy has a small gym as well, and you can find personal trainers if you want them.

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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 safe to use, ATMs also, this is a tourist-oriented place so ATMs are generally safe. That said, use the same caution you would in the U.S.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Many. Barbados is very religious and you can find various churches in English.

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1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes, taxis, but negotiate price BEFORE you start the trip--there are no meters in taxis.

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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?

Any car works, small cars are easier to park and move around but most of the embassy community owns CRVs and seem happy with them. The resale on cars is very good.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Internet is available and the embassy now keeps it installed at housing in-between residents due to the high cost and 3-4 month wait for un-installing and re-installing internet services. They only pay for the lowest level of service, however, so you'll want to bump up your service after you arrive, which you can do with a phone call.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Local provider but be sure to cancel your plan a few weeks before you leave and do it in person. I tried to do it after I left and ended up paying 5 extra months and making a lot of really frustrating phone calls.

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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?

Veterinarians are good and inexpensive. They are the best deal on the island.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Work is business attire or business casual, depending on your section. You'll need a tux/formal for the Marine Corps Ball and other events throughout the year.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Crime is still a big problem in Barbados.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Health care is pretty terrible, especially at the public hospital. I found a private, British-trained doctor who was excellent (an internalist) and he even did house calls for a fraction of the cost in the US, but emergency-room services and specialty services (heart, ENT, etc) can be really spotty and most people MedEvac for everything from a root canal to a dengue infection.

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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 quality is good but after harvest time farmers burn the sugarcane fields, creating a lot of smoke. Garbage is also frequently burned and bothers a lot of people, particularly on the south side of the island.

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4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Island fever. It's real, take precautions to deal with it and save everyone a lot of heartache. It's US$800 for a round trip ticket to the US and Barbados is almost directly across from the northern tip of South America, so don't make the mistake of thinking you're near the US or that it is easy or inexpensive to get off island. A 45-minute flight to a nearby island can cost from $200-400 US in advance. If you expect this, and prepare for it, you will be much happier. Even going to another island can help cure island fever, and there are many beautiful places to choose from, but don't stay longer than six months without a trip somewhere or you will find yourself grinding your teeth.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot all year-round. Barbados runs between 80-84 degrees, and gets very muggy during the rainy season. It is never cooler than 78 degrees.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Two international schools, I have experience with both. Codrington is small, has IB, and seems to be run on a shoestring but the majority of embassy kids go there. It's adequate but not amazing - a nice community but not particularly rigorous as a school.

Providence is larger and better-run, but does not cater to the embassy community and thus can be hard to get in to. Providence is by far the better education, with really rigorous standards and excellent teachers.

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2. 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?

Preschools are available and they are expensive.

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3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes, many! Kids play cricket, typical U.S. sports, and both international schools offer sailing and surfing as after-school sports.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Expat community is small, with U.S. embassy folks being the surliest and with the lowest morale. Gas and oil companies have a small community of expats on the island and they seem fairly pleased overall. Brits do very well also, as Barbados caters to British tourists and tastes.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

BADASSN is the local expat diving club, and there are historical societies that do hikes, hashes and sailing clubs. If you like the ocean and water sports you will never be bored; if you're not that into them, you will have a rough time.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

All of the above.

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4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Bajans are very strict with their children and use corporal punishment very publicly. It is common to see a woman screaming and striking a child anywhere - at school, in the mall, on the street. This affects some people very adversely.

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5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

The beaches! St. Nicholas Abbey is a great place to hang out with friends, go to Oistin's for a fish fry or find "the hole" over in Bathsheba and watch the sun set while you lounge under a huge rock.

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6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Not really. Buy rum.

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7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

The friendliness of Bajans, the beautiful beaches.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Camping is illegal on the island so don't bring your gear! Also, despite this being a tourist destination, Bajans are ATROCIOUS when it comes to customer service. Drop your expectations and then lower them some more - money or tips do not help, smiling does not help, being friendly does not help - giving the proper greeting (good morning, good afternoon, good evening) can help occasionally. Customer service simply isn't something people bother with, particularly outside touristed areas, and everything moves extremely slowly.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?


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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Expectations of customer service, your camping gear and anything for cold weather.

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4. But don't forget your:

Swimsuit, sunscreen and patience!

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