Monday, January 20, 2014

Being an Expat in the USA: The US Virgin Islands

article from January 5, 2011
By Jamie Douglas

The United States has several overseas possessions where one can live in tropical splendor without leaving the familiar chain stores, McDonald's, etc., behind. They are Guam, the Northern Marianas, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the US Virgin Islands.

I will start with the Virgin Islands, AKA USVI, VI, or my favorite, the West Indies, which I think sounds historically charming.

For those of you who are looking to relocate but don’t feel comfortable learning a new language, The West Indies might just be the place. Everything you are used to is freely available, and all the liquor in the world, along with everything else, is duty free.

There are world class beaches, the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean Sea and coral reefs, and then there is the added benefit that, no matter which island you settle on, whether it is  the large, mostly rural island of St Croix, which features the only long stretch of straight road anywhere on the islands; or cosmopolitan St Thomas, where practically year round, those giant cruise ships stop by to disgorge tourists numbering in the tens of thousands, but just for a few hours at a time; or St John, which is more flat, totally oriented toward the laid back lifestyle that calls for a hammock  between the coconut palms that fringe the islands (mmm - think of that  frosty Piña Colada in your hands).

Driving is somewhat tricky. When the United States purchased the islands from Denmark in 1917, they retained the “charming” Scandinavian custom of driving on the wrong side of the road, the left. Virtually all cars are left-hand drive, which, if you plan on having to pass another vehicle, makes it very helpful to have a co-pilot with good depth perception, preferably one who can look around the corner of the next bend in the road.

Housing and business opportunities are not a problem. Hess Oil operates one of the largest oil refineries on the south shore of St Croix, and there is a very large aluminum smelter there as well.

St Thomas and St John offer many employment opportunities in the tourist industry, as there are many hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfasts, many a world-class restaurant and of course many shops that offer the traveler duty-free items from all over the world.

St Croix is also the home of Cruzan Rum, a homegrown enterprise that has now become world famous.

For those of you who have school-age children, your best options are limited to a few, but excellent private schools such as Waldorf, Montessori and several parochial schools. Tuition varies, but tends to be pretty steep. For higher education, St Croix also is the home of the University of the West Indies.

Then there is Buck Island, off St Croix, where you can snorkel along a marked trail in the world famous Buck Island National Monument, which can be reached via several tour operators on either a lazy sailboat cruise or by powerboat. Scuba diving is also a popular pastime with many visitors to St Croix, with spectacular dives off Hams Bluff, on the northwest shore, where the night dive on the Wall is one of life’s most unforgettable experiences.

Once you are settled in, there are the additional benefits of all the other Windward and Leeward Islands, which are just a short sail or flight away. There are many ferry services to the British Virgin Islands, and then there is St Maarten, a condominium island, occupied by both the Netherlands and France; Saba, a volcanic cone that sticks straight up out of the sea, with the town named Bottom near the top, and other lovely names like Upper Hell’s Gate and Lower Hell’s Gate. This island is also Dutch, and besides the little tourism it gets, fishing is the main occupation there.

So if you are down to the last hundred or so years in your life, this will keep you occupied, and should you get bored, there is also Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic), where there are very large tracts of native rainforests, rivers and some of the last Arawak and Caribe Indians.

I promise that you will not get bored, when even the very rare spell of bad weather still offers you all the restaurants and shopping.

Live Life, Love Life, Love Love, and Love your Planet. It is full of surprises.
Jamie Douglas
Patagonia

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.