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10 Tips for Living in Trinidad & Tobago

By Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Expats in Trinidad & Tobago love the family-focused Trinis, the laid-back island culture and the beautiful beaches. That being said, many expats find dealing with bureaucracy a challenge, the pace of life frustrating and the cost of housing, food and cars much higher than expected.

Expats in Trinidad & Tobago - 10 Tips for Living in Trinidad & Tobago

Expat Life in Trinidad & Tobago

"Dealing with the ministries was the hardest part of the move, but now that we're through it (we've been here 5 months now), I truly like living in beautiful Trinidad and especially the friendly, family-oriented culture. My kids have settled in, I'm happy with the school, and I've learned my way around town. Life is good, you just have to cultivate the right attitude," said one expat living in Trinidad & Tobago.

Another expat said, "All in all, I really like living in Trinidad, and I am sure that there are a lot worse places you could go! You are probably thinking "I am never moving there," but the climate is great, there are some beautiful places to visit (boat trips round the smaller islands of Trinidad and Tobago), seeing leatherback turtles and liming (chilling out) on the beach. What I like the most is having quality time with my family -- and getting that time is very easy in Trinidad. Also, the other Caribbean islands are very accessible and most hotels give a special caricom rates."

"I feel like I adjusted very quickly. In fact, I liked it more when I was first here. I do have some good Trini friends now, and I finally found a gym I like. It's just such a struggle to do things here sometimes. Life is easier back in the states. I just pay to have certain things I like shipped here - my coffee, clothing, stuff for my pets. It's expensive, though. And getting the things my family likes to eat takes a lot of time and driving. I definitely have an occasional "I hate Trinidad" day. I try to laugh it off and go have a swim in the pool. I get a little tired of always cooking because restaurants are so expensive here and there's no take out to speak of - unless you eat KFC," described another expat.

An expat living in Port of Spain explained, "I love the tropical weather. We live near the bay, and I love to watch the birds and ships go in and out. The pace. Everything takes more time - driving, getting any work done, dealing with any bureaucracy. And the systems make no sense. Efficiency is like a dirty word. My A/C technician calls to say he'll be here in half an hour and shows up two hours later. I just waited a day and a half for the guy to show up to fix my garage door. And, the last time he fixed it, he was here for 3 days!!! I watched my neighbor remodel (not build, just remodel) his house - it took 16 months!! Every time I looked over there, the workers were taking a break! Trash is everywhere - I watch huge bunches of it wash out to sea after every storm. There's no recycling, no sense that the environment is something to be protected, not just used. Water shortages every year, power outages and the cable goes out regularly. They cut off our phone for no reason - the bill was paid - and I spent 2 hours on the phone getting it reinstated. It didn't come back on for a month!

Tobago Island

Trinidad & Tobago have a combined population of approximately 1.2 million, with only about 4% of that population living in Tobago, the smaller of the two islands that make up the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago. "Tobago is very small and there is not much there compared to other Caribbean islands, which is what a lot of us like about it - much less commercialized and quite the slow, island vibe for sure. Great scuba diving on the north coast. Kitesurfing on the southwest side (the tourist area) and the south side," said one expat living in Tobago. Another expat added, "Tobago is more of a tourist island with beautiful beaches, scenery and people. There is a lot to explore there and it is relatively safe. For more varied cultural experiences, you may go to Trinidad only 15 mins by air and about 2-3 hours by ferry. There is the jazz festival in April and other public events over the year. Many expats and Europeans have made the island their home - so get to know people. Enjoy."

Healthcare in Trinidad & Tobago

Expats on our Trinidad & Tobago Forum discussed the quality of healthcare in Trinidad & Tobago. One expat in Trinidad said, "the status of medical care in TT is roughly what it was in the US or Britain in the 1970's. It's not primitive, but it's certainly not cutting edge. It is competitive with the rest of the Caribbean. The Minister of Health has been trying to bring the status of healthcare into the modern era, but the politics in TT has stymied him at every turn. I am one of the US docs who was recruited a year ago to move to TT and provide updated skills to the country. Also being recruited were docs from Pediatrics, Oncology, Neurosurgery, ER and Intensive care. After one full year of trying to get past the licensing politics of the existing medical community, who does not want us there to compete with them, we have all given up and are not coming to the island. So, the island medical community has thrown away its chance to get world-class docs from the US and Europe to go there for 3-5 years. Very sad. We only wanted to help. So, for kids with cancer or people with Neurological or Musculoskeletal or Critical illnesses...it is a long air trip to Miami." Another medical professional originally from Trinidad said, "I am myself a healthcare professional and was born and raised there but living abroad. I have found that even persons born there and wishing to return to assist in moving the healthcare system into the 21st century are met with disdain because of our foreign training and 1st world experience - it is very overt. I have had first hand experience with the medical care there and it is less than adequate - so beware and be careful if you do decide to go and take your sick child."

Meeting People in Trinidad & Tobago

"There is plenty of night life in Port of Spain. Some renown clubs/lounges are Zen, Katalyst, Alchemy, 51 and Aura, just to name a few. There is an American Women's association, and also maybe a Latin American Women's association. During carnival, there are MANY fetes to go to which take place 2-3 months prior to carnival. Average price to a fete is $50 US," said one expat in Trinidad. Another expat said, "the Trinis are a happy, fun-loving, music-addicted culture - people burst into song in the grocery, always have time to chat and spare a laugh. Social life is very family-oriented, though, and while many Trinis are friendly on the surface, getting to know them more deeply isn't the norm. They tend to socialize with their own extended families. I have yet to be invited to a Trini's house for dinner that wasn't a business function, although I've had them over. Ex-pats socialize with each other, though." Another expat shared, "there are golf clubs, a rugby club and gyms etc. I haven't found a club that offers everything. I joined the Hilton because it has a decent gym, large pool and tennis court."

Crime in Trinidad & Tobago

"It is important that you choose a safe neighborhood. In case you haven't found a place yet, these are some of the safest and nicest areas: Westmoorings, St Ann's, Cascade, Maraval, Victoria Gardens, Goodwood," advised one expat who recently moved to Trinidad. Another expat in Westmoorings said, "there is a lot of crime in Trinidad but when you read the papers or listen to the news it is Trinidadian people fighting and killing each other! Saying that... you need to have your wits about you and be more alert. For example, when deciding where to park your car when you go to the supermarket. Definitely do not leave anything visable in your car. Don't walk around with lots of cash on you. Make sure that nobody is watching or following you when you are at a cash point. These are basic things that I suppose you subconsciously do back home, but here it needs to be done more vigilantly. Because of the high crime rate in Trinidad, you will find that there are wrought iron bars on all windows and doors. Some do blend in with the houses and after a while you do tend to forget about them - but they are obviously there for a reason."

An expat living in Westmoorings described safety there saying, "early in the morning and between 6-7 pm, Westmoorings is full of people walking, walking their dogs, running or hanging out at the park. It's safe and everyone goes out before the day gets too hot (before 7-8 am) or after the sun sets (starting at ~6pm). I run at night, usually at 7pm, but have done it at 7:30-8pm and it's very safe, and as I said, I don't live in a gated area, people just run around the neighborhood. Also, we walk our dogs right after dinner (~9pm) and one last short walk around 11pm and it's still safe. There are security cars circling the neighborhood all day."

International Schools in Trinidad & Tobago

There are numerous school options available to expats. Read the article, International Schools in Trinidad & Tobago for a more detailed overview of the International School of Port-of-Spain (ISPS), Maple Leaf International School, The British Academy, St. Andrews Private School

Best Places to Live in Trinidad

"Traffic in general is pretty bad during rush hour, but I've heard that Maraval can get a bit worse than other areas. However, it is a very nice area. Other nice areas are St. Anns, Cascade. Or the west: Victoria Gardens, Westmoorings. All these neighborhoods are very nice, safe and it's also where most expats live. There's an international school in Westmoorings and a nice mall, both 10-15 min walk. I was told that I couldn't find a house for less than US$3000 but I found one for $1400, so be clear about your budget when you contact a realtor," explained one expat in a Trinidad & Tobago forum discussion about the best places to live in Trinidad.

"Westmoorings is very popular with expats and very safe. The school bus stops there, too. If you have a relocation package, bring all your stuff with you! Furniture is overpriced due to high import duties. The choice and quality in TT is limited. We took all our furniture over and sold it when we left for more than we had paid for it back home. I advise you wife to contact the American Womens group in TT, too, because they will be able to offer great advice and the best place to live. Housing companies or Estate Agents in TT will show you what they want to show you, usually owned by someone related to them. That's what we found," added another expat. Another shared his experiences, "I know some guys live in the Hilton because you get a good day rate long term, it's safe with a good gym and pool. If you are going with your family then Glencoe, Westmoorings or even St. Anns in gated secure compounds. There is a gated community out near the airport on the golf course near Trincity Mall if you don't want to fight the traffic to work. I would start off in a hotel and get your bearings and take your time to choose something that suits your needs. We had a great villa and pool with an amazing view but wish we had stayed in a secure compound because after a couple of dodgy episodes we were getting very jumpy at night."

"Think about your daily life and plan accordingly. Are you willing to fight traffic to live up in the hills or nearer to the beach? We weren't after doing that in California, so we chose a location close to our school and my husband's office. He has about a 15 min commute. We chose Westmoorings since our kids attend the nearby International School - they can walk back and forth and I don't have to fight the traffic. We rent a house near the ocean - it's bigger than our house in California. We are assisted in the rent by my husband's company - this is typical of the company-sponsored expats stationed here for a few years. The neighborhood is wealthy Trinis or expats. We have an alarm and gates and decorative bars on the windows - everyone here does. I feel safe enough here, but you do still have to be aware and careful. But it's no different from living in a big city in the US - you have to pay attention and be smart about security," advised one expat mom.

An expat living in Port of Spain described her neighborhood and home, "We were limited to what the realtor wanted to show us, mainly Westmoorings. My husband talked to people at work (other expats and locals) and they told us about different areas. We insisted on viewing the other areas we knew of. (Like the US, realtors are looking at their best interest; not yours. They want to show you where they have rental properties, need I say more...) Secondly, drive to work and back during your work hours once you find the area you like. Adjust the hours or the location depending on your choice. Everyone complains about traffic, but Houston's traffic is the same if not worse with 6 lanes on every road. We chose Moka, Maraval by the golf course. It's green and mountainous. It's a 10 minute drive to the city or a 15 minute drive to the Carribean, Maracus Beach. The houses are newer and larger. You get more for your money. [We live in a ] 4 Bedroom / 3.5 Bath with a pool and small yard. Yes, there are also nice townhomes with plunge pools available in the area. We do not have children going to the international school, so that opened our options where to live. Plus, there are fresh fruit and vegetable stands on corners. You won't find that in Westmoorings."

Cost of Living in Trinidad & Tobago

One expat offered a helpful overview of a typical expat family's cost of living: "You will get 25% taxes first year (foreigners) plus extras.. so you will end up paying 27%. So, if you earn 30,000 TTD you will have 21,000-22,000 TTD a month in your bank account. Don't know how your grats work, but if that means you get an extra 1,000 - 4,000 TTD great (those will be taxed too though!!!) so you will get 2900 TTD out of 4000 TTD grats after tax. You will probably want private health insurance (6,000 TTD for three people, per year for a local company), depending where you live you will spend 5000 to 10000 TTD per month for house rental. If you want a good high school for your son, it may get quite steep, but depends on the discounts you get!!! You have to work it out to make final numbers! You may spend up to 3,000 TTD per month in food (without luxuries), 4,000 TTD with three of you. But, you can make the food expenses lower when you get to know how to prepare nice things with local goods. If you use air conditioning, 400 to 800 TTD for electricity. If not, much less. And, if your work is nearby, 400 to 600 TTD per month in gas (short distance but long hours sitting in your car to get anywhere). TV plus Internet is around 500 TTD per month. Cell phone depends on usage, I spend 150 TTD per month and don't use it much. If you want a data plan, think about another 200 TTD per month at least."

Another expat warned, "Most realtors will tell you that it's impossible to find something for less than US$3000... It's not true! Contact Valerie at propertynettt@gmail.com and give her your requirements and budget. Just keep in mind that you probably won't find a furnished house that accepts pets." This warning about some realtors offering misleading advice was echoed throughout our Trinidad & Tobago expat forum and the reports from expats in Trinidad & Tobago.

"Vehicles are very expensive here, I have seen advertisements for new vehicles at nearly double what the same vehicles sell for in North America. The government imposes significant taxes on imports and the dealers have a monopoly on their brands. The high price of new vehicles significantly affects what pre-owned vehicles sell for," explained an expat in Port of Spain. Another said, "I am fortunate in that my company provides me with a vehicle. At 300,000 TTD for a small pickup truck, I would never be able to purchase one. I think you will find it difficult on 18,000 TTD a month to have a comparable standard of living to the US. I have just returned from Miami and found everything so much cheaper than TT. I don't know how old you are, but a lot of younger people share apartments so they can live in a better safer area so that is an option for you."

Dealing With Bureaucracy in Trinidad & Tobago Can Be Frustrating

"We did bring our pets, a dog and two cats. You have to fill out forms, get permits and inspections, etc., and they were in quarantine (2 for 1 month, 1 for 3 months). It was expensive, but worth it for us. In dealing with the animal authorities, customs, and various bureaucracies, just remember to keep your cool and pay the man what he says you owe. It does no good to get mad or fight it. There's no computerization and things seem inefficient, but it's really just that Trinis value living in the moment and fun rather than time-management. The government seems designed to employ the most amount of people rather than building efficient processes," said one expat.

Another expat explained, "while I love some things about Trinidad, I'm getting increasingly frustrated by incompetence of many workers, the time-consuming struggle of dealing with any government institution or business, and the lack of customer service and choice of products. The immigration authorities just had my daughter in tears after she entered the country by herself - and it's the third time they've been obnoxious. She's got a visa, a letter from the government, and they still act like they won't let her in!"

What to Bring When Moving to Trinidad & Tobago

"I wish we had brought more sheets, hangers, and rugs - things like that and dishes and towels are super expensive here. I didn't need to bring pharmacy items such as acid-reducers, shampoo, bath items - pharmacies here are very well stocked and you can get things more easily than in the US! I also wish I had brought more items for my pets - food and other items are hard to find and expensive," said one expat living in Westmoorings. Another expat said, "I wish I would have brought... Bedding: If you like 1000 count sheets, like I do, they are hard to find. If you find them, they are expensive and not the quality as the ones in the states. Plus, bedding sets are hard to find and there is no variety. Summer clothes: Clothes are expensive and everything looks the same. You pay about $50 US for a sun dress that you would buy for $15 - $20 US. Spices: You are limited to local spices and seasonings. Some grocery stores sell imported items, but you are limited to what they provide."

Another expat said, "I would recommend bringing your own baby equipment as the standard out here is not very good and is very expensive. (Also, I did not find many places that sold actual baby clothes, fine from 2 years on and reasonably cheap). Food out here is very expensive and has increased quite a lot in the 18 months that we have been here, a tin of Heinz beans is about one pound fifty!!! Also, you would not be able to find gluten free products if you were a celiac. We brought furniture with us to furnish our house due to being quite expensive here, although there is a "courts" furniture store. But, generally the furniture is not good quality or is extremely good quality, which carries an extremely high price tag."

Join our Trinidad & Tobago Expat Forum

Visit our Trinidad & Tobago Forum and talk with other expats who can offer you insight and tips about living in Trinidad & Tobago.

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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Some of Betsy's more popular articles include 6 Best Places to Live in Costa Rica, 12 Things to Know Before Moving to The Dominican Republic and 7 Tips for Obtaining Residence in Italy. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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Comments about this Article

guest
Jan 12, 2015 07:25

Hello All, I am new to commenting here, but I have a couple things I would like to add. I'm not an expat, but living here married to a Trini. I'm applying for residency, and applying for my wife's Visa, so we can travel together when we choose, and have the least restrictions (and headaches) as possible. I'll agree with comments posted about the traffic, higher prices for items such as food, furniture, etc. And yes, although dealing with the Bureaucracy here can be very frustrating, it's not much different than in the US. When was the last time you've been to the DMV? When people criticize crime rates and areas, you're going to get that anywhere in the world. You can be safe 24/7 by using what we all have, but it seems 50% or more people refuse to: COMMON SENSE! I lived in a very racist Brooklyn, NY neighborhood! (BTW, I'm white, not black) I was called everything but a white man, but if I were to defend myself I WAS THE RACIST ONE! I filed a racist profiling case against me with the NYPD and the Attorney General's Office in Oct '13. It was never resolved or followed up by either office! (A security guard confronted me after leaving a grocery store (FOODTOWN in BED-STUY) saying he wanted to search me because I was seen stealing something. My friend wasn't asked to be searched: She's black and was carrying a handbag big enough to hold a watermelon and chicken.) When you want to talk crime, watch the crime reports in Brooklyn, NY. Particularly, Bed-Stuy. Guns, killings, drugs etc. Enjoy TT and use your common sense about things.

gingerbaby
Mar 14, 2015 13:10

Most of this article is true. There are some specialty gourmet shops but you have to know where to find them. I found an excellent one on Long Circular Road where I could have purchase most things that I buy here. The West Mall also provides things for my liking. I am a born Trini but have lived in Canada for almost 5 decades. After years of absence from the country, I have visited twice in the last two years. I have seen the worst customer service in all my travels in Trinidad. Whether it is the food server at the take out, the mini-bus, the stores or some of the better places. I find people act as if you are begging for something and not paying for it. They do not smile and are not polite and very abrupt. The T&T government needs to start educating the children, maybe they might take something home to their parents and run slogans on the TV and bill boards about customer service. I was ruffled a few times on my last trip and I am of mixed race. I could pass for half-indian, brown-skinned (Trini) or black as the North Americans say, or part Hispanic. So I would not say it is a racial thing. I would prefer to spend my vacations in Cuba. Jamaica or Mexico where I am treated with respect at all times. It seems that focus is placed on material things and people just having a good time, quite unlike when I was a child growing up there, when manners were important.

lenhoj
Oct 19, 2016 10:55

This is a pretty accurate report of life in T&T based on my time spent there the past 3 winters. An often overlooked residential area by persons posting on this site is Diamond Vale in the west. It is relatively safe, close to the areas mentioned above, is walkable with small parks and has wonderful residents. Home prices are reasonable and homes are generally well maintained by residents. Trinis are wonderful people, but resent reference and comparisons to US, UK and places abroad. It is what it is, so just make attitude and other adjustments and you will enjoy your stay there.

guest
Feb 19, 2018 23:16

Foreigners should also keep in mind that Trinidad has an economy that is not built around tourism which makes the experience different from other islands. Trinis also have a strong sense of pride especially about not needing tourist money. I returned to Trinidad after my father opened an offshore business on the island. the crime rate is extremely high on a per capita basis but rarely affects expats, still good to be cautious. .Trini hospitality is usually good but dont always expect to be treated special especially in the company of wealthy trinis. Trinidad is excellent for food, culture, nightlife. Horrible for customer service, high crime rate

First Published: Jan 10, 2015

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