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Reality of US expat retiring in Bahamas

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crz4wnd
5/12/2019 09:38 EST

Hi all,

Done quite a bit of research with the following criteria:
1. Must be on a beach where I can walk out and go kitesurfing
2. My wife loves local culture, lots of flora and fauna and critters to play with
3. We are fortunate to be able to spend at a high budget (>$1 million)

Would appreciate the reality check on what's it like to live and retire in Bahamas.
Any suggestions?

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Ohlott
5/12/2019 19:19 EST

Hello,
I quest to start what island are you looking out?
Some of the out island do not have the amenities that the us have. Which I think if you are going there that’s what you would want is to simplify life.

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MrsQ
5/13/2019 14:09 EST

Hello,

My husband and I are Americans who have been living in Nassau for almost a year and a half. We are not retired, but I think I can give you a realistic picture of what it is like to live here.

First off, if you are going to live in Nassau, I would definitely recommend living on the west side of the island as opposed to central or out east, The Cable Beach are is where a lot of ex-pats live and it is much quieter and has less traffic than the other parts of the island. There are several nice gated communities here. You may also want to look into living in the Lyford Cay area. I also agree with the previous poster about the out islands. They are lovely, but there is way less infrastructure on them generally.

You are probably already aware that living in the Bahamas is quite expensive. It sounds like you have a good financial base, which is a very good thing here. As a rule of thumb, you should expect to pay 1.5 to 2 times what you would in America for all goods, including food. Most of what you will find by way of housewares, clothing, etc. is lower-quality, unless you shop in a few of the very upscale stores which are geared towards wealthy tourists. We tend to make several trips per year back to the States to stock up on things that are pricey here and buy things that we can't find on the island. Every Bahamian resident gets a duty-free allowance of $500 twice per year.

There are a good number of grocery stores, including several upscale grocery stores which sell organic and gourmet products. However, even at the upscale stores, there are a number of issues with food safety and freshness, I have been in the grocery store during a thunderstorm and the power went out and I overheard a store employee saying that the generator was not kicking on. I have seen things on the shelf that are way past their expiration date that would have been thrown out in the U.S. I have bought refrigerated items that have gone moldy a month before their expiration date. I have seen packaged fresh meat whose sell by date sticker from the store is several weeks past the sell by date from the packing plant's. In short, you have to be very careful when shopping for food here.

Electricity can be spotty here, particularly in the summer. Our electric company is not always able to keep up with the demand, and even at big resorts like Bahamar, the power can drop out, You should definitely make sure that wherever you decide to live is equipped with its own generator,

Culturally speaking, be aware that "island time" is real and widespread. There is a general lack of a sense of urgency when it comes to dealing with local businesses and especially the government. When we first moved into our condo, we had a problem with the air conditioning unit and our landlord arranged a technician to come out. Not only did the technician not show up on the day scheduled, but he showed up completely unannounced the following day and said that he hadn't come as scheduled because it had been raining.

There are also a lot of minor inconveniences like having to renew your driver's license every year rather than every four years like in the U.S. Businesses don't tend to pursue your business and follow up with you here. For example, I had to contact our auto insurance company to renew our policy, not the other way around). Some of the utilities' websites go down for long periods of time and you end up having to go pay your bill in person. My husband has a corporate account with BTC (cellular service provider), and after nearly a year and a half, they are still not able to email him the bill. He has to go in person to pay it every month. The electric company has also been late forwarding bills, sometimes as much as a month.

As far as recreation and culture, there are of course nice beaches and lovely scenery. We have found the snorkeling here to be somewhat disappointing. There are other activities involving dolphin and seal encounters, but we have not done those since we don't patronize companies that force wild animals to interact with humans. The downtown tourist area is compact and mostly consists of duty-free stores and the straw market for crafts. The National Art Gallery has interesting exhibits and I know that there are fairly regular performances of classical and jazz music on the island. There are a fair number of festivals that take place throughout the year, some more impressive than others. If you want to get an idea of the kinds of events that take place here, you can check out the events page of https://www.bahamaslocal.com/.

In general, I would say that most of the activities on the island go in two different directions: religion-based and partying/drinking. Since my husband and I are neither religious or drinkers, there's not a lot for us to do. Fortunately, we are able to travel frequently, so "island fever" isn't that much of a problem. In general, we have found the locals to be friendly and polite.

Dining out is expensive and generally underwhelming here. The most prevalent types of restaurants are Bahamian, sushi, Greek, and Italian. There is one Indian restaurant and one (sort of) Mexican restaurant - Senor Frog's. There are a lot of American fast food places - McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's (hugely popular here for some reason), Domino's, Sbarro, Dairy Queen, and Popeye's, If you're from the Northeast like we are, resign yourself to never having good pizza again...lol.

I'm sorry if my response has seemed mostly negative, but I wanted to give you a realistic picture of what it's like to live here. My husband and I are here because his company offered him a transfer and the tax benefits are great. However, we don't plan to stay here indefinitely and we would not consider retiring here due to the cost of living. If I had your budget and wanted to live in the Caribbean, I would probably move to the French side of St. Martin.

Sorry for my long-winded response. I hope this helps, and I'd be happy to answer any other questions you may have about living here.

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TheChef1
5/16/2019 01:06 EST

This is one of the better responses ive ever seen on this site about The Bahamas. Everything posted here is very true about Nassau. The only thing I would change would be putting more emphasis on the negatives. this response although very accurate and well put I don't think really stresses how bad some things in there.

The dining for example is both extremely expensive and wildly underwhelming. expect 80 dollars for lunch and 150 for dinner anywhere decent with a couple drinks.

food in grocery stores is often 3 times or more what you would pay in the USA and like stated above expect the quality to be poor or even commonly expired. Bahamians eat mostly fast food or if they make themselves it is usually fried and unhealthy. the nation has a very high overweight, obese and diabetic population because they eat a very poor diet. I'm sure most of this is because healthy wholesome foods are very expensive.

Let me please stress the island time thing if that's what you want to call it. the entire country moves at a snails pace to put it nicely. to me I don't believe in the whole island time thing its just lazy. if you are used to having any sort of friendly customer service at all and you expect that in The Bahamas than you will be 100% disappointed. the country has no sense of service and most do not care to learn.

VAT went up to 12 percent recently making it even more expensive to live there.

expect one or more of your utilities to go out at least 2-3 times a month if not more.

Now of course I cannot speak for the whole population as an American expat or really any expat you are not wanted there. Bahamians once you talk to them have a strong feeling that foreigners try to come in and steal their country when most are there to help build it. I have heard so many bad things be said about Americans and especially Chinese when if it wasn't for the two the country would have little to nothing on it. there's a great lack of respect for what others have done and the jobs that they created for them.

I would recommend that if you are considering The Bahamas to look into other Caribbean countries and stay far from here. I just spent about 1.5 years there and although I absolutely loved the natural beauties the culture really ruined a good thing.

also I apologize if I sound totally negative but I wish someone had given it to me straight before I moved there and most of my coworkers feel the same.

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MrsQ
5/16/2019 08:44 EST

Thanks to the previous poster for the positive remarks about my original response. One other important thing I forgot to mention that there is no mail delivery to your home here. What we and other expats do is set up a post office box with a Florida address. Our mail and packages from the U.S. are forwarded to the address in Florida which then delivers everything to the U.S. So, going in person to pick up one's mail is another minor inconvenience about living here. There are several businesses on the island that offer this service. We use Postboxes, Etc. There are post offices here for sending mail to the U.S., but the reliability is questionable. We rarely mail anything from here, but once or twice we've had documents get lost in the mail. If you need to send anything important home, I would suggest using FedEx or DHL (expect a charge of around $50 to mail documents only).

Amazon does not ship directly to the Bahamas. We have our packages sent to the aforementioned Florida address and forwarded here. Customs reviews all packages before they get to your postbox (sometimes opening them to determine their value) and assesses duty and VAT for the contents. Packages frequently are held up in customs if there is no accompanying invoice listing their value, which is tricky if someone is sending you a gift. When you pick it up at your postbox store, you will pay them for the duty, VAT, and whatever freight charges are assessed. Unfortunately, when someone sends you a gift, this means you will be charged for the duty on its value. For example, a relative sent me a toy for my cats ($10 US value). By the time the duty, VAT, and freight was assessed, it cost me $22 to receive it and I was not able to refuse it. Just something to keep in mind.

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TheChef1
5/18/2019 18:02 EST

Another really great point. I ordered two pairs of shoes from the US and had them shipped using a similar service as you mentioned. I paid just under 70 dollars NOT including what I paid for the shoes to receive them shipping, VAT, the service charge etc. I think the country is really doing its people and the residents inside a disservice with all the fees.

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debib
5/24/2019 10:04 EST

You have already gotten a lot of the 'reality check' from other posters so I won't add to that. I can't disagree with most of their comments. Been here 8 years and the three positives I will add is 1) The weather is fabulous and there is more of a breeze here than in most other Caribbean islands I have lived on (I'm on Nassau) 2) There are a TON of dining options if you can afford to eat at restaurants inside Baha Mar or Atlantis or in the far west. Lots of choice and 3) the water is SPECTACULAR if you are a boater. The good thing for you also is the proximity to the USA. You take a 27 min flight to Miami from here and you have access to the world for a relatively inexpensive price. There's a value in that for sure. Debi

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TheChef1
6/10/2019 12:51 EST

I agree with the things you mentioned as well. I guess from my comments you would think I hated every second and that’s not the case. The boating is great I lived in Sandyport and had a boat and jet ski. It’s awesome to be able to just go out to rose island or old fort bay. The weather is great also but be aware it does rain pretty often. And yes there are some good restaurants on the island but eating at them frequently during retirement will deplete a savings pretty quickly. Lunch at Twisted like and casual restaurant in Sandyport will cost you at least 60 usually and dinner anywhere out west or the big hotels will be minimum 100 probably more if you have to pay for a cab or parking.

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breija
6/14/2019 14:41 EST

Hi Mrs. Q,

Just wanted to let you know that you can renew your driver's licence for 3 years at a time!

Also, if you like jazz, there is a festival in Eleuthera annually - Eleuthera All that Jazz - an amazing time!

As for mail - I don't know if you know about the expedited service. If you go to the Cable Beach Post Office, you can pay for this. The last time I used it, it cost $15 and was delivered to Canada in 4 business days. WAY less expensive than any of the courier services, and it is traceable (well, sort of!).

If you would like more info about resources and things here on New Providence, feel free to PM me! We have been here 13 years!

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breija
6/14/2019 14:42 EST

Hi crz,

Glad you have done a bit of research, and here you are definitely able to be on a beach, where you can walk out and go kitesurfing! There are a lot of properties in the west that fit this criteria and could be within your budget. A lot of people like Love Beach, Columbus Cove, Sandyport, etc. for exactly what you are looking for. The kiteboarders were quite active this winter!

Living in Nassau is very different from living on one of the out islands. As the 2 previous posters have suggested, there are a number of negatives with regards to living on New Providence. However, there are also a lot of positives. There is nothing better than being able to choose to play hooky and go fishing midday once you know what the weather is like, and then be able to step onto your boat in the backyard!

Yes, many things are more expensive over here, but some things are not, and the reduction of income tax is a benefit for many – even the retired! Yes, there is 12% VAT, but in the US & Canada there are combined sales taxes on many things as well. Some states/provinces less than 12%, some are more.

Things definitely move on “island time” a lot, and it can be frustrating. If you know that coming in, hopefully you can readjust your expectations accordingly. That said, those working outside in the heat have good reason to move slowly! I am much more understanding now than I was 13 years ago! As a previous poster indicated, often people commit to coming on a particular day and time, but do not. At the end of the day, we need to remember “who has the power,” especially when dealing with government agencies. We each of us are in power of our attitudes toward the way the locals are. Remember, if we treat them with kindness and understanding, they are more likely to treat us with more kindness and understanding. They still may show up unannounced a day or two later, but at least they can get things taken care of now if there is someone at home. We can be upset, or we can be glad that they have arrived while we are home!

Do know that when it rains, there are many who will be very late, not show, and possibly not call. In parts of the island, rain translates into major flooding – even the “nice” areas. We need to remember that a lot of average income earners do not have reliable transportation.

Dining out is definitely expensive. As for quality, there are a number of very good, albeit very expensive, restaurants – mostly west. As for activities, with your budget, you may even choose to join a private club, where you would get the social interactions and amenities that you might not otherwise have access to. Old Fort Bay Club, Albany, Lyford Cay Club, and Ocean Club on Paradise Island are the primary private clubs.

Again, all this is moot if you choose to live on an outisland. Those on out-islands have fewer amentieis, but are often quite fine with that. That is what they have chosen. They can purchase from New Providence or Grand Bahama and have things shipped, or have things shipped from the US. Or, they fly over to one of the three regularly and bring things back.

As for mail – you can try to get a PO Box here for at least your local mail. It is not always a given that you will be able to get a box, but try, especially if you are intending to make this your permanent home. As a previous poster indicated, the local mail is very unreliable!! However, you can set up for electronic billing so that you do not miss out on your bills! As for mail from away, it is good to use a US address that will then forward your mail somehow. Incoming mail takes a long time, and outgoing mail sometimes does not go out! However, if you have something important you want to mail to the US or Canada, especially, there is an expedited mailing service through the Bahamas Postal service. I have not used it in a while, but it was $15 for 2 to 4 day delivery last time I used it. As for people sending things to us, I have told people to NOT send things to us, exactly for the same reason that a previous poster mentioned. We wait until we go to the US or Canada and let people know/do our online shopping so we can pick up while on the “mainland!”

For all items coming into the Bahamas, a “landed cost” is calculated which consists of cost plus freight plus duties. Then, VAT at 12% is assessed on the “landed cost.” This definitely adds to the cost of goods, but if you can research your duty rates you can be strategic about what you bring in.

Ok, you have indicated a possible budget for a home, so I am guessing you are intending to buy. Do know that you are eligible to apply for expedited permanent residence if you own a home at $1.5 or more. Expedited means within a year or two as opposed to 10 years. You will still have to pay a hefty fee if you are granted your permanent residency, but you can secure your status. Otherwise, you would be able to get your annual residency. Do know that buying real estate here is very different from North America. There is rarely a hard closing date, and there will be many hoops to jump through and much paperwork to provide. But, at the end, it will be worth it! There is now an MLS here, but properties are not usually listed exclusively with one realtor, so there are often “issues” if you work with more than one realtor. Bottom line – the person who brings you to the property the first time is supposed to be the one to get the commission! Just FYI! Also, legal fees are a % of the sale price as opposed to a single price for the services.

Ok, I too have given you a long post. Hope all this helps. Feel free to PM with more specific questions.

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