Fun facts about living in St. Kitts

Yesterday was our first month 'anniversary' of our arrival in St. Kitts. Here are some of our fun - and 'fun' - experiences.
  • You can get more or less everything, but everything is twice the price. Bottled water, twice the price. Smoked salmon, twice the price. Car, twice the price. Canned vegetables, twice the price. This seems to be partly due to tariffs, partly due to costs of transportation, and partly because of the local monopolies.

    Essentially all goods are imported by two companies, Horsfords and TDC. Tariffs or no tariffs - I'd guess the duopolies have something to do with the local prices.

  • During the first 30 days we've been here, the electricity was out about two days consecutively. You could say we have about a 94% effectiveness at having electricity.

    Apparently, these outages were the longest that people recall, and the reason was apparently that they were installing additional generators so that, er, there wouldn't be so many outages. :)

    What's interesting is how many offices, hotels and restaurants had power throughout, even despite these day-long power outages. It looks like everyone who's smart has their own generator somewhere. The local Marriott has one. The Timothy Beach has one. The Leeward Cove has one. But our place, unfortunately, doesn't yet have one, at least not at this time, so I sought refuge at the Marriott to get some work done and to get Net access. Net access at the Marriott is $5 for 1 hour, $10 for 2 hours, and $20 for a day. That's USD, and the daily pass is a scam - it expires as soon as you log out.

  • Besides the power outages, there are surges all the time that will fry anything electrical. The air conditioning breaks down here all the time. So does everything that's plugged into the electrical system. Don't plug in anything unless you have a surge protector.

    Unfortunately, for some things like stoves, dishwashers and refrigerators, there is no choice. The people building our apartment say they're trying to source a solution that will surge protect the whole apartment. I hope they succeed, but I wouldn't entirely bet on it. Solutions take a while to materialize here. If at all.

  • A large bottle of water at the cafe in the Marriott is $5.60, USD. Or, it's $5.00 at the hotel store.

  • The Marriott has sushi from Tuesday to Saturday evenings. It's not spectacular; it's decent. But boy, do you have to wait. Last time we went there, it took 1 hour and 35 minutes between the time we walked into the place and the time our order actually arrived. Some Americans nearby were getting pissed after they had to wait just 45 minutes. :)

  • Intellectual property doesn't count for much here. You can get counterfeit DVDs from stores in town. We recently moved into a different apartment where we have a temporary roommate, and right now he's watching Blood Diamond on DVD. He also bought Oceans 13 and Spiderman 3. We need to find that store and get our hands on Shrek 3. :)

    We'd prefer to see it at the cinema; but there's only one cinema here, and that one is fairly seedy.

    I'd prefer to get Shrek on an original DVD; but the industry insists on not making them available at a time when you actually want to see the movie, and then they insist on pricing them insanely.

  • Not only are DVDs readily available, so are Cialis and Viagra! Yes. The cost is roughly $26 US a pill, and you don't need a prescription.

    I tried Cialis, and it works. Man, it works. My wife can attest to that. :) But I took a whole 20 mg pill, and that had some undesired side effects. I had a headache that lasted some 24 hours, and I think it seriously disturbed my sleeping pattern. I'm definitely going to do it again at some point in the future, but I'm definitely not going to take the whole 20 mg. :)

    I haven't yet tried Viagra. If anyone has any tips on dosage, let me know. The pill I have is 100 mg, but I think that's going to be way excessive. However, I have no idea whether I should split it up in 1/4 or 1/2.

    On the one hand, I'm 26, not 60, so I probably don't need the dosage for old geezers. On the other hand, I don't want to waste a quarter of the pill and not have anything to gain from it. So, if you have the experience, post a comment and let me know. :)

Comments

Sunshine said…
Shrek 3 is great! I highly recommend it. ;)

Btw, interesting facts. It pictures a living a bit less perfect than I thought originally. ;)
denis bider said…
Perfect? Hah! Come and see ;)

What's great here on this island is the nature (if hills and valleys and cliffs and beaches are your thing), the all-year-round sunny weather (if that's your thing) and the absence of an income tax (which is my thing).

In other respects, it's like living in a village. There's not much in terms of culture or social life. Your choices are playing pool, singing karaoke, hanging out at a bar, eating sushi of suspicious quality, or staying at home watching TV. Dining out is possible but quite expensive. No dancing or disco scene here. Not that we miss it.

I'd much prefer New York or San Francisco, for the thrill of city living. But the government there skins you alive, and we don't really have that many needs. So we accept this form of exile. We plan to augment it with regular trips back, to get a taste of civilization. :)

If you're not into nightlife and if you love sandy beaches and the outdoors, St. Kitts could be great for a vacation. But to live here, umm... well, imagine living on a Croatian island. Just without the nudists - being naked in public is illegal here. :)
denis bider said…
Still, living one hundred meters from the Atlantic coast is great. Being able to just walk out of the door in a swimsuit and run up and down a sandy beach is great. Driving up the hill to a vantage point and looking down at our apartment and across our bay is great. Looking at the palm trees surrounding a meticulously kept golf course nearby is great. Lobster here is twice as good and half the price as in Europe, the hamburgers at Ziggy's are excellent, and you can have good fish right next to the Caribbean beach at Shipwreck.

So, living here is not completely without advantage. :)
Stephanie said…
Hi...
Might be moving to the island with my family that consits of a 4 month old and 5 year old. Am looking for a private school? ANy info. you can share?
denis bider said…
We don't yet have kids ourselves or plans to have them soon, so we haven't yet looked into that. However, we know that the local Ross University has a pre-school to 8th grade school that expatriates' kids can attend. You might not necessarily need to be associated with Ross University in order to take advantage of that. I suggest inquiring with Ross University. You can also go to www.rossu.edu, click on School of Veterinary Medicine, and then on FAQs About Life at Ross.
Stephanie said…
Thanks for that info. I believe we'll be there 3-5 years and would like to rent a 4 bedroom house. I think we're coming down soon to check the island out. Are the Kittians friendly toward non-natives? How is gorcery shopping, going to the movies, TV, etc. Do ya'll enjoy living there?
denis bider said…
About schools - we just learned yesterday that there is also a good Montessori school in Basseterre. Lots of expatriates seem to go there.

I've heard it said that Kittitians are friendlier towards whites than most Caribbean islands, but we've only ever been to one other Caribbean destination, so I can't really tell. I do feel that St. Kitts is friendlier than the other place we've been to.

Grocery shopping is expensive, see some of my other recent posts. The food is about twice as expensive as in the U.S. or Europe. Once you've found your bearings, most food and household items you need can be obtained.

There's no going to the movies except for the somewhat seedy theatre in Basseterre. We haven't been there yet. It's said to be somewhat dirty inside. It might not be as bad as it looks from the outside, but we haven't tried.

TV is good, we have a cable package with some 60 channels. We've heard people say that the set-top boxes the cable company provides are low quality. But TV is a major source of entertainment here.

We do enjoy living here, it's a beautiful island, but your needs may differ. There isn't much shopping; there is no nightlife to speak of. If that's fine with you and you enjoy beautiful scenery and playing golf and snorkling and diving and you're willing to put up with a somewhat low standards of customer service (I think they call that the "Caribbean spirit"), you're likely to do fine here. But it's no Manhattan. :)
Stephanie said…
Thanks for letting me ask you all these questions! Where do you think is a nice place to live? How are Turtle Beach or Frigate Bay? I am looking for at least a 4 bedroom place.
denis bider said…
Turtle Beach is relatively far from town (about 20 minutes?) and the road there is somewhat bad - it has some potholes and the last mile is unpaved. Frigate Bay is nice, better-paved and closer to town (10 minutes). It is also the most expensive part of the island to buy or rent a place in. A 4 bedroom in Frigate Bay will probably run you $3,000 per month or more. If you don't necessarily need to be next to the beach, you can get a place of the same size for half the price or less somewhere else (maybe Cedar Grove?).

I suggest looking at real estate ads on the internet, say sknvibes.com.

It's probably a good idea to come to the island and choose the place you want in person. You gotta spend some time on the island to explore it and see it for yourself.
Stephanie said…
When you buy stuff from a catalog or on-line, do you have to pay a customs duty when it arrives on the island?
Likewise, if someone sends you a package from home, do you have to pay a duty on it?
Also, do you use a cell phone to call home? Is that super expensive or can you get a plan for doing that?
denis bider said…
When you buy stuff from a catalog or on-line, do you have to pay a customs duty when it arrives on the island?

We haven't tried that yet, but generally, yes, that should be the case. They open your stuff and inspect it and charge you the tarrif, whatever it is for the item you received.

Likewise, if someone sends you a package from home, do you have to pay a duty on it?

Not necessarily. Maybe. We've observed someone receive such a package and not pay anything, but don't count on it.


Also, do you use a cell phone to call home? Is that super expensive or can you get a plan for doing that?

Once you've managed to get internet, you can probably use Skype or Vonage and that shouldn't cost much at all (besides the broadband internet monthly flat fee). For our mobiles, we use Digicel where international calls are about US$0.50 a minute. You can halve that to effectively US$0.25 if you stock up on minutes when they have the double top-up offer (once every two months or so). They also have subscription plans, but we're not using those.
joeyg said…
Denis - your blog is very insightful and thank you for putting this information on a blog. My wife and I are considering the move to St Kitts and have been scouring the net looking for this kind of information. Again, many thanks - with that we have a myriad of questions, ones that i will leave periodically as i dont want to flood you with questions. We have visited the island a few years ago and gotten quite serious about the move to St Kitts/Nevis from the states. My wife's main concern is getting the routine items for daily living - groceries, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, etc. I'll assume from your post there is a grocery store (maybe more than one?) and you can pick up just about whatever you need. the question is ... how much is your monthly grocery bill for the two of you and what kind of food does that include? how much is steak per pound? pork? seafood?

how much is electricity?
how can you bring in your own car?
how much is a gallon (or liter) of gas?

i'll have more. :) and, i greatly appreciate all the information you provide here.

joeyg
denis bider said…
joeyg, you can get everything you need here, though not always everything you want. You have to settle sometimes. For example, I miss the protein drinks that are readily available at Walgreens and other places in the States.

There are three grocery stores that I know of. We usually shop at the decent one, which is Horsford's IGA. We sometimes also shop at the not too shabby one, which is Ram's. We usually don't go to the somewhat shabby one, which is Best Buy. (It's the smallest and it's the furthest away from us.)

My wife says groceries are 2-3 times more expensive than we were used to in Europe, and that's probably about right. I think we spend around $1500 US for all the groceries. We don't buy steak because the imported beef in the grocery store is awful. We hear there's another place where local beef can be bought - there are cows on the island - but we haven't been there.

Local chicken is $2.50 for 4 drumsticks, and is good.

Electricity is expensive, expect $500 per month for an apartment with 1 large room air conditioner and 3 small room ones.

Gasoline costs like in Europe, but your driving will be limited, it won't bother you much.

It's the cars that are expensive - all in all, the taxes and duties for importing a car total up to 80%. You want to get a cheap and durable vehicle that's cost-effective to maintain. Even so, a new Suzuki Swift or Nissan Almera will cost you around US $20,000.
denis bider said…
Oh, the US $1500 for the groceries, that's for the two of us, per month.
Suzi said…
Do you have any information on the horse/dog racetrack? Opening date? Are the islanders excited about the track? I checked out their website, but wanted to hear the reaction of the people living there.

Is it difficult to find a job on the island as a non-kittian?
Suzi said…
Any insight on crime on the island?
joeyg said…
Thank you Denis - again, very helpful. With electricity at about $500/ month, food at $1500/month, housing at about $2500/ month, it seems like living expenses could run about $5,000 per month. Is that about right?

Joeyg
denis bider said…
Suzi: we live kind of a hermits' existence here, we know that there is supposed to be a racetrack, but we know nothing else about it. :)

We have not observed violent crime here yet, but the news report about it often. There are a fairly disproportionate number of murders, relative to the island's population. Though I have not (yet... knock on wood) heard of a violent crime here where the victim was a foreigner or a tourist.

joeyg: Yeah, that sounds about right. Of course, you can also make do with much less if you turn off your AC and eat rice and local foods instead of meat and Lean Cuisine and other imported foods like we do. You could probably cut your electricity bill by 90% and your food bill by 50%.

And, if you're going to live here long term, you'll most likely be buying a place rather than renting.
joeyg said…
Hey Denis - what kind of storms are there generally? i realize there's a rain forest on St Kitts and I'd be interested to know how bad the storms kick up there.

Thanks!
Joey G
denis bider said…
The weather is normally windy, rain usually takes the form of downpours that come and go, rather than prolonged steady drizzles.

From what I remember looking at St. Kitts hurricane history, one might expect a category 1 hurricane every year or so, and a couple of category 4-5 every 20 years or so.
Anonymous said…
excellent info, well expressed -- thanks for sharing! I needed a reality check before applying for a job in St. Kitts. I love the island - but there are significant trade-offs to consider in terms of costs and creature comforts.
denis bider said…
The creature comforts do seem to be improving slightly over time. Stores appear to be better stocked, etc. It's improving visibly in some aspects, but yes - in many ways it's still lagging behind.
Rodney said…
dennis,thanks for all info..
i'll be there in a month or so with my fiancee,i am thinking of renting a one bedroom apartment,what would it cost me and wich area would you recomend.I will be traveling very often,and she will be alone most of the time.
denis bider said…
Somewhere around Frigate Bay is probably best. It's nice, relatively safe, and not far from town.

Your fiancee will likely be bored though if she'll be alone all the time. :)
Rodney said…
and what would I pay for an apartment ?,we are caricom citizens from Suriname(dutch Guyana)and she's trying to obtain a caricom skilled certificate,so she will be busy,are the kittitians friendly towards foreigners.and if we decide to stay in frigate bay do I need to get a car right away?are there some indians living there ??,are there a lot of tourist shops and are they expensive
,i'm so thankfull that i encountered this blog it is super usefull....thanks one million !!!!!!!
denis bider said…
Hi Rodney,

I'm not sure what the current rents and prices are, it's best to check on the internet, or call a real estate agent.

Kittitians seem more friendly towards foreigners than on some of the other islands we've visited.

It is relatively hard to get around the island without a car. If you need to go to work and back daily, I'd recommend you get a car.

There are some tourist shops in Port Zante and some at the Marriott. I'd say they are mid-range in terms of pricing. They're not cheap, but not prohibitively expensive.

Yes, there seem to be a quite a few Indians (Asians) living here recently.
Rodney said…
Dennis,is it difficult to get a loan to purchase a house in St Kitts?,are the banks there difficult regarding this,i have noticed that real estate is a bit pricy compared to South-america.
I read something about a german being deported who overstayed,are customs and immigration very aggresive ?? can i get a used vehicle there, and are they pricy ?? can i rather import my own vehicle ?
denis bider said…
I don't know what the banks' loan requirements are these days, but there are several banks, and you can shop around.

In general it is true that if you overstay your visa in any country, you will be deported. It is possible to extend one's visa though. You will have to talk to your lawyer about that.

Cars are about twice as expensive as elsewhere, largely because of the customs and taxes. You can import your vehicle, but you'll probably end up paying all the customs and taxes on its value. You should talk to someone who knows about importing vehicles about that.
Anna said…
Hi Denis,
I am looking into an Audit Manager position with one of the big Four at St.Kitts. Can you give me any idea as to the average salary level and benefits at this position for an expatriate? I am a CPA and will be relocating from San Francisco.
Thanks,
Anna
denis bider said…
Hi Anna,

to be quite honest, I have no clue. :) I'm pretty sure salaries for such positions are in a reasonable range compared to the U.S., but whether they are more or less than what you would expect, I don't know.

I know the lawyers have it pretty good here though - skills of that type are in short supply and high demand - so I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't that bad for CPAs either.
Anonymous said…
Hello Denis! My wife and I are coming to St Kitts to do some research on the island. We wondered if we might be able to have dinner with you and your wife while we are there. We plan to be there 10/31 to 11/7. If you would like, please let us know. We'd love to meet you and thank you in person for all your help.

Joey G
denis bider said…
Hi Joey,

drop me an email at the address you'll find at www.denisbider.com.

Use that address for the email only, do not use it anywhere else.

Thanks!
Anonymous said…
Denis, Thank you so much for providing this information. I am considering a job there and frankly didn't know much about it. Your blog is fantastically educational and informative. Thank you.
Anonymous said…
Hello Denis. Thank you for your blog -- very helpful. You mentioned "lawyers have it pretty good" and are in high demand. Would you happen to know any lawyers on the island w? whom I could do some informational networking? I'm thinking about expat work . . . getting admitted to Carribean bar. Thank you!
denis bider said…
I don't know too many lawyers I could recommend, but I'm sure you could find a few on the internet and see if they're interested in talking. Though I'm not sure why they would encourage competition. :)

I think Trinidad is the place to go for a year or so in order to be admitted to the bar. My information is totally unreliable, however.

You should seek better sources; if you are seriously contemplating it, it's best to visit the island yourself.
Smilla said…
Dear Denis! I'm not a native English speaker, so forgive me in advance for the spelling/context errors, which may appear in my message.
I've got a job offer, to completely equip and furnish one holiday apartment on St. Kitts. They are paying all my expenses and 2 weeks staying there. The question is: Do they have Furniture and Home Design shops on the island? If they don't, how you manage buying furniture there? May be I can do shopping on the others Caribbean Islands and bring the goods to St. Kitts?
Thank you very much,
Lena
denis bider said…
Hi Smila,

there are furniture stores here, but the selection is limited. Given your client's situation, you should probably go shopping for furniture in the USA, then have it shipped to St. Kitts using Caribtrans or a similar service. You arrange for the furniture seller to deliver it to Caribtrans, and they'll ship it to St. Kitts & Nevis for you.
Smilla said…
Thank you for the prompt response! Do you know if the furniture prices are ok there on St. Kitts or extrimely high (as you wrote about grocery etc.)? Do you know interior designers there? BTW, I was wrong, the property is on Nevis. I understand it is almost the same, right? 40 minutes ferry ?
denis bider said…
Everything imported to St. Kitts & Nevis will incur significant customs, on the order of 25% to 50%, or even 80% for some items.

Some building projects do receive a customs exemption from the government which allows building materials and furniture to be imported free of customs. However, furniture purchased at a local store will have customs built-in.

Nevis is only about 40 mins from St. Kitts by ferry, yes.

The local company DBB Living Design, which sells higher-end Italian kitchens as well as some other furniture, I believe does have contact with designers on the island, yes.

There are other designers I don't know of, as well.
mish said…
Hi Dennis,

Saw your blog while googling about St. Kitts. It's very informative and interesting.

I'm a graphic designer by profession and I'm eyeing a job in St. Kitts and I'm wondering if $25,000 a year salary + housing allowance + use of company car would suffice living there? Or is it below the minimum wage? I don't really know the payscale for graphic designers there.

I'm Asian and I think could cut off on the food bill (since you mention about the rice) and the electricity bill (I'm used to the sunny weather).

Thank you.
denis bider said…
mish: I'm a graphic designer by profession and I'm eyeing a job in St. Kitts and I'm wondering if $25,000 a year salary + housing allowance + use of company car would suffice living there?

It's not a luxurious offer, but for one person, it would suffice to live. You might even save a little; depends on your frugality.
denis bider said…
Smilla - it's not a good idea to post your email openly like that. I deleted your comment to protect your address from spam you would have otherwise started to receive.

I forwarded your request about help with furniture to someone who knows more people than I do. If a person is found, they have your email and will contact you.
Thanks Denis. Your blog has really helped me in making a decision as to relocating from Nigeria. However, I won't do that unless there is a better job prospect for me over there in St Kitts cos am not having it rough here
Meanwhile, I will appreciate if you can assist with job placement in Insurance related area
Thank you once again
My name is Oluwasegun. A proudly Nigerian. I read through your blog on St Kitts and was very happy with the detailed info and comments. My keen interest in st kitts is now stronger
However, my concern is the high cost of living and unless the pay is high, I don't think I can relocate. Also, am into Insurance, is there a guarantee that I will get a better paid job there and will you be able to be of any assistance in getting a job. Thanks once again for a job well done
denis bider said…
Oluwasegun, it's pretty ridiculous to ask a stranger on the internet to guarantee you a better life in St. Kitts, or to help you get a job.

Sorry, you are in charge of your own life. There are no guarantees.
JSD said…
Denis,

Are you still in St. Kitts? Are you attending University or just relocated?

Thanks.

Great website and very informative!!
denis bider said…
Hello,

we still live in St. Kitts.

We aren't students, we're relocated.
andiwilkins said…
Hey Denis, great blog so far. I hope you're still enjoying the island life.

My boyfriend and I may be moving to St. Kitts, and more than anything I am curious about gardening on the island. In the States I garden, eat a lot of my own food, or food from local farmers. Is gardening/eating local produce (eating cheaper essentially) common?

Thanks, Andi
denis bider said…
Hi Andi,

I'm not sure why you wouldn't be able to maintain a garden in St. Kitts, if you would like to. If that's your goal, you would probably have to consider the location of your rental so it fits your purpose.

A beachfront location probably won't be great from growing veggies, but St. Kitts used to be an island of plantations, so I think you can grow stuff in the right spot.
Robert Bytnar said…
Greetings!

Thanks so very much for taking the time over all these years to publish your informative comments. I am so disappointed to learn that you will be leaving St Kitts soon. You truly have performed a great service.

Before you leave, I hope you will answer a couple questions if you can.

First, how would an older gay couple be received in the community. My partnber and I are looking for a retirement place, and the investment citizenship opportinties are very appealing to us. We are definalty a couple, and live a quiet life. No bars, hot parties etc, but live, love, and support each other. Do you know any other gay couples that could advise us?

Also, thinking about the newer upscale developments, are there opportunities to resell after 5 years to tothers looking for investment citizenship opportunities?

Thanks so much for any advice/direction.
denis bider said…
Hey Robert,

we didn't socialize enough on St. Kitts to notice any anti-gay feelings, but neither any pro-gay feelings, so I can't say how you would be accepted socially.

From what we've experienced on the island, it seems the native population is somewhat behind the times when it comes to accepting other people's sexuality. It does appear that male-on-male sexuality is illegal on St. Kitts:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Saint_Kitts_and_Nevis

This information appears to be 5 years old, perhaps there's been a change for the better. If I were in your shoes, I would avoid a jurisdiction like that, unless I knew for a fact that this has been repealed.
Jane said…
Hello Dennis,

Thank you for all the info. It was very helpful. I have been recently thinking about buying a citizenship. I am torn however between Dominica and St Kitts. What made you decide on St Kitts? I have heard that St Kitts is a red zone country, have u been affected at all by that? What do you think about the Dominica program and have you ever been there?
Thank you so much for your help!
denis bider said…
I have not been to Dominica, so I cannot compare the two.

My experience in St. Kitts is that standards of performance and professional integrity are an order of magnitude lower in all areas of the economy, except maybe banking, than they are in the US or EU.

Quite simply, most people are either incompetent, or will try to screw you. Sometimes both.

When we were choosing a lawyer to represent us in 2007, we first went to a lady who (a) took a minute with a calculator to try and figure out 1% of 1 million, and then (b) neglected to remember our next appointment. Disappointed with this, we went with another local lawyer who was clearly overcharging even more than lawyers do, but at least seemed competent.

What happened with that guy? Well, he was supposed to be holding $10 - $20 million of his clients' assets "in escrow". Instead, he was running a Ponzi scheme which collapsed with the financial bubble. We were lucky to not have any of our money with him at the time his Ponzi scheme came down crashing, but we know friends whose friends lost on the order of $600,000 each that this guy was holding in escrow.

Did he go to prison? Of course not, he's a local, and the victims are foreigners.

I could go on and on about challenges in day to day life; the general lack of work ethic; the power outages; the quality of construction...

We were subsequently stabbed in the back by the government itself. When we purchased our condo, the rule was that each unit can be used for citizenship once, and then no more. This obviously created weird incentives where the island would have to be populated by empty units eventually. Therefore, around 2012, they relaxed the law, so that units built after this change can be used for citizenship every 5 years. However, so as to screw past investors - and against the original intent of the law - they made a last minute change to explicitly forbid making this retroactive.

As a result, our unit lost most of its value. Most buyers are after citizenship, and to the extent that a small proportion are not - who would want to buy a unit that's not interesting down the road for 95% of buyers?

After investing in the condo to make it as nice as possible, making it our home, and holding on to it for 7 years, we had little choice but to sell it back to the developer at a 50+% loss.

If you're going to deal with St. Kitts, the Marriott is probably the only trustworthy place on the island. If you go with people who are affiliated with them, you'll probably deal with people who have standards of professionalism and integrity.

Anything else, including lawyers and the government, not so much.

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