Life in the Bahamas

The topic of this post is pretty much the polar opposite of what I was hoping to achieve when I came to CodeBetter since it is about as technical as your average Teletubby but it’s here by popular demand. So if you aren’t interested, this will be the last I say on the subject for a bit unless Microsoft decides to open a branch office down the street tomorrow. And it’s a long one because I already feel self-conscious about writing one post on the subject so I don’t want to break it up into two.

I’ll start off focusing on the negative aspects of the island life because those are what have always kept us on the brink of moving back. And they will do so for you, too, for at least the first year you live here. Especially if you start out with high hopes. But I’ll segue into the positives just like I started to do after giving the place a chance.

First and foremost, safety is a factor. Especially for me growing up in rural Manitoba in a town where the only rule of hide ‘n seek was "You can’t hide outside the town limits". In the second month we lived here, the babysitters that watched our daughter were robbed at gunpoint in the house they were housesitting while they were watching our daughter. This was in a gated community in the middle of the afternoon with 24-hour security at the gates and security cameras. If you ask me today why we didn’t pack up and go home after that, I can make up an answer for you but the fact remains, you have to be conscious of it. Of course, these things happen in any city but it seems more prominent here because it’s not a very high population.

There are multiple ways you can give yourself the illusion of safety, most of which are common sense. This will keep the punks at bay but not anyone who is more determined. Again, just like any other place. Luckily, the punks are usually more common and the more determined people aren’t typically that high on the evolutionary chain. But it still factors into your decision-making.

The next topic is tradespersons. There are very few direct repercussions for plumbers, carpenters, and the like if they come to your house and say, cut through your main water line. There are codes in place but they are not enforced. (By the way, the same goes for drinking and driving laws which I’ll leave for you to decide if that’s a positive or a negative.)

So you don’t phone someone up in the yellow pages and expect a minimum level of service. Instead, you need to network. Talk with other people about who is good and who isn’t. Namedrop those people that recommended the company when you call. Offer the tradesperson a drink when they come. Tip them when they leave (assuming you plan to call them back). Like a good CI process, it’s all in the name of reducing future friction.

Another bee in my bonnet used to be the lack of variety in food and regularly-purchased goods. It’s not quite as bad as it was five years ago mostly because the supermarkets have finally started stocking Multi-Grain Cheerios. But I’ve had to solicit visiting family and friends for things like Ichiban noodles and toilet levers for side-mounted toilets over the years. In short, there ain’t no Home Depot or Wal-Mart to "pop out" to.

Related to that is the cost of living. It’s high but in my opinion, not prohibitively so. The reason things cost so much more here is because there are import duties on anything that’s imported. And as I’ve probably mentioned before, EVERYTHING is imported. The import duties are high because it’s the main source of income for the government. Because there’s no income tax and no sales tax.

So yes, things cost 30% – 40% more here on average. But by the same token, you don’t have to pay 30% – 40% of your wages to the government every month. It doesn’t quite balance out because salaries here are lower than their counterparts in North America but that’s why you’ll want to look for a job working remotely. All in all, whether you consider the cost of living high depends on where you come from.

Side bar

I’ve heard tell that in the eyes of the IRS, once an American, always an American. I.E. You’re pretty much taxed for life no matter where you live. Someone will have to verify that for me but if it’s true, well, I feel for ya, man.

Last major sticking point is one where your mileage may vary. That’s a lack of easily-accessible activities. If you’re in the mood to do something different, you’re flying or boating to it. There are times when you just get sick of walking around Atlantis pretending to be a tourist. On the other hand, if you’re a beach person, this won’t affect you too much. In my experience, though, everyone gets island fever eventually. We get away a few times a year just to get a regular dose of civilization.

So with all that cathartic negativity out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff. And we’ll start with the elephant in the room.

It really is awesome to go rollerblading at six in the morning in the middle of January. That sounds bad for those of you stuck in snow but there’s no getting around it. Rounding a corner to be met with the sun coming up over the ocean does not get old. Ever. Ditto for sitting out on the balcony listening to the waves and drinking tea. It took me a long time to realize it, but I will forgive a country a lot of things to be able to do that. That said, I have a tremendous respect for all you people sticking it out in the -40 weather up in western Canada. Brave, brave coders, the lot o’ ya.

Next stop is healthcare. I have absolutely no complaints about it and compared with my experience in Calgary, would recommend it to anyone. I can call my doctor at 8:00 in the morning for an appointment and he’ll apologize if he can’t see me before 2:00 that afternoon. When my daughter fainted unexpectedly one day while out with my wife, by the time I got to the hospital twenty minutes later, she was already in a room and had had a blood sample taken. Before we left two hours later, she had seen two doctors, had another sample taken, and had an ultrasound. Before the week was done, she had seen her regular doctor, who gave her a thorough exam including some other ultra-sound-ish test, and had received an EEG.

I have had similar experiences myself, most notably with my hernia operation last year (maybe I should have put a disclaimer at the beginning of this post), which occurred a mere three weeks after diagnosis, and only because the missus was away and I wanted to wait for her to return before I had it for maximum dotage. I’ve heard horror stories from others but I haven’t seen any evidence of it from my end.

There is a caveat to all this. We pay approximately $600/month for health coverage for a family of three. And when we left the hospital after my daughter’s fainting spell, I was extolling the virtues of the healthcare system and my wife just said ominously, "yeah, well money talks". Sounds vaguely capitalistic but hey, we’re talking my daughter’s health here! Besides which, that’s also a nice little example of, shall we say, reducing friction, which is a very effective technique for a variety of purposes over here. But I shan’t elaborate.

Earlier I mentioned a lack of quality tradespeople. The other side of that argument is that when you do find someone you like, you get pretty quick service. Same day most of the time and rarely longer than two or three, unless you’re dealing with government-run utilities, in which case the universal "three to six weeks" applies.

I could go on in both categories but I think that about covers the high points. Plus I have some other topics in the wings that will hopefully bring me more in line with the "Code Better" moniker. The underlying message here is that moving to the Bahamas is not like moving from one city to another in North America where there’s always a Starbucks within shouting distance (although there are five on the island). Expect a good dose of culture shock and pack a lot of patience with your sarong.

But again, don’t pack yet. I’m still working on the industry.

Kyle the Indusrial

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  • Roomrent1

    Over 4 years later and a link to this site is still on the first page of a google search!   Oddly enough I am also from small town Manitoba.  I would like to see an update to this! :) 

  • Nick

    Hi Kyle. I’m from Rural Manitoba as well. Specifically from Gretna. I am trying to figure out how I can get a job and move to the Caribbean. Hopefully the Bahamas. If you wouldn’t mind firing some emails back and forth I would be very grateful.

    snickolas1@hotmail.com

  • Karel Knake

    Hi Kyle,
    Your entry sounds very Caribbean to me. I found it while looking for references on work in the Bahamas, more specifically IT. I have lived on Curacao now for 17 years, Dutch born and raised, and am considering working at one of the many banks in Nassau.
    Can you give any pointers about salaries and housing prices (all you see on the web are vacation homes) ? I have 30 years of experience in all sorts of positions in IT, am looking at a posiiton in Unix and SAN system management.
    Any advice welcome (kknake@gmail.com).
    (And of course I now promise to dig deeper and see what this site is really about)

  • Kyle Baley

    OK, you Floridians and Australians trying to convince people not to come over here and keep me company are *not* invited to my code camp.

  • http://geekswithblogs.net/dnoderer/Default.aspx Dave Noderer

    Re: Sunrise, weather and ocean…

    These are the things I like about living a couple blocks from the beach in South Florida (Deerfield Beach) with the added benefit of having Office Depot and Home Depot nearby…

  • Lucas

    About the sidebar, US citizens and residents aliens living abroad are taxed for US income the same way as if they lived in the US. You are also taxed for foreign earned income, but you may qualify to exlude most or all of it. I looked it up recently when I moved from a US possession to another country. More info on the IRS web site:

    http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/international/article/0,,id=97324,00.html

    “If you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien living or traveling outside the United States, you generally are required to file income tax returns, estate tax returns, and gift tax returns and pay estimated tax in the same way as those residing in the United States.”

    Foreign Earned Income Exclusion
    http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/international/article/0,,id=97130,00.html

    “If you are a U.S. citizen or a resident alien of the United States and you live abroad, you are taxed on your worldwide income. However, you may qualify to exclude from income up to $85,700 of your foreign earnings. In addition, you can exclude or deduct certain foreign housing amounts.”

  • http://codebetter.com/blogs/kyle.baley Kyle Baley

    @James: Oh man, do NOT remind me. I’d almost forgot about the rebellious cockroaches, too (http://kyle.baley.org/personal/OppressedCockroachesAndAlpacaPorn.aspx).

    @Tyrone: I’m in New Providence (my wife’s boss flirted with Exuma initially) out in Port New Providence which I love. Luckily, I’m a Canadian citizen and their tax laws are a little more pragmatic, if still spiteful.

  • http://www.jameskovacs.com james.kovacs

    Well-balanced post, Kyle. Every place has its ups and downs. If you’re going to consider such a lifestyle change, you need to go into it with your eyes open. And you forgot to mention the spiders capable of carrying off children and family pets.

    http://kyle.baley.org/personal/BahamianPests.aspx

    Or have you blocked those memories from your consciousness? :)

  • http://www.tyronedavisjr.com Tyrone Davis

    Which island you live on? I can relate to your experiences since I’ve lived there for 20 years before moving to the U.S.

    Oh yeah, If you are a legal resident and not a Bahamian citizen, then you sure do have to give Uncle Sam his share.

  • http://weblogs.asp.net/jstengel jstengel

    Good post. I’ve also lived and travelled in a number of 3rd world countries. It’s definitely not for everyone and the groomed AI resorts and cruise ports don’t reflect actual life. Abandoning expectations and assumptions is probably the hardest part and takes a while to overcome. Best of luck!