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Story #1: Story from a New St. Thomas Resident!

(Submitted in 2002) As I read postings on your message board I always laugh when people inquire if the VI is like the rest of the States, since they want to get away from the mainland attitude or hectic pace. The answer has always been a resounding "no". You are not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy!

I often find it becomes a love/hate relationship. My husband best describes like Forrest Gump, 'life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’ll get.' Some of the little things can be so frustrating and time-consuming. In many ways, logic does not prevail and you realize why the VI is drowning in government inefficiency, and it is a shame. Getting a barbeque propane tank filled required an excursion to sub base versus any local gas station or equipment rental location. Tried getting a fishing license, not available from fish/tackle stores, but you need to go to the AIRPORT to get a fishing license. There is a big lack of competition that keeps certain items so expensive or unavailable. Also I understand there is local opposition to Home Depot coming to St. Thomas. No wonder, it would provide competitive price, improved availability of merchandise, and accountability. Thought the Government was trying to encourage businesses to come to St. Thomas and provide jobs, benefits and career opportunities? Yes, as long as they don't rock the boat and provide any type of competition, I guess. Got to love this place, which we do, just realize there is so much room for improvement.

On another note, trying to find a decent map that lists parts of the island by name. Realize addresses aren't what they are on the mainland. They involve landmarks, had to learn what a mahogany tree looked like, can't tell you how many times people have given me directions involving a mahogany tree OR a white wall! Never realized how many white walls there are until you are looking for a specific location. But, how do I know which part of the island or town is Contant or Upper Contant, for example? Had the same problem with areas like Sub Base, but found it when I had to deal with WAPA and the gas company.

Also, having never lived in the Tropics, could use some suggestions on food storage, pest control, do's and don'ts with regard to a cistern, best way to keep toilets white when you have a cistern, or other useful tips?

First and foremost of my suggestions for folks moving here, you must come down and check out the area. Get a good idea of what is and isn't available, and what things cost.

I would definitely recommend they bring a car with them. If they don't own a reliable car, buy it before they come down. Recommend they have a US-made AND assembled one, this way cost to bring in is cheaper. You will need to check inside of driver door to see where the car was assembled since VI is not part of NAFTA a car assembled in Canada is subject to higher fees to bring in. But, all in all the cost to ship and license isn't much compared to increased cost of buying here. I would suggest if person could afford it, bring in 1 more vehicle than they need, ideally a decent older model truck. They could sell the truck for enough of a profit to cover their cost of shipping and licensing both vehicles! Also, it is worth paying someone to deal with clearing customs and licensing the vehicle for you. It can be an all day ordeal, especially if you don't know the ropes or your way around. It was the best $150 we spent. Car was delivered, washed/gassed up and fully licensed.

Also, as someone prepares to move, take advantage of the US Postal Service. Have never appreciated the Post Office until we started this project. We shipped tons of stuff via parcel post. So what if it took 4 weeks to get here, just start early. Cost is no more to send here than to any other US State. We balanced the cost of item + shipping versus cost here or in some cases, items aren't available. We mailed some of the lighter things and took some of the heaviest, up to 70 lbs, as our airline luggage. Also, check on-line shopping. Many shipped here directly without international surcharge. Some even had Virgin Islands listed as valid postal state code as VI and treat it no differently as the states. In some cases, it was cheaper to send here then stateside home, no sales tax here. Ordered rugs, large rugs, from Crate and Barrel and it cost $5/ per rug to ship here! Would have cost more to go to other home because we have 8.1% sales tax. Also learned if they don't list VI as 'valid' state code, call them. Educate them. Request item be sent via USPS versus UPS. You'd be surprised what you can ship here. Besides, shipping via USPS avoids any customs issues. Another thing we did, was ship items via DHL. Employer gets a great corporate rate so we made arrangements to ship larger/heavier items via DHL and reimburse employer when the air bill hits. When packing we didn't 'waste' space with packing peanuts or newspaper, use clothes or lightweight necessary household items, paper towel/tissues/ napkins/ if you have little kids; diapers. Prices on most of these items are cheaper in bulk stateside. So at least you have an initial supply of these items.

When shopping here, if you see it, and need it, buy it. It probably won't be there when you want it. Someone told us, if you really need it/use it, buy two. If you think you may need it, buy one. You can always return it. This was very helpful since K-Mart is THE retailer on the island, and they are in bankruptcy. Or, a hurricane can disrupt shipments of items, so stock up. It is a different way of life and you have to get used to the fact that regardless of the cost, you can't buy something that isn't available. When you are used to competition and selection you have to adjust to getting things when you can.

Still having friends send us stateside care packages from Home Depot as we finish remodeling. Quite time-consuming to go to 1/2 a dozen places to find a replacement items with no luck that you know Home Depot or Lowe's carries in quantity.

Hope some of that info is helpful to others as they try to leave their type A personality stateside and adjust to island living.

Update: Home Depot opened a store on St. Thomas in late 2003.

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