Moving Stories

More Moving Stories

Story #13: Story from a New St. Thomas Resident!

Part One:

Moving has not been fun at all. You really appreciate your family, friends, pets. etc so much more and really develop an 'I don't care about this stupid stuff that I have collected' attitude towards everything that you have to carry or pack or box or throw or heave into a crate or truck. Just my opinion of course.

I am currently on island with the shirt on my back and the clothes in my suitcase. We started this move in Kansas City, MO. I couldn't believe how much stuff I had! Mostly, how much I don't need. I should have started sooner giving things to charity, but I guess I had no idea how much I had to give. I ended up packing and bringing a lot of stuff that I will have to give to charity here. There just won't be room for it in my new home. We filled a 20' container. We had a two hour window to load or they charged $50 per hour so we made it just in time. Crowley did our household goods shipping and brought the crate to our front door. It went by train to port in FL and then by ship to St. Thomas. It arrived last night, however we are waiting customs to clear it. We are hoping to have it delivered to our home, but we will see. More on that after we unload it.

We drove from KC to Mississippi to visit family and drop off a U-Haul full of stuff for storage. I assume it will be more stuff I give to charity later. We intended to go to New Orleans for a one night stay and leave the kids at family for a one last night dinner and evening for just my husband and I, but that didn't happen. Unfortunately, life happens or rather death and a close family member died of cancer. He was given two months to live, but that is never a guarantee... We had visited him a month earlier so we were thankful for that time. We were able to attend the funeral and see family and were thankful for that as well.

We then drove from Mississippi to Fort Lauderdale, FL to ship our truck. We used Lee at Managed Freight and he has been very helpful so far. I expect he will continue to be helpful, but we are in limbo currently. Our truck hasn't shipped yet since we had to leave it to clear customs and they ship once a week. Ford has the lien on our truck since we financed with them and getting permission from them to ship the truck has been horrible. We started the process in June and a day before we dropped the truck off, there was still more paperwork to do. Things were being FedEx'd overnight and all kinds of stress on us. Once at the shipping yard, everything took all of five minutes to take care of. We had rented a vehicle for the rest of the day and night and took an early morning flight to St. Thomas via San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU). Barely made our connecting flight in SJU. Running with a baby and two kids in tow was quite an adventure. We actually got to St. Thomas early and had a delicious pizza from Pizza Amore for lunch. We then dropped everything and sat and watched TV. for the rest of the day. That was last Friday.

My husband (Moving Story #21) has been on St. Thomas for the last three months and had already rented an apartment, bought a couch, rented a TV., had a rental vehicle and some food in the fridge for us when we arrived. He really did a good job of getting things together from his end.

Saturday we shopped at Cost-U-Less, Home Depot, drove around the island and ate at Hard Rock Cafe. We didn't have much energy for anything else. The kids got to go swimming in the pool, but we didn't feel up to it.

Sunday, we went to Magens Bay; beautiful and had a great time. Slathered the kids and ourselves in sun block and no one got burned. Yea!!!

Monday morning and Chris had to go to work. I cleaned the house and we met him for lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Havensight. Actually run by Asians. Sorry, but I was surprised since I didn't really expect any Asians being here. I, being part Asian myself, expected to stand out a bit. ;-). I actually love standing out in a crowd. If anyone was at the airport on Friday and saw a woman wearing a leopard print cowboy hat...that was me. I love my cat prints - faux of course - and being from the Midwest, I love cowboy hats and boots. The boots were too hot to wear so I wore non-matching tennis shoes. They didn't fit in the overcrowded suitcase so they got worn. I am sure people were laughing or talking about me, but hey making people laugh is never a bad thing! ;-)

Tonight I am on a laptop with dial up internet - did I mention that my husband works for an internet provider, but I am stuck with dial up?!? Hopefully I will get DSL soon.

If anyone wants to know what you need to ship a vehicle especially one with a lien from Ford than email me! I will write more about our moving in experience when that happens. Lets just hope that everything arrives unbroken! Same with our vehicle. I would hope that it arrives intact. Good luck to all of you starting your packing and moving. I hope to soon have a house unpacked.

Also, I drove for the first time today on St. Thomas. To tell the truth, it is easier than I had imagined. I am parked on the street since I still have the driveway to master. Trust me, it is difficult. It involves reverse, getting up speed and turning at the right moment to avoid truck hitting concrete or going off a cliff. I might park on the street for a while... Driving on the left is easier to do than sitting on the passenger side staring down the cliffs. I really enjoyed driving and watching out for potholes and crazy drivers. I felt a little more freedom from it. Being stuck at home isn't much fun.

Well, to wrap this up. The hardest part of our move was the preparation. Visiting here twice before the move was key and doing my research on living here was also important to not 'freaking out' once on island. I highly suggest the pre-move visit and reading the posts on the USVI Moving Message Board daily. I still have school enrollment to look forward to this week and unloading - so more to come. Adios amigos.

Shipping Our Car

We picked up our truck today, licensed and all! It came in great condition or rather the same condition. ;-) All that work to get it here is behind us. Such relief. We have a new Ford Explorer and getting it here was one of the biggest challenges we have faced. We brought it all the way from Kansas City, MO. We drove it to the docks in Florida to ship with Tropical Shipping. Lee from Managed Freight took care of it from there. My husband picked it up just a few hours ago. Lee called us to follow up and make sure everything was okay. I am so happy to have my vehicle. Weird how you miss things you take for granted.

We could have shipped it from our house in Kansas City via a crate with our household goods, but the cost was about triple. We would have also had to either rent a vehicle to drive to family's house where we stored more stuff or we would have had to fly out of Kansas City. to St. Thomas. Either way the expense would have been so much more.

What we did do was drive to Florida (via family's home dropping off stuff) and then flew out of Fort Lauderdale to San Juan, Puerto Rico and then on to St. Thomas. Our one way plane tickets were $250/each. We thought that was a great deal.

To get your vehicle here via boat you need the following: Money (all kinds of fees, taxes, and charges are involved), vehicle title and notarized copies of titles (at least three copies), insurance (normal coverage and in certain instances marine insurance), notarized copies (at least three) of a permission letter from your lien holder (if applicable). You have to comply with the shipping company, customs, St. Thomas 'laws', and lien holder's rules. Sometimes these things overlap and even contradict. You have to have patience, perseverance, will and a way. The shipping company will help you a lot with information, however they do not know of all things involved. For example they know nothing of what your lien holder needs in order to give you permission letters. They couldn't. One, there are uncountable lien holders and Two, the 'rules' change from vehicle to vehicle. Customs too seem to mold to the situation or vehicle. It is really hard to get a straight and correct answer to what you need. I do know that currently there is a law that you can not transport computer or electronic type equipment in your vehicle that is being shipped. Have not found out why. You can have up to 30 cubic feet of stuff in your vehicle while it is being shipped, but I understood that it could not block windows or be in the front of the vehicle.

Insurance was tricky as well. Our former insurance company would not cover the vehicle here in St. Thomas. So my husband got insurance here in St. Thomas. The marine insurance we needed to get our lien holder's permission was not going to be granted until they saw the vehicle at the dock. Which was a catch 22 since we needed the permission letter before we could take the truck to the dock. We ended up getting the permission letter by getting a letter from the insurance company that stated they would give us insurance once on the dock. And I believe we paid for the insurance before we got there to assure our lien holder that we would have it.

Our truck was new and I don't know if anyone else will have this issue, but we had to license it in the state we bought it before we could ship it. This was tricky too because you have to send in your title to the capital of the state with your license application. So we had to get our notarized copies of the title before we licensed the vehicle.

After your paperwork is in order and you have paid in full the amount owed the shipping company, you drop off your vehicle at the dock or as I said before you can ship from home and just drive it on to a crate. We dreaded going to the dock. I had snacks and drinks packed in the rental truck and tons of things for the kids to do in case we were there all day. It turned out to be a five minute ordeal. My husband walked in with the paperwork and a few minutes later they came out to look over the vehicle and ask a few questions. He signed some paperwork and we left the truck there to clear customs later. It was so easy at that point that we had the giggles. We were able to relax and enjoy our short day in Florida. We flew out the next morning.

Part Two:

So now here we are. I have been on St. Thomas exactly two weeks and we have all our belongings in our house (not quite unpacked) and our vehicle and not one thing was damaged. (We used Crowley to ship our household goods and Managed Freight to ship our vehicle - they also did the licensing/customs work.) We did pack well and did our homework. It was stressful the last month before we moved. I know stress is not a word used here on the islands, but we are talking previous. Packing and shipping breakables was nerve racking, but we used newspaper, bubble wrap, and double boxed with towels, sheets, blankets, pillows or anything soft around them. Using clothing or blankets, etc for packing material worked and saved room. No reason to waste space with styrofoam. We did spend money buying sturdy cardboard boxes for packing dishes, TV and other breakables. Since we used a crate, we didn't ship anything thru U.S. Postal Service, but we have heard that is the other most reliable way to ship items under 70 pounds.

Having all of our belongings around us and our vehicle has just made the tension slide off our backs. I didn't realize how tightly wound I was until now. Life is starting to slow down a bit.

I have decided to home school our kids and am excited about it. I hope to get them caught up and within a few years they will be back into school. I hope to join a home school group soon since I want them to develop social skills as well. All very important.

In all honesty, these first two weeks on St. Thomas have not been easy and not too enjoyable. We did take days off from unpacking and errand running to go to the beach; that made it bearable. Now, I am use to driving on the left, know where the grocery stores are located, have school situated, have everything I need and all the excitement I can handle. We have so many goals and things we want to do here. I am looking forward to the next VINow get together and to exploring not only St. Thomas, but St. John and St. Croix. I want to meet some people, make new friends, find good restaurants, sail and everything else that you don't have as much opportunity to do in the Mid-west.

Island life is completely different from the Mid-west life and vacationing here is completely different from living here. It is weird talking to family and friends back home. They always talk about being jealous and wanting to hear all about the fun we are having. I guess I would be the same way if I were in their shoes. I want to tell them about all my 'hardships', but I tell them about the beach and the ocean instead. It is beautiful here and warm. I understand now that you can not describe life here because it is so different for everyone. It is wonderful and at the same time you still have to clean house and do routine things that are not anything to be excited about. Instead of an ocean view screensaver on my computer, I have an ocean view out my window. It is starting to set in and soon I will be a relaxed islander in training. ;-)

Now, my two cents worth of advice to people moving here or living here. Take time to plan a day to 'vacation'. You need to go to the beach, mountaintop, swimming pool or sail the ocean in order to remember why you came here. It really is easy to get into a daily grind of getting things done and just basic living. You need to pretend you are on vacation at least once a month if not more. Just wait, one day you will be at the beach and a vacationer will say, "You live here in paradise?!? Tell me all about it!" Let them know about your favorite beach or island experience. They may have to go back to the cold or very cold climate and at least they can dream about the islands. That will help keep them warm. Come to think of it, I really don't have anything to complain about. Everyone should enjoy an island at least for a vacation. The crazy ones that move here, well we will just have more stories to share that will make people say, "I wish I could be on a tropical island paradise right now."

Follow Up:

(Submitted 2005) I moved to St. Thomas last August. I am a mom of three. I went thru a 'phase' or depression of some sort moving here from the Midwest. It lasted until January. I flew home and visited family over Christmas. I realized that most of my depression was just missing family and friends. I felt better after the visit and coming back I started calling St. Thomas home. Now I am really happy and satisfied with living here. I am a social person and it was hard to switch from Midwest city to island, but it all worked out. I found that a lot of wives have shared my feelings of new island blues. It usually goes away and you start to find your place. My kids had very few problems adjusting. My husband had none.

So I have gone from crying everyday that I want to go back to a 'normal' life in the states, to loving it here. I won't say that it is perfect, because no place is perfect, but it is right for us now. I have found the difficulties of the island to be challenges (only after we figured out a solution), but feel proud that we handled them and did it 'by ourselves'.

It is strange the way that my perspective has changed, but you can either live your life looking at everything that is wrong or try to find all that is right. I am somewhere in between, but the things I find wrong I am now more apt to find the good in them. I used to say that even with the beauty of the island I couldn't handle living here, now I say that even though I have 'challenges' - thank goodness for the beauty of the island.

I think the best thing the island offers is the fact that you really find out a lot about yourself that you didn't understand or know about before living here. I am way more tolerant of people now. Everyone is different and yet the same. Treat people with respect even if they do things completely different than you are used too.

I understand how foreigners come up with the opinion that Americans are arrogant - many of us are...even myself. I love the fact that I have lost some of that arrogant way of thinking just by excepting a few ways of island life.

To all those moving here, try to come with an open mind. Maybe one of the biggest mistakes newcomers have is coming to the island with a set expectation that doesn't allow any flexibility. You may not be able to control your environment, but you can control your behavior and reactions, no?

Okay, enough of my ramblings. I don't want to deter anyone from coming and experiencing island life. Hopefully the messages on this site will help to pave the way for a positive experience.

One Year Follow Up:

I will try to keep this brief, but I could go on forever about our move to St. Thomas. My husband took a job on St. Thomas last year May 1st. He moved down first and stayed a month at Bluebeard's. He then found a one bedroom where he lived for two more months before I moved down with three kids (7 years, 5 years, and 6 months) and we found a very nice two bedroom. It was large, but we needed three bedrooms. Time ran out so we took what we could. We used a 20' crate to bring all our belongings. We lived in our cramped home for 7 months before finding a four bedroom house for a cheap price. As the saying goes, "If something is too good to be true...". So two and a half months later, with our things still in boxes from our original move to St. Thomas, we moved again to a wonderful three bedroom home, good price and lots of room. We now have a wonderful landlord and a wonderful place to live. I wish we could have found this home last year when we moved, but I wouldn't have had all the 'interesting' experiences. While I write this, things are still in boxes. It seems like we moved to this island a couple of weeks ago instead of one year ago. Oh well, maybe in a few more years I will be unpacked.

The first few months on island were up and down for me. Mostly down. It has been diagnosed as culture shock. For whatever reason it affected me greatly and the rest of the family adjusted in a few days with nary a worry. I guess as a mother, wife, and female - it just took me a long while to adjust to a complete different way of life. I planned for three months to move to St. Thomas, but just couldn't foresee how difficult it would be to adjust. However, the first trip back to the States at Christmas made me abruptly change my mood and fall in love with all the benefits of island living. Below zero wind chill will do that to you when you stand at the airport without your coat wondering why family couldn't have come to the island to celebrate the holidays.

So from January until now, I have grown to love this island. The island has so many flaws, but I don't know of anyplace on earth that doesn't. The beauty I see daily helps so much for me to call this place home. My teeth never chatter (except for those brief periods of going from sweating in the heat to an air conditioned place) and to me that is worth it!

I came from the Midwest, where you need four wardrobes for the seasons and two different sets of tires for summer and winter. I don't miss the Midwest at all. I do miss my friends and family of whom haven't visited nearly as much as they said they would.

It is strange looking back one year and wondering how we did it. I started out with home schooling my two oldest and now have them in public school and am satisfied with their education this far. We have moved so many times that I forget which way to go from Tutu to get home. I now have two part time jobs. Both which wonderfully worked with my husband's schedule and kept me from going insane at home with no adults to talk too. I was a career woman before our move and adjusting to a stay at home mom was very hard. I got bored and depressed. Thank goodness I now have my jobs and have made many friends on island. My first few months on island made me feel that I would never make friends. I couldn't even understand what most islanders were saying let alone get to know them. Now I can not only understand most of what people are saying, I am able to say a few phrases and words in the Caribbean accent myself.

I guess I haven't written much to help others, but my message is that for those who are making the plunge and moving to the islands - beware of the culture shock, open your mind to learn and understand, be friendly, be calm, slow down, and forget everything you know about life so that you don't miss out on a wonderful experience and knowledge that life isn't about reaching your goals so much as it is about enjoying the whole journey. I told my husband the other day that if the day comes that we are going to move back to the mainland (as we have planned all along) I most definitely won't want to go. He smiled and said, "I know."

Follow Up After Returning to the US Mainland:

We moved back to the states last August of 2006 and lived on St. Thomas for two years. We have three kids and at the time of the move they were 1st grade, Kindergarten, and 6 months old.

We moved to island with all expenses paid: shipped household goods, shipped vehicle, flights, 1st month's rent, company truck on island as second vehicle, pre-move visit, etc. We made more than average amount of money, had a bit of savings in the bank, and came with knowledge, research, and an open mind and attitude. It may sound cushy and perfect, but as you know we didn't stay. We didn't up and leave for one reason or for a few reasons. We left for a multitude of reasons. I will list a few, but please keep in mind - we made friends, we explored St. John and St. Thomas, we went to the beach, we went to parties, we ate out, we snorkeled, we sailed, we did lots of fun things; so it wasn't all bad.

One reason we left is for the kid's education. We could not afford private schooling. I even got a bar tending job and a job in tourism to make ends meet. Private schooling was for the rich, in my mind. (I want to make a correction. Private school is not only for the rich. If you have two working parents and one child, obviously your expenses are not as high as in my situation. You could have a smaller home, less groceries, and only one payment for school. It could work a bit better, however you will still have many challenges and it isn't easy by any means.) Public school is what it is and I am so sorry to say that it was better than the worst, but not by much. I did expect it to be horrible, but at the time I didn't have a choice and gave it the best try ever. Language in the schools is a barrier to mainlanders. It is English and I can understand many accents, but for my kids to learn from a teacher and talk to other students took a long time with many stumbles and misunderstandings. The schools themselves are pretty bad. Even the locals are constantly concerned. One day they had a walk out when the water ran out in the school. Apparently the cistern had a major leak and they filled the tank with water frequently which had to cost a lot, but it ran out often as well. My children would not use the bathrooms and neither would I. They were bad. My daughter's Kindergarten teacher quit after the school year as she could not take the current principal and neither could I. I transferred my kids to a different public school the next year. They had a great principal there, but still many problems existed. I wanted so bad to support the public school system as I wanted it to work, but too many problems exist for locals let alone for mainlanders trying to fit in. I did try home-schooling, but it didn't work for many reasons as well. Even as I write this, I wish things could have been different and better.

We left because we couldn't afford to save money for our kids future nor for our own future. Money just came and went like the waves. We of course tried to budget and spend less on what we could do without. We did lots of free activities like the beach, swimming pools, parks, and of course would spend weekends on St. John (which wasn't free since we had to take a ferry there and buy food, etc. but was cheaper than flying anywhere). Food for a family of five is expensive. Silly things like being allergic to mangoes made fruit on island not an option for cutting back on costs. We shopped the bargain places and just got what we needed. Not a lot of snack food. We bought soy milk as island milk is horrible and stateside milk is expensive and goes bad quickly. Not to mention all the power outages made the milk spoil quicker. These things added up. We spent tons of money on formula for the baby. We could never get the same brand or sometimes size diapers twice in a row. Anyway, I am just saying that the costs of living on island x 5 for us was x 10. Every little thing you take for granted in the states was higher priced and many times hard to get on island.

Let me quickly sum up my point. We had every opportunity to make it work on island, but living on island is HARD and DIFFICULT. When you add kids to that, it is that much harder. We wanted to make a life of it on island, my husband was doing so well in his career (and still is), but we couldn't afford mentally and physically and any other way to stay on island. Locals living on island barely make it by, but it is home to them and they usually have support of family and friends. Many mainlanders think that because locals live on island with families or whatever that it is easier than we make it out to be. They have the same battles with schooling that I had. Many churches give discounts and scholarships to local families for private schooling and trust me they take it. You have to understand that the islands in general have problems with government and that they are still working it out, but their model is the United States Government and having those issues on a small scale affects you more than being a number in the states. Of course many people live on the islands and love it and work hard at it. You really have to be committed to it to make it work and you need some sort of never ending patience and perseverance and luck. Oh, yes, and money.

I don't like to be negative, but anyone considering a move to the islands needs to really understand why they want to move there. Ideals of a paradise type of place can be your undoing. We moved because of a job opportunity, we actually did not seek it out.

My disclaimer: We lived on St. Thomas. St. Croix and St. John may have been a different story, but who knows. I have never been to St. Croix nor claim to know how much better or worse the schools are there. I do 100% recommend a pre move visit to see for yourself what the island is like. Every little bit of knowledge can help your decision to move or to know some things to expect. There are some happy stories of people who moved to island and made it work. Make sure you read about their experiences as well. They have insights that are helpful. My last disclaimer. I have no regrets about moving to island nor about moving back stateside. All my experiences are who I am and I love that I had the island experience.

So, good luck to all of you and your decision making and moving and future experiences. I hope those moving to island have good experiences.

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