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Moving in July for Grad School

Posts: 8
Active Member
Topic starter

Hello everyone,

I am a US Marine Vet on VA "disability," and am graduating soon with my degrees in Fisheries Biology and Geology. I have been accepted to UVI and am planning a relocation in July. I have a lot of questions but first let me fill you in on my info so you can answer properly.

I spent 10 years in the Infantry, and after being injured I retrained as an Air Traffic Controller and did that for 4 yrs. I am no longer able to control traffic due to FAA regs on controlling while taking meds that I have to take. I was medically separated after 14 yrs. So I am starting fresh at 32 yrs old. During the last 4 years I was also going to school for my degrees and will graduate in May.

My disability income totals 2780.00 a month, and we will be moving with a savings of a little over 12K. I am married, with 3 children, 3 boys. We home school right now. I am a Dive Master and would like to work part time as either a Dive Master or Rescue/Safety Diver while going to school. My wife will be at home with the kids while I am gone at school/work but she usually works as a home health aide or CNA around my schedule.

Keep in mind I was an enlisted man so my family is accustomed to moving, having less than posh housing, etc etc. We are used to living out of the mainland, we have lived in the UK, Fairbanks, AK and Hawaii along with San Diego, DC, and Jacksonville NC. We currently live in the U.P of Michigan where I am going to school.

OK here are some questions:

Our total income probably will not exceed 4000-4200 a month, I don't want to live in a slum but I don't need a penthouse, where would you recommend we look. Right now we live in a 830 sqft 2B/1BA, so small is OK, the boys have bunks. Also I currently drive 45 minutes each way on a dirt road to work/school so I don't mind a drive if it helps keep cost down.

If I were to finish my Dive instructor before leaving are the shops hiring year round or would i have to wait and would it be worth it, should I just stick with working as a Dive Master.

How do people like the University, I have asked around and the students I have spoke to so far like it, what is the community feeling?

We have a 4x4 Expedition which we still owe on, should I ship it and keep it, sell and bring the cash, or sell it on the island? About 2500 is what we would profit.

We are backyard hobby farmers, we raise chickens and grow veggies, knowing the limited availability of fresh water, would it be feasible to continue this, is the average yard big enough for a hen house and planters or a garden? Do the laws allow keeping hens and I wonder even then if a landlord would allow it.

I really want the family to adapt to the island not bring home to the island, what are some tips for acclimating to the culture for a main-lander?

We will be there for at least 3 years, hopefully 6 or more depending on PhD courses and work availability. I know my wife and kids took a little while to adjust to Alaska which oddly enough I compare the VI to. The cost of living was high, we were the minority, culture and customs were different, and it was a totally different climate. We also did get a little rock fever while living in Hawaii but made at least one trip a year usually 2 off the islands.

I have done a ton of research on the costs through the USVI moving center, I see gas is about 35 cents higher than here, right now we are 4.20. People keep telling me about the price of milk but my whole family, accept me, is lactose intolerant so I'm not too concerned with milk prices. BUT for a family of five what might be a "normal" monthly grocery bill.

I have read all of the stories on this site and read most of the other info, I wish the stories were more up to date, I think the newest one is 2005. Anyway I am considering a PMV but would not have long to make it, probably only a 3 day weekend. I don't think that would be a problem the military sent me to the UK and all I had was a 3 day PMV same with Hawaii and it all worked out. Although island time I have a feeling will take a toll on that time!

I'm sure I can ask a ton more but I will leave it at that for right now. Thanks everyone

Posted : March 19, 2013 2:46 pm
Posts: 1937
Noble Member

Well I just moved from Alaska, so your right, the cost of living is pretty close (though I was in anchorage, cheaper than fairbanks) food is the same as alaska, alcohol is INSANELY cheaper (hehe....).

Gas is around $3.95 a gallon if you look for it, 4.30ish at some stations & it seems to swing wildly, I saw a .30 price jump in one day recently.

if your white, you'll be a minority again; no biggie though every one is pretty nice & I've found as long as I'm polite/nice to them any gruffness is brief or non-exsistant.

2,500 won't buy you a vehicle here, it will cost you about 1,300 to ship down from Florida & road tax (assuming your vehicle was built in the US) is per lb, so I'd guess your total would be under 2,200$ to ship your vehicle (and I suggest it, I have a huge truck and it's not bad here on the island, the roads can be rough so it's nice to have a little suspension under you).

if your on the west end farming shouldn't be an issue (I prefer the west end, it's where more locals are and it seems a lot more laid back, less "americanized") it's also considered a "rain forest" so with a little creative planning you'll be able to capture all the water you need.

the housing market is very depressed right now and on a down hill slide (IMO) I just found a place and put an offer in friday, cheaper than Alaska was for sq/ft & land.

Zoning is pretty relaxed (for chickens etc..) and it doesn't seem to be enforced much; you'll find chickens / roosters are running all over the island, so I'm sure you could continue that here along with your farming (also a suprising amount of horses randomly placed, from project-like apartments to the side of the "highway" to random lawns...).

If you can handle alaska then this place is no problem, don't expect things to happen fast (anything..) and be prepared to relax and take it easy...

I've only been here a month though, so I'm probably still in the honeymoon phse.

Posted : March 19, 2013 3:10 pm
Posts: 2138
Noble Member

Welcome BioGeoGrad. Which island are you moving to?

Posted : March 19, 2013 3:45 pm
Posts: 1937
Noble Member

I'm on STX btw.. I have not been to the other islands yet.

Posted : March 19, 2013 4:04 pm
Posts: 8
Active Member
Topic starter

Thank you both for replying!

Thanks STX Bob for the welcome.

I will be moving to STT, I might be able to move to STX but right now my coursework would have me at the STT campus and I don't look forward to moving again once we are there unless required.

Liquid, Thanks for all the info, I see you said you are on STX so I assume that the west end of STX is what you were talking about?

We actually lived just outside Fairbanks in Pleasant Valley, which was a damp community so no alcohol sold at all, we had to drive to Fairbanks to get it, but yeah it was ridiculous! I don't really drink though, maybe a beer or two. I got all my drinking done in the aforementioned Marine Corps years! I thought it was funny though that I had to have my water delivered at the arctic circle and now I am moving someplace tropical and have to have it delivered again. I guess everyone in the middle is just lucky!

That's what I was thinking about the vehicle, I thought it would be good to have, after reading everything about the roads and such. My only concern was everyone says they will get beat to hell and devalued because of the narrow roads and crappy drivers, either way I have full coverage through USAA and it goes where I go, in the US or out.

How do you guys feel about my income level? That does not include my wife working, and I may get lucky and get a stipend depending on what research project I start with.

I am SOOOO prepared to relax and take it easy! I heard one person say people in USVI are either running from something, or hiding from something, I am running from 14 years of complete structure and rigid order, I want to feel the breeze for a while and enjoy the scenery while I am working. Between the Corps and college I will have used up 20 yrs of my life, gotta live a little of it in the process here!

Posted : March 19, 2013 4:43 pm
Posts: 1937
Noble Member

Well STT is the "tourist" island, it's supose to be much different (which may be good or bad) STX is suppose to be much more laid back and more of a "local" flavor (or so I hear..) STT is also very "hilly" I can't really comment on it much other than that, I do have facilities to manage over there that I'm told I'll eventually go visit; but with sequestration who knows when that will happen.

My truck is already suffering a little from the climate, it was used to the cold now things are relaxing and my door seals are sagging & my gas tank door wont stay shut (seems like a 2010 would handle it better...).. haha small things though.

I think your income level is fine, you won't be rich but you won't be barely scraping by assuming you are somewhat disciplined with finances (which I assume you are); are you doing the post 9/11 GI bill also? it pays like 1800 for living expenses.

the STX campus is huge; I figured it was the bigger of the two but perhaps not, good luck either way; if you want it to happen it will 😉

Posted : March 19, 2013 5:22 pm
Posts: 525
Honorable Member

Before shipping your car (if you do decide to go that repute) check with your lender - some won't let you ship the car to the USVI's if you still have an outstanding balance on your loan.

Posted : March 19, 2013 7:18 pm
Posts: 12366
Illustrious Member

I think you'll do just fine with a $4K a month budget but then I do not have 3 boy children who may eat me out of house and home.
How old are your boys and will you continue to home school?

While STT is more tourist oriented than STX, it only lasts a couple of months then the ships head to various other ports in May and there's slim pickings until Nov. when things gear up again. It won't interfere with your life since you'll be at school or work and you'll learn to schedule visits to town and your driving patterns to days with no ships (or slow days) in port and other ways to avoid traffic. Beaches on weekends in high season can be busy but there are quite a few that have much less traffic.

Best to check with your landlord who may object to raising chickens as well as the fact that livestock and fowl are not actually allowed in areas that are not zoned A-1 & A-2 for agriculture. Some areas do have them in spite of this but if there is a complaint you must get rid of them or face fines from DPNR and it can go to court as well. Sounds travel very well here in islands so be considerate of your neighbors.

I have a 16 yr. old Toyota Tacoma that works wonderfully after all these years on our STT roads. I did just have body work done to eliminate rusted spots and have it repainted. She looks as good as new! Much cheaper option that paying $16-18K for a newer model that was still 6-8 yrs old and more mileage than I presently have.

Gas in STT was running $4.79 per gallon last week up from $4.58 the week before but price is supposed to go down again.
Just be aware that electricity runs about $0.58 per KWh so if you need A/C, you may end up paying $$$$$$$$$$ for electricity.
Conserve, conserve, conserve! What's the cost in Fairbanks?

You may want to look for housing on North side towards northwest side since you'll be commuting to UVI.
There are generally lots of apts. available, especially starting end of May when tourist season slows down so depends what you need, like and will suit you. You can check the Island Trader, a free weekly newspaper which advertises retals, items for sale, cars, boats, etc., or even ask a Realtor for help.

If you can finish your Dive-master certification while you are stateside, you can check around when you get here for a position, instead of waiting for a class to be organized for certification. You'll have it in hand which shows determination. Things do slow down in summer work wise but people come and go all the time so you may find an available job.

Sounds like you and your family have the right attitude and you should do very well. Welcome.

Posted : March 19, 2013 9:45 pm
Posts: 2138
Noble Member

BioGeoGrad: With your anticipated income and a wife and three children, I think you'll be scraping by. The cost of living is significantly higher here than stateside, particularly for food and electricity. One or two trips off the rock each year could be expensive. Your wife will keep home schooling because you won't be able to afford private school tuition and you won't want to put your kids in public school. So save your money by enjoying family time at the free beaches and bringing a picnic.

Life here or anywhere is what you make of it. If you want to relax, take it easy, and remove structure from your life, that's completely up to you. Nobody here or anywhere is going to do that for you.

Posted : March 19, 2013 9:54 pm
Posts: 6523
Illustrious Member

Welcome, BioGeoGrad!

I pretty much agree with everything that Alana said but I do think it's going to be a bit of a scrape to get by on 4K/month with three boys to raise. Rent and utilities are going to account for a sizeable chunk of that - at least 50%. I agree that the North side would suit you better all around but I very much doubt that any LL is going to allow you to keep chickens. Growing veggies isn't a problem although of course there's a learning curve dealing with our year-round weather variables and pests.

No question that you need a reliable vehicle and, honestly, most families have two. You can't rely on public transportation at all and trying to get by with one vehicle gets to be a bit of a chore even for a couple without children.

One thing which you seriously need to think about is the home schooling. Personally I don't know anyone who's done it here (and I've been a resident for 30 years) but hopefully you can find a support group if that's the way you want to go. Despite the obstacles with the public school system I know many young adults who were brought up in that system who've done perfectly well with it. Many couples who move here and some who've lived here for many years leave when their children get to school age for the more diverse opportunities available at stateside educational facilities. There is excellent private schooling available here but it comes at a VERY high price.

You have a lot to think about but I wish you all the best.

Posted : March 19, 2013 10:43 pm
Posts: 81
Trusted Member

If you want to work in the dive industry I would definitely suggest taking an IDC and getting your Instructors cert. Doing so will really open more doors for you. Most of the shops down here don't value Dive Masters all that much, at least as compared to an Instructor. Good luck with the move!

Posted : March 20, 2013 12:41 am
Posts: 8
Active Member
Topic starter

Thank you all for your responses.

Liquid I am on Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation right now, my disability pension is 1880 a month no matter what, my education allowance is 900, but all of my school expenses tuition, books, fees, paper, pens etc, etc, are paid by the VA, I never see the bill. The 1800 is to cover the lost earning potential that I would have had if I had been able to retire from active duty, the 900 is meant to cover incidental expenses such as gas to and from class, and one meal a day while at class.

Alana, My boys are 12, 9, and 5 months. So we are only feeding two, momma takes care of the third! Currently our recreation as a family is usually hiking, fishing, boating (won't be bringing the boat), We aren't big spenders that way, the biggest unnecessary expense we usually have is that we have a weekly night out as a family and go to a restaurant. Personally my biggest recreational activities are shooting, and diving. I am a competitive shooter in handgun and 3 gun but I see the laws concerning guns on the islands are not conducive to bringing them so they will stay with my parents.

As far as home school goes we will continue, we are members of an online christian school that actually conducts the school. The boys get their whole years worth of DVDs in the mail with their books and they follow along, we supplement with additional instruction, and then administer the tests. They do all their work on the computer and email it to their "teacher" and we mail in their tests to be graded. It costs us 1400 a year tuition for the two boys.

One expense we have right now that we won't have there is WINTER, we have already spent 1500 since Nov on snow, plowing, raking the roof, etc. That doesn't include the winter clothes every year.

I am currently a Dive Master, which I am not sure about down there but up here I get paid 10/hr for being a topside tender or 12/hr if I get wet and am the DM or Safety diver. So I figured I could bring in between 11/1300 a month part time. Also if one of the PhD's at the University will accept me on their research there will be a stipend. I am trying to get that arranged before arriving but I am afraid it is like anything else they want me on the island and in their office before they will talk seriously about a position.

I might consider buying a house but I doubt being new on the island and in school with a part time job any of the banks would approve me for enough of a loan to get anything acceptable, if they gave me one at all. With that even I really don't want to be tied to the island with a house just in case I am not accepted into the PhD program after the MSci, which is very common. 90% of Post grads in my field are not accepted by their MSci institution. So I have to be prepared for the fact that I may only have 3 years on the island.

I found an Apartment on Craigslist the other day on the North side that was offered at 1600 a month. Let me throw out a small list of our current expenses and you guys tell me what to expect as far as a change.

Rent 600 (no brainer on this one)
Elec 175
Gas 220 (heat and cooking)
Car 265
Ins 110
TV/Internet 170
Cell Phones 200
Groceries 450
Gasoline 400 (25 miles one way to school 14 mpg)
Nov-May Winter expenses 1500-2000 (more than 6 feet of snow this year yuck)
kids tuition 1400/yr

@ Count I think I will do my IDC here this may/june, sounds like a good source of income.

How is 12K to start with, and is it worth it to take the 3 day PMV or is that not enough time?

One last thing is there a VA Hospital or clinic on STT?

Thanks everyone

Posted : March 20, 2013 3:56 am
Posts: 12366
Illustrious Member

Rent 600 (no brainer on this one) - Try a higher amount $$ for something decent.900 -min 1500. (this depends on how you live)
Elec 175 - probably can do if very conservative and if you do not have to pay for water usage.
Gas 220 (heat and cooking) - $90.00 per 6-8 months per 100 lb. cylinder depending on how much you cook/usage - propane best.
Car 265 - repairs? oil changes, checking brakes, clutch - may be more.Our roads can be hard on vehicles.
Ins 110.OO will you need renter insurance? Is this for car? Dbl it.
TV/Internet 170 - about right depending on services you choose. Deposits come into play.
Cell Phones 200- seems a lot but how many will you have?
Groceries 450- may not be realistic for a family of 5 for a monthly amount or is that what you expect to spend weekly?
Gasoline 400 (25 miles one way to school 14 mpg) - not that many miles to get back and forth depending on where you live, work and go to school, play.
Nov-May Winter expenses 1500-2000 (more than 6 feet of snow this year yuck) - Running fans/A/C could get you there
kids tuition 1400/yr - you know best.

What about all the incidentals - 1st, last and security deposits for a rental, furniture, deposits for utilities, pots and pans, dishware, linens towels, misc. items, glass and silver ware, TV for kids ?

Where will you stay with a family of 5 while hunting for a place to live? is it worth it to come for PMV or w/entire family cost wise?

All things to consider with a budget.

Posted : March 20, 2013 4:51 am
Posts: 3919
Famed Member

IMO $450 a month will never cut it re groceries/eating for a family of 5. I would double that, at a minimum.

Posted : March 20, 2013 10:59 am
Posts: 8
Active Member
Topic starter

Sorry I think I wasn't clear, those prices are what I am paying now, here in Michigan, I was wondering what the corresponding number would be in VI to help solidify the budget.

Thanks Alana & Linda for your input, also we really only buy for 4 since my wife breast feeds the baby, but I would guess that the grocery bill would still be at least 650-700.

Posted : March 20, 2013 12:07 pm
Posts: 5404
Illustrious Member

A. I can give you directions to all the darn chickens you could possibly want. Take them PLEASE!! 😉
B. There is a VA Clinic next to the hospital, but for big problems, you will be sent to Puerto Rico.
C. The area near UVI has a few rentals, you really need to see the place before you rent, though.There is a farming community in the west part of the island.
D.There are home schoolers around- they are kind of underground because of the laws around here. If you search them out, you will find like- minded folk.

Posted : March 20, 2013 12:17 pm
Posts: 12366
Illustrious Member

Try looking on Craig's list and check out the Island Trader to get idea of rental prices:
Just be aware that some of the posts there can be scams/CL.

You can always ask us about locations.

Posted : March 20, 2013 12:26 pm
Posts: 862
Prominent Member

Just an FYI, UVI does not offer a PhD program. Just a Master's in marine and environmental science (called an MMES, not MS).

Many of the MMES students do thesis research and a thesis. Several work under professor grants and get s stipend for research. If you have already been accepted by the program (the application deadline was only a couple days ago), I highly recommend you contact some of the professors there with similar research interests to yours and let them know you'll be a new student, interested in working with them etc...

Posted : March 20, 2013 12:32 pm
Posts: 12366
Illustrious Member

East Ender
A. I can give you directions to all the darn chickens you could possibly want. Take them PLEASE!!

Amen to that! I am presently listening to the not so dulcet sounds of an energizer rooster who crows serveral times a minute, for hours now.
Oh, for a air rifle! (Note, I hate killing anything but these darned things will drive you insane if they get in your area.)

Posted : March 20, 2013 1:02 pm
Posts: 6523
Illustrious Member

There have been a couple of Northside 2BR places listed recently on craigslist at $1600, one a house (which I know and have been in) and the other an apartment. These are reasonable prices but you have to take into account that they're unfurnished and the rent doesn't include utilities. I very much doubt that anywhere on STT (where you'd want to live, anyway) will you find any 2BR to rent under $1500.

$12K is really not going to get you very far for start-up costs. Figure on three months rent up front (first, last and one month security) and based on a low end of $1500 that's $4500 in a blink. You can find furniture deals at yard and house sales but to furnish a 2BR you're still looking at a sizable outlay. Deposits on electric, etc., auto registration and insurance, and who knows what else. Your $12K will very quickly be gone.

As far as a PMV is concerned, even three days would be better than nothing if you can swing it. Then again, would it be out of the question for you to move here first, get settled in, find a place to live and then have your family join you when you've got things squared away? You absolutely should NOT rent a place sight unseen and for you and the family to all stay in anything short-term is going to cost you a small fortune and be a monumental and frustrating upheaval.

If you were to come first, I'd suggest you look into staying at Crystal Palace, a B&B above town, for a few days until you can find your way around. The host, Ronnie Lockhart, has helped many newcomers find their footing here over many years and would be a great help. Good luck!

Posted : March 20, 2013 1:07 pm
Posts: 5404
Illustrious Member

Not to hijack the thread, but the St Thomas/Water Island administrator sent someone out a couple of years ago to remove feral chickens in our area. It was quiet for a bit, but then they returned. When we called back, they said there wasn't any money left. I would personally give and raise $ to get rid of them.:-X

Posted : March 20, 2013 1:12 pm
Posts: 2294
Noble Member

In your situation I wouldn't do a PMV. Only because you mentioned you've moved so many times before and you've already been accepted, so you're coming for sure no matter what lol. I too agree with Northside. It's cooler more green and more tropical IMO. MUCH better for gardening (despite pests) because of the rain. I've not watered at all this week. Dorthea, Carrot Bay, Hull Bay are a few good places for your family and I think very safe. It's a pretty quick down the island to the UVI. I go down there to brewers beach all the time. Maybe 20min tops?

Rent 600 (no brainer on this one) STT=$1400-1600 for a 2-3 bdrm
Elec 175 STT = $300-$400 (we spend $200 on northside just is two and we conserve... I would imagine you do a lot of laundry with 3 boys.)
Gas 220 (heat and cooking) STT = $120 for the year for a large tank to be filled plus a little for the propane grill
Car 265 STT = check to make sure you can bring it with a lien. I HIGHLY suggest you bring it.
Ins 110 STT = liability should run you about $280 for the year
TV/Internet 170 STT= will be about the same maybe a little less depending on what packages you get
Cell Phones 200 STT = I assume your bringing yours so the same
Groceries 450 STT = $650 we spend $300-400 a month for two of us. I think this will be your biggest expense change
Gasoline 400 (25 miles one way to school 14 mpg) STT = it's $4.79 here now. Can find $4.50 down town.
Nov-May Winter expenses 1500-2000 (more than 6 feet of snow this year yuck) STT = N/A
kids tuition 1400/yr

Posted : March 20, 2013 1:35 pm
Posts: 6523
Illustrious Member

In your situation I wouldn't do a PMV. Only because you mentioned you've moved so many times before and you've already been accepted, so you're coming for sure no matter what lol. I too agree with Northside. It's cooler more green and more tropical IMO. MUCH better for gardening (despite pests) because of the rain. I've not watered at all this week. Dorthea, Carrot Bay, Hull Bay are a few good places for your family and I think very safe.

You moved here just a few weeks ago I think? I seem to remember you posted about the initial expenses you encountered here which took you a little by surprise so maybe linking that might help the OP with his budgeting. With three children and a wife who's not working his expenses are going to be concomitantly higher but your recent experience I think would give him a better idea from a newcomer's perspective.

Also remember that your $200/month for electricity for the two of you has only been for a very short time and you haven't yet been here in the summer. Even on the cool Northside there are a couple of months when (even if you don't have A/C) you're going to be running the ceiling fans constantly at high speed (I don't even have mine on much at this time of year) and may even invest in an extra floor fan to keep you cool! If you have A/C even in the bedroom for staying cool at night during the "dog days" it's going to jack up your bill considerably so on a year-round basis it's going to be substantially higher.

Posted : March 20, 2013 2:07 pm
Posts: 2596
Famed Member

East Ender I don't know about homeschooling on STT but here on STX all you have to do is send in a letter of intent that you are going to homeschool. It is the easiest place that I know of to homeschool. They never check on you and don't seem to even care.

Posted : March 20, 2013 3:05 pm
Posts: 842
Prominent Member

Welcome. You sound like the perfect fit for a life in the VI. Is program you desire only offered on STT? not STX? The reason I ask is that housing costs on STX are considreably less. The STX economy is somewhat deppresed which would work in your favor. If STT is the only oppition this what I suggest:
ASK UVI about temp housing for a grad students. Come down solo for a couple weeks in advance of you family. Find a place to live. I'd look around west (closer to UVI). Back yard farmers are the norm in the VI.
Make sure your rental comes with interent already set-up.
You car is kinda "big" for the VI. Finding a decent car will coast about 10K.
If the kids are home schooled and you and your wife are a good team then one car should be ok for a while. No car can be kinda isolating for mom, but if you work out a schedule it should be ok for a few months.
I bet you will be able to find part time employment > $12 per hour.
Get involved ASAP. Since your kids do on-line christain school, you should be able to find like-minded families (religious or home school)on island. The best deals (housing , cars, activities for kids, hand-me-downs) are all word of mouth.
Make sure you check pontenial rentals at all times of day, really scope the hood, pay attention to orentian of house/yard/deck for best advantage of breeze.
The "normal state-side food" cost more here in the VI. Local families on a budget make use of more commonly found staples. For example, fruit loops with milk runs about $2.50 a bowl, but back yard egg pepper scramble run about $0.40. It may take a couple months to adjust.
The Vi needs more smart science guys!!!

Posted : March 20, 2013 4:18 pm
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