August 13, 2003, 2:54 p.m. the plane touched down. We had arrived at our new home of St. Croix. All the planning was over. We were here. What the heck had we done? My wife and I decided several years ago we wanted to retire to the Caribbean. Being realists, we knew we would want to work some, so we knew we had to go to a U.S. territory. Our Spanish is poor at best, so Puerto Rico was out. That left the Virgin Islands. It was time to begin the research.
Our son lived on St. Thomas for over a year. We visited him a couple of times and decided St. Thomas was way too busy for us. We went to St. John twice. Ah, paradise. St. John is probably the best vacation spot on the planet. As a home, it wouldn’t work. Life there was way too slow for us city folks. Not to mention I’d have to print money to be able to afford to live there. We are, after all, just average folks. That left one option, St. Croix. We had not been there and were beginning to get a little discouraged. We were beginning to think that our idea of the perfect retirement wasn’t going to come off. So last fall, we came to St. Croix. It took us two days of exploring to decide the big Virgin was perfect for us. It had the necessities that St. Thomas provided. It also had the serenity that St. John had. As important as those things were, an important consideration was that it was less expensive than the other two. The decision was made. St. Croix would be our choice.
After we got back home (Louisville, KY) we read all we could find about moving to the Virgin Islands. VINow.com had tons of information. (VINow.com is geared to folks visiting the Virgin Islands but has lots of great information. Its sister site is VIMovingCenter.comgeared to living and relocating to the islands.) We got hold of two copies of the Settler’s Handbook. We studied them like we were studying for final exams. We wanted to be as prepared as possible. Having moved a few times to different states, we were certain this was going to be like moving to a different state. It sort of is and it sort of isn’t.
Step one was to sort all our stuff. Everything we owned was put into one of three categories. Get rid of, store for now, and finally take with us. Next was the decision about the vehicles. We decided immediately to bring the van. That way we would have a way to transport our stuff that we thought we would need immediately. After a couple of trips to the internet, we decided to use Tropical Shipping for the van. My sports car was another story. My wife thought I should sell it and maybe purchase another car down here. I changed my mind about ten times a day. Finally I decided to pull it behind the van and ship it too. I contacted Tropical and they sent me a check list of the requirements for shipping the vehicles.
We began to pack the stuff we wanted to bring with us. In short order, we had one whole room of our apartment full of boxes of stuff. Time to sort again. With much effort, we got our selection down to the thirty cubic feet that we could take in the van and the little bit of stuff that would fit in the Triumph. We were ready to go.
Then the discussion began about how much money to bring. My wife was uncomfortable with carrying large amounts of cash on the trip. I was equally uncomfortable with the idea of getting to St. Croix and then finding we didn’t have enough ready cash to do all we needed to do. The final decision was to clean off both credit cards and bring $5000 in cash. Another hurdle down.
The night before we were to leave, I picked up the tow-dolly to pull the Triumph with. I hooked it up to the van, pulled the Triumph up on it and disaster. Not only was the rear of the Triumph dragging the ground, but it was obvious the van was overloaded. After much cursing, we decided to drive both vehicles to Florida and take some of the boxes of stuff in the van to the post office. While Customs will allow thirty cubic feet carried in a vehicle, the weight will exceed the limits of most vehicles. Count on bringing less. But off we went, Linda driving the van and me in the Triumph.
Knowing very little about Florida geography, we decided that the Tropical port was near Miami, so we decided to spend a couple of days touristing on South Beach. We made the trip to South Beach very leisurely. We doubled the amount of time it typically takes to drive that distance. After arriving in South Beach, we decided to scout out Tropical’s location. Good thing we did. It’s a two hour drive north of South Beach. That was another mistake. Oh, well.
The actual shipping of the vehicles was quite simple. We had followed the Tropical checklist religiously so we were only in their offices for about twenty minutes. Now we were 1500 miles from home and my cars were gone. That was a scary feeling.
When we arrived on St. Croix, we picked up our rental car from Judi of St. Croix as we had done on our first trip. As before, that went smoothly. We picked the Waves at Cane Bay as our short term rental. Victoria was very helpful. All the boxes of stuff we mailed, we sent to her address. That worked very well. But now I’m 2500 miles from home and homeless and without my cars. I was really nervous. It was time to get it together here.
We contacted a couple of realtors about long term rentals because we wanted to get to know the island better and make sure we wanted to stay here before we made the commitment of buying a house. The realtors were very nice, but everything they showed us was way out of our price range. Now I was getting very nervous. Had we misread this island on our last trip? One day while out driving around, I saw a “For Rent” sign on a driveway. I wrote down the number, went back to the Waves and called. The next day we had a lease on a small two bedroom house that was only slightly more expensive than our apartment in Louisville. With the deposit and first & last month’s rent, we spent a big chunk of our ready cash. I was glad we had it to spend.
Our new landlord was very helpful. When we told him our cars would be here the following Monday, he said he would take the day and help us get them taken care of. That was a good thing because I never would have found all the places we had to go. The Triumph was a bit of a problem. Being a British car, I had to pay customs on it. The problem was no one at the Customs office knew what a Triumph was. They had Tropical bring the car to customs so they could look at it. Everyone in the Customs office and all the people at Tropical had to look at it. That was a little exciting.
Our landlord’s son owns an insurance agency. We decided it would be a good idea to buy our car insurance from him. He also said he would take care of the registrations for us. Not knowing any better, we drove the cars from his office to our new home. You really aren’t supposed to drive a vehicle in the Virgin Islands with Kentucky license plates on them. I guess we could have gotten in a lot of trouble, but we got them here. By the next day, they had Virgin Islands plates on them. More of our money gone. Fortunately, Customs and the road tax people took Visa. The insurance guy took a personal check from a Kentucky bank. Most folks won’t do that.
Next was getting a mailing address. They don’t home deliver mail here so we went to the Post Office to get a box. When I went by myself, there were none available and the lady put our name on a waiting list. The next day the landlord went with me and we got the box. More money spent.
I need a bank account. The banking choices here are much more limited than in the states. After talking to people, we picked a bank. We gave them most of the cash we had left and wrote a check on our Kentucky account to open the checking account. We were informed it would be about two weeks before we could access the money from the check. To open a bank account, you need a physical address, a mailing address, photo ID and your social security card. You don’t have those, you don’t open an account.
Now we have a place to live, cars to drive, a mailing address and a checking account. We need a phone and cable. That’s a trip to Innovative. They have virtually all the communications systems on the island. When you go to Innovative, be prepared to sit a while. It took an hour and a half of waiting and about ten minutes with the people to get all set up. More deposits required. More cash gone. They won’t take temporary checks.
Finally, I want to get a Virgin Islands driver’s license. VI driver’s license is the most expensive in the world to get. First I go to the driver’s license office and get the forms. Then I have to schedule a physical ($30 at the clinic). Then I have to get two passport photos ($13). Then I have to take the written test ($10 for the test and $2 for the forms). After passing the written test, I have to pay for the license ($35). Now I’m all set. Except that the camera is broken. I explain that I have given them two pictures and they can use one of them. Oh no. They are attached to my application. I don’t know why. Three weeks later, the camera was fixed and I have my VI driver’s license.
Here’s a list of things you have to have here. A social security card. I have shown my social security card more times since we have been here than I have in the last thirty years. A passport. Everybody wants to see a passport for ID. If you try to use your out of state driver’s license, they just look at you. Bunches of cash. Including the trip to Florida and all the deposits that were required, our moving expenses were nearly $7000. You could probably do it for less, but I don’t know how. When I stop and think about it, except for the plane tickets, I don’t think it cost us a whole lot more to move here than when we moved to a different state.
This may all sound like a hassle. I prefer to think of it as part of the adventure of starting a new phase of our life. Is it worth it? So far the answer is a resounding YES.