My husband and I were living in San Francisco and not happy. I am originally from New York and my husband is from the Netherlands. Because of my profession, though, I was limited to practicing in a U.S. Jurisdiction, so moving to Amsterdam was not an option. My husband had previously lived in the Caribbean, so we thought the U.S. Virgin Islands would be a good fit. We had never been to St. Thomas, but I am an internet research junkie, so I “Google-d” the heck out of the USVI. There wasn’t much out there, but I did find a few forums; including VINow.com. (which is now solely a travel related Virgin Islands site with VIMovingCenter.com, its sister site dedicated, to relocation and living in the Virgin Islands.) Based on responses from residents we determined to take a scouting trip before committing to the move. We booked a flight for April 2002, during carnival and we were off. (Not recommended to come on a scouting trip during Carnival – people are off, on some days businesses close, parking lot in Charlotte Amalie is closed…)
We knew St. Thomas was right the minute we arrived. I am African-American and my husband is White-European. We saw more diversity in the five days we were here, than we had in the three years we lived in San Francisco. Now don’t get me wrong: it’s not a rainbow colony and everyone’s not holding hands and singing folk songs. But, we saw Black and White children and adults playing together, eating together, and living next-door to each other. As far we are concerned, that is progress.
I got a job offer during that April visit and we began planning. The hardest part was negotiating the move with our 3 cats and 1 dog. Because we moved in July, no major airline would take our dog in cargo, so we had to drive all the way to Florida to hop a short flight. If you will be moving with cats and/or dogs, you need to have a valid rabies certificate executed within 30 days of travel. If you will be putting a dog in cargo, you also need to have a health cert. indicating the temp. range that the dog can withstand. Of course, check with your airline for any specifics and reconfirm that your ticket reflects that you are traveling with animal companions.
Housing—We found housing the week before we moved, but don’t despair if you are not that lucky. Helga at the Mafolie Hotel is willing to rent out apartments for short-term rentals. They were our alternate housing source and were willing to rent to us and our animal menagerie (out of season). Also, Ronnie at the Villa Fairview is located above town and specializes in short-term housing. He is also an amazing resource on the USVI.
Shipping—We shipped our personal effects from California with Econocaribe. If we had known how cheap Econocaribe was going to be ($950), and how expensive quality furniture and furnishings are on-island, we would have shipped everything. Econocaribe was very helpful, efficient, and everything arrived as it was sent. If you are debating what to send, I would recommend sending almost everything (unless you can find it at Kmart, et al.).
Cars—We entered the Twilight Zone of used-car buying when we bought a car from Metro Motors. I take partial responsibility because I should have known the deal was too good to be true. It was a nightmare from start to finish. Needless to say, we got our $$ back and bought a car from Caribbean Auto Mart up the street. Drastically different experience. If, however, you have a decent used American-made car, I would recommend shipping it rather buying locally. The fees for domestic cars shipped into the VI is not bad, and beats buying a car that has probably been abused on the St. Thomas hills.
Pros: The proximity to other islands is a big plus. In 30 minutes. you can be in San Juan strolling through Old San Juan or shopping at the gigantic Plaza Las Americas or in St. Maarten eating fabulous haute cuisine in Grand Case; if you get a craving for a particular mustard, imported cheese, etc., and $$ is no object, Gourmet Gallery can fill your needs. Same for Marina Market.; there are several Costco-esque stores and Home Depot is in construction; you can have a 30-min. chat with a total stranger; in 8 mos. you can feel like you’ve met and befriended half the island.
Not so Pros: Restaurants are outrageously expensive; no Thai restaurant; no great clothing/shoe stores; the government operates on a level I cannot comprehend; the lines at Banco Popular; the general lack of urgency on the part of authority.
Tips: Based on our experience there are several tips I would stress to those considering a move. 1) Do not get discouraged if you get no responses to your resume mailings. Many employers are reluctant to respond to applicants who are not on-island. You can mitigate this by planning a scouting trip and noting your interview availability dates in your cover letter. 2) You must, must, must get a copy of the Island Trader if you are seeking housing. I was fortunate enough to have a person fax the rental pages to me every week. I eventually found housing through the VISource, but I recommend diligently checking all classified sources religiously. 3) Never approach a person without saying the appropriate “Good _____ (Morning, Day, Afternoon, Evening, Night).” Trust me, it may seem a little weird at first, but it will prevent a potentially positive interaction from turning sour.
Thus far, this has been a great move for us. We have made many friends and, although we are still getting adjusted to the cultural quirks, the beach helps. A wise fellow transplant had this to say, “Remember, we live somewhere that some people save their whole lives to visit for one week.”
Enjoy your move and welcome to the Islands!