I recently read Olivia’s post, Which Island is the Right Island for You? and was inspired to write about our search for our perfect island home. I feel confident that there are many people in this Women Who Live on Rocks community who dream the same dream that brought us all to our respective rocks.
Our journey began while staying in one of many rock house rentals. We had learned early on that cruises and resorts never give you the opportunity to really get to know an island – though that is, admittedly, how we were first introduced to our rock.
We initially discovered the Dominican Republic while on our honeymoon. We had waited until the last minute due to green card application issues and found a great deal on a resort in Punta Cana. Just flying over the island gave us a sense that we NEEDED to return and check out the real island, knowing full well that our resort stay didn’t count as having truly been in the Dominican Republic. (That was frankly the plan, since it was our honeymoon: to lie around all day and only have to decide when and where to eat!)
We rented houses most often on Eleuthera in the Bahamas. We loved the fact that we had the whole beach to ourselves and were comfortably at home, whether it was just the two of us or with the whole family. We preferred the out islands because they were less busy and less touristy. But, we also learned that less busy meant fewer grocery shops that were not always stocked with what you needed. (Though perhaps as full-timers rather than tourists we would build a relationship with the shops to get what we needed, then this wouldn’t be such a hassle.) The Bahamas proximity to the United States was the main reason we started looking at real estate there: quick and easy trips back to the mainland. Prices were, however, out of our league. (At the time, you needed to buy in the $500K range to avoid the high taxes on purchases) and just as we started looking, the 7% sales tax went into effect, effectively pricing us out of the Bahamas.
With my husband being German, the Dutch and French islands, as well as the US territories, were all options for us. (But not the British territories until this whole Brexit thing hashes itself out!) Thus began our 5-year plan to explore more of the Caribbean.
After seeing all the lush mountains and coastlines out of the airplane window on our way to Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic became stop numero uno. I started researching online all the other areas that had established expat communities from North America and Europe. I was pleased to see over and over that prices on the island were relatively cheap, like Costa Rica and Panama used to be. (Note: Prices are going up! We were extremely lucky to have found our house when we did.) And, most importantly, they had passed a law giving foreigners the same rights as citizens in terms of land ownership. That is one reason the prices in the DR are still relatively cheap, the other is because aside from Cuba, the Dominican Republic is the largest country in the Caribbean, sprawling over 2/3 of the island of Hispaniola which it shares with Haiti. Land is available – much of it at elevations that give these gringos their beloved ocean views!
We had found that the language issue wasn’t really a problem and we both wanted to become fluent in Spanish. We liked the Latin culture and knew we could deal with the ubiquitous Latin corruption. We knew from our rental experiences that we wanted to avoid the touristy areas, but we wanted there to be enough of a community for there to be readily accessible groceries and other products.
Our Island Home Wish List included:
Hills / Mountains
Palm trees! Lots and lots of greenery and tropical plants!
Beaches /Ocean Access
Affordable Housing and Labor
for building later… we were looking for a Fixer Upper.
Distance in Miles and Time to the US
We have kids and extended family that we wanted to be able to see on a regular basis which led us to stay in the Western Hemisphere.
Infrastructure (Decent Roads, Telecommunications, Water, and Electricity)
This was really important to us. Running around looking for basics that have to be imported and are overpriced is no fun.
This one has to do with the fact that blood-sucking insects of all kinds will travel many miles to feed on me or my daughter… and that can ruin the fun for us. Not to mention, it can also ruin the possibility of an indoor to outdoor living space flow, which was another island home must have. Breezes not only keep things cooler and may reduce the need for air conditioning, but they also keep the bugs at bay!
Our first trip was to Cabrera, a little farming town of about 10,000 people (and around 1,000 expats… and growing). It also checked ALL our Wish List boxes. I remember floating in our rental house’s infinity pool, staring out over the Atlantic, and then back at my husband wondering, “Is he thinking what I’m thinking?” Remember, this was the first stop in a 5-year plan to find that perfect island home.
Well, the short answer is… yes. He was thinking exactly what I was thinking and not only that, he had been working through arguments to convince me to pull the trigger and stop our search after only 5 days! I am sure we would have found other places that hit all of our checklist boxes and maybe in the future we will have the itch to start looking again. But for now, this is our island paradise and we haven’t looked back.
Now that we’ve been living on our rock, we realize there are a few other items that we may add to our Island Home Wish List later:
Breaking and entering and general crime is pervasive here in the Dominican Republic. It is the biggest economy in the Caribbean which brings economic refugees from Haiti, Argentina, and Venezuela illegally with no real options, which is a recipe for higher crime to be sure. You can’t leave things open or leave your possessions unwatched, or they will be gone. But, that’s not so different from the US.
If our continued residence relies on income from abroad and that income should be adversely affected, the ability to legally work and make a living wage would definitely factor in. However, my discussions with many DR expats on this topic leads me to believe that the opportunities here are possibly greater than elsewhere in the Caribbean. Wherever you are, you need to find that unfilled niche.
Finally, I’d be lying if I didn’t mention the icing on the cake for us living in the Dominican Republic: the island produces amazing coffee! That was an unwritten must-have that was also favorably satisfied.
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What’s on your Island Home Wish List? Is it similar or different from ours?
I would love to hear about other paths/places/priorities. I hope my story gives someone a starting point to fulfill their move to an island they can call home too.