I am always getting messages from people asking how I like island life or what’s it like being an Expat. And for me, other than missing my daughters, I love it.
But island life is not for everyone.
So I decided to ask some of my Expat friends, what 3 things they wish they had known before they took that big leap and life-changing step of becoming an Expat.
So below you will find their comments and on some, I have added my 2-cents in italics.
Depending on the time you are reading this, pour yourself a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and read what they want to share with you. We hope it helps if you are considering becoming an Expat.
And of course, feel free to ask any questions you may have. I will be happy to answer the best that I can.
Get comfy in that chair and enjoy the read!
John – Expat – Resort Manager / Real Estate Agent
No winter clothes, bring rain gear and bring your apostatized police record for residency
Heather – Expat / Teacher
1 – Have no expectations. For example, do not expect the grocery store to have milk, do not expect an establishment to be open at a realistic time, do not expect the pizza place to have pizza. When something does work out, you will be pleasantly surprised.
2 – Learn by observing. Spend a lot of time observing everyone around you, how things are done, what is not done, how things are communicated. I believe this is true of integrating into any new culture. Also, remember this takes a lot of time.
3 – For those of us that have to work, be prepared to feel undervalued. Have a mindset that you will continue to do your best without lowering your standards. Keep standards high while others may not have those same standards.
Nuria – Expat / Dive Shop Owner
I should be a boat mechanic myself
I guess one important is that this island usually separate to couples who arrive together but then…………always for a good reason I guess
Abby – Expat / Retire
Number 1: know the cost of customs. It’s very expensive.
Number 2: don’t give anything to locals, make them earn it otherwise you become a “gringo” with a money tree in the backyard
No 3: Make peace with the fact that you will wear bug spray every day 2x day (I call it “Island Perfume”! And there are natural products that can be used instead of DEET. For many people, you will need to reapply more than 2x a day. And of course anytime you get out of the water re-apply.)
Helen –Expat / Landscaping Business Owner
I would have kept a better journal.
Worn a hat more often and make a point of snorkeling at least once a week.
Caroline – Expat / Retire
Well first of all , I lived overseas in Latin America for 10 years of my life, so coming to Roatan, I more or less knew what I was getting myself into.
1. Good linens, towels and sheets, back in 2005, there were none! Bring them! (Still a good idea!)
2. Residency, should have gotten it long ago! Apply for it when you know you are going to live here. (Roatan requires you to leave for 72 hours every 90 days)
3. Always believe half of what you see and nothing of what you hear! This place is the land of the fruits and nuts! Develop close friends and have only a few!
Rosalie Boileau – Expat – Author of “That Wasn’t in the Brochure”
I am not sure I have any insights that are new but here is my take…
1. This has been said many times…I would recommend living on the island for a minimum of 3 months before buying. We love our home and our proximity to shopping etc. But our friends and our hearts are in the east.
2. Be careful to trust and really do your homework. What is presented as a small problem or issue may be a bigger problem than you realize. Also gossip abounds and relationships on a small island can be difficult when your social circle is so tight.
3. Realize that living in paradise seems like an exciting and romantic idea but you are not on a vacation and you can’t live indefinitely at a party. You are living there and you need to make a life there.
Julia Siemens – jsimens.com– Expat / Retire / Author of “Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child”
I wish I had NEVER thought about storing things for when I returned. Who knew it would be 28 years later! That was a huge shock to me to undo all those worthless things now – glad Kevin’s company paid the cost – I can’t imagine how pissed I would have been if I had had to pay for it all those years. But storage is a common issue with expats. #1
Depending on where you go or what job you take – sometimes you need police clearance. I wish I had gotten my local police clearance from Texas before we moved to Singapore (teaching work permit needed last five years of location for clearance – so that required a trip back to the USA. Now I collect police clearance from all of our perm. residency before I move away. #2
Take digital photos of everything! Important papers so you have their information quickly. What you packed in your multiple suitcases in case one of them goes missing. If you are keeping a home – photos of spaces you might want to put something new and size. I have a ton of friends who purchased things abroad and now they won’t fit into their homes. Kids school papers/art so you can throw away the huge binders or etc. And of course make a back up of all photos cloud them or etc so this historical part of your life is safe.
Susie (Thailand) – Expat / Retired
I can not answer that question, we were traveling around for 17 years on our boat, and we landed in Roatan for 3 years we stayed. I can not think of anything. Now moving to Thailand I could answer,
Apply for long term Visa’s before leaving.
Find a bank that do not charge wire transfer fees.
Understanding how long it takes to get funds from the states, with out a charge to get it there
Gail – Expat / Retired
1 The condition of the roads.
2 Environmental concerns…We hear Henry Morgan’s generator.
3. Insurance concerns….Having theft coverage,
we were told you have to have bars on the windows and doors.
Shelly Hood Burich – Expat / Blogger – allpathsleadtoroatan.blogspot.com/ & Business Owner
1. If driving into Honduras and the rest of Central America, make sure you know about the many stops and each border when entering a country. It is not the same as crossing a border from the USA to Canada for example. Separate temporary registration applies to each vehicle requiring a paper permit and usually a tag on your vehicle windshield.
2. When travelling with pets, either by air or driving, ensure you have all the correct paperwork for your animals and carry at least five copies of each animals vaccination records. Contact your veterinarian who can make all the necessary arrangements for the correct shot and having a federal veterinarian sign off on the paperwork.
3. Whatever you figure out your budget for moving to another country such as Honduras, add at least 20 per cent. There are many hidden fees and you also have to add a factor for the corruption among government officials.
4. Be patient. Nothing ever happens quickly on the island. Take the time to smell the roses, so to speak!
Dian – Business Owner
Well giving this a lot of thought.. I am not much help. 28 yrs ago I would have…
#1 invested in a lot of land
#2 sold all my stuff that sat in storage for 3 yrs sooner.
# brought lots of tampons (they only had pads back then)
Other than that I would not then or now change a thing…😎
Diana – Expat / Dive Instructor
Transportation: if you are going to buy a car on the island, it can be fairly expensive for a car not in the best shape. Best bet is to live on the island for a bit, use the taxis and search for a good, reliable island car. Better suggestion would be to buy one in San Pedro or Le Ceiba and ferry it to the island.
Random supplies: although we have the means to find most things on the island, specific medicines, pet supplies are sometimes easier bought at Target/Walmart in the states and brought to the island.
Housing: housing is very different on the island. Not always easy to find housing that is pet friendly. Best to visit the island and live here for several months (at least 6 months) before moving here permanently. Living on the island isn’t for every one. It can feel confined to some and finding a job isn’t as easy as one might think. Most jobs go to residents/locals first. Also, rate of pay is considerable less than one might expect to see. Must be willing to make a complete change of living to make it work here.
Establish a group of expat friends that can help you with questions and issues that come up. This is key, especially if some of these friends have lived on the island for several years and know how to navigate around!!
Ginnie – Expat / Business Owner
1. I wish I had known how difficult and expensive it is to bank in Honduras. I had no idea the banks were so behind the times.
2. I wish I had known how difficult and expensive it was to move down here. I moved everything I own in a 40′ container. Not sure if I would do that again.
3. I wish I had known how difficult and expensive it is to ship things down here. I was so excited when I made the move no one would’ve talked me out of it. Now I live on the ocean in a nice beach house. I have learned patience like never before and I am so extremely grateful for having the opportunity to live on an island in the Caribbean.
Paul – Expat / Business Owner
I went to work too fast starting a business
Stay away from the local women
Another one would be don’t buy a car to fast make sure you know what you’re buying there’s a lot of salvage titles on the island, wrecked cars from the US.
Annie – Expat / Real Estate Agent
1) I would have researched residency lawyers more thoroughly
2) I would have kept and brought more of my photos of my family and friends.
3) I would have bought more bathing suits.
4) One of the many things that I love about our move to Roatan is that I came to understand the difference. I had so much “stuff” that I thought I couldn’t live without. One discovers that you can live and be truly happy without all that stuff.
Kim – Expat / Missionary
1) Some days in paradise are still hard. You cry, you feel like taking a nap, you feel blah and realize that when you live here it’s not vacation. It’s home.
2) Eat like the locals. Chicken, seafood, rice, beans, fresh fruit. It’s harder to cook home recipes here.
3) Respect and love the people here. They are so loyal and will love you back!
Trish – Expat / Retire
I wish I’d have known that if you have an auto accident with a Honduran, you will most likely have to pay, regardless of whose fault it was.
I wish I’d have known to buy more stuff at home I cant get here so I wouldn’t have to pay to have it shipped.
I wish I”d have realized that it wouldn’t be as hard to acclimate to the weather (for me, at least) and way of life….we could have moved here permanently 2 years sooner!
Kristin & Scott – Expats / Artist / Musician / Business Owners
Scott and I just talked about your questions. We really had done a lot research…got all our stuff together for residency…we came very prepared to start our life here. and of course things have changed and actually are easier now.
I think the one thing we would have done different was to come here…rent first and then purchase or invest. 12 years ago the market was going up and we felt like we needed to jump into something. But now I suggest people come rent first. Take their time looking.
I was glad we had spent a lot of time in 3rd world countries so we understood how slow things would move….don’t bring high 1st world perfectionist expectations…and try to learn some Spanish before …if you can…and mostly…leave the STATUS behind. Or move to St. Barts….haha…So these are more suggestions than what we wish we had known…just do a lot of research…come for a visit and ask a zillion questions…I hate to see people get sour on the Island …when it really was them with too high of expectations…and come with a hobby or something you’d like to do or you will get lost in the bars….good luck…
Karen – Expat / Retire
Our move here was very positive. One thing I would make sure I was fluent in Spanish, classes are more prevalent in Canada. Since we drove here it would have come in handy. It is becoming more and more necessary on the island. That the vet was only on the island once a week. (A vet can be hard to get at times, especially for an emergency)
Megan – Expat / Business Owner
Brought less stuff with me to the island…. that mainland Honduras is actually an ok place to go if you need to buy a car….. That I would wish I had decided to leave the USA Years and years before
Bonnie –Expat / Property Manager
1. I wish we had known the depth and intensity of systemic corruption in Honduras.
2. I wish we had done some more research on Honduran culture.
3. I wish I had known how many wonderful friendships we would make here, I wouldn’t have been so nervous.
Debbie-Leigh Crofutt – Expat / Retire / Blogger – mermaidonaraft.com/
Two of things I wish I had done differently and one thing I wish I knew.
I wish I had put more thought into the building and design of our house instead of being so anxious to finally get it. It’s very difficult to make changes to a concrete home. I wish we had seriously upgraded our windows. We thought we were getting good windows, they were expensive, however when 17000 wood lice or 57 June bugs can get inside when the screened windows are closed and locked, I realize that we didn’t get what we paid for.
One thing I wish I knew was how much lizard poop I would be cleaning on a daily basis. They have no morals when it comes to what they poop on. (hahaha! She is right on this one! I have to sweep my porch every morning.)
Chris – Expat / Resort Owner
I sure there’s loads of things that people have to say – but I like to keep a
Few things as a remainder…
Many, many things have changed over the years that may not be relevant now..
I suppose the reality of building anything here you have to have at least 20% burn fund – for the incidentals of Island life
The reality of Island time – not only do things take Longer – not because
It doesn’t exist but locals don’t always understand every concept that we as foreigners have – so not only are we Bringing new ideas but new ways of thinking … so things may take longer as we are Paying people to learn
Also along the lines of Island time – the amount of time required to move around the island to achieve anything – sometimes you need to have ‘wasted’ days in order to achieve the basics
Finally – I think all advice is valuable but not all advice is relevant to everyone’s individual circumstances- so listen too many – take the things that you need to move forwards and not let everyone else’s personal experiences create a jaded perspective
One last thing – it would have been great to have a list of expats who are on island and their trade, present or past. And if they were open to give advice, help, to be contacted.
Maria & Tim – Expat / Restaurant Owners
1. Leave all leather at home. 2. Don’t worry about the US reports that it’s dangerous. 3. Go to Le Voyage for your welcome (1st) dinner.
Dave – Expat / Musician
The only significant item that comes to mind is banking. Had I known that the banking rules would change so often and erratically I would have kept more of my Canadian accounts active. I can no longer use PayPal and constantly have problems with Honduran issued debit cards. That’s my only grief as I think we embraced the fact we were moving to a remote underdeveloped island in a 3rd world country and with research handled the transition well while keeping an understanding and flexible mind set along the way.