[This post has been adapted from a contest entry I wrote for ExpatsBlog. There are so many things I wish I had known before moving to Roatan… I hope this helps future expats!]
My expat home is a little tropical island in the Caribbean off the eastern coast of Honduras. Just two hours from Texas by air, Roatan is easily accessible and is steadily gaining status as a scuba diving mecca and beach-lovers paradise. After a surge in popularity due to a House Hunters International show featuring Roatan, the island still remains popular with North American and European expats looking to escape ‘the grind’.
Here are 10 things I wish I would have known before I became an expat in Honduras:
1. Even on a predominately English-speaking island, having zero Spanish skills will make life difficult for you.
Most born and raised islanders speak English as their first language – although it’s a creole called “Island English” that is difficult for non-speakers to understand. However they know enough North American English from TV/movies and tourists that they can switch back and forth. Spanish is usually learned second. But rising unemployment on the mainland of Honduras means lots of Spanish-speaking people who can’t say a word of English are now living and working on Roatan. If you need to take a taxi, go to the bank, hire a cleaning lady, or order at Wendy’s you better take a translator with you. I had some basic Spanish at first, but it wasn’t enough. Now I can understand about 90% but still can’t speak fluently and it’s tough sometimes. My Island English is great though!
2. Some things are easy to get here, some things are not.
Easy: almond milk, disposable razors, tofu, sunscreen/bug spray, shampoo/conditioner.
Not easy: deodorant, kale, quality makeup, rubber boots, almond butter.
I don’t know why. You just have to go with it.
3. The line up at the bank is a magical and mysterious thing and you should not try to understand it.
You will stand in line for hours. You will get close to the front of the line. The guy in front of you will go up to the teller and do 54360984535 transactions which will take another hour. Once he finally finishes, before you can step up some lady who was sitting in a chair will rush up because somehow it’s her turn. This will happen twice before you get to the teller. When you finally get to the teller, they will tell you to go get in a different line for something else. Don’t try to understand it.
4. “Come back tomorrow/next week/next month” doesn’t really mean that.
It means, “I don’t know”, “I don’t feel like doing that today”, “I don’t know who to ask but it definitely isn’t me” or “I’m eating/texting/watching YouTube right now so don’t talk to me”.
5. Life is cheap…if you only eat baleadas and don’t turn on your lights.
Buying a nice house is absolutely cheaper than in North America. Rent is minimally cheaper or the same as smaller cities. But my grocery bill is the same or higher as it was in Vancouver, BC (one of the most expensive cities in Canada) and my electricity bill is so high it’s a joke. I don’t have air conditioning and I live alone in a studio with two fans, and it can be as high as $160/month. The island electricity is run on diesel generators so it’s not cheap (and it also goes out all the time).
6. Expatriate medical coverage is a good thing, but $25 goes a long way here.
Kidney infection in Florida with no medical coverage = driving to walk-in clinic, waiting to see a doctor, doctor visit, diagnosis, driving to pharmacy, waiting for prescription, buying prescription: almost 5 hours and $250. Kidney infection on Roatan with no medical coverage = taxi to pharmacy, see doctor immediately in the pharmacy, diagnosis, handed prescription, taxi home: 30 minutes, $15. Seriously.
7. Not everybody is happy to see you.
For some reason, some expats seem to expect the local islanders to be head over heels thrilled that they are now living on their island. If you are seen in any way to be ‘taking’ jobs from locals, disrespecting locals, foregoing local customs or speaking badly about the island, you will not be welcome. Unless you’re talking crap about the electricity company, because that is totally allowed.
8. It really is a vortex.
So many people either just get stuck and never leave, or keep trying to leave and end up back here. I don’t know why, but this place really sucks people in. The island is beautiful, the rum is cheap, the expat community is tight. Be prepared!
9. Pioneer skills are necessary.
As I’m writing this, I’m making stewed chicken and rice with steamed broccoli all at once in my rice cooker. Do you have any idea how many things you can make in a rice cooker? I ran out of propane for the stove, and had to get creative with cooking because apparently they can’t come fill it for three days (see #4). Sometimes the power goes out for hours and hours (that’s when a propane stove rules). The internet is slow and cuts out a lot. The water doesn’t always work. You have to be resourceful and make things up as you go along! (Note: the power just cut out as well. So much for the rice cooker. It’s peanut butter out of the jar for dinner now. Adaptability is important.)
10. You will hear the infamous ‘Three Lies of Roatan’. You will believe them. You will also probably say them… more than once.
1) I love you.
2) I’m not drinking tonight.
3) I’m leaving tomorrow.
Want more Cubicle Throwdown in your life? Of course you do, you rockstar. You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, G+ and Pinterest, if you like. You can also add me to your Bloglovin’ feed, or email me! If social media is not your jam and you just want my posts straight to your inbox, check out the sidebar and put your email address in the “Never Miss A Post” box. No newsletters or spam, just my posts – scouts honor. xo!