Are you thinking of leaving the concrete jungle and making a move to a Caribbean island? Undeniably, the thoughts of stunning landscapes, a laidback lifestyle, and white-sand beaches are hard to overlook.
But have you got a particular island in mind? Or have you shortlisted a few to take your pick from? Probably this is the thing that’s making you spend sleepless nights. But you aren’t alone! For most, the word “Caribbean” is restricted to its famous tourist destinations such as Aruba, the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos, etc.
Of course, these islands are splendid to spend a few days or even a few weeks on vacation. But living there may not be a feasible option at all unless you belong to the league of those for whom the cost of living doesn’t matter, as they prioritize only two things – luxury and indulgence.
But you don’t need to despair! Just read this guide, and you’ll find the Caribbean is significantly bigger than most people may even realize. With hundreds of inhabitable islands spread across an area spanning more than 1.06 million square miles, the region offers a massive assortment of sunny isles, including Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize, etc. that would be great to live on. And the best part is – you’ll get the same incomparable vibe as the tourist-rich locations minus the exorbitant cost of living.
In this guide, we’ve handpicked five Caribbean islands (in no specific order, though) that offer the perfect blend of unbeatable natural beauty and affordability. We’ve also listed two islands that you should give a miss because of their premium cost of living.
The largest part of the Bay Islands of Honduras, Roatán, once was only famous among scuba divers because of its outstanding reefs, sandy beaches, and cerulean waters. But now, it has gained popularity among expats who look for an affordable, highly livable, peaceful island that nurtures a laidback lifestyle. Roatán is spread across only 50 square miles. It’s a long and thin stretch of land, which is located approximately 35 miles off Honduras’s northern coast,
Despite the size, Roatán doesn’t fall short of magnificent beaches pampered by the sun and the surf. If you’re looking to enjoy the island life without the hustle and bustle of overcrowded Caribbean islands, Roatán is where you should head to. Life runs at a slower pace here, offering the residents an old-school, idyllic lifestyle.
While Roatán bears many similarities with other Caribbean islands, it’s significantly more affordable than many of its peers. There’re very few Caribbean islands where you can have a two-bedroom house right on the water surrounded by a calm neighborhood for a surprising price of under $175,000. And if you don’t stay here throughout the year, just rent your home out, and you’ll be able to recoup the holding costs quickly.
New investments and government initiatives have paved the way for improved infrastructure in Roatán. With the existing 28-MW engine power plant, two main hospitals (one private and one public), and two clinics along with 68 education centers, Roatán is set to meet the needs of its residents. On top of these, the ongoing work for Roatán Próspera is expected to boost Roatán’s economy and employment scenario.
The island life is usually more expensive than mainland living because many things need to be imported. But Roatán has a relatively lower cost of living than several other Caribbean islands. For a couple, the entire cost of living per month remains between $2,000 and $2,500, including rent.
In short, if you belong to the league of people for whom the words “hurry” and “rush” don’t exist, and the only thing that matters is the quality of life, Roatán is the place you need to be in.
Ambergris Caye, Belize
Ambergris Caye is the most commonly visited location of Belize that has been occupied since Mayan times. It’s stretched 25 miles and is around a mile wide, with San Pedro as its only town. About three decades ago, thanks to its spectacular marine life and the famous Belize Barrier Reef located only a half-mile offshore, Ambergris Caye started to attract many fishermen and divers. It’s also home to a variety of colorful corals, sponges, and other sea creatures – all of which not only create an incredible underwater environment but are the key reasons behind the notable growth of Ambergris Caye in recent times as well.
Until some years ago, San Pedro was only popular among adventure tourists who flocked to the island to enjoy deep-sea fishing and scuba-diving. At that time, golf carts and bicycles were the main modes of transportation. However, things have changed over time, with aquamarine waters and white sands attracting people from all walks of life. Now, there’s no shortage of amenities in the second-largest town in the district of Belize. With a population of over 15,000 people, what was primarily a fishing village once has now become a significant contributor to the local economy.
If you’re searching for a shorts-and-sandals seaside location that combines affordability, contemporary amenities, beautiful white-sand beaches, friendly local folks, and of course, fresh seafood and cold beer available at an increasing number of restaurants and bars, Ambergris Caye is the place you should explore. And if you want to go on a shopping spree, there’re regular flights and water taxis that would take you to Chetumal, Mexico, or Belize City to satisfy your needs.
Despite all these, Ambergris Caye’s real estate prices are still quite affordable. For a couple, a monthly budget of $2,700 – $2,900 is enough to live a comfortable life, even if it’s in a rented apartment. According to expats, if you live in your house, the monthly cost would go down to below $2,000.
The abundance of birds, animals, the tropical flora, multiple outdoor activities, the year-round soothing weather, and a limited tourist footfall are just some of the characteristics that bring people to Ambergris Caye.
Ambergris Caye has transformed significantly from being a lesser-known fishing island into a remote getaway for expats, fishermen, and divers. With the presence of full LTE offered by BTL and high-speed Internet along with the picturesque views of the Caribbean Sea, Ambergris Caye is getting increasingly popular among people looking for a place where they can retire comfortably.
Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic
When Christopher Columbus spotted the spectacular coral-rimmed island on December 5, 1942, he reportedly proclaimed, “This is the fairest land under heaven.” The island spotted by the explorer is known as Hispaniola, the eastern half of which comprises the Dominican Republic, while Haiti is the western half’s name.
The Dominican Republic boasts of some of the most spectacular beaches globally along with Pico Duarte – the highest peak in the entire Caribbean with a height of 10,164 ft. In 2018, Dominican Republic welcomed a whopping 6.5 million tourists with a 6.2 percent increase, which surpassed the global average growth of 6 percent. This rise in tourist influx was attributed to its idyllic beaches, laidback lifestyle, comfortable year-round weather, and a stable government. Despite its rich history and culture, an abundance of museums and historical sites of international prominence, and only a three and a half hour flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, the cost of living is still relatively low in the Dominican Republic.
On the island’s north coast, you’ll find some of the best Caribbean beaches, while the east coast boasts some of the region’s spectacular designer golf courses. You’ll find the small town of Las Terrenas, surrounded by primitive and untouched beaches, offering a lively feel and relatively low-cost properties in the northeastern part. It was once a simple fishing village with no electric supply; it started to come into prominence when 6,000 Italians and French settled here.
Today, almost every aspect of a modern lifestyle can be found here – from motorcycle taxis (motoconchos) to family-run stylish restaurants and cafes, which were previously wooden homes right on the beach, serving both simple and modern delicacies. What you won’t find here is big hotel complexes or resorts, thanks to stringent planning laws.
The place comprises some of the most immaculate beaches in the Dominican Republic, along with a laidback ambiance that becomes festive as nightfall comes. Surprisingly, the real estate prices are still pretty affordable in Las Terrenas. You can have a one-bedroom apartment in this tropical haven by shelling out only $99,500. Though a monthly budget of nearly $3,000 would be suitable for a couple, it’s possible to sustain even if you limit that to around $2,000.
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Though you can reach Isla Mujeres within just twenty minutes from Cancún, Mexico, by taking a ferry, the island is far from the hustle and bustle of its overcrowded sibling. Even before the existence of Cancún, Isla Mujeres was popular among Mexicans and some adventure tourists who used to come here to enjoy some spectacular beaches and popular water sports such as swimming with dolphins, experiencing the coral reefs, etc.
If the beach is something that helps you rest, relax, and rejuvenate, Isla Mujeres, with its clear turquoise blue water and soft sand, would surely be your retirement haven. And the best part is that you’ll have to spend much lower than what you’d in the States for a similar lifestyle. As told by the local expats, you can have a decent penthouse apartment comprising one-bedroom or two-bathroom from $230,000 or take a one-bedroom home on a monthly rent between $700 and $1000. A couple can live a very decent life in Isla Mujeres by shelling out an all-inclusive monthly cost of $2,500 to $3,000.
In Isla Mujeres, you’ll find a varying temperature – mostly between 680F and 900F throughout the year, coupled with a relaxing lifestyle. So, you can always go to the beach to relax, hire a golf cart to get around or take a ferry to Cancún to watch a movie or go shopping.
Isla Colón, Panama
If you’re looking for eco-tourism destinations in Panama, you could consider its tropical archipelagos located on its northern Caribbean coast. Positioned close to Panama’s border with Costa Rica, Bocas del Toro’s archipelago consists of 9 main islands along with 52 cays and thousands of islets. It plays home to the first National Marine Park of Panama and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since most of the land in Bocas del Toro is classified as reserves or national parks, it’s protected from development.
Bocas Town – the capital of Bocas del Toro, on Isla Colón is the bustling centerpiece with welcoming, white sandy beaches, turquoise waters, and lush rainforests. This seaside town with several brightly painted buildings that will give your spirits a big boost plays home to a thriving expat community. Several retirees and visitors have also chosen to live here. Bocas’ local pastimes include fishing, water sports, paddleboarding, snorkeling, and whale watching – to name a few.
Compared to Caribbean hotspots such as the Bahamas, the cost of living in Bocas is much lower. You can rent a simple, island-style, air-conditioned home with shared access to terrace and garden for just $1,400 a month (which would cost $16,800 annually). Since the region has lots of untitled or ROP (right of possession) property, you should ideally familiarize yourself with the unique landscape by staying in a rented property. After some time, you may consider buying a property in Bocas.
Navigation throughout the Bocas archipelago is difficult as there are several uninhabited mangrove islands with a few playing host to a small hotel or a village. To reach the outlying islands or the larger islands’ isolated areas, you can board water taxis.
Two Expensive Destinations That You Should Avoid if you’re on a budget
The tropical appeal and lure of Grand Bahama and St. Thomas are hard to deny. If you’re an expat with no budgetary constraints, you could choose either as your Caribbean getaway. However, if your budget is stringent, these expensive Caribbean destinations aren’t the right choice.
Grand Bahama Island, the Bahamas
Can you tell the common thread that binds celebrities like Johnny Depp, Nicolas Cage, Tiger Woods, Oprah Winfrey, and Bill Gates? Like thousands of Europeans and North Americans, these celebrities have their second homes in the Bahamas.
Apart from its favorable position off the Florida coast, the Bahamas has some of the world’s most magnificent beaches. With relatively low crime rates, a newcomer-friendly environment, and no foreign language to learn, it can be the ideal upscale home for you. And like your favorite celebrities, you can either live here year-round or for a couple of months. But the good news ends here.
So, what’s the bad news? The Bahamas has been ranked as the sixth most expensive country in the world. In the Western Hemisphere, it’s the highest-cost destination. This means you’ll have to pay a steep price for buying property on the islands. If you’ve set your eyes on a medium-sized residence in exclusive gated communities that offer mesmerizing ocean views, it’s likely to cost you over $2 million.
If you love world-class shopping experience or the beach or have a penchant for fishing, diving, golfing, and other water sports, you may be zeroing on Grand Bahama Island. But living here would cost you a premium as compared to the U.S., it’s 30% to 50% more expensive.
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
More than 60 islands, most of which are uninhabited, make up the U.S. Virgin Islands. The three most visited destinations among these tropical islands are St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John. As the U.S. Virgin Islands are unincorporated island territory of the United States, their people are U.S. citizens.
Known for white-sand beaches, verdant hills, and reefs, the U.S. Virgin Islands have an exotic appeal. They blend Caribbean culture and American sensibleness with heavy doses of contemporary comfort. Most of the population lives in St. Thomas, the second most expensive city in the Virgin Islands.
It’s the most commercialized, too, apart from being a bustling cruise port for Caribbean cruise ships. The capital city of Charlotte Amalie also witnesses a massive tourist influx.
Despite being a nice place to live, you should ideally avoid St. Thomas if your on a budget, as it has a very high cost of living. The monthly rent of apartments in attractive locations can be almost $2,000 while buying a two-bedroom house in a friendly neighborhood will set you back by more than nearly $285,000.
Now that you know which Caribbean islands are the ideal choice to live on and which you should avoid, if you are on a budget, get ready to plan your move. If you need any help or have further questions, reach our Caribbean experts, who’ll be happy to offer support and advice.