Moving to a Caribbean island has its advantages: warm climate, delicious food, a slower-paced lifestyle, natural beauty, and of course, amazing culture and friendly people.
For many island dreamers faced with the choice of whether or not to relocate, it comes down to the cost of living.
The cost of living in the Caribbean is rarely a topic that gets as much coverage as it should, so before you dive too far into your new life or give up on your dreams altogether, here’s some clarity on just how much it will cost you to eat, drink, be merry and enjoy all the activities and nightlife the Caribbean has to offer.
Factors That Contribute to the Cost of Living in the Caribbean
To understand the cost of living in the Caribbean islands, you’ll want to think about the daily activities that make up your life. For most people, food, utilities, rent, taxes, transportation, and entertainment are the main activities that make up their monthly budget.
These costs change depending on not only the country but also the island within the country you’ve relocated to.
For instance, if you live on one of the more isolated island chains of the Bahamas, grocery shopping may end up being a bit more expensive because items are delivered by plane or ship and there are few local markets. However, this price may be offset by paying less in rent.
Renting and Buying Property
Affordable Caribbean real estate can be found throughout the region, but depending on whether you rent or own makes a pretty big difference. Jamaica, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Aruba, Honduras, and Belize have some of the cheapest properties that you can own or rent. You can rent lovely one-bedrooms in these areas for around $700-$1000 a month, although they’re rarely beachfront locations.
More expensive properties (comparatively) are in Barbados, the Cayman Islands, and the Turks and Caicos.
Don’t let the initial prices fool you, as the Turks and Caicos are a tax neutral jurisdiction, with no annual property taxes for homeowners, no income tax and no capital gains tax. The Cayman Islands also has no direct taxation of part- or full-time residents.
It makes much more sense to buy property in these countries if you are looking for a permanent move.
If you’re not a fan of waking up drenched in sweat or wiping sweat from your brow while working around the house, air conditioning is going to be a necessity. Along with electricity, gas, water, and telecommunications bills can also be much different than what you’re currently paying.
The U.S. Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Curacao have some of the highest rates for basic utilities, ranging from around $200 – $350. This is for small apartments, so keep in mind the cost will increase with the size of your living space, if you are using air conditioning and water a lot, or if you have a pool.
Most islands in the Caribbean have higher than expected utility costs. The Dominican Republic, Belize, Costa Rica, and Panama have the cheapest cost of living in the Caribbean.
Food & Drink
Most things that you see at the grocery store have arrived on an island by plane or ship, and that delivery was not free. This can make for a rather surprising experience when grocery shopping, especially if you’re feeling like having a few exotic pieces of produce, like grapefruit or bell peppers.
Milk, eggs, and chicken are higher across the board in most Caribbean islands compared to the U.S. but are the cheapest in Grenada, St. Lucia, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic.
If you have lots of local fruit and veggie stands on the roadside, you’ll be better off shopping from them.
When it comes to luxuries like beer, wine, and cigarettes, these are all far more affordable in the islands than in the U.S.
Places like the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos are more expensive for food and drink, but they also tend to have a greater selection of imported items coming into the islands that are more readily available. If there is something you can’t live without, living on those islands will make for a more pleasurable stay.
On average, expect to spend a minimum of $600/month on groceries for a household of two adults. That price will increase if you enjoy a nice wine now and then.
Restaurants & Entertainment
In Grenada, a combo meal at McDonald’s will cost you no more than $4 as compared to $7 in the Dominican Republic, $10 in the Cayman Islands, and $15 in the Turks and Caicos.
Although prices won’t always match up the wait seems like they would. Eating at an inexpensive restaurant in the Turks and Caicos is only about $20 U.S. dollars.
Lowest Cost of Living Caribbean Islands
The Dominican Republic
The cost of living in the DR is less than in the United States, Canada, and Europe. They have special programs for retirees to fast track permanent residency and affordable Caribbean real estate that is not too difficult to purchase. Snorkeling, sailing, diving, and much more are also readily available to fill your days.
Ambergris Caye is a tropical paradise with clear waterfalls and all the white sand you could ask for. Though electricity and food are going to be high, and there is a flat tax rate of 25%, foreigners have no trouble purchasing affordable real estate or gaining residency.
Roatan provides modern luxuries with a laid-back island community. A quiet haven for many ex-pat communities, you’ll enjoy the Caribbean Sea and all the views you can handle with little tourist traffic. You can only purchase land greater than 72 acres if you are a resident, however, but it is not too hard to become one.
There is no true average cost of living in the Caribbean, it will greatly depend on the lifestyle you’re looking for and whether you are on a fixed income.
No matter where you go, there is something for everyone to live their days comfortably, and just about everywhere you go is going to be much less than coming from the U.S. and Europe.