Port Of Spain, Trinidad And Tobago Report of what it's like to live there - 06/02/15
Personal Experiences from Port Of Spain, Trinidad And Tobago
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Northeast. Daily direct flights to JFK on JetBlue and Caribbean Airlines. Flight time is approximately 4.5 hours and tickets are usually US$350 round trip. There are also daily flights to Miami, Houston and Panama City. Inter-island travel is very expensive.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most expats and diplomats live in the Northwest area of Trinidad. Neighborhoods include Westmoorings, Goodwood Park, Federation Park, St. Clair and Maraval. Most live in spacious single family homes or waterfront apartment buildings. Overall everyone seems to be happy with their housing. Commuting times are usually about 20-40 minutes, depending on where you live. If there are heavy rains or police operations, traffic can be a disaster.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Most items are imported, therefore they are very expensive. Milk and imported fruits/vegetables are triple the price in the U.S. There is a Pricesmart here, which is similar to Costco, where you can get everything you need for cleaning and household supplies.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Kids bikes, pool furniture, a boat!
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
KFC (everywhere), Subway, McDonald's, Burger King are all here. There are quite a few nice restuarants in town. There seems to be something for everyone, regardless of your budget.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes and ants.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through diplomatic pouch, which takes about 3 weeks for delivery.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is very affordable, rates for the expat/dip community is around US$4 per hour. Minimum wage in TT is 15 TTD (US$2.36). Reliability and professionalism vary widely. It is not uncommon to go through multiple workers until you find the right one. Trinis aren't known for their work ethic.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are several modern gyms located throughout the city, to include Crossfit. Prices are around US$50-100 per month.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Credit cards and ATMS are widely accepted. I only used legitimate bank ATMS (RBC, Scotia Bank) and luckily haven't experienced any problems.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is the official language.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. The roads and sidewalks are a disaster.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Local transportation is prohibited for U.S. Embassy personnel. Taxis and Maxi's (small vans) are robbed all the time. There have been numerous reports of sexual assaults perpetrated against females riding in private taxis. There are several affordable, reliable, and vetted car services available.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
A mid-sized SUV would be ideal since the roads are in horrible condition. If you can import a right hand drive vehicle it would make driving easier.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Flow is the local service provider, which charges about US$100 per month for cable / high speed internet. We stream NetFlix and Apple TV and have had no issues.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked cell phone, there are multiple service providers to choose from.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Work permits are required to work on the local economy. I am not familiar with how many opportunities there are, however there are several financial service firms and global brands located in TT.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Orphanages and church-based groups.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business or business casual in most work settings. Casual outside of work, however many establishments require pants/shoes.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Trinidad and Tobago has a very serious crime problem. Unfortunately it has the 12th highest homicide rate in the world, however the majority of violent crimes is gang related and centralized in certain high crime areas. If you follow RSO guidance and practice good personal security you should not encounter any problems. Ensure you use your entire residential security system since burglaries occur in every neighborhood.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Dengue and Chikungunya are very common. Public hospitals are horrible and there have been numerous press reports of fatalities during child birth and common surgeries. Although there is an emergency medical service, the response times are unacceptable. If you are injured in any way, your best course of action is to self medevac to the closest hospital. Private medical care is good, make sure you have your credit card since payment is required prior to services!
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Good. During the dry season there are brush fires. Often the city landfill catches on fire and engulfs the metropolitan area in smoke.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Allergy season seems to spike during the dry season.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
There are 2 seasons: rainy and dry. The rainy season is usually from June-January, dry season from January-June. Daily temperatures are from 80-90F. There is a very nice breeze during the dry season, which is refreshing.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The International School of Port of Spain is the primary school for expats, diplomats and wealthy Trinis. There are several other private schools that have good reputations.
2. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Preschools are usually located within someone's home. Prices are very affordable compared to the U.S.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Soccer is huge here. Most parks are filled with people of all ages playing soccer. The international school has a very robust sports program.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There is a rather large expat community here for such a small island. People associated with the oil industry and the diplomatic corps make up the majority of the expat community. Overall I would say morale is positive. It is all what you make of it here.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Liming. Liming is the national past time of Trinidad & Tobago. Trinis love to drink, party and have a good time. Most limes involve pot luck food and copious amounts of rum, whiskey and beer!
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Families with older children and singles will enjoy Trinidad. It is not conducive to families with small children. The limited number of parks are in disrepair. There isn't a lot to do with young kids besides the beach and zoo. Families with older children can enjoy boating, hiking, golfing and sports associated with the school. There is a decent nightlife here, most singles and childless couples have a very robust social life.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Technically homosexuality is illegal, however there seems to be a tolerance towards gays/lesbians.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Most of the country is divided along racial lines, however there doesn't appear to be any open prejudices. Gender prejudices against women seem to be socially acceptible.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Exploring the diverse rain forests through hiking and mountain biking. Maracas beach, leatherback turtles, Caroni Swamp, Emperor Valley Zoo and liming.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Biking, birding, hiking, golfing, beaches, boating, tennis, cricket, rugby, hashing. If you are active and like the outdoors then you will enjoy Trinidad. If you look hard enough you will find a group that does something.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Rum, beer, doubles, bake and shark, snow cones.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Trinidad and Tobago is a very unique country in every aspect. It is not your typical Caribbean island beach paradise. However the lack of accesible beaches is made up for by the plethora of outdoor and eco-centric activities that you can participate in. If you are motivated, there is golfing, boating, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, road cycling, hashing, birding and a vibrant restuarant scene. Overall Trinidadians are very friendly people and take great pride in their homeland.
10. Can you save money?
Yes, if you never leave the island.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That it is very expensive to travel to other Caribbean islands. That the West Indian culture is VERY relaxed and inefficient.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Probably not with young kids. It has been a struggle to keep them occupied. Overall I have enjoyed my tour here and met many incredible Trinidadians and expats, however after 2 years it is time to move on.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Expectations of a beach paradise.
4. But don't forget your:
Beach gear, hiking gear, BBQ, and good beer. Patience, bring tons of it. If you don't let the madness of Trini inefficiency bother you then you will survive!
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
"A Little Book of Hangover Cures"
6. Do you have any other comments?
Like anywhere in the world, your attitude and experiences will depend on how proactive you are. If you are a hermit or nervous about the crime situation, you won't last long. If you are adventurous and active you will find some type of activity to keep you busy. Trinidad is blessed with tremendous natural resources, however it is very disappointing to see the decaying infrastructure and overall disregard for improving the country. When the oil and gas run out, this country will be in trouble.