Port Of Spain, Trinidad And Tobago Report of what it's like to live there - 04/13/17

Personal Experiences from Port Of Spain, Trinidad And Tobago

Port Of Spain, Trinidad And Tobago 04/13/17


1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Nope. I’ve lived on other Caribbean islands as well as in the UK and South Africa.

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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?

East Coast. Travel time is usually between eight and 12 hours. American flies direct to Miami, JetBlue to Ft. Lauderdale and JFK, United to Houston, and Caribbean to Orlando, JFK, and Ft. Lauderdale.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Nine months.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Work (researching and teaching).

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

I have a three-bedroom apartment in the East. Most expats live in gated communities, which are very reminiscent of south Florida, or in apartments in the West. Dip corps homes tend to be in Westmoorings and Maraval, which are affluent suburbs of Port of Spain. Without traffic, the commute from Westmoorings and Maraval to the city center is 10-15 minutes.

All things considered, I’ve been pleased with my apartment here. Most expats can afford nicer housing, which ranges from as little as 900 USD/month to as much as 5,000 USD/month depending on location and size. (As a rule, the closer to Port of Spain, the more you pay. Single-family homes and apartments are most expensive in Westmoorings, Maraval, and the surrounding areas.)

One note of caution: If you are planning to move to T&T, make sure to secure an apartment or home that (1) is in a gated community and (2) has a secondary water supply.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

The cost of groceries is slightly higher than that found in the U.S. Vegetables and fruits are best purchased at markets, where prices and quality are typically superior. Cleaning supplies are widely available, but U.S. brands are more expensive.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

I’d recommend bringing fabric softener. If you have any special shaving creams, shampoos, colognes, etc., you should pack them as well. Some products are readily available while others are nearly impossible to find.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Trinidad has a little bit of everything—Italian, French, Thai, Hakka, Chinese, Korean, and, of course, Creole. Buzo, an upscale pizzeria, is the highest-rated restaurant in POS. G Spot, a gourmet food truck on Maraval Road, is a must visit and will be featured on Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown: Trinidad and Tobago.”

For bake and shark, go to Richard’s in Maracas. Poutine lovers should visit Poutineois in Curepe. In Tobago, a trip to Ciao!, which serves up the best pizza and gelato on either island, is obligatory. Jemma’s Treehouse Kitchen is another Tobagonian restaurant that’s popular with expats. Just make sure to reserve a table before going.

Most of the fast food and pizza chains here—including Papa John’s and KFC—deliver. McDonald’s and Subway are on island as well, as are Domino’s, Church’s, and Popeye’s. There is a TGI Friday’s on the Savannah and at least one Ruby Tuesdays. Haagen-Dazs has a full-scale operation in POS and Dairy Queen has several locations.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

You encounter the usual suspects in equatorial locations—cockroaches, mosquitoes, etc. I haven’t run into any problems, but I know some people who have had cockroach infestations.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

The local postal system isn’t bad, but for anything of import I’d use DHL or FedEx. Letters from/to the U.S. can go with TT Post. Delivery time is about two weeks to/from the East Coast.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Not sure, but since Trinis are known for "liming" more than anything else I would be surprised if many expats had reliable nannies or housekeepers.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Most gyms tend to be on the expensive side. A lot of expats walk the Savannah, which has a perimeter of 2.2 miles.

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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?

Visa is widely accepted in POS, Mastercard to a lesser extent. Nowhere I’ve visited takes American Express or Discover. Outside POS, at local establishments, and in Tobago, expect to use cash. ATMs are fairly common but sometimes dispense fake bills (particularly 50s), which banks will NOT swap out for you. I recommend using the machines at RBC on Sweet Briar and at the Scotiabank that’s adjacent to Independence Square. I’d caution against taking out money at night.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Because Trinidad is English-speaking, a wide selection is available. There are a lot of Catholic, (Shouter) Baptist, Anglican, Seventh Day Adventist, and Methodist churches. There are also mosques and Hindu temples scattered throughout Trinidad. From what I can tell, the Jewish population is negligible.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Trinidad and Tobago is English-speaking, but most expats have a problem understanding Trinis, at least at first. The problem is a mix of the accent and the fact that many locals, particularly those in food service, speak softly or mumble.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

T&T is a really bad place for people with physical impairments. Sidewalks are crumbling if they even exist and many places outside POS don’t have elevators.

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1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Maxis, which are small buses, are the easiest way to commute to/from POS. The fare into the city ranges from four to seven TTD while the return rate is fixed at seven TTD. Contrary to what many expats think, I consider maxis to be safe. In all my time here, I’ve never experienced any problems or been concerned for my safety.

In addition to maxis, people use "p taxis," which are illegal cabs operated by private citizens. They are convenient and cheap (the fare is typically 5 TTD) but can be dangerous. I only use them when I’m with at least one other person.

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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?

If you don’t plan to take any excursions, you can have whatever car you want because the major roads are in good shape. However, flooding is a constant problem because of a lack of drainage, so you may want to consider bringing a vehicle with clearance. A lot of expats have Santa Fes, CRVs, Prados, RAV4s, or Pilots. Trucks are less common, and some Trinis have BMWs, Audis, and Mercedes. In general, bring something with a little height that can withstand the potential nicks and dents that come with traffic here.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes. The options are bmobile and Digicel. I recommend Digicel—the quality is superior and the customer service is slightly better.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

I have Digicel, but most of my expat friends have bmobile. I recommend Digicel because it’s more user-friendly and has better coverage on both Trinidad and Tobago. You could bring a U.S. phone and have it unlocked, but it’s not advisable to walk around with an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy in plain sight.

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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?

Not sure, but a lot of people have dogs as pets (mainly for security).

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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?

Not sure, but most significant others that I know of stay at home. I don’t know if there’s a bilateral work agreement for U.S. embassy spouses.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Surprisingly, there aren’t a lot of functioning nonprofits here. If you have kids, I’d look at the International School and Maple Leaf, which is an Ontario-accredited school in Diego Martin.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business casual for the most part. Some restaurants have a dress code—which usually means no sleeveless shirts or flip flops for men—but the establishments that do enforce said codes spottily. Young women tend to dress more provocatively than their American counterparts. During Carnival, everything goes.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

For only having 1.4 million people, Trinidad has a high murder rate. The good news is that, for the most part, the killings are gang-related and concentrated in certain areas (Laventille, Morvant, and Beetham, for example). Kidnapping and rape aren’t nearly as much of a concern. Robbery is a crime of opportunity that plagues the whole country. You shouldn’t walk around with any flashy jewelry or have your smartphone out for all to see.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Medical care ranges from subpar to crudely on par with the U.S. Mt. Hope offers free medical services but the wait is often long and the wards operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. Most expats use West Shore Medical Center or St. Clair. It’s possible to find American- or British-trained doctors. Dentists and some specialists tend to be well qualified and able to perform minor procedures. For anything major, I’d go back to the U.S.

In terms of health issues, polluted water is a concern. A 2016 report found high levels of lead and other chemicals in the drinking water, but the Water and Safety Authority has assured us (and independent testing has confirmed) that everything is filtered out prior to consumption.

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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?

Although Trinidad is more industrialized than most people expect, the air quality is fine overall.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Most food items are available here. You may just have to go to several markets and grocery stores to find what you need.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Not that I know of, but fatigue is a problem during the hottest days of the year. Mild depression tends to affect those who arrive expecting to live in an island paradise.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Given its location, Trinidad has a dry (January to July-ish) and a rainy season (August-ish to December). Even in the dry season, though, expect rain, including the occasional downpour.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

I don’t have any experience with the K-12 international schools but know of families that like both the International School and Maple Leaf.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

For such a small country, the expat community is sizeable. Morale is mixed, largely because customer service is nonexistent and Trinidad isn’t the island paradise that most people are expecting. Based on my interactions and anecdotal information, it seems that the oil company folks have a better experience than do members of the diplomatic corps.

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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?

I don’t really socialize with the expat crowd, but I understand that evening and weekend get-togethers are common. There are several hiking/birding/general nature groups to join, but you’ll have to ask around to see which ones are in operation. (I recommend that people look into Road Trip TT.)

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Singles: This is a difficult question to answer. T&T is deceptively good for men, who have to be careful because a lot of young women act and dress much older than they actually are. (This is very true during Carnival.) If I were a woman, I wouldn’t try my luck here, but there are several French expats I’ve heard of who married Trini men and moved here.

Couples/Families: I think T&T is best for childless couples and/or empty-nesters who like the outdoors. The country is devoid of parks (and general activities for children) but has beautiful forest trails and waterfalls.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Another hard question to answer. T&T isn’t gay-friendly like Cuba, but it’s not utterly homophobic like Jamaica. There is an LGBTI scene here, but I’m not sure if any expats are involved in it.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Contrary to what many people believe, T&T is divided. Although it’s common to see mixed marriages, particularly among the middle- and upper-class Indo-Trinis and Afro-Trinis, the political landscape is starkly bifurcated (PNM = Afro and UNC = Indo). Similarly, T&T has a decided lack of gender equality. Women should expect to be cat-called and honked at with regularity.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Carnival: It goes without saying that Jouvert and Carnival are unique cultural experiences in which every expat should participate. Just make sure to ask around for information about mas bands. (A lot of expats play with Flirt, but in any given year there are two dozen from which to choose.)

Music: I’m not a big fan of soca—although it’s hard not to develop an affinity for some of the more popular songs during Carnival—but I could listen to calypso for hours. Calypso Rose is the going artist, particularly since she just won a French Grammy, but Mighty Sparrow, Mighty Shadow, Lord Invader, Roaring Lion, and Brother Valentino are some of the more classic artists. Chalkdust is in vogue at the moment, mainly because he won the 2017 Calypso monarch competition with “Learn from Arithmetic,” a song that takes up the issue of child marriage in T&T.

Hiking: There are a lot of great hikes. Rio Seco, Paria, and Maracas Waterfalls are popular day trips, as is Aripo Cottage. I believe that the rainforest in Tobago has several trails as well.

Birding: Caroni Swamp, which has perhaps the largest concentration of Scarlet Ibises, is a must. Nariva Swamp and Asa Wright Nature Center are also good.

Beaches: Objectively speaking, T&T is probably the worst island in the region when it comes to beaches. Maracas is the most popular but tends to be crowded from Thursday to Sunday. Manzanilla is a trek from POS but is picturesque (it’s lined with coconut trees) and typically has less people. There’s also at least one spot in Macqueripe, but I’ve never been. In Tobago, I like Buccoo, but most people stick to Store Bay and Crown Point.

Tobago: It’s obligatory to do the Nylon Pool and Buccoo Reef tour. (Most people leave from Pidgeon Point, but I recommend getting a 2:00p departure from Buccoo. It’s less expensive and you get to spend more time in the water.) You should plan to visit Store Bay to try Miss Trim’s famous crab and dumplings. You should also consider going to Argyle Falls, which is about an hour’s drive from Scarborough. (It’s best to tackle Argyle and Jemma’s in one fell swoop.) Hikers or people with time on their hands can visit the rainforest, which is located north central Tobago. Finally, most expats partake in Sunday School, which is a sizable block party in Buccoo.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Chocolate: Believe it or not, T&T has the most varieties of cocoa in the world. The chocolate here has a distinct earthy, fruity flavor. If you love all things chocolate—rum balls, candy bars, cold drinks, and even tea and alcohol—visit the Cocoa Pod on Gordon Street in Port of Spain.

Peppers: The hottest peppers in the world can be found on island. Pepper sauce and chadon beni (pronounced “shadow bennie”) are ubiquitous, with Mother in Law being the hottest of them all.

Artwork/Handicrafts: You may find a couple of cool things in Tobago, but T&T as a whole isn’t known for its curios.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

The chocolate, the food, and an affordable Carnival experience (living here, you will save a lot of money that visitors will be forced to spend on flights and hotel rooms). For those who are adventurous, it's easy to get to Suriname and Guyana from here.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

The extent of the customer service problem. I had a good idea coming in but quickly learned that T&T is unique in this regard. (If you talk with Trinis in the diaspora, they will tell you the same thing.)

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Honestly not sure. I prefer cultural activities to sitting on the beach, so I’d live here before going back to Barbados or to some other places in the region—Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Vincent, and Dominica, for example. Having said that, I find The Bahamas, the D.R., St. Lucia, and even Haiti to be more attractive options. I guess it all depends on what you want.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Expectation of living like a beach bum and need/desire for excellent customer service

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4. But don't forget your:

Patience, sunscreen, and mosquito repellent

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Books: Earl Lovelace’s "The Dragon Can’t Dance" and Michael Anthony’s "A Year in San Fernando" are required reading. Naipaul’s "Miguel Street" and "A House for Mr. Biswas" are indispensable, too.

Mid-20th century novels to buy include anything by Sam Selvon. For a more recent depiction of life in T&T—at least from the point of view of the (upper) middle class—read Liz Walcott-Hackshaw’s "Mrs. B." If you want history, have a look at anything by Bridget Brereton. You should also leaf through Eric Williams’s "Capitalism and Slavery." Last but not least, "Sugar Barons" by Matthew Parker is an engaging read that gives information about the region’s once-prosperous sugar industry.

Movies: The only film I can recommend is “Bazodee,” which came out last year. It stars Michel Montano, T&T’s most famous soca artist, and provides insight into a certain subset of the Trini population.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Life in T&T is what you make of it. There are much more harsh environments in which to live, but that doesn’t mean everything here is easy (or easy with which to deal). As is generally the case, the more money you earn, the more fun you can have.

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