Port Of Spain, Trinidad And Tobago Report of what it's like to live there - 08/24/21
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?
No. This is my fifth overseas post.
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?
DC. 2.5 hours to Miami and 4.5 hours to Port of Spain. Easy during normal times, but very difficult when the border was closed (18 months due to Covid-19). Currently, because the border just opened, the cost of flights back to Miami, JFK, or Orlando are about $700 roundtrip.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What years did you live here?
5. 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?
Housing is wonderful. Families of three or more will get a house and all housing has a pool. Houses are large and spacious, there are some that are definitely better than others. Apartments are spacious with sea views. Great housing team at the Embassy, too.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Very expensive here. Differential recently went up to 20%, and that with the COLA make the place much more reasonable. Groceries are probably 20-30% more expensive that in the DMV. There is a Costco-like store here that sells many Kirkland brand products which makes things more affordable if you buy in bulk. Most houses have a freezer or extra refrigerator in the garage, so buying in bulk is okay.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Mexican food products, liquor (VERY expensive here, unless you drink local rum). You can get most items here...you just have to pay for them. You can get most items (except liquids) shipped to Post. If you need to buy large items (furniture, toys for kids, etc.) place that in your HHE as we do not have DPO, only pouch.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Indian, pizza, burgers, doubles (local favorite) all deliver via FoodDrop. For now, restaurants remain closed for in person dining due to Covid-19, but carryout is available. Food here is not that great and going out for sushi or a steak is surprisingly expensive.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Lots of little critters here, but not that bad. We have had iguanas, frogs, rats, bees, and ants. Housing will take care of a lot of the issues, but you should bring some ant traps.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch which can take 3-4 weeks, so learn to plan ahead.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Good and inexpensive compared to the cost of everything else. Full time nanny is anywhere from US $600-1000 a month depending on if they live with you or not. That might be expensive compared to other WHA posts, but certainly not compared to the US. Gardener is about US $35 a visit and they do a good job, pool guy is about US $100 a month and they come twice a week. Housekeepers can be good and they charge about US $50-60 for each cleaning. You may have to go through a few of the nannies or housekeepers before you find one that you like, but after that, they're great.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Gyms are plentiful and pretty well equipped. They run from US $40-80 a month. They have been closed for months due to Covid.
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?
You can use credit cards and ATMs here. You can use them to buy groceries and going out to dinner. No issues.
Most people cash checks at the Embassy to pay their staff.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
This is an English-speaking country, so plenty available for those of Christian and Muslim denominations.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English speaking...but lots of slang.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, there are not many sidewalks and there are lots of holes in the road. Larger shopping centers do offer handicapped parking, but many places (including the Embassy) are not wheelchair accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We are not allowed to take public transportation, so take a car.
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?
People want to be cool and not bring a car, then realize that they can't survive here without one. No need to buy a right-hand drive car. Bring whatever you have in the US and ship it here. You will ding it up and service costs a lot. I would recommend buying a portable air compressor for your car and possibly even a jumpstart kit. Ship one or two spare tires in your HHE.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Can be very fast...about $120/month with cable. Local cable has US networks such as NBC, CBS, FOX, ABC, ESPN, CNN, Nickelodeon, HBO, etc. This will be set up before you arrive, just work with your sponsor.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Take an unlocked mobile phone and pay for the local service. $40 a month for a local provide with internet. Everyone uses WhatsApp to communicate here, so download it if you don't already have it. Also, have your family and friends in the US and other countries download it, too (just in case they're living in the 90s and don't already use it). Embassy staff will get a local phone. However, that phone will not get roaming service unless you return to the US on official travel (training, R&R, etc.).
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?
Vet help here is good, but the process of getting an animal into the country is very expensive and time consuming. If you do not already have a pet, don't get one before you come. You can certainly adopt one while here which several colleagues have done. For more information, write to the Community Liaison Office (CLO).
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?
There are EFM jobs that are available, but not too many. I do not know of any spouses who work on the local economy. Several spouses work from home.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are some with specialty groups, but opportunities are slim now due to Covid.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Pretty casual. At the office, some wear suits and ties and other professional attire. However, some staff where khakis and button-down shirts. If you have a meeting with local officials, you must wear a suit and tie and women must cover their shoulders. I learned that one the hard way.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This is a critical crime post, so there are several no-go areas. Luckily, most crime is bad guy on bad guy, so if you avoid certain areas and aren't liming (drinking) all night, you should be ok. Many people go to parks to exercise or run around their neighborhoods without incident.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Healthcare here is ok. They can deal with most "normal" issues, but anything that requires a specialist, you most likely will be sent to the US. The dentists are good, but just slightly less expensive than the US.
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?
Very good...but some people will burn items like garbage near your home that can be a nuisance. But for the most part, very good air.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
There are a lot of bees here so bee (I'm hilarious) careful.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
This used to be known as 'Port of Pain' due to difficult times at post...but it's a nice place to live. People are super friendly. If this place is too hard for you, get out of the job you're in.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
There is sunshine every day, so if you need vitamin D, come here. The rainy season is quite long, April-October. It rains every day and some days it rains a ton. The dry season is hot...but not too bad (maybe 95 max). Lot's of humidity in the summer.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
ISPS is where most embassy kids go and its just ok. I would not come here if I had a kid in high school...just not enough options. If you have young kids the school is fine.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Limited, inquire with the Community Liaison Office (CLO).
3. 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?
Yes, they are. There are several and they teach in English and there is one that is half English and half Spanish. Preschool is about $2000 a year for half-day.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Soccer, gymnastics, and cricket.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small and quite low due to Covid. I can see the expat community here thriving under normal circumstances, but all of the closures have taken their toll. Many expats have left.
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, liming! People love to drink here. They also like to get together for meals, dancing, and socializing. Sadly, Carnival 2021 was canceled and I can't see it happening in 2022 either. Covid, again, has really limited socializing as groups larger than 5 are not permitted.
There are hashers here for those who like to run.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Sure, if not for Covid.
This is a tough place for older kids (10 and up) since there are not many things to keep them occupied. For young families, its excellent because you will enjoy the weather and your nice home with a pool.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Yes, they're very nice.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I think it would be okay. Still some homophobia here (and most of the Caribbean). However, my LGBTQIA friends here have not reported any big issues.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Maybe amongst each other, but they are very nice to foreigners. There are some issues if locals think you're Venezuelan...that could be an issue.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Tobago, Maracas beach, all of the beaches, Bamboo Cathedral, exploring the countryside.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Beaches, Caroni Swamp, and waterfalls.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Nope. Rum if you like it. That's all. Nothing to buy here.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's close to the US and beaches are only 30 minutes away.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That groceries would be so expensive and that the border was going to be closed for so long.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
If the borders were open and there were daily flight options to the US, yes.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Heavy jackets and all winter attire.
4. But don't forget your:
Rain jacket, good books, and streaming services. You'll spend a lot of time at home since there's not too much to do.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Usually people leave some obscure book that nobody has ever heard of to sound intelligent. They're fools. I can't think of a book that would describe this place well. Call the incumbent or anyone that you know who has served here before. That's your best bet.