Port Of Spain, Trinidad And Tobago Report of what it's like to live there - 03/05/08

Personal Experiences from Port Of Spain, Trinidad And Tobago

Port Of Spain, Trinidad And Tobago 03/05/08

Background:

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

No. We have also lived 2 years in Barbados.

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2. How long have you lived here?

Since September 2007.

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Via Houston on Continental it's 6 hours. Also there are direct flights from the New York area and there's a direct flight to Tobago from the U.K.

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

My husband is on a 12-15-month corporate assignment to this island.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

There are houses, apartments, and townhomes. Try to find one with a pool or pool in the complex as the beaches are an hour away over the mountains, or you must fly to the companion island of Tobago. Rents are US$4000 to $6000/month for something safe and decent. Most expats live in either the valley communities of Maraval, Moka, St. Ann's or Cascade to the north of the Savannah and the city, OR more likely, to the west in the communities of Columbus Circle, Westmoorings, Bay Shore, Regent's Park, Regent's Point, Goodwood, Glencoe.

Commute is fierce, avoid living in the Diego Martin valley (Four Roads, Petit Valley) unless you want to learn back roads or spend a lot of time in the car. Most times, kids have to be driven to schools, although a few companies provide buses for the children of their employees.

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

Groceries are relatively expensive, simply because Trinidad hardly grows anything any more; everything is imported. The stores are full of California fruits and veggies!! The supermarket selection is sporadic and not as consistently good as on some other islands: however, smaller markets such as Malabar Farms, Adam's Bagels, Peppercorns, and De Freitas Meats can make up the deficiences. There are several branches of the international discount store Price Smart and they have good prices on their typical jumbo sizes. There are very limited gas stations, surprising in an oil nation, and long lines. Household help is hard to find, but not expensive if you can find someone to do it.

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

Not much. Books are not too expensive here. We We were allowed one air container, not large, and brought some kitchen items, some linen and decor items, lots of sports stuff, a boom box, etc.

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

Any fast food except McDonalds. Also, there's Benihana, TGI Fridays, Ruby Tuesday, Tony Roma's, etc.

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Daily Life:

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

Corporate pouch on Fridays.

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

Hard to find, but not expensive if you can. People tend to cling to anyone good that they find!

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3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

No problem with either. There is Scotia Bank, RBTT, First Citizens, and many ATMs. If you are coming from North America, get a Capital One card before you come; they don't charge currency conversion fees.

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

Yes. Mostly Roman Catholic, some Anglican, Baptist, pentecostal. The island is 40% East Indian, and 25% Hindu, with a large Muslim population, and many small denominations as well.

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5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

You can get Newspaper Direct. There are three local dailies, of the tabloid type. Cable TV and Direct TV (go with the Direct TV, the cable is unreliable). BBC Caribbean as well as at least a dozen local stations. One Indian broadcast network is aimed at the Hindu community.

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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?

English is the language, but Trini can be hard to understand, harder than the other English-based Creole on some of the other islands.

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

A lot. Broken or non-existent sidewalks, lack of elevators, no such thing as lift-buses.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Left, like the U.K.

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

No. Get a private driver and use him, if you aren't driving. The cost is low: it is a security issue. Only take taxis from reputed hotels or use private, vouched for drivers.

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3. 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?

Nissan Almeras are the most stolen car on the island, accounting for 47% of thefts. Most roads are at least passable, and some are quite good, but the traffic on them is another story: this is the land of very crazy drivers. Most brands are sold here. The driver is on the right; driving is on the left. You would only need 4W drive if you were going into certain parts of the mountains, which you probably shouldn't be going alone into anyway!!

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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, either through the same cable company as TV or through Green Dot. Go with Green Dot: it's reliable, they're efficient, and they ALWAYS answer the phone. US$45 a month.

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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?

Digicel for local purposes only.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

People say Vonage phones. We use a BlackBerry and email.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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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?

I don't know. Work permits are hard to get.

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

Not as formal as some islands. It's neat and tidy. Local women go for rather bare tops often, but expats not so much. (Of course, this does not refer to Carnival.)

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Dirty air. My husband has to take Claritin every day. Inside it is clean because everything is closed and heavily air-conditioned (cheap oil = cheap electricity = lots of AC), but our balconies and patio are constantly covered with a film of dark grit.

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

You have to be really careful here. We live well in the west of Port of Spain in an area called Goodwood Park; there are gated neighborhoods here and also gated housing complexes and communities. There is a lot of crime, but mostly not directed at ex-pats. It's not as safe as most other Caribbean islands. Gang warfare is going on in East Port of Spain (drug related) and there is very ineffective police. Most gang killings are Afro-Trini on Afro-Trini. Most kidnappings occur in East Indian neighborhoods and are Indo-Trini on Indo-Trini. The island is 40% Indian, 39% Afro, 15% mixed, 5% Chinese/Near Eastern/Spanish/European.

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

On Trinidad it's fine with two good private hospitals and some good doctors; lots of good dentists. On Tobago there is none for practical purposes. Get back to Trinidad. Don't get sick on Tobago.

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

Supposedly we are now in the dry season but it is still awful rainy, although never long or all day. 8 months of the year there is rain or it's rainy, but overall there is generally sun, and it's sunny for 4 months, but with some rain. It's about 85F during the day and 70-75F at night with a good breeze.

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Schools & Children:

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

There is the standard American-curriculum based ISTT near Westmoorings. There is also the Canadian curriculum based Maple Leaf International School in Petit Valley. There is also a British Academy. There are numerous public, private (church affiliated) and quasi-public schools, mostly based on the British curriculum. Our children are adults. We know people who have children at both ISTT and Maple Leaf and both are happy with these schools.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

There are some, including Montessori.

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Expat Life:

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

Sizable, but a lot of them are oil workers. There are a dozen women's clubs for expats of all types, and a huge hurricane-season yacht community that rides out the season down here for insurance reasons.

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2. Morale among expats:

Corporate, good, but they tend to hang with their corporate circles. Parents of ISTT or MLIS kids good, but they tend to hang with their school. I've heard that the embassies are sort of up and down in morale as there is a lot of turnover. The local government is very entrenched and good at lining their own pockets so the expat community tends to get rather cynical.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Eating out, sailing, golf, tennis, running, movies, going to Tobago, club events, shopping, travelling to other islands, kids sports and school related events for the parent set, hiking, driving around the island in certain areas.

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

Families with school-age kids, couples. I would think college kids wouldn't be here anyway. For singles it is hard to say; there is some night club life, but due to security issues, there isn't the free and easy atmosphere of other islands.

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

I doubt it.

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

No. This is way to diverse an island. This might be the most diverse population in the world. Trinis are white, black, Chinese, East Indian, West Indian, Syrian, Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, etc. and every mixture of the above you can imagine. There are 15-16 legal holidays a year in Trinidad and a lot are related to some group's religion and/or ethnicity.

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

Go to Tobago!!! Drive the north shore (but be careful stopping at the beaches with bandits!) and stay a night at one of the small inns. Visit the Asa Wright center, stay over, see hundreds of birds, enjoy fine food. Dine out on Ariapita Avenue (AKA Restaurant Row) or at unique hotel restaurants, enjoy a half dozen marina restaurants with romantic ambiance, sail on Sundays, walk through the Zoo and the Botanic Gardens, shop at West Mall, visit East Indian temples and ashrams in Central Trinidad and enjoy an authentic Indian meal, visit the beautiful Montserrat Hills, drive to the far northeast coast for beauty and empty beaches, or for surfing, or to see turtles laying eggs in spring, visit Mayaro and the Cocal, take a pirogue tour of Caroni Swamp and see hundreds of scarlet ibis, enjoy first run movies at Movie Towne, golf at St. Andrew's, Millenium, Chaguaramas National Park, Brechin Castle or on Tobago at Mt. Irvine or Plantations, sail or motor down the islands.

On Tobago, take a day sail or a jeep safari, snorkel or dive, dine out, or just visit lovely Pigeon Point, Store Bay or other beautiful beaches. Enjoy rainforest and waterfalls on both islands.

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

Not much. This is not a crafts island. Calabash items, some carvings. Copper and brass jewelry are beautiful. Baskets. Some pottery. Textiles, nice quilted and batiked items. Batiked silk scarves. Rasta leather goods. Paintings.

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9. Can you save money?

We are trying. It's not Trinidad --it's our booking trips to other islands that costs.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes. The mountains, birds and rainforest are great! And we can go to Tobago for the beach.

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

Winter clothes, bicycles (the only place you can safely ride them it is cheaper to rent them -- but do bring little kids' bikes if you will be living in a gated area), air conditioners (everywhere here will already have them!), pets (find 'em a home with family while you are gone, unless you are willing for them to endure long quarantine).

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3. But don't forget your:

Cameras, golf clubs, tennis gear, snorkel stuff, holiday things, and laptops.

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

A House for Mr. Biswas, VS Naipul; the new November 2007 edition of the RoughGuide to T and T; Insight Guide (but it is out of date); Cote Ci-Cote La, a Trinidad and Tobago Dictionary (also shows folk customs and photos): Trinidad and Tobago, Tranquil and Terrific; Naparima Girls' School Cookbook, Second Edition

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

A House for Mr. Biswas, VS Naipul; the new November 2007 edition of the RoughGuide to T and T; Insight Guide (but it is out of date); Cote Ci-Cote La, a Trinidad and Tobago Dictionary (also shows folk customs and photos): Trinidad and Tobago, Tranquil and Terrific; Naparima Girls' School Cookbook, Second Edition

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Films of Carnival from various years.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

This is an amazing island, but just don't expect the usual Caribbean place. It is very third world. And expect a lot of litter!!

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