Port Of Spain, Trinidad And Tobago Report of what it's like to live there - 11/08/09
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?
This is my fourth expat experience.
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?
Travel time is 5 1/2 hours from Houston, TX on Continental Airlines. You can also travel to Trinidad via Miami.
3. How long have you lived here?
A few months.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Apartments /homes for embassy staff, all in nice areas. Commute time is 30-45 minutes in traffic, 15 minutes on a weekend.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Most expats use Hi-Lo Grocery or PriceSmart (just like Costco). Food here is more expensive than in the U.S., as everything is imported.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Any tolietries, clothing or favorite foods you ship here will save you money. Most items are available for purchase locally but are more expensive.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
KFC is popular here, but there is also Subway, Dominoes Pizza, Ruby Tuesday, TGI Friday and several quality restaurants. There is no problem finding good places to eat. It's just a matter of finding good service at many of the restaurants
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
I don't have insect issues in my home. I have heard there are sand mosquitoes at the beach, but I've never had a problem.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
The embassy receives mail via diplomatic pouch. You must use DHL or Fedex to get packages out of here, and it is expensive. Forget about shipping packages --just stock up on gifts and take them with you the next time you go to the states. If you use trini mail, your item will be stolen.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is about the same cost as in the states. You can get someone to clean your house for about $50 U.S. for 8 hours of work, sometimes cheaper if you negotiate.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, there are a few gyms. The expat crowd uses a gym at the mall in Westmooring or one downtown, close to the embassy / Queens Park Savannah.
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 / ATMS can be used at major restaurants, hotels and ATMs with no problem. Just be sure to warn your bank where you are going, so your card isn't blocked.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, there is a non-denominational service weekly at the international school, and there are churches in the various cities in Trinidad.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes, although the local papers are like the National Enquirer. Your best bet is NY Times online.
7. 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, although Hindi is spoken in some areas amongst the residents, and trini-slang is spoken frequently amongst the locals. Ask them to speak slowly if you don't understand them and they usually do, with no problems. Depending upon the person's background, they can be easy or difficult to understand.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Many..this city is not built for folks with disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
NO! Do not use maxi-taxis or buses. You can find a driver for hire through your work place, but if you use public transportation and are not trini, you will be mugged. Most locals are reckless drivers, especially the maxi taxi drivers. Vehicles, maintenance and gasoline are all expensive here.
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?
Vehicles here should be righthand drive, although expats sometimes ship American-style vehicles and drive them on the left side of the road with no problem. Small SUVs are good (RAV 4, Honda, etc). The roads in Port of Spain are narrow, so you don't want to drive a large vehicle. Smaller American vehicles are also driven here. There are dealerships to repair the vehicles (Honda / Toyota), but they are expensive. Shipping windshield wipers, oil filters and other minor parts will save you money. Embassy staff can ship vehicles duty free. If someone wants to steal your car badly enough, they will find a way to do it.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, there are a few local cable/internet companies with reliable service. High speed internet is available and fairly reliable.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I believe cell phones here are readily available and reliable.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
I belive there is a 6 month quarantine here, but I'm sure it can be lessened or waived if you pay the right 'fee'. I'm not familiar with vet services.
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 heard it is possible for spouses to work, but the cultural differences make it difficult for spouses to want to keep working. I believe a work permit is required.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
In public, trinis often wear jeans, even in the heat; shorts are not common for women, but skirts, capris, casual dresses and tropical weight pants are a good idea. The dress code at work is business casual -- wear a suit if you attend meetings, but one is not necessary otherwise. There are occasions for cocktail dresses and formal wear if you attend events at the Hilton or formal business receptions.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
I have no problems with pollution or allergies, but I've heard that others do.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There are many security issues. Some German/Brit expats were killed in the last few weeks on Tobago and it is no longer safe to stay in villas there. On Trinidad it's not safe for gals to drive alone at night unless you are going to/from a specific expat restaurant, hotel, or movie theater. Home/vehicle break-ins are sometimes 'inside jobs' by the security companies working here. The police are corrupt and often kill criminals suspected of murder instead of taking them to trial. You can go to the movie theater, malls, shops in town and main stream restaurants during the day with little/no hassle.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
If you go to the local General Hospital you might not survive. Expats / Embassy staff use two private hospitals and receive quality care. Embassy staff cannot deliver babies here due to lack of prenatal care. Going to the doctor for colds and minor ailments should not be a problem.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is warm year 'round. In the mornings and evenings, it is quite pleasant but can be very humid in the afternoons, especially after the lunch-time rain shower during rainy season.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I've heard the international school is very good but don't have experience with this.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Difficult to say. Not all embassies are represented here. There is also a large oil community. Spouses meet each other through classes and events.
2. Morale among expats:
Good among oil wives who get to know each other through yoga, language lessons, American wives groups, etc. Morale at the embassy is bad if you are not here for the partying.
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?
It's always possible to entertain at home. Just like in the states, you can go to the movies, gym, mall and restaurants. If you are in a senior ranking position at the embassy or local company, there are organized social events. If you are into clubbing, you'll have a good time here. If you are not into clubbing, this is not a fun place.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a better assignment for families/couples than for single folks. Due to the security situation, singles cannot go to all the places if they wnat to go alone. It is also easier for males vs. females.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I don't belive gays or lesbians are as open here as in the states, but I've heard there are certain clubs, etc. that gays/lesbians can go to. You definitely should research this before going, as you might wander into the wrong part of town and have trouble.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Trinis generally segregate amongst the races. Afro-trinis, Indian-Trinis, and White-trinis usually don't cross racial lines, although it sometimes happens. If you are a white American or European, you will stand out here.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Go out to eat, go to movie towne, go to another island for a long weekend, go clubbing if you are in a younger crowd.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Vacations away from Trinidad.
9. Can you save money?
NO - everything is imported, and the salary does not cover the expenses here.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
NO - run the other direction unless you are a rich oil barron/spouse or young person who wants to party.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
idea this is a tropical island where you will find fresh tropical produce -- everything is imported. Don't bring coats and winter clothes unless you travel back home for Christmas.
3. But don't forget your:
sense of humor; it's the only thing that will get you through this assignment.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
This can be a good assigment if you are high ranking, have a family and lots of money to spend on sightseeing and other excursions. If you are a single male who parties, this is also a good assignment. Single females do NOT want to come here, and white males/females have a different experience than black males/females.