My Experience as an Expatriate
Expatriate (expat) – Denoting or relating to a person living outside their native country.
There are many reasons a person decides to live outside her native country. It may be for a job, it may be to be with a husband/wife, it may be for economic reasons or because of retirement.
In our case, it was partially economic, partially that the place we chose to retire to is a tropical paradise, otherwise known as the Tri-Island State of Grenada (Carriacou & Petit Martinique being the other two).
Our History with Grenada
I had lived in Grenada before and we visited many times in the years prior to our retirement. We knew a few people, were somewhat familiar with the culture, loved the endless variety of edibles, the clean air, the low crime, and the friendly welcoming people.
So, in 2013, we came to Grenada and started looking for a permanent home. Our original plan was to be snowbirds, keeping our home in Chicago and renting a home for the winter months in Grenada.
It only took 1 year to realize, this was not the most suitable plan for us. Maintaining two residences with duplicate everything, paying a company to manage our home in the Chicago winters, proved expensive and impractical. Our home was a charming Art Deco frame house, requiring constant maintenance, so we spent the summer when we returned doing house maintenance. Not my idea of a good time.
Entertaining New Ideas
Next, we entertained the idea of buying a large enough sailboat to live on, allowing us to take off for other parts of the world at will. Well, if you’re a sailor, no doubt you’ve heard the definition of a sailboat: a hole in the water into which you pour money. Not to mention that as we looked to getting older, handling a boat would become more of a challenge.
Plan D is what we ended up with and have never regretted our choice. We found a partially completed house in a gorgeous location, found a terrific, reliable, knowledgeable, builder and 6-months after closing on the house, we had a home as close to our dreams as possible.
By this time, we had met many people, native Grenadians as well as other expats and we had somewhat of a loose social circle. I joined the Grenada Association of Retired Persons, Dick offered to volunteer at a home for disabled young people, and we met many people.
The beauty of retirement whether expat or retire in place, is that there are no “musts”. After four years, The Grenada Association of Retired Persons was not a good fit for me, so I resigned.
Finding Community as an Expatriate
Next, I joined the Willie Redhead Foundation dedicated to the preservation of the heritage and culture of the island. Grenada’s capital of St. George’s is the only city in the West Indies to have many beautiful Georgian buildings that survived two hurricanes. Though, some of them are still in need of restoration. We work to make the government and the general public aware of the importance of preserving our rich heritage. I love the people in this group and they now accept me as a full-fledged member.
Another group I belong to is the Grenada Green Group. As the name says, the aim is to decrease the carbon footprint of the island, a tall order but we have achieved some success. This includes styrofoam being banned and single-use plastic grocery bags are banned as well. Much remains to be done but we chip away at it.
Then there is the “Wandering Soles”, a group of walkers who go on walks of discovery in different parts of the island. While the group is somewhat diverse, most are expats. After the walk, we stop for refreshments and socialize.
How to Make the Most of Your Experience
How and where to meet people is a decision as an individual, as we all are. There are groups here who get together regularly but only with people from their country of origin. There are others who sit and wait to be asked to participate in some activity/organization or to be invited to dinner. When nothing happens, they complain that it’s impossible to have a meaningful social life here. Still, others will join an organization only to tell the members how what they’re doing is wrong. “Back home, we do it …” succeeding only in upsetting the locals who included them.
Some will only eat in restaurants that serve the kind of food they’re familiar with, did I say hamburger? Then some only shop for imported foods they recognize, and never go to the fabulous farmers market or the fish market or meat market, where all the best, freshest, mostly organic food can be found.
How one chooses to approach the expat experience will largely determine the quality of the experience.
What You Need To Do
First and foremost, do the research. Find as much information as you can about health care, housing, banking, climate, and volunteer opportunities. Read as much about the history/culture of your chosen place as you can. Visit as often as you can and at different times of the year. Talk to as many people who have chosen to live here as you can, both expats and natives.
If you want to have a successful experience, in addition to the above, be flexible, get out of your comfort zone, it’s ok to be a bit anxious. If you commit to getting out there, being open to new cultural norms, new business models, and new foods, you will have the best experience.
Different Business Models
Some examples of dealing with different business models:
We have to renew our visas at given time intervals (we usually do it every 6 months). The routine goes like this: Get in line at Immigration at one window to pick up the form you must fill out; get in line at another window to hand in the form. Sit and wait until called and given a form to pay the requisite fee (minimal) and hand your passport to the clerk.
Then go to a different part of the building to pay the fee; come back, hand in your receipt and wait to be called by the immigration officer, who will approve the visa extension, stamp your passport and you’re on your way. Inefficient? To the max. Do we complain? No, because this is the way it’s done, so just deal with it. We’ve now done this so many times that the immigration officer knows and greets us and we chat as old friends.
Most utility bills cannot be paid online, so you wait in long lines to be served, often only 1 of 4 windows with a clerk assisting.
Other Interesting Notes on Becoming an Expatriate
When grocery shopping, you have to be somewhat ruthless in how many of a specific item you pick up, even going as far as taking the last few on the shelf. Why? Because that item may not be available again for weeks. Inventory control is not a strong suit of the grocery stores.
On the other hand, I see the Caribbean Sea out of my kitchen window. Birds, iguanas, and geckos entertain us. The air is clear, the weather is perfect, there’s no pollution, there’s next to no crime, ½ the time we don’t even bother locking our doors.
The people here are generous and welcoming. Most of the many wonderful things that make our garden so special have been given to us by friends and neighbors. We share fruit and produce we grow ourselves. Well, you get the idea.
Are you an expat? Share your experience, and/or questions in the comments at the bottom of this page.
Maria and her husband Richard Nuscher have lived in retirement on the island of Grenada in the West Indies for the past 6 years. Before retiring, Maria was a successful Realtor. Now Maria spends her time volunteering for the Willie Redhead Foundation. An organization dedicated to the preservation of the architecture and culture of her beloved island. In addition, she maintains her website, publishes a newsletter, guest writes for several websites and enjoys gardening, growing many of the things they eat.
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