U.S. Virgin Islands FAQ & Info.
(Frequently Asked Questions)
Updated Thursday, March 17, 2005

I get a lot of E-Mail from people asking, "What is it like to live in the Virgin Islands?" The following is a compilation of all the questions I've been asked. So I hope you can find the answers to your questions below. If not, E-Mail me and I will answer you more specifically and possibly add your question to this FAQ.

Q: I am curious about what it is like to live in the USVI? For example, real estate prices, what does it cost to rent an apartment or house, cost to buy etc.
A: The cost of living here is expensive, not "Beverly Hills" or "Park Avenue" expensive, but it is more expensive than the majority of the US. The main things that are expensive in property/apartments/condos/houses is the view. Any room with a view will cost you. Apartments run from about $300 (for a small 1-room hole-in-the-wall) to $1,500 a month, depending on the view and if you rent it "in season" (during the winter, when the majority of tourists come to stay or visit). Condos and houses usually start around $1,000 and go up from there. The only other things that will have a high cost are things that you need. Pharmaceuticals are the most expensive, with some medicines marked up 300%. Mail Order is something that is very popular down here, at least it is to me. I get all my computer software by mail order, because the local places want to much for that kind of stuff. $60-80 bucks for a game when I can get it for $35-40 mail order? Mail order rules!

Q: What are the leasing schemes in the USVI? Is it possible to lease apartments or condos for less than a year, or does the price then increase dramatically?
A: There are some places advertised for just one or two months! The Island Trader (A free newspaper made available every Wednesday, like "The Recycler") is your best bet for short term living arrangements. But other publications like The St. Thomas Source, The St. John Source, The St. Croix Source, Houses, The St. Croix Avis, and The Virgin Islands Daily News have listings too.

Q: Is it better and less expensive to ship furniture or appliances down from the mainland, or is it preferable to buy most things on the Island? Are there good furniture stores down there where decent, cheap, wicker, or even futon style furniture is available?
A: This is expensive no matter how you look at it. It's expensive to ship furniture down here. So either you pay to ship your furniture down yourself or you pay the furniture store where they raise the prices up to compensate for their shipping costs. But there are a few cheap solutions to the furniture problem, and it's called K-Mart! ;D Sometimes the furniture stores here have overstock, clearing house, or going out of business sales (but they never seem to go out of business), where you can get some good deals, but mostly they are considered deals when you compare them to the other local stores. You might want to take into account where you are living, a tropical environment. Humidity has a deteriorating affect on some furniture. Also, termite nests can be found all over the islands, so if you do bring down furniture, don't bring down any wood that isn't termite treated.

Q: What kinds of food are there in the USVI? Are there hot dogs, hamburgers, tacos, pepsi, coke, peanut butter and jelly etc.
A: We have all the foods the States have. The grocery stores have everything. There are "Plaza Extra" & "Pueblo" supermarket chains, then there are "Gourmet Gallery", "Marina Market", and "The Fruit Bowl" stores that have those hard to find/special items, and if you like the BIG QUANTITY stuff, "Cost-U-Less" and "PriceSmart"! Of course since you need food to survive, and most of it is shipped in from the States, like Pharmaceuticals, some items can be expensive... TV Dinners are between $4 and $12, a small to medium sized jar or peanut butter is about $5, a half-gallon of Milk is about $2-$3, most cereals are about $4 to $5.

Q: What are some of the popular foods in the USVI.
A: Sea Food of all kinds. There are some other local dishes, but if you want to really get into those, you should come down in April for the Carnival Food Fair. Dehn ya can get ahl deh locahl food ya want! ;) Local foods you might hear about are Saltfish, Fungi, Conch, Kallaloo, Goat Water, Paté, Johnny Cakes, Bush Tea, etc...

Q: What about fast-food restaurants, like McDonald's or Taco Bell.
A: Yes, there are McDonald's, Wendy's, Pizza Hut, Dominos, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Subway (Taco Bell left after Hurricane Marilyn). There was an Arby's, and it was the only fast food restaurant to have a liquor license, but they went out of business down here. But there are many other restaurants and plenty of bars here. Probably the best known bars/restaurants here are Tickle's Dockside Pub, The Petite Pump Room, Cuzzin's, Finn McCool's, Duffy's Love Shack, Molly Molones, Burrito Bay Deli, Polli's Mexican Restaurant, The Golden Dragon, Cafe Wahoo, The Shipwreck Tavern, Hook, Line & Sinker, The Greenhouse, Tavern on the Waterfront, Sib's, Beni Iguana's Sushi Bar, and many many more.

Q: What about if I mailed a letter, would it get where its supposed to go, or do the postal workers down there open letters and packages?
A: Hey, this ain't no third world country, we have US Postal Service here! If postal workers were to open your mail, they could be imprisoned, they are Federal Employees and that is a Federal Offense. Now the US Customs Officer, that's a different story. US Customs can open your mail, especially if Bud the drug sniffing dog starts wagging his tail at your package. ;D I personally have not had any problems with my mail. I have heard of some problems, but I don't think they are our fault. There was a story quite a few years ago where the Post Office didn't know they had a 40' container of mail sitting on the docks in Puerto Rico for about two years! And it was full of Christmas Gifts and Presents. They said about half of it was foodstuffs, fruit cakes and such, and had to be dumped. But I haven't had any problems. But to me it seems that mail going out takes longer than mail coming in. But if you don't want to go by US Mail, there is always Federal Express, UPS, Airborne Express, and DHL. Of course this will cost you more, in some cases A LOT MORE, but then you do get that neat little tracking number so you can make sure it gets where is needs to go. Oh yeah, one last note about US Customs; if your ordering something and it isn't "Made in the US", be prepared to pay some custom fees. :(

Q: Can I drink the water?
A: I don't know, can you? ;) Just Kidding... If you don't have a filtration system connected to your faucet, then I would not recommend it. See, there is no Public Water System, unless you live in town, which I also don't recommend, and in which case you'd have to boil your water for 5 to 10 minutes before it might be fit for consumption. But most of the water people use here in their homes is rainwater, let me explain. This is a tropical place, so rain is quite common. It could be pouring down rain on one end of the street, and bright sunny and clear on the other. Anyway, the rainwater lands on your roof, goes down the gutter, which goes into a cistern, a big cache of water (like some kind of underground swimming pool, but you don't go swimming in) for the rainwater, which with the help of a pump is used for your sink, toilet, shower, etc. I have an under-the-sink filter, so when I put my faucet on cold, I get water I can drink and/or use for ice cubes. Otherwise you can always go to the grocery store for water or ice.

Q: How about toilets and showers? Is there a sewer system, or just a hole in the floor? Is there city water or anything like that.
A: Well since the only Public Water System is in town, it also means that the sewer is only in town too. Everyone else has a septic system.

Q: Can I get Cable TV down there?
A: Yep, in fact that's about all you can get. There are only three local stations, WSVI Channel 8 (ABC/CBS), WCVI UPN-37 (UPN), and WTJX Channel 12 (PBS). If you want NBC, FOX or other stations, you have to get Cable TV, CHOICE TV, or a Satellite Dish. But if you get a dish, you'll need a 14-footer, at least! The Signals from the satellites are aimed at the middle of the US, towards Colorado, so the farther away you are from the center of the US, the bigger the dish you need. DSS Dishes are something new around here. There are a number of different DBS/DSS companies, but the one that seems to be the most reliable or worthy of service is EchoStar's Dish Network. But you need a 6-foot dish and a line of sight point almost due west instead of up towards the sky. I'd want a DSS Dish System or the new CHOICE TV because if a Hurricane comes, and I've been through quite a few of them down here, I won't have to wait 8 to 16 months for Cable TV to be restored. ;)

Q: Are there any TV Shows on the Islands?
A: Yes, on Channel 12 (PBS) they have some local community shows and they usually air all the local events, like Carnival Parades, Ceremonies, etc... WSVI Channel 8 (ABC/CBS) does the local news and maybe one or two local shows. Channel 4 on Cable TV and Channel 3 on CHOICE TV gives 24-Hour Non-Stop Island Information. It's mostly for tourists, but very informative for people new to the island about where to go and what you can do.

Q: Are there newspapers or magazines?
A: Yes, there are three local newspapers, The Virgin Islands Daily News and The St. Croix Avis. There are also some trade magazines like The Island Trader and Nautical Scene. We also have few local magazines like St. Thomas This Week (which has A LOT of info about the Virgin Islands), but the magazines are mostly for tourists. Then lastly there are the Internet Papers like The St. Thomas Source, The St. John Source, The St. Croix Source, Houses, V.I. Business, Virgin Voices, The Virgin Islands Daily News (Online Edition), and for the humorous side of island life there is always The Island Melee.

Q: What is the most popular kind of transportation?
A: Automobile. But you don't need one to get around. There's Buses, and Taxis will pick you up (provided you are dressed like a tourist, with shopping bags in hand), and people are always (much to my dislike) hitching rides. But it's always better to get your own wheels or carpool with friends.

Q: What are all the kinds of transportation cars, mopeds, motorcycles?
A: You can drive anything you want here, but I'd get a used car, something you won't mind if it gets scratched up in an accident. The about 60% to 70% of the roads here are very narrow, very steep, full of potholes, bumps, and in some places, very slick when it rains, or gets flooded, I recommend a Jeep, like a Suzuki Sidekick, 4-wheel drive and high off the ground comes in handy going over rocks and/or steep dirt roads and driveways (especially if we get a heavy rain, this is the tropics). Another factor you will have to keep in mind is the fact that we drive on the Left. The US Virgin Islands were ruled by six different countries, and at least one of them made us drive on the left side of the road and it's been like that ever since. It's also one reason why we have so many fender benders here. Especially Tourists who come down from the states and want to rent a car... Driving on the left, the narrow roads and lanes, the steep hills, the potholes, the big trucks that sometimes have to drive in the middle of the road, or totally in your lane just to get around a corner, it can be a very nerve wracking experience. But if you stick with it for a week, you'll get used to it. ;D

Q: How do you clean your clothes? Are there washing machines and dryers or do you have to go to the stream and stone wash them or something like that?
A: Yeah, I take my clothes to the beach and wash them in the ocean! Come on! Laundromats are plentiful here. Especially with all the people we have living on boats in the marina! Getting an apartment with a washer & dryer is very rare and probably expensive, like $850 and up. Not to mention there may be some clause in the lease agreement that says if the cistern runs dry, you might end up paying for the whole truckload of water. Which could run you from $200 up!

Q: How do you get your hair cut? Are there barbers on the islands?
A: Don't Panic, there are places to get your hair cut. I go to "Just Cuts", but there are other places. Look them up in the phone book when you get here.

Q: Can pets move down there too? What do I need to do to bring them down? Would relocation for a pet a traumatic experience?
A: Yes, you and your pet(s) can come with you to the Virgin Islands! And unlike some other places in the world there are no quarantine requirements. An excellent website with information about relocating your pet is at P.A.W.S. - Paradise Animal Welfare Sanctuary. Oh, also very important (also noted on that website) is check out your place of stay for you and your pet(s) before you move.

Some pets may have problems with changes in their environment while others may not. All I can say is that if your pet has a very thick coat of fur, this might not be the best environment for it as our temperatures don't change too much, staying within the 70-90 degree range. The heat with the humidity during the summer can be overwhelming to a thick furred animal, especially one who does not live in an air conditioned environment. I personally have not seen these problems with anyone's pets, but I also have not seen any thick furred animals either. As for relocation anxiety, I don't think dogs have that problem, but cats might have that problem. I've heard of cats whose owners have moved from one location on the island to another only to have the cat find it's way back to the previous location, preferring to stay in it's familiar environment. I would suggest you contact the Humane Society for any info they may have about this.

Q: What do you know about child care? Any tips on finding good help?
A: Well, I would just have a trusted relative come stay with the kids while you go out and party! Seriously, since I don't have kids (yet) I shouldn't talk. But I'm sure you can ask other parents about that once you get here. :)

Q: I am interested in pursuing a Masters down there but the Campus info on the internet doesn't mention which programs are offered. Do you have any wise words about the school itself or degree programs?
A: I'm not a student. I never attended the University of the Virgin Islands, but my sister graduated from there. I hear it's one of the cheapest schools in the US to go to, but I also hear that a degree from UVI isn't as impressive as one from a Stateside school, but at least you'll have a degree. You might find some info on the UVI Home Page. Oh yeah, I also hear that most classes are really small, some reported to have only 3-5 people in them!

Q: Are there any farmers or local type markets where you can buy locally grown produce? If so are the prices better than the bigger markets?
A: Since I live on St. Thomas, I can only speak for St. Thomas. Yes there are a few roadside stands, and a few local stores like "The Fruit Bowl" that sells locally grown/raised/made items. I don't know how different in price they are, I think it depends on what items they are and how well a season the farmers have had. But if you find the times expensive, then please console yourself with the fact that you are helping the local farmers (and there aren't that many) here in the territory. :)

Q: Well I want to thank you for any info you can provide me with. I hope none of these questions seem to personal they were meant to be general questions about living in the USVI. If there is anything that I have left out that you think would be helpful to me please tell me.
A: You're Welcome, and I'm glad to help out. And yes you did leave something out. The economy here, like in some other places in the US, isn't very good, so finding a job (other than waiters, bartenders, or fast food places) may be hard to come by. But if you talk to the right people, you might find something nice. Also, crime... its here, but just like any major city in the US, there's the good part of town, and there's the bad part of town. You'll have to ask around to find the good areas. :) Catch'a Later...

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Created on Saturday, December 14, 1996
Last Modified on Thursday, March 17, 2005

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