How can I find a job and place to live on a beautiful island?
April 6, 2009 7:49 PM   Subscribe

Me and my girlfriend were thinking about moving to an island. Does anyone have any tips? Perhaps a website that lists available jobs and places to live? Thanks!

We are both U.S. citizens. Additional information on the process of living and working out of country would be helpful!
posted by austinlee to Work & Money (24 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Can you be a little more specific about what sort of island and the general geographic information you have in mind? I suspect that you're asking about tropical islands in the Carribean or South Pacific. Is that true, or would islands in the Mediterranean, the Great Lakes, Canada, and other places also qualify? (Sicily, Isle Royale, the Isle of Man, and Ireland, for example, are beautiful islands, but something tells me that's not what you're looking for.)
posted by The World Famous at 7:56 PM on April 6, 2009

I lived on Roosevelt Island in the East River between Manhattan and Queens. It was really lovely about four months or the year and then it was just overcast and then become bitterly cold as the wind swept across the icy toxic river. You'll travel in style by F train, stylish drawbridges, and a gondola. Then, once on the island you will find what New York Magazine called New York's Most Boring Night Out.

The rents are terribly expensive so it's this very entertaining mix of senior UN and NGO officials, professors, doctors, several lawyers, many rent controlled old timers and two art students.

Feast your eyes on a Gristedes with a parking lot! They film movies there, there are two long-term care hospitals for people with severe palsy and distrophy but one is really a prison. It's sad but maybe you'll like it if you just go back and forth from work every day.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by parmanparman at 8:10 PM on April 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

posted by pised at 8:14 PM on April 6, 2009

The Island Chronicles
posted by limon at 8:19 PM on April 6, 2009

Dear The World Famous,
We are pretty open. Something with a nice beach! We live in Philadelphia now and we were talking about how neat it would be to live on the beach on an island and I thought to myself... Why not!? How hard could it be!? So this is just my first step of finding that out. My girlfriend said the Virgin Islands might be a good place to start looking. Thanks for the answers so far!
posted by austinlee at 8:24 PM on April 6, 2009

I went to Puerto Rico a few weeks ago and there were a ton of mainlanders living and working in the tourism industry. Everyone I spoke to loved it there.
posted by easy_being_green at 8:25 PM on April 6, 2009

Thanks for the article limon! I read boing boing almost everyday so it's extra interesting.
posted by austinlee at 8:26 PM on April 6, 2009

Just got back from Puerto Rico, too, and would recommend it highly. Beautiful beaches, lovely mountains, inexpensive rents if you're outside San Juan and no worries about citizenship or work visas or sticky stuff like that. Vieques is just off the coast, Culebra is too, if you want something smaller.
posted by Floydd at 8:45 PM on April 6, 2009

Yes! Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island that isn't out of the US, so it's that much less bother moving there. Or even better, to little Vieques or even littler Culebra off PR's east coast. Fly JetBlue to San Juan for $105 each, cab to Fajardo, ferry to Vieques or Culebra, then camp out at Sun Bay or Flamenco Beach while you bum around and look for work.
posted by nicwolff at 8:48 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wow, this reminds me a lot of the books The Sex Lives of Cannibals and Getting Stoned With Savages. Both feature an author who does exactly what you're asking, but in the Pacific ocean rather than Atlantic.

Both are decent reads, but the first (sex lives) is the better of the two.

From the book: "One day, I moved with my girlfriend Sylvia to an atoll in the Equatorial Pacific..."
posted by xotis at 8:49 PM on April 6, 2009

(I mean $105 each person one way, or each way per person, on JetBlue.)
posted by nicwolff at 8:52 PM on April 6, 2009

Why, do you know something about an imminent zombie invasion that you're not telling us?

I'd suggest Palau. Its in the south pacific, south of Guam a ways. It used to be a US protectorate. Now its an independent country, but they use american currency. the reefs and wildlife is amazing, its one of the few places in the south pacific that hasnt been ravaged by non-native invasives. Rich world war two history that no one in america knows about. Lots of ex-pats.
posted by CTORourke at 9:14 PM on April 6, 2009

I just got back from PR too, and thought it was lovely and lots of fun. I didn't think it was all that cheap, though. You would definitely need to know or learn Spanish. Bear in mind that the unemployment rates are currently pretty high.

One perennial favorite is to go backpacking and get a hostel job someplace you like. I met tons of Americans working in hostels when I was in Central America - maybe Costa Rica would be good for you guys? Thailand is another place with miles and miles of beautiful beaches.
posted by lunasol at 9:52 PM on April 6, 2009

I would live on one of the islands in Puget Sound. For example, you could live on Vashon Island and commute in to Seattle, which still has a relatively strong economy. Or you could use your proximity to Seattle to find some contracting or freelancing work to support yourself.

I live on an island. There are more than half a million people here with a well-developed economy, so this isn't probably what you are looking for.

However, there are hundreds of islands surrounding Vancouver Island where I live, and, I have to tell you, there is not a whole lot of work to do. Fishing, a typical island occupation, has collapsed. The real estate boom of the last few years has also jacked up housing costs - the only people who can live on small islands are the semi-wealthy who don't need to work.

Islanders usually work in tourism (resorts need cooks and cleaners) or provide services to other islanders. Cruising and marinas are a vital component of any island's economy. Usually in any group of islands there will be one marine service centre - a boatyard - where boats are repaired, renovated or even designed and built. Those sorts of jobs (technician jobs) pay more. However, there are also a lot of jobs at marinas where you actually clean yachts and boats, or look after them when the owners are away.

I have a friend who lives on a small island (50 residents), and he writes and designs textbooks for a living - textbook that are used in just about every ESL classroom in Asia and Europe.

However, he didn't get that gig living on an island. He put in his time in a major, congested cosmopolitan city, where he made money and connections that allowed him to live his dream life.

Because although he always dreamed of living on an island, he wanted to do it on his own terms, not cleaning the heads on some rich guy's cruiser.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:55 PM on April 6, 2009

My good friend and her husband just bought a business on Fiji and are moving there next month. The business cost less than a quarter of what an average house costs here. Apparently there are a lot of Americans doing this.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 9:55 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Try Hawaii. Last time I checked the unemployment rate is pretty low - 6.5% - b/c there is not enough people. And its beautiful.
posted by zia at 10:24 PM on April 6, 2009

I lived on the Big Island of Hawaii in college. It was amazing and inexpensive. I highly recommend it.
posted by nosila at 5:14 AM on April 7, 2009

When you do set on a country, take a look to see what the import laws are for your stuff. I was supprised to find out that a country I considered moving to required a 50% - 100% tarriff on the value of posessions imported (so as to stimulate the local economy). I opted against it.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:10 AM on April 7, 2009

Well, if you can save up about two grand you can just live in a hut on one of the islands of the Indonesian archipelago for about a year. That's including meals, which will consist primarily of fish, rice and fruits.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:28 AM on April 7, 2009

There is one island I know of, with beautiful beaches, friendly people and plenty to do where you are, literally, paid to live there.

It's maybe not quite what you were thinking of though.
posted by BadMiker at 6:49 AM on April 7, 2009

I lived on Galveston Island, TX for several years. There's lots of beaches, although they aren't necessarily the prettiest. The cost of living is relatively low. It's 50 miles from Houston, and you're "away" but not "too far away," if you know what I mean. The people are laid-back and friendly.

Major issue: It is rebuilding after Hurricane Ike. This offers both opportunities and inspiration (help the recovery, start something "new," etc) as well as challenges (hospital and public facilities are not fully restored, some businesses are not yet reopened, etc).
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:42 AM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Vanuatu is pretty darned nice.
posted by bz at 1:22 PM on April 7, 2009

The Virgin Islands generally and St Thomas specifically are good suggestions.

I say this because I did this and I wrote about it recently in response to another Askme. My comments there are pretty negative but bear in mind that they were specifically tailored to that poster and to offer a counter point to others in the thread who were suggesting St Thomas.

Moving to and living in the Caribbean has probably been the coolest thing I have ever done and if you were to ask me for an answer right now I would tell you that I will never live anywhere else. That being said, please remember that you are going to LIVE on whatever island you choose, it will not be a vacation where you go to the beach and sip rum drinks daily (unless you are independently wealthy in which case we should hang out.) You will have to find a job, an apartment and a car, and on the weekends you will have to do laundry and go shopping. Personally I have not been to the beach in over a month and I live 5 minutes away from one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. (first photo in that search could have been taken from my porch)

I don't say this to discourage you in any way or to make assumptions about your motivations but I have seen too many people end up disillusioned because reality did not live up to their fantasy. Wherever you consider make sure you visit first for at least a week or two. Talk to as many locals as you can (especially transplants) and make sure to ask them what they like LEAST about where they live.

I'll close with a joke we like to tell on St Thomas:
A man dies and arrives at the pearly gates.

St Peter tells him "You sir are a unique case - the amount of good you have done is perfectly balanced by the amount of bad you have done. We are left with having to give you the option of deciding where you want to spend eternity Heaven or Hell?"

The man considers briefly and says: "Well, Heaven looks nice but I am afraid I might get bored and I don't really know anything about Hell. Would it be possible for me to visit Hell for a week and give you an answer after that."

St Peter agrees and the man is sent to Hell for a week. Much to his surprise Hell is actually an amazing white sand beach. He spends a week relaxing in a hammock while beautiful women bring him frozen drinks. He meets lots of friendly people, has lavish meals, and goes to decadent parties every night.

After a week his mind is made up; he tells St Peter his choice and is transported back to Hell. This time though, there is fire and brimstone, he is forced to toil in the salt mines, the food is terrible and everyone he meets is cruel. After putting up with this for a while and searching fruitlessly for the beach he enjoyed last time he was there he decides to ask the Devil directly what is going on.

When he meets with the Devil he says: "I don't understand last time I was here this place was everything I have always dreamed of. Now, it is torture! What happened?"

And Satan tells him "That's simple - last time you were here you were a tourist. Now you live here!! Get back to work."
Obviously that is a gross exaggeration but some days it really can feel like that.

I don't think St Thomas or any other tropical paradise is a bad idea by any means but make sure you go into it with your eyes open. And definitely feel free to Memail me if you want any more inside info, I am always happy to talk about where I live and I like hooking people up who have an interest in the place.
posted by Bango Skank at 9:17 PM on April 7, 2009

Also check out the book A Trip to the Beach. Its memoir about a married couple from Vermont who move to Anguilla and open up a restaurant. They're kind of yuppieish and pissed me off immensely several times while reading it but it does give a pretty good insight into how different life on a Caribbean island is from life on the mainland.
posted by Bango Skank at 9:24 PM on April 7, 2009

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