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What are the pros and cons of becoming a resident of St. John, US Virgin Islands?

What are the pros and cons of becoming a resident of St. John, US Virgin Islands?

This question has been around for a few months, but just showed up in my feed. I’m sure the OP has already decided whether or not to move to the USVI, but for anyone else interested, here’s my take.

I moved to the US Virgin Islands 3 years ago, in 2015. My island of choice was St. Croix, for a number or reasons, but some of those reasons are more economic than anything else. St. Croix is the least expensive of the islands, is the largest of the three, and is generally more friendly, as compared to St. Thomas. Justin Harrell has an excellent answer with a lot of short pros and cons. You should read his before continuing with mine.

However, the question is specifically about St. John. There are some pros and cons that apply to the all the islands, but some are unique to our smallest member. But, before I get into the answer, I need to define what a “resident” is here, or at least how it’s perceived by the population as a whole.

There are some very precise connotations as to what makes up a resident, here. One type of resident is the native, or generational islanders. On St. Croix, they’re called “Cruzans” or “Crucians” (technically pronounced the same, as in “CRU zhins”. The other islands have their native population, too, and they are mostly made up of the descendants of the slaves that worked the islands, although there are some Danish and a few other disparate groups. Not long ago, the territory tried to pass a distinction that would have given this group preference in things like hiring and services. Congress shot this down.

Another group are those that have been here for only a generation or so. Not much of a distinction compared to the rest, but they are seen by some as more native. Finally, you come to people like me, who moved to the islands during their lifetimes. There are some important legal distinctions to consider, here. One is employment. A territorial initiative called “EDC” gives tax breaks to companies that locate on the islands. Diagio, the company that makes Captain Morgan rum is one of these, and how I learned about the restrictions. One of the requirements of EDC is that a certain percentage of employees must have been resident for a year or more. The company can bring along a number of its own employees from wherever, but the rest must be 1 year residents.

There’s also a 3 year distinction, and the benefit of this is fuzzy at best. There may be some services and considerations that go along with this, but the 1 year mark is the most important.

Employers also are somewhat fickle about who they hire. The island life may seem like it’s carefree and fun, but there are some realities that make it difficult for some to adjust to. That means that there is a constant flux of people deciding to move to the islands, finding that it’s not what they wanted, and leaving soon after. This makes hiring difficult for some businesses, and they want some assurances that their new employee is going to stay for awhile. If you haven’t been in the islands for at least 6 months or more, don’t have family here, renting your home instead of owning it, these can make finding a job difficult. You can certainly start your own business, or work for the food service industry, but there are requirements you need to learn about there, too.

One other thing to consider is politics. Living in the territory means you don’t have the right to vote for President, and we only have one representative in Congress, who can only vote in committee. Local politicians are some of the most corrupt in the country, with lots of money involved and lots of animosity over who gets to run for an office. Some days, it’s like a soap opera. There’s a significantly higher chance that any particular politician will end up in jail.

St. John (yeah, I know I’m taking my time getting here) is probably the most beautiful island in our group. Over half of it (probably more like 70 percent) is set aside as national preserve, including many of its beaches. Those advertisements you see in the travel agent’s office of the sunny Caribbean? Probably taken on St. John. It has some of the most chi chi resorts and condos around. It also makes living there EXPENSIVE!

When I was doing my research as to where to move, I looked at apartments on St. John. A small studio apartment with no view generally went for around 1000 dollars (probably more now post Irma/Maria). My multi room apartment overlooking Christiansted bay was $495 until just recently. Basically, you have to be well off at the start to even afford the cheapest accommodations. If you look at the real estate rags you can pick up at the local stores, most of the smaller houses go for a million plus, with rentals going for several thousand dollars each month.

Employment opportunities are also rare, mostly being in the real estate, food service, or hospitality industries. They’re there, but don’t usually pay enough for the average joe to live on the island. The local population is mostly gentrified, and usually filthy rich, or at least it seems that way. Locals here on St. Croix often bemoan how there are so few natives on St. John anymore, mostly to argue against the gentrification of our island (which is happening in small increments).

Because St. John has such a small resident population, shopping is also aimed more at the specialty market. All the major stores are less conveniently located on St. Thomas, so a weekly grocery trip for the essentials involves a ferry and a taxi cab.

As for the pros, well, living on a tropical island which is federally protected against development is probably the biggest one. The local real estate is incredible, and the beaches are pristine. But, you can get a lot of that in the other islands, too. St. Thomas is a bit too touristy for my tastes, but St. Croix has some spectacular beaches, too. I just vacationed in Charleston, SC with my family, and noticed that the ocean water is nowhere near as clear as on my beaches here. Some parts of the islands are free from light pollution, so going out on a clear night can afford some of the best star gazing in the world. Watching a tropical rain coming in from the ocean is breathtaking, and the sunrises/sunsets are always moments for silence.

If you can find a way to live here, it’s well worth it. Not just St. John, but St. Croix and St. Thomas are great places to live. They all have pros and cons, but the pros often outweigh the cons. It takes a certain mindset to live here, which can be termed “island time”. People and processes work slowly, and if someone doesn’t want something to get done, it slows glacially. There’s poverty and crime, even on St. John, but not more so than some larger cities.