|An attractive job offer led Erwin from his job in Southern California to the Caribbean paradise of Turks and Caicos. Here, this Filipino-born expat describes how he landed his job as a resort sous chef there, his favorite things to do in Providenciales, changes he has seen in the job market for expats, and his tips for fitting into the local culture and society.
Erwin A. Joven
-Where were you born?
-In which country and city are you living now?
Providenciales ("Provo"), Turks and Caicos Islands, British West Indies
-Are you living alone or with your family?
-How long have you been living in Turks & Caicos?
One year and nine months
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Turks & Caicos?
After living in California for 8 years, I needed a change and was doing a major job search. I had sent my resume to a really good hotel company and it turned out that they needed a Sous Chef for their property in Turks and Caicos. I was feeling adventurous and took the job. Of course when the perks included a tax-free salary in US dollars, free rent (including utilities) and getting to live on a paradise island, who wouldn't? I was thinking I could save a lot of money by coming out here for a year or so.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?
Not too hard back then - my employers lodged the work permit application as soon as I accepted the job offer. I arrived in Turks and Caicos with a letter allowing me to enter the country on a one-way ticket while my work permit was being processed (it was approved 2 months into my stay on the island). Now that the world economy has taken a nose dive and tourism was hit hard in the Caribbean, it is not as easy as it was a year and a half ago. There is a feeling on the island, especially among locals, that jobs should first go to the local population so expats have a tougher time now applying for work permits or getting existing ones renewed.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
The company I work for provides basic medical insurance, as most companies here do. But again with the economy taking a hit, companies are cost-cutting on benefits such as medical insurance. Private insurance providers on-island can be contacted for more comprehensive coverage.
-How do you make your living in Turks & Caicos? Do you have any type of income generated?
I work as a Sous Chef for one of the luxury resorts on-island, and all of my income is based on my work with this company. I get paid my base salary every end of the month then service charge on the 15th. All income in Turks and Caicos is tax-free so all the money I get goes to me. There is, however, a deduction for National Insurance which is not a large amount. There is talk recently of implementing an income tax scheme.
I found my job by applying with the company directly (actually by sending my resume out "cold" via their website which normally does not work in securing a job, except in this instance). They had an opening in Turks and Caicos and they contacted me via email. All the interviews were done over the telephone and most communication was done through email and the Internet. The whole process starting with the phone interview until I started working in Providenciales was around 4 months (would've been sooner had I decided earlier).
-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
The locals in Turks and Caicos are called "Belongers". Their language is English peppered with lots of local slang, so the only thing challenging for me was to learn the slang and quickly pick up what people are saying through the island accent. It would be useful to speak French or Creole and Spanish as a lot of island residents come from Haiti or the Dominican Republic. There is also a big expat Filipino and Indonesian community.
"Belongers" are a proud people whom can be standoffish at the first instance then slowly warm up to you once they get to know you better. I think they are struggling to come to terms with all the tourism development that has happened in their country and why there are so many expat workers living in their islands. It is very important to greet everyone a "Good morning/afternoon/evening" if you're walking into a room or joining a conversation. Also, a little humor and a smile goes a long way… especially in the government offices.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes? Describe your favorite recreational activities there or those that are available.
I do miss home as it is far away from Turks and Caicos in either direction. I have friends and relatives in Southern California but that is about an 8-hour journey away. If you are living on-island, it is important to get away every now and then as "island fever" is a real thing. Even a weekend getaway to Miami or Grand Turk or Nassau (an hour or so away) could do wonders for one's disposition. The longer one lives on a small island, the feeling of boredom increases as do one's perception of problems.
If you love being in the water, then there are a lot of things to do in Provo and the other islands. I've gone diving here, go swimming and snorkeling frequently, and take my paddleboard out whenever I can. A lot of my friends go kite boarding which is big here in Provo, but I haven't taken that up.
Nightlife exists. There are some good local and Dominican bars in Provo with good drinks, music and mix of people. Most expats frequent a bar called Danny Buoys in Grace Bay.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I just got offered a job on another Caribbean island so I might go there and take that opportunity. I think almost 2 years living in Provo is enough – I had a great time, met some lots of people and made some good friends, so it's time to move on…
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
The company I work for rents and maintains a staff housing compound which is 5 miles away from work. Depending on your rank in the hierarchy you either live off property and off staff housing on a (luxury) villa or on-staff housing in a 2 bedroom suite, 1 bedroom suite, studio or shared accommodations. All the accommodations in staff housing have water, electricity, cable tv and internet provided and are fully furnished. I live in a studio unit in staff housing by myself. $500 gets "taken off" my paycheck every month for rent which I guess is fair considering everything is paid for. However, there are water issues and I've had to get my own internet service as the one provided for free is slow.
Rent is high in Provo, even higher when you have to pay for all the utilities. The best option for singles is to share an apartment or house – expect to pay upwards of $1,000 for rent and utilities.
-What is the cost of living in Turks & Caicos?
Expensive. Comparable to New York or San Francisco... except rent, clothing and food is cheaper and of better quality in those 2 cities. Everything is imported here and, since there is no income tax, the government taxes imports (mostly coming in from Miami/US). There is a big grocery store called IGA – they sell everything but at prices 30% more expensive than the US. I would go to IGA most of the time but also other supermarkets (Cash and Carry, Island Pride) – better deals on food there. There's a department store called Kishco that sells useful household items, clothing and shoes for good prices but of questionable quality.
Expensive as shopping for food may sound, it is still cheaper than eating out. There are no "fast food" places here and the cheapest take away meal will set you back $13. It is much better to cook at home … if you have a kitchen. My studio does not.
Surprisingly though, cellphone service and internet is relatively cheaper here. I spend around $60/ month on my cellular phone bill with a plan that includes international calls, and around $75 / month for reliable, high speed internet that accommodates 2-3 computers.
Car insurance is cheap too. I spend $200/ year on my jeep but it is just liability coverage.
-What do you think about the locals?
Like I mentioned, Belongers can seem unfriendly at first then warm up as soon as they get to know you. Good for people who live here, bad for people that come to visit. And because tourism is a big industry, most hospitality industry workers are non-Belongers (of course with some exceptions).
There is some apprehension from the locals about the amount of foreigners coming into work in Turks and Caicos. They feel it takes jobs away from Belongers. I think with all the big investments made in tourism fairly recently (by the TCI government) it will take a while for the local labor force to catch up. So even if a lot of Belongers have been filling positions which foreigners used to hold, expatriate labor will still be a part of the TCI work force, whether the locals like it or not.
I think foreigners are treated with respect, in general, but there are instances when locals will make you feel excluded from the conversation. But, a smile and a sense of humor go a long way in these instances…
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Turks & Caicos?
Positives – Beautiful beaches, great diving and snorkeling, laid back vibe, meeting and working with people from all over the world, earning tax-free income in US$, access to banks and other services (cable tv, internet, cell phones with roaming, etc.) making it easier to live on the island
Negatives – Dealing with bureaucracy in government offices (especially when it comes to labor and immigration), things work on island time, cost of living is expensive, "island fever" exists, the feeling that not a lot of people care about the environment here (trash is burned and some beaches and roadsides need cleaning up)
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Turks & Caicos?
Get a car. As small as the island is, there is no reliable public transportation and a car gets you to where you need to go when you need to go.
Come to the islands with lots of patience and a sense of humor.
Don't litter on the beach.
It is important to treat people with respect anywhere you go, but more so here because it is a small island. You will run into the same people, whether local or expat again and again, so watch your words and mind your manners.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Turks & Caicos?www.tcimall.tc – general directory
www.enews.tc – classified ads and events
www.tcweeklynews.com - local news
www.turksandcaicostourism.com – info on the islands, where to stay, what to do