A Practical Guide to the Way of Life in the Bahamas
Life in the Bahamas
Ever since Christopher Columbus landed in the Bahamas in 1492, the 700 islands and more than 2,000 cays have been the destination of choice for smugglers, pirates, and adventurers. The archipelago has a lot to offer expats: from luxurious amenities to a back-to-the-roots kind of life. But an expat’s life is not just fun and games, which is why you should learn more about your destination before packing your bags and boarding a plane.
Taking a Look into the Bahamian Society
Although this Caribbean country consists of 700 islands, there are only about 393,000 people living in the Bahamas, and 83% of those have settled in urban areas and big cities like Nassau or Freeport. The official language is English, making it easy for expats and travelers alike to feel at home straight away. There is no lack of linguistic diversity, however, as French and Creole are also spoken among the black majority of the population and among Haitian immigrants.
The country is a Commonwealth realm with a constitutional parliamentary democracy. It is divided into 32 different districts for administrative purposes. Even though the Bahamas has been independent from the UK since 1973, the legal system is still based on the English common law model. Queen Elizabeth II remains the chief of state, as represented by a governor general. This position is hereditary and the governor general is appointed by the monarch. The bicameral Parliament is made up of the senate with 16 seats and the House of Assembly with 38 seats. Only the members of the latter are elected in the Bahamas.
The Real Estate Market of the Bahamas
There are no restrictions for expats living in the Bahamas who wish to buy property. In fact, many new developments in the main tourist destinations like Nassau or Paradise Island are bought by foreigners, either as a vacation get-away or to receive preferential visa treatment. With a Home Owners Resident Card, the home-owner and his immediate family have the option to legally reside in the Bahamas for the duration of validity of this card. As an alternative, you may also apply for an annual residence permit for living in the Bahamas.
You might find the most exciting real estate options in Nassau. Lyford Cay, Ocean Club Estates on Paradise Island, Old Fort near Lyford Cay, and Port New Providence are the most popular living areas. Of course, it is also possible to rent an apartment or a house while living in the Bahamas. There are expensive holiday units which can be rented for a short term only, and then there is of course usual residential housing.
Advice for the Housing Search
Before renting a house or apartment, bear in mind that hurricanes and tropical storms frequently cause major damage on the islands. Make sure you move into a home which is sturdily built and work out how much of the potential damage the landlord will be responsible for.
Overcrowding is another problem in the Bahamas. Housing may therefore be hard to find and the rents are usually quite high. Since 2001, the government has begun to take measures to create more housing space for locals and expats alike. However, you should still plan to spend a bigger part of your budget on your housing. Try the Bahamas Real Estate Association for a list of reliable agencies and realtors — two that are popular among expats are Coldwell Banker and Bahamas Realty.
Healthcare in the Bahamas
Greatly Improved Health Standards
In recent years, health standards have greatly improved throughout the Bahamas. Particularly in Nassau and Grand Bahama, new hospitals and healthcare facilities have opened and are providing high quality care. Increased investments in the local health sector as well as the employment of qualified physicians, nurses, and dentists have improved the overall health of people living in the Bahamas.
The vaccination and immunization against diseases such as measles and diphtheria has lowered the infection and death rate among children. Unfortunately, the infection rate of HIV/AIDS is still rather high — in 2013, an estimated 500 people died from AIDS in the Bahamas.
Important Initiatives to Improve the Quality of Life
In order to increase the health standards and life expectancy of the Bahamian population, the government has implemented different measures and initiatives. Healthy Lifestyle Initiatives, for instance, are meant to reduce illness, disability, and death which are caused by unhealthy lifestyles. This initiative mostly targets chronic non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, heart diseases, and cancer.
Another initiative is the promotion of the immunization of adults living in the Bahamas. The goal is to reduce vaccine-preventable diseases throughout the country. You can turn to the Ministry of Health to receive vaccinations against hepatitis B, yellow fever, diphtheria/ tetanus (DT), and influenza, as well measles, mumps, and rubella.
Healthcare Facilities and Medical Care
Anybody visiting or living in the Bahamas enjoys equal access to medical care. Both the public and the private medical sector offer a large variety of facilities and services. There are two public hospitals in the Bahamas — the Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau, and the Rand Memorial Hospital in Freeport, Grand Bahama. Community clinics and satellite clinics provide medical care to people living on the Out Islands.
Of course, you may also turn to private hospitals and healthcare centers for treatment. There are two smaller private hospitals in the Bahamas: the Doctor’s Hospital with its Medical Center division and Lyford Cay. Aside from emergency care and general services, both hospitals also provide specialized care to patients, for instance with heart diseases.
The Bahamas do not have a national health insurance scheme expats can contribute to. Although the National Insurance Board offers some medical benefits for job-related illnesses and injuries, you should make sure to get a private health insurance which covers all your basic needs throughout your stay.
Education and Culture in the Bahamas
Starting a Big Adventure: Going to School
In the Bahamas, children begin primary education at the age of five. After six years, they move on to secondary education which lasts for another five years. Throughout these five years, kids attend a three-year junior high school course, followed by a two-year senior high school course. While education is compulsory for children between the ages of 5 and 16, most kids in the Bahamas also attend some sort of preschool.
After successfully finishing secondary education, students may attend the College of the Bahamas or any other institute which offers tertiary education. Since the 1960s, the Bahamas have been affiliated with the University of the West Indies, a popular higher education institution for many in the Caribbean. Public education is provided by the Ministry of Education and Culture and is free of charge. In all government-maintained schools, classes are taught in English.
Issues with Public Education
There are certainly pros and cons to choosing public over private education. After all, public education is freely available to children of all ages and this system, run by the Ministry of Education and Culture, has resulted in a literacy rate of over 95% among the population. Unfortunately, the public education system has lost much of its quality throughout the last few years. Many have criticized the government’s increasing involvement and are calling for reform in both the structure and funding of public education.
This is, of course, not to say that all public schools in the Bahamas are lacking. The Out Islands in particular offer some good quality secondary education. However, you should make sure to visit different schools in advance, gather information on their educational programs, and talk to other expat parents. Only then can you make an informed decision.
International Schools in the Bahamas
There are many private schools in the Bahamas, including three international schools which offer the International Baccalaureate program:
- Lucaya International School, Freeport
- Lyford Cay International School, Nassau
- St. Andrew’s International School, Nassau
There are several other private schools on the Bahamas (e.g. Summit Academy, Queen’s College), the majority of which are faith schools. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that almost all of these schools are in Nassau, so if you live elsewhere your child may have to commute.
The Bahamian Culture
The Bahamas’ unique culture comes from centuries of merging African and Caribbean influences with those of their British colonists and has resulted in a rich and colorful form of self-expression. A perfect example of this is Junkanoo, a parade and festival of music and dance that takes place every Boxing Day (26 December) and New Year’s Day (1 January) through the streets of the islands. It features elaborate costumes and dancing to the music of cowbells and goatskin drums, and is unmissable if you are lucky enough to be in the Bahamas at that time.
Music is also a huge part of the culture and the styles of Goombay and Rake and Scrape are native to the islands and enjoy huge popularity. Other forms of regional Caribbean music, such as calypso and reggae, are also widely heard. Another interesting facet of Bahamian culture is the lasting British influence, one example of which is the tradition of the Change of the Guards. This is held every second Saturday of the month in honor of Queen Elizabeth II.
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