Relocating to the Bahamas
A Quick Look into the Environment
The archipelago that makes up the Bahamas is located broadly between Florida and Cuba, in the Atlantic Ocean. Of the 700 islands, only 30 are inhabited. Most expats moving to the Bahamas find themselves relocating to New Providence Island, where roughly two-thirds of all inhabitants live. Nature enthusiasts will fall in love with their new home for the abundance of coral reefs (there are more than 2,000) stretching from Florida’s southeast coast to the northwest of Hispaniola. All expats will benefit from over 3,500 km of coastline as well as the islands’ tropical marine climate, which means that the weather is largely sunny and dry. It is important to be aware, however, that the islands are prone to rough weather conditions (such as hurricanes and other tropical storms).
The Tropical Islands of the Bahamas
Moving to the Bahamas lets you experience the natural beauty of the Caribbean and by exploring the different islands, you will see a new side of this stunning archipelago. Tourism is the main source of income on the bigger islands, so they receive many visitors every year. If you want something a little more off the beaten track, the more secluded Out Islands offer the chance to experience a bit of solitude away from the hustle and bustle.
New Providence Island & Paradise Island
New Providence Island is home to the majority of the population and is the location of the country’s capital, Nassau. The city is of great significance thanks to its status as the seat of the government and the center of commerce. Despite Nassau’s cosmopolitan character, its colonial history is strikingly displayed in its charming old town.
By crossing a bridge, expats can easily reach the adjacent Paradise Island, which is home to more than just beautiful beaches. Here, you can also find luxury hotels, extensive golf courses, and glamorous casinos. Paradise Island’s glittering reputation is certainly well deserved.
Grand Bahama Island
While Nassau effortlessly blends the old and the new, Freeport on Grand Bahama Island is a mecca of modernity and technology. The surrounding area is largely occupied by hotels, casinos, and scuba diving facilities, but there are still unexplored beaches and little hideaways on the island waiting to be discovered. The island is also definitely the place to be for watersports, with a variety of activities on offer. Nature enthusiasts will enjoy the Lucayan National Park, which also has one of the oldest underwater cave systems in the world, a must for anyone who loves diving.
The Out Islands
If your motivation for moving to the Bahamas is a desire to escape from the daily grind, you might want to avoid the hustle and bustle of New Providence Island and Grand Bahama Island. The Out Islands — traditionally referred to as the “family islands” by the Bahamians — are home to only 15% of the overall population. The most popular of these islands are the Abacos Islands, Andros Island, Inagua, and Eleuthera, which are inhabited mostly by fishermen and farmers. These are rarely frequented by tourists or travelers, so they are practically unspoilt and can offer you the best of the Caribbean’s natural beauty. The population of the individual islands ranges from less than 100 up to 11,000, so there is certainly variety among them. Still, many of the islands have schools, healthcare facilities, and small airports, from which you can access the other islands.
The Bahamas: Visa Requirements
For a first fact-finding trip or a first visit for business purposes (like negotiating your work contract) you may need to apply for a visitor visa, depending on your nationality— check the list here to find out if you need one to enter the Bahamas, and how long you may stay as a short-term visitor. It is a good idea to contact the nearest Bahamian embassy for the exact visa requirements and to find out about the paperwork you will have to submit. If you are planning to take up employment in the Bahamas, a visitor visa will most likely not be sufficient — a work permit (either short- or long-term) will be required.
Getting a Long-Term Work Permit
If you wish to work in the Bahamas for more than 90 days, you need to secure a long-term work permit. As is often the case, you are only eligible to receive a work permit if you have an employment contract, and you must apply with a statement from your future employer containing details of your application and role. There are multiple other documents required, from passport-sized photographs to proof that no Bahamian was able to fill your position. However, this may be subject to change, so for the most accurate information visit the official Bahamian Department of Information website or contact your nearest Bahamian consulate or embassy. It can take three to four weeks for your application to be processed.
Immigration Laws of the Bahamas
The immigration laws of the Bahamas are known for being rather strict. Although the country is very welcoming to tourists, visitors, and investors, it is by no means easy to secure a work permit. In general, it is not possible for a foreigner to secure a work permit for a position which can easily be filled by a skilled Bahamian citizen. Thus, it is virtually impossible to land any job that does not require higher education.
Bahamian employers must advertise open positions locally before they can search for employees outside of the Bahamas. When you have been accepted for such a position, you will have to provide proof of your special qualifications. This proof can be a college degree as well as different language certificates. Always keep in mind that it is not so easy to just pack your bags and move your life to the Bahamas — unless you are a serious investor.
Becoming a Permanent Resident
Do you dream of moving to the Bahamas to get away and living off the grid for good? There are a few options for you to apply for permanent residence, the most obvious one being marriage to a Bahamian citizen. Other ways of qualifying for permanent residence are:
- purchasing a residence in the Bahamas
- legally working or living in the Bahamas for more than 20 consecutive years
- working in the Bahamas in a specific profession for a certain period of time (see here for details)
Permanent residence is issued to the applicant for a lifetime. Unless your permanent residence status is for some reason revoked, you are free to work and live in the Bahamas as long as you wish, although you do not have the right to vote. There is also a nominal fee of 100 BSD attached to your application — for the most up-to-date information, see the relevant Department of Immigration page.
Local Transportation and Safety
Traveling by Sea: Boats, Ships, Ferries
Traveling by sea is very popular and springs from a long-standing tradition in the Bahamas. Nassau and Grand Bahama are popular destinations for cruise ships, with many tourists wanting to see the beautiful wildlife of the Bahamas. The entire archipelago attracts yachters who appreciate the sheltered waters there. Many expats and tourists like to travel to the Bahamas by ship, for example by taking a ferry from Florida . These ferries can offer all the luxury and comfort their passengers would want, with restaurants and even Las Vegas-style casinos to ensure no one’s ever bored.
A little less glamorous, but just as convenient, are the local ferries which operate between the islands, operated by Bahamas Ferries. Most of them leave from Nassau and travel to one of the “family islands”, like Abacos, Eleuthera, Exumas, or Andros. In addition, there are private water taxis which connect Nassau to Paradise Island and other offshore islands.
Traveling by Air? Only If You Have Time
The major airports of the Bahamas are located in Nassau and on Grand Bahama Island, where most flights land and depart. The national airline, Bahamasair, has an excellent reputation in terms of safety, however, it is notorious for flights being delayed or cancelled without prior warning, so bear that in mind when booking.
For inter-island travels, national and private airlines are your best bet as flying is by far the most convenient way to commute within the archipelago, although it is undoubtedly a more expensive one. Bahamasair only operates from Nassau, which requires you to return to the capital each time to travel between individual islands. You could try smaller airlines or use private charter planes to reach the Out Islands.
Getting Around: Bus, Taxi, and Bicycle
Jitneys (private minibuses) operate in Nassau and Freeport. The Out Islands, however, do not have any kind of public transportation system, with most people instead hailing taxis on the street. They are the main source of public transportation on the Out Islands as well as in in the bigger cities. All taxi operators in the Bahamas are licensed and offer fixed prices which are based on the distance traveled.
You can also explore the islands by bike, which is a cheap, convenient, and eco-friendly alternative, although be aware that not all the bicycles available for hire are of good quality, so be careful in your choice. Not all the streets are paved, either, so it’s important to be comfortable!
Staying Safe: Keep Your Eyes Open
As a tourist hotspot, incidents of pick pocketing and theft are very common, especially in busy areas like Nassau or Paradise Island. The crime rate has gone up significantly in the last few years, and, although it showed signs of decline in 2017, it is important to take care when you are out in public. More serious crimes such as physical or sexual assault also take place predominantly in the cities, especially in the tourist areas.
The Bahamas have always been a strategic destination for smugglers and pirates and are still favored for drug trafficking purposes today. Expats should therefore be aware, for instance when boarding private sea vessels. Try to use common sense when walking the streets and report any crime to the Royal Bahamian Police Force and to your embassy, if available. While the police take any threat or crime towards expats very seriously, the lack of resources as well as the infrastructure of individual islands often make for a somewhat slow response.
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