Best Of The Balmy Caribbean And So Much More
The final landing place in the New World for Christopher Columbus and his crew in 1493, today the Dominican Republic is a white-sand haven that is surrounded by warm turquoise waters and enjoys year-round sunshine. This affordable island paradise boasts both beaches—both remote and resort—and also virgin jungle and mountain hideaways (often with ocean views).
The Dominican Republic is the Caribbean but so much more, a melting pot with an eclectic population and a diverse history informed by Afro-Antillean, European, North American, and Latin cultures. This not-so-little island has a lot to offer and a long history of welcoming foreigners.
The Dominican Republic is also one of the most affordable spots in the whole of the Caribbean, a place where you could embrace a white-sand retirement even if your retirement nest egg is nothing more than a monthly Social Security check. If you can swing a travel budget, island-hopping around the Caribbean could be your new retirement hobby from this convenient base.
The Dominican Republic makes establishing residency easy, and the country embraces—even rewards through incentives—foreign investors. Residents are eligible for local home financing, can import household goods and a car tax-free, and can qualify for citizenship (and thus a second passport). As a fun bonus, residents pay for higher education in pesos, while nonresidents pay in dollars. If you’re looking to take a class or two in retirement, the cost would be trifling.
In addition, residents can and do work here. On my recent visit, I met expats who own and operate gyms, hotels, boating and surfing schools, restaurants, boutiques…
Some expats capitalize on skills from previous lives and careers, skills that are often much needed and valued locally (pool building, architecture, mechanics, etc.). Others offer consulting services for overseas clients or run websites with overseas client-bases. These enterprises often fully fund the expat’s local lifestyle.
Much of this expat activity is focused on the Samaná Peninsula, specifically the small fishing town Las Terrenas. Once a hamlet and still largely unknown among North Americans, Las Terrenas was discovered in the 1970s by Europeans looking for an affordable Caribbean getaway. Today, Las Terrenas is a vibrant international community with residents from all over the globe, including French, German, Polish, Swiss, Italian, Dutch, and British expats. The eclectic population means you can find exotic food imports from Europe in the supermarkets, freshly made Swiss cheese and German sausage at the local shops, excellent international restaurants, and an active and mixed group of folks to welcome you to their well-established community.
Despite its thriving foreign population, costs in Las Terrenas have remained local. A couple could live well here on just US$1,355 a month, according to my figuring. With a budget of US$2,000 or more, a couple could live like royalty, buying cartsful of the imported and organic, eating out every night, and enjoying plenty of in-country traveling.
Those early expats in this corner of the Caribbean struggled in the face of an utter lack of infrastructure. You won’t face the same challenges. The most significant infrastructure development in the region came in 2009 with the Samaná-Santo Domingo highway. It used to take four to six hours to drive from the capital to Las Terrenas, depending on the condition of the meandering dirt road. Now the drive is a pleasant two hours on a smooth four-lane highway.
This new highway not only made travel easier, but it helped with the overall cost of living in Las Terrenas. Thanks to the improved access, it has been easier and cheaper to bring goods into town.
The easy trip to capital city Santo Domingo means you’re never too far from a real city and its shopping, museums, theaters, and stadiums. Santo Domingo is also home to an impressive collection of colonial structures, having been founded by Chris Columbus’ younger brother Bartholomew and then renovated by Diego Columbus (Chris’ eldest son). This city’s Zona Colonial is a treat for residents and visitors and a major source of tourism income for the country.
Residents of Las Terrenas used to have to travel to Santo Domingo for international air travel. No longer, thanks to the opening of El Catey airport in Las Terrenas, from which regular flights are offered to Canada and the U.S. East Coast (along with plenty of domestic flights).
Back in the day, shopping was all local mom-and-pop. One shop sold bananas, another chicken, another rice, etc. Eventually, a French family opened the first large, American-style grocery store, Super Lindo, which now finally has competition in Dominican chain Super Pola. The new store is clean, large, well-organized, and offers an incredible selection, including imported items that expats covet. Some might say the foreign cheese, sausage, charcuterie, pastry, and wine sections are disproportionately large, but no complaints here. The new store has lowered the already low food costs across town by as much as 30%.
In more good infrastructure news, Las Terrenas now has a hospital, Centro Galeno Integral, complete with ICU. I spoke with expats who have been treated at the facility (for everything from a broken ankle to kidney failure), and all report excellent service and great prices.
What about the property market? It bubbled through 2008 then crashed, and prices remain down. You could buy a loft-style apartment, ready to move into, for less than US$100,000, a townhouse in a gated community for less than US$200,000, or a private villa for as little as US$250,000. The luxury end of the market is represented here, too. When I visited, an 800-square-meter (8,600-square-foot) mansion on the beach was listed at US$850,000.
Many expats have chosen to invest in beach or mountain lots and design and build their own homes. Those I spoke with reported that this isn’t something to be undertaken lightly. For sure, there are challenges. But, they told me again and again, they have no regrets.
No regrets is a theme you hear a lot from happy expats down here. No matter where they started out from, every expat I met in Las Terrenas is awfully happy to have found his (or her) way here.
More from the scene in the balmy, beautiful Dominican Republic later this week…
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