Being able to live and work on the island of St. Maarten/St. Martin for over ten years gave me a great appreciation for this small (37 sq. miles) Caribbean island.
People come to St. Maarten/St. Martin for many different reasons. For me it was a chance to live the adventurous type of Caribbean lifestyle that most people only read about in books. I felt like I was stepping into one of Herman Wouk’s or Jimmy Buffett’s books about adventure in the Caribbean.
One of the great things about the island is that it is so multicultural. You can find people from every corner of the planet living on St. Maarten/St. Martin. There are approximately eighty different nationalities living and working together on the island.
This is no longer a sleepy little Caribbean island. It is an island that has something for everyone. Not only can you find great weather, beautiful beaches and warm tropical waters, there are hundreds of restaurants, a wild and crazy night life, lots of casinos where you can throw away your hard earned cash and duty free shopping.
When most people think of life on a Caribbean island they picture a third world type of environment. This is not completely true with St. Maarten/St. Martin. Though there may be some parts of the island that look less than desirable, the standard of living on the island is pretty good.
With tourism creating hundreds of jobs for locals, many are able to have a middle to upper middle class lifestyle. This is especially true among the native Antilleans.
Tourism has also provided lots of jobs for the foreign locals. Many of these jobs are in the boating industry. People who visit the island not only fly in but they come on cruise ships, private and chartered yachts, sail boats and ferries. This creates opportunities for those who have boating skills or who are willing to learn the skills.
Working with boats is not the only place you can find foreign locals working. I had many friends working in the construction business and selling time share and real estate. If you want to live on the island bad enough you can find work.
For me having the right job was the key to surviving on St. Maarten/St. Martin. Sometimes survival meant not only the right job, but also being able to do more than just one job. Mainly I worked in the diving business as a dive instructor/boat captain. The island is not typically known as a dive destination but thousands of divers show up every year to dive.
When I wasn’t or couldn’t dive I was able to find work in the construction trade as a carpenter. This was handy during the slow season or after a brush with a hurricane. The ability to do two different jobs enabled me to live on the island year round.
Quality of life is what makes St. Maarten/St. Martin unique and different from other Caribbean islands. Having a good job gave me the opportunity to experience the great quality of life the island had to offer. If you’re going to live on a Caribbean island, you have to enjoy what the island has to offer. If you can’t enjoy it, why even bother living there.
One of the first things you have to think about when you live in paradise is where to live. There are several choices available. You can choose anything from a tiny one room apartment to a fancy villa. If you like the water you can even live on a boat. Your quality of life on St. Maarten/St. Martin will sometimes depend on where and how you choose to live.
I was very lucky to live in some nice places on the island. But the best was the last place we lived. For the last six years on the island we lived in a small but nice apartment high above Simpsons Bay. From our deck you looked right down the runway at the St. Maarten/St. Martin airport. The jets took off right at our house.
From our deck we had a 180° view from Simpsons Bay around to Nettle Bay in the low lands. This was postcard material. We had ring side seats for all the events on this end of the island. From the comfort of our deck we could watch all the sailing regattas, hear and sometimes see live concerts and watch great firework displays. But my favorite was the spectacular Caribbean sunset we saw every night. This is the way to live in the Caribbean.
One of the great things about living on the island was the hundreds of eating establishments. If you like good food, this is the place to be. It has been said that there are so many restaurants on St. Maarten/St. Martin that you can eat in a different one every night and never eat in the same one twice.
These restaurants offered Italian, French, Indian, Moroccan, Indonesian and Oriental menus. Not only do these eating establishments have great food but also a great view. Most are located on or near the water at marinas or beaches. With great food and a great view, what more can you ask for.
For the times that you do not want to dress up and go to a chic restaurant, there are always the roadside grills. The grills are owned and operated by the native locals. They will have ribs, chicken, lobster and some times fish cooking on a home made grill. You can find them in parking lots, people’s front yards and some times in a wide spot in the road. Do not let the look fool you. You can find some really great food at these grills. Check out Johnny Be Under the Tree. You will find some of the best ribs you have ever put in your mouth.
The only thing better than having a great meal, is having a great meal on the beach. For me Sunday was beach day. Since I am not one to hang out on the beach and catch a tan (I got enough sun working on a boats all day), I would find a nice beachside grill. I would have a couple of racks of ribs or a big fat lobster, throw back a few cold Coronas and enjoy the day.
Finding a great beach was easy. The island has many great beaches. One of the most popular beaches to hang out at is Orient Beach. Not only is the beach itself beautiful, it has everything from water sports to beach bars. This was a great place to meet friends and relax.
There is no shortage of night life on St. Maarten/St. Martin. For the night crawlers that live on the island there are dance clubs, live music, casinos and hotels that offer comedy clubs and floor shows. My favorite was to join friends for happy hour at one of the many beach bars on the island. There is never a shortage of places to go and things to at night.
There are several special attractions through out the year. These events include sailing regattas, boat shows and live concerts. And if that is not enough, there are always day trips to the neighboring islands of St. Barths, Saba and Anguilla. There is always something to do or some place to go on this island.
Everyday life on the island is not always glitter, glamour and fun. To live here you have to get legal residency, pay taxes and get a Netherland Antilles driving license. This part of island life is the same as back home. Dealing with all that legal stuff is never fun.
I found the best thing to do was to be patient and understanding. Be patient because island time slows way down. No hurry mon. You need to be understanding because this is their island and to live here you have to abide by their rules.
Another thing that concerns those who live on St. Maarten/St. Martin is hurricane season. Every year around the 1st of June (the beginning of hurricane season) the locals start watching the weather. This continues into November (the end of hurricane season).
A close call by a hurricane is not so bad (depending on how close). You get a lot of wind, the sea gets rough and then it is over. It is the hit that hurts.
When the island gets slapped by a hurricane everyone’s life gets turned upside down for a while. The tourist and time share owners disappear. Jobs become hard to find. The island becomes a ghost town. The important thing during this time is to do your best to keep working. This is where you find out if you have what it takes to survive.
Hurricanes do not visit the island every year. You may see several years without a major hurricane. I lived in the Caribbean for 15 years on two different islands and survived six hurricanes. Three of these came in one year. The rest where scattered out over the rest of the time I was on the island. Hurricanes do not come around every year, but they do show up from time to time.
Benefits of Living on St. Maarten/St. Martin
People often ask me why I left the Caribbean. Some ask why I moved to the Caribbean in the first place. Very seldom does anyone ask why I stayed. When they do ask I have to say it was because living and working on the island gave me so much. My time on the island gave me the chance to make a living doing something I have a great passion for, scuba diving. I was able to make friends from all over the world. I lived on an island that had white sandy beaches surrounded by a warm, tropical sea. And last but not least it was during my time on the island that I met and married my wife of 13 years. The time I spent on St. Maarten/St. Martin was very good to me.
Someone once told me the island was like a big bowl of gumbo. You put people from all over the world on this tiny rock in the Caribbean, season it with some native Antillean culture and let Mr. Hurricane stir it up just a bit. When it all comes together just right you can get the real taste of St. Maarten/St. Martin