By Vanessa Pinto
My family first visited Antigua in 1950. There was a small cruise ship that docked at various Leeward Islands within the Lesser Antilles, with Antigua being one of the stops. In that time it was a very simple, straightforward island that was encased with natural, untouched beauty. My grandmother-in-law, Margaret, and her husband immediately fell in love with the island and decided to visit their again shortly after their cruise, which soon turned into very frequent vacation stays on the island. A few years late in the mid-50’s, Margaret and her husband bought a three acre piece of property directly on the Atlantic coast and built two homes, one in 1960 and the other a few years later. There were no complications building the home. Margaret in fact decided to make Antigua her permanent home after fifteen years of owning her house. She became an Antiguan citizen in the mid 1980’s and rarely left the island, only to visit the United States for the holidays every few years to see family.
The island has changed dramatically since that time. When Margaret purchased the acreage, much of the island had government electricity. Hotels and homes during that time had to have their own generators. Most hotels in that time had large, caterpillar diesel generators, and frequently, had to have two of them in order to meet the needs of their guests, the dining and recreation facilities. Long Bay Hotel and Pineapple Beach on the Atlantic coast, some of the first hotels on the island, were run on generators. There, the dockyard electricity was turned off to save electricity from 6pm to 10pm. During that time, they frequently used candles. People rarely had appliances as there was little to no television on the island.
During the time when Great Britain occupied Antigua, the island was an agrarian society, isolated under themselves with the sugar cane as its main export. The British were a stabilizing force for the Antiguan government. When Antigua became more Americanized in the 1980’s, more upscale homes were being built, there became a greater selection of food items with the building of large supermarkets, and there was a great improvement in the technology and communication system. Nowadays, television and wifi come in from an antenna. In the United States, most individuals have cable, Antigua does not. Cell phones are now the widest form of communication.
Antigua and Barbuda’s international residential population are ⅓ American, ⅓ British, followed by smaller populations of German, Italian, French and Russian nationals. There are three groups of those who reside there: residents who hold temporary visas, belongers who hold green cards, and citizens or permanent residents. In order to become a citizen in addition to the citizenship exam, you must live in Antigua and Barbuda for at least six months a year for a total of seven years. There is no required time that you must stay on the island if you own property and or a home.
For those who desire to live and or retire in Antigua, please know that it is not particularly a cheap place as far as the overall cost of housing, food and private transportation. This is especially true because most goods have to be imported into the country. Each island in the Caribbean is very different on their governmental policies when it comes to renting or owning a home. Some countries you cannot buy property, the regulations greatly vary. In Antigua, if you wish to buy property, you must first apply for a noncitizen landholder license that must be approved by the Antiguan government, which can take as long as four to five months. Once you are approved and are then able to go ahead with your land purchase, there is what’s called an alien landholder’s tax of 5% of the property cost. In addition, there is a transfer tax of 2.5% of the property cost that the buyer must pay. If you intend to take out a loan for the purchase, there is a 3% government tax on the loan plus 1.5% in legal fees.
Some land that is for sale in Antigua have certain restrictions. For example, some of the land that is sold must be used for tourism purposes, such as the requirement to build a hotel, restaurant or a tourist-friendly business. The government transfers land to people willing to purchase it, at a minimum amount, in order to help build up tourism revenue to the island. The old Half Moon Bay Hotel located right on the beach with the same name was an example of government land transfer (that hotel is no longer in business).
There is a stable employment opportunity on the island. Most locals work either in the construction or tourist industry. As an Antiguan homeowner, you have the full freedom to rent your home, which is one of the popular ways individuals earn money during retirement for leisure and or to maintain the beauty of their home and property. If you would like to hire someone as a caretaker, the best and most reliable method is through word-of-mouth. The crime rate is low compared to most of the island. Antigua is very close-knit community, they are concerned for each other’s well-being and look out for another. There are many furniture and window treatment shops for your home, though most products are imported, you may find that furniture pieces are somewhat expensive. There is a beautiful curtain, decorative and kitchen shop in St. John’s.
There are numerous international banks including Barclays, The Royal Bank of Canada, and First Caribbean International Bank, among others. ATMs are widely available. If you wish to bring cash with you it must be less than $10,000, otherwise you may write out a check for any amount to be deposited into one of the banks.
To drive, you would need to apply for a temporary license. The rules of the road are British influenced. Gas prices aren’t cheap, though the vehicles are fuel-efficient. Your gasoline will go a long way as Antigua is just over 100 square miles. There is public bus transportation throughout the island. The other method of public transportation is by private taxi.
If you wish to bring any pets with you to Antigua, you must first follow their regulation of applying to the veterinary and livestock division for a veterinary import license. Before you apply, you must provide documentation that your pet has had an updated rabies vaccination, and your pet must be microchipped. In addition, your pet must have been checked for parasites within seven days of arrival. Antigua does have a reputable animal shelter on the island for adopting cats and dogs as well as a veterinary clinic and school. Pet food and some medications are sold at the larger grocery stores, such as the Epicurean.
The currency in Antigua and Barbuda is the Eastern Caribbean dollar, though you can use American dollars in most locations. English is the primary language and the country’s residents comprise of religions including Anglican, Baptists, and Roman Catholics, among others. Antigua is a constitutional monarchy and is run by a prime minister; parliament elections are held every five years.
The lesser-known island of Barbuda has a population of 1,000, compared to the population of Antigua, which has a population of 85,000. Barbuda has some of the most private and beautiful beaches in the world and is home to the famous Frigate Bird Sanctuary, which contains 170 species of birds. Antigua has exactly 365 beaches, which are all open to the public. The great majority of the beaches are located on the Caribbean side. When you visit the northwest coast at Dickenson Bay, look beyond the crystal clear blue waters and you will see the volcano on the nearby island of Montserrat.
The main activities that are offered are golf, sailing and cricket. You will notice on television there most sport programs are broadcasting International cricket games. There is a large cricket stadium in the center of the island that hosts international games throughout the year. There are many popular festivals throughout the year including the Antigua and Barbuda Open Golf Tournament, Annual Antigua Tennis Week, Mango Pineapple Festival and the Annual Classic Yacht Regatta. Overall, you will discover that Antigua and Barbuda is a lively, friendly nation with international residents who have decided to make the nation their permanent retirement home.