We recently made our first trip to the Bahamas.   It’s not fair to judge a place by a one day cruise ship stopover, but first impressions are important.   The Bahamas are so close to the US, many retirees have looked across that brilliant turquois water and imagined paradise.   It’s a tax haven, pretty good weather, few direct hits from hurricanes, and a pretty laid back atmosphere.  But my first impression of the Bahamas left me with several doubts about actually living here.

First of all, our cruise ship stopped in Freeport and we did a snorkel/island excursion.  Our guide told us about the history of the island and that it is a major tax haven for major oil speculators.   There is no income tax, no property tax, no inheritance tax.   Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?    The Bahamian dollar and the US dollar are interchangeable.    The government makes their money by imposing a duty on all imported goods.   So you buy your goods in Florida and pay their sales tax.  Then you import the goods to the Bahamas and pay another tax that can be up to an additional 15% more.  As a result, food and any other purchases are quite expensive.

Downtown Nassau

Downtown Nassau

We also visited Nassau for a city tour.   Nassau will soon have a second major resort complex to rival the famous Atlantis Resort.   This new development will employ over 10,000 people and many will have to be imported from other islands.   This will be a huge boon in the construction industry and this little island may be unrecognizable in several years.

The average winter temperature is 75 degrees.   We were there in our shirtsleeves in January – it was 69 degrees F – and they all had coats on, freezing!  It is a tropical climate and the summers are very hot and humid.

The Freeport refinery is well outside town and employs much of the population who choose to work.  The locals are friendly and they all speak English.  The overall crime rate is quite high unless you are right next to the cruise port.   You are warned not to walk alone, stay out of unmarked taxis, do not take valuables to the beach,  and make sure you know who is outside your door before you open it.

Property prices are all over the map and should only be conducted through an attorney who will charge a percentage of the property price.  If you are not going to live in the Bahamas full time, you would do well to look at a gated community.  Many of these homes are listed in the millions of dollars.

There are 309,000 people on the chain of islands.  85% are black, 12% are white and 3% are listed as “other” on the census.  The islands are overwhelmingly Christian.  All children go to school and wear uniforms.   The islands have a British flair as they just separated in 1973 and they drive on the left side of the road.   The 700 islands became largely populated at the end of the Revolutionary War as a refuge for Royalists.

Conch Shell Dump on the side of the road.  These are everywhere

Conch Shell Dump on the side of the road. These are everywhere

My first impression was that this is a 3rd world country with some very rich and a majority of very poor people.   The laid back attitude fosters an “island time” ethic that would make construction or repairs very difficult.   Property is expensive as are purchased goods.  We were told that many of the homes cannot get insurance due to the hurricane risk.    Many areas are not safe.

On the positive side, it’s close to the US.  The language and money is the same.  The beaches are beyond compare, the water is warm, and the livin’ is easy.   The Bahamian people rely heavily on the tourist dollar and are very friendly.

In my opinion, the Bahamas is a great place to visit.  Period.    By all means visit and see for yourself.