9 September 2016

Rika - Expat in Roatan, Honduras

Rika - Expat in Roatan, Honduras

We’ve had the chance to talk to Rika, 30, a Canadian expat who has moved to Roatan alone. Ms. Rika who has been living there for over three years now works as a scuba diving instructor.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you originally from?

A: Vancouver, Canada.


Q: What made you move out of Vancouver?

A: I was tired of the corporate grind and wanted to experience life somewhere else, to see if the grass was really greener!


Q: Where are you living now?

A: Roatan, Honduras.


Q: How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: I came on vacation here first – I went to a cheap flight website and selected Central America, and the cheapest flight was to Roatan. I arrived and loved it, and met several expats who I talked to about the possibility of living here full-time. I made the decision to move during the first week of my vacation.


Q: How long have you been living in Roatan?

A: Just over three years full-time.


Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in Roatan?

A: Getting used to a culture of ‘island time’. I think we take for granted the efficiency, speed and customer service standards in North America. It’s very different down here when you’re trying to complete a basic transaction at a bank, or even ordering dinner at a restaurant. You have to learn a lot of patience and change your expectations.


Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance were particularly difficult Roatan? What was your experience with these?

A: Visas and work permits are notoriously expensive and a long process to obtain here. Honduras would do well to either expedite this process or invest in their education system to turn out locals who have the necessary job skills and can succeed in the different industries here. Unfortunately, well-qualified locals for many jobs here are few and far between, which leads to more foreigners in higher level and management positions. I recently got my residency, which took over a year and required a lot of coordinating documents from Canada, and sending things back and forth to a lawyer on the mainland of Honduras (not to mention costing thousands of dollars!) Healthcare is very inexpensive here so that is a plus. I had some medical coverage through my dive insurance but did not opt for extra expat medical insurance as most treatments here are cheaper than the deductibles for medical insurance.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: Alone


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats in Roatan? How did you manage to find a social circle in Roatan?

A: This is a very easy place to make other expat friends, but I didn’t move halfway around the world just to hang out with people from my own country. I had to work hard to make local friends, as they tend to be fairly pleasant but guarded with foreigners, but it has been well worth the effort as I have had some amazing cultural experiences here that other expats don’t get a chance to be a part of. Short-term expats often find it more difficult to make friends here, as the ‘old-timers’ don’t tend to include newcomers into their social circles until they’ve been here quite a while. It’s a lot of effort to keep putting into friendships for people who are always leaving. I have a few close expat friends, and we have all been here 3+ years.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: Roatan is a world-renowned scuba diving mecca! We have a beautiful, healthy reef system that is protected by law. If you come to Roatan, and you don’t see the reef (by diving, snorkeling or glass-bottom boat), you’re crazy!


Q: How does the cost of living in Roatan compared to your home?

  • How much is a cup of coffee?

A: Starbucks-type shop – Home $4, Roatan $3.

  • How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: Home $10, Roatan $6.

  • How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: Home $60+, Roatan $30.

  • How much is a bottle of wine?

A: Home $20, Roatan $8.

  • How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: Home $15, Roatan $3.

A: Electricity is much, much more expensive (about eight times what I was paying in Canada) but rent is much, much cheaper! I once stayed in a two bedroom two bathroom condo which was brand-new and had higher-end finishings with a swimming pool… I think it would have cost me about $2500+/month in Vancouver. It was $650/month here!


Q: How do you find the local culture and people in Roatan?

A: It’s becoming very Americanized in many parts of the island due to tourism, and you do have to work pretty hard to get an authentic cultural experience amongst the zip lining and l-you-can-drink sunset catamaran cruises. The people are wonderful for the most part, but some are a bit bewildered at the rapid pace of tourist/foreign development here. I can’t say I blame them. Thirty years ago they were still getting around on horses and without 24-hour electricity. The tourism boom has had a lot of positive but also negative impacts on the island and its original residents.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Roatan?

A: Positives: beautiful Caribbean beach views every day, getting to dive on a spectacular reef, lower cost of living, laid-back and social attitudes toward life in general, being in a place where everybody knows your name, seeing the small communities come together to help in times of need, low light pollution, walking to everything
Negatives: expensive utility costs, unreliable power and internet, high grocery costs, the laid-back attitude when I need to get something done at the bank and the employees don’t really feel like it, high costs traveling to and from the island even to neighboring countries, unfriendly work permit conditions, petty crime, corrupt officials


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: Sometimes… mostly when I want a really good restaurant meal. The restaurants here are fairly monotonous, expensive for the portion/quality, and customer service standards are much lower here than what I was used to in Canada. I keep in touch with my friends and family on Skype and Facebook and travel home once every year or two so that’s good enough for me.


Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: Go to the beach and think about taking a crowded subway to work in uncomfortable shoes like I used to do!


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: I would like to live in a couple more countries before I settle down in Canada for good. Japan, Indonesia and Bermuda are the top three on the list.


Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: Learning patience and the mindset that the way I’m used to things being done may be (way) more efficient, but it doesn’t mean it’s the correct way, and I need to respect my new country’s way of doing things.


Q: What tips can you give other expats living in Roatan?

A: Catch yourself every time you say, “well we do this like this at home, why don’t they just do that here?” and give yourself a slap on the wrist. When you move to a new country, it’s not up to you to change it. The locals will very quickly tell you to go back home if you think it’s so much better there!


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Roatan?

A: Well, I tend to think mine Cubicle Throw Down is pretty great, but I also like my friend Amanda’s site Amanda Walk Ins too. Roatan is very different from the mainland of Honduras, so I don’t spend much time reading websites or blogs from the mainland.