ROATAN EXPATS reside in many areas around Roatan, ranging from West Bay to Camp Bay, to Port Royal (on far east end). Expats groups are not officially named, but groups closely associate based on the region where they live. There is a West Bay group of Expats, a West End group, a Sandy Bay group, a Brick Bay group, another group in First Bight, another in Parrot Tree, and there is even a group in Punta Blanca. Calabash is accessible only by water taxi, and it too has a group. There are also groups in the less populated East End, in Port Royal and Camp Bay.
OUR EXPAT COMMUNITY FORUM IS A GREAT PLACE TO CONNECT WITH LOCAL EXPATS IN ROATAN.
"I never imagined I would be an Expat living in Roatan"
By Debbie-Leigh Crofutt: I never imagined I would be an Expat living in Roatan, a small island in the western Caribbean. We bought property in Roatan while on our very first visit to the island of Roatan. I guess we too were sucked into the Vortex. We began building in early 2013 and moved to Roatan in October of 2013. It took some time to figure out the island and how things worked. In fact, we're still learning. We only knew a few people on the island and had no good friends that we could rely on for information. We "winged" it the best that we could. Now, almost four years later, we have figured out our niche here and are quite happy with the people who make up our circle of friends. However, at any time, we can always reach outside of our normal group and still get help from other expats. We're all in this island life together.
Expats in Roatan
Several months after we moved here we came to realize the role the expats played on the small Roatan Island. Expats have a huge impact on island life in general. Expats move to Roatan, and they buy, build, and rent homes. Expats become residents of Honduras, open businesses, employ locals, purchase vehicles, and they pay for their kids to go to school. Expats also pay their fair share of local taxes. They shop in local stores and employ medical services in Roatan. I could continue listing places where they spend money, but you get the idea. Expats are very heavily invested in Roatan.
There are several different expat groups on the island of Roatan. This is due primarily because of the distance between communities. Expats sub-groups do intermingle on Roatan, and most prefer to travel by day to socialize as driving after hours on Roatan roads can be hazardous. The roads on Roatan are ridiculously miserable and dangerous. The roads in Roatan are not lit, and there are several sections of road with large potholes. One evening, after dark, we came out of a curve near Milton Bight and there, in the center of the road, was a huge Brahman bull. The bull's eyes glowed green, and he must have weight two tons. It was Terrifying.
Expat Community (USA)
EXPAT GROUPS & HANGOUTS
Expat Groups meet certain days of the week on the beach. For example, they meet at a place by the name of Beachers on Sundays. The expat groups have sunset "get together" locations on each other's docks. The groups gather at bars such as Tita's and watch the sun drop below the horizon, sometimes catching the super cool green flash. Green Rays and Green Flashes are optical phenomena that can occur just before or after a sunrise or a sunset. The conditions have to be right, and when they are, you can see these flashes of light just above the Sun. Other expats meet at places in the town of Oakridge, like BJ's or the Reef House, for local live music, food, and drinks. There is a group of expats from all over the island that meet at a secret beach (on the moon, it is a secret) on Mondays. They eat, drink, dance and swim, maybe even play volleyball if the wind allows. It's a very good time to catch up with friends you haven't seen for awhile. Some days there can be 45 people there, other days just a handful.
The Expat community in Roatan is a diversified group ranging from retired folks to people who own local businesses or professionals who have relocated to Roatan to pursue careers in tourism or as dive professionals. Some are here full time (we are) and others come and go, while maintaining homes in the US or other countries.
There are social functions throughout the year, like the Fur Ball to benefit the animals or SOL (School Of Life) which is a group benefiting children. There are many fun, kid-oriented, fund raisers throughout the year and volunteers are always encouraged to participate. Once a year, there is a music festival which also raises money for the health care of children. The Roatan annual Music Festival for the Angels is cook-out with live music usually held at Lawson Rock. The primary benefactor of the event is Clinica Esperanza, a long standing clinic on Roatan who often offers free medical care to local children and residents.
Working in Roatan
Many, but not all, expats on Roatan are retired. Some expats work remotely from the US, some travel back and forth for their jobs. Some of them work on Roatán in real estate, some own restaurants and B&B's or small resorts. A few of them manage businesses, own stores, some do property management. And while many are active business people, many expats come to dive and fish and get involved in giving back to the island, whether it be helping a school, helping a local organization or choosing a family to help. There is always someone in need, just right around the corner. It's a much different life on the island than in the US or other more developed countries.
Volunteering in Roatan
A large number of expats give back to Roatan. Expats form strong bonds with their employees, and they look after them and their families. They ensure the children have what they need to go to school, that they receive small gifts for their birthdays and Christmas. Also if there are dental or medical brigades, expats see to it that their employees and their children are benefactors of the medical services.
Partners in Education Roatan (P.I.E.R)
Expats founded the Partners in Education Roatan (PIER). The non-profit has bookmobile buses which tour the island. PIER also has a library where kids can go, hang out and learn from volunteer instructors.
School of Life (S.O.L)
SOL (School of Life) International, recently opened an activity center in Roatan. The center gives island children a place to go and play games, do puzzles, and be with their friends while being supervised. SOL also provides a junior chef program, which is an excellent way to cultivate young professionals with a trade they can put to work for themselves and Roatan.
Miss Peggy started Clinica Esperanza in 2001 after deciding to move to Roatan on a permanent basis. It is one of the busiest clinics on the island of Roatan. Miss Peggy is an amazing example of what one woman with a vision can do. She gives back to this island ten fold, and the island adores her.
Because We Care
I belong to a group called Because of We Care, started by an island woman named Nidia. She gives with her full heart to this island and is known and adored from one end of Roatán to the other. Nidia (through Miss Vivian's daughter at the Hogar de Amor Orphanage in La Ceiba) brought the TOMS Shoes One for One campaign to the island seven years ago. Last year our organization passed out 11,000 pairs of TOMS shoes to the children in public schools all around Roatan. This year the non-profit will surpass that number by several thousand. Expats are a huge help as they volunteer their time during the shoe drive. Expat volunteers sit on a small wooden kindergarten size chair in an un-air-conditioned room, bent over for 6-7 hours, fitting shoes on hundreds of children's feet. The work is a tedious task but one that Nidia and the volunteers look forward to every year. It would be hard to imagine how boring my life would be on this island if I weren't participating in Nidia's adventures. The expats in Roatan well support her.
Socially, the West End of Roatán is much more active because the people live close to each other and within a short drive to their destinations.
Editors Notes: The West End of Roatan, which includes West Bay Beach and West End, the town, has developed more quickly over the years. One main reason is that the island's airport and cruise ports are both located on the Western side of the Roatan Island. Mahogany Bay is a favorite 'port of call' for large cruise liners, and it brings in thousands of tourist each month. Because of their limited time on the island, tourist tends to stay on the western end of Roatan during their onshore excursions.
On the East End of Roatan, people tend to socialize during the day, but at night, most are home. I live mid-island, and it's a 45-minute drive for me to West End, an hour to West Bay.
I have lived in Roatan for almost four years on a full-time basis. I also lived here alone for four months. I have been to communities in Roatan that most people don't even know exist. I've gone to the beach alone, snorkeled alone, I drive all over the island alone and have never felt threatened. I used to be uncomfortable going into Coxen Hole but not anymore. I walk all over the downtown area with no problems at all. Just be smart, don't be flashy with jewelry or cell phones, refrain from taking your i Pad to the beach and you'll be fine. Safety is no different here than it is in NYC or LA, common sense is your best ally.
Living in Roatan
Living in Roatan offers a different quality of life. There is no grandeur; it's plain and simple. People live simple lives, no competing with the neighbors. Putting food on the table is the foremost daily thought. I have become a much simpler person living here. In the US I had a shoe collection that rivaled Imelda, and here, I recently wore the same pair of Crocs flip-flops that my friend gave me every day for 16 months. I bought two new pairs of the same shoe. Nothing more is needed. If you expect instant gratification, finding exactly what you want at the first store you enter, that's not life on Roatán. People live on Roatan because it changes your thought processes. You know beforehand when you go looking for a certain type of something you need that probably none of the stores have it, it will come on the next ship. When will it arrive? Manaña. That does not really mean tomorrow; it means not today. It takes a long time to get things done around the island of Roatan.
Food is more expensive in the grocery stores because much of it is imported from the US and that is costly. You can get local fruits cheap, but not many vegetables are grown locally. Meat is expensive and not very comparable to the USDA we are used to. There are a few places to get US meat, but it's pricey. We shop at Eldon's all the time and can usually get what we need. Good quality dog food is extremely expensive. We buy the Kirkland (Costco brand), and it was $35.00 a bag in the US, here it's $60.00. Most of the other brands in the grocery store are rated so poorly it's pathetic, Kirkland is well rated.
Auto Insurance is not required in Roatan. In Honduras, you are not required to have auto insurance, so if you are involved in an accident with a local, whether it's your fault or not, if you don't have insurance you will pay. If you do have insurance, they will help you, and if it's not your fault, the insurance takes care of it. You are not required to carry homeowners insurance or medical insurance either.
RESIDENCIES & VISAS
There is a vague line about what it takes for expats to become residents of Honduras or not. Recently the Honduran Government has been pushing for people who come and stay 90 days to get their residency. The law states the government MAY give you a 90-day visa; it is up to their discretion if they do or don't. They are not required to give you 90 days. Some people come here, stay 2-3 months and go home for three months and come back again. Others stay for three months and play the visa game. They leave for 72 hours and then return, however upon return they are not being given 90 days again because immigration can tell they are playing the game. What this is doing is causing a lot of grief for those who come for 90, leave for 60, 90, 120 days, then return. We chose to become residents because we do live here. I don't want to leave every 90 days, that's crazy stuff. We have been residents for almost four years. Once we have completed five years as residents, we can ask to become immigrants. Once this is completed, then we have to renew our immigrant status once every five years instead of yearly. Being an immigrant over 60 years old allows you free medical care in any public hospital.
ROATAN EXPAT FORUM
Roatán Online Community is a good option for new visitors to check out because the main FB groups are for non-Hondurans and people that live, work, own land or business on Roatán That group is kept private so that we have quality questions that are helpful to others who may also be in the same situation. There is Roatán Crime Watch group, again for people who live on Roatán and Roatán Ask Anything Facebook group. There is also a Roatán Expats Facebook page, which is different than EXPATS Living on Roatán. There are also several Garage Sale/Craigslist type Facebook pages to visit and join. There aren't any pages that I would say to avoid, however, not having a vested interest in the island won't get you very far on the FB pages. My suggestion would be to use Trip Advisor and Google, they all offer useful information on visiting the island. TA provides the same basic service, comments from people who have been there or live there. We traveled here for six years, bought land, found places to stay all by searching on the internet. At the time we belonged to no Facebook groups, although I did use Trip Advisor when looking for places to stay in Roatan.
BANKS & FINANCIAL ALTERNATIVES
Roatan Banking is different than in the US or other developed countries. How often do you go to a US bank to cash a check and wait for 40 minutes to do it? Banking is much different in Roatan. For starters, banks in Roatan still use carbon paper, that says a lot. Every transaction seems to require a multitude of forms. And then there is the wait time associated with even the smallest bank transaction. Some banks only open certain accounts if you have your residency, others will use your passport and need your SS#. Either way, you will need ID and two references (names and phone numbers) of individuals who already bank where you are planning to open an account. Bank lines in Roatan are often long and slow, so bring a book along. Cell phones are not allowed in most banks, no clue why. Especially when you are in the bank and someone's phone rings, and they answer it. Nobody shoots them, so why don't they allow phones? We have a joint Lempira dollar account; we never use USD. When we need money we deposit a check from Bank of America in the US; the money is available in 13 days. This is despite the fact I can see the check has cleared in 3 days. We also have a debit card which I often use at the bank's ATM, that is when it's working and has money in it.
Cost of Living
Roatan is more laid back and less frantic than the US or other developed countries. There is less immediacy on Roatan. Things will happen on Island Time. If you're not prepared for it, Island Time can be terribly frustrating. But it can be a wonderful thing if you keep in mind that is one of the main reasons people move to the Caribbean! Roatan is not for you if you were hoping for evening formals on the beach, movie theaters that serve drinks, Gala's to attend, and excellent shopping. There are no movie theaters on Roatan. There are no bowling alleys or traditional country clubs. The only Coach or Michael Kors bag you will find is a knock-off in the Mercado (the local market). However, if what you're looking for a place to chill out, meet people from all over the world who want the same simple things that you do, you're in the right spot. Roatan is for the tranquil.
Gas is not cheap; diesel cars are great to have because auto repair is reasonable if you can find a good mechanic.
The medical situation on the island of Roatan has improved. As I stated before there is Miss Peggy's Clinic (Clinic Esperanza), the clinic at Anthony's Key (with a hyperbaric chamber for divers who get bent), and the GARM clinic that does stem cell work. There is also a new expansion from the main land from Cemesa Hospital. Cemesa has opened a new branch in Coxen Hole. Some medical facilities accept US insurances, and many have different medical teams visit the island or Roatan on rotation. The Cemesa Hospital (Hospital Cemesa) branch in Coxen Hole is brand new. Cemesa Hospital is spotless and the employees are fabulous. The Equipment at Cemesa Hospital is new and the Cemesa medical staff is competent. I injured my foot and was there for 3 hours, had x-rays, a consult with an orthopedic doctor, a cast, IV's, medicine and my bill was under $300.00. I've been told recently that their prices have gone up, but they still are much less expensive than a trip to the US for medical care. Until now, many traveled to La Ceiba for more advanced medical treatment, but now medical treatments can be handled on Roatan. There are also several fabulous hospitals in La Ceiba that are easily accessible and incredibly affordable.
Roatán is an excellent choice for Expats moving to the Caribbean. Roatan is close to the US; it's affordable, there is a multitude of charitable groups that would love the expat help, and the expat community is fabulous. Aside from those reasons, Roatán is a vibrant green jewel surrounded by the clearest blue water you will ever see. The colors vary from a pale turquoise to a deep dark purple, and it is crystal clear and warm. I was at 112' diving in September in just a swimsuit, and the water was 84 degrees. Perfection, plain and simple.
Moving to Roatan
We decided to move to Roatan instead of another island for several reasons. The first being the beauty of this jungle paradise, it blows you away the minute you step off the plane. While volunteering at the airport, I met so many people who came here on a Caribbean cruise and fell in love with Isla Roatan. They were returning for one or two weeks, sometimes longer. Roatan is a short flight from 4 major US cities. Three airlines fly direct, and in less than 3 hours you're in Roatan. It is less expensive to live in Roatan than it is to live in many parts of the US. When you pause to think about it, the daily wage here is less than a day of parking in Seattle.
I love living in Roatan, and I also love introducing people to the island, showing them the non-touristy spots, showing them "my Roatán." I have met many people on FB, who then become real life friends. I've met up with them when they came to visit Roatan. I've had visitors over for dinner. I've picked up perfect strangers at cruise ship docks and spent a day showing them my version of Roatán, the path less traveled. I recently met a girl through my blog, they came to visit, fell in love with the island, made an offer on a piece of land and then came to our house to meet me. We were out by our pool when I said, "So, tell me where is your land that you made an offer on?" She said above Havana Beach Club. I pointed and said, right over there. We are neighbors, and she purchased our friend's property. So random.
Moving to Roatan Island (Reality Check)
Being full-time residents and having been here many times before our move, we knew what we were getting into. Not everyone can say the same. I met some people online who sold everything they owned and moved here with their sons. After a few months, the one son went back to the states and six months later the whole family up and left. Reality set in. This was not what they expected. He planned to be able to make a good living down here and support his family, enabling them to take trips to the mainland, scuba dive, eat out, travel, until the funds dried up and they had to go back to the US. They are not the first to have that experience, and they will not be the last. People think this is utopia and come here looking for a never-ending vacation. They moved here sight unseen. They end up going home and hating the whole experience. Moving to Roatan is not for everyone. You need to be financially secure and or willing to live very frugally if you plan to live in Roatan. Get-rich-quick schemes are just that, schemes. Do your homework, visit and stay in different areas every time, meet people, travel the island and then decide.
I have never doubted the decision to become an island girl. Sitting here on my deck, in the shade, overlooking my pool, the north shore to my right and the south shore to my left only solidifies that choice.