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Purely Dominica

Purely Dominica

deep thoughtsPhoto by Shayan (USA)

People discover our Web site ( and write saying “you’ve found Utopia” or words to that effect. That’s nonsense. There is no Utopia. People everywhere are the same; human nature is the only universal constant.

You will have to learn to do without many conveniences that you were used to. Don’t ever expect punctuality. Never, ever, pay for anything until all work is complete and to your satisfaction. Don’t buy a vehicle that had been used here – it probably won’t have been maintained properly and may have jury-rigged repairs; import your vehicle.

Expect frequent electric power and pipe water outages and have a surge suppressor on your circuit breaker box to protect your appliances. Get one at Make sure they know that you need one for UK-style single-phase 220V. (One made for US-style split-phase 220V will not work – and will burn out right away.)

Many things that you’re used to may be impossible to find here or nearly prohibitively expensive. Many manufactured products available here are made for 3rd-world markets and while the lowest-priced are often shoddy; while 1st-quality goods tend to cost far more than in the US or Europe.

There are numerous Web sites that offer quality brand-name appliances set up to run at the 220-240VAC/50Hz UK-type electrical power available in Dominica. From personal experience, I recommend Kunst Electronics and Home Appliances. They explained why a US 220V dryer won’t work here (the US uses split-phase 110V and only the dryer’s heater is 220V; the motor is 110V and would burn out) and when a surge blew the control circuit board in our refrigerator Mr. Kunst personally phoned in response to our service-request e-mail in mere minutes, helped us locate the GE part; discounted it and expedited its delivery – what a hero!). Now we double-protect our refrigerator with an additional protector at the outlet. And we unplug it during outages and plug it in again after the returned power stabilizes.

You’ll need a transformer anyhow because many things can’t be bought in 220V versions, even here. Courts only offer 110V vacuum cleaners. LIME provided us with an 110V modem and cell-phone charger. Be aware that power (watts) simply adds up. Domlec claims that a 2000W transformer left plugged in uses over EC$100 per month, but that’s patent nonsense. We have an always-on 5000W transformer and our total bill has never reached as much as $EC90. And, a transformer also acts so as to smooth power surges. If you’re worried about power interruptions affecting your PC use, employ a laptop (which can run on 110V/60Hz or 220V/50Hz and is buffered from power failure by its battery. Or bring an UPS (uninterrupted power supply).

It can be difficult or expensive to get your US funds here and/or it can take a long time. We found a method that works well for us: You can get a free on-line FDIC insured account via the Charles Schwab web site. We use the on-line bill-pay feature of our Bank of America account to transfer money to the Schwab account. Schwab lets you withdraw funds in local currency at any ATM displaying the VISA logo, and that’s just about every ATM in Dominica. Schwab gives the full exchange rate and even refunds to your account any ATM or other charges. You don’t want to have too much of your savings here; keep them in the USA in an FDIC-insured institution.

This is the tropics, so expect more bugs. Ants are everywhere. Some species go after your food. Some are scavengers of dead insects, etc. “Wood ants” are actually termites – be on guard against them. We’ve experienced some gnat plagues of practically biblical proportions. Big yellow spiders like to hide under things in dark corners. Millipedes will crawl into your house. Centipedes, which have a dangerous bite, hide in damp dark places outside usually, but will come into houses. Large roaches also come inside.

Be on guard against mice and rats; leave nothing around that will attract them. “Regular” trash collection is anything but regular or dependable. We rinse all cans and bottles and foil, etc and keep that in a container for trash collection. We compost all vegetable matter. We burn all waste paper, plastic, wood etc. (Rinse or tie any plastic bags slated for burning to prevent drawing ants.) Waste animal matter (bones, fat, offal from cleaning fish, etc) must be disposed of promptly and properly. Otherwise you’ll have maggots, feral dogs and cats tearing up garbage bags, ants and rot odor all amazingly quickly. You can find a place to feed this stuff to scavenging dogs and/or cats. You can bury it – deep. You can toss waste from fish into the sea, where scavengers will do their job. If you’re making a fire, you can burn it and rake out the bones and ash to mix with compost.

Keep all your receipts. Even the government offices and some businesses “lose” records. We know of a number of people who have had to pay deposits and fees twice, or who can’t return items that are defective. Check the expiration date on anything you purchase. Test everything before leaving the store if possible.

Expect your plans to go awry. I was going to take regular long walks, but an arthritic hip ended that plan. I was going to help at a friend’s garden to get in better shape, but I realized that even the walk to it would be too much for me. The time, the heat of the sun, the humidity, eroding willpower all conspire against the planner.

Have a hobby. There’s only so much hiking, snorkeling, swimming and gardening you can do, and you don’t want to be fighting boredom.

You’ll need to have a US address in order to maintain a US bank account, have and renew credit cards, etc. Choose a reliable friend or relation to provide that address and to forward your mail to you – and expect forwarding to take an average of 3 weeks.

Make arrangements for your health (including dental) care and bring a supply of any prescription medications that you use. Pharmacies here can’t dispense to a foreign doctor’s prescription, and many medicines aren’t available here.

Get used to certain tropical conditions: high humidity, “blast” from the sea that corrodes nearly anything and has strange effects on many materials, huge raindrops driving in close to horizontally by squall gusts, and high clay content mud that has incredible adhesiveness and slipperiness when wet and is nearly concrete hard when dry.

But we’re not complaining – just being realistic. We love it here and wouldn’t change any of the choices we’ve made. If you decide on Dominica too, we can only hope you’re as pleased as we are.

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Comment by Adella Toulon-Foerster
2009-09-21 16:33:53

I was going to start yelling at you for this article. No one wants to hear anything negative about their country and as a native, I was a little upset by some the things that you said.
There is however a great deal of common-sense in most of the things you talked about and well, I can’t really argue with that and as a Dominican backing down, that says a lot ;-).
You could stick that in the list there somewhere too: Many natives settle things by yelling and shouting over things but don’t take it personally, it usually isn’t.

One thing I definitely do not agree with is: “…many medicines aren’t available here.” but then again, that simply hasn’t been my experience.

I hope you enjoy living in Dominica, I am so looking forward to moving back :-).

Comment by Dan
2009-09-21 19:39:04

My wife takes Actinol to prevent osteoporosis. It isn’t available here. We can’t find a pharmacist that has even heard of it.

As for yelling: I recall Lucy in a Peanuts comic strip saying “If I can’t be right, I’ll be wrong at the top of my voice.”

There was a Dominican who yelled at me when I reminded him that he had not delivered something I’d paid him for. But afterward, he delivered it. That was after I calmly told him that his shouting may have released his anger, but that I was still right.

Comment by Patty
2009-09-21 23:00:41

Thanks for the really informative post. You’re absolutely right that many of us who visit the islands come away thinking that living there would feel just like being on vacation full-time – 24/7 bliss. As you point out, though, every place has its own set of problems and no place is ever going to be 100% perfect.

For those of us who are considering moving to an island like Dominica one day, the above information is exactly what we need to see in order to make an informed decision. It’s just the kind of thing I’ve been looking to learn. Thanks again!

Comment by Peter
2010-04-28 21:45:49

Dan, thanks for the article. Question for you: The result of my own (lay person level, and admittedly not very in-depth) research is that Dominica, along with BVI, Anguilla, Panama and Belize are among the best places to store your money. What makes you recommend against moving your money to a Dominican bank?

Comment by Dan
2010-04-29 08:25:51

Peter, you can’t be serious. None of those countries other then the BVI which are on the UK currency have hard currency and none of their banks have insured deposits.

Comment by Dan
2010-04-29 09:04:02

Plus, you can’t even beat inflation with any bank account.

Comment by andrew
2010-08-25 08:30:19

Does Kunst Electronics have a local store ? When I checked your link, it shows a NY location.
Thank you.

Comment by obian
2011-01-18 17:56:41

Your article is excellent and so balanced.


Comment by Dan
2011-01-24 13:40:57

You’re welcome.

Comment by Klee Rogers
2011-08-01 14:50:57

Dan, thanks for your wonderful honesty, there is no paradise in this world, the problem with most people is they forget to take into consideration that they bring themselves with them to paradise!

I am planning to visit this January/Feb, with hopes of buying/renting property and moving, it seems hard to find a lot of info about Dominica, one thing I have been told is a lot of people buy from the USA, and have stuff shipped in a skybox, or some other form of shipping, back to Dominica, like 2 to 4 times a year, vitamins, appliances (many use a power converter), some food items, furniture, items that are very expensive in Dominica, some even share containers for shipping, we all want to buy local, but if the price is ridiculous you have to think inside the shipping box.

Comment by Alex
2011-09-05 10:30:30

Thank you for the article.Very helpful.

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