The appeal of working in the Bahamas is an obvious one, and even its name has come to stand for an idyllic tropical island lifestyle. But to many, the idea of actually relocating sounds more like a pipe dream than a genuine possibility. In reality, however, there is usually a range of vacancies available in the Bahamas, from positions within tourism and hospitality to construction work.
In saying this, anyone considering a move to the Bahamas should be aware that the region has recently been very badly affected by Hurricane Dorian, which has decimated businesses across the islands and put thousands of people out of work. Hospitals and schools have been destroyed. Thus, if you want to work in the Bahamas, it might be worth waiting until they have recovered from this disaster, unless you have a background in disaster relief and wish to contribute to the hurricane restoration effort.
The legal requirements involved in applying for employment can be lengthy and complicated. The Department of Immigration says that if you want to work in the Bahamas for a period of more than 90 days, you must first be authorised to do so by obtaining a valid work permit issued by the Department of Immigration. If you intend to work for up to 90 days, you must apply for a short-term work permit. Note that the Bahamian government is prioritising local personnel over foreign workers where possible, so your employer will need to show that they have made an effort to recruit local personnel and that you are the best person for the job.
For a long-term work permit, you will need to submit the following documents:
• $200.00 non-refundable processing fee (payable by cash, credit/debit card, postal money order or bank certified cheque)
• Letter of Request addressed to the Director of Immigration
• First Schedule Form 1 application with $10.00 Bahamian postage stamp (legible and notarized)
• your medical certificate (dated no more than 30 days before the submission of the application)
• your original police clearance certificate – required of applicants ages 14 years old and over (this must have been issued no more than six months prior to submitting your application, and must cover five years of residence)
• two current passport photographs, with a white background and your name printed on the back of each (photo size must be 2 x 2 inches)
• a copy of the biographical data page of your current passport (this must have a minimum of two months’ validity)
• a copy of the biographical data page of your employer/sponsor’s current passport (if employer is a non-Bahamian, evidence of immigration status is also required)
• Labour Certificate with Notification of Vacancy from the Bahamas Department of Labour
• nationally circulated newspaper advertisements (the job must have been advertised for at least 3 consecutive days)
• two written references from previous employers (provide telephone contacts and email addresses)
letter of release from applicant’s previous employer (if applicable)
• a copy of the valid Business License, Certificate of Incumbency or Certificate of Incorporation of employer/sponsor
• a copy of employer/sponsor’s National Insurance Card/Certificate
You may also need specific letters of authorisation from the local authorities that govern your particular professional field. For example, doctors must have a letter of authorisation from The Bahamas Medical Council.
At the moment, the country remains seriously challenged in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. Bahamian job boards have been advertising some specific skills posts – for example, for quantity surveyors – in relation to hurricane restoration work. Prior to this, experts warned that the country suffers from a serious skills gap in relation to soft skills and technical skills. Bahamian employers find it hard to fill such posts with local personnel, so this may be a good opportunity if you have the right skill set.
Typical working hours consist of an eight-hour day, for five days per week, thus 40 hours per week. Usually, businesses are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, and are open at 10 a.m. on Saturdays.
If you have been working for your employer for a year, you will be entitled to two weeks of annual leave. This will increase alongside your length of employment. In addition, there are 11 public holidays.
The national minimum wage in the Bahamas is fixed at US$210 per week, but trade unions are currently lobbying to have this increased.
If you are pregnant, you will be entitled to 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, on the condition that you have been working for your employer for a designated one year. You will not receive your full salary, however. Paternity leave is not enshrined in law and you must negotiate this separately with your employer.
Your spouse will not be eligible to work under your visa, unless you are a Bahamian national, and must therefore apply for a separate work permit.
You can make speculative applications to companies in the Bahamas.
Online job boards and recruitment agencies are your best bet, especially those which govern your particular sector.
A standard CV/resume should be acceptable. English is the official language of the Bahamas, so you will not need to have any information translated.
Employment law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, creed, sex, marital status, political opinion, age or HIV/AIDS.
Certified English translations are required for each foreign document submitted, and these should have a Bahamian $10.00 postage stamp affixed. If you are an English speaker, this will not be relevant to you.
If you are a citizen of the USA, Canada, an EU country, the UK, most commonwealth countries, Australia, or many Latin American countries, you may visit the Bahamas for three months without a visa for either business or tourist purposes. You must have a valid passport with at least six months to run from the date you arrive in the Bahamas, a return or onward ticket, evidence of local accommodation, and sufficient funds to support yourself during your trip. Citizens from countries who do not have the appropriate arrangements with the government of the Bahamas will need to apply for a visa before they travel. You should check with your local consulate or mission to find out if you will need one. For longer stays, or if you wish to work or retire in the Bahamas, you will need to apply for a work or residence permit.
It takes between two days and six weeks for visitor visas to be processed, so it is best to apply at least a month before you intend to travel. You can obtain a visa application form online from the website of the Bahamian consulate or mission in your country, or by visiting in person. You must support your application by supplying:
• Your passport – this must be valid for at least another six months and must have at least one blank page
• Two passport-size photographs of yourself – these should be no more than three months old
• A letter that includes the dates and purpose of your visit, as well as your home address
• A confirmed e-ticket, showing either return or onward travel, with the dates you intend to arrive and depart; or a confirmed voucher for a cruise
• Proof that you have the right to return to your country of residence
• Any necessary transit visas for your trip
• Current financial statement, for a bank account or credit card, confirming you have sufficient funds for your trip; or the equivalent in cash or travellers cheques
• Proof that you are in employment, in education or retired
• Confirmed hotel booking or a letter of invitation from a host in the Bahamas, with details of the length of your stay and the address and telephone number of your hotel or host
Citizens from some countries will also be required to have a Yellow Fever vaccination 10 days before they travel. To check whether this applies to you, visit the visa requirements page of your local consulate or mission.
At the time of writing, the fee for a single-entry visitor visa is 100 Bahamian dollars (US$100/£77), and a multiple-entry visa costs BS$110 (US$109/£84). Visas last for three months, though longer multiple-entry visas are available at higher fees.
Both short-term and long-term work permits are available for the Bahamas, with short-term permits lasting for up to 90 days. Anyone can apply for a short-term work visa, but you will need to find a prospective employer first. Jobs in the Bahamas are advertised on a wide variety of websites, including GlassDoor. Be aware, however, that for long-term and permanent jobs, your employer must be able to prove that no suitably qualified Bahamian is available to fill the position, before they can make a job offer to a foreigner.
Once you have a potential job, you can download the relevant visa application form from the website of the Government of the Bahamas.
For a short-term permit, you will need to supply the following, alongside your visa application form:
• A letter of request from your potential employer, giving the reasons for the application, the length of time you will be employed, and details of the job
• A copy of the bio-data page from your passport (which must have at least six months left to run)
• Two identical colour passport-size photographs, with your name printed on the back
• A non-refundable fee of BS$100 (US$100/£77), payable in cash or by a certified bankers’ cheque
The application must be made before you arrive in the Bahamas, and takes around seven working days to process.
For any employment lasting longer than 90 days, you will need a long-term work permit. The process for acquiring one of these can be slow, so you should take care that all your documentation is correctly prepared and submitted, to minimise delays. You must complete your long-term visa application form in the correct fashion, and then notarise it and attach a BS$10 stamp. You will need to supply the following supporting documents:
• A letter of request from your proposed employer, describing the job and the duration of the position, and giving the reasons for the application
• A copy of the bio-data page of your passport
• Two identical passport-size photographs, with your name printed on the back
• A certificate from the police, covering five years’ residence in the Bahamas – this must have been issued within the six months prior to your application
• A medical certificate, granted no more than 30 days earlier
• Copies of educational and professional qualifications relevant to your potential job and named in your job application
• Up to two written references from previous employers
• Copies of the job advertisement from local Bahamian newspapers, with replies and details of interviews (if relevant)
• A certificate from the Bahamian Department of Labour, including the Notification of Vacancy, which confirms no Bahamian was available to fill the role
• A processing fee of BS$100 (US$100/£77)
You will need to follow up your application three to four weeks after it is submitted, by telephoning the Enquiries Unit for an update.
Unless you have a valid work permit and are already working in the Bahamas, you will need to apply for either a residence permit, from the Department of Immigration, or permanent residence.
Residence permits last for a year at a time. Dependants of foreign nationals working legally in the Bahamas must have their own residence permits. Residence permits of this kind are available only for dependants of people working in the Bahamas – i.e. their spouse or children (under 18) – and to full-term students at a school, university or college in the Bahamas.
Permanent residence is available only to a limited range of people, and does not confer the right to vote. It is specific to an individual and ends at their death. You may apply for permanent residence if:
• You have been married to and cohabiting with a Bahamian citizen for five years
• Your mother was a Bahamian citizen
• You are financially independent and own a property in the Bahamas (owners of property worth BS$1.5 million or more are fast-tracked)
• You have been employed in the Bahamian government service as a police or prison officer for at least 10 years
• You have been employed in government service or by a religious or charitable institution as a nurse or a teacher for at least 10 years
• You have been employed as a priest, a minister of religion or a medical doctor for at least 20 years
• You have held a valid work or residence permit for more than 20 consecutive years
There are special arrangements for citizens of Haiti.
If you are eligible to apply for permanent residence, you will need to complete the relevant application form and support it with the same documentation as for a long-term work permit (apart from the job-specific elements). You must also supply:
• Your original birth certificate (plus a notarised and stamped translation into English, if necessary)
• Two character references from Bahamians who have known you for at least five years
• Your parents’ birth certificates
• Your parents’ marriage certificate
• Your marriage certificate, divorce decree, or spouse’s death certificate, if relevant
• A financial statement from your bank or financial institution confirming your economic worth
There is no stated time for how long applications take to be processed, and you should follow up with the Department of Immigration after three to four weeks. A fee of BS$100 (US$100/£77) is payable.
Many expats take out private medical insurance, even if this is not a requirement of residence, because healthcare is expensive in their destination country or because certain treatments and procedures are not available.
When taking out health insurance, be sure to check factors such as the annual and lifetime policy limits, whether there are any exclusions which are likely to affect you, whether you are limited to treatment from specific types of healthcare providers, and whether the policy covers emergency evacuation for medical treatment.
Too frequently, potential buyers of health insurance look only for the lowest cost of premiums before really considering the specific benefits and areas of cover they may actually need. Some plans are cheaper for a reason. Often they include large voluntary deductibles on any claim you might make in the future and may severely cap the benefits received under the plan. Clients should define their needs first, establish the particular area of cover they need, then determine their annual healthcare insurance budget. Only then should they look to premium comparisons, last of all.
Do not buy a plan without studying the policy wording carefully. If in doubt, ask, and only when completely satisfied complete all application forms fully, to the best of your ability.
Important questions to ask the insurance provider:
1. Does the plan allow for cooling off periods, cancellation and then repayment of premium in full?
2. Does the plan offer “Moratorium” or is it “Full underwriting” and do you need to have a medical examination before joining?
3. Does the insurer offer a 24 hour help line, 7 days a week, available from anywhere in the world (freephone)? Most insurers now offer this facility.
4. Are pre-existing conditions excluded when joining and if so, for how long are such conditions excluded?
5. Are all and any nationalities accepted or are there restrictions which apply to local nationals? Some insurers will only take expatriates abroad and not local nationals into an overseas plan.
6. Does the plan allow you to continue cover unbroken through your lifetime? In most cases insurers will continue to offer existing clients cover year on year, irrespective of age or claims history, although premium rates charged can increase dramatically with age.
7. Does the insurer allow for any doctor or consultant or hospital within the plan? Are there any restrictions in this respect? Most international plans do not place restrictions on either hospitals or doctors, but almost all demand that their help lines are called first, prior to approval of any inpatient care.
8. Does the insurer provide for the direct settlement of bills presented by hospitals worldwide, regardless of location (or do you have to pay first)?
9. What are the insurers procedures for outpatient claims? Do these require any pre-authorization or if stated in the plan can you just pay and claim? How long before you get money back from the insurer? 14 days? 28 days?.
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Many people heading out to live in the Bahamas prefer to rent rather than buy. Whether you’re a digital nomad, enjoying your retirement in a tax friendly environment or settling down with a Bahamian partner, good choices about your rental property can help you acclimatise more quickly.
Work Out Your Budget
Before you even start looking for somewhere to live, work out your budget. You won’t be paying income tax. However, everything from fruit and vegetables to books, shoes and toiletries has to be imported by plane or boat, charged an import tariff, and then sold with VAT on top. This means that the cost of living will be higher than you may expect. You don’t want to rent the dream beachfront home just to discover you have no savings left after a few months.
“I was living on a remote island that had no stores of any kind. The closest store was at a neighbouring island marina where you could buy basic food items for an exorbitant price, but there was always someone offering to bring supplies to me from Nassau or the US, by plane or boat.” US expat Mariah Moyle, talking about life on Exuma, her first home in the Bahamas.
Finding Rental Property
Tourism makes up a significant part of the country’s income, meaning it can be hard to find medium- to long-term rental homes in the Bahamas. Your most likely options are properties which are less attractive to holidaymakers, such as apartments in town centre streets or bungalows on remote islands hours away from the airport.
You aren’t entitled to rent a property either provided or subsidised by the government unless you are a citizen of the Bahamas, which is a difficult status for migrants to achieve.
Even if you don’t intend to stay in the Bahamas for more than six months, you will ideally see a property before you rent it. The smell of damp, the noise of wildlife, the proximity of neighbours; all of these factors are easily hidden from photos and online property descriptions. Unfortunately, sometimes circumstances mean you have little choice but to take a chance.
Canadian expat Oliver Luke initially stayed at a boarding hotel while he started his rental property search, but arriving at his new home was far from easy:
“Once on the ground, I had access to the local papers and word of mouth and found a small bungalow on the Out Island of Eleuthera (meaning ‘freedom’ in Greek). Just a few weeks later I was off on a 12-hour mailboat, amidst snoring, burping, farting families of all ages. When I arrived on the dock at midnight there was a definite lack of public transportation; thankfully, a police officer spent the next three hours helping me hunt down my house on the beach. At one point he got lost and there I sat in the police station on his computer Google mapping it.”
You can read more about Oliver’s stay in the Bahamas – and the reasons he liked living there – in the Expat Experiences section.
Types Of Property Lease
There are two types of property lease used in the Bahamas:
Gross lease: landlord pays all maintenance and taxes,
Net lease: tenant pays lower rent but all maintenance and taxes.
Ensure that you are clear which lease is on offer when you look at a property as this will make a difference to your financial planning.
When you come to sign a tenancy agreement, check that the wording is clear about the costs and who pays them. If you’re in a gated community there will be security and ground maintenance costs, while an apartment block requires regular cleaning of the corridors. If you are going to pay these charges, you need to know before you sign the agreement.
Length Of Tenancy
The best properties in attractive and convenient locations will make the most money by being rented to tourists. Landlords might be willing to give you a short-term tenancy at a decent price during the quieter summer months but are unlikely to rent you these homes for longer.
Landlords with properties hours away from tourist destinations might find it hard to get tenants. This makes it more likely that you will be able to negotiate the length of stay you’d like in such a building.
If you’re moving to the Bahamas to be in a specific location, especially if you need to work, you may find the hunt for a property harder. However, people in the Bahamas are famously hospitable and everyone is closely connected. So friends and colleagues might help you track down some unexpected vacancies.
If you are offered a one-year tenancy, check whether there’s a break clause. Should you lose or leave your job, your right to stay in the country becomes invalid, but you’ll still be tied to your house. Perhaps events back home – such as a relative falling ill – may require a sudden departure. A break clause allows you to give notice and only be liable for the rent during that notice period. Paying for three months of unused rent is better than covering seven months, for example.
You’ll pay a higher rent for a furnished property, and the contents may not be to your individual taste. However, furniture and fixtures are imported and expensive. On the remote islands, getting to decent sized stores can take several hours by boat. Some expats even make trips abroad to find household items – which they must pay duty on as they come back to the Bahamas – as the shops have a limited choice available. This means that furnished properties often make good financial sense.
Do be careful to check what the landlord will be providing. You don’t want to arrive and discover the bed was only on loan for viewings.
On the day you move in, check the landlord’s list of contents against what you actually find in your new home. Identify anything that is missing or damaged and take clear photographs. That’s easy to do with your phone. You can send copies to the landlord suggesting a replacement or stating you are happy with the contents there as long as you aren’t later charged for pre-existing issues.
Repeat this exercise when you move out. If you have taken clear photographs showing everything in place and in good condition when you left the property with the landlord, you have good evidence to fight any attempt by the landlord to keep your security deposit.
Never Pay In Cash
In the Bahamas, the landlord can evict you without obtaining a court order. The police can get involved if the landlord asks for their assistance too.
You can try fighting for compensation through legal channels, but the court system in the Bahamas is notoriously slow. Any case will take a prolonged length of time and legal costs will eat up your resources.
Therefore, it is vital that you do everything correctly. Pay your rent on time and only through bank transfers which can be independently verified. Ignore any offers of a discount for paying in cash and don’t move in without a tenancy agreement.
Moreover, doing everything by the book should protect your security deposit. Tenants across the world complain of landlords who don’t return security deposits promptly. If your bank statements show all your payments for security deposit and monthly rent paid right up to date, the law is more likely to take your side in the event of any dispute.
Sun-soaked shores and a tax-friendly environment for the wealthy mean that buying property in the Bahamas is both a dream destination and an investment for the future.
Can Migrants Buy Property In The Bahamas?
Anyone can buy property in the Bahamas, whether or not they live there. Even better, such an investment can fast-track your permanent residency application. Read more about this in the Visas section of this country guide.
If you’re buying more than two acres, intending to rent out part or all of the property, or want to use the property for commercial development, you’ll need a permit to do so.
Even if you don’t fall into any of those categories, you’ll have to register the purchase with the Foreign Investment Board and the Exchange Control at the Central Bank of the Bahamas. A good lawyer will ensure this happens correctly.
Once you are the proud owner of your new home, you may wish to make changes to the property, perhaps by adding an extension or changing the facade. In that case, you’ll have to seek permission from the Town Planning Board and the Ministry of Works.
Find A Good Lawyer
It isn’t mandatory to use a lawyer when purchasing property in the Bahamas. However, you are strongly recommended to do so. Property is a significant investment to make. For most people, it is the largest financial asset they hold.
A good, independent lawyer will spot any problems with the title of the property you are purchasing and ensure your ownership is correctly registered and cannot be later challenged. Issues such as stamp duty are important. You can find out more in the article an Expat Guide to Buying Property in the Bahamas.
A developer or real estate agent may recommend a law firm or an individual to undertake your legal work. Even with a discount or good price used to entice you, politely refuse. You have no idea what relationships – financial, family or business – already exist between the two parties. You need a lawyer who only works for your benefit.
The US embassy has received reports of US property purchasers being swindled over property purchases and emphasises the importance of choosing a good lawyer. They say:
“Be wary of any firm/practice that tells you that title insurance is not available or that it is not needed in the Bahamas… US citizens have also reported that they have had difficulties with attorneys themselves in real estate transactions, such as attorneys collecting money for services never rendered or swindling clients out of large amounts of money. Be very vigilant when it comes to the selection of an attorney.”
The UK government published a list of law firms in the Bahamas.This is for information only and does not infer any recommendation from the UK government. However, the list helpfully identifies the areas of expertise each firm can offer, which means you can contact the real estate lawyers quickly and efficiently for a quote and further information.
At the very least, obtain a valuation survey for your property in the Bahamas. Even if you’ve done a great deal with a neighbour or been given first viewing by your real estate agent, there might be something wrong with the street, area or property itself that you haven’t spotted.
If you want to be particularly careful that your property purchase is a sound investment, get a full building survey. This will cost money, but the surveyor will spend several hours investigating all areas of the house and compiling a detailed report.
Examining the condition of the roof, wooden timbers and foundations would be a good idea in any country. However, the Bahamas suffers frequent hurricanes and storms, as discussed in the Climate and Weather section of this country guide. There’s also a year-round problem with all manner of bugs and the effect on materials of the commonly used insecticides. Plus, the buildings may be constructed differently to those you have lived in before, meaning you aren’t aware of the risks to investigate.
A full building survey is likely to contain a long list of problems. Every home is like this. However, some are minor and easily fixed. It’s the risks and issues that undermine the building and its value and which make this survey a worthwhile investment. If there aren’t any such issues, you can buy your new home with confidence.
Finding a Mortgage
If you need help to buy your new property in the Bahamas, a mortgage is the cheapest way to borrow. Banks in your home country will prefer to lend against your property held there, with you using the funds to buy your Bahamian property outright.
However, if your home in the Bahamas is going to be the only property you own, you will need to find a mortgage locally. There are a variety of banks you can approach in the Bahamas. They will expect you to have a deposit of at least 40% and will ask searching questions about your financial position and ties to the Bahamas. Lenders will be particularly cautious if you have no long-term links in the country. They don’t want to lend to someone who is happy to just hand the keys back in after a couple of years before heading back home overseas.
Therefore, collect together every piece of evidence backing up your income and assets, and be patient with the lender’s assessment process.
Getting Set Up In Your New Home
You’ll need to register your new residence with the local authorities for property tax purposes. Along with national insurance payments, company filing charges, import tariffs and sales tax, this is part of the way community services are funded in the country. You may be tempted to feel hard-done-by as a result of this tax, but remember that there are many tax advantages for wealthy individuals and families living in the Bahamas, including no personal income tax and no inheritance taxes. You can find out more about this topic in the article How Moving to the Bahamas Will Change Your Life as well as the Taxation section of this country guide.
You’ll want to get your property connected to electricity and water supplies, a topic which is covered in the Utilities section of the ExpatFocus country guide to the Bahamas.
Advice about arranging landline and mobile phone services, connection to the internet and local postal services can be found in the Communications section of this country guide.
Consider if you want (or are able) to transport your belongings yourself or whether you will need the services of a removals company that deals with international moves. Unless you are travelling very light, or making a fairly short move by road, you will probably need professional help to ship your possessions. Ask for quotes from several companies first, ensuring that they visit your home to carry out a survey of your requirements. It may be worth paying extra for the removals firm to pack your possessions for you, particularly if they are going to be transported to a distant country and need special protection for the long journey. Make sure you bring to their attention anything fragile or precious that needs particularly careful wrapping and packing.
Before agreeing to a quotation, ensure that you are fully aware of exactly what is covered in the price, and that the service to be provided meets all of your requirements. For example, does the service include both packing and unpacking of your household effects? What about disassembling and reassembling of furniture? If you are planning to put anything into storage in your destination country while you find accommodation, does the price include final delivery and unpacking at your home, or will you need to arrange collection of the items? Obtain a firm estimate of the likely arrival date of your items and obtain contact details for any agents that will be dealing with the removal in your destination country. Ensure that the removals company is aware in advance of any practical considerations such as the lack of an elevator to your apartment, or likely parking problems.
If using a removals company, you may be required to take out their insurance cover for your possessions. Whether or not this is the case, ensure that you have adequate insurance for anything of actual or sentimental value that could get lost or damaged during the move. Take the time to accurately complete or check an inventory of your possessions to be moved, as this will form the basis for any insurance claim for losses or damages. Find out if insurance is included in the price quoted by the removals company, or whether you are required to pay extra for this.
The removals company should arrange any customs and importation documents on your behalf, but if you are arranging the move independently you will need to find out what documents are required and what import duties and taxes are payable (and whether you are eligible for exemption from these).
Make sure that you set aside the important documents you will need for the journey, such as passports and air tickets, and keep these easily accessible in your hand luggage.
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QUICK LINK: Bahamas health insurance
When you are fit and well, healthcare is the last thing on your mind. However, if you’re planning to retire in the Bahamas, setting up provisions for your health is an important part of the planning process.
What Vaccinations Are Needed For The Bahamas?
The National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) maintains the TravelHealthPro website with up to date information about recommended vaccinations and health risks for each country around the globe.
The vaccinations required for travel to the Bahamas are fairly standard. However, check your health records with your family doctor about eight weeks before you travel. It’s possible you think you received all typical childhood jabs when in fact one or two were missed – or it could be that your tetanus booster is due.
The Department of Health for the Bahamas has implemented effective vaccination programmes for babies and children, meaning child death rates have been rapidly decreasing. Health promotions to encourage the vaccination of adults continue in an effort to eradicate serious and infectious diseases. However, your own immunisations need to be up to date as you will be living in a general population with lower levels of protection than you may be used to.
Dengue fever and the Chikungunya virus are transmitted through mosquito bites. There is a risk of Zika virus too. Do everything you can to reduce your risk of bites. Keep doors and windows shut at night, light citrus candles, and keep your arms, legs and shouldered covered. Insect repellent can smell unpleasant but should keep many of the biting insects away.
Bringing Medication To The Bahamas
Just about any prescription medicine has a demand in the black market. In addition, different regulatory bodies around the world have differing views about medicines, so a pill that is legal in one country may be prohibited in another. As a result, customs officials are concerned even when innocent-looking drugs are brought into a country.
If someone asks you to bring medicines into the Bahamas for them, refuse firmly, even if it’s a relative with convincing reasons for their request. The case of British woman Laura Plummer, arrested and imprisoned in Egypt for having her partner’s painkillers in her suitcase, is an example to innocent parties everywhere about the risk of carrying drugs abroad.
You might be worried about the availability of your prescription medicines in the Bahamas. Your family physician should be able to find out how easy it will be for you to obtain the drugs you need. Ask them to give you a letter setting out your health condition, the medicines you are prescribed, and the dose required. On arrival, show this letter and the drugs you are carrying to the customs officials. This should prevent any misunderstandings or suspicions.
The National Health Insurance Scheme – NHI Bahamas
In 2016, the government introduced a national health insurance scheme called NHI Bahamas. Certain primary care services can now be offered for free to scheme members.
In the UK, access to free treatment by the National Health Service (NHS) is based on residency, with a few exceptions for emergency care. This is not the case in the Bahamas. Only scheme members can access NHI Bahamas services.
To be eligible to enrol, you must:
• Have been issued an NIB Smart Card; and
• Be either a citizen or a legal resident of the Bahamas.
• If you are not a Bahamian citizen, you will need to have your work permit listed in the NIB system to prove your residency, or bring your residency card, or your permit to reside.
• If you have been residing in the Bahamas for a period of six months immediately before enrolment, you will be eligible.
• If you make NIB contributions, your proof of residency is checked through your NIB Smart Card.
• If you do not make NIB contributions, you will need to submit additional documentation.
When you apply to the scheme, you will be asked for documents which prove you have been legally resident for the past six months. These include:
• Utility bills in your name (such as home phone, gas, electricity, cable),
• A housing contract (monthly rental agreements, lease or proof of property ownership),
• Unemployment assistance documentation,
• RISE programme documentation,
• Designation of the Bahamas as the applicant’s permanent address on all school and/or employment records.
You can enrol for the NHI Bahamas scheme online or at the NHI Bahamas Building on East Street & Purpose Way, Nassau. The offices are open 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday, although the NIB Smart Cards cannot be issued to you there.
Arrange Health Insurance Before Travelling
Many expats are not entitled to join the NHI Bahamas scheme. In addition, the limited range of primary care and lab services available in the public scheme means private healthcare remains an attractive and preferable choice.
You should arrange health insurance as a matter of priority. If you are looking for a policy provider, why not contact some of Expat Focus partners for a no-obligation quote?
When looking at the policies offered by any provider, consider whether they offer an insurance product suitable for your personal circumstances. Would you want to be flown home for complicated or specialist treatment? How much can you comfortably afford as an excess charge to keep your annual premiums low?
Don’t forget to look carefully at exclusions in the terms and conditions. An accident or sudden illness means you will need to use the cover at exactly the same point you are unable to cope with complicated phone calls, plus your income may be affected by not working. This is a bad time to discover you can’t get the treatment you need because six months earlier you saved a few dollars on a cheaper policy.
List Of Medical Facilities In The Bahamas
Medical facilities in the Bahamas are clean, modern and staffed with well-trained professionals. In addition to three large public hospitals and two private ones, there is a wide range of supporting primary care services. Advanced treatment is undertaken in Nassau, Freeport or Miami, using the air ambulance where required.
The private healthcare system is well-established and a normal part of the expat services on offer. It can be expensive, so expats normally arrange private health insurance.
In a medical emergency, call 911 for help. Keep your health insurance documents to hand or stored on your phone so you can hand over the details to the hospital and contact the insurer at the first opportunity.
The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has published a list of medical facilities and practitioners in the Bahamas. Whilst this list infers no recommendations, it is a useful place to start your search. It includes clear contact information including addresses and phone numbers. In addition, there is a concise summary of each facility’s specialisms, language of communication, and whether they have experience of treating British citizens.
The final page includes a contact form so that the FCO can be advised about your experiences should you want to feedback any positive or negative feedback.
HIV Risks In the Bahamas
In 2013, the UNAIDS/WHO (World Health Organisation) issued a report about the status of the Global AIDS Epidemic. They estimated that approximately 3.2% of the adult population of the Bahamas – 7,600 – live with HIV. In the UK, the infection rate is thought to be around 0.3%, about a tenth of that in the Bahamas.
HIV is transmitted through unprotected sex and contact with blood and bodily fluids. Be aware of the risks when meeting new sexual partners or helping someone in medical distress.
Smoking In The Bahamas
As we discuss in the Food and Drink section of this country guide, smoking inside in public areas is not prohibited by law. Some employers will forbid it and hotels incur strict fines for anyone who smokes in a designated non-smoking hotel room.
Apart from that, however, cigarettes are a normal part of Bahamian life and not likely to disappear from the streets or social venues any time soon.
As discussed in the article How Moving To The Bahamas Will Change Your Life, plants indigenous to the Bahamas have long been used as traditional medicines. These are referred to locally as bush medicine.
As with many alternative medicines, these are produced for sale with little or no oversight or testing by the health authorities. However, most are harmless, although benefits are usually anecdotal.
Ask Other Expats For Recommendations
Expats already living in the Bahamas have a wealth of knowledge that they are happy to share with others. Why not ask which medical facilities they’ve had good treatment and care from?
The Bahamian dollar, which can be broken into 100 cents, is the official currency of the Bahamas. BSD is the commonly used abbreviation.
For hundreds of years, the Bahamas used the British pound. However, even before independence in 1973, the islands saw the advantage of changing their financial system. Ever since the Bahamian dollar was created in 1966, it has been pegged to the US dollar, meaning that one Bahamian dollar equals one US dollar.
Today, many visitors from the US are pleasantly surprised to find their US dollars are widely accepted at retailers and restaurants in the Bahamas. For those arriving on the cruise ships, this makes a trip to the islands carefree.
The Central Bank of the Bahamas, established in 1974, fulfils an important number of roles, including keeping the economy and currency stable.
Opening A Bank Account
You can apply for a bank account online, even if you want an offshore account and don’t intend to live in the Bahamas. However, the bank is required to complete a number of important checks to prevent crime, including money laundering. In particular, you will be asked for proof of your identity, where you live and the source of your money.
Therefore, as a resident in the Bahamas, your passport, birth certificate and marriage certificate will be seen in person by a member of staff at the bank. You will also be asked for recent bank statements and may have to provide wage slips or other business or pension documents to confirm the legitimacy of your income. A tenancy agreement or recent utility bill tends to be sufficient evidence of your address. These checks generally take place in a pre-arranged interview in the bank, so remember to take all your evidence with you.
If you deposit a US cheque into your Bahamian account, it should clear in three days. Direct transfers from overseas accounts are also quickly completed.
Banks offer a variety of current account features. Some will charge you per transaction, while others charge a fixed monthly amount. The way you use your bank account will determine the best option for your personal circumstances.
Other considerations include the location of bank branches and ATM machines. Nassau, on New Providence Island, is the centre of the Bahamian banking industry, but branches can be found anywhere in the small nation where there is a large enough local population. Branches are generally open 9.30am to 4pm Monday to Thursday, with late closure at 5pm on Fridays.
You can find a list of banks operating in Nassau on the Directory of the Private Banking website.
Secret Banking Laws
The Bahamas was among the first Caribbean countries to adopt stringent banking secrecy laws.
Until 2012, the Bahamas were reluctant to sign up to an agreement on sharing tax or fiscal information about its residents. The position was that if you commit tax fraud in your home country, it is a crime there, but not in the Bahamas. If you opened a domestic or offshore bank account in the Bahamas, the country’s secrecy laws applied to the bank’s directors, employees, lawyers and auditors.
However, operating a bank account for criminal purposes, including money laundering and illegal drug activity, led to the need for a new set of laws. The Supreme Court of the Bahamas could make an order for all information about the bank account to be disclosed for official investigation.
However, since 2012, the country has been reforming its banking industry in line with EU and OECD (Organisation for Economic and Co-operation Development) demands. Assets and income from foreign investors have shrunk as a result, with the wealthy moving their funds to tax havens which are deaf to international calls for reform of the secrecy laws.
Cost Of Living
The Bahamas is not a cheap place to live. Most items are imported, including the majority of food and drink. This means you have to pay transportation costs and import tariffs even before VAT is applied. Even then, you might need to make trips abroad for important items.
“There are certainly aspects I miss about conveniences and affordability of shopping in the US. Even with shopping malls in Nassau, you will inevitably need some specialty item from the States, which entails shipping it in and paying about double the original price because of shipping and duty, or flying several times per year to the US to shop and carrying it back with you (in which case you still pay duty upon entry)” says US expat Mariah Moyle.
Luxurious homes in safe and desirable locations close to cultural amenities come with hefty price tags. However, the poverty-stricken neighbourhoods offering cheap apartments are not a suitable place to live, even for the most adventurous expats. Sharing a host’s home or living hours from the major settlements are compromises many medium-term travellers make to help ends meet.
You’ll also have to pay annual property taxes. Even the gas, electricity and water services impose tariffs that can be a shock to the newcomer.
The flip side to the high cost of living is the low taxation regime. With no personal income tax or inheritance taxes to pay, even moderately wealthy families have a lot more money to play with. The influx of wealthy individuals looking to enjoy tropical island living whilst reducing their tax bill means the Bahamas have the highest income per capita of any country in the Caribbean; at the same time, families in many local communities live in desperate poverty.
Taxation can be a complicated affair, especially when issues about significant assets and income are mixed with the complications of international tax laws. Your income, investments and inheritance planning must be properly considered and must comply with the laws of every jurisdiction which is involved in some way, whether you realise it or not. You might have to file an annual tax return with your home country’s tax authority even if they have a double taxation treaty with the Bahamas. Some of your estate may be liable for inheritance tax back home too. For UK pensioners moving to the Bahamas, the Qualifying Recognized Overseas Pension Scheme (QROPS Bahamas) should be investigated. A good tax specialist, therefore, is an essential and worthwhile investment.
If you want a lawyer to be involved with your estate planning, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) publish a list of lawyers in the Bahamas, with a summary of their professional specialisms.
Living In The Bahamas With A Pension
Expats moving to the Bahamas are often older people who have a generous pension plan which funds their day to day living. This is a group that the government actively encourages to move here, with special visas available for those who can buy an expensive home or who bring a good income with them. You can find out more about this in the Visas section of this country guide.
Do remember that fluctuations in currency may affect the amount you receive each month if your source of income is coming from abroad. This is important if the cost of living stretches your budget to the limit. You need to have enough money available to provide a safety net should any problems occur, such as an accident or illness.
Many expats with a pension arrive in the Bahamas from Britain. If that applies to you, you’ll be interested to read the 2018 article Managing Your Pension as a British Expat in the Bahamas. This also includes information about the QROPS Bahamas scheme.
Not everyone moving to the Bahamas is independently wealthy. However, gaining legal employment can be difficult, as discussed in the Finding Employment section of this country guide.
One option you may like to consider is self-employment. The article An Expat Guide to Self-Employment in the Bahamas discusses the many issues you will need to consider and plan for before taking this step. There are mandatory investment levels and compulsory official documents you must obtain to run your own business here. In addition, some sectors of the economy are completely closed to foreigners by law.
There are many ways of sending money from one country to another. As always, expats can save themselves a lot of trouble and expense if they do a little research and shop around for the best deal.
International Bank Transfers
For most expats, currency transfer involves transferring small to medium sized amounts regularly from an existing bank account back home into a new overseas bank account in the local currency. These may be pension payments, benefits, or any other form of income.
Your home bank will usually be glad to oblige. You can set up facilities with them “on demand” whereby you fax or call them on the phone, provide a secret code or two, tell them the amount in question, and they will transfer it to your new bank, automatically converting it into the relevant local currency. Some banks also allow you to make international payments online. Whatever method you choose, transfers normally take between 3-7 days although 1-2 day transfers are often available but be prepared to pay more for these.
You can also set up regular transactions that are processed automatically on a fixed day of each month. Many state pensions and benefits can be paid directly into your new bank abroad without going through your home bank at all. Some private pension organisations may also offer the same facility.
When you first set up a transfer of funds abroad, the sending bank or institution will ask you for various codes that identify the destination bank. Often they will ask for IBAN (International Bank Account Number), BIC (Bank Identifier Code) or SWIFT codes but don?t panic – your new bank will give these to you and they may even already be listed in your new chequebook or bank statements.
As far as charges are concerned, you will probably be required to pay a flat fee per transaction. Additionally a percentage fee is often charged for the currency conversion itself. You may also find that your receiving bank charges you for receiving the transfer. Charges vary by bank but can quickly add up – ask your bank(s) for an indication of the fees involved.
As a general rule, transferring larger sums less frequently usually works out cheaper than transferring smaller amounts more often. However, if you need to transfer regular amounts of at least a few hundred pounds/dollars or need to make a larger one-off payment (e.g. for a house purchase) you should consider the services of a currency broker.
Cash Machine/ATM Withdrawals
Thanks to modern technology, most people abroad can go to a cash machine/ATM and withdraw local currency funds directly from their home bank account. This is a useful option to have for expats but exercise caution – many banks make hefty charges for using this type of facility. You may also find that withdrawal limits are in place (as a security measure) even if you significant funds in your account back home.
You can also use VISA or Mastercard credit cards to obtain cash in this fashion and if you pay the amount off quickly and avoid interest charges then fine – but once again credit card charges for cash withdrawals can be high. Check the rates carefully.
Currency brokers (also called foreign exchange brokers) offer significant advantages over traditional banks. Firstly, brokers will often be able to offer you a better rate than your bank. Secondly, the entire process is more transparent – many banks require you to accept the exchange rate available on the day they process your transaction, whatever and whenever that may be, but a specialist broker will offer greater flexibility, even allowing you to specify the rate you want in advance.
Currency brokers are smaller companies than major banks so always check their background carefully. Ask existing expats for their own experiences and recommendations before choosing a firm to handle your own foreign exchange requirements.
A good broker will discuss all the options with you and enable you to make the best decision for your circumstances. Using a broker will typically off the following advantages:
1) Currency brokers generally provide superior exchange rates to the high street banks. The currency brokers have access to the interbank rate and do not have the high costs that the banks have. This means that they can usually offer better exchange rates.
2) Use of a free Market Watch/Order Service: This allows you to tell your currency broker your target or budget exchange rate and they will ring you if that exchange rate level is reached. As the rate moves every few seconds, currency brokers can act as your eyes and ears on the market.
3) Ability to fix the exchange rate in advance using a Forward Contract. If you know you need to convert/move funds in the future but don?t yet have the money you can reserve a rate in advance using a Forward Contract. During this period, you are exposed to exchange rate movements and therefore, a forward contract is ideal if, for example, you have agreed to buy a house and want to fix the rate now but will not be making payment for a couple of months.
Savings from currency brokers can vary from between 1 and 4 per cent on the exchange rate alone, and specialists do not typically charge any fees for transmitting the funds abroad, unlike banks which often levy expensive fees or charges. If you are emigrating and transferring a large sum of money – such as the proceeds of a property – a foreign exchange company could potentially save you thousands.
Compare quotes from leading foreign exchange currency brokers
Situated to the east of Florida in the West Indies, the Bahamas is an independent nation consisting of 700 islands.
The overall population as of 2020 is around 385,000, over 90% of whom are of African descent.
The Bahamas is one of the richest nations in the Americas, with a massive and well developed tourism industry, which keeps half the inhabitants employed and generates 50% of GDP. There is also a considerable offshore banking and finance sector. There are significant tax advantages to living on the islands (no income or corporation tax). This has attracted a large number of foreign investors, and consequently there is a fairly sizeable expat community.
The official language in the Bahamas is British English, spoken by the majority of the population. Many Caribbean islands with a British history have developed their own style of ‘Creole English’. Bahamian Creole English is notably widespread on the islands.
If English is not your native tongue, then learning or improving it will naturally help you to communicate and settle better, and it will be vital in the workplace. It is preferable to possess a level of confidence and proficiency in English before you arrive.
You may need to consider an online English course, or attending an international school. This is especially important if you need occupation-specific proficiency, for example in banking, finance, or medical English.
There are many courses in English available on the internet catering for all levels. Some will be free to a certain level. There are also several international language schools in The Bahamas with a wide variety of courses in English to help you when you arrive.
Commerce and general conversation on the islands will be in English; these daily interactions will improve your level of proficiency fairly quickly, as you will essentially be immersed in the language and culture. You should also be able to find locals willing to coach you or encourage you by engaging in conversation over a coffee or a beer.
You may also wish to explore the idea of learning Spanish, which is the third largest language per capita in the world, spoken by almost half a billion people worldwide. The Caribbean is flanked by many Spanish speaking countries, and some facility in the language will help you if you wish to visit them.
Or alternatively, there are many excellent Spanish language courses available on the internet, some free (if you don’t mind the advertising). There are also a number of Spanish learning opportunities in Nassau, and plenty in Latin America. If you learn some basic words and phrases in Spanish, you will be able to get by.
Linguistic experts recommend an immersive learning experience as the quickest and most reliable method to acquire or consolidate a new language. If you need to improve your English, this should be a matter of going about and engaging with the local population, reading English books or newspapers, and watching English-language TV or films without subtitles.
Similarly for learning or improving your Spanish, immersing yourself in Spanish language television and newspapers is a good plan. Expat learners report that Latin American teaching standards are generally very good, and there are a few locals who offer schooling.
For Spanish conversation or practice, rely on your own knowledge and a good phrasebook rather than digital translation: although the islands have a good standard of internet connection, the wifi is sometimes slow and you may not be able to access your phone at all times.
There are opportunities for employment in the Bahamas, too. Jobs are available in the tourist industry, where experienced and qualified watersports specialists may be required seasonally with private clubs. A high standard of English will be expected. Specialist jobs may be also available in the banking sector.
Teaching English in the Bahamas is another possibility. There are several international schools, and contracts can be anything from six months upwards. These teaching jobs are available to anyone with a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate. Please note that it is always easier to get work in international education if you have at least a certificate in either TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages).
Most language teaching jobs would be in the capital, Nassau. Rates of pay vary considerably, and if you are intending to stay long-term you need to factor in the cost of living, and your own desired lifestyle.
If you intend to teach English in the Bahamas, it is preferable to have experience in teaching schemes such as the Cambridge English exams or IELTS (International English Language Testing System): the English test for study, migration or work. Some teaching experience in the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) will also be helpful. This assesses analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills in written English for use in admission to graduate management programs, such as the MBA.
You may also find work more easily if you are experienced in teaching English for particular sectors, such as tourism and hospitality or medical English.
The Bahamas is a very rich nation, with a well-developed high-end tourist industry and offshore banking facilities, and an education system that has had massive government investment since the 1960s, following recognition that improvements across the board were absolutely vital for national progress.
Despite funding hiccups in fostering this ongoing improvement, the Bahamas now boasts well over 95% adult literacy. To achieve this, the Bahamas spends a considerable proportion of GDP on education, further bolstered by the independently funded private sector and international education institutions.
School attendance in the Bahamas is compulsory and free for all children aged 5 – 16. It is organised and controlled by the Department of Education. The Bahamas’ national curriculum seeks to provide quality education for all students.
If you are lucky enough to be coming to the Bahamas, you will find it unique in many ways, but the education system should be familiar to UK citizens, being based on the British educational system, taught in English, with the school year beginning in September and ending with exams in June.
There are over 200 primary and secondary schools in the Bahamas, 75% state funded and controlled. Of the private schools many are also at least partially funded by the government, in recognition of their importance to the strength, variety, and integrity of the overall system.
There are around 75,000 schoolchildren in total in Bahamas, two thirds enrolled in the state system. While teaching is generally of a high standard, the top schools may be oversubscribed, and early contact with the school of your choice is always advisable.
Fees and waiting lists for private schools will vary considerably, and need to be checked locally. School curricula may differ too in some aspects, but the emphasis is on a well-rounded, multicultural, and multilingual education.
Additionally, under the most recent Education Act, homeschooling is another possible option. The procedure is relatively simple if you choose this route for your child’s education. You must register your decision to homeschool annually with the Ministry of Education, and full educational plans must then be put before the education authorities. Home visits and reporting will be regularly carried out to ensure your child is being home schooled adequately.
However, almost all children in he Bahamas, local or foreign, will attend primary school from age five, and continue to secondary education at 11. The system prepares all children for the Bahamian National High School Diploma at age 16, leading to further education for those who wish to continue.
Top private schools in the Bahamas include:
• Tambearly in Sandyport
• Windsor School on New Providence
• The Island School on Eleuthera
Fees and extra-curricular activities may vary considerably, and need to be ascertained with the individual school.
Additionally, there are independently run international schools, which are more specifically geared towards expat children. These are run on English or US educational models, and offer their students the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP). Fees are relatively high.
Further education opportunities in the Bahamas are provided for through the universities. There are also a number of colleges for vocational training, including nursing, tourism management, IT, and education.
These facilities include:
• The Bahamas Institute of Business and Technology
• The Bahamas Baptist College
• The Atlantic College and Theosophical Seminary
• Success Training College
• College of the Bahamas
• Bahamas Technical and Vocational institute
• Galilee College
• Omega College
• Sojourner Douglas College
These colleges are generally affiliated to one or more international universities, and offer a very wide range of courses culminating in associate or bachelor degrees.
Looking more closely at a couple of examples:
Southern College offers courses at associate and bachelor level in the disciplines of business, IT, education, healthcare and social sciences. They run associate degree programs which will get students to entry level and supervisory roles in the workplace, whilst bachelors who graduate from Southern College would be able to function at managerial level.
The College of the Bahamas offers a wide range of courses up to master’s level in a number of subjects through its affiliation with the University of the West Indies (UWI), which has also established an open campus in the Bahamas to facilitate online learning in a semi-controlled environment.
The Bahamian government is a net contributor to UWI funding. UWI offer over 1,000 courses leading to bachelor or masters (MA/MSc) degrees, and over 130 PhD programmes.
Even with all these choices, the likelihood is that many Bahamian and international students will want to continue their higher education elsewhere, and, provided they complete their studies in the islands with acceptable grades, the system in general is set up for their academic achievements to be recognised, and to enable them to fit in wherever they go in the world.