Marianne Fernandes, Barbados

Who are you? Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I’m Marianne, I’m 31, and I’m a digital marketer. Four years ago, I moved to the beautiful Caribbean island of Barbados. I’ve been freelance for a few years, and in 2019 I co-founded Caribbean Collective, with the idea of bringing together business-minded creatives to offer branding and marketing services for businesses based locally in the Caribbean, and in the UK. A combination of factors brought me here. It wasn’t like I put a pin on a map or anything. A few things happened in the space of a year that cemented my decision to move abroad.

1 – My father is a Trinidadian citizen and procured me a Trinidadian passport by descent. I can’t pass this onto my children, unless I marry a Trinidadian citizen or give birth in Trinidad.

2 – I was in a long-term relationship that ended, and so I was no longer tied down to one place by a boyfriend. I was a totally free agent.

3 – The company I worked for offered me a different role, and I chose to turn it down and take redundancy pay instead. This gave me a windfall that I could use to fund my move abroad.

So, I decided that, with my new passport, I could work and live abroad anywhere in the CARICOM region. As long as you have a degree (which I do) and a CARICOM citizenship and passport, you can apply for residency and live and work freely. I have family in Barbados, and when I was thinking about moving abroad for six months (!), I felt it was the wisest choice to go somewhere I already knew people.

What challenges did you face during the move?

It took a year to get my paperwork sorted. I think it always takes a while, wherever you are. Most people understand that these things take time, and I never felt this was a problem. Luckily, my CARICOM citizenship meant my right to live and work here was straightforward and permanent, once I had it.

I can imagine that other journeys aren’t so smooth, so this might be a challenge people face when becoming an expat, and the only advice I can give is: do your research, and talk to people. Officials understand the system and know that it’s a stressful process, and it’s their job to help you through. I had great support from the local government here.

How did you find somewhere to live?

I did some research online while I was in London, and organised meetings with realtors that I could see once I was on the island. Being here, exploring the land, really gave me a sense of what different areas were like, what kind of budget was needed, and where I actually wanted to live. You just can’t get that on Google Maps and RightMove. Even asking locals can only get you so far, because their preferences will be different from yours.

In Barbados, you have the beautiful East Coast, where you are buffered by the Atlantic winds. It has a breath-taking landscape and is a little cheaper, but you have a 40-minute drive everywhere else. If you’re a surfer, it’s a no-brainer to go there. If you’re young and want nightlife, you’re better off in the south, near the Gap and the cool bars and restaurants of Worthing. There’s a good collection of people in the west, too, around Holetown, but expect to pay premium prices. And there are the sometimes-overlooked St Peter, St Andrew and St Lucy up in the north, which can claim some of the most beautiful views in the whole country.

Initially, I moved in with my cousin. He had just broken up with his girlfriend, and we were good company for each other. Looking back, I’m so glad I did. Not only is he like a brother to me now, but it also means I was never alone. I love living alone – I did in London – but in a new place you need someone who can introduce you to people or places and give you advice on where to go and what to do. Someone who’s been there and done it already. That advice is priceless. If you don’t know anyone, get on Facebook or social media – there will be a community group to get involved in.

Are there many other expats in your area?

In Barbados, there’s a big expat community. Most are from the UK, and some are from the US and Canada. It speaks to the history of the island, which was owned by Britain but is geographically closer to the US and Canada, and so much of the business is done in these areas.

Some people say the expat community tends to stick to themselves, but in my experience, they mix with the locals in their work and personal lives. It’s a very open and harmonious community.

Now that the Barbados government has launched its one-year work visa, a.k.a The 12 Month Barbados Welcome Stamp, more people will arrive to live and work here, and help the local economy thrive. Everyone here is very lucky to be able to call this rock their home; it truly is paradise.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

Locals are wonderful. I have become close friends with some local persons and have worked with many others, all of whom I get along with really well. The local expat community has been here many years, so it isn’t uncommon to see foreign workers and most people are used to it.

Sometimes, people assume I’m a tourist, but once I start to talk, they quickly realise I am a local too, and they treat me like family. Everyone from Barbados is friendly, kind-hearted and generous.

What do you like about life where you are?

For me, Barbados offers a really healthy lifestyle, and that’s what I’m trying to achieve in my life. I have created a balance between work and play, so that my professional life is growing along with my ambitions, but I can switch off when I need to.

The food here is accessible and healthy – I can buy meat and veg from local farmers, where I know the product has only travelled a few miles before it’s reached my plate. I don’t need avocados all year round, and I certainly don’t need carrots farmed in South Africa. That makes a huge difference to me, and you can feel the results of such a good diet. The tropical climate and fantastic beaches mean I can go swimming in clear waters and get all the health benefits from an active lifestyle (not to mention an abundance of Vitamin D!).

That’s not to say it’s all no-fun. The West Indians know how to fete, and so, on weekends, I find myself drinking a cocktail made with the local rum and dancing under the stars – there’s no point in being healthy if you have no life to live, and embracing the joys of life is just as important to me. You can find both right here on this island.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me: I miss the convenience.

Amazon Prime and Deliveroo, can you PLEASE get here!!

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

Time. It doesn’t exist here in the same way. In London (guess what) it’s a fast pace. If something takes more than a couple of minutes, you wonder, Why is it taking so long? When I began working here, I had to learn to slow down and not expect things to be done right away. I had heard of “island time”, but this was definitely a learning curve.

Here, people talk for a long time, and things take time, and you have to take a deep breath and know that when it happens, it will happen. You can’t rush things. But that’s not a bad thing. There’s no point in getting frustrated or annoyed. Relax, take it easy, and enjoy the ride. There’s a saying here locally about how you should not run to your grave.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

Set up a plan, but don’t commit until you’re there. You discover things when you’re on the ground that you just couldn’t do online. So, rent a car, rent a place short-term, and get ready to do your homework. Nothing will fall into your lap, but you can make opportunities happen for yourself, and serendipity isn’t too far away.

And making those opportunities happen is really important. Preparation is really key. Before you get to your destination, research the local businesses. Set up meetings with local realtors, and plan interviews with several companies. Even if they aren’t hiring, they may know someone in the industry, or even a friend, who is. If you already have work, that’s great. Then research what you want to do with your spare time – find your local surfing school or community project.

Don’t get there and expect everything to look rosy – it won’t be – but remember to keep going, and then you find you’ve already done it. My brother gave me a great piece of advice: keep busy. Join a gym class, or learn a new skill. Is there a drinks night or pub quiz that everyone goes to? Then go! You won’t get homesick or bored if you’re always thinking about the next thing to do.

What are your plans for the future?

This year, my main focus is to continue to build Caribbean Collective, taking on new members so we can offer our clients a greater variety of services. Right now, we offer graphic design, branding, copywriting and social media management. Soon, we will offer signage, photography, videography and digital ad management.

No one knows for sure what the future will hold, and I am always open to new ideas and opportunities. When I was planning my move to the Caribbean, and I was still a little nervous and unsure, I would always remind myself what my father told me: ‘Life isn’t a rehearsal.’ So, enjoy!