Find A Job
Much of the employment in Trinidad and Tobago is concentrated in the gas, oil and tourism industries. Expat workers must have a valid work permit if they are doing any work that lasts for longer than a 30 day period.
Relations between workers and employers tend to be very good. There are some union-style organisations that can negotiate with the employer if required and who can arrange employment terms and conditions. Those who are employed by the state such as teachers, workers in the emergency services and civil servants and their terms and conditions are generally organised by legislation. Each group has its own piece of legislation which determines working hours, leave entitlements, pay and other benefits.
Many larger companies will have human resources departments or an industrial relations manager whose job it is to negotiate with unions and workers. If not, then there are private negotiators which can be hired to negotiate on their behalf.
Working hours for most people tend to be from 8 am to 4 pm five days a week. Most people will work a maximum of 8 hours a day. There is also a minimum wages order which stipulates details of rest and meal breaks, but this only applies to those who earn $10.50 or less. Those who earn more than this who are not part of a union have to negotiate their own terms and conditions. The minimum wage in Trinidad and Tobago is $7.00.
Trinidad and Tobago has no standard leave entitlement so this is decided by the legislation for the public workers or the negotiated terms of private sector workers. All workers are entitled to paid public holidays.
Much of the work in the islands tends to be in the main industries of oil and gas, although tourism also provides many jobs, although much of this work is seasonal. The average worker earns between $2000 and $4000 each month, although menial workers will earn less than this.
As a large number of young people will leave the islands to study at universities abroad, many of them will choose to remain abroad for several years afterwards, meaning that the islands will have a shortage of professional workers in some fields. This means that expats who are seeking work in these areas will have a good chance of obtaining a work permit. Medical staff and skilled professionals in the oil industry are among those that are in demand.
Apply For A Visa/Permit
You must obtain a visa to visit Trinidad and Tobago, unless you are a national of a visa-exempt country. Trinidad and Tobago have a reciprocal agreement with the European Union (EU), allowing all citizens of states that are parties of the Schengen Agreement to stay without a visa for a period of up to 90 days in any 180-day period. Trinidad and Tobago requires a minimum passport validity of at least six months after your travel departure date, at least two blank pages in your passport (for stamps, visas etc.), and proof of either onward or return travel.
It is possible to apply for visa/stay extensions from the Passport and Immigration Department in Port of Spain (Trinidad) or Scarborough (Tobago). UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for both entry and exit, as well as airside transit.
There are several types of visa available for stays in Trinidad and Tobago, including:
• Business visa
• Investor visa
• Missionary visa
• Student visa
• Tourist, visitor and transit visas
• Work visa
Whether you can travel and/or stay in Trinidad and Tobago on any one of these visas depends on the types of activities you will be conducting during your time there. Read on to find out more.
Business visitors travelling to Trinidad and Tobago are permitted to undertake the following activities:
• Attend business meetings
• Attend conferences, seminars, and trade shows
• Visit company facilities
• Develop business contacts
Some nationals, such as those from the European Union, Canada, and the United States of America, do not require a visa in order to conduct business activities in Trinidad and Tobago on a short-term basis. If you are unsure whether this applies to you or not, you should contact your local embassy or consulate for clarification, prior to making travel arrangements. If you are not eligible for a business visa, you may need to obtain a visitor visa instead, which can be done at your local embassy or consulate prior to travel.
Individuals who match a specified criteria may be eligible for an investment visa. These are usually through Caribbean investment immigration programmes and often involve investments in the real estate sector. Applicants are often required to invest in government approved projects.
The minister responsible for immigration is in charge of issuing minister’s permits and/or visas if applicable. These will be issued to applicants who he deems fit to enter Trinidad and Tobago for the period of time specified in the permit. Approval is also required from the Ministry of Education; this can be obtained from the Director of School Supervision (Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain) for persons attending government institutions.
Regardless of whether you are from a visa-exempt country, you must obtain the appropriate (missionary) permit, otherwise you will be denied entry to the country.
Students from the following countries do not require a visa to enter Trinidad and Tobago:
• Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom
• All CARICOM member states, with the exception of Haiti
• The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China
• All British Commonwealth countries, with the exception of Australia, Cameroon, the Republic of Fiji, India, Mozambique, New Zealand, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Uganda
If you do not come from a visa-exempt country, then you will need to submit an application to your local consulate or embassy as far in advance as possible.
Even if you are visa-exempt, you may still require a study permit. Your acceptance package from the education institute at which you will be studying should contain a detailed checklist of all the immigration procedures and financial documents required.
If you are unsure, you can send an email to this address to seek clarification: email@example.com.
Tourist, visitor and transit visas
Such visas are only applicable/necessary if you do not come from a visa-exempt country. You will need to submit an application to your local embassy or consulate in order to obtain a tourist, visitor or transit visa. These types of visa do not allow you to work.
Regardless of whether the work is paid or unpaid, the following constitutes as ‘work’ under Trinidadian law (if performed for more than 30 days per year):
• Technical work
• Repairs and maintenance
• Project planning or implementation
Nationals from Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) member states, excluding Haiti and the Bahamas, who have a CARICOM skills certificate, do not require a work permit in order to work in Trinidad and Tobago.
The type of work visa you will require depends on factors such as your qualifications, your salary, whether your employer has an entity in Trinidad and Tobago, the type of work you will be conducting, and how long your work will last. Typically, the most common work authorisation for Trinidad and Tobago comes in the form of a long-term work permit.
Visa application process
You will usually need to submit your visa application in person at your nearest embassy or consulate. You will need to bring both originals and photocopies of all standard supporting documents (i.e. your passport, your completed and signed application form, passport-size photos etc.). If you are applying for a visa on behalf of a minor (a child under the age of 18 years old), then you must also bring the child’s birth certificate and proof of identity.
Additionally, you must be able to prove that you are legally residing in the country from which you are making the application.
In Trinidad and Tobago, permits and visas often go hand in hand. For example, you can only apply for a long-stay visa if you have also applied for a residence permit. Permits for Trinidad and Tobago include:
The government website states that “a person entering Trinidad and Tobago to engage in gainful occupation for one period not exceeding thirty days in every twelve consecutive months, need not apply for a work permit.”
Other submissions for single or multiple work permit applicants must be submitted to the office of National Security and processed online. Your employer is usually responsible for applying for the work permit on your behalf; this will be after the employer has proved that there were no suitable candidates who were citizens or permanent residents.
A work permit application should be made at least three months before your intended date of travel.
Regardless of your visa status, you will need a study permit in order to study in Trinidad and Tobago. In order to file this application, you will need to complete and sign the appropriate forms, and you will need to show other documents too, such as your acceptance letter. You will need evidence of sufficient funds, or a local guarantor to accept financial responsibility for you (such as a family member or a family friend). You will need to complete medical examination forms, and you may also need to provide proof of accommodation.
Some foreign nationals may be able to apply for their student permit after arrival, at the Immigration Division at No. 116 Frederick Street, Port of Spain. This should be confirmed prior to travel. It is best to check with your local embassy or consulate whether you would be eligible for this.
A residence permit can be granted to parents or grandparents of a citizen or permanent resident, the spouse of a citizen or permanent resident, and the children of a citizen or permanent resident (if they are classified as dependent children). The sponsor (i.e. the citizen or permanent resident of Trinidad and Tobago) will need to show evidence of the sufficient funds that will allow them to support both themselves and any sponsored family members.
A missionary permit is for a person seeking to enter and remain in Trinidad and Tobago for the purpose of preaching or teaching, in either a religious institution or establishment. This person must have been accepted as a religious worker by a religious institution or establishment that is recognised by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.
This permit also includes applicants visiting for the purpose of speaking at a religious gathering, provided they have evidence of an invitation from a religious institution or establishment, which is recognised as such by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago or another recognised body or authority.
Applications for resident status must be made through the Ministry of National Security (MNS).
Depending on the issuing country of the CARICOM skills certificate, CARICOM nationals can legally work and/or reside in Trinidad and Tobago indefinitely. Registration with local authorities is usually required first.
All of the Caribbean investment immigration programmes offer citizenship directly, rather than through temporary or permanent residence. So if you qualify for the investment visa, you may be able to apply for citizenship as well.
You can also apply for resident status if you are the spouse of a citizen or permanent resident, or the parent or grandparent of a citizen or permanent resident, so long as they can support you.
Those who have been in Trinidad and Tobago on a work permit for five or more continuous years are considered eligible for a residency application.
Get Health Insurance
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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Rent Or Buy Property
Finding a place to rent in Trinidad and Tobago is very straightforward, and the law is on your side. All landlords and tenants must register with the Rent Assessment Board, which helps protect both the tenant and the landlord if/when rent adjustments are made. You will need to re-register each time you sign a new rental contract. The Board will get involved in any disputes between landlords and tenants.
Guarantors are not typically used in Trinidad and Tobago. Most tenancy lengths are twelve months, and security deposits and rent are to be paid in advance. If you decide to extend your tenancy, you will need to inform your landlord in writing before the original lease period is up.
The main concern for expats finding suitable places to live in Trinidad and Tobago is safety. The most popular expat destinations include Maraval, St. Ann’s, Cascade, Victoria Gardens and Westmoorings. To encourage foreign investment, the Tobago House of Assembly has identified six regions, on the island of Tobago, as designated tourism-related development areas:
• Arnos Vale and Culloden Estate
• Bacolet Estate
• Buccoo and Golden Grove Estate
• Englishman’s Bay
• Lowlands (including the Tobago Plantations Development) and Diamond Estate
• Mount Irvine and Grafton Estate
Average rent in these areas, for a furnished studio apartment, is around $400 to $600 a month, depending on how nice the area is. For a one- to two-bedroom furnished apartment, the average cost is $600 to $900, again depending on the exact area. You will find that almost all rentals are furnished, though you will still be expected to pay for additional amenities, like microwaves and TVs, as well as utilities.
If you commute to work, bear in mind that traffic can add considerably to your travel time, so try to choose an area that is not too far away. It is also in your best interests to hire a lawyer to assist with the renting process.
You can find information on rental properties on the Terra Caribbean website, LongTermLettings.com or the Trinidad Real Estate website.
Buying property is very expat-friendly in Trinidad and Tobago. It is recommended that you find a lawyer to assist you in the buying process, although they will typically take 1% to 1.5% of the sale price.
The process begins with an agreement of sale. This gives you an opportunity to conduct a title search, and means conveyancing can begin. Then, your lawyer will request the services of a search clerk, in order to conduct a search of the records at the offices of the Registrar General. The purpose of this search is to ensure that the property is cleared for sale. It usually takes two to three weeks and costs about US$300 to US$450. Once complete, the transaction can be finalised.
Upon completion of the sale, you will need to send a notice to the Minister of Finance, specifying the details of the transaction. This should include:
• Your name and address
• Your nationality and any former nationality
• The purpose for which the property is acquired
• The name and address of the vendor
• The date and registration details of the deed
• Evidence of your payment in foreign currency
In Trinidad, you will often not need a landholding license, whereas in Tobago, all prospective foreign home buyers must obtain a license. This process can take as little as 40 days, or as long as six months. The government welcomes foreign buyers, but you will need an Alien Landholding License if you wish to purchase more than one acre of residential land.
There are two systems under which land is held in Trinidad and Tobago:
• Old law system of conveyancing
• The Real Property Act (RPA) system of conveyancing
The old law system governs the majority of the land in Trinidad and Tobago. This system follows the procedures explained above. The RPA system exists alongside the old law system, and some properties may be held by both. The main difference is that land that falls under the RPA will have a title that is guaranteed by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago through the establishment of the Land Assurance Fund.
Once you find a suitable home, you will typically be required to pay a 10% deposit. If purchasing a home valued at more than US$850,000, you will be required to pay stamp duty (the amount will vary depending on the property value). There is also a 3% annual tax on residential property.
In Trinidad, a single-story home with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a two-car garage might start at around US$310,000. In one of the safer neighbourhoods, it would cost nearer to $550,000. In Tobago, small condominiums start at about $390,000, and family homes start at about $550,000.
It is possible to obtain a mortgage, although lending companies are limited. Usually, applicants can borrow up to US$2 million, with a typical down payment of 30%.
Move Your Belongings
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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Register For Healthcare
QUICK LINK: Trinidad and Tobago health insurance
Public health care that is provided in Trinidad and Tobago is free of charge for both residents and non-nationals. Depending on the care you need, health Centres and facilities as well as hospitals will provide you with different services and levels of care. Public health facilities are overseen by the Ministry of Health and they have created regional health authorities (RHAs) to look after facilities on a local level. The Ministry determines policy and sets targets for the RHAs.
There are a number of hospitals on both islands as well as several health clinics. There is no need to make an appointment to use the health facilities, as they are all walk-in centres, with the exception of the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, for which you need a referral from another health facility, unless you are in need of accident and emergency care.
There are a number of illnesses for which medications are provided free of charge to citizens. These include diabetes, asthma, heart conditions, arthritis, glaucoma, depression, blood pressure problems, epilepsy and conditions of the thyroid. If you have a medical condition which requires continuous medication then it is a good idea to check with the Ministry of Health in advance to see if your condition is covered or if you would be expected to pay for your own medication as an expat.
Most medications which are frequently used in the western world are available from pharmacies on the island, though it is a good idea to check in advance if you require something specific. It may be that a medication available over the counter in your home country is only available on prescription in Trinidad and Tobago, or your particular medication is not available at all. If this is the case you will need to work out suitable alternatives with your doctor.
There are also private medical facilities on both islands. To use these you would need to arrange private medical insurance on the islands, but the public health facilities are more than adequate for most conditions.
In case of an emergency or for immediate assistance you can dial 811 for the ambulance hotline which will transport sick or injured parties to any of the nation’s health facilities. The website of the Ministry of Health offers advice on how to stay healthy in the country’s warm climate, as well as advising on safe drinking water and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Open A Bank Account
Trinidad and Tobago have many banks for the expat to choose from and several of these are international banks. Opening an account with an international bank has many benefits, as you will be able to use the debit cards in ATMs in many locations and will not be limited to local transactions. An international bank may be able to help you to set up an account before you move to the country, particularly if you already have an existing account with them. Banks such as HSBC and Citibank have branches in Trinidad and Tobago.
A current account in Trinidad and Tobago is also known as a Transactional Account. This is for day to day banking needs and there are a certain number of requirements which will need to be met before you are able to open an account. There is a minimum deposit, which will vary from bank to bank but an average of $100 is common. As an expat you will be expected to show a copy of your passport as proof of identification and you will also need to be able to prove your address, so a copy of your tenancy agreement or a utility bill will be required. Some banks may want to have proof of your income, so a copy of your contract of employment or proof of income from another source may be needed. The requirements of each bank will be different, so it is a good idea to find out in advance exactly what each bank will need you to do.
Current account holders receive regular statements and even a small amount of interest on the minimum balance if this is maintained. There is an annual fee for the administration of the account and this fee allows a number of transactions to be carried out each month free of charge. Transactions over this number will incur a fee. It is perhaps easier to obtain an overdraft facility in Trinidad and Tobago than in most other countries, particularly when you use one of the international banks and can prove that your income can help you to pay it back. It is a good idea to arrange a meeting with your bank manager if you think you may need credit facilities as a good working relationship with your bank is essential.
Savings accounts are often set up so to limit the number of withdrawals made, although fees on certain transactions may be waived if you stay within the same banking group. Apart from the withdrawals many of the benefits are the same as for a current account, including statements and a debit card. Most expats will set up both a current account and a savings account. Transfers of monies to other countries are fairly straightforward and can be done online or at your branch, which is ideal for those who are working in the country to send money home.
Accounts in US dollars are frequently requested by expats, usually to make it easier when transferring funds from abroad. These are available as current and savings accounts. There is also a minimum deposit for foreign currency accounts and interest is normally paid twice a year, as with savings accounts. It is possible to arrange a fixed term savings account which is flexible. The account holder chooses the number of penalty-free withdrawals that they are allowed to make each year and the account earns a slightly higher rate of interest than other types of savings accounts. The only difference with these term deposit accounts is that they may require a much higher initial deposit. This can be several thousand dollars, but this will vary from bank to bank.
Online banking is very popular in Trinidad and Tobago and it can be used to monitor transactions, transfer monies, pay bills and set up direct debits and standing orders. Telephone banking is also frequently used. There are few restrictions on carrying out transactions at other branches of your bank.
Banks are open during normal working hours, though some branches in more rural areas may only have part-time opening hours. Online banking can be accessed 24 hours a day and most banks will have a customer service department which can be contacted by telephone outside normal working hours.
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.
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Learn The Language
The islands of Trinidad and Tobago, 11 miles from the coast of Venezuela, are a popular destination – but how easily will you be able to make yourself understood if you visit this region as a native English speaker? Which languages are spoken across the islands? We will answer your questions below.
The good news for English speaking expats is that the official language of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago is English. Patois, a colloquial version of French, is also to be found here and so is Spanish, due to the proximity of Venezuela: many young Venezuelans are sent here to learn English in an immersive English-speaking environment. You may also hear some of the Indian languages (such as Trinidadian Bhojpuri / Trinidadian Hindustani) in addition to Chinese: a legacy of the people who were brought here as part of indentured labour.
In addition, you are likely to come across Trinidadian English Creole, derived from English but influenced by several African languages, Spanish, French, French Creole, Trinidadian Hindustani, and Chinese. Tobagonian Creole is also derived from English but is different from Trinidadian Creole, closer to Lesser Antillean creoles.
However, you will be able to communicate easily during your time in the islands as a native English speaker. The lingua franca of the workplace will also be English if you are in business here.
Should you wish to learn Spanish, you will find plenty of provision to doing so. Spanish is officially the First Foreign Language of the islands, which are close to a number of Spanish-speaking nations, and you will bilingual signs in Spanish and English along the roads and on the streets of Port of Spain. The University of the West Indies offers Spanish classes for all levels from elementary to advanced, with 52 contact hours of tuition per semester.
You can also learn Spanish with a private language school as there are a number of these on the islands.
You may be heading out to the islands with the intention of teaching English. The islands are a popular destination due to the high standard of living and the pleasant Caribbean lifestyle. Although the official language of Trinidad and Tobago is English, and you will not therefore be teaching locals, you may find work teaching students from South American countries. There are a number of English language schools on the islands. 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).
It is also preferable if you 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 in summer schools.
It will also be helpful to have at least a Bachelor’s degree as most language schools require this: basically, the rule of thumb is that the more qualifications you have, both in TEFL and in academic subjects, the easier you will find it to get work. Salaries run from around US$1200+ per month depending on your qualifications and experience, and some schools offer part payment for flights in the form of a return ticket.
Choose A School
The official language of Trinidad and Tobago is English and the educational system is patterned on the British model.
Education is free and compulsory between the ages of 5 -16, and the nation has a high rate of literacy. Preschool starts at the age of three, and while this is not compulsory, most children are enrolled. The system is then organised into stages:
• primary: ages 5 – 11, ending with the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA), which decides the secondary school that the child is to attend
• secondary: 11 – 16
The local NCSE (National Certificate of Secondary Education) examinations is sat in the third year of this system. In the fifth year of school students sit the CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate).
They may then attend high school for a further two-year period (sixth form), leading to the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations(CAPE). Both CSEC and CAPE examinations are regulated by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC). Students can also choose to focus on more technical or vocational subjects.
The exam-oriented system has come in for a degree of criticism. The system overall, however, has a good reputation and education is a high priority in the islands. The system is under review and improvements and developments are planned by the government. Some commentators believe that public education in the country provides a better standard of education than private schools, given that the public system is free. Expat parents give mixed reviews of the private schools, with some reporting that facilities can be rather basic.
Should you choose to opt for the private educational system, however, you will find some choice in Trinidad and Tobago, although options are somewhat limited due to the small size of the islands. There are a range of international schools in the country, teaching a variety of curricula from the British national curriculum, to the International Baccalaureate and American syllabi, among others. You will also find a limited amount of alternative education, such as Montessori schools.
For example, the International School of Port of Spain is a private, co-ed independent school where most students are expats. It has full accreditation from SACS. ISPS offers the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program in pre-kindergarten through grade five as a recognized IB World School. The US College Board Advanced Placement Program is also offered in grades 11 & 12. You will need to contact the school directly for their fee schedule.
The Trillium School offers a Canadian-based curriculum, culminating with The Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD). Fees are around US$6K per year.
St. Andrew’s private school is based on a British curriculum.You will need to contact the school directly for their fee schedule.
The British Academy follows a British curriculum and Cambridge exams. Fees are around US$7K – 13K.
You may find that you need to make one-off or regular payments such as capitalisation fees or enrolment fees: these can vary by several thousand euros, so do check with the school and make sure that you are aware of what you are paying. You may be able to pay in termly instalments. Check if there are any sibling reductions.
Enrolment policies will vary from school to school, but your child may be asked to take a proficiency test (for example in English or maths). Some schools do not, however, impose entry tests. You can also check the accreditation of your selected school: for instance, with organisations such as COBIS (the Council of British International Schools).
Homeschooling is legal in the country since the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago recognizes and declares the “right of a parent or guardian to provide a school of his own choice for the education of his child or ward” and there is a homeschooling association which you can contact for further information.