Best Islands to Live On: Palau

Why Palau? If you're looking to disappear from the face of the earth, Palau's your place. That's not only because this Micronesian island nation 550 miles east of the Philippines is the most remote location on our list, but also because if you visit -- or move -- you're likely to spend much of your time underwater. Palau, with its crystal-clear lagoons, unique reefs, teeming undersea life and World War II shipwrecks, is among the world's top dive destinations. American-funded infrastructure improvements mean the roads are paved and there's now a modern airport, but beyond that, if you're a Robinson Crusoe type, you might find the life of your dreams.Life of an "Expat" "I grew up in Olympia, Washington, and my mother married a Palauan gentleman who was serving in the U.S. Army, stationed at Fort Lewis up there," says Sam Scott, 46."The next thing that we know..." View Larger Map
"My stepfather is being discharged and brought back to Palau to take over the position of high chief." Sam's stepfather, it turned out, was a "Very Important Palauan." A king of sorts. After finishing high school, Sam joined his stepfather in Palau. "I was thinking, 'Wow, I'm coming to Palau; I'm going to be living in royalty, blah, blah, blah." The reality was a little different. "He put me to work in his restaurant for a dollar an hour," Sam says with a laugh. "This was not what I was expecting." Over time, however, Sam's stepfather introduced him to Palau's broader possibilities, which included a life spent primarily on -- and under -- the water. "The moment he took me out to the Rock Islands, to the lagoon area, and I saw this beautiful underwater world, I was just blown away. This was something I had to see more of." Sam learned to drive a boat and took up scuba diving. One day, out of the blue, his stepfather handed him the keys to a boat. "He said to me, 'Sam, I want you to take this boat and become the biggest, most successful tour operator on Palau.' And with that boat, and nothing else in my pocket, I built what I have today." Now, almost 30 years later, Sam's Tours operates a fleet of a dozen boats and employs a staff of 50. The company runs tours and dive trips around Palau, which, with its globally renowned reef and wreck diving, has been named an "Underwater Wonder of the World." But Sam has built more than a business; he has also built a life on Palau. He's married to "a beautiful local girl," Martul, and is the father of five kids -- ranging from 1 to 18. The family lives on the premises of Sam's Tours. "I open the blinds and look across the water to the Rock Islands," he says. Palau, too, has developed since Sam arrived -- "all the roads are nicely paved" -- and the airport, once little more than a tin shack, is now state of the art. Even so, the island Sam calls "the jewel of Micronesia" retains its natural beauty and remains fertile ground for entrepreneurship. "There's still opportunity here," Sam says. "A lot of people who come to visit come back to live, and they find their niche."Your New Home * $ Three-bedroom home has an ocean view from the master bedroom. $195,000 * $$ Four-bedroom, two-level home has a private beach in the back for fishing as well as snorkeling. $330,000 * $$$ 15-acre private island of coconut and mangrove trees includes a sandy beach. $3.5 million * Find more real-estate listings from Summit Realty.Facts of Life * Climate: Tropical * Population of island: 20,000 * Percentage expats: 10% * Population of main town: Koror, 13,000 * House starting price: High $100s * Travel from U.S.: From Hawaii, fly to Guam, then a two-hour flight to Palau. * Closest hospital: Koror * Price of local beer: $2.50 for Red Rooster * Languages spoken: English, Palauan * Ease of immigration: Easy with Elite Resident Visa * Ease of buying a home: Medium * Website: visit-palau.comExplore More * Find more islands to live or retire on at islands.com/live.