How to Move to Bonaire

Before they moved in 2005, Beth and Greg Winkler were accustomed to living by the sea. But when it came to their sport of choice, wind- surfing, the occasional gusts of Cocoa Beach, FL, didn't have a thing on the steady trade winds on the island of Bonaire. So after a decade's worth of visits to the island as travelers - and a mission to secure hard-to-come-by furniture - they packed up their sails and headed to the Caribbean. We caught up with Beth to see how this retired couple achieved an island life funded by investments and fueled by the seaside breeze.

When did you realize you wanted to move to Bonaire? The moment we stepped foot on the island some 10 years ago we realized that our weeklong vacation was going to go by too fast. We didn't leave for another two weeks. We had never been on a trip before where we didn't want to leave. You know you love the place if you extend your trip from one week to three. On Bonaire, there are no stop lights; police presence is minimal; there's no crime; when the phone rings, we want to speak to the person who's calling; and the windsurfi ng is the best in the world!

How long did it take you after that to move there? It took us some five years. A Dutch woman told us if we wanted to move to Bonaire we should visit at least five times. So we did. Each year we traveled here, we looked at real estate and dreamed of the quieter, simpler life. Five years went by, and we began to see an increase in property value. Once we decided that it was now or never, we went forward. We met wonderful people who helped us acquire our goal. Through karma, or whatever you want to call it, it all fell into place. There's no fear, no stress, just fun doing something new to create a far better way of life for us.

What was the most challenging part of the move? Securing the mortgage and the furnishings. There are no mortgages to be had on the island, and the furniture stores are few and far between. But really, those were just part of the building blocks to get here. The hardest part was making the commitment. When you decide to go for something, the decision to do it is the hardest part. Open a business, run a marathon, quit smoking, have a baby - once the decision is made, the rest is just a game of how to stick to the plan. There are lots of twists and turns that make the plan interesting and a challenge. If you don't like a challenge, then don't dream big. The issues we had with the mortgage and furnishings were all part of the charm and the challenge.

How is your life different now that you live on Bonaire? We're not cleaning toilets or making beds for clients or traveling in heavy traffic on the A1A highway. On the way to the beach in Bonaire, we pass not one stop sign, much less a traffic signal. We're sailing in clear blue, windy water instead of brackish and occasionally windy conditions. Because it is windy most of the time here, we can choose our time on the water instead of being obligated when the conditions are right. Both places have easy access to water, which is most important, but the atmosphere near the equator runs slower, and the pace of fun runs faster.

Is there one moment you remember when you felt particularly lucky to be on Bonaire? No, not really. Every morning when we wake up, we feel lucky to be here on Bonaire. Every day the sun shines, the wind freshens and the water is blue in Lac Bay, where we sail. Tell me that's not feeling lucky.

What's your favorite island dish and where do you get it? Fried iguana. We can only find it at a local friend's house.

How far do you have to travel to get a gallon of milk, get to a hospital or go to the movies? Well, there are no gallons of milk, just cartons on the shelf, but everything is only 15 minutes away because the island is so small. Just down the hill is a great hospital, plus there are several Dutch doctors on the island. The movie theater is across the street from our favorite restaurant, Wil's Tropical Grill. Next to the movie theater is a movie rental store with a good Internet connection, so we see as many movies as we want.

Your best local advice for someone traveling to the island? Bring few clothes and lots of sunscreen.

How long do you plan to stay on Bonaire? We will stay until we're forced to leave - or until the casinos take over. I can say for sure that at the first sign of a stop light, we will be looking for a new island.

Facts of Life

  • Flip-flop quotient: 5
  • Expats to locals: 1:41
  • Population of main town: Kralendijk, 1,958
  • Languages spoken: Dutch, Papiamento, English, Spanish
  • Travel from the U.S.: From Florida, American Airlines. Houston and New York, Continental.
  • Ease of immigration: Fairly easy, if a bit quirky. U.S. citizens can stay on Bonaire for up to 90 days.
  • Website: tourismbonaire.com