Living in the Cayman Islands

What is it like to move to Grand Cayman? An expat answers questions about day-to-day living in the Cayman Islands.

Grand Cayman
Ever think of moving to the Cayman Islands? Here's what a local says you can expect.Shutterstock

Located just south of Cuba, the Cayman Islands are a collection of three islands and a British overseas territory. In total, the islands comprise of 102 square miles, with Grand Cayman being the largest. The islands’ population is a bit over 60,000, which is dwarfed by Miami’s 463,000 residents.

Each of the islands provide visitors and hopeful residents with unique opportunities for Cayman Islands living: Grand Cayman has become famous for beach resorts, scuba diving and snorkeling. Trying to go offshore fishing? Cayman Brac is a popular location to get started. As for Little Cayman, there's a multitude of wildlife for nature enthusiasts to explore.

Read on, as scuba instructor and owner of Divetech, a full-service scuba operator, Joanna Mikutowicz, answers common questions about living in the Cayman Islands.

What jobs can I find?

The dive industry stretches the widest arms to welcome Americans, followed closely by finance. Every job has to be advertised — and offered to Caymanians first. Restaurant work can be harder to secure because many locals also covet those same positions.

First, you’ll need a work permit: Start employment under a three-month allowance, followed by one renewed annually.

“When the service industry requests a permit for an American, the government usually puts a hold on it,” said Mikutowicz, who is living in Grand Cayman. “But not many Caymanians want the dive jobs, which makes the process in that industry much smoother.”

Granted, whichever field is a fit, you’ll want to start the job search at least three to four months before you intend on living in the Cayman Islands.

What are the healthcare options?

“You have to have healthcare to work here, and employers are required to pay for half,” Mikutowicz said. “The plans are quite good. I have the middle level of coverage, which includes prescriptions and two annual dental visits. It feels totally the same as the States. I trust the hospitals here for just about any procedure. But for a really invasive surgery, I go to Miami.”

How do I bring my pets to the island?

Puppy passports are required through the department of agriculture for moving to the Cayman Islands with your pet. After a vet visit for blood work and a rabies test, there’s a three-month quarantine where your pet stays at your home prior to traveling. Then you’re met at the airport on Grand Cayman.

“If your paperwork isn’t in order, you’ll be on the next plane leaving,” Mikutowicz said.

How do I move my belongings?

“I shipped a ton of stuff from Hawaii,” Mikutowicz said. “Once you’re here on a permanent work visa, you’re allowed one shipment duty-free. I loaded a wooden container with boxes. Royal Hawaiian Movers hauled the load across the Pacific and transferred it to Miracle Brokers, who brought it to Grand Cayman.”

Where do I buy groceries?

“My grocery cart looks pretty similar to what it did in the States — it just costs at least double,” Mikutowicz said. “Almond butter sets me back $20.”

But there is another catch: As one of the Caribbean’s poshest, most developed islands, Grand Cayman has every sundry you could want, from champagne and caviar to Bud Light and ballpark hot dogs. The only problem: You just can’t find it all at the same store. Instead, you’ll have to play mix-and-match between the two Foster’s Food Fair locations, plus Kirk Market and Bay Market when moving to Grand Cayman.

There is one upshot.

“I’m surprised at how fresh things are. They’re often fresher than what I found when living in Massachusetts,” Mikutowicz said.

Will online retailers deliver?

Online shopping is a luxury you’ll lose. Sure, Amazon and Gap will deliver to the Cayman Islands, but it’s as cost-effective as mailing a bathtub. For starters, companies charge exorbitant shipping. Upon arrival, the post office opens packages, hunting for receipts to know how much import duty to collect.

Mikutowicz bypasses the hurdle by loading up on expensive items with each stateside visit. In addition to stocking up on swimsuits and other clothing, she shops Supermarket Sweep-style at drugstores, scooping up as many toiletries as her luggage allows.

What is the average cost of a home?

You shouldn’t expect bargains when shopping for Cayman Island real estate, but you can expect value.

The 76-square-mile Grand Cayman boasts the Caribbean’s highest per capita income, and it ranks among the region’s safest islands.

“Add to that the fact that the standards for construction are extremely high,” said Sheena Conolly, broker and owner of Cayman Islands Sotheby’s International Real Estate.

Prices start at $300,000 for a townhouse, climbing up to $3 million for a single-family residence on the canals of the North Sound. Conolly’s highest listing, at the moment, has an asking price of $39 million.

What are the regulations to buy property?

“Cayman is very welcoming, and purchasing real estate is an extremely straightforward process,” Conolly said.

And because roughly three-quarters of all business conducted on Grand Cayman is with North American-based companies, the real-estate market is designed to entice and encourage investment from overseas.

The only requirement is that buyers pay a one-time stamp duty on property, which 7.5%.

“After that, there is no property tax, no annual tax, no income tax, no dock tax, no warterfront tax — basically, no tax of any form or fashion,” Conolly said.

How do I bring my pets to the island?

Puppy passports are required through the department of agriculture. After a vet visit for blood work and a rabies test, there’s a three-month quarantine where your pet stays at your home prior to traveling. Then you’re met at the airport on Grand Cayman. "If your paperwork isn’t in order, you’ll be on the next plane leaving," says Mikutowicz.

How do I move my belongings?

"I shipped a ton of stuff from Hawaii," says Mikutowicz. "Once you’re here on a permanent work visa, you’re allowed one shipment duty-free. I loaded a wooden container with boxes. Royal Hawaiian Movers hauled the load across the Pacific and transferred it to Miracle Brokers, who brought it to Grand Cayman."

Where do I buy groceries?

“My grocery cart looks pretty similar to what it did in the States — it just costs at least double,” says Mikutowicz. “Almond butter sets me back $20.”

But there is another catch: As one of the Caribbean’s poshest, most developed islands, Grand Cayman, has every sundry you could want, from champagne and caviar to Bud Light and Ball Park hot dogs — you just can’t find it all at the same store. Instead, you’ll have to play mix-and-match between the two Foster’s Food Fair locations, plus Kirk Market and Bay Market.

There is one upshot. “I’m surprised at how fresh things are. They’re often fresher than what I found when living in Massachusetts,” says Mikutowicz.

Will online retailers deliver?

Online shopping is a luxury you’ll lose. Sure, Amazon and Gap will deliver to the Cayman Islands, but it’s as cost-effective as mailing a bathtub. For starters, companies charge exorbitant shipping. Upon arrival, the post office opens packages, hunting for receipts to know how much import duty to collect.

Mikutowicz bypasses the hurdle by loading up on expensive items with each stateside visit. In addition to stocking up on swimsuits and other clothing, she shops Supermarket Sweep-style at drugstores, scooping up as many toiletries as her luggage allows.

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