With experiences like this, the lure of moving to TCI is undeniable. But the privilege needs to come with a commitment to give back to the islands.

Most North Americans or Europeans or Caribbean islanders who come to live on Provo don’t want to go back. Same with many visitors to Provo who want to stay longer and often opt to buy a place. Everyone, it seems, wants their piece of this paradise. With today’s modern infrastructure, paradise can indeed be home, full-time or part-time. In the past, it was usually the adventurous with a high tolerance for lack of amenities. Like pirates and, later, eccentric malcontents with an aversion for social rules in their homeland who made their way to a tropical island. But the islands are no longer for malcontents (though a few of them can be spotted). Settling comfortably in paradise has become a much more viable option. As new people move in, however, new issues arise. Who are these people? 

At the top of the food chain are the wealthy Americans, Canadians, Brits, and other Europeans, who, along with their less monied compatriots, are collectively referred to as “expats.” For these well-off expats, the dream can be easily bought with a high-end luxury condo or fabulous villa on the beach that The Great Gatsby would have envied. Not only can they revel in stunning sunrises and sunsets over the bay, but for many of them, their second homes can also double as a tropical bunker, a refuge just in case their home country or the whole world goes bonkers. More on these folks in future blog posting.

The less monied and more numerous expats, who also found their way to Provo to pursue the dream of living on a Caribbean island, have a harder time here but are no less determined. (Technically, the Turks & Caicos is just outside the Caribbean in the North Atlantic Ocean, but generally grouped as belonging to the region). They and their employers have to jump through hoops to secure work permits for needed jobs or businesses that pay enough to live here. But, with persistence, these working expats with skills or some investment money can find work from building contractors to school teachers to lawyers to dive masters. 

A new class of expats emerged during Covid. The pandemic, of course, prompted a re-evaluation of commuting to the office when work could be done effectively from home on a laptop and using Zoom. And that prompted the question, “Why not take it one step further and just work remotely from a vacation destination? Because, really, nobody has to know where I’m living.” These “digital nomads” moved in as well, along with a smattering of retirees who obtained non-work resident permits

With good internet access, a steady source of power generation, excellent medical clinics, cool cafes, and the broad availability of consumer goods ranging from Teslas to fine French wine to gardening supplies, paradise can become rather similar to home, but with much better weather. 

But these islands, like any Shangri-la, come rife with vexing irony–a struggling underclass that sleeps on concrete slabs in the shanty towns not much more than a stone’s throw from glaring affluence. Many of them arrived on jam-packed, rickety sloops from Northern Haiti–the lucky ones who made the 100 mile voyage with without capsizing to reach a hidden beach inside the reef. Some of underclass were born here, often to parents of different nationalities, so their status never got resolved. They too are seeking a piece of paradise of a different sort–-maybe a small shack with a door that locks and a ray of hope to make a few bucks, half of which they might send back home so a relative might be able pay tuition to attend school.  

Caught in the middle are the Turks Islander native people, commonly called “Belongers.” Their islands have benefited financially from luxury tourism and the millions of dollars in revenue generated. Indeed, thanks to tax revenues from hotels, activities, restaurants, and imports, the Turks & Caicos is one of the very few countries in the world to have a government surplus. But not everyone has shared in the rewards, especially when faced with ever higher property prices and cost of living coupled with low wages. Moreover, many locals worry that their island paradise home and culture is slipping away. It’s much like gentrification of a neighborhood, where those without means get squeezed out by those with money acquired somewhere else. Paradise gets complicated and rings hollow if some kids don’t always have breakfast to eat before school. 

Let me be clear, plenty of initiatives by government, non-profits, businesses, and people of goodwill–locals, expats, and, yes, those hurting–attempt to ease the burden of those for whom the promise of paradise is out of reach. But the problems persist amidst unrelenting development and influx of migrants from the north and south. While many with means truly do recognize the privilege of being here and give back, quite a few do not, especially those who see these islands as their personal playground or ATM machine.

Club Med pier looking out from Rickie’s Flamingo Cafe on Provo.