– Advice for those thinking of relocating to the Dominican Republic
Another good reason to get some Spanish before you arrive, is to be able to choose who your new friends will be rather than have to rely on those who speak your language. You may, for example, have reservations about the sort of people who would offload a property in a suspect area to tourists who are caught up in the dream of living in the Caribbean.
Likewise, you may have reservations about the British woman who lives in Sosua who tells tourists that she is going to be the next British Honorary Consul (the post is not even vacant, trust me!). This is done to give her sales of property and her relocation “advice” some veneer of respectability which self-presentation alone would not warrant. These and other examples may well be the personality types which you would not dream of being close friends with in UK, so why lower your standards when you become an expat?
Of course, there are plenty of genuine, helpful, sensible English speaking expats living on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The problem for the new or aspiring expat is: how do you tell the genuine from the “next British Hon. Consul”? Well, one way is not to happen upon them, by “chance”, in a bar. Most decent expats are far too busy working, doing voluntary work or having a normal family life to spend hours daily propping up an expat watering hole. So if you “accidentally” come across bar-room wisdom from someone who seems to have all the answers, contacts, friends in high places etc. to make your transition to your new life really easy… find out from the bar staff how often they frequent the place and then ask yourself why they do not appear to do anything else. As a general rule, you have to hunt out the decent expats – the other sort will find you, and it won’t be accidental.
Arriving with enough Spanish to get by means you can look for a location to live which is away from the price inflated tourist areas and you can add non-English speaking Dominicans to your group of potential friends. After all, if you had really wanted to live amongst Americans or Brits you would either have gone to the US or never left the UK, wouldn’t you?
Dominicans are very warm, friendly, helpful people – the further you get away from the tourist areas the more genuine, family-oriented and spiritual they are. The poorest will share his food with you; he regards it as an honour to do so, even if it leaves him without for tomorrow. An unfortunate by-product of tourism is that the more “streetwise” Dominicans tend to be in the tourist areas.
Female tourists may well have come across the “sankie” syndrome, short for “sanky panky”, a breed of young man who is a predator on foreign females; this has nothing to do with how attractive the female is and a lot more to do with her capacity to fall in love (the quicker the better!) and eventually provide him with a visa to travel abroad where he will expect the rich gringa to take care of him in perpetuity. We could ponder the chicken-and-egg sequencing of this (in other words, did tourism and tourists introduce this syndrome?) but it must always be remembered that the DR is a developing country, there is both poverty and hunger here, more than a third of the population live on less than £1 a day and people do what they have to do in order to survive and feed their children (and yes, many of the sankies have wives and children).
The fourth piece of advice is: if you do not think you can adjust to the laid-back lifestyle, please do not move here. Things do not happen on time here in the Dominican Republic. Nor does mañana necessarily mean “tomorrow”. Sometimes it means “never”, but no Dominican would ever want to upset you by telling you “never” so the word mañana is used. Over time, you will become more experienced in working out whether the mañana you heard really means tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, maybe next week, some nebulous time in the future or not at all. If this sort of vagueness gives you high blood pressure, then you are better off heading for a different location. It has been this way in the DR for hundreds of years and is thus unlikely to change mañana.
Fifthly, believe only a sixth of what you hear and check all of it out, even that sixth. There is a bit of a game which experienced expats sometimes play called “How to shock the newbie”. Just because the experienced expat will smile whilst recounting the tale about the property lawyer who got the expat clients to sign on the wrong dotted line, so that the home they purchased became the lawyers (and their signature the witness to this!) does not mean it did not happen. This example did happen along with other similar examples.
The ability to speak English does not necessarily make a lawyer a good lawyer or one who will work in his clients’ best interests – it simply means he speaks English. Frequently it can also mean he overcharges for his services – of course, if you have some Spanish, this will not be an issue for you.
Finally, prices for just about everything in DR, other than marked items in supermarkets, are negotiable. Please do not size up the price of a house, car or anything else by UK standards. It is simply not relevant. For the record, cars are expensive by UK standards and houses are not, but what is important is that you get to know the pricing structure in the country for yourself. Then you can determine whether whatever is being offered is indeed a bargain.
Estate agents, both Dominican and expat, will tell you a house is a bargain, but then they would in France or Italy too. If you decide to move to the DR, rent a property first before you buy, and take your time. Wise decisions can only be based on knowledge and in order to get that knowledge you need to be here, listening, asking questions and above all checking out what you are told.
Ginnie can be contacted with any queries readers might have, but only after they have checked out the content of this article…!