How much does it cost to live on a sailboat in the Caribbean?
Living in the Caribbean isn't quite as cheap as most people expect it to be. It isn't going to be crazy expensive, at least it doesn't have to be. You can get a pretty nice marina slip in the Caribbean for about $1000 a month. This is going to get you some security, some decent amenities, and a nice location. You could "slum it" and get a far cheaper marina slip near where the locals will dock their boats, but you aren't getting all the added pleasantries and amenities. You might also find yourself quite far out of town. To put that in perspective, a year's worth of accommodation in the Caribbean will only cost you about $12k. Far less than rent might be, and certainly far less than organizing some sort of vacation accommodation. If you choose to live in one of the smaller, for lack of a better word poorer, island nations you will find that your money goes a lot further. You could rent a luxury marina slip for just a few hundred dollars a month. The Dominican Republic is a good example of this.
You must also consider how you are going to be paying tax when you are living here. If you are only technically visiting (just a few months) and are still technically living in the US, you can avoid paying income tax in your host nation. This isn't ethically or legally wrong so long as you do only stay a few months here and a few months there. If you plan to pick one country and live there long term, make sure you register with the country. It is easiest to do this before you go but can be done locally in most cases. If you are unsure what to do, you can always give the American consulate a call. They should be able to help you out. Maintenance is also something that many people fail to consider fully before making the move.
When you move to a new country you need to find a new everything. A new doctor, dentist, mechanic, grocery store, gym, etc. This is part of the fun of moving, at least it is for most people. The problem is when you move somewhere new with a sailboat you must immediately find a good boat repair yard and storage dock. These costs vary from island to island, of course. But you will find it is generally cheaper than the US. Don't be thrown off by low prices when looking at repairs. Labor is much cheaper here. Use your gut instinct when deciding if a boat repairman seems legit. Storage is also something you will need to consider, especially if you plan on going on vacation without the boat. And, perhaps the rainy season if you plan on sticking around. A good storage facility will be about $10-$15 per foot. Much less than you might be paying in the states. (perhaps about $40 per foot).
The cost of living should drop pretty drastically. Food, liquor, and basic amenities will be far cheaper than you have likely ever seen before. But, some of the brand names "luxury" items that you may not want to live without might end up costing you an arm and a leg. Do you want Lucky Charms for breakfast? Because there is a good chance they won't have them. And if they do, they'll fleece you for as much as they can. This is how any country operates with products a select few people want and are also hard to come by. If you are a flexible person, making this adjustment shouldn't be too hard. Who knows, perhaps you'll find a new favorite!
Why would you want to live on a sailboat?
There are lots of great reasons to live on a sailboat in the Caribbean. It allows you to sail around and go where you please. The island nations of the Caribbean are all spectacularly beautiful and pretty relaxed when it comes to immigration. You will be changing countries whenever you arrive at a new island (usually), but many won't even ask for a passport on arrival. You should have one, of course. But it is nice that you can take it easy. Living on your sailboat can also give you the peacefulness and quiet you are very likely seeking. You can drop anchor anywhere you like, in any of the calmer water at least, and just relax and unwind. Living on your boat also gives you the adventure so many of us crave. Being able to explore those historic islands, following the routes of long sunken trade ships from pre-industrial Europe. What an opportunity. Something very few people can do.
Why would you want to live in the Caribbean?
There are so many great reasons for living in the Caribbean. If you have never been, the way of life can be a little hard to describe. It is a unique pace of life. People there value things differently. I think it is fair to say that they are generally more relaxed and welcoming to outsiders than most other countries. In part, because they are inherently friendly people. And also, because such a large amount of many of the island's income is reliant on tourists. Being friendly, and being safe, is of paramount importance. That's why the islands are such a great place to live. Or vacation. When you are living there, the two almost blend into one.
The Caribbean is also incredibly diverse. So many countries bustled up together with tourists from the world over has created a true cultural melting pot. If you want a chance to meet people from all over the world, this is the place to do it. Plus, you likely won't see them again. At least not often. The benefit of making friends with tourists, they are very casual relationships. This can be good or bad depending on your perspective. This also means there are endless places to eat, cuisines to try, and cocktails to sample. The islands try to accommodate everyone, this is aimed at tourists of course, but you can take advantage of it all the same.
The Caribbean is also quite reasonably priced. Everything that isn't aimed at tourists is priced for the locals, meaning it is pretty cheap. This doesn't help you with the luxury items, but the everyday essentials you are good to go. Having a good job and moving to an area where your dollars stretch further is a good way to either save money or live a life that was normally out of your means. That choice would be up to you - if it were me though, I would go for the extra savings. Maybe put that extra money towards some luxuries on the boat. Like a TV and a SatPhone or a satellite internet router.
What are some things you should know about sailing in the Caribbean?
The Caribbean is a great place to sail. The waters are normally pretty calm, the conditions are generally good, and the maritime laws are relaxed enough that you can feel at ease but strict enough that it isn't total mayhem. One thing to consider is the depth of your hull. You see, the Caribbean waters are rather shallow. At least close to the mainland. The waters are shallow and the sea bed is made of sharp shale. The chance of you scuppering yourself is quite high. This is why so many ships swap out their fin keels for a torpedo-shaped one. Or, they simply cut half of the fin off. Learning to navigate shallow waters is a good idea before you arrive. That and having a decent depth finder onboard.
You will also want to be wary of the rainy season. That is May to October for most places. The rain itself isn't a problem, so long as you don't mind being confined to your ship for a short while. The real problem is the storms. Cyclones are not uncommon. They arrive multiple times during the rainy season. If you have lived on the east coast of America, you are likely used to getting cyclones to blow in from far out at sea. Well, most of those storms make landfall in the Caribbean first. Meaning what you have seen in America is only a taste of what's to come. This is fine if you live on the island. Storm shutters, a fully stocked pantry, and a backup generator are enough to see you through the worst of it. On your sailboat though, you are at serious risk of capsizing. You may want to find a friend who will allow you to wait out the storm in their home. Or book yourself into a hotel. That will save you, but your ship is at the mercy of the storm.
Tips for sustaining yourself while living/working in the Caribbean
If you are planning on living in the Caribbean, the best advice would be to secure a remote working job (or jobs) before you go. Wages on the islands reflect the general economy. They are poor paying, to say the least. Unless you can get a high up job at one of the hotels or one of the few business firms. If you plan on moving around, from island to island, the best idea is to start your own business that can be run from home. One that doesn't need a physical presence, just a wifi connection. Having a hefty savings account before you go is the best way to ensure you have some breathing room. If you are lucky enough to have already retired, well your pension check should be enough to cover you. And then some!
Hopefully, this article has given you a good idea about how much it can cost living in the Caribbean. And, how feasible living there truly is. If you don't have a source of income pre-planned you aren't ready to move. Having a nice savings account and at least $1000 a month to spend on the marina slip is a good starting point. The scale of value in the Caribbean is pretty great. Meaning, a $1000 marina in the Caribbean will be amazing. A $2000 one will be out of this world. You will get far more for your money than you would in most places in the US. If you are looking to cut costs, bring some good fishing rods with you. The fishing in the Caribbean is phenomenal. You'll have a blast. Good luck with the move, make sure you are fully prepared financially before you set sail. And remember - Don't forget your passport!