Life in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles - Telegraph Mentor
Graham Walker is a Chartered Accountant (ICAEW) and has lived abroad for many years having studied in France, and then completing his Chartered Accountancy exams in the UK followed by five years in Luxembourg working for one of the Big 4 audit firms in the audit of investment funds. Graham has lived in Curacao since May 2004 and is the Managing Director of the Fund Administration arm of one of the major European financial institutions.
Introduction: Curacao forms a part of the Netherlands Antilles which comprises Curacao, Bonaire, St Maarten, Saba and St Eustatius and formerly Aruba, which voted to exist within the Dutch Kingdom, but to function independently. The Netherlands Antilles has its own government and operates as an autonomous state of the Dutch Kingdom. Supervision of the financial sector is carried out both locally and from Holland. The legal system is based on that of Holland and legal matters can be referred to the Dutch Supreme Court which is the ultimate legal power influencing the Netherlands Antilles. The three ABC islands (Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba) are situated just north of the Venezuelan coast (Curacao: 70 km), within the tropical zone. However, an almost year round breeze helps take the edge off humidity and the heat of the sun, making the climate quite comfortable but care must be taken not to burn. The three islands are similar in geography but vary in size, both in area and population. Curacao is rocky and mountainous in parts and covered in cacti and thorn shrubs in the interior and palms at many of the beaches. Curacao has a population of circa 150,000 made up of many nationalities attracted to the island by tourism and the financial sector as well as an ever increasing number of on-line “sports betting” companies. Curacao lies on a SE to NW line with the southern coastline being the most developed as this is the lee side of the island and has many wonderful beaches, some very quiet and remote. Curacao is an excellent destination for divers and offers some of the best shore diving in the Caribbean, if not the world. The northern coast is rugged and continually battered by the Caribbean Sea. The main developments on the northern coast are the airport and the wind farms for generating electricity. Willemstad, the capital, is situated at the entrance of the harbour. The west or north side of the town is called Otrobanda and the east or south side is called Punda where one can see the brightly painted former Dutch colonial buildings, one of the enduring picture postcard images of Curacao. In 1997, UNESCO made the historic area of Willemstad a World Heritage site because of its architectural beauty and history. Also in this area there is an extremely impressive and very moving slavery museum that shows Curacao’s part in the slave trade as a staging point for the slave ships on the way to the United States.
Communications: The island has an excellent business infrastructure, including the region's largest deepwater port, a state-of-the-art container transshipment terminal, superior telecommunications and a full service international airport.
Curacao is served by direct daily flights to and from Amsterdam and Miami with numerous other flights to South America, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Curacao’s neighbouring islands. In fact, Curacao is an excellent hub in the southern Caribbean.
Languages: Whilst the official language is Dutch, the local vernacular is Papiamento which is influenced by Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, Dutch and West African. Spanish, Dutch and English are also widely spoken.
Economy: The main economic drivers can be said to be the financial sector and tourism. The currency is the Netherlands Antilles Florin (NAF) otherwise known as the Antillean Guilder (ANG). This is pegged to the USD at around USD 1 to ANG 1.78. The rate varies slightly as hotels, restaurants etc take advantage of the American tourist paying in USD, although locals also face the same problem when paying by credit card. The financial sector was in its heyday some 10-15 years ago as Curacao was the domicile of choice for many US investment managers wanting to set up offshore investment funds. Unfortunately, Curacao has lost ground over this period to other domiciles such as the Cayman Islands, yet Curacao still has competitive and attractive vehicles, legislation and infrastructure etc for such investment funds. The main financial institutions have a Dutch link and a large number of Dutch banks have interests on the island and the main financial business areas are banking, fund administration, trust and insurance.
Tax: It is possible for expats coming to the island to obtain an expat ruling which means that salary is received gross. Obviously this can be very attractive. However, there are many companies that, for whatever reason, do not make the application and expats can find themselves paying tax at local rates that range up to 52%. If you are coming to work on the island be sure to ask about this expat status before arriving, as once on the island it is almost impossible to obtain.
Work permits: Usually, expats coming to the island are bringing a skill, expertise or qualification that cannot be found on Curacao. In each individual case, a reasoned argument is presented, by the employer, to the immigration board indicating the reasons why an expat is needed and normally there are no issues. Such applications are handled by the employer using the services of companies specialising in such applications and negotiations with the local authorities.
Crime: Petty crime is a fairly big problem in Curacao. Cars left at secluded beaches are often targeted. It is advisable not to walk around on your own at night and even during the day in some areas. Burglaries are a common occurrence but some simple safety measures will go along way to deter the would be thief and protect you. A burglar alarm, a dog and bars on the house window are a common feature of life in Curacao. The alternative, for peace of mind, is to live in a gated community that has 24 hour security. Curacao, due to its direct flight links with Europe, has proved to be a popular route for the drug smugglers. Over recent years the Dutch government has worked hard to stamp out the traffic and has, to a large extent succeeded.
Leisure: When not in the office there are a number of distractions for the expat. As previously mentioned, diving is big in Curacao and there are many dive shops catering for tourists as well as the more advanced diver. For the non-diver, the beaches are superb for snorkelling, sunbathing and just relaxing. Some beaches have facilities such as a bar, restaurant, showers, toilets etc but many of the more remote beaches have none. Night life is good, especially at the weekends when many bars and restaurants have happy hours. The choice of bars and restaurants is very good and there are many expat hang outs that are particularly popular on a Friday evening. Eating out can be as cheap or as expensive as you want to make it and Curacao has all the usual restaurants that you would expect to find, although the absence of a British style curry house is the main gripe of the British expats.