American Expat Living in British Virgin Islands - Interview with Chrissann

Published: 21 Apr at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,British Virgin Islands
Chrissann Nickel is writer, yoga girl, crazy toucan lady, and American expat, loving life and all its quirks on a little island in the Caribbean. Chrissann's expat blog is called Women Who Live on Rocks (see listing here)

Fish feeding at
Fish feeding at

Here's the interview with Chrissann...

Where are you originally from?
The San Francisco Bay Area in Northern California.

In which country and city are you living now?
I am currently living on the island of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.

How long have you lived in British Virgin Islands and how long are you planning to stay?
I've lived between the US and British Virgin Islands for almost 9 years. Whenever people ask me how much longer I'm planning to stay, the only answer I have is, "Until I find somewhere else I love coming home to as much as I do here." :)

SUP yoga on the water
SUP yoga on the water
Why did you move to British Virgin Islands and what do you do?
I originally moved down with a work friend who was transferring to St Thomas - I was at a point in my life where I was looking for adventure. I used to work in sales for Marriott hotels and did that in the islands for a few years, but have since moved on to pursue my passions. For work, I now do freelance writing, teach yoga, and animal behavioral consulting. It is a balance of all the things that make me happy and I'm loving the ability to follow my personalized dream career path!

Did you bring family with you?
No, though I managed to get my brother to come visit over his summer breaks each year while he was in college - still trying to get him to move down full time! ;)

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
It's a bit easier moving here, in the sense that the currency and language are the same as in the US. The most difficult things most expats in the Caribbean have getting used to is the slower pace of life and the often frustrating inefficiency that permeates the lifestyle here. But the islands have helped me to appreciate the small things in life and the beauty of living so close to nature. It has also been a great transition into living a less materialistic life, in comparison to the US.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Making friends can be tough, as everyone is a bit spread out. But once you find expats and locals you can relate to, the small town setting makes it easy to connect as often as you wish.

Women Who Live on Rocks
Women Who Live on Rocks
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
The best part about the British Virgin Islands is that everything revolves around the water. Being able to get out on a boat and explore the various islands is unique to the destination. Only here can you go boating for the day and visit 5+ different islands - stopping at one for lunch, one for snorkeling, one for sunset cocktails, and another for a hike. Boating is the best way to spend a day here, by far.

What do you enjoy most about living in British Virgin Islands?
I love the fact that everything is outside. In the states, I feel like you're always breathing re-circulated air - going from an air-conditioned house, to an air-conditioned car, to an air-conditioned office, etc. Here, with year-round warm temperatures, the windows are always open, all the restaurants are open air, and all of the activities take place outside - beach, hiking, swimming, boating,etc. It just feels so much healthier and happier to live in the open, in a place teeming with fresh air - no smog and soot like in a city.

How does the cost of living in British Virgin Islands compare to home?
Well, the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most expensive places to live in the US, so the even higher cost of living here didn't come as much of a shock to me as it does for people who relocate from more reasonably-priced locales. Here, everything is shipped in, so everything is high-priced to compensate for this. Water and electricity are astronomical and rent is not cheap either.

Happy times
Happy times
What negatives, if any, are there to living in British Virgin Islands?
Well, as said above, the cost of living is quite high and makes it hard to save as much as you'd like. It can also get tedious living here at times, so it's essential to be able to get away every few months off-island, so you don't get "rock-fever", as we say - getting off-island for a break helps you to appreciate the lifestyle you have here when you return and makes all of the frustrating bits seem worthwhile.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to British Virgin Islands, what would it be?
Be realistic. Yes, it may look like a screensaver down here, but it's still life. You will still need a job, you will still need to pay rent, you will still need a car. People who survive and thrive down here know life isn't one long beach party - they still participate in their life and are productive people, people who live a real life and who have their beach parties too.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
I'd say the hardest thing about island life is the transient nature of the community. I've met so many amazing people over my time here, but people tend to move away after a couple of years. Island life is not for everyone and most people move down under the fantasy mindset that they're going to "paradise". But "paradise" doesn't exist - it's still life down here, just with an albeit prettier backdrop. I often wish all of my friends were still here and it's sad to watch people leave, but it does give you opportunities to meet plenty of new people as well.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
I'm not sure "returning home" is in my future. This place feels more and more like "home" with every year that passes than any place else I've ever been. ;)

Toucan training,
Toucan training,
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Do your research and set yourself up for success before you move here and you'll be much happier and have a smoother time settling in. Read what you can online and take the advice of people who live here already and offer their tips - no one is trying to rain on your parade, they've just seen false expectations dashed many times and want to help you with doses of realism.
  2. Try to see the humor in Caribbean life. Yes, it can be frustrating and inefficient here - we've all been there. Instead of complaining about all the things you hate, just laugh and celebrate the roses amongst the thorns. You'll make more friends that way and be happier too.
  3. Learn to be flexible in living with less. Grocery stores here are notoriously unreliable and you will often have to go without things you once considered indispensable. There's usually a substitution for everything - island life definitely teaches you to be creative. And worse case scenario, you can always ship in what you need - it will just take a few weeks longer than you're used to.
  4. Remember to always get out and enjoy the reasons you came here in the first place. It's easy to get bogged down by work and the tedium of day to day life. On your days off, be a tourist and fall in love with this place all over - it will keep you happy and sane. There's nothing a little salt water and sunshine won't cure.
  5. Schedule regular breaks for trips off-island to stave off "rock fever". Getting away and going someplace different will revitalize you and help you to appreciate island life with fresh eyes when you return.
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
Women Who Live on Rocks is a collaboration of funny women writers who live on tropical islands, blogging all about the humorous quirks and eccentricities unique to island living. As we say, "It's not all sunshine and umbrella drinks... at least not all the time."

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
A great way to reach out to me and others in the island community is through our Facebook page,

About the author

Expat Blog ListingChrissann is an American expat living in British Virgin Islands. Blog description: A collaboration of funny women writers blogging about the quirks and eccentricities unique to island living.
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