Top 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming an Expat in Honduras

By: Rika at Cubicle Throwdown

My expat home is a little tropical island in the Caribbean off the eastern coast of Honduras. Just two hours from Texas by air, Roatan is easily accessible and is steadily gaining status as a scuba diving mecca and beach-lovers paradise. After a surge in popularity due to a House Hunters International show featuring Roatan, the island still remains popular with North American and European expats looking to escape ‘the grind’.

I moved here a year and a half ago after vacationing here twice in four months. I thought I had done my research, but there are still quite a few things that I didn’t know before moving here indefinitely that I wish I had known! Vacationing somewhere and living somewhere are completely different things.

Here are 10 things I wish I would have known before I became an expat in Honduras:

1.    Even on a predominately English-speaking island, having zero Spanish skills will make life difficult for you.
Most born and raised islanders speak English as their first language - although it’s a creole called “Island English” that is difficult for non-speakers to understand. However they know enough North American English from TV/movies and tourists that they can switch back and forth. Spanish is usually learned second. But rising unemployment on the mainland of Honduras means lots of Spanish-speaking people who can’t say a word of English are now living and working on Roatan. If you need to take a taxi, go to the bank, hire a cleaning lady, or order at Wendy’s you better take a translator with you. I had some basic Spanish at first, but it wasn’t enough. Now I can understand about 90% but still can’t speak fluently and it’s tough sometimes. My Island English is great though!

2.    Some things are easy to get here, some things are not.
Easy: almond milk, disposable razors, tofu, sunscreen/bug spray, shampoo/conditioner. Not easy: deodorant, kale, quality makeup, rubber boots, almond butter. I don’t know why. You just have to go with it.

3.    The line up at the bank is a magical and mysterious thing and you should not try to understand it.
You will stand in line for hours. You will get close to the front of the line. The guy in front of you will go up to the teller and do 54360984535 transactions which will take another hour. Once he finally finishes, before you can step up some lady who was sitting in a chair will rush up because somehow it’s her turn. This will happen twice before you get to the teller. When you finally get to the teller, they will tell you to go get in a different line for something else. Don’t try to understand it.

4.    “Come back tomorrow/next week/next month” doesn’t really mean that.
It means, “I don’t know”, “I don’t feel like doing that today”, “I don’t know who to ask but it definitely isn’t me” or “I’m eating lunch right now”. 

5.    Life is cheap…if you only eat baleadas and don’t turn on your lights.
Buying a nice house is absolutely cheaper than in North America. Rent is minimally cheaper or the same as smaller cities. But my grocery bill is the same or higher as it was in Vancouver, BC (one of the most expensive cities in Canada) and my electricity bill is so high it’s a joke. I don’t have air conditioning and I live alone in a studio with two fans, and it often comes close to $160/month. The island electricity is run on diesel generators so it’s not cheap (and it also goes out all the time).

6.    Expatriate medical coverage is a good thing, but $25 goes a long way here.
Kidney infection in Florida with no medical coverage = driving to walk-in clinic, waiting to see a doctor, doctor visit, diagnosis, driving to pharmacy, waiting for prescription, buying prescription: almost 5 hours and $250. Kidney infection on Roatan with no medical coverage = taxi to pharmacy, see doctor immediately in the pharmacy, diagnosis, handed prescription, taxi home: 30 minutes, $15. Seriously.

7.    Not everybody is happy to see you.
For some reason, some expats seem to expect the local islanders to be head over heels thrilled that they are now living on their island. If you are seen in any way to be ‘taking’ jobs from locals, disrespecting locals, foregoing local customs or speaking badly about the island, you will not be welcome. Unless you're talking crap about the electricity company, that is totally allowed.

8.    It really is a vortex.
So many people either just get stuck and never leave, or keep trying to leave and end up back here. I don’t know why, but this place really sucks people in. The island is beautiful, the rum is cheap, the expat community is tight. Be prepared!

9.    Pioneer skills are necessary.
As I’m writing this, I’m making stewed chicken and rice with steamed broccoli all at once in my rice cooker. Do you have any idea how many things you can make in a rice cooker? I ran out of propane for the stove, and had to get creative with cooking because apparently they can’t come fill it for three days (see #4). Sometimes the power goes out for hours and hours (that’s when a propane stove rules). The internet is slow and cuts out a lot. The water doesn’t always work. You have to be resourceful and make things up as you go along! (Note: the power just cut out as well. So much for the rice cooker. It’s peanut butter out of the jar for dinner now. Adaptability is important.)

10.    You will hear the infamous ‘Three Lies of Roatan’. You will believe them. 
1) I love you. 2) I’m not drinking tonight. 3) I’m leaving tomorrow. It’s okay. We all fall for them.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingRika at Cubicle Throwdown is a Canadian expat living in Honduras. Blog description: Rika blogs about life as an expat dive instructor in Roatan, Honduras - diving, traveling, enjoying life and leaving the cubicles for the lemmings.
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Contest Comments » There are 15 comments

Gordon Smith wrote 5 years ago:

I love your blog and your spirit! I'm using it as a guide to set my life path and get out of my own cubicle.

Colleen Purdy wrote 5 years ago:

Erika, it was great to read about the things that you didn't know before you moved. I am so proud of you, such a brave thing to do to move that far away and you have become a great writer while you were there! Colleen

Amanda Summers wrote 5 years ago:

Leaving the US can teach us so much. It was the smartest thing I've ever done. Sounds like you would agree with me. Good luck on the contest. Check out mine for Nepal.

Buck Goodley wrote 5 years ago:

I just love all the information and hot sex you write about in your blog. I fantasize and get so aroused every time you write. Keep it going so I can explode. Roatan rules! God bless you. Where are my meds?

Dana wrote 5 years ago:

Yeay for expat life!! I love the three lies the best :)

Krystal wrote 5 years ago:

Great job Rika! I laughed so hard about the bank, I teared up. I spend lots of time waiting in line at two banks and find my self so confused by the chair/too lazy to stand in line person as well. God forbid you ever question the system as it will only end in "No English", "No dollars today" and time for break. :)

Tan WJ wrote 5 years ago:

Love your blog! You continue to inspire, motivate & guide me to pursue my dreams, ie. dive instructor as well (I hate the cubicle too!)

Steph wrote 5 years ago:

I think some of these tips should be remembered by nearly anyone thinking of becoming an expat (namely #2!), but I loved the quirky little "Honduras-specific" bits of advice Rika shared. I've never been to her island paradise, but I hope to get the chance one day!

Nicolas Lakoff wrote 5 years ago:

Hey Rika....awesome post and I love reading your blog. As an expat here in Roatan myself I get a good laugh at some of your observations at daily life here. Keep up the good work promoting Roatan and mythbusting for those wanting to live their own "paradise" dreams!

Sally wrote 5 years ago:

Awesome points. I think island life is much tougher than many people realize, especially with what you talked about with electricity and other sources of energy. But you have to be the world's most creative cook when you've only got a rice cooker at times, right?! :)

Amanda wrote 5 years ago:

Haha, so funny about the random things you can and cannot get in Roatan... almond milk yes almond butter no? It's crazy how much you realize you miss little things that didn't even seem like a big deal when you were home.

Sarah wrote 5 years ago:

I bet I could think of more than '3 Lies of Roatan', but you covered the most important by far!

Chrissann wrote 5 years ago:

Great post as usual, Rika - I just love following your island adventures and am so happy to have you as a part of the Women Who Live on Rocks team of writers. Here's hoping you win! :)

Jenna wrote 5 years ago:

Awesome article Rika! You are pretty much the coolest person I know! I am writing this comment from my cubicle, glad you escaped :)

Barb Levesque wrote 5 years ago:

We love Honduras - Roatan and the other islands - and we love Rika's perspective on the ex-pat life.

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