It’s been said that there are over a million things that you can do when living in St. Thomas even though the island is only 32 square miles in size. As part of the Virgin Islands under the control of the United States, you can move here with minimal headaches. Then you can enjoy the snorkeling, sailing, and diving that is part of life here. There is also a world-famous golf course for you to enjoy, stunning beaches, and an active nightlife culture that can help you to have a lot of fun.
The modern history of St. Thomas began in 1493 when Christopher Columbus spotted it during his second voyage to the New World. It wouldn’t be until 1657 when the Dutch West India Company would establish a post on the island. A church was built in 1660, and then attempts to colonize the area began in earnest around 1665. It would be divided into plantations and focus on sugarcane production.
Many of the local residents felt that the Dutch were poorly managing the island, so they persuaded a sale of St. Thomas (along with St. John and St. Croix) to the United States. The final cost was $25 million in gold in 1917, or the equivalent of about $500 million today. It was colonialism that was the purpose of this transaction. The U.S. wanted to maintain control over the Caribbean region during World War I, and these islands held strategic value.
List of the Pros of Living in St. Thomas
1. You’re still living in the United States.
If you decide to start living in St. Thomas, then you are going to be living in a U.S. territory. That means you will receive protection via the criminal laws of the United States. The island also receives protection from the military in case there is something that happens in the world. The U.S. Postal Service delivers your mail here as well. Many of the experiences that you will have are the same as any other destination as an American citizen. You’re just not going to be living in a state – unless the USVI make an effort for statehood that Congress approves in the future.
That means you don’t need any new documents in terms of a work visa or similar papers. You’ll need your Social Security card, a passport, and other identification papers.
2. Everything feels familiar in the Virgin Islands.
There are relatively few adjustments that you’ll need to make with your lifestyle when you decide to start living in St. Thomas. You are still using U.S. currency for every purchase, and debit or credit cards still work there as they would at any other location. You can find fine dining opportunities, take a sip of imported wine, or buy a burger at Wendy’s. Many of the major chains have made it to the island, so you’ll have access to the goods you want. If you were going to live on St. John, the story would be a little different.
3. Life is slower and more peaceful when living in St. Thomas.
Most of the people who start living in St. Thomas say that they would never return to their previous life because of the peace and simplicity that the island offers. Although employment can be tricky if you’re not in the hospitality industry, there is still a lot of magic to find on this small island. It can be fun to watch the tropical storms start blowing in across the water. You can take a snorkeling trip at a moment’s notice – especially with the large discounts the companies offer to local residents. You are surrounded by views of the Caribbean and the neighboring islands wherever you go.
4. Traveling between St. John and St. Thomas is very easy.
St. Thomas serves as the capital of the USVI. Its location is 1,100 miles south of Miami, so it is far enough away from the influences of the mainland that the local charm is still present. Despite the laidback nature of the island, you’ll find that it stays busy and tends to offer a sophisticated living experience. You can also take the three-mile ferry ride over to St. John that will take you 20 minutes to complete when a day trip is in order. Both are very beautiful, and the cost to get to the islands in the first place means that only the people who want to be present tend to hang around.
5. There are numerous natural attractions for you to enjoy.
When you start living in St. Thomas, then the turquoise seas are going to be something you can enjoy all year long. There are stunning white-sand beaches that can help you to bake in the sun. Then there are the lush mountains and the craggy cliffs that give the island its personality. It gets hot on the islands most of the year, with temperatures in the 80s almost all year long. The pleasant tropical breeze tends to take the brunt of the heat away, allowing you to relax on a patio and enjoy the views that you have.
6. Housing costs on St. Thomas are surprisingly affordable.
If you are ready to start living in St. Thomas, then the prices are not going to be as high as you think to get a decent place. A 3-bedroom house in a good neighborhood on the island will go for about $250,000, and that usually includes a view of the water. You can start a lower price if you search for options that might limit a little of your convenience. That’s about 20% cheaper than what you will find on St. John.
You can also go with the luxury option if your budget can afford it. Housing in a gated community with a private beach can be over $1 million when looking for a 4-bedroom home.
7. It is a family-friendly environment.
Although there are some rightful concerns about crime in the USVI, St. Thomas still provides an excellent environment for raising your kids. There are scouting troops available for the boys and girls. Baseball is the most popular game played on the island, but there are other sports teams organized by the schools that offer competitive play. There are day camps for the kids, spiritual groups that offer activities, golf tournaments, and lots of fishing. You can also find family-friendly stuff at the best local events, like the annual chili cook off and the Carnival celebration.
8. The tax rates on St. Thomas are usually beneficial for most families.
St. Thomas and the USVI are often described as a made-in-America tax haven for individuals and families. The islands offer an authorized 90% reduction in the personal and corporate income taxes that are paid each year. The average rate of taxation for a company on the island is just 3.37% – and that was before the Republic congress passed sweeping corporate tax cuts with the blessing of the Trump Administration. Even though it is an American territory, the IRS treats USVI as a foreign country.
The incentives are meant to bolster the economy, where over 30% of the residents live below the poverty line and the per capita income is $13,000. There is no territorial tax or state tax to worry about either.
9. Renting is a positive experience in St. Thomas.
The USVI are pro-tenant when it comes to the landlord-tenant relationship for renting. The Rent Control Act freezes rental levels at what they were in 1947. Any housing that existed before July of that year has a maximum rent ceiling of what the costs where at that point. If the property is newer then that, then the maximum rent allowed for the property is the initial amount charged during the lease signing.
Unless there is a default in rent, landlords must give a month’s notice for lease termination. Court approval is required for evictions. Even when there is a right to repossess the property, the court system allows for a delay of up to six months to allow someone to find a new place to live.
List of the Cons of Living in St. Thomas
1. You will lose the right to vote in presidential elections.
If you live in the U.S. Virgin Islands, then you are going to have a governor that oversees the administrative tasks of being a territory. Because St. Thomas is not part of a state, then your legal residence there will disqualify you from voting for a presidential ticket. That means you’ll be stuck with whatever administration comes into office and what they decide for the country without full representation. You won’t have congressional representation that can vote either despite the obligations to pay into the Social Security program and pay federal taxes.
2. Hurricane season is something that you will need to consider.
Hurricanes can be a significant problem for the USVI. St. Thomas sits in the warm Atlantic waters that mingle with the Caribbean to create tropical storms and large storms that can create numerous issues. A direct impact by one can be enough to wipe entire neighborhoods off of the island. Even if you only get a close shave by the outer edge of the cyclone, you’ll be dealing with significant storm surges that can cause plenty of flooding issues. Downed powerlines, felled trees, and general havoc occur whenever one blows through. You’ll need to start paying attention to the weather report in June each year.
3. There is an overall lack of goods availability.
There are relatively few shopping destinations that you can find on St. Thomas – or the USVI in general. You can find the occasional mall on St. Thomas or make your way to St. Croix for some retail therapy, but the buildings are not as large as you might expect. One of the reasons why this part of the infrastructure is lacking is due to the cost of transporting goods to the island in the first place. Anything that is heavy, bulky, or large is going to come with a significant shipping charge.
That’s why most of the residents on St. Thomas tend to purchase used goods for their home upon their arrival. If you decide to move back to the mainland, then you can keep the furnishings with your property to give yourself a better price.
4. You will have a drug issue and some poverty issues to balance.
If you want to live in a crime-free area, then St. John is a better choice than living in St. Thomas. You’ll be dealing with some significant issues here, especially when it comes to violent crime. The United Nations reports that the USVI has the highest per capita murder rate in the Caribbean and the fourth-largest in the world today. You have a 1 in 2,000 chance of having someone try to kill you with a rate of 52.64 murders per 100,000 people. Guns are used twice as often in a robbery and three times more often during an assault incident than the global average.
5. Isolation can be an issue when living in St. Thomas.
The isolation of St. Thomas is due to the expensive nature of arriving there in the first place. The airfare cost to get there can be as high as $2,000 per person round trip. Even when there are specials in place, a family of four can pay up to $3,000 just to arrive at the island. Then you’ve got the cost of housing, groceries, home goods, and everything else to manage upon your arrival.
The people of St. Thomas (and the USVI as a whole) are friendly, but it is up to you to start making new friends. You’re only going to see your loved ones once or twice each year at most, so it can get pretty lonely at times.
6. There are relatively few jobs available on St. Thomas.
Employment can be a significant problem when you start living in St. Thomas. Outside of the tourism industry, the government, and the handful of retail outlets that have made their way to the island, there isn’t much for work. Significant on-island employers are few. Unless you secure a job before making your move here, you may need to dip into your savings quite a bit to make ends meet at first. The unemployment rate typically hovers around 10% in any given year.
That’s why you’ll find those who aren’t involved in the hospitality arena tend to operate a side hustle as a way to make money. Several international artists also call the island home, making their living outside of the island’s economy.
7. Beachfront properties are minimal when you start looking for a home.
Commercial development is the priority along the beaches of St. Thomas. That means having a home right on the water is virtually impossible. The mountains of the island provide opportunities to have a few of the water from your place if you want, with numerous condominium complexes offering an opportunity to purchase or rent. That’s a definite advantage compared to St. John, where almost 70% of the island is a national park and most of the housing is in the structure of weekly villa rentals.
8. Property taxes can be high for some individuals on St. Thomas.
The property taxes imposed on real estate when you start living in St. Thomas are 1.25% of the assessed value. Most assessments are for about 60% of the fair market value of the real estate. There are also capital gains brackets that you’ll need to consider when moving here, depending on how you generate income. That includes rental income, which gets taxed at a flat rate of 10% and is withheld by the tenant. You will also be taxed on your global income – not just what you earn from your work on the island.
9. You will need to learn to love the cruise ships that stop by all year long.
Tourism is the primary industry on St. Thomas, with over 2 million visitors stopping by the entire USVI chain annually Over 50% of those tourists come through the capital of the island, Charlotte Amalie, come to tour the towns and enjoy duty-free shopping. Traffic can become unbearable during these visits, where it takes you a couple of hours to drive less than a mile.
Verdict of the Pros and Cons of Living in St. Thomas
The pros and cons of living in St. Thomas present some challenges, but there are also some incredible rewards. You will get to experience plenty of sunshine, have friendly neighbors, and experience Caribbean life without a significant investment. It can cost a bit more to arrive than a new home in the mainland, but it doesn’t take long to adjust to the slower pace of island live in the USVI.
You will want to take steps to secure employment and verify the security assets of your property before your arrival to minimize risks and complications.
When you move fully prepared for the changes that will take place, then the adverse issues with surprise problems becomes a minimal risk. Consider each key point carefully if you’re thinking about living in St. Thomas soon so that it can be a wonderful experience.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.