HuffPost: Top 5 Safety Tips for the Solo Female Expat

Since we’ve just been discussing safety concerns specifically for Roatan, I’d like to offer this reminder for the ladies especially. This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post on December 9, 2014.


Solo female travelers have a plethora of information and advice available to them through a simple online search. But what about those single ladies looking to move somewhere new rather than simply passing through?

I have been a solo female traveler, and I accidentally became an expat in Roatan. Through my hundreds of conversations with potential and current female expats, I’ve accumulated enough tips and advice to last a lifetime.

But let’s just start with the short list. One of the most common concerns I hear solo females voice is in regards to safety. Completely understandable – as females we are constantly aware of our surroundings and our security. As travelers, we should all be aware of our surroundings and our security – both men and women. But most often, I get questions from women looking to retire or start a new journey in a new environment. The prospect of creating an exciting, adventurous life in a different country is so appealing that single ladies are grasping at it all over the world.

If you are one of those women looking for something fresh and unique, a place to begin a new chapter and forge ahead, look abroad. Americans and Canadians are flocking to Central and South America and all over the Caribbean to find their ideal lifestyle and locale. Expat communities are cropping up everywhere, so fear not if you are venturing out alone; you will be enveloped into that community almost as soon as your plane hits the ground.

Keeping in mind the concerns that many women have, this list is designed to ease your anxiety and help you take the next step toward a better future, safely and confidently.

1. Visit your potential new home at least once before you make the big leap.
You need to be sure the reality of it meets your expectations, since sometimes it can seem perfect on paper but be a flop in real life (we’ve all had those relationships). Stay there for a month if you can. Rent an apartment and live like a local – go grocery shopping and take out the garbage. But also listen to your own instincts. Do you feel safe there? Do you feel confident walking around alone? This is a great opportunity to investigate the local expat community to learn more from people actually living there, rather than online searches. Now is your chance to ask questions! Talk to other expat women and get a real feel for safety and security on a full-time basis.

2. Understand local customs.
If you are moving to a foreign country, you need to do some research. As a solo female, you are responsible for your own safety. If you’re headed to a culture where women are expected to dress or act a certain way, or where women are not allowed in certain settings, YOU need to figure that out ahead of time. Also understand that in different cultures, men may be more vocal or even physical in their attempts to talk to you. Know where you’re headed so you’re not caught off-guard when you arrive. To many North American women, the cat-calling by men on the street in Central and South America is foreign and disconcerting. If you’re headed there, just know before you go. Some women don’t mind the attention; others are very bothered by it. If it bothers you, have a plan. Some women make up a boyfriend or husband back at the hotel. Or if you feel secure enough, be forceful and vocal about being left alone. It’s entirely up to you how you want to handle these situations, but knowing they can happen before you arrive will prepare you appropriately.

3. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at home.
Moving somewhere new where nobody knows your name can make people act, well, silly. Nobody knows you so you’re free from professional and personal constraints. I can’t count the number of times living on an island I’ve seen ladies of all ages “let loose” and get so intoxicated they barely stagger out of the bar. As a single gal, if you were at home at a bar by yourself, would you feel safe doing that? Likely not. You shouldn’t do it in your new home either. Also keep in mind that most expat communities are very tight-knit, so word can get around quickly. The benefit of a tight-knit community is camaraderie and safety; the downside is gossip.

4. Befriend other women.
You will meet new people every day – be bold and start conversations: talk to the bar owner, the shop manager, the waitress. An area with a solid expat community will bring you into the fold almost immediately, but you have to open yourself up to those opportunities. In the States, I would never presume to walk up to someone randomly and ask them their life story. But moving abroad, everyone has a story and everyone wants to learn yours. Don’t be offended by personal questions – expat communities are typically open and eclectic, and they just want to know the real you. Other expat women will be your new safety net. They will guide you and empathize with you, and they will be the ones watching out for you most. Be open to spending time with new people.

5. Keep in touch with someone back home regularly.
Expat life is not for everyone! Keeping in touch with your friends or family back home will help keep you grounded, and it will assuage their fears for you as well. While you relax on a beach with a cocktail, they will be worried about you off on your own in some foreign country. For your sanity and for theirs, keep in touch. Be honest when you talk with them about your new life. If you’re unhappy for any reason, they will be your sounding board. They know who you were in a previous life, and they will be able to tell if something doesn’t seem right.

 

Becoming an expat is a wonderful option for so many single women looking to retire or start a new life. If you are already thinking about making the move, now is the time to act. Be bold! And if you want more guidance and tips, don’t hesitate to reach out.

15 thoughts on “HuffPost: Top 5 Safety Tips for the Solo Female Expat

  1. Hi Amanda –

    Great information…thank you! My sweetheart and I are coming down in Feb/March to consider relocating to Roatan. I want to start an Eco Tour business in Roatan similar to what I do here in Oregon: ColumbiaRiverEcoTours.com.

    While visiting, we want to live like expats, or as if we already live there. Some have suggested that we just arrive, and then find a place to stay (for a month or so). What do you think?

    I have a degree in Oceanography/Ocean Engineering and a United States Coast Guard 100-Ton Captain’s license. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Chris

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    • Hi Chris! Thanks for reading and commenting! If you’re coming for only a few weeks to a month, I recommend booking a place ahead of time. I recommend to people who are moving here indefinitely to look for long-term housing after arriving, but for short-term it’s best to be set so you don’t waste your short amount of time looking for housing. There are plenty of options for short-term, but I recommend you contact Caroline at Caribbean Colors (http://www.caribbeancolorsroatan.com/home) to get started.

      I also love your idea for an Eco Tour business! I’m happy to help while you’re here in any way so don’t hesitate to get in touch once you know your dates.

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  2. It is quite expensive and time consuming to get a legal residency status allowing you to legally work or open a business, Many do it without going the legal route but that can be dangerous

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    • Hi Sarah! Thanks for reading and commenting! It’s actually not too difficult to do your residency as long as you go through an attorney. If you’re investing (property or business) it’s a great idea to get it taken care of since many times residency status is required for business purposes. Additionally, immigration authorities are now starting to enforce the 90-day visa. Previously you could simply renew your visa at the airport, but you now have to actually leave the country for 72 hours every 90 days. That can certainly be a pain for a business owner!

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      • Yes, I have wondered how all the dive people could afford to get legal work visa but was told most work illegally , I guess it will be harder now with the 90 days being more enforced

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        • Unfortunately, there are not enough local dive professionals to fulfill all the needs of the tourism industry, so that’s why so many foreigners work in diving here. The Roatan Marine Park has funding for locals to gain professional certifications, which we’ve done through the shop I managed (Ocean Connections). Ideally the island won’t depend on foreign workers. That’s hopefully where we’re headed long-term! In the meantime, those foreigners who are doing jobs that cannot be filled by locals are allowed to work without any issue.

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          • Its is a shame more shop owners and managers do not have programs in place for more locals to become dive pros and good employees instead of the Marine Park which is already underfunded. If the DEI would go in and arrest and fine those illegal workers and employees that hire illegal workers they would see it is not all that expensive to help local legal person. I suppose there ar not enough qualified workers to work as bartenders and wait staff as well and that is why so many illegals work at those jobs as well?

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            • Diving is a very expensive hobby and industry, and in Roatan the diving is very cheap. That means shop owners and managers do not have spare time nor funds to qualify anyone (local or foreign) for free unfortunately. The marine park program is a fantastic option and is open to all locals. Even with that program available offering free courses from Open Water thru Divemaster, they have not seen the level of interest we all anticipated. If courses are being offered for free thru the marine park and still there are not enough local dive professionals, you could not expect Honduran officials to arrest those running their most lucrative industry. That would be completely illogical. The opportunities for locals to run the dive industry long-term are available now, all that’s needed is enough interest and commitment and we should eventually see a shift in local vs. foreign employment.

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            • Is there a way to find out more about this program offering free courses from Open Water to Divemaster? I am having trouble finding any info via a Google search. We spoke today to a local Divemaster whose son is interested in following in his footsteps. I mentioned having heard of a Marine Park program to provide free scuba courses to locals, but he was not aware of any such program. I’d like to provide him more info so his son can look into it and hopefully enroll. Thanks!!

              Also, if even a local Divemaster is unaware of the program, then I’m not surprised the level of enrollment is low. I bet if the word got around, more students would enroll.

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            • Hey Jen! He should contact Christi at the marine park – she runs the program and will have all the information for him. You can also have him connect with me by email or on Facebook and I’m happy to help further!

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          • Simply looking at this from a legal standpoint, it seems inappropriate for an expat related blog to condone working and living illegally. Maybe the writer is not legal? The amount of time some of these managers and instructors have lived on the Island without paying taxes is truly criminal. If working then the application process for residency should at least be in the works,

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            • Everyone living and working in Honduras pays taxes – both the national 15% for all sales (which should be mostly provided by foreigners according to your own commentary stating that apparently all expats are wealthy and therefore must have more buying power) as well as income tax. Collecting income taxes is the responsibility of the business owner, and those are paid annually. The tourism industry accounts for a large percentage of jobs and income in Roatan, both of which have been growing in recent years to the benefit of local communities. At this point, until there are enough local dive professionals to maintain and grow the industry, foreign workers are absolutely mandatory. If you’d like to push the Honduran government for legislative action to offer a temporary work visa for those in the tourism industry, I would whole-heartedly support those efforts. However, as it stands right now, there is no such option available for those workers.

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  3. Hopefully those considering the expat life on Roatan or elsewhere will take into consideration the local laws and not just live and or work illegally just because others do. It can cause tensions between locals and the wealthy expats, and yes, even those bartending and divemastering are very wealthy compared to the locals of Honduras, Basic scuba gear costs more than most Hondurans make in a year

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    • Hi Sarah! As I mentioned in response to your other comment, yes, the diving industry is extremely expensive. That’s why the program currently run by the Roatan Marine Park to train locals as dive professionals for free is so important. Unfortunately, if we don’t start seeing more interest in that program from the local community there won’t be enough dive professionals to run the industry that’s already here and providing a large percentage of national GDP. I have been explicitly told by multiple local business owners and local attorneys that if a foreigner is doing a job that cannot be filled by a local, it is legitimate. That would be a large portion of the diving industry at this point. I agree with you, though, that bartenders and other staff within the tourism industry can of course be entirely local, and most are. Take a look at places like Ocean Connections, Bananarama, Grand Roatan Resort – they are almost entirely locally run and great examples of the direction Roatan is headed.

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  4. Yes, Correct, For all businesses, Jobs are supposed to be made available to a perventage of locals if there are not locals for a Job then they are available to foreigners however as long as we are going by the laws, those foreigners are supposed have obtained legal work visas.

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