Kate Amigo is a Wisconsin native who was initially reluctant to trade her snow boots for flip-flops but has since fallen in love with her life in the Cayman Islands. After her husband was inspired by John Grisham's The Firm to look for a role in the Cayman Islands, Kate and her partner set off to create a new and more relaxed life for themselves in the Caribbean.
For more on Kate's life in the Cayman Islands, check out her blog Island Diaries by Kate and follow her on social media @island_diaries_by_kate to get the latest updates. See the Expat Arrivals Cayman Islands country guide for more on the expat lifestyle on the islands.
Q: When did you move to the Cayman Islands?
A: May 2020.
Q: Is this your first expat experience?
Q: Did you move to the Cayman Islands alone or with a spouse/family?
A: With my husband, Bryan.
Q: Why did you move?
A: My husband and I were living in Minnesota. I had no plans to move, especially not to a tiny island in the Caribbean. But my husband was looking for a new job. He was applying everywhere around the US, until one day, I gave him the book, The Firm, by John Grisham. In the book, the main character travels to the Cayman Islands for work. This inspired my husband to look at job openings in Grand Cayman, and being that accounting is such a huge career here, he found a role fairly quickly. I thought, 'Oh, no, what have I done?!'. I thought it was a crazy idea, but in the end, I agreed to move. It wasn't easy but I am so glad we did it – it has opened up my world in ways I never knew possible.
Q: How have your interests changed since moving to the Cayman Islands? Have you adopted any new hobbies?
A: I started my blog when I moved to the island, and it has since become a big part of my life. I also joined the Gaelic football league. It is an Irish sport that was introduced to the island over twenty years ago. It's kind of like a mix between soccer and rugby. In addition, I joined a soccer (football) team. I used to play in college, so it was fun getting back into the game. Surprisingly, none of my hobbies really revolve around the ocean, although I do love going for beach walks! I have always been interested in travel, but living around so many expats and hearing about their adventures makes me want to travel constantly! An incurable wanderlust.
Q: What does your daily life look like? What are some of your favourite restaurants to eat at?
A: I know people want to hear that I go to the beach every day, but I actually don't! Monday through Friday I am teaching Spanish at a Montessori school. Before school, I sometimes go on beach walks with my friend Christine. After school, I usually go for a run around sunset or to football training. On the weekends, I get together with friends for drinks or go out to eat somewhere with my husband. Saturday nights are usually dedicated to Latin dancing at Cuba Libre!
Our favourite place for cocktails is Ms Pipers. They make excellent tea-based cocktails – our favourite is Pasión de Amor, made with passion fruit and vodka! As far as restaurants, we love Vivo in West Bay. It's an adorable seaside café serving creative plant-based meals and some fish dishes. It's right next to a dive operator, so it makes for fun people-watching. We also love Yoshi for sushi.
Q: What has this international move about yourself? And how has it affected your relationships with your loved ones?
A: I've learned how to cope with change and accept that life has different chapters. It was really hard for me to leave the Midwest. It was my home for 24 years, and in a lot of ways, it's still my home. But I moved away and the world didn't stop spinning. I miss my family a lot, and they miss me back. But I've learned there are so many ways to show love and stay close despite living far apart.
Living in the Cayman Islands
Q: What do you enjoy most about living in the Cayman Islands? How would you rate the quality of life compared to Wisconsin?
A: I most enjoy the people and the weather. It is very easy to meet people here, and I am so grateful for the friends I have made in Cayman. I loved life in the Midwest, but anyone who has lived through a Wisconsin winter knows how brutal it can be. Dark, cold, and endless! I love the Caribbean weather; it keeps me happy and active all year long.
Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: The only negative experience was not being able to leave the island throughout all of the pandemic. I moved and then didn't see my family for over a year, and that was really sad. But I think everyone had similar experiences worldwide. I miss my niece and nephew. I miss fall and seeing the colours change.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in the Cayman Islands? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: The pace of life is quite slow here. You always hear locals say 'soon come', which means, 'eh, it'll happen eventually but who knows when'. For the most part, I don't mind that. But, when there's something important you need like a driving licence, a new debit card, or a car repair, it can drive you crazy!
Q: What's the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in the Cayman Islands?
A: Ha! Particularly cheap? Not a chance. Everything is expensive here. The salaries are higher, but as a teacher I am struggling to put away any kind of savings.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in the Cayman Islands? What is your most memorable experience of using the islands' transport system?
A: I have never used public transport. It would not be an option for me where I am located vs. where my school is.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in the Cayman Islands? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals?
A: Overall, healthcare is very solid, and there are many options with both local and international doctors. Anything from childbirth, ACL surgeries, and botox is possible here. The island is very developed in that regard.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in the Cayman Islands? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: Cayman is a very safe place. I feel safe running by myself and going places alone at night. If I go out to bars, I go with my husband or a big group, and I've never once felt any bad vibes.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in the Cayman Islands? What different options are available for expats?
A: Rent is expensive, roughly CI $1500-$2000 for a one-bedroom on average. Most single people have to live with one or two roommates. The apartments are generally nice and well maintained. All of the places I've lived in have featured a pool along with amenities like free parking, in-unit laundry or a laundry room, and one even had a gym.
Q: Any areas or suburbs you'd recommend for expats to live in?
A: For those new to the island, I definitely recommend staying near Seven Mile Beach for the first year to get a lay of the land. You are close to everything, and it's easy to get together with friends. If Seven Mile is too expensive, try to avoid going much further than South Sound, because the traffic can get congested in the morning. West Bay also has some nice options and with a cool, Caribbean vibe.
Meeting people and making friends in the Cayman Islands
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular groups? Have you ever experienced discrimination in the Cayman Islands?
A: Discrimination is a bit more nuanced here. For example, expat kids are not able to attend government public schools. This creates a noticeable separation between the expat and local communities. Also, all jobs have to be first advertised to locals before being offered to an expat. At my school, I only ever have a one-year contract, and if a local with the same experience as me applied, administration would be legally obligated to give them an interview and in many cases, offer them the position. Is this discrimination? It's hard to say, as it's so built into the framework of the island. They are trying to protect and support the locals.
On a more interpersonal note, when I joined my soccer team, which is all local players, I was welcomed in as one of them. When my husband and I go to local bars, we get good vibes and feel at home. So on that side of things, I think the locals are really great about being kind and approachable.
Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: It's so easy! What happens is you meet one person, and that person invites you to an event where you meet ten more people. Someone from that group invites you somewhere else, until suddenly it's a never-ending chain of events. All expats know what it's like to start from square one and are really great about including newcomers.
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals?
A: Because my coworkers are mainly expats, I found it hard to connect with locals. It wasn't until I joined Gaelic, and now my soccer team, that I've been able to make friends with locals. So, I definitely recommend joining a sports team!
Q: What is your community like and how have you integrated into it?
A: I am lucky enough to be a part of several sub-communities within Cayman itself. My school community, my sports community, and my expat friends group. This took a while to develop. I think I needed a solid two years to feel really established in each of these groups, but now that I am, I know I have people to count on.
Working in the Cayman Islands
Q: How did you find a job? Was it difficult?
A: I found the posting for my school in the e-version of Cayman Compass classifieds. I had to take a job as a Physical Education teacher my first year as a means to get on Island. My background is not in PE – I was looking for Spanish teaching roles. But that PE job ended up opening the door to my dream island teaching job, so it was worth it.
Q: What are some of things that are most different in the workplace in the Cayman Islands from what you're used to in your home country?
A: I think it's very situational. Overall, my workplace is much more relaxed, but it's because I'm a specialty teacher in a Montessori school. I have fewer meetings, a lighter schedule, and much less paperwork than in the US.
Q: How would you describe the general work-life balance in the Cayman Islands?
A: It totally depends on the employer. I have heard horror stories from certain accounting firms on Island… my work-life balance is fantastic. 7:45-4:00 pm Monday through Friday, and I rarely bring work home with me.
Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: The application was lengthy and required a notarised police clearance letter along with an extensive medical exam and blood tests. Once I had everything, I shipped it to Cayman, and my current employer submitted it to the government and paid the accompanying fees. After that, I had to wait two months for approval. In some cases, they expedite the applications and you can get your permit in two weeks.
Q: What is the economic climate on the islands like? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: Many professionals use LinkedIn or go through recruiting agencies like Stepping Stones. I just went the old school route and looked in the Cayman Compass classifieds.
Family and children in the Cayman Islands
Q: How has your spouse or partner adjusted to your new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: Myself as the trailing spouse, my challenge was leaving a job I loved to step into a role that I was not really excited about. But, I immediately loved the island and became really passionate about my blog which helped to ease that initial resentment.
Q: What are your favourite family attractions and activities on the islands?
A: I don't have kids, but working at a school I can tell you where parents like to take their children: Botanic Park, Camana Bay, Dart Park, Turtle Farm, Stingray City, Kimpton waterpark…and, of course, the beach!
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: There are many private schools. As I mentioned earlier, expats cannot attend public school, which means no matter what, you will be paying for their education. I am biased towards my own school, Montessori by the Sea, for toddlers up to Grade 6. The two most popular private secondary schools are Cayman International School (US Curriculum) and Cayman Prep (British Curriculum).
Final thoughts on the Cayman Islands
Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to the Cayman Islands?
A: In your first few months on Island, say yes to anything and everything. This is how you will kick-off new friendships and learn the lay of the land. You are going to meet so many cool people!