Retire in US Virgin Islands: 11 Pros and Cons of Retiring in US Virgin Islands

What are you waiting for? You’ve been frugal, you’ve built your nest egg through years of hard work, and now you have a solid financial plan in place for retirement. You might even be considering places around the world for your retirement living. 

The US Virgin Islands, or USVI in shorthand, are primarily made up of three separate islands: Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas. Each island has developed its own distinct, local flavor. And each of their individual attributes can make them appealing to visitors with a wide variety of interests. Any of them could be your retirement paradise. 

All three islands offer a generally laid-back attitude, access to sophisticated top-tier dining, gorgeous impossibly blue waters, and simple roadside villages and towns. But each offers its own particular vibe and feeling. Plus, if you get bored of your own island, it’s extremely easy to travel between the islands. 

St. John is separated completely and requires a boat or seaplane for access. But with a network of local ferries, that is not a big hurdle. It is no surprise that St. John also offers quiet walking trails, secluded ocean bays, and an exclusive nightlife with shops, restaurants, and bars. 

St. Thomas is home to the USVI capital city of Charlotte Amalie. It has the largest population of any city on the USVI, and it is a shopping destination for visitors from around the world as well as local shoppers.

St. Croix’s architecture has a heavy Danish Colonial influence, and its buildings are world-renowned as iconic, colorful, and picturesque backdrops for island life. You might think the view out your window is a postcard! 

Though these three islands are the largest of the USVI, about fifty other smaller islands combine to make up the rest of the approximately one hundred and thirty-five square miles of the USVI. These smaller islands can be perfect destinations for day trips and even more adventure with cave-diving, fishing, and exploration on tap.  

Let’s check out the pros and cons of retiring in the US Virgin Islands. 

Trunk bay on St John island, US Virgin Islands

Pros 

Living in the US Virgin Islands might seem like a fantasy. But, with some careful planning for your retirement and a good, fundamental understanding of how island life differs from that on the mainland, your fantasy can easily become a reality. 

You might have already asked yourself some questions like, ‘Is the US Virgin Islands a good place to retire?’ Or, ‘Can US Citizens retire in the Virgin Islands?’ Living in the US Virgin Islands as an expat is something you can do relatively easily.  And

Beyond saying ‘the weather is nice,’ let’s look at some of the plus sides of retiring to the US Virgin Islands. 

1. The US Virgin Islands are a Tropical Retirement Paradise

The US Virgin Islands of St Thomas, St John, and St Croix are colloquially known as America’s “Caribbean Paradise.” Nestled within the Lesser Antilles and located to the east of Puerto Rico and the west of the British Virgin Islands, the USVI are sun-soaked, lush, and diverse islands of the Caribbean. 

The USVI boasts activities that might appeal to any retiree. If you own a luxury boat or yacht or even enjoy simply watching them through your binoculars, St. Thomas is a favorite destination. Its harbors are packed with not only sailboats and gorgeous yachts but high-end shops and eateries that rival locations around the world. 

St. Croix features more of a laid-back, almost suburban vibe. But, there is ample opportunity to explore and frolic in the sea with snorkeling, scuba diving, and other water sports. 

Amazingly, the US Virgin Islands are also home to two bioluminescent bays.  Both Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve at the Altona Lagoon offer visitors a chance to experience what is often called nature’s “living lights.”  

The high concentration of naturally-occurring bioluminescent microorganisms put on a show at night and are world-famous for their rich tapestry of marine life.

St. John is the most isolated of the three main islands, requiring travel by boat, ferry, or seaplane to reach its shores. It may be isolated, but there are still shops, restaurants, and adventures to be had. 

All three of the US Virgin Islands feature the tropical weather that makes the Caribbean a major travel destination for people worldwide. The ocean water is essentially pollution-free and crystal clear, and the nighttime sky is wide open after the afternoon breeze sweeps away the humidity and clouds. 

The twinkle of the stars overhead isn’t overwhelmed by industrial and residential lighting. Even a looming storm can be an incredible sight to behold.

 Why not retire to a favorite travel destination?

2. Easy Access for US citizens

A photo of an American passport laying on an American flag.

The citizens of the USVI are American citizens. American citizens traveling from the mainland to the USVI don’t need a passport to move between the individual islands or travel back to the continental United States. 

If you’ve asked yourself, ‘Can US Citizens Retire in the US Virgin Islands?’ The answer is yes. 

This ability to move about relatively freely gives the USVI a tremendous advantage over many other retirement locations that feature the same tropical weather and island-living. Instead of passing through a passport check, American citizens can easily travel for return visits to the US. 

You won’t be so isolated that you can’t return for holidays, visits, and your grandkids’ birthdays. 

Moving to and living in the US Virgin Islands as an ex-pat is a great way to leverage your retirement assets into an idyllic lifestyle. But, you’re still far enough away that you can maintain your lifestyle without constant visitors cramping your style. And when you get back to your island, you still won’t need a passport. 

It’s probably a good idea to keep your passport handy, though, because travel temptations abound, and you may wish to explore other islands in the region. Many of the nearby islands are foreign territories, and traveling to them will require you to carry a copy of your passport. 

3. Easy Travel 

Whether you’re on the Islands, journeying to another country, or traveling back and forth to the mainland US, traveling to and from the USVI is easy. Two major international airports serve the islands. Cyril E. King International Airport is on St. Thomas, and Henry E. Rohlsen International Airport is on St. Croix. 

Both have daily, nonstop flights arriving from other major travel hubs. For Americans traveling to and from the USVI, you can expect easy travel to and from major cities in the US like New York, Newark,  Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Atlanta, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Charlotte, Detroit, and Chicago. 

You’ll never have to feel that far from home, regardless of which direction you’re going. 

Many airlines from around the world also provide service to the US Virgin Islands and the surrounding area, so regional and international travel is also relatively easy. 

4. Best Places to Retire in US Virgin Islands

A photograph of a woman in a bikini snorkelling in the waters surrounding St Croix. The woman is swimming near brightly coloured coral and fish

Many people wonder where are the best places to retire in the US Virgin Islands? Well, after your plane touches down in the USVI, it won’t take long for you to experience a bit of a culture shock. Backfiring cars and the steady hum of busy, stateside city streets disappear when you’re on the USVI, and the locals replace them with the island rhythms of a steel drum. 

Even if you come from a relatively peaceful environment on the mainland, the islands move at their own tranquil pace and with unique traditions, artwork, and experiences that vary across the individual cultures of St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John’s. 

Living within that rich tapestry can make every single day seem like a new adventure. Residing within the community on a permanent basis can also open doors that remain closed to the typical temporary resident or traveler. Many of the local residents are used to the constant turnover and might even resent the transient nature of their oft-traveling neighbors. 

But, a long-lasting residency is sure to help you develop deeper roots and friendships that can reveal some of the more hidden majesties of the US Virgin Islands. Charter fishing, historical folklore, and the architecture of the European powers’ time are all waiting for you to discover them. And they are best explored with a local leading the way.

With so much to do, see, and explore, every day of your retirement spent in the USVI may feel like you are on vacation. That’s the idea of retirement, though, isn’t it?

5. Easy Relocation

Residents of the United States Virgin Islands are subject to and governed by the statutes of the US as a protected territory. All the residents of and visitors to the island are under the protection of the US military and subject to the criminal laws of the United States. 

So while you might be on ‘island time,’ the United States Postal Service still operates and delivers the mail and packages. You can send and receive cards and letters in the mail, just like back home on the mainland. 

When there is a bad storm, the United States Coast Guard responds with the full weight of the federal government and its various agencies. FEMA is staged and ready to respond. 

And, when something criminal happens, the police on the US Virgin Islands arrest the perpetrators, and they are held responsible for their actions in a court of law, just like in the rest of the United States. 

If there is an international clash, the US Navy and Marines will protect the islands and your retirement paradise. They might even come to your aid after a particularly devastating storm. 

Some of those scenarios might seem far off or unlikely, but when you’re in a tough situation in a remote corner of the world, it might be reassuring to know that Uncle Sam isn’t too far away. 

And when it comes to how to move to the US Virgin Islands, you won’t have to reinvent the wheel. Many mainlanders have already done so, and it is easy to find moving companies and logistics managers to assist you.

One piece of advice that many of them share is that it is often cheaper to buy new furniture locally after you move to the US Virgin Islands. If you are asking yourself how to retire to the US Virgin Islands, consider shipping your furniture from, say, Minnesota can be prohibitively expensive. Plus, the couch that looks great in your mainland house might not suit the tropical environment of the islands! 

6. Americanized Essentials

Many islands and territories, both in the Caribbean and around the world, offer only rural and rustic infrastructure. In some cases, rustic might just be a euphemism for threadbare, dilapidated, or non-existent. But, in the USVI, essential services and infrastructure reflect their relationship with the US mainland. 

USVI drivers use the left side of the road to travel. But their roads are typically paved and well-marked, a far cry from the dirt roads and trails that are more typical in the rest of the Caribbean islands. 

The US Virgin Islands also boast strong and modern buildings, modern amenities, and reliable cellular and internet service in most residential areas. You can remain connected to your friends through the internet, texts, and calls. And you can do it from the comfort of your air-conditioned bedroom, in your house with traditional plumbing and water filtration systems.

Cons

Although there are many advantages of retiring in the Virgin Islands there are some cons. 

1. How Much Does a House in the US Virgin Islands Cost? A lot. 

A photo of a bay in the virgin islands, showig a large bay filled with yacjts. There are very expensive looking villas surrounding the bay

The cost of living in the USVI is high. Based on the accumulated costs of food, health services, transportation, rent and mortgage fees, taxes, utilities, and other factors, the USVI has a cost of living that is much higher than the average in the mainland United States. St. Thomas is particularly expensive.

You may ask yourself, ‘How much does a house in the US Virgin Island cost?’ The answer often comes down to location.  If you are looking for a small condo and you don’t mind not being able to see the ocean, you can likely find a single occupancy home for around five hundred dollars per month. But if you are looking for a secluded villa with an ocean view on St. Thomas, you can expect to shell out millions of dollars. 

The reason for these higher costs is often due to much of the economy depending on imports. Everything that isn’t generated or grown on the islands needs to be brought in via freight or other shipping. So while you might anticipate having a low cost for fresh seafood, it is pretty likely that importing fresh, live Maine lobsters is fairly pricey. 

Utilities like electricity or internet service can also be quite expensive. So, you may have to adjust your lifestyle a bit to make sure you do not burn through all your retirement savings too quickly. 

Another pitfall to avoid is focusing on things that are bound to cost a lot. Avoid searching the internet for obvious traps that are designed to snare big spenders. 

Instead, visit the US Virgin Islands in the flesh and explore the different islands and areas that interest you. Understand the differences between an affordable condo with a beautiful view and a secluded mansion overlooking the ocean. Consider working with a local realtor to find something in your price range that meets your criteria. 

Many potential retirees may ask themselves, ‘how are expat taxes in the US Virgin Islands?’ They are zeroing in on one place where you can actually save some money in the USVI. There is no sales tax, and real estate taxes are also comparatively affordable. 

In short, don’t think that Google knows all the answers. Like many things on the US Virgin Islands, you have to immerse yourself in the local experience and rhythm to get the real deal on the information you need. 

2. High Crime Rate

The US Virgin Islands may seem like an ideal tropical paradise. But, the crime rate there is dramatically higher than similar countries with similarly sized populations from around the world. 

The USVI murder rate is about fifty per every one hundred thousand residents. That’s more than double the rate of Panama and almost five times the rate of Barbados. For reference, that’s nearly ten times the murder rate in the mainland United States.

But, just like the United States, there are good areas that are relatively crime-free and areas where it is more dangerous to go, particularly at night. You can learn what is safe and what is not by tuning into the local environment. 

Some indexes also report that there are relatively high levels of other crimes in the USVI. As well as an increasingly high level of crime in general, residents also fear vandalism and other property crimes, theft, assault, armed robbery, and corruption and bribery of public officials. 

3. Driving Difficulties

The US Virgin Islands are unique when it comes to driving in automobiles. The roads and lanes are left-handed driving, the opposite of how they are in the mainland US and even in Puerto Rico. But, the steering wheel is still usually located on the left side of the car because most cars on the island likely originated in US markets. 

This little wrinkle is unique to the US Virgin Islands. You will have to overcome a bit of a learning curve in order to get used to driving under these conditions. It may be challenging to adapt in the short term, even when you’re not behind the wheel. It can be jarring to see cars on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, even when you’re just a pedestrian. 

When it comes to driving in the US Virgin Islands, you have to prepare for the challenges of unpredictably terrible and often dense traffic. 

There are limited options for purchasing certain items, and when it comes to buying the essentials, it can get very congested very quickly in the islands. With aggressive and proactive planning and some off-hours shopping to avoid the biggest crowds, the issue is pretty manageable.

But when you’re on your tropical island retirement island, you might not want to ever be encumbered by heavy traffic.

4. Cannot vote in National Elections

Once you establish residency in the USVI, you will lose your right to vote in mainland elections. You will, however, retain the ability to vote in the Republican and Democratic primaries for US Presidential elections.  

Additionally, you may feel underrepresented further in US mainland politics as a resident of the USVI. Even though they are citizens of the US, Virgin Islanders do not have direct representation in the House of Representatives or the Senate. 

Instead, their interests are promoted by an elected delegate from the USVI, who advocates in their interest and represents them in the House of Representatives. However, that delegate does not vote. 

You will, however, have a voice in the local politics of the US Virgin Islands. And you will also remain a US citizen, with all the rights, privileges, and protections that affords. You don’t have to give up your passport either. 

5. Hurricanes

Hurricane season tends to hit the US Virgin Islands pretty hard, just like most of the rest of the Caribbean. Beginning in June and ending in November, almost half of each and every year is lived under the threat of significant storms. 

While late summer tends to be the worst time for severe storms to arrive on the islands, it is likely that you will be fighting a constant battle to stay prepared for them. And if you don’t own your own property, it’s likely that you will pay high costs as ‘dues,’ and much of that money is needed for storm preparation and mitigation. 

Some homeowner associations charge residents more than $500 monthly for these reasons. 

Beyond the direct threats of property damage and personal injury from heavy winds and rain, it’s very likely that you will have to contend with other ancillary and annoying effects in the aftermath of a significant storm. 

Even when the USVI doesn’t receive a direct hit from a hurricane, it is typical that residents must deal with fallen power lines, flooded roads, and infrastructure damage that can limit your comfort and movement for several days or weeks, if not much longer. 

You should plan to factor in additional expenses to mitigate the risks, including an electricity generator, extra non-perishable food and fresh water, reserve medications, and other essential supplies. 

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, the USVI was devastated. Even years later, there is still work to be done to restore infrastructure and dispose of storm debris.

Conclusion

Now that you have a good understanding of the pros and cons of retiring to the US Virgin Islands, you can carefully consider how residing on the USVI might work for you while also weighing the pluses and minuses of island living.  

Armed with these facts and the knowledge of what resources you have at your disposal, your travel needs, the lifestyle you want to live, and how you want to spend your retirement years, you can decide if the US Virgin Islands are a good destination for your retirement. 

If you think we missed something about the US Virgin Islands, please let us know in the comments. 

Related: Living in St. Croix