Luminous turquoise waters lap along pristine white beaches as you sip on your rum-infused cocktail. The time of eight-hour workdays and long commutes, teeming with blaring horns and aggravated travelers, are behind you as you settle into a new life of luxury and leisure.
While the Caribbean islands are a great location to retire, crime is prevalent in much of the region due to widespread economic disparity, narcotics trafficking, and inadequate police funding. There are also significant numbers of residential burglaries and sexual assaults.
In most cases, tourists who travel to resorts within the region are protected by such security measures as controlled access, private security staff, and hired drivers for safe transport to and from the hotel. However, the same securities might not be available to those who choose to take permanent residence on one of the region’s many islands.
Additional dangers come in the form of environmental vulnerability: the Caribbean is vulnerable to many effects of climate change, including warming temperatures, rising sea levels, and extreme weather events such as hurricanes.
While there are many factors to consider, the following article highlights the safest place to retire in the Caribbean—Montserrat—as well as the Caribbean’s safest runner-ups: St. Barthelemy, British Virgin Islands, Bonaire, and Antigua & Barbuda.
What Caribbean Islands Have the Least Crime?
As of 2020, the U.S. Department of State Travel Advisories assesses most Caribbean islands at Level Three due to health and safety measures and COVID-related conditions. In terms of crime and murder per capita, Montserrat ranks at the lower end of the spectrum. It is also a low-threat location for terrorism, according to the Barbados & Eastern Caribbean 2020 Crime & Safety Report.
Prior to COVID-19, the Travel Advisory ranked the following islands at Level One, meaning they show they lowest security risk:
The French West Indies
The British Virgin Islands
Antigua & Barbuda
Saint Vincent & the Grenadines
Saint Kitts & Nevis
Though, many factors go into determining which Caribbean islands are safest, especially if you’re considering a long-term residence rather than a quick vacation.
The following list highlights crime rates and danger concerning climate-related phenomena and storms; however, it’s also important to consider the cost of living, healthcare, amenities, and housing costs before you make a decision.
5. Antigua & Barbuda
Antigua and its sister island, Barbuda, are island nations located in the Lesser Antilles island chain of the Leeward Islands and neighbor the Caribbean Sea. With 95 miles of coastline and 365 beaches, the nation is known for its coastal reefs, lagoons, and the Frigate Bird sanctuary, located on Barbuda, which harbors 170 bird species. The native residents of the islands are English-speaking as well, as is much of the region.
The low-lying islands frequently experience drought and low humidity, as well as an average of one hurricane each year. Hurricane Irma, a category five storm that hit in 2017, destroyed roughly 95% of the island’s structures.
Due to its small size and proximity to both the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, the island nation is particularly susceptible to climate change, which will continue in upcoming years. Residents of the island may experience rising sea levels and subsequent weather variability, coastal erosion, and saltwater intrusion.
However, Antigua & Barbuda rank the lowest in terms of crime rates per capita (per 100,000 citizens). The region experiences low rates of murder, kidnappings, and shooting. Unfortunately, there are still significant levels of robberies and drug-related crimes. Additionally, while most taxi drivers on the islands are licensed, unlicensed taxi drivers are known to extort money from tourists on occasion.
The safest city in Antigua & Barbuda is St. John’s. As the capital of Antigua, the city is filled with farmers markets and St. John’s cathedral, which features beautiful white baroque towers. The city is also home to the Museum of Antigua & Barbuda, which is housed in an 18th-century colonial courthouse.
Also located within the Leeward Antilles island chain, Bonaire is one part of the ABC islands. Its counterparts, Aruba and Curacao, are similarly safe places to retire. As a special municipality of the Netherlands, the island operates according to Dutch laws: Citizens have the right to universal health care, educational facilities, and can vote in Dutch parliamentary elections.
It makes sense that Dutch is the primary language spoken, but many residents also speak English and Spanish.
Plus, there is a police force on the island, as well as a fire department and an ambulance service. Violent crime is more or less unheard of, with few cases of petty crime and theft.
Fortunately, Bonaire lies outside of Hurricane Alley, a warm area of water within the Atlantic Ocean that’s prone to increased levels of hurricane activity.
For recreation, Bonaire offers acclaimed off-shore diving and scuba diving expeditions through its reefs, which surround the island and home roughly 500 varieties of fish. Bonaire National Marine Park is a popular destination for snorkeling, while the ecological reserve, Washington Slagbaai National Park, offers various hiking and biking trails.
The island does not have a high-developed tourism infrastructure, making it an ideal Caribbean island to retire on if you’re looking to get out of the fray and relax with a slower pace of life.
The safest city in Bonaire is the capital Kralendijk. The city reports relatively low rates of crime, with little worry of break-ins, theft, and violent crime. Additionally, it’s relatively safe to walk alone during the day and at night.
The city’s colorful architecture offers numerous shopping opportunities. You can also find the Bonaire Museum, which exhibits archaeological and marine finds. The town also hosts an artisan market from November to April, in which Bonairian merchants sell local wares.
3. The British Virgin Islands
The British territory is another one of the safest Caribbean islands to live in. The Virgin Islands comprises 60 volcanic islands while the topography of the islands is lush, tropical rainforests.
Economically, tourism is a large economic generator in this region. Additionally, the Virgin Islands, which uses the United States dollar as its official currency, is a noted “tax haven” due to its opaque banking system. While there is a local dialect, the official language of the British Virgin Islands is British English.
The islands also offer a mild subtropical climate, dazzling beaches, and coral reefs. As the sailing capital of the world, the waters of the Virgin Islands are regularly filled with small boats, sailboats, and luxury yachts. Windsurfing, scuba diving, and fishing are also popular activities.
Hurricanes occasionally hit the islands, typically every eight years. Although, most hurricanes pass the islands without causing significant damage.
The British Virgin Islands have a relatively low level of crime, though armed robberies do occasionally occur. Unfortunately, the British territory is facing corruption allegations due to its secretive financial jurisdictions and lack of transparency regarding public funds, specifically concerning COVID-19 funds.
There’s also a history of organized crime on the island: British Virgin Island police officers were implicated in a $250 million cocaine bust in 2020.
While the British Virgin Islands does not offer retirees the opportunity to become full-time residents, it’s an ideal location for sailing enthusiasts looking to buy a second home and enjoy the nightlife on Jost Van Dyke.
The northern region is the safest, which includes cities like Cane Garden Bay and Brewer’s Bay. Cane Garden Bay is a mountainous area that offers pristine white beaches and a marina spotted by restaurants and bars. Brewer’s Bay is a hidden gem near the University of the Virgin Islands, and it’s a popular site for Green Sea Turtles and Hawksbill Turtles.
2. Saint Barthelemy
Saint Barthelemy, also known as Saint Barts, is an incredibly safe Caribbean island to retire, with crime rates decreasing at an average rate of 33%. Crime incidents are relatively nonexistent, which comes as no surprise as it’s the Caribbean’s most exclusive and expensive tropical destination.
Many locals leave their houses and cars unlocked, though it’s advised to practice basic safety precautions.
The predominantly French locale offers an air of European elegance—there are boutique hotels and private villas, as well as secluded coves and pristine beaches. Visitors and locals alike enjoy kitesurfing, sailing, and surfing. Shipwrecks and reefs lurk beneath the crystal blue waters, inviting snorkelers and scuba divers to explore their mysteries.
There’s also St. Barts’s well-sought-out, red-roofed capital: Gustavia. The coral utopia is home to boutique shops, art galleries, and scrumptious French-inspired cuisine, all existing in front of a backdrop of aquamarine waters and verdant vegetation.
Gustavia is also one of the safest cities in Saint Barts, though there are very few dangerous areas. While there are a few cases of petty theft, there are minimal cases of violent crime and no guns or gangs to be found.
Montserrat is the safest Caribbean island to live and retire. The British territory, also located within the Leeward Islands, is nicknamed the Emerald Isle for its resemblance to coastal Ireland.
The northern region of Montserrat is safe, offering black sand beaches, coral reefs, and seaside caves. There are also various hiking trails throughout the island. Woodlands Beach is a popular location for intimate outings and seaside picnics. Its expansive white sand beach neighbors lush coastal cliffs and jutting rock formations.
On the southern end of the island, which is known for its volcanic activity, visitors can trek to Soufrière Hills, a stratovolcano with lava domes that destroyed the island’s capital city, Plymouth, in 1995 during an eruption that occurred after 365 years of dormancy. Though no fear—habitation is banned on the southern side of the island, and the northern region is very much safe from the volcano.
In terms of safety, the crime rate of Montserrat, which harbors a small population of 5,000, is relatively low. Additionally, the island does not experience security threats from any nearby nations. The volcanic activity on the south side of the island is its only danger; though, it does not pose a serious threat.
Violent crime on Montserrat has always been low: between 1998 and 2012, island authorities only reported eight murders across the island. The majority of crimes that are committed are cases of assault, domestic violence, theft, and burglary.
Corruption and abuse of power within the local police force are relatively nonexistent. The police force’s limited operational capacities do pose some issues, however. Additionally, the island does play a minor role in the international drug trade, as it acts as a transit point.
As such, the Royal Montserrat Police Service acts as a counter-narcotics operation comprising 70 police officers. Furthermore, a volunteer group called the Royal Montserrat Defence Force provides disaster relief and performs search and rescue operations.
Montserrat’s legal system operates from British common law practice, though there is no appointed High Judge due to the island’s small population. It’s difficult to gauge the law system’s efficiency, however, due to a low number of crime reports. There is one prison on the island in which prisoners are typically enrolled in work rehabilitation programs.
The island, unfortunately, is at risk of hurricane and earthquake activity, as well as an immediate danger of volcanic activity. More specifically, heavy rainfall or a tropical storm could collapse the dome of the southern volcano, causing an eruption. The port of Little Bay is also susceptible to storm surges.
Brades is the largest and safest city on the island. It lies close to St. Peters and Bunkum Bay. Brades elicits a small-town feel and offers a small collection of shops as well as a bank. There’s also a nursing school and two primary schools, in case you want any children to move with you when you retire.
What Are the Most Dangerous Caribbean Islands?
In terms of crime, the most dangerous Caribbean islands are Haiti, Jamaica, and Dominica. These regions experience high levels of violent crime, paired with civil unrest and economic disparity.
The U.S. Department of State currently assesses Haiti at Level Four, advising travelers to avoid the country due to high levels of crime, civil unrest, and kidnapping.
Armed robberies against motorists and pedestrians near the airport are on the rise, in addition to reports of home invasion. Criminals typically do not care if the resident is at home and tend to use violence, intimidation by firearm, or constraints when invading the home.
Furthermore, gang-related crime is prevalent in and around Port-au-Prince, though criminals also shifted to more affluent areas. Travelers are also advised to stay away from banks and ATMs, as these are primary locations for theft and assault. In 2019, there were a reported 787 homicides.
The roads in Haiti are also unsafe due to underfunding and residual storm and earthquake damage. Driving conditions can be chaotic, as well, and it’s ultimately advised to stay off the roads as accidents typically draw in angry and violent crowds. Using public transportation is also ill-advised.
Haiti also lies directly in the path of hurricanes and tropical storms, which can create life-threatening conditions such as flash flooding. Earthquakes also pose a large risk to residents of Haiti.
Overall, Haiti is not a safe place to retire; property rights are often irregularly enforced or nonexistent, and it’s often difficult to obtain a title of the land.
Jamaica is another dangerous Caribbean island. The U.S. Department of State assessed the city of Kingston as being a critical-level threat for a crime relating to U.S interests; and the Travel Advisory assesses the country at Level Two, encouraging travelers to exercise extreme caution if visiting.
Jamaica’s 2019 homicide rate of 47:10,000 has since increased and is three times higher than other countries within the region. It’s also one of the most dangerous locations for women travelers, according to Forbes Magazine, as sexual assault is prevalent in the region. Gangs also tend to target U.S. citizens for violent crime.
Jamaica also shared a fault line with Haiti, making for regular tremors throughout the country. It’s also located along the Hurricane Belt and is prone to many tropical storms.
Overall, it’s best to stay cautious and stay away.
Related: Cost of Living in Jamaica
Dominica is the least safe island in the Eastern region. The U.S. Travel Advisory advises that travelers should be extremely cautious when visiting Dominica due to civil unrest. In 2018, OSAC reported 427 residential burglaries, 103 drug-related crimes, and 15 homicides.
In its recent history, political unrest and upheaval affected incoming flights and cruise ship arrivals. The 2019 riots originated from frustrations regarding the country’s election systems. Protestors were met by the police force when officers fired pellets and tear gas at demonstrators.
Due to the country’s civil unrest, it’s not an optimal island to retire, as more disputes may ensue.
The Caribbean Islands, with their ever-stretching white beaches and pristine blue waters, are an ideal locale for any retiree seeking a slice of paradise. Although parts of the region are endangered by rising sea levels and economic disparity, the beauty of the islands and their people is unmatched.
It’s essential to research properly to find the best match for your lifestyle. Take each island’s crime rate, political history, and economic present into consideration before signing on the dotted line. You’re so close to finding your new forever home amongst the safest places to retire in the Caribbean!
Did we miss an island? Let us know in the comments below!
Related: English Speaking Caribbean Islands