With some of the best beaches in the Caribbean, friendly locals, and a buzzing international expat community, the lifestyle we have in the Dominican Republic is incredible at the price. And you could live here for even less.
My husband Ed and I hadn’t planned on retiring in this tropical paradise. We came to see what business opportunities were available. But when we first arrived in 2009, we saw how easily it could be done. Expats from Europe, Canada, and the U.S. were already here, enjoying an affordable retirement with a first-class quality of life.
We couldn’t wait to join them, and in 2010 we packed our bags and moved to Las Terrenas on the northwestern coast of the island.
In Las Terrenas and other resort towns across the island, the day begins for many expats with a cup of strong coffee in one of the local cafés. The influx of French expats has brought with it flaky croissants, pain au chocolat and crusty, fresh baguettes.
Locals gather at the cafés to share the latest gossip and news. They’ll be happy to discuss whether the whales have arrived in Samaná Bay or how the new road from Samaná airport to the beach is progressing. You can compare notes on the weather—usually sunny and 80 F with a light breeze. In addition, many cafés have WiFi so you can catch up on news from around the world.
After your light breakfast for less than $3, there are a variety of ways to get your blood going. I like running on the beachfront road between Las Terrenas and La Barbacoa. You can run more than six miles along the coast under the protective shade of hundreds of palm trees. To cool off, take a dip in the turquoise-blue ocean.
If walking sounds better, there are plenty of sun-drenched stretches of beach to stroll alone or with a friend. You may be joined by one or two of the local “cocodogs” that hang out looking for company. The cocodogs are sweet and friendly and more than one Las Terrenas resident has been “adopted” by a loyal pup that becomes the family pet.
Many of my friends meet in town for yoga each day. In addition to being a great way to stay fit, the classes are full of expats from different backgrounds. They arrange ladies’ luncheons, men’s poker nights and “co-ed” BBQs and are quick to include new arrivals in the fun. Groups often form based on shared language and you have plenty of variety. English, French, Spanish, Italian, and German are all spoken here.
Once breakfast and your daily exercise are complete, it’s the perfect time to run errands. Finding what you need is easy. A quick walk through downtown is all it takes to stock up on the essentials. Market stalls offer fresh fruit and vegetables – pineapple, papaya, and all types of citrus fruit. along with fresh herbs like cilantro, basil, and rosemary.
You find fresh seafood at the Fisherman’s Village on the beach east of town. Select an enormous mahi-mahi for about $20 or stock up on single-serving red snapper for around $3. For a few extra pesos, the vendors are happy to filet and portion your fish.
Walking throughout town, you will also find hardware stores, clothing boutiques, and various home furnishing shops along the way. If you don’t have a shopping list, just enjoy the sights as you take a stroll.
Once the errands are done, friends enjoy meeting on the beach for lunch. Beachfront restaurants with panoramic ocean views offer menu options to suit any taste. Whether you’re looking for a fresh piece of grilled fish or something simple like pizza, you can find it all along the water. Street-side vendors also sell hot, freshly-roasted chicken you can take home. Since many local shops close from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., you may want to follow their lead and take a siesta to digest lunch.
Looking for more adventure? Try kite surfing, snorkeling or sailing. You can hike or horseback ride to one of the nearby waterfalls or hidden beaches around Las Terrenas. I know of one expat who spends his afternoons exploring the north coast of the Samaná Peninsula on a Laser sailboat he rents at the Sailing Club in Las Terrenas for $40 an hour (join and it costs less).
The nights in Las Terrenas can be as low-key or high-energy as you like. With all the fresh food and flavors, you may opt to spend an evening at home, eating like a king with friends and family. If you’d rather go out, cafés, restaurants, and beachside food stalls offer great dinner choices. The nightlife really gets rolling around 11:00 p.m., when the bands start playing in the open-air bars and the DJs crank up the music at the discos.
The ability to own a business in the Dominican Republic and the strong growth of the Dominican economy were important factors in our decision to move here. Ed and I were both looking to change careers when we left the U.S. I wanted the flexibility to start my own venture if I saw good options. So far, I’ve discovered far more business opportunities than I have time to pursue.
Many people start small businesses here to supplement their income and keep them busy. One clever expat has rigged a freezer to his bike and pedals along the beaches selling homemade coconut sorbet. I love to hear the ring of that ice cream bell above the sound of breaking waves. For less than $1, it’s a treat you don’t want to miss.
Business opportunities are abundant across the island. If you’re willing to invest some time and money you could profit from rental real estate. If you don’t want to commit to owning your own properties, providing efficient and dependable management services to absentee owners is another nice sideline if you have the time.
But the cost of living here is the major draw. Rent, even at the beach, is much less than what you will pay for a similar property in the U.S. In Las Terrenas, a two-bedroom house in a secure hilltop housing complex goes for $700 per month. That includes spectacular views of the ocean to the north and the lush, tropical mountains to the south and east. And for as little as $400 to $500 a month, you can enjoy an array of housing options on the beach, in the hills, or in the middle of town.
One of my goals in moving to the Dominican Republic was to master Spanish. But living in a large expat community, we weren’t practicing enough. Although we loved the beach, we recently decided to immerse ourselves more completely in Dominican culture and move to Santiago, the second-largest city. Rent here is even more affordable. For just $400 a month we rent a four-bedroom house with off-street parking and lots of outdoor living space. It’s well-situated in a quiet neighborhood just five minutes from a large supermarket that has all my household essentials, including appliances, clothing, and food.
In addition to paying lower rent, once you leave the beach, all the prices for daily living decrease. A quick bite of lunch will cost $4 to $6 and a nice dinner out at an upscale restaurant with a bottle of wine will run about $50 per couple—half the price of the same meal in the States. Many Dominican dishes like sancocho, a flavorful stew of meats and local root vegetables, and yucca fritters stuffed with tasty seasoned chicken, take time to make at home but are so tasty and inexpensive when made by a local with fresh ingredients.
I have a quality of life here that would have cost much more in the U.S. Santiago is less than an hour from great hiking in the mountains and a little more than an hour from some of the loveliest beaches in the Caribbean. The climate is conducive to year-round recreation and the options for outdoor activities are endless.
Given how friendly Dominicans and the expat community are, it’s not surprising I have found numerous opportunities to participate in the community. I’ve had no trouble meeting people and finding social events. Best of all, I have the time to enjoy it.
Yana and Ed’s DR Budget—$1,850 a Month
Rent (for a luxury two-bedroom apartment): $500
Cooking Gas: $10
Home Internet, cable, land line: $80
Cellphone with data: $30
Maid (twice a week): $65
Maintenance and fuel for one car: $160
Entertainment (two people dining out eight times a month at top restaurants): $400
Healthcare (annual health insurance premium): $75
Total: $2,000 ($66 per day)