The Best Islands for Scuba Diving Expats to Live On

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You save your money to travel to and dive on some of the dreamiest islands in the world. But imagine if that “no fly” warning on your computer didn’t apply because you weren’t packing up from paradise to go home. Abandoning the comforts (and expectations) of home to plunge into the unknown isn’t for everyone. But if you’ve ever toyed with the idea of an extended stay somewhere as ideal for diving as it is for living, we’ve got the islands calling your name — along with encouraging words from people who’ve already done it to urge you on your way.

TAHITI, FRENCH POLYNESIA

Take the romance of Moorea, the thrilling drift dives of the Tuamotu Archipelago, the fascinating culture of the Marquesas and swirl in something French, and you’ve got one of the most exotic corners of the planet in French Polynesia. Few places on Earth possess the sheer beauty of Tahiti, but it’s the whole package that will make you want to move here. “It’s casual, the people are friendly, and it’s a great place to raise children,” says Laurel Samuela of True Tahiti Vacation, who came to the islands on a six-month scuba trip in 2000, met her husband, and never left.
“DON’T COME HERE EXPECTING TO CHANGE TAHITI — LET TAHITI CHANGE YOU!”

LAUREL SAMUELA, TAHITI

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON Year-round; November to April is rainy season
AVERAGE HOME COST $770 per month for a one-bedroom apartment
LANGUAGE French
POPULATION 276,800
COST OF ONE-TANK DIVE $79
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP TopDive

ROATAN, HONDURAS

After a few years living and diving in Roatan, South African Irma Korb and her Dutch partner moved to Thailand, and then traveled the world together. “Everywhere we went, we searched for happiness in a combination of things,” says Korb. “You need to have a good balance between culture, lifestyle and, of course, good diving.” They returned to Roatan to live, she says, because it offered all of that. The largest of the Bay Islands, Roatan also appeals for its affordable prices, modern supermarkets and bilingual schools.

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON Year-round; June to October is hurricane season
AVERAGE HOME COST $500 per month for one-bedroom apartment
LANGUAGE Spanish
POPULATION 50,000
COST OF ONE-TANK DIVE $40
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP Tobri Divers

AMBERGRIS CAYE, BELIZE

With the rich Mesoamerican Reef nearby, a thriving expat community, and local and international culture in San Pedro Town, “La Isla Bonita” offers lots to love. It’s easy to get around by bicycle or golf cart on Ambergris Caye. When you need a change of scenery, the mainland is a 15-minute flight away.

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON Year-round; June to October is hurricane season
AVERAGE HOME COST $500,000 for an oceanfront condo
LANGUAGE English
POPULATION 20,000
COST OF ONE-TANK DIVE $57
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP Sunbreeze Hotel & Suites

BONAIRE

Cruise-ship crews see many ports of call. But for one couple who met while working at sea, Bonaire had a siren call like no other. “What we love most is the freedom we feel living here — freedom from traffic, noise, and the hustle and bustle of everyday life,” says South African Charlene Bosch, who owns a jewelry shop, Elements Bonaire, on the island with her Italian husband. “Bonaire is still very safe compared to most countries,” she says. “People still keep their front doors open and gates unlocked.” And the bonus for divers, of course, is the Caribbean’s best shore diving is your backyard.

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON Year-round
AVERAGE HOME COST $525,000 for a three-bedroom house
LANGUAGE Dutch
POPULATION 16,540
COST OF ONE-TANK DIVE $39
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP Buddy Dive

AZORES, PORTUGAL

Imagine a mix of Hawaii’s natural beauty and the cultural fascination of Old World Europe, and you’ll have an inkling of what to expect in this archipelago. Italian diver Dania Tesei visited the island of Pico in 2006 and now calls it home. “The sea life is superb, plus the island is still very authentic with a simple way of living.”

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON June to October
AVERAGE HOME COST $393 per month for an unfurnished one-bedroom apartment
LANGUAGE Portuguese
POPULATION 246,000
COST OF ONE-TANK DIVE $49
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP Dive Azores

BALI, INDONESIA

You’ll hardly be the first person to expatriate to Bali — few islands are so beautiful, enchanting and downright inexpensive. The food is out of this world, massages are dirt-cheap, and the island’s beaches are home to some of the best surfing on the planet. Then, of course, there’s the ridiculous diving, with spots like Tulamben and Menjangan Island among the best in, well, the world. Arkansas native Beth Ibrahim, who moved to the village of Canggu to teach at an international school, recommends checking out Nusa Lembongan too. “I saw dozens of manta rays and a baby whale shark diving at Manta Point,” she says. “The nature, the food, the culture — I love it all.”

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON Year-round; October to April is rainy season
AVERAGE HOME COST $250 per month for one-bedroom apartment
LANGUAGE Indonesian
POPULATION 4.2 million
COST OF ONE-TANK DIVE $125
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP Adventure Scuba Diving

MALTA

“Maltese food is amazing,” says Emily Hatton of the travel site Your Local Cousin, who lives in the town of Birgu. She says not to miss Blue Dome, a dive site where you surface inside a cave with a crack in its dome. “The light from the cave entrance makes the water glow bright blue.”

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON Year-round
AVERAGE HOME COST $1,200 per month for a three-bedroom apartment in the city center
LANGUAGE English, Maltese
POPULATION 423,282
COST OF ONE-TANK DIVE $44
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP Paradise Diving Malta

COZUMEL, MEXICO

The scuba set knows Coz for its ripping drift dives, where sites like Punta Tunich Wall and Palancar Gardens on the Caribbean island’s west coast always deliver. But settle in and stay for awhile, and you’ll fall equally hard for the locals and lifestyle. “The island is a really safe and friendly place to live; you’ll always find someone willing to help without asking anything in return,” says French-Canadian dive instructor Marilyn Bouchard. She recommends exploring the east side of Cozumel, “where miles of unspoiled beaches are fiercely defended by locals against big investors looking to build resorts.”

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON Year-round; June to October is hurricane season
AVERAGE HOME COST $350 per month for an unfurnished one-bedroom apartment
LANGUAGE Spanish
POPULATION 100,000
COST OF TWO-TANK DIVE $79
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP Dive Paradise

VITI LEVU, FIJI

With a natural beauty and spectacular hard coral gardens to rival any in the world, Fiji lets you live out your South Pacific dreams. And just a 45-minute boat ride from Pacific Harbour is Beqa Island, a great base if you love diving with sharks and exploring the rest of the wonders waiting in Fiji’s clear, warm water.

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON Year-round; November to April is rainy season
AVERAGE HOME COST $900 per month for a furnished studio
LANGUAGE English, Fijian
POPULATION 600,000
COST OF TWO-TANK DIVE $150
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP Beqa Lagoon Resort

BARBADOS

English is the native language in Barbados. But you’re in for an exotic experience when you relocate to this independent British Commonwealth country in the eastern Caribbean, where English, African and Caribbean cultures mingle. When you’re not exploring the roughly 200 wrecks in the waters offshore — like Friars Craig and SS Stavronikita — there’s the nightlife and live music of Bridgetown, top-rated golf courses, and killer surf breaks to explore. And if a getaway ever comes calling, you’re a short flight from dive hot spots St. Lucia, Dominica and more.

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON Year-round; June to October is hurricane season
AVERAGE HOME COST $540 per month for one-bedroom apartment
LANGUAGE English
POPULATION 284,000
COST OF ONE-TANK DIVE $65
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP Dive Barbados Blue

ST. LUCIA

One peek at the Pitons — among the most famous mountain landscapes in all of the Caribbean — will make you want to settle in and stay a while on St. Lucia. And Texan Lee Ann Fessenden, who called the island home for many years, says the hospitality of the people is equally appealing. “St. Lucians are very hardworking people, but always have a smile for a stranger and will do their utmost to make you happy and comfortable,” she says. When you’re not diving, Fessenden recommends “jumping into misty waterfalls hidden in emerald-green forests or simply driving through ancient villages meeting locals and enjoying their rum concoctions, spicy Creole food and dancing to heart-pounding music.”

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON Year-round; June to October is hurricane season
AVERAGE HOME COST $802 per month for a one-bedroom apartment
“ST. LUCIANS ARE PROUD OF THEIR BEAUTIFUL ISLAND, AND IT SHOWS IN THEIR GENUINE HOSPITALITY.”

LEE ANN FESSENDEN, ST. LUCIA
LANGUAGE English
POPULATION 182,270
COST OF ONE-TANK DIVE $39
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP Scuba St. Lucia, scubastlucia.com

NEW PROVIDENCE ISLAND, BAHAMAS

Excellent shark and wreck diving in clear blue waters and near-perfect weather are among the reasons to consider a stint on NPI, home to the Bahamian capital of Nassau. The expat population pulls heavily from Canada and the U.K., and is a good-time kind of crowd that tends to work hard and party even harder.

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON Year-round; June to October is hurricane season
AVERAGE HOME COST $578,930
LANGUAGE English
POPULATION 244,400
COST OF ONE-TANK DIVE $91
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas

PALAU

In addition to some of the best (and sharkiest) diving on the entire planet at famous spots like Blue Corner, Chandelier Cave and Ulong Channel, it’s the neighborly spirit of this remote western Pacific outpost that makes Canadian Jen LeBlanc happy to call Palau home. “The Palauan people are unbelievably friendly; they are always smiling and super-polite,” says LeBlanc, who moved to the island in 2014 to work as an IDC master staff instructor at Sam’s Tours. About two-thirds of the population live on the island of Koror. Says LeBlanc: “You will immediately feel like a part of the community here.”

“Finding housing is getting easier, but for the past few years, it’s been extremely difficult to secure. Start researching and getting the word out before you arrive, and check out the Palau Expats page on Facebook.”

JEN LEBLANC, PALAU

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON Year-round
AVERAGE HOME COST $195,000 for a three-bedroom house
LANGUAGE Palauan, English
POPULATION 20,918
COST OF TWO-TANK DIVE $155
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP Sam’s Tours

GRAND CAYMAN

Diving may be its crown jewel, but the life aquatic comes in many forms on Grand Cayman, such as kayaking. The fact that you can pair all that with worldly neighbors and the most diverse dining scene in the Caribbean is icing on the cake. “I love the watersports, and this island has some of the best food,” says Lindsey Mobley, who moved to George Town from Texas.

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON Year-round; June to October is hurricane season
AVERAGE HOME COST $1,300 per month for a furnished studio
LANGUAGE English
POPULATION 52,600
COST OF TWO-TANK DIVE $120
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP Reef Divers

KEY LARGO, FLORIDA

“After 16 years spent living in Washington, D.C., I picked up my life and moved to the Florida Keys,” says Martha Roesler, chief development officer of the Coral Restoration Foundation. She settled in Key Largo in 2014 after many long-weekend vacations to the island to dive. “I never tire of seeing schools of midnight parrotfish or large groups of spotted eagle rays,” Roesler says. And it’s the small touches that make Key Largo a great community, among them “a fresh fish sandwich and a cold beer after a weekend dive.”

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON Year-round; June to October is hurricane season
AVERAGE HOME COST $560,600
LANGUAGE English
POPULATION 10,400
COST OF ONE-TANK DIVE $80
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP Horizon Divers

ST. CROIX, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS

American citizens are free to work and live in the U.S. Virgin Islands. So making the move here, for those of us with U.S. passports at least, doesn’t come with the tangle of bureaucracy that relocating to most overseas islands does. St. Croix is the largest island of the trio that includes St. Thomas and St. John. And while it’s American, there’s a delightful Dutch feel to the little towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted . When you’re not diving the reefs, wrecks and walls, dive into Crucian culture in the form of one of the regular Jump Ups (street parties) that occur throughout the year.

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON Year-round; June to October is hurricane season
AVERAGE HOME COST $403,550
LANGUAGE English
POPULATION 50,601
COST OF ONE-TANK DIVE $85
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP Cane Bay Dive Shop

NORTH ISLAND, NEW ZEALAND

For all its topside wonders, it’s the schooling blue maomao, subtropical corals and underwater arches at sites around the Poor Knights Islands that draw divers Down Under. And just as impressive as NZ’s scenery are the laid-back Kiwis. “New Zealand is a place where you live only if you truly appreciate it because it’s so far from everything,” says Marjon Leemborg, who relocated near Auckland from Holland. “I love that my daughter can be a child and take her time growing up in a beautiful environment with no real-world stress — and I can order a seriously good trim latte on any corner.”

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON Year-round; water temps are warmest January to June
AVERAGE HOME COST $326,119
“Have an open mind to changes without judging right or wrong. A different way is not always better or worse, just different.”

MARJON LEEMBORG, NEW ZEALAND
LANGUAGE English
POPULATION 4.47 million
COST OF TWO-TANK DIVE $229
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP Dive! Tutukaka

UNITED KINGDOM

If you can get past the cold-water diving and oft-gray skies, life in Blighty has more to offer than fish and chips. “We left the quiet, still waters of Florida’s Gulf coast for the wild coastlines of the North Sea,” says Amber Brinkley, who moved with her British-American family to Suffolk in 2013. “We loved visiting the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, where we found fossils on long walks, and there were dramatic rock formations for the kids to swim through.” On the diver’s U.K. bucket list are fascinating World War II wrecks and snorkeling with the basking sharks of Cornwall. On dry land, there are historic sites that draw globs of tourists each year, and urban hot spots for those seeking the big-city life such as London, Birmingham and Manchester.

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON September and October are the warmest, but you can dive year-round
AVERAGE HOME COST $340,054
LANGUAGE English
POPULATION 64.1 million
COST OF ONE-TANK DIVE $19
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP Underwater Explorers

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA

Canada just keeps getting better. But for divers, Vancouver Island has long been a draw. Come to dive the beautiful kelp forests and spot sea lions around Nanaimo, where the cold, clear water brims with life. Then stay for a healthy, outdoorsy lifestyle topside that appeals to hikers, surfers and basically anyone who loves rugged nature at its finest. Victoria, the capital of British Columbia located on the island’s southern tip, is blessed with the mildest winters in all of Canada. And if you’re emigrating from the U.S., a three-hour ferry ride can take you to Seattle to visit.

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON Year-round, but visibility is best October to March
AVERAGE HOME COST $266,224 outside the city of Victoria
POPULATION 765,000
COST OF ONE-TANK DIVE $77
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP Sink or Swim Scuba

GRAND TURK, TURKS AND CAICOS

Blissful beaches, a multicultural flux of residents and visitors thanks to the busy tourist sector, and near-perfect year-round weather make Grand Turk — the largest island in the Turk Islands chain — easy to love. You’re close enough to the U.S. for convenience but far enough to feel a sense of the exotic here. Head to Cockburn Town for culture. And never get bored diving your backyard, the Grand Turk Wall, which runs the length of the island’s leeward side and plunges from 25 to 7,000 feet.

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON Year-round; hurricane season is June to October
AVERAGE HOME COST $826,727
LANGUAGE English
POPULATION 4,500
COST OF TWO-TANK DIVE $165
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP Blue Water Divers

HAWAII ISLAND

“If you are thinking about moving to Hawaii,” says Jennifer Schellack, who relocated from California to Kona, “make sure you are ready to live life at a slower pace, pay more for everything — and make sure you love the outdoors.” That latter part is a no-brainer for divers, who might originally come here for the legendary manta night dive but will want to stay on for the sunny weather, white-sand beaches and killer fresh seafood (one word: poke). “Ho’okena Beach is a great spot for morning dives with the wild spinner dolphins,” says Schellack.

“The Hawaiians are mostly welcoming but do have their own beaches and local spots that are ‘Hawaiians only,’ so do be respectful. The culture runs deep here, and it is amazing to be a part of it.”

JENNIFER SCHELLACK, KONA

SLICE OF LIFE:

DIVE SEASON April through October
AVERAGE HOME COST $485,200
LANGUAGE English
POPULATION 11,975
COST OF TWO-TANK DIVE $135
YOUR LOCAL DIVE SHOP Jack’s Diving Locker

Source: Sport Dive

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