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Debunking Seven Myths about Living in the Dominican Republic
by Ginnie Bedggood
Each year more and more foreigners move to the Dominican Republic, lured by the tropical climate, inexpensive property (if you know where to look), high rates of return on investments and a very reasonable cost of living compared to Europe and the United Kingdom and, in some respects, the US also. After 13 years of living here I have noticed that some of the more recent arrivals are different in both calibre, adjustability and simpatico with the locals, from those already living here when I became an expat. A small amount of research has shown that newer arrivals probably could be described as 'followers' rather than 'pioneers' and many arrive with false assumptions and a set of myths internalised which do not assist in a happy transition. These brief thoughts are penned with the aim of easing the passage of future groups of arrivals.
Myth No. 1: I don't need to learn Spanish
Wrong! Whilst many Dominicans working in tourist areas speak English, those away from these areas do not. Your Spanish need not be fluent, but making the effort goes a huge way to engender acceptance by the indigenous population. In any event, foreigners who do not speak any Spanish get charged 'gringo' prices and could find themselves at the wrong end of the odd scam or two because they do not understand what is going on around them (scams frequently operated by other gringos, I might point out, as well as street wise Dominicans.
Myth No. 2: The safest place to live is in a gated community with other expats and lots of security guards
Again, wrong. The Dominican Republic is not like some of the more dangerous parts of the Middle East. Yes, there is crime here, but where in the world is there not? Gated communities full of other expats signify to burglars houses with good 'pickings'. Security guards are usually paid a pittance and are unlikely to risk life and limb if armed burglars appear. Some of the security guards may even be part of the problem, providing the burglars with information about residents' movements. In 13 years here we have never found it necessary to live in a gated community and we certainly would never live surrounded by expats. We take normal precautions similar to those which our Dominican neighbours take and all we have 'lost' in 13 years is one Dominican flag and the soft top to a jeep, both from outside the house, not inside.
Myth No. 3: Driving in the Dominican Republic is a risky business
True. Just how risky depends a lot on you. If you have eyes everywhere and are good at predicting others' actions and drive firmly and confidently, the risks are markedly decreased. There is no 'road rage' here, just carelessness and failure to signal. Traffic lights are a relatively new phenomenon of about four years back in Puerto Plata where I live and some inhabitants are clearly still adjusting!
Myth No. 4: Medical care is primitive
Whilst this would be true of public hospitals it is not true of private clinics and expats will be using the latter. Public hospitals are severely under-resourced. The doctors are willing and in most cases able but just do not possess the most basic of items. Operations in public hospitals have been known to be completed by the light from a surgeon's cellphone when the power goes off or the back up generator runs out of fuel. The Dominican Republic is, after all, a developing country.
Myth No. 5: There are power problems
No myth, this one is absolutely correct. However, most expats will obtain either inverters or generators or both so blackouts affect them far less than poorer sectors of the community.
Myth No. 6: The 'natives' are always happy
No, they are not, but they are an uncomplaining race of people and tend to 'get on' with life. Also they would not want to upset you by appearing miserable, so on goes the beaming smile. There is both poverty and hunger here, so of course people are unhappy at times. But you have to prove your worth by staying for the long haul and having a warm and understanding nature before they will share these concerns with you. This is because many expats prefer to 'look the other way' and not see these issues. If you are one of these, please do not move here.
Myth No. 7 : Nothing ever happens when it should
Well, yes and no. If you were expecting something to be done today and it is not, you will be told 'Manana'. From this you may mistakenly believe it will be done tomorrow. 'Manana' does not necessarily mean tomorrow. Sometimes it means 'never' but Dominicans would not want to upset you by telling you this. The only way around this one is to learn to ask the right questions
I could, of course, write an entire article on each one of these but perhaps it is best to stop whilst one is ahead! You can and will adjust to these differences. It helps if you view them as differences and not the 'right' way and the 'wrong' way. There is no need for a 'them' and 'us' attitude in the Dominican Republic, so if you feel you already have one, please deposit it at the airport - preferably Miami!