As a former colony of the Netherlands, Sint Maarten (Saint Martin) is a popular destination for Dutch people. I’m a bit of an exception, since I’m Belgian though. Saint Martin has a land area of 87 km2 , 53 km2 is under the sovereignty of France and 34 km2 under the sovereignty of the Netherlands. This tiny island has a unique history and is recognized by two different names, depending on which side of the island you're on: Saint-Martin (French) and Sint Maarten (Dutch).
For congruency purposes and since it's the side of the island I live and work on, I'll refer to it as Sint Maarten. So, how did I end up teaching Dutch in Sint Maarten?
After 3 years of teaching in Brussels, I had the desire to challenge myself. Despite the multicultural environment and the unusual work spaces, I wanted to do something out of my comfort zone. I also wanted to take my passion for travelling to the next level. I picked myself up and gave it a shot!
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Requirements to teach in St. Maarten
- A Bachelor’s Degree (in the subject you want to teach)
- Native level of Dutch
- Good level of English (English is the first language of the students)
- Criminal Record Check
- KLM Health Check (before arrival)
- Ability to sign a 3 year contract
I found my job on this Dutch website. You can find plenty of teaching jobs abroad through this site. I picked up the ones who were looking for a high school (students about 12 to 16 years old) Dutch teacher because I was still too insecure about my English. That means you can speak Dutch on the other side of the world, weird no?!
The Caribbean seemed to be a popular spot because a lot of Dutch people are applying in this area. There are also job opportunities on other Dutch speaking islands like Bonaire, Saint Eustatius, Curacao and Aruba. The job interview took place on Skype and a few days later I received a message that I could start working for them.
As a teacher on Sint Maarten, you have a lot of free time. School starts pretty early (7:30am) but also ends early (2:10pm). You teach 27 classes a week, each 45 minutes long, which means you have enough free time to prepare your classes. It can be so hot after lunch break, but lucky for you, you can go home or relax at the beach.
Moving to Sint Maarten after the passage of Hurricane Irma
As soon as you arrive on the island you’ll be amazed by its beauty: white beaches, waving palm trees, blue ocean and a sunset to say, “wow.” But then, you’ll also see the devastation: almost 90 percent of all structures were destroyed or seriously damaged. Some hotels and restaurants have not reopened but each day, progress is beginning to take hold.
The crowds are coming back and there’s a lot of optimism among the people. However, when cruise ships leave the harbour, Philipsburg (the capital of the Dutch part) is empty and quiet. You will hardly see anyone, except a few runners or locals.
Be financially prepared
Your school will pay for everything before and upon your arrival. That means you get your flight ticket, free transport of household goods, a contribution to your installation expenses, your health insurance and your retirement fund. Believe me: that’s a big benefit!
But you’ll also be surprised about the costs you have to make.
First of all, you have to buy a car!
It sounds crazy but without a car you cannot live on the island. Public transportation is not reliable and it seems to me like a lot of local people are driving without a driver’s license because they drive like fools! Buying a scooter or motorbike is still an option but in my opinion, it’s quite dangerous.
It’s also important that you find a good car because the island has a lot of hills and you’ll need a good motor to be able to cross them. Your car has to be insured and every year you have to pay road tax and to buy a new number plate. Don’t underestimate these costs! Fun fact: they did not accept my Belgian driver’s license (only driver’s licenses from The Netherlands or France) so I’m an illegal driver! Shh, don’t tell!
Next to that you have to find an apartment, which is not easy.
After Irma, rent has been high so you have to be prepared to spent almost half of your salary in rent. Also be sure your apartment is hurricane proof. It can happen again! As you can guess, everyone drives a car so traffic is horrible. It can take you 30 minutes to drive 3 kilometers. Be sure your apartment is well located.
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Everything on the island is imported.
That means prices in supermarkets are unimaginably high. Last week, I wanted to buy smoked salmon but the price was 16 dollars. I skipped the smoked salmon. Despite the high living standards on the island, alcohol, cigarettes and gasoline are cheap. I don’t smoke but I’m happy with my cheap beer. Time and time again, you need to hydrate on such a tropical island!
Food comes before everything
I love food and I thought I was a true food lover but compared to locals, I’m not. Life lesson if you ever plan to come to Sint Maarten: food comes before everything! Students at school, bank clerks, police officers, etc. they always want to eat. The first thing my students ask me in the morning is, “Teacher, can we go to the canteen to buy food?” Local colleagues even eat during meetings.
Unfortunately, KFC, MacDonald’s and Domino pizza are taking over the island and are dragging people away from local, healthy cuisines.
As you know already, Sint Maarten is very small. It’s almost impossible to not want to go off the island sometimes. I used to love big cities but since I’ve lived here, I can hardly imagine being in crowded areas. Luckily if you do crave the city, you can find some affordable flights to New York! The feeling of being anonymous, the happiness to go shopping and the smoothness of public transport can be a treat from time to time.
Also if you want to experience more Caribbean vibes, you can arrange some island hopping. Saint Barths, Saint Kitts, Saint Eustatius and Saba, for example, are all only 20 minutes flights away. It’s an amazing experience to explore these remote areas on a weekend!
Island life isn’t for everyone but for the right person, it’s amazing! So if you need chaos, wild experiences, unexpected stories, interesting people, sunset swims, tropical storms, a lot of food and a challenging work environment, Sint Maarten is the place to be!
Find out more details about what it's like living as an expat in paradise!