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The Almighty Dollar!
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from Northwest Point, West Bay
Grand Cayman, British West Indies
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West Bay, 10 February 1997

Letís get this out in the open right off:
. . . The Cayman Islands are not a "cheap place to visit"!

There, Iíve said it, now donít be surprised when you come here and discover itís true. I hear snippets of conversation and outright harangues from people visiting Cayman, who were obviously not aware of this fact before they arrived and who are now complaining to all and sundry about how Americans are going to stop coming here because their dollar is worth less than the CI$ and on and on.

If you want cheap, go to Mexico!

Donít worry about the fact that even little children will approach you in the street attempting to sell you anything and everything, just to survive. Donít lose any sleep over the poverty of the masses there and the low standard of living produced by the poor wages that enable Mexico to keep prices low and make the U.S. dollar buy so much more. Just enjoy your cheap beer, but donít drink the water, and remember to watch your purse or wallet!

(I really donít mean to pick on Mexico; there are plenty of other places with similar social conditions. Itís just that Iíve been to Mexico and can speak from personal experience, and Mexico is the country most often thrown up to us as having good diving for less money.)

If you want to visit a clean, prosperous island with 100% employment, a high standard of living, and a low crime rate, itís going to cost a little more!

Let me explain why. "Tax" is a word rarely used in the Cayman Islands, except in "tax free." We have no income tax, no sales tax, and no property tax. How then does the government generate the revenue to operate and maintain the infrastructure of this democratic society? Primarily through duties, work permit fees, and licenses.

The biggie here that most affects the prices we all (not just tourists) pay for things is duty. Duties are levied on almost everything brought into this country, and since very little is produced here, thatís almost everything that is consumed here or used to build and maintain structures.

The duty on the vast majority of imports is 20%, which helps to explains the fact that the CI$ is worth 20% more than the US$. The idea is that something that costs a dollar in the U.S. would cost one CI$ in the Cayman Islands to account for the 20% duty paid on that item.

Unfortunately, itís not that simple. The government adds on the cost of the freight to get that item to the Cayman Islands before the duty is calculated. If itís very bulky or very heavy or requires special treatment, such as refrigeration, freight can be very expensive.

I donít personally know anyone in the Cayman Islands who is out to rip-off the tourists. Most of us are just ordinary businessmen and women who are operating within the given system and trying to make an honest living. Itís expensive for us to go to the grocery store or out to eat, too, and although we may not be paying what you are per night for a place to sleep, renting or purchasing property is not cheap either.

Nonetheless, we feel that this is a better solution than levying taxes on everything. That one liter bottle of soft drink may be CI$1.99 (US$2.49), but itís not US$1.19 plus 6 or 7 or 8% sales tax, like it is in the U.S., and no one is forcing you or us to buy it.

We can do without and drink the water that falls free from the sky into our cisterns or comes from the wells in the ground or comes out of the faucet in your hotel, condo, or guest house. (See how much luck you have refusing to pay sales tax or income tax at home! The option simply isnít there, unless you want to go to jail!)

The folks who live in the Cayman Islands and those who come back to visit year after year (or wish they could) have accepted the system and understand why things are a bit more expensive here than they are in many other places and are less than others. (There are places, Iím told, where the duties are 100-150%, so I count my blessings every day!) We think itís worth the higher prices to live in or visit the Cayman Islands.

I hope Iíve helped you understand and accept the system, too. If not, enjoy your trip to Mexico, or wherever. If so, we look forward to seeing you here in Cayman soon! Iíll give you a few tips next time on what to expect things to cost and how to hold down expenditures, if youíve a mind to.

Until then, live life to its fullest, laugh often, and enjoy lifeís simplest pleasures. Most of the time, theyíre free . . .


In addition to these essays, the wench also posts frequent short writings about her View from West Bay. Check out the latest post!

Please send your comments and/or suggestions to the wench@cayman.org.

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Last update: 10 February 1997
Copyright © 1997 Don Backstrom
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