Moving to Barbados Guide

Barbados is an island in the Caribbean, measuring 21 miles in length and just 14 miles wide. Its capital is Bridgetown and it operates as a parliamentary democracy. Barbados is a top tourist destination and popular with expats to thanks to a year-round delightful climate, sandy beaches, clear waters and great food and culture.

The east coast of the island is less popular due to the Atlantic Ocean creating a rockier environment and making swimming difficult, but the south, north and west coasts provide relaxing beaches where most of the tourist activity takes place. The island’s topography is largely flat with a hilly interior and comprises of about one-third agricultural land, however, the climate allows dense rainforests to grow and thrive too.

It is the most easterly of the Caribbean islands, with St Vincent and the Grenadines, as well as St Lucia, lying directly to the west. It is an ex-British colony, and was once one of the main producers of sugar cane for the British empire, becoming independent only in 1966 but remaining part of the Commonwealth. It was also a major grower of both cotton and tobacco as far back as the 1620s.

The island has a population of around 290,000, with some 90% being of African descent. Of all tourism to the island, 40% is from British travellers, however, a large portion of its tourism income stems from travellers from America and Canada.

Weather in Barbados

Being a tropical island in the Caribbean, Barbados is perfectly situated for hot climates that attract tourists all year long. As the climate does not vary a great deal, the island can be said to have just two distinctive seasons – one wet, one dry. In the dry season which extends from December until around May, there is much less rainfall compared to the wet season of June to November.

Rainfall over the course of the year ranges from around 1000mm up to 2300mm in the wettest periods, causing large underground lakes to form. During the wet season, there can be downpours lasting for just an hour or two, which are then followed by clear sunny skies which dries the land up fairly quickly.
Barbados has been classified as having a tropical monsoon-style of climate, and thanks to continual low breezes from the Atlantic Ocean of around 15km/h the climate remains stable and tropical. This can change in times when hurricanes and other tropical storm systems work their way through the islands, but thankfully many hurricanes do not affect Barbados as badly as other more westerly island nations. The last major hurricane to hit Barbados in 1955 was named Janet, but Tomas passed over in 2010 causing only minimal damage.

The temperatures in Barbados are one of the main draws for tourists coming from more temperate climes which experience harsh winters such as Canada and Britain. Between the months of December and May, temperatures can hover between 21°C and 30°C, and from June to November they can be anywhere from 23°C up to 31°C.
February, March and April are the ideal times to visit the island as there is hardly any rainfall but lots of sunshine to enjoy on the beaches or a trek in the rainforest. Humidity isn’t so high during these months too, as in August it can reach around 80%. Whenever you visit Barbados you can expect at least 7-9 hours of sunshine per day.

Barbados Culture

The culture of Barbados is vibrant and lively, benefiting from an eclectic mix of the traditions which formed the island. Throughout Barbados, you’ll find touches of culture stemming from nations as diverse as Portugal, West Africa, British, India and Creole.

This is reflected in everything from the styles of housing to the way of life and the many festivals celebrated by the Bajan communities. The architecture has hints of both the Victorian and Jacobean periods, however, they have been adapted and evolved to suit the warm climes of this region, sporting spacious verandas to enjoy the outdoors more so than in Europe.

One of the features you’ll find most on these mainly wooden frame homes is fretwork in a variety of styles, bringing a unique touch to every property. The inhabitants have also made their homes as individual and bright as possible with the use of colourful paintwork in blues, pinks, greens and oranges.

One of the main events on the calendar is a carnival which has taken place every year since 1974 – the Crop Over. This festival has roots in other similar island nations too, as well as Latin America, and celebrates the annual harvest from times when sugar cane was widely grown. Here you’ll find a diverse mix of local and international music, such as soca, spouge and calypso, as well as dance competitions. The grand finale of the celebration is a carnival-style parade in the main communal areas of Barbados, filled with costumed dancers, loud Caribbean music and local food and produce.

Tuk bands are also popular on the island and bring a charm all of their own with brightly coloured vestures accompanied by instruments such as kettle and bass drums as well as pennywhistles.

Barbados does have its own distinct culture but is heavily influenced by its colonial past, which can be seen in the ‘Landship’ organisation which provides characterful songs and satirical dance movements tied in with costumes depicting the British Royal Navy. Caribbean jazz has also found a home here alongside other islands like Trinidad and Cuba.

This heritage is also displayed in the love of sporting events such as cricket and rugby, taking part in the Super Eight.

Barbados Language

Due to its colonial past like so many of the Caribbean islands, Barbados is predominantly English speaking. The country largely follows the British system of spelling and grammar, so you will find word usage such as ‘specialised’ vs ‘specialized’ and ‘centre’ vs ‘center’, as Americans would write.

In more informal locations between locals, you will also get the chance to hear a strange and wonderful dialect known as Bajan. This is a unique combination of West African and proper British English.

For example, you might hear the word ‘dem’ instead of ‘them’, something which is true for most words where a ‘th’ is replaced by a ‘d’ – ‘dis is de ding dat dey want’ in place of ‘this is the thing that they want’.

Some of the most common Bajan words include:

Bajan word or phraseMeaning
OvadaysoOver there
Cheese on breadWow
Government juiceWater

Many Bajan phrases also lack the use of a verb, such as ‘he tall’ instead of ‘he is tall’. The past tense can also be removed in many Bajan phrases, such as ‘I see her last week’ instead of ‘I saw her last week’.

Barbados Transport

Barbados is a relatively small island, however, there can be a lot of road traffic at all hours of the day, meaning a short trip from one end to the other can take a couple of hours. The whole island can be driven around in about 3 hours thanks to a decent infrastructure, even though the quality of roads away from populated areas are questionable.

The island also has lots of roundabouts as roads can intersect from different remote locations and head off in opposing directions towards the coast or towns. Around half of Barbadians own cars, but you can rent motorcycles, cars and minibuses in Barbados from some small local companies.

Public transport in Barbados is cheap and cheerful, with only a few bus routes operating to and from Bridgetown using one of the three main roads. There are public buses that are blue in colour, or you can opt for a private company using yellow buses, which play loud reggae music to enhance the journey.

Oftentimes buses are crowded with no capacity limits being maintained. If you choose a blue government-operated bus you will not receive change so make sure you have the correct amount before boarding. A brand new fleet of buses were added to the island in 2020 which are fully electric, a step toward the government’s commitment to fully move away from fossil fuel by 2030.

Taxis are widely available although the main route cabs, which are called Zadars (ZRs), are probably not the best option. They are famed for an erratic form of driving which may make passengers feel uncomfortable, and rates should be agreed upon before getting in as they are not equipped with meters.

Barbados Healthcare

As with many Caribbean nations, healthcare is of a high standard thanks to close ties with America and Britain as they were developing. The island is ranked 37th in the world when it comes to the quality of healthcare on offer. Spending on healthcare is around 7% of the country’s GDP, and the ratio of inhabitants to health workers is above average.

Barbadians benefit from a universal style of healthcare that sees them covered and cared for when it comes to both minor and major injuries, illnesses and ongoing medical conditions. There are two main hospitals on the island, one public and one private, plus numerous polyclinics, geriatric care facilities as well as paediatric centres for healthcare. There is also a psychiatric hospital on the island in Bridgetown.

The country also has many supporting medical facilities such as pharmacies and laboratories, as well as the ability to cope with a range of illnesses thanks to specialist radiology and surgery units within the main hospital.

There is a strong private healthcare system operating in Barbados, with many clinics and a hospital for those looking for a more efficient service compared to the public system, available with private health insurance.

Public Healthcare in Barbados

In general, the standard of public healthcare in Barbados is high. There is one main hospital on the island that boasts 600 beds and is also able to provide specialist procedures in areas such as radiology, psychiatry and obstetrics.

There are also healthcare facilities known as polyclinics that operate on the island, maintaining a high level of care and being accessible to the general population. These smaller medical facilities are used by locals for free access to treatment of lesser injuries and ailments.

As with most public healthcare in Barbados, you can experience long wait times whilst in hospitals and clinics. Healthcare in Barbados is funded directly through taxation, and there is a scheme that provides drug treatments free of charge for those suffering from chronic ailments. The nation has also been given funding in past years for schemes to combat HIV.

Private Health Insurance

If you are a tourist to the island, you are not covered by the universal public healthcare on offer to local Bajans. Treatments can be very expensive, especially if you need to be repatriated.

International health insurance is essential for numerous reasons such as the fact public medical transportation services can take a long time to attend to the situation, and in many cases, the paramedics are not permitted to provide emergency therapy en route to the hospital.

In comparison, the private facilities on the island are much more attentive, and the island benefits from a private hospital called Bayview. Here you will receive very high standards of care with a private or shared room and a comfortable atmosphere.

Reciprocal Healthcare Agreements

Barbados used to have a reciprocal healthcare agreement in place with the UK, however, this was nullified in 2016. This means that you are liable for all the costs of medical treatment if you do not opt for private health insurance covering your time in Barbados.

Barbados Currency

The official currency is the Barbados Dollar and it has been linked to that of the USD so the value does not fluctuate. You can spend USD as well as BSD on the island in most of the larger establishments, but your spending money can become undervalued if the dollar is not performing well against GBP when you travel.

ATMs can be found in most populated areas of the island so you’ll always be able to withdraw money for your shopping trips or excursions, and banks are open Monday-Friday from 8pm-5pm.

Barbados has a good digital infrastructure and card payments are widely accepted. If you’re an expat, then there are four main banks to choose from including RBC and Republic Bank, where opening a savings or current account is easy with the right documentation.

The island is also classified as an offshore tax haven for many, with low or 0% rates on some accounts and a number of double tax arrangements in place so foreign bankers from countries like the USA and UK can benefit from their offshore status.

Barbados Schools

Barbados has a very high literacy rate thanks to an effective and well-funded public school system. It has been developed from the British style of schooling with primary and secondary schools giving pupils a solid, mandatory education up to the age of 16.

There are more than 70 primary schools dotted around the island and 20 secondary education establishments. There are also private schools available, however, they only account for around 5% of all students in Barbados due to the high fees compared with local worker earnings. Many expats choose to provide their children with private education so they are in an environment not too dissimilar to their home countries and experience smaller class sizes.

The government invests around 7% of its GDP in education, and it is free for all children aged 4-16. Following the British model again, Barbadian students enjoy a 39-week per year education, with time off for half-terms and holidays such as Easter and Christmas.

For higher education, Barbados doesn’t disappoint, as it offers numerous colleges and universities where diplomas, certificates and degrees can be gained. The island is also home to two overseas American universities specialising in medical studies.

Barbados Food & Drink

Like many Caribbean nations, Barbados’ food and drink scene is truly unique, being crafted from a variety of influences. You will find the staple dishes common to Britain and Ireland in the form of meat pies and fish and chips, Indian and African dishes influenced by spices, as well as local dishes invented by the Creole population. Bajan cuisine is often fresh, spicy and includes fish, natural for an island nation. Main dishes consist of a single meat or type of fish that has been marinated in spices and herbs, served alongside staples such as sweet potatoes or rice. Salads are also popular mixed with fragrant herbs to complement the spicy side dishes such as pickled cucumber or coleslaw.

The national dish of the island is cou-cou, a type of stew created with gritty cornmeal and flavoursome okra. It has its roots in Ghana and is continually stirred with a wooden stick to produce the required texture.

Other popular dishes include a flying fish sandwich which is seasoned with Cajun spices and fried, pudding and souse which is sweet potatoes with a special kind of pickled pork, and macaroni pie which is the same as a traditional mac and cheese dish but with the addition of fragrant powdered curry.

Restaurants are plentiful on the island, and there are specialist ones within hotels serving Chinese and Italian cuisine, however, the best and most authentic experiences are to be had in rum shops. Scattered in neighbourhoods, you can get a traditional Bajan culinary treat for just $12 and usually includes a chicken or fish main meal with a variety of side dishes such as potato or salad, all wonderfully spiced.

The island has some large supermarkets where expats can discover everything you’d normally find at home, including brand names, so it’s likely you’ll be paying a higher price for these imported items. There are hundreds of smaller goods shops in local neighbourhoods and in remote locations around the island where you can pick up daily groceries such as bread and milk.

Due to its history as a sugar plantation island, some of the best rum in the world is still produced here, both dark and light. Mount Gay Rum is a popular tourist attraction and has been in operation since 1703. Famous brands of rum such as Malibu and Cockspur Rum were founded here too. The island is also a keen brewer of beers and lagers, with various malts available in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions.

Barbados Crime

Many islands in the Caribbean have a reputation for being high in crime, such as Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, however, Barbados is relatively crime-free. The little crime that does occur is often focused in local neighbourhoods rather than touristic locations which often lie behind walled areas and have their own private security as a preventative measure.

The police force on the island is highly rated, but response times to incidents can sometimes be worryingly slow. Police stations and patrols tend to focus on the most heavily populated areas. This is because areas of high footfall where businesses operate can become a target for minor crimes such as theft via pickpocketing or the snatch-and-grab of purses and day bags. Leaving valuables at the hotel or in your home is advisable when experiencing large towns like Bridgetown during the evening hours.

Drugs, like many places, are also an issue on Barbados, and a frequent complaint by tourists is the harassment from local dealers to buy narcotics. Lighter classes of illegal drugs such as marijuana and cocaine are the main culprits as opposed to heroin and amphetamine, so violence related to drug dealing is not seen often in tourist areas.

There is a tendency for some crime to be directed toward homosexuals in the country as it is still not fully legal and recognised there by law, with sodomy being illegal and punishable by life imprisonment.

Places to Visit in Barbados

Tourists flock to Barbados not only because of its charming historical and colonial sites, but because of the environment and the landscapes, from white sand beaches to hilly regions and even rainforests. Here are five of the most popular tourist destinations in Barbados.

Downtown Bridgetown

The capital city of Bridgetown has so much to offer visitors. From shopping and eating to just walking down the streets and discovering the rich colonial past, Bridgetown is an ideal location for tourists to take in the charm of this Caribbean island. There are the regal Parliament buildings and the National Heroes Square which both feature typical neo-Gothic architecture. If you want views over the river then the best vista is from the Chamberlain Bridge where you can take in the boats on the waterway and enjoy the brightly coloured buildings portside.

Barbados Wildlife Reserve

Nature lovers have to pay a visit to this wildlife reserve brimming with fauna and fauna indigenous to the island as well as some imported species. You’ll discover the island’s green monkeys, agoutis, iguanas, parrots, tortoises and deer which are allowed to roam free around the complex. It presents a great opportunity to get out of the heat of the day and wander through the hardwood mahogany forests, perfect for photos. Just across from the reserve you’ll find Grenade Hall, and the entrance price is included in the ticket cost for the reserve.

Bathsheba Bay

On the eastern coast of the island you’ll find the ecological treasure of Bathsheba Bay. It isn’t the best place to go swimming due to the rough and ready waves crashing in from the Atlantic Ocean, however, it is a popular location to catch a wave with a surfboard. The shallowness of the bay creates a unique water world to surf, and this area is known as the Soup Bowl by surfers the world over. The beach is windier than the westerly shores of Barbados, but you can still soak up the sunshine or enjoy a long walk, stopping in at the local Flower Forest or botanical gardens nearby.

St. Nicholas Abbey

A historical site where you discover the island’s interesting heritage, this plantation house was constructed in the mid-1600s and has a sugar museum inside to learn more about the colonial past of over 500 sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations. Inside you will find unique antiques from the era, explore the expansive grounds of the property and learn how sugar was grown and harvested, ready for transport back to the UK and other colonies. A short walk away is Cherry Tree Hill, where you get some of the best views of the eastern coast of the island.

Harrison’s Cave

If you want to duck away from the heat and humidity of island life, then Harrison’s Cave is your best escape. It was discovered in the late 18th century however was only made safe and open to the wider general public in the 1980s. It is a cave system created from an underground stream and continues for over 2km. There are stalagmites aplenty, all highlighted with multicoloured lighting which makes the experience even more magical. The water running through the cave is very clear, and the main attraction is the hall measuring nearly 50ft in height.