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Paradise found in The Bahamas

Paradise found in The Bahamas

Financial services professionals relocate businesses, families for a life in the sunshine

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The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 21, 2010
January 21, 2010
Gillian Beckett

When Benno Raeber, principal of Swiss-based firm Prime Advisory Group, and his family moved to Nassau from Switzerland a year ago, one of the first things they did was to run into the gorgeous blue waters behind their rented beachfront home–still with all their clothes on.

“We came in August,” recalls Benno’s wife Caroline. “It was so hot and the water was so blue … we just couldn’t resist.”

Such is the dream for many families who aspire to live life in paradise, away from cold climates and the hustle and bustle of big cities. While The Bahamas conjures up images of being a vacation destination, it is also proving to be an ideal location to do business and raise a family.

A place for business
As a leading offshore financial centre, The Bahamas is home to a range of financial service providers from around the globe. In addition to banks and trust companies, the jurisdiction has also seen the establishment of a number of regulated financial service providers, such as Prime Advisory Group, which provides risk management and strategic insurance planning for high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth clients.

“Five years ago we picked The Bahamas to do business mostly due to its proximity to the US,” Benno explains, noting that The Bahamas branch of his firm deals mainly with US clients. “The perception of The Bahamas in the US is a positive one overall. It was a very easy decision … you can establish a bona fide business here. We can hire people who are local or from abroad. What I also like about doing business in The Bahamas is its location: it’s well positioned between the markets; it’s in an ideal time zone and there are direct flights to the US and Europe. It is the perfect Monte Carlo of the Caribbean.”

In 2008, Benno was dispatched to Nassau in order to oversee the development and operation of Prime Advisory Group’s new Bahamian office. And although he says the firm’s decision to establish an office in Nassau was an easy one, Benno also had to consider the impact the move would have on his wife Caroline and their two young children.

A place for families
Fortunately, their move to Nassau from Zurich was a smooth one. “A friend of ours has a house [in Lyford Cay] and we asked her if it would be possible to rent it,” says Benno. “That made it very easy to come here.”

The Raebers arrived with about 40 boxes of their personal belongings, leaving their furniture behind in their Switzerland home. With their new location in the exclusive gated community of Lyford Cay, settling in was easy. The children were enrolled at Lyford Cay International School, where the student population and faculty consist of Bahamians and foreigners from around the world.

Caroline explains that their first hurdle was the fact that her children couldn’t speak English. “I think that was the hardest thing at first for them to learn the language, then make friends and communicate with them.” But thanks to Lyford Cay School’s English as an Additional Language (EAL) programme, the children learned quickly and wasted no time settling in with their new classmates.

Through the school, Benno and Caroline were also quick to make friends with expatriate parents, including the Trentini family, who moved to Nassau from São Paulo, Brazil, five years ago.

Cultural differences
São Paulo, with a population of more than 10 million, is the world’s third-largest city and the biggest city in South America–a far cry from the quiet Bahamian archipelago with a population of a little more than 300,000 people.

In Brazil William Trentini worked for Citibank, and his wife Monica worked as a teacher. But with two small children and São Paulo’s escalating crime rate, pollution and heavy traffic, the Trentinis agreed that it was time to look for a more family-friendly place to live. William explains that he transferred from Citibank to Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), where he heard of an opportunity to relocate to RBC’s Nassau branch.

“It was time to leave [São Paulo],” he says. “The kids were two and four years old, and there were lots of trigger-happy people around. Plus The Bahamas is attractive for the glamour of being in the tropics and its natural beauty … living in paradise sounded like a good idea.”

Like the Raebers, the Trentinis also had connections to The Bahamas. “We had some friends living [in Nassau] already, which helped our decision to move here,” he says.

The physical act of moving to The Bahamas was relatively easy for the Trentinis. “The moving process was handled by the bank, so all we had to do was take care of the inventory side, and obviously there are import duties for bringing things in, but the moving company helped us deal with all of those aspects,” says William.

Also like the Raebers, the Trentini family arrived around August, which is the hottest month of the year. “I remember saying, ‘It’s hot here,’” says Monica, “and I’ve lived in Brazil and in Arizona, so I know what ‘hot’ is.”

Settling in
Aside from the heat, the Trentinis had to adjust to the slower pace of life. Both Benno and William agree that although it may not be as fast as what they are used to in Switzerland and Brazil, “things still get done here.”

“Things work here. You can get things done, unlike on some Caribbean islands where you can’t get it done,” says Benno. “Things are more laid back, but in the tourism and financial services industries people understand they have to have a service mentality in order to succeed.”

From a business perspective, having local people who can “get the job done” is advantageous, as the cost of relocating people from overseas can be high compared to building a team of successful local professionals. Both Benno and William note that there is a pool of Bahamian talent that should not be overlooked. “You can find people from the islands or who hold Bahamian citizenship who are well-qualified,” says Benno. “It’s easier to hire someone like that on a basis of trial and error, whereas if you have to bring people over, it’s tougher.”

Family matters
But no matter how good business is, the family is a priority.

With their husbands at work and their children at school, both Caroline and Monica had to find ways to occupy their time. “I was very worried when we first came here that I would be bored, because I was working back home,” says Caroline. But her volunteer work for local charity Hands for Hunger has vanquished any hint of boredom and given her the opportunity to meet Bahamians and travel to different areas of New Providence.

Hands for Hunger is a charity that collects food from restaurants, hotels, private functions and catering parties and distributes it to those less fortunate.

Monica is kept busy looking after her youngest two-year-old child and volunteers at the private Tambearly School, where her other two children are now enrolled.

Paradise with benefits
Once they settled into their new island lifestyle, both families recognized the appeal and advantages of working and raising their family in The Bahamas. William, who recently transferred from RBC to UBS, says the short commute greatly benefits the time he can spend with his family.

“For me to travel across the island takes about 45 minutes each way,” he says. “In São Paulo, I would cover one-fifth of that distance in the same amount of time.”Benno agrees that The Bahamas affords him more time to spend with his family, noting that “at home in Switzerland, you don’t see many fathers around with their families over the weekends. It’s an easier life here compared to places like New York or Zurich.”

Fortunately, his wife is in agreement: “When people hear ‘The Bahamas’ they think of it as a place to vacation and don’t really think you can move here to live,” says Caroline. “But this is a great place to raise a family.”

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School Guide
When relocating your family to another country, finding a good school can be daunting if you don’t know where to look. Here are some of the best known private schools on New Providence that are popular with the expat community:

Lyford Cay International School
An accredited private, non-denominational school that offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme from nursery to grade 12. The student population of about 318 represents approximately 22 countries, with about 35 per cent Bahamian students. On average the faculty-to-student ratio is 1:7, with a staff-to-student ratio of 1:4. The school has 28 classrooms, each equipped with multi-media computers and Internet service (every student in grades 7-12 is provided with a laptop computer); a library/media centre; music and art studios; computer lab; science lab; 25m swimming pool; large sports field; and several playground areas. Visit www.lcis.bs.

Queen’s College
Established in 1890, Queen’s College is The Bahamas’ oldest private school. Programmes and curriculae are offered for students from pre-kindergarten (Early Learning Centre) to grade 12. The school’s academic programme adheres to the Bahamas Junior Certificate (BJC) and Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) curriculum, with courses in English language, mathematics, social studies, religious education, general science, health science, art, home economics, computer studies, music, Spanish, French, history, physical education and geography. Enrolment is approximately 1,500 students, with 101 teachers. Visit www.qchenceforth.com.

St Andrew’s School, The International School of The Bahamas
A private school that offers the International Baccalaureate programme for pre-school to grade 12 students. The curriculum includes English, French, Spanish, mathematics, courses in creative arts, information technology, the sciences and physical education. Students take BJC, BGCSE, SSAT, PSAT, SAT and IB diploma exams. Enrolment is approximately 830 students with 75 teachers. Visit www.st-andrews.com.

Tambearly School at Sandyport
A private preparatory school for students from pre-kindergarten/Montessori to grade 9. With about 190 students and 15 full-time teachers, the school specializes in small classroom sizes of no more than 16 students for more personal teacher instruction. School facilities include a library/resource centre equipped with the latest computer technology, Tambearly Centre/gymnasium, swimming pool, science classroom, playground and large sports field. Language classes offered in the curriculum, include French, Spanish and Latin. Visit www.tambearly.com.

Among other top New Providence schools are Xavier’s Lower School, St Augustine’s College, Kingsway Academy and St Anne’s School. See the 2010 Bahamas Handbook Blue pages, education, for additional schools.

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