British born entrepreneur Martin MacDonald, his wife Laura, a development strategist, and their children Will and Harriet relocated to Barbados in late 2020 as part of the new Welcome Stamp Visa Programme. For the previous six years, the MacDonalds had been living in Silicon Valley, California, where Martin had initially worked for a global leader in the online travel industry, prior to establishing his own digital travel consultancy company.
Laura: When Covid hit California, it hit hard. The lockdown impacted our family so much that I soon started to worry about our general health and mental wellbeing, especially for the children. Early on in the Pandemic we anticipated that there would be restrictions well into 2021 and so, when the State Governor announced that schools would not be opening in August 2020, we were not surprised. That was probably the moment when I ﬁrst started to vaguely consider the possibility of leaving California.
Martin:In a complete quirk of fate and immaculate timing, I happened to notice that the word Barbados was suddenly trending on Twitter. It turned out to be a news report spotlighting the new Barbados Welcome Stamp. Almost on a whim, I forwarded it to Laura.
Laura: Ordinarily, I would never have thought of moving to Barbados, but the idea of allowing our children to live freely again and enjoy island life for a year or so, suddenly held great appeal. As far as I was concerned, Covid had already severely disrupted their education path, so it would do no further harm to transfer them into a new system in the Caribbean. Martin and I really value the idea of being ‘global citizens’ and look for opportunities to model to the children about how to take a risk and soak up all the world has to oﬀer.
Martin: By then I’d spent about ﬁve months running my company virtually, without seeing a single client in person, so there was really nothing stopping me from upping sticks and moving. We spent the next week doing nothing but research Barbados, carefully studying all the relevant criteria and stats we needed to consider before making a ﬁnal decision. You shouldn’t underestimate all the things that need to happen to make a successful international move, and you don’t know what you don’t know. In some ways Covid has simpliﬁed things, as when your life has already been pared back, any and all choices become valuable. The main tool for my business is the internet: not only is it as good here as it is in Silicon Valley, ironically it’s also inﬁnitely more aﬀordable. On top of that, the time zone allows me to work normal hours and still be able to interact with my European customers in the morning and the North Americans after lunch.
Acutely aware that we were not simply setting oﬀ on an extended vacation, and particularly conscious of our responsibilities with the children, we conducted the entire decision-making process like an intellectual exercise, each of us collecting data and conducting research. Having said that, from the time Martin ﬁrst sent me the link about the Welcome Stamp, it only took us four weeks to actually move to Barbados.
Compared to what we had to go through to get our visas to live in the United States, it was signiﬁcantly easier dealing with the authorities in Barbados, even with Martin setting up his own company here. It impressed us enormously to witness the enterprising way that a small nation like Barbados was able to pivot and make the most of the very negative circumstances created by the Covid pandemic. That gave us a lot of conﬁdence.
The positive attitude of all the helpful people we dealt with made us feel as if our presence would be welcomed and that Barbadians genuinely appreciated us wanting to start a new business in their country. The overall eﬀect was that we saw our move as a good opportunity to improve our lifestyle, not as a way to escape from anything.
When we started looking for somewhere to live, we were pleasantly surprised by the wide range of lovely homes for rent. We’ve been fortunate to live in some places of real natural beauty and Barbados is up there! Disappointingly, the ﬁrst house I fell in love with turned out to be unavailable. So, almost for fun, I started looking for an even better one. And, with the help of a wonderful real estate agent, I found it: Clifton Hall Great House, a National Trust listed property in St John, which we now happily call home. We feel totally privileged to live in such a magniﬁcent, if somewhat overwhelming house. It’s another Covid quirk - in ordinary times it hosts the most fabulous events, weddings and historical tours. I dedicated much of my time to philanthropy whilst in California, and this property gives us the space to give back to our new community.
At a more mundane level, many people had forewarned us about how expensive it was to shop for groceries and other things in Barbados. And there is no doubt that many items especially imported products, can be very costly compared to some countries. However, in our experience, the overall cost of living is actually no higher than it is in many of the world’s biggest cities. But here you get the added beneﬁt of enjoying a very desirable lifestyle. And whilst Covid aﬀects practically every community in the world, the seriousness with which controlling it is taken by the government and ordinary people is evident here everywhere you go. Life is by no means ‘normal’, but we don’t live in fear and that is a privilege that we are grateful for.
Laura: What we most value since we moved to Barbados is that freedom to just live an everyday normal life; to enjoy simple outdoor pleasures like beachcombing with the children. That’s why we chose to live in a rural location. Nowhere in Barbados is far away, so we don’t feel isolated, just peaceful.
Martin: We also feel like we are living in the real Barbados, surrounded by real Barbadians, as opposed to only being part of an expat community. Barbadians tend to be openly friendly and willing to help whenever they can. Salt of the earth kind of neighbours. Of course, nowhere in the world is perfect and, quite naturally, there have been a few sticking points in our transition from California to Barbados. But, overall, the family’s relocation has gone remarkably smoothly. One of the unexpected beneﬁts of life after Covid is that existing communications technology has been rapidly adapted to serve a wider purpose. For example, while I still use Zoom for my business meetings, Will and Harriet use the same platform for school and to keep in touch with their friends back in California, and we all use it to keep connected with our extended family around the world.
Laura: One of the things that we enjoy most is exploring, making our way down the road less travelled. For such a small place it feels very varied, even in the landscape. It’s interesting! There are some incredible restaurants and incredible hotels, but our favourite places are the ones where family recipes are served on paper plates and where the kids make new friends for the evening.
Martin: Yes, having learned everything we now know about Barbados since we made the big move, we’d still make the same decision again.