Posted by: Anni Orekh | July 8, 2010

Relocation to Dominican Republic

I was recently hired by an international relocation company to talk to a group of potential expats to Dominican Republic. The group consisted of about 35 people all of whom worked for a large clothing distributor in Canada The distribution company was thinking of locating part of its business in Dominican Republic. It was paying for the trip in order to give its employees, who were from Montreal, Quebec and Calgary, the chance to see Dominican Republic  before deciding whether or not they would be willing to relocate to Dominican Republic to work for the new Dominican Republic  branch. As part of this introduction to Dominican Republic the employees would get to see housing options in Santo Domingo  City, meet some Canadian and USA expats, learn about the business environment in Dominican Republic and find out about traffic, schools, entertainment – in short, to get a feel for Dominican Republic. They would then on the basis of this short introduction decide whether they wanted to leave Canada  and come live in Dominican Republic  for a few years.

The encounter with the group of potential expats took place in a large dark, very air conditioned conference room inside the Marriot Hotel in downtown Santo Domingo City. The conference room was named Allegro (Brisk tempo). I looked through a peep hole in the door to the conference room before I entered. The lights were very low when I walked into the conference room because someone from the local Chamber of Commerce was giving a Power Point presentation on how attractive Dominican Republic was as a business center. The presentation had nice aerial photos of  Santo Domingo, the commercial areas, Sans Souci port and Ozama River: the sunlight and reflections were just right in the photos. The speaker talked about how companies like Dell, Caterpillar, Procter & Gamble and other large multinationals had made the decision to locate in Latin America and thus in Dominican Republic and they weren’t leaving.

The presentation ended and I talked briefly with the representative of the international relocation company I was there to help. She asked me how I wanted to run the session. We decided that she would ask me questions and I would answer each question and then expand on my answers. She told me that the other speakers cancelled at the last minute so it would only be me up there. Was I ready? I hadn’t given it much thought up until then.

As I walked to the front of the conference room a couple walked by and began talking with the representative of the relocation company. They explained to her that they were there to talk to the group – they had cancelled, but had been able to make it after all. Three hotel conference chairs were quickly placed together at the front of the room. The floral carpet of the conference room seemed to stretch on for miles under my feet. The group in front of me sat at long conference room tables; they were a mix of young couples, older singles, older couples; they were all wearing cloths from the clothing lines they distributed. Without saying anything, I could see the group felt a little apprehensive as to what a move to Dominican Republic would entail. They needed an honest assessment to answer the questions they had about life in Dominican Republic.

The representative of the relocation company introduced the couple and me to the potential expats. The couple was Canadian, involved in banking and living in one of the new, very exclusive apartment towers in the Puerto Plata neighborhood of charamicos. They had kids and had been living in Dominican Republic for two years. They had lived in Mexico before Dominican Republic. I was introduced as having lived in Dominican Republic for the last 15 years, that I was a professor and that I was married with a kid. I currently lived in Sosua as I’m a windsurfer lover.

The first question the relocation representative asked was directed to the Canadian couple. “How did you come to live in Dominican Republic?” “We came from Mexico, but settling in Dominican Republic has been much easier than settling in Mexico.” “Dominican Republic, and Puerto Plata specially  is almost like living in North America.” ”The products, the lifestyle, the services that are available in Puerto Plata are very similar to what you find in the States.” “Now Dominican Republic has become the new shopping Mecca in Latin America since travelling to  North America has become so restrictive.” I love New York but with all the terrorism? Naah . “The English schools are excellent; the kids have made the transition without any problems.” ”There’s inexpensive golf and tennis and plenty of good clubs to join.” “You can catch a plane in Puerto Plata to anywhere in Latin America and the Caribbean.” ”The technology is excellent, one of the reasons why so many call centers are locating in Dominican Republic.” “Living in Dominican Republic is great.”

It was interesting to me to hear this gold-plated description of Dominican Republic; it wasn’t my reality but it was interesting to think that it might actually exist. I didn’t have the money to say whether it did or didn’t. But knowing Dominican Republic  like I do I doubted it; though Dominican Republic  can be a very sweet place, no one, and I mean no one, especially a foreigner, escapes the complications of living in Dominican Republic. Money does not guarantee the “best” in Dominican Republic. The Canadian couple was very, very articulate and they delivered their answers with real enthusiasm.

When it came time for me to explain how I settled in Dominican Republic, I started by saying that when I came to Dominican Republic I lived in the remote countryside as a Peace Corps volunteer. The first people I had gotten to know in Puerto Plata were simple  people. I could feel the audience recoil away from me and the idea. I quickly explained that I had lived in the provincial capitals of Dominican Republic, like Santiago and mainly Santo Domingo, that I eventually moved to Puerto Plata where I began teaching, got married and had a kid. I didn’t explain too much or get too deeply into life in Dominican Republic. Later, I was asked what I thought they should expect when coming to Dominican Republic. It was a difficult question to answer, because even after 15 years, I still didn’t know what to expect in Dominican Republic. I just told them the lifestyle was enjoyable. It would take them about 6 months to settle in.

One of the potential expats asked about setting up a bank account, another asked about what Dominican Republic offered adults. Another asked about what Dominican Republic offered kids. The Canadian couple answered all of the questions: banking was difficult, you would need paperwork, Dominican Republic is still a paradise including the  fiscal paradise cliche. For adults there were great restaurants, nightlife, some theater, golf, tennis, and yoga. For the kids, dance classes.

The session ended after a few questions from the audience. Some group members approached me as I stood up; they wanted to know what was involved in bringing animals to Dominican Republic. Could you do an MBA in Dominican Republic? They were grappling with the question of whether or not they should consider moving to Dominican Republic. They hadn’t been outside the doors of the hotel yet. Some were worried that they would end up stranded in Dominican Republic. Would they be shipped out of  Canada to never return? Would they be sent overseas, cut and left without a job, a concern I heard from other people thinking of moving to Dominican Republic to work for a company based outside Dominican Republic.

Many of the potential expats gave me their business cards and asked me to “shoot off” an email to them; they asked me if it would be all right to contact me if they had any additional questions about moving to Dominican Republic. I was happy to answer any questions and “shot” each of them an email immediately.

I heard nothing from any of them for about a week. And then an older woman with the group wrote an email thanking me for my time. She wrote that after speaking with me the group had visited many different neighborhoods in Puerto Plata: they visited new condos in Caraberete; they had driven through the Samana section of the old Rio San Juan, Santiago, San Francisco de Macoris, Costanza and Jaraboca Projects. From her email I got the impression that she liked some of what she saw in Dominican Republic. She finished her email by saying she wasn’t yet sure about accepting the job in Punta Cana because unlike her current job in Calgary there would be no opportunity for advancement. She thought living in Puerto Plata and working in Santiago  made sense. She could ride her bike to her job in Dominican Atlantic and ride home in Charamicos  for lunch each day and then back to her place after lunch; it was only 10 minutes away, she wrote. The job and career in Canada, the speculation surrounding life in Dominican Republic; it was a lot to consider.

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