Growing Up With The Cayman Islands

Jeff Thomas: What was your country of birth and what countries have you previously lived (or spent significant time) in?

Bruce Johns: I was born in the UK. I’ve been over most of Europe, North America, the Caribbean and some countries in Central and South America. I’ve lived in the UK and the Cayman Islands.

JT: How old are you? How old were you when you cut anchor?

BJ: I’m 63 and I left the UK at 26.

JT: Did you head out alone or with family?

BJ: I went to Cayman with my girlfriend, who later became my wife. Forty years and counting.

JT: What did your family and friends think about you becoming a citizen of the world? What prompted you to seek another country as an alternative to your existing country?

BJ: My friends thought I was daft. Everything seemed rosy in the UK back then, but I felt that the general direction of the UK was down. I saw at least 50 years of my life ahead of me and I thought that, by the time I got there, the country would not be a place that I would be happy to be. It turned out I was right. We’d had Harold Wilson’s Labour government for a bit, then the Tories were in for four years. When Wilson was put back in, in ’74, I thought, “That’s it.” In those days, Labour had this idea that you could tax people 90% of what they made and they’d just accept it. Anyone who had any sense chose to exit.

JT: Was your original intention to acquire a second country, or to move entirely?

BJ: I was making a permanent move. A new life entirely.

JT: What were the primary positives you were seeking? (Monetary, governmental, social, etc.)

BJ: I wanted a country that had minimal laws, minimal governmental intervention into the private sector and people’s lives. Most importantly, I wanted a place where people looked after one another and were compassionate. Of one thing I am certain: When a country forces its people to give to those on the dole, whom they have never met, it kills all incentive for compassion toward others in need. They think, “I’m already paying so many people to not work, why should I help this guy in front of me who’s in need?” I wanted a country where Humanity had a capital H; where helping others was personal. I found that Humanity in Cayman and, to this day, most of the giving is still done privately – by both organizations and individuals. Caymanians are typically generous and those expats who stay, typically become generous over time. It’s a very healthy atmosphere.

JT: What were the existing negatives in your first country that you were seeking to eliminate?

BJ: Governmental control of all things. Governmental destruction of personal character.

JT: What destinations did you research as possibilities and what made you reject each one?

BJ: As a boy, I’d spent a fair bit of time in Bermuda and I was quite at home there. There was a certain English snobbery there that didn’t appeal to me – you know – the remains of the days of the Raj for the English. But other than that, I was more at home than in the UK. I also loved warm island living. I thought about other islands in the Caribbean, but many of them had problems with violence, crime and governmental corruption. Not my cup of tea.

JT: What made you choose The Cayman Islands in the end?

BJ: It seemed an unlikely choice back then – it was a backwater. The standard of living was lower than in England, but the quality of life was higher. No racism, no taxes, no crime. Warm all the time. Plenty of fish in the sea. Everyone had plenty of food, but no one was fat. People shared. This was back before Cayman became prosperous – you know – the start of the world financial centre and all that. I was quite happy to leave all the culture and so on behind for a simpler, kinder way of life.

JT: How difficult is it for you to live in The Cayman Islands, in terms of things like getting residency permits, doing business, that sort of thing? Any special hoops you have to jump through?

BJ: Back then it was easy. No one was coming here. Now, it’s a highly desirable destination, but it’s still easy to get a work permit. Over 90% of the applications are approved and the process is easy – it takes a couple of months altogether. Citizenship is harder – it now takes about fifteen years and not everyone gets it. But, it’s a very fair system. Caymanians are careful not to flood the little island with all and sundry the way other islands have been flooded. It has kept the country stable.

JT: How important is it to know the local language before you move there?

BJ: The language is English. Some people also speak Spanish, as many Caymanians have family in Cuba and Central America – a holdover from the days of long fishing trips.

JT: What do you do for money? Or were you independently wealthy before pulling up stakes?

BJ: When I came here, I was skint – a young guy with nothing. But there was great opportunity and there still is. After six years here, I started my first company and, when I retired, I had seven companies. I now live on investments. There’s absolutely no question in my mind that the lack of income tax, property tax, capital gains tax, etc. frees up your life. Life becomes easy, with far fewer worries and far more opportunities for investment. The economy is positively vibrant as a result. And you have enough left over that you can give to those in need without worrying if it will break you. I give to every charity every time I’m asked, yet I don’t notice the money missing. Almost all charities are private. The government doesn’t do all that much. A smaller government is a better government.

JT: What are some of the challenges of running a business in The Cayman Islands?

BJ: Businesses are 60% Caymanian-owned. You can form a partnership with a Caymanian if you want to start a business. It’s the norm. The result is that both Caymanians and expats rise together with the tide of prosperity. Therefore, Caymanians don’t become marginalized. That keeps everyone equal and we don’t have the class resentment you see elsewhere. Some of the Americans grouse that they can’t own their own businesses outright – they assume that whatever they had in the States they should have abroad. And they want it all to be developed now, so they can make a bundle, and to hell with the next generation. Many of them leave in disgust. Those who stay and become respectful of Caymanians and the Caymanian ethic end up prospering.

JT: What are some of the most enjoyable aspects about running a business there?

BJ: Traditionally, business was a second family in Cayman. It’s not so true anymore, but my businesses are run like a second family and that gave me great happiness. I really looked after people and many of them, expats included, responded with extreme loyalty. They loved coming to work each day and they did a great job. Those who didn’t understand how fortunate they were, left. So, at any given time, 70 – 80% are great people who have a happy, productive business life. And, when it was time to retire, I could walk away and not worry.

JT: What’s the biggest difference between the life you used to live, and the life you now live?

BJ: My life in the UK would have been drudgery. My old friends from the UK all look much older than me now. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I’ve been able to be truly happy.

JT: Is there a major cultural difference between living in The Cayman Islands and living in the UK? If so, did you find it hard to adapt?

BJ: It was easy. Caymanians are very intuitive. They’ll have you figured in five minutes, but they won’t tell you. If you’re a pushy big-city jerk, or a greedy bastard, you’ll be quietly frozen out. If you’re a genuinely good guy, doors will suddenly open without you knowing why.

JT: How often do you return to the UK?

BJ: I used to go back often, but now, it’s rare.

JT: What do you miss most about the UK that you can’t find locally?

BJ: I love English village life and I love pubs. Those are two things that England’s figured out better than any other country. But it’s not enough to put up with all the rest.

JT: Are there a lot of expats living in the area you are now in? Do you tend to hang out with them, or with locals, or both?

BJ: Cayman is half indigenous people, half expat. It’s a wonderful mix. And, at this point, every Caymanian family has at least one expat that married into it. It’s integrated in every way. Every wedding has a variety of nationalities in attendance. Most of my best friends are Caymanian because many expats leave after a while and most Caymanians stay. I have quite a few expat friends, but many of them are younger. There are over 120 nationalities here – very healthy.

JT: How difficult was it to find a bank and access cash, pay bills, trade stocks, etc., locally?

BJ: Quite easy back then, but nowadays, it’s a lot harder to open a bank account. In spite of the nonsense you hear on the American television, it’s not a centre for money-laundering. Worldwide, it’s getting quite hard for Americans to open an account anywhere. The US government has become so rabid that no one wants to deal with new American accounts. A shame. The level of freedom in the US has contracted dramatically in recent years. The US government is becoming the new Soviet government – “Restrictions ‘R’ Us.”

JT: How cheap is the cost of living in the Cayman Islands versus the UK? For example, what would a nice dinner out, with wine and all the fixings, set you back?

BJ: It’s, generally speaking, about the same as the UK. Some things are cheaper, like petrol, some things more expensive – like alcohol. As I’m always reminding my wife, it doesn’t matter what your expenses are – all that matters is your net. Since you don’t pay taxes, as soon as you have paid for all your basics, the rest is gravy. In the US or anywhere in the EU, every time you start making more money, you just move into a higher tax bracket. They take it all away anyway. The incentive’s gone. I generally spend $8.00 – $10.00 for lunch, maybe $60.00 for dinner for two, with wine. I pay $150 for a case of Beaujolais at the liquor store. Alcohol’s expensive, due to import duty. A case of Coors beer is $35.00. This is not a place to come and try to live in a tent on the beach. It’s a place to work hard, be sensible with money and prosper.

JT: If, for whatever reason, you were to expatriate tomorrow from your present location and had to choose another country, which one would you choose?

BJ: Uruguay. It’s like Europe in the 50′s. Wonderful place.

JT: If you could travel back in time and expatriate again from your country of origin, would you choose to go to the same place you are now?

BJ: Absolutely. I got lucky first time out. But if you were to ask me if I would move to Cayman now as a 25-year old, maybe not. I arrived at a wonderful time, as it was just getting ready to blossom. Now it’s developed, prosperous. A younger man might be looking for a bit of adventure.

JT: Have you ever seriously considered returning to the UK?

BJ: I’d rather have a root canal.

JT: What is your present residential / citizenship situation worldwide?

BJ: I am a Caymanian citizen and a British citizen. I have passports for each and can live and work anywhere in the EU. Thank God I don’t need to.

JT: Any advice you would give to others considering expatriating?

BJ: Younger people would be well-advised to do their homework, find a destination that is not in its decline, as most of the first world is. Find a country that’s just opening up and plan on a long, fruitful life. Most importantly, find a place that you really like. Never mind if they have your brand of beer or whether they have your favourite soccer team on the tele. Those are incidentals. Go for quality of life, not standard of living. Go for a fascinating life over the long haul.

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