BLOG: Wanderlust & Brandy: FT. Curacao

1: Why Curacao?

I can't really tell you the number of times someone has asked me, "But why do you want to move there?" As though there is some dump in the worst part of whatever town they are in. First of all, I love to travel, full stop. I love exploring and meeting new people and learning new things. It is hard to do this in a place you grew up and have known for several decades. So, moving abroad was always on my agenda. Just about anyone who knows me knows that I was exploring Belize for the last few years in the hopes that it would be my new home. 

After my last visit there with my former partner, I was encouraged to look at other options-- ones with better infrastructure, easier access to banking and finances, and a generally less "third world" feel. I know, Belize is rustic, but it's incredibly beautiful and the people there are amazing. It is still a place I will always love to visit.

Thus, I began my research anew for my next home. I had few requirements: warm year-round climate, English-speaking (in at least some capacity, if not the primary language), and open for remote workers. A good exchange rate and American amenities were bonuses. Back in my days at Southwestern University, I was afforded the opportunity to study abroad, and I did so in The Netherlands. Curacao is located in the southern Caribbean off the coast of Venezuela between Aruba and Bonaire. Curacao is a former Dutch colony and only recently became its own independent nation in the Kingdom of The Netherlands (think Puerto Rico to the US). All of its citizens are Dutch and the primary languages are Dutch, Papiamento (a native creole language), English, and Spanish. I learned of Curacao way back then and recalled it during my new search.

I was ecstatic to find that in 2015, the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty between the US and Curacao gave Americans the same rights as the Dutch in regard to immigration. Typical tourist Visas in most countries allow for 30 days. In Curacao, Americans can stay for 6 months (180 days!) no extra paperwork required. Beyond that, obtaining a resident's permit (sedula) is a fairly straightforward process as well and allows the bearer to live, work, and obtain insurance in Curacao among other things.

Upon this discovery, and a bit more research on climate, crime, and community, I began my plan to make Curacao my new home. Not only does it meet my basic requirements (gorgeous weather, beaches, and no hurricanes), but it goes beyond them by allowing me to work in the country, obtain healthcare, receive a nice exchange rate ($1US = $1.75ANG), and it even has a few American staples (McDonalds, KFC, Denny's, etc). Choosing Curacao just made sense. I will eventually be able to have a bank account here and potentially get a mortgage. The opportunities for actually working on the island aren't terribly bountiful since I don't speak Dutch or Papiamento fluently (I'm working on it), however, since tourism is essential here, finding partners for my travel clients and the best rates on excursions should be a real boon.

I arrived a week ago and have already seen and learned so much! I can't wait to tell you all about my experiences thus far. Hopefully, I've at least given you a better sense of why this little island is my slice of paradise. Until next time! Ayo! BF

2: Un-Dutchable

No move is easy, but an international move is especially challenging. Not only are there the typical issues of figuring out how to move your belongings, but there's the added stress of immigration and customs along with setting up shop, so to speak, for your new life in a new country. 

Despite having the same rights as the Dutch in Curacao, there are still MANY legal documents required and forms to be completed in order to remain in the country legally and receive all the benefits of residency. I will admit, like many other immigrants on the island, I cheated a bit and used an immigration consultant. It made sense though since many forms are only in Dutch, aren't available online, and the process isn't obvious or straightforward. Having guidance was key, if pricey.

The consultant got me to the stage of the immigration letter-- which is basically an approval by immigration to let you come for an extended period. I won't go into the details of how to get this here, but suffice it to say, I started the process in September 2022 and received the approval in May 2023. 

Once in possession of my letter, I then had to present it and myself with all my hard copy legal documents by appointment at the immigration office. I made the appointment with immigration online before I left the US. The soonest I could get was about 2 weeks after I arrived in Curacao. On the day of the appointment, I drove to the downtown area in Willemstad and could not locate the street or the building by car. The streets are narrow and lined with cars on either side. Many of the buildings on the street run together with some closed up and others busy with people.

It was getting close to appointment time, so I decided to park and proceed on foot since I knew I was close by. The parking spaces on the street were numbered but there was no pay kiosk or signs of any kind, so I was just hoping I wouldn't be towed (I later learned there is virtually no paid parking in Curacao and the numbers were a failed attempt at such). I changed my GPS to walking mode and finally found the correct street (which is inaccessible by car). Walking down it, I saw few street numbers and the ones I did see were nowhere near where I needed to be. I walked faster. Getting a bit desperate, I addressed a woman on the street. "I'm sorry, do you speak English?" <Yes> "I'm looking for immigration." <calls to another man down the street who gestures and says, I think you can just go in there> I proceed toward the building he pointed at across the street. There was no number on the building and no sign to indicate that it's a government office. Inside, it's air conditioned (thank gawd because I was now sweating from walking a few blocks at 1 in the afternoon). I ask a man in line, "What is this place?" <Immigration> "Well, at least I'm in the right place!" <you need to get in that line>

There was a moment of dread as one of my papers might not be acceptable, but I had a backup one that made it okay. Once they determine that all of my documents were legitimate, I received my first passport stamp (hallelujah!) which is a 5 year Visa. This does not make you a resident. 

The next step is to appear at the Kranshi, which is the city hall (another building in a different part of town). I now had to register with the government. I needed several papers for this and the stamp in my passport from immigration. My first trip to the Kranshi was the same day I went to immigration. The clerk at immigration told me it would be closed by the time I got there, but I wanted to find the location and get my bearings. It was a good thing I did because the security officer there told me they closed at noon on Fridays, so I needed to make sure to be there earlier the next day. The Kranshi is a huge, yellow, historic building from colonial times that has been renovated inside. It sticks out on the narrow, one-way street amongst small shops and restaurants. On my next trip to Kranshi the following day, I arrived and got a number for the line (all the while thinking this is when I would get my sedula-- the ID card showing I'm a permanent resident). Unfortunately, once I was with the clerk, I gave her the address of the place I just signed a 1 year lease at, and she tells me that the address doesn't exist in the system and I will have to register it at the ROP (Planning & Zoning Dept-- another building, another part of town). At this point, all the life is drained out of me. I leave the Kranshi and feel like this is a never-ending wild goose chase. I also realized while at the appointment, that the registration was not the same as the sedula, which means more stages to come. I stepped outside the gate of the Kranshi and I just started laughing-- I was transported back in time to my experiences studying abroad in the Netherlands. This was all such very Dutch bureaucracy that I had to appreciate the consistency of a culture even across an ocean. Speaking with other Americans here, it's a frustration we all share. We literally cannot comprehend why it's done this way and balk at the lack of seeming inefficiency. Despite the difficulties I encountered, with help from another American friend, I managed to get my registration and my sedula without too many more ruffled feathers. BF


3: Importing my gremlin

One of the more stressful and imperative things that I had to deal with for my immigration to Curacao was bringing along my trusty sidekick, Gizmo. She’s a dachshund/chihuahua/schnauzer mix who everyone thinks is a Jack Russell (aka a mutt). Gizmo is about 7 years old and I’ve had her since she was a tiny puppy, so there was no way she wasn’t going with me on my adventure.

Traveling with animals internationally (or even domestically) is expensive. You need a special kennel, vet visit, immigration paperwork, and flight cost. Nevertheless, money was no object when it came to bringing my trusty bestie with me to Curacao. 

As a travel agent, I’m well aware of the varying rules and regulations surrounding pet travel. First, there are the airline rules– which definitely vary depending on the airline. In most cases, a dog must weigh less than 20 lbs and be able to fit in a kennel that they can stand up and turn around in that will fit under the seat in cabin (sizes under cabin seats vary greatly depending on the plane). Pets larger than this can travel in cargo, but that is a whole other process and one I do not recommend. There are other services you can use for pet transport if your dog is a larger dog (though these are more costly, they are safer and more comfortable for your pet).

Next, there are the rules for the country you are flying into– in this case, Curacao. So, the requirements for Curacao were that Gizmo see a vet no earlier than 14 days before the flight and receive both external and internal parasite medications at that visit. The vet then had to sign off on that and her rabies vaccination and send it to the USDA veterinarian in Texas for an inked signature from them. She also had to have an ISO microchip (which she already had). All of this paperwork basically had to be overnighted because it needed to be in my hands before the flight in 2 weeks. This paperwork can be completed electronically, but Curacao requires an actual inked signature. As you can imagine, waiting for this paperwork was a bit stressful.

We used Holt Veterinary Clinic in Dallas, TX (Dr. Bratton is incredibly knowledgeable about pet travel and extremely thorough). I highly recommend them if you are in the Dallas area and need a certificate of travel for your pet. The fees were about $350 for the visit, medication, and paperwork. The staff was great to work with as well.

When I booked my flight with American Airlines, I made sure to call them to reserve a space for Gizmo. Depending on the flight destination and the plane, only a certain number of in-cabin pets are allowed. They also want to know you have a pet in the event that you are next to someone with allergies or fear of animals or whatever. The fee for her flight was $125 (one-way). My overall costs to get Gizmo to Curacao were around $500, but she was already microchipped and had her rabies vaccine and I had to purchase a kennel, so the cost could have been a bit more or less than that for someone else.

My biggest concern was that Gizmo would be overweight. I really monitored her food intake for the months before the trip and started taking her on daily walks to ensure she would weigh less than 20 lbs including her kennel! I ended up going with a Sherpa kennel that was collapsible. The kennels also must be mesh on 3 sides per the airline. The nice part about the one I got was that there was a zipper in the top and front so that Gizmo could poke her head out. Sherpa also has a flight guarantee for certain flights, so I found that to be a selling point even though we didn’t qualify going to Curacao.

I have never crated Gizmo and she was not a fan of the kennel, so we worked on going in and getting treats for staying in the kennel in the weeks leading up to our trip. I would put her toys inside, and she would have to go in to retrieve them as well. Even up to the day of the trip she wasn’t a big fan of the kennel (who could blame her), so I was a bit nervous as to how she would be on the plane.

The day of departure had come and all of the paperwork and required items were ready to go! Unfortunately, upon arriving at the airport, the ticket agent was either new and didn’t actually know what was required for pet travel or he didn’t want to deal with the liability of checking in someone with a pet (apparently the individual agent can be fined $10,000 for improperly booking an animal). He sent us to another location, and we ended up on a bit of a wild goose chase. Finally, we found a helpful agent and she put us in touch with the supervisor. While waiting for the supervisor to check Gizmo’s documents, the agent began to check me and my 4 pieces of luggage in (thankfully, or we might have missed the flight!).

The issue was that there are 3 items required: vet signature, USDA signature, and rabies certificate. I had all of these items, but two of them (the USDA and vet signatures) were on the same document. The AA staff were looking for 3 documents and failing to actually READ what I needed to have versus what I had. Finally, upon realizing this issue, I pointed out that what the requirements were and what I actually had in my hands were equivalent. I was given a boarding pass and rushed over to TSA. 

At TSA, I had to remove Gizmo’s leash and harness and put it through the x-ray machine with her kennel. I then carried her with me through the metal detector. Apparently, I had been chosen for testing on my hands for explosive residue as well (goodnight!). So, while still holding my 18 lb dog, they swab my hands and we waited. The test was negative of course and we were sent on our way. I got Gizmo back in her harness and leash, put my shoes back on, packed my things back together, and got moving to our gate. We arrived to an empty gate and I asked the agent if this was the flight to Miami. She said yes, and that I had just made it. I then had to get on the ramp as she closed the door behind me. I had to put Gizmo in her kennel and then they made me check my carry-on. We were the last ones to get on the plane!

We had a fairly uneventful layover in Miami. I was able to easily find the pet relief area, and Gizmo was able to run around in there, though she didn’t want to actually use it. (For a video of the area, check out my tiktok here: ). She was very happy to walk on her leash through the airport in Miami. Her behavior on the actual plane was immaculate– she only got a bit antsy on takeoff and landing (like most people do!) and was otherwise an angel. When we arrived in Curacao, and I put her kennel up on the seat, people were astonished that I had a dog and that she had been there the whole time! Everyone commented how quiet and good she had been.

Unfortunately, in the rush to board the first plane back in Dallas, I forgot to grab any of our immigration documents from my carry-on that was now checked! This caused me quite a lot of anxiety upon arrival in Curacao, but was ultimately okay in that I was able to pull them up electronically at the immigration stamp point and that was acceptable. Fortunately, I had my carry-on back before customs where I had to again present all of Gizmo’s documents along with my passport. The customs agents in Curacao made copies of her documents and my passport and then they returned my originals to me (I double checked that they were the originals and that they were all there because 1 page was missing!). 

Finally, Gizmo had to stay in her kennel until we exited the Curacao airport. Once outside, I put her back on her leash, and she was able to go potty outside in some shrubbery. We made it! It was stressful, expensive, and took quite a bit of planning, but I would do it all over again for my buddy!