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Living & Working in Sunny Aruba

Posted by Dan Vanderboom on September 5, 2009

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I am thrilled to finally be living in Aruba, at least for the month of September.  This is an experiment in remote working, and an experiment in living outside the United States.  “Why Aruba?” you ask.  Why not?  Aruba has weather that’s perfect for the beach year round, lies safely outside the hurricane belt, and has one of the highest per capita incomes in the Caribbean, making it a very safe and happy place.  In fact, their license plate tag line is “One Happy Island”.

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Indeed it is!  Everyone here has been extremely friendly.  The population is ethnically diverse and many languages can be heard.  Residents speak Papiamento, Spanish, English, and Dutch generally, and I often hear German, French, Japanese, and other languages I can’t yet identify.  It seems common for people living here to speak six or more languages.  Being a lover of languages, I hope to pick up as much as I can while I have the opportunity.

I planned many months ahead of time, but found a paucity of information available online and have had to wing-it for many aspects of the trip, which just makes it more of an adventure.  Aruban websites are geared toward mainstream tourism and high-profile resort hotel-casinos (many of which are beautiful), but I was looking for longer-term residency, and a bargain at that.  I settled for a cheap room off the beaten path, which was about the same rate for a month as a hotel room would be for a week.  As it turned out, I was upgraded for free to a nice two-bedroom condominium due to last-minute rescheduling of my original room.  I’m a ten-minute walk from Palm Beach, a two-hour walk from the capital of Oranjestad, and at about 20 miles by 5 miles, Aruba is large enough to keep me busy exploring but small enough to make exploring most areas of it possible within my month here.

Do You Ever Work?

Yes, I work on projects for several customers while I’m here.  I found a fantastic free-Internet Dutch cafe called Cafe Rembrandt with a wonderful staff.  I have plugs to power my laptop, and use Skype or iCall to make calls to customers.  Both of these have applications for iPhone.  With them, I pay $0.20 – $0.27 per minute for calls.  Without them, through AT&T (and through SETAR, who is the cell and wi-fi provider for the island), I’d be paying an outrageous $1.69 per minute.  This limits me to making calls from free Internet hotspots, or I could pay SETAR $70 per month for unlimited access to their wireless access that blankets the popular parts of the island.

From a technical communication perspective, it’s all working well so far.  Because I’m working on smaller projects and my customers are geographically distributed anyway, I’m not running up against many of the hurdles that would appear on larger projects, so it’s a good way to dip one foot into the water without jumping in all the way on day one.  Working side-by-side in person with other members on larger projects is always the highest-bandwidth method of communicating, but remote working scenarios are becoming more and more common and have many benefits.  The only real way to identify the challenges these scenarios impose is to put yourself into them again and again, and deal with the issues as they come up, finding solutions to problems, working around limitations, and exploiting the advantages that decentralization provides.

Getting Around & Communicating

Being an avid running and hiker, I’ve walked about four hours a day since I’ve been here, pushing myself as I usually do.  The busses, however, are air-conditioned, cheap (about $1.30 per trip just about anywhere), clean and safe, so I always have an easy way home when I’m completely exhausted.  They’ll go anywhere you need them to, so renting a vehicle is unnecessary, but car rentals are reasonable if you need one.  If you want to rent one, make sure to go to your local AAA and get an International Driver’s License before coming.  Also check AAA and tourist books for coupons, which can be 10-20% off of listed rates.

Phones are available for rent, or you can use your existing phone as long as your carrier allows international roaming (you may have to call them to authorize that feature).  AT&T customers need to sign up for their World Traveler plan.  I use mine only for Google Maps to navigate and to check for email periodically, as the data plans are outrageously expensive if you go over your limit (over $5 per MB).

Wrapping Up

I could write many pages more about my few days here already, but instead I’ll conclude with a few of the pictures I’ve taken from my iPhone.  If you have your own stories about Aruba, or living and working abroad or remotely in general and the lessons you learned, I’d love to hear about them.

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