Thursday, March 10, 2005


Questions, questions …

Feedback on my musings is always welcome, and I will endeavor to reply as and when the pressures of work(?) permit. Here are some specific questions I have been asked, the replies to which I felt might be of general interest:

Q1: How much does it cost to run a car there, do you pay yearly Road tax, insurance, etc...

I haven’t yet bought one, as I am still using the rental car I picked up on day 2. It’s one of the things I must get around to, but at £10/day it’s not as cripplingly expensive as it would be anywhere else in the world. If you are coming here for anything more than a few days it’s worth renting a car to get a full view of the island, but I digress …..

Cars are one of the fascinating aspects of St. Helena. Consider that the roads here divide into those which are narrow, winding, and steeply uphill, and those which are narrow, winding, and steeply downhill, and consider the effects of the general saltiness of the air, and you would assume that cars would have a very short working life. Not so. There are hoards of Mk2 Ford Escorts, several Ford Capris, at least one Ford Anglia (1960s, probably) and a few original VW Beetles, most of which seem to be in fairly good condition.
Admittedly there are also some fairly ropey cars. Penny’s Mini Traveller has seen (many) better days, but then she only uses it to carry donkey-food around, so I suppose the fact that it is apparently held together by the rust and a lot of luck is probably not that material.
Visitors who have examined the rolling stock may be surprised to learn that there is an MOT test here (for those not from the UK the MOT is an annual inspection of cards over 3 years old for general roadworthiness, and is a legal requirement to keep the car on the road). Exactly what they test I have yet to establish, but rust and loose or missing body panels don’t seem to be an obstacle to getting a certificate. It must work because crashes due to vehicle failure are rare.
It costs about £2000 shipping to import a car, so even second hand cars seem relatively expensive, even to a UK buyer (and with salaries here much lower than the UK they are very expensive in local terms). That probably explains why St. Helenian drivers tend to be cautious and very considerate, which is charming though occasionally irritating when I am really in a hurry. At least the heavy lorries tend to pull in and let faster traffic (e.g. bicycles, Jonathan the Tortoise) pass.

Q2: What about house rates and taxes and income tax, do these things exist, I bet they do.

Sadly, both death and taxes are as inevitable here as anywhere else.

Q3: House prices, if they are ever on the market, etc.

There are no estate agents on St. Helena. If you want to sell a house you might put an advert in the island newspaper or, more likely, just tell a few people and wait for the word to get around. I think an average home goes for c£50,000 but there are no reliable statistics. You can’t buy property here unless you have residency or a license, so there is no market for ‘holiday homes’.
Longer-stay visitors usually rent a place, and with many people currently working off-island this is not too difficult. For a longer-term let £200 a month is considered to be an above-average rent for a 3-bedroom place unless it is in Jamestown. Holiday lets (shorter-term) are about £300/month.
The housing stock varies from old colonial-style Georgian houses, which are quite elegant but not very functional, to more modern bungalows which are the reverse. My family and I currently inhabit a prefab which was built in the 1960s with a design life of 10-15 years. I was relieved that the government recently announced it will no longer approve building designs which feature the use of asbestos. Most of the roofs are made of metal sheeting, which is fine until it rains – it’s not the leaks that cause the problem, it’s the thundering of the raindrops on the roof that keeps you awake. It even drowns out the cicadas and the geckos.

I hope some of that helps. It’s hard to believe this place unless you see it for yourself.

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