Bermuda: Lots To Love Once You Get Through Customs

Atlantic beaches are lovely, and when combined with a tax haven, they form a true oasis. Bermuda, despite being situated in the middle of the Atlantic and despite being famous for shipwrecks, is certainly an oasis. There is, though, one nagging element of statism: customs. 

Customs control in Bermuda is a nightmare. My experience was long and unpleasant, though not nearly as bad as many others. But if you get through customs and don’t have to pay, or at least not that much, then you get to indulge in the pleasures of this autonomous Atlantic island where beautiful beaches are aplenty, income taxes are an afterthought and cocktails come dark and stormy. 😉

Bermuda has no shortage of beautiful beaches.

Located about 700 miles off the east coast of the United States (around the Carolinas), Bermuda is an archipelago of 181 islands, though the territory is often referred to as a single island. Also, bridges make it seem like Bermuda is indeed just one island.

Bermuda was once known as the island of shipwrecked sailors. English sailors heading for the colony of Jamestown, Virginia failed to navigate a storm in the early 1600s and took refuge on Bermuda. Soon after, the English established the first settlement on the island, and Bermuda became a British colony.

Nowadays Bermuda is a British overseas territory with its own constitution and parliament. The queen is still the monarch of Bermuda, and the UK maintains control over Bermuda’s defense and foreign policy.  

Bermuda’s parliament building

Due its lack of an income tax, Bermuda is an offshore hub. Many companies are registered in Bermuda, and Google, for instance, has moved billions of dollars to the territory. But Bermuda is not a complete tax oasis. There are very high import duties and VAT.

Still it makes for a very attractive tax haven. Unlike some other island tax havens, Bermuda has a reasonably convenient location, and it has quite good infrastructure, which is financed in large part by those not-so-hidden taxes on imports and consumption. Buildings and gardens in Bermuda are noticeably well kept, and the territory feels very civilized.

Bermuda’s pricey homes are known for their white roofs.

Real estate in Bermuda is pricey, but prices in general in the territory are quite reasonable. They are definitely not at the level of Switzerland or Iceland. Rather, prices in Bermuda are about what you pay in a major U.S. city. This surprised me, by the way. I was expecting Bermuda to be quite expensive.

Getting to Bermuda

I had wanted to visit Bermuda for a long time because of its status as a tax haven. Also, I was intrigued by its wealth. Bermuda is much wealthier than tax havens in the Caribbean, and it was one of the wealthiest nations in the world for most of the 20th Century.

I chose to visit Bermuda at the conclusion of a Caribbean trip. During this trip, I had visited the colorful houses of Curacao, people watched my way through the overrated, yet very colorful Carnival in Trinidad and circled the Caribbean on a cruise with my brother (something you’ll soon hear about). 

Though far north of the Caribbean, Bermuda is actually an associate member of the Carribbean Community (CARICOM) economic bloc. Do you remember CARICOM is headquartered in Guyana, a country located on the South American mainland? 

Anyway, you can’t just fly from some Caribbean island — tax haven or not — to Bermuda. To reach Bermuda by air, you must fly from the U.S., UK or Canada. I flew in from Toronto, a city characterized by cold, foggy weather, high taxes and a communist mentality. Have a look, then get out. That’s my advice on Toronto. Or, for that matter, just have a look here:

Yuck

Luckily, I landed in Bermuda without any problem. As you may well be aware, legend has it that the Bermuda Triangle, of which the island of Bermuda is the northernmost point, is where not only ships wreck, but ships, as well as airplanes, disappear. 

Arriving in a much nicer place… and not disappearing

The dreaded Bermudian customs

The hassles in Bermuda begin after you land. It’s not like Suriname, where you wait a couple hours or more to get through immigration due to bureaucratic incompetence. The bureaucrats/officers at the airport in Bermuda are very competent… at getting under your skin and searching all of your stuff in attempt to make you pay taxes on imports.

First I had to put up with immigration nuisances. At the airport in Bermuda, the immigration officer asked me about my onward ticket, and it took me some time to find it. I was confused about what airline I was flying. Was it Delta or American?? In the end, some guy came and vouched that I was on an American flight, and they let me through. This process took a while.

Then I spent nearly another hour at customs as officers searched my bag checking every single item inside it. They also asked me questions like what would I be doing in Bermuda and would I be working there and so on. Of course my business relates to the offshore world and tax avoidance, but that doesn’t mean I was going to Bermuda for work. I wasn’t. 

Coming for work? No. But coming for banking might make for an interesting idea. 🤔

This wasn’t such a nice welcome to Bermuda. But eventually I got through, and I didn’t have to pay anything. Meanwhile, other people were getting searched as well. Citizens and residents of Bermuda have it the worst. They basically haver to pay taxes on everything they bring onto the island. Considering that I was traveling with almost all of my possessions, and I didn’t have to pay anything at customs, I was lucky.

The hassles of Bermuda would end as soon as you make it through immigration and customs if it were not for one stupid law they have. In Bermuda there is a ban on car rentals. This is apparently due to an overly powerful taxi industry. There are lots of taxis in Bermuda, and they will drive you anywhere on the island. But as you might assume, they are quite expensive. 

Motorcycle rentals are allowed. But after my crash in Thailand while on my way to invade Burma, I have given up on riding motorbikes. 

On this occasion, I tried out something new. Recently Bermuda tweaked its rules so that you can now rent cars, but only if they are electric. So I decided to get myself a little Tazzari. But that was just for one day of driving around the island. So you can wait ever so slightly to hear about how I managed to cope in this tiny, eco-friendly vehicle.

Staying in the oldest English town in the New World

My Airbnb host Steve picked me up from the airport. Yes, I was in an Airbnb again. But no, I wasn’t sleeping on a mattress in the living room next to a giant LED TV set. Rather I was homestaying in style.

Steve is a very cool guy. He lives in St. George’s, which is the oldest continuously inhabited English settlement in the New World. Settled by England’s Virginia Company in 1612, it is also known as the Town of St. George and St. George’s Town. 

St. George’s

St. George’s is located in the northeastern corner of Bermuda and is only about 10 minutes away from the airport. It is one of the largest towns in Bermuda, which as an entire territory, only has a population of about 65,000.

Steve has a nice small, old Victorian house that is a bit outside the core of the town. His house is just a few minutes by foot from the Unfinished Church. Construction on this church began in 1874. As you might guess, the construction was never finished. 

I settled into my Victorian room with a nice, comfortable bed, did a little work, had a quick chat with Steve and then headed out of the house to go see a bay and beach (a la Trinidad minus the bake and shark). I walked to the other side of St. George’s Island and reached the northern tip of both the island and of Bermuda. 

Fort St. Catherine

Right next to the northern tip of St. George’s there are actually a few bays — Tobacco Bay, Achilles’ Bay and Gates Bay. Along Gates Bay, there is St. Catherine’s Beach, as well as Fort St. Catherine. The fort is one of a bunch of forts the English built in Bermuda, several of which I visited. All over Bermuda it is common to see cannons lying on cliffs and pointed out toward the water.

A fortified island/archipelago

St. Catherine’s Beach is getting a new attraction in the form of a St. Regis Hotel. I saw the hotel being built. This new resort is located on the beach and expected to open in 2021.

After visiting the north, I turned back and headed to the St. George’s Harbor area. As I walked around the island and town, I noticed people were very friendly. Almost everyone on the street was smiling, greeting me and welcoming me to the island.

Seaside in St. George’s

In the evening I ate at The Wharf restaurant, located by the harbor at Somers Wharf. The food was tasty, the view was lovely and the setting was nice. But what was truly special about The Wharf was the realization it brought me that in Bermuda I could drink a Dark n Stormy at every meal. 

Getting acquainted with Bermuda the right way

The Dark n Stormy is one of my favorite cocktails. It is made with Gosling Brothers dark rum and ginger beer, and when made right, the rum sits on top and the ginger beer is on the bottom, and they do not get mixed. Gosling Brothers, which is a Bermuda-based rum brand, claims the Dark n Stormy was invented in Bermuda. While the Dark n Stormy is an unofficial national drink of Bermuda, the official national drink of the territory is the Rum Swizzle. Recipes for the Rum Swizzle vary, though the drink tends to be made with Gosling’s rum, fruit juice and a flavored sweetener. In addition to the Dark n Stormy, I also incorporated a Rum Swizzle into my first Bermuda dinner.

My electric ride

The next day was my big day in Bermuda, much of which would be spent in a small car. Unfortunately, I arrived at the car rental location an hour late. No one was there. I waited for an hour, searched for people and found no one. So I went to another location, and there it was… my little Tazzari was waiting for me. 

My tiny Tazzari

I lost out on about two hours due to the miscommunication, but I still managed to hit the road around 11 am, and I had nearly 9 hours to drive all over Bermuda. 

The Tazzari is an Italian electric car that is actually tiny enough to be considered a microcar. Yes, a 6 foot 7 man can fit in a microcar. 

Despite its tiny size and fairly bland look, the Tazzari I rented was actually the high-end electric vehicle available to rent in Bermuda. I managed to start driving it very quickly. You press a button, and then the car is on, and then you accelerate and you are on your way. 

But I had some difficulties adjusting to the car. The Tazzari can only hit a maximum speed of 45-50 km/h. This meant I had to stay to the left much of the time because I was too slow for normal cars. 

What was more problematic was parking on hills. When you park on an incline, it is quite difficult to start driving again after you restart the car. When you take your foot off the brake, the Tazzari immediately starts rolling down the hill. You have to press very hard on the accelerator to get the car to drive uphill.

With some time, I got used to driving the Tazzari and found the little electric car to be quite useful for Bermuda’s narrow roads. I probably drove more than 100 km, yet never recharged the car. I returned it with 10 percent of the battery remaining. 

Road tripping an archipelago

The Royal Navy Dockyard

Cruising in the Tazzari, I drove by way of roads and bridges to the Royal Navy Dockyard, which is practically the farthest place away by car from St. George’s in Bermuda. The dockyard served as the main Royal Navy base in the Western Atlantic between the time of American independence and the Cold War. Nowadays, the Royal Navy Dockyard is where cruise ships dock, particularly during the summer months.

Horseshoe Bay Beach

On the way to the dockyard, I visited a couple very nice sandy beaches in the south of Bermuda. The most popular one was Horseshoe Bay Beach. What made my Horseshoe Bay experience even more exciting was that I went rock climbing.

Horseshoe Bay Beach + rocks

There are lots of large rocks right next to the beach, and you can climb them for some adventure in the sun, aka bouldering, and for some nice views. And speaking of climbing…

Gibbs Hill Lighthouse

From Horseshoe Bay, I continued on to the nearby Gibbs Hill Lighthouse. The lighthouse is the taller of Bermuda’s two lighthouses, and its top is the highest point in Bermuda. You can climb to the top of the lighthouse — whether you have a ticket or not. I noticed no one was entering the lighthouse with a ticket, so I walked right in and headed up to the top. It was actually a bit tiring to get to the top of the lighthouse, but I did.

View from Gibbs Hill Lighthouse

The views at the top were well worth the effort it took to get there. From the top of Bermuda, you can see much of the nation, including the luxurious Fairmont Southampton hotel, the Bermudian capital Hamilton, beaches, bays and corral reefs.

The Fairmont Southampton from above

I then drove through the western part of the island, where I headed through the old Somerset Village on my way to the edge of Bermuda, where you can find not only the Royal Navy Dockyard but also the National Museum of Bermuda and the Dolphin Quest.

The national museum is basically a large old fort. There is a lot to see inside about the history of Bermuda and it is quite interesting. Also inside the museum, believe it or not, you can go swimming with dolphins. I didn’t go for a swim, but I still saw dolphins swimming. See:

Dolphins

Back in the Tazzari, I reversed course. On my drive back to St. George’s, I took Bermuda’s inner coast, as opposed to the outer coastal route. The drive took a while, but it was scenic, and it led me to Hamilton, as well as to some natural scenery. 

The Cabinet House

In Hamilton I parked the Tazzari and wandered a bit through the streets. During my brief walk through the Bermudian capital, I stopped to take photos of the parliament, the cabinet building and the impressive Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity.

Cathedral Of The Most Holy Trinity

I also checked out Hamilton’s waterfront and saw the many yachts docked in the harbor.

The Hamilton waterfront

Plenty of yachts in the sea

After Hamilton, I drove back to the outer coast of Bermuda, where I visited the Hungry Bay Nature Reserve. I walked around the nature reserve, explored a cave, gazed at some impressive corrals and took in the sunset. Since it was getting dark, I returned to the Tazzari and made my way back to St. George’s.

In St. George’s, I changed clothes and drove to a restaurant where I had dinner and some more Dark n Stormy. When I made my way back to the Airbnb, Steve told me the way I parked was blocking other cars. I had to repark the Tazzari in a very narrow space. Admittedly, I had a bit to drink and was a little tipsy, so it wasn’t so easy for me to navigate my way into the parking space, even though my car was so small. Nonetheless, I managed to park properly without any sort of accident. 

Parting ways with the Tazzari

The next morning I had to return the Tazzari. I got up early and drove to another beach, thinking I would get some beach time in before giving up the car. Unfortunately, the weather was cloudy and not so nice for the beach, so I didn’t stay long. 

I took back the Tazzari to the rental place. It was a bit tough for me to let it go. I was developing a bond with this tiny, slow electric vehicle. It had been surprisingly fun to drive the Tazzari. So for a memory, during my road trip the previous day, I had my Tazzari pose for a photo on top of a hill with the Atlantic Ocean in the background. 😊

So long and farewell

After dropping off the car, I returned to the Airbnb and spent most of my second and final full day in Bermuda working. That wasn’t my plan. I wanted to go to the beach again, but it started to rain. The rain lasted most of the day. But that of course didn’t stop me from dining and drinking one last Dark n Stormy before departing Bermuda and flying to Miami.

Retirement ahead?

To wrap things up, Bermuda is beautiful. If I was old I would retire here. The tax scheme is not ideal for residents because, after all, it’s an island and most products need to be imported, so you end up paying a lot of import duties. But no income tax is a good start, and of course the most important product of all does not need to be imported… Cheers to income tax-free island life where the people are friendly and everything is orderly. 🍸

At last, a tax haven that is actually livable.