Catharine comes from the UK. She first visited Reunion Island in 1990 during an exchange year. After her graduation, she flew back and ever since, she has found another place to call home. She shares with Expat.com her love for the island's lifestyle, its natural landscapes, and the ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity.
Hi Catharine, where are you from and what brought you to Reunion Island?
I grew up in London and lived in Britain until I first came to Reunion in 1990 as an exchange student on my third year. Once I’d graduated I came back to Reunion “for a year or two” but I’ve been here ever since, except for a three-year hiatus in Seoul, South Korea. After working in business for 15 years, I’m now a full-time professional French to English translator. Like most Europeans, I was coming for the tropical climate, but once I had settled in, I realised it’s the mix of ethnicities and the tolerance of different cultures and religions that I love about this place.
What was the process for a British citizen to move to Reunion Island?
As Britain was in the European Union there were no special procedures to follow at that time. However, that might change in the future due to Brexit.
What surprised you the most about Reunion Island?
The fact that when I arrived in late September, I found it hot but everyone around me was wearing trousers and long sleeves!
How is accommodation in Reunion Island, and what type is available for expats?
The first year, I was in university halls. When I came back, I moved into rented accommodation before buying a house in 2000. You can find flats and houses by looking at classified ads online or through an agency. There are also some long-term furnished rentals available. Traffic jams can be an issue, so generally you won’t want to live too far away from where you work.
What are the features of today’s expat job market in Reunion Island?
As Reunion belongs to France, the labour market is characterised by a large number of civil servants. However there’s also a very high level of unemployment, especially among young people and those who are less skilled.
French is an absolute prerequisite – whatever your level of qualifications, there’s virtually no point in coming to work here if you don’t speak it fluently. If you’re European in principle you can work in any job here – a non-European will need a work permit.
How do you find the island lifestyle?
It’s great living in a warm climate, somewhere with excellent health, legal, and education systems. But it also means you’re far away from many other places that are also expensive to travel to. Living in the tropics can also mean exposure to cyclones, torrential rain, sharks in the sea, and mosquitoes (as well as the diseases they carry).
How is the everyday life for you in Reunion Island?
Obviously, most of my week days are taken up with translation, and if I’m working for a client in Europe I have to take the time difference into account. I have a range of exotic tropical plants in the luxuriant garden outside my home office window, and I can listen to the birds while I work. I also find time to do sport every day.
What do you do in your free time?
At weekends I enjoy hiking in the mountains (Reunion Island has almost 1,000 km of marked hiking trails), or scuba-diving. The island is an incredible playground for those who enjoy the great outdoors – trail-running, skydiving, paragliding, stand-up paddling, sailing, horse-riding, mountain biking, big-game fishing, etc. The list is endless.
Could you share your most memorable experience in Reunion Island?
Reunion’s Piton de la Fournaise is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and its eruptions are a breathtaking sight.
What is your opinion on the cost of living in Reunion Island?
Reunion is definitely not a cheap place to live. Most things have to be imported and are 15%-100% more expensive than in mainland France.
Is it easy for an expat to live there?
Yes, if you speak French and don’t get homesick too easily. With Internet, it’s now easier than when I first arrived – you can access media in your native language, order things online, and regularly speak to your family for free. However, many people don’t like living on such a small island – they find it claustrophobic and/or get frustrated by the local mentality, and tend to leave after a couple of years.
What do you think of the local cuisine? What are your favourite dishes?
Reunion’s traditional dish is the “carri” – rice, lentils or beans with more-or-less spicy meat or seafood. I particularly enjoy the smoked sausage or jackfruit curries. Reunion also grows delicious pineapple.
What is one thing that you like the most about Reunion Island?
Its ethnic diversity and tolerance of different cultures and religions.
Could you give us some useful tips that soon-to-expatriates in Reunion Island will benefit from?
Learn fluent French before you come (if you don’t speak it already) and be tolerant of local attitudes.
What are your plans for the future?
To grow professionally, and to see Reunion better recognized as the unique melting pot that it is.
If you wish to share your expat story, please contact us.
The Expat.com Editorial Team