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Life Styles Blog

Federated by Ferries - Part II
Nevis - Head in the Clouds

Nevis is more than sleepy, its moody!  Perhaps its to do with the dominating mountain, the shapeshifting cloud around the peak, changeless and changing, the light never the same.     

Walking up the main street at 8.15 on a Wednesday, through the banking sector, past First Caribbean (Barclays Bank and CIBC), Scotia Bank, Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, and the Bank of St. Kitts and Nevis, and then the ferry dock, the various Ministries of Government and the Cotton Ginnery; I saw two people, and never more than one car on the road at a time.  Between 8.30 and 9, things did liven up, and people started to arrive opening up offices and shops. 

Government offices took a little longer.  Nearly all government officials have at least two hats, interpret that as jobs! The second, and often more lucrative ‘hat', is as a commercial business owner which, of course through personal necessity, tends to take priority.  So whilst shops, cafes and commercial offices are opened at 9am, government offices often don't actually open their doors till after the real small business heart of the town is up and running.

Nevis is also very small.  Thirty six square miles of mountainside  gently sloping down to the waterfront is home to a population of about 9000 people.  The word Nevis comes from the spanish for snow, nieves, and Nevis peak so often does look as though it is covered with a light shawl of snow.

Nevis Real Estate

 The Fast Ferry on the Dock at Charlestown, a very comfortable ride.

The whole country has an air of gentle permanence and delapidated sophistication which shows in its lovely old colonial style stonework and timber architecture, road system and the open spaces between the local homes and gardens, amongst others.  It has that rare feel that you don't get in most of the English speaking Eastern Caribbean, that someone planned the infrastructure, that there is (or was) an underlying purpose.

The island has a rich and well documented colonial history, belying the sleepy face which Nevis now shows the world. At a time when most other islands in the Leewards had minimal infrastructure, the first car arrived in Nevis in 1912, and hire cars for visitors were available by 1927.  The first known resort hotel in the Caribbean was built on the island on the site of the hot Bath Springs.  And whilst only first colonized for commerce in 1625 by Europeans, in 1650 it was the leading sugar producer in the Leewards and beyond.   Nevis cane yielded 24 ounces of sugar from every gallon of cane juice which was 33% more than any other island could achieve, and explains why this island was known to grow the best sugar in the whole of the West Indies, and also why it was the most prosperous!

Cane was grown almost to the top of Nevis mountain, stripping the rich volcanic soil of its trees and vegetation, all of which after 100 years intense planting lead to a heavy mineral depletion of the soil and by the 19th century Nevis was no longer able to farm sugar economically.    European plantation owners withdrew and after emancipation Nevisians became sharecroppers and husbanded the depleted earth as best they could.  In more modern times this has allowed them to survive with a better standard of living than many of the neighbouring islands who remained in a single crop economy and did not diversify.  

 Tourism and the Financial Offshore Sector

These days Nevisians make a different type of living principally through tourism, and Nevis property and real estatethen a secondary source of foreign exchange through the Offshore Financial sector.   Over 700 are employed by the second largest employer and business on the island, Four Seasons Resort which was built in 1988 has 218 rooms and a golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.    The largest employer is the government.

Nevis Peak - covered in cloud.

Nevis Property and Real Estate Investment The Cotton Ginnery  

A nice place on the waterfront in Charlestown.
The garden is a wireless hotspot if you
have your laptop with you. 

Besides Four Seasons there are a few smaller exclusive resorts, based around Plantation style living, and these provide further employment opportunities in the tourism sector.

The Offshore Financial Sector begun in 1984 when a law was passed regulating offshore incorporation, although not huge, has provided a solid secondary source of revenue to the country.   In general Nevisians do a little farming with a few acres, some fishing and other small entrepreneurial enterprises.
The expat population on Nevis is comparatively modest and has built up principally in small developments around Four Seasons and the Golf Course, with a few larger luxury homes spread throughout the island.  The foreign community is often by necessity, transient.  Due mainly to people retiring to the island to play a little golf and avoid the cold winters.   This works well until the time eventually comes when the medical care requirements are such that they can no longer be supplied locally.  Primary medical services in Nevis and/or St. Kitts are modern but basic, but do not support any of the specialisation needed for the long term care of an older population with chronic healthcare problems.    But the expats do still brings in much needed foreign exchange in the form of construction and domestic jobs.

Jobs for the Boys

The Nevisian population whilst stable at the moment, like many of these islands, loses its keenest and most energetic young minds to the UK and the US, where education and jobs are so much easier to find and competition sharpens their skills. 

In Charlestown, we found a small spanish community, mainly immigrants from Santo Domingo, and also there are a few Guyanese and Jamaicans, who come in to do the physically demanding work such as harvesting and construction, for which there are not enough Nevisians. 

The foreign exchange which does pour into the island derives also from returnees of the diaspora.     The new headmaster of a Nevis school, left the island when he was 10 years old.  Twenty five years later, he's back! After a full education and a professional working life in London, he brings back to Nevis energy and determination whilst immersing himself in working three jobs in order to achieve his goals. 

"I was determined," he says, "that we are'nt going to sit around and wait for other people to come in and start businesses to employ Nevisians.  We need to encourage the local kids to do that themselves!"  To this end he is running a course of Workshops for the teenagers of Nevis in conjunction with SEDU,  the Smaller Enterprise Development Unit, with its offices just around the corner from the Cotton Ginnery.  The Workshops are to ‘empower the young kids to create their own jobs', and will be starting in January. 

He sets a fine example, he has just opened a great little restaurant and garden night club in town right on the waterfront with live entertainment through the season, established a consulting company to run Empowerment Workshops and is a full time headmaster at a local school.  With more like him, Nevis hopefully will start to keep more of its youth on the island.

The Infrastructure

It is estimated that a height of over 3000 ft is needed for a Caribbean island to generate sufficient rain in order to sustain plant life which will feed and water a population.  Nevis Peak is over 3,200 feet and this creates enough cloud and rain to feed underwater springs, and at one time water the whole island covered from top to bottom with sugar cane fields.   Combined with cisterns built under homes, Nevis has an abundance of water unlike many of the other Leewards where water is a continual problem, and relies on modern reverse osmosis plants for most needs. However the natural water source is now fully exploited and any large real estate development would need to consider reverse osmosis. 

The supply of electricity, was owned and managed as a Government Department, and generated from diesel generators that first appeared in 1954 and from a small start was distributed island wide by 1971.  Continual problems with over demand, lack of good support and maintenance and planning, are a given in the islands, and Nevlec is no better or worse than many of its counterparts.  Some homes and businesses carry back up generators, and supplement their energy needs using solar power.

The telegraph came to Nevis in 1925, a wait of 50 years from the time that St.Kitts first received it only 11 miles away.  I give this as an example of one of many unforgotten seeming slights which feed the gap of understanding upon which the Federation of St.Kitts and Nevis seems to constantly founder. Since 1983 when the Federation finally became independent from the UK and aligned to its present form governed by a joint Assembly, in which St.Kitts local government representatives are also the Federation government representatives, and hold 10 seats to Nevis' 3 seats. There is a underlying sense of injury that seems to have been around for well over a hundred years, and the relationship with its larger neighbour remains a big political issue amongst Nevisians. 

Accessed by both ferry from St. Kitts to Charlestown and a small airport, the island relies on its regular air and sea services.  The 4,000 foot runway at the airport is served by Winair, LIAT and American Airlines and various small local charter airlines, and is one of the friendliest entry points in the region.

There are two principal ferries competing for the traffic crossing the short strip of ocean to Basseterre in St. Kitts.  One is the ‘slow' ferry, which also transports cars in a drive on/drive off service and takes about an hour.  The ‘luxury' service makes a 35 minute trip to Basseterre, is very comfortable and allows passengers to sit inside in train style comfort, or outside on the upper deck in the breeze and dodging cloudbursts.  

Nevis Property and Real Estate
The view across the channel to St.Kitts

Real Estate Investment

Purchasing real estate on Nevis is quite different from its larger neighbour St. Kitts, and is encouraged by a friendly government trying to tread the fine line between attracting foreign investment and exchange whilst protecting the best interests of its own people. For example there is a 12% stamp duty on the sale of land or property, but that is levied on the seller and not on the purchaser of the real estate. 

An Alien landholders licence, which costs 10% of the sale price of the property must be granted to non-Nevisians wishing to own property in the country. 

Building plans must be submitted to the Planning Authority and there are a number of planning laws which must be taken into account.  No building is allowed beyond the 1,500 foot line of Nevis mountain, this preserves plant growth where its most needed high on the mountain and keeping the peak with its head in the clouds. 

Nevis beaches belong to everyone, and planning laws further ensure that no-one builds to close too the shoreline or beach.  This prevents people from building within the storm surge zone as well as keeping shorelines and beaches in the public domain. 

Land is generally available from $65,000 an acre without beachfront, and almost all land will have a view of the sea and the mountain behind.  Because all the land slopes gently down from the mountain, even neighbours building in front of you usually cannot obscure your view.  To preserve this, no building can be more than two storeys high.   

Hurricanes sweep through Nevis with frightening regularity like most other Caribbean islands.  They are a non-negotiable fact of life and should always be factored into any the plan for living or owning real estate in Nevis.  In earlier centuries when hurricanes were more frequent, records show that there were as many as one hurricane on average every three years.  The recent weather cycle seems to have less frequent hurricanes with more intensity, and this cannot be ignored by anyone planning on a life in the islands.  Nevis has excellent Disaster Preparedness planning and it is a fact that smaller inter-dependent communities often fare better after catastrophic storms than more heavily populated ones.  They tend to draw closer together and rebuild much faster then communities where the social divisions are already under strain.   Storm surges which are so huge when driven up onto continental shelves where the water has nowhere to go, are much less when confronted by a small island around which the storm driven ocean can flow and escape.  

Nevis is in an active earthquake zone like all the Leeward islands, and undergoes regular tremors on a daily basis.  Most of them go undetected by anything but the most sensitive electronic equipment, but buildings must be designed and built to withstand earthquakes.  There is an interesting story about an earthquake in the 18th century, in which all the stone and brick buildings tumbled down into rumble, whilst all the wooden buildings remained standing.  Lime mortar and brick never had the strength that modern reinforced concrete and masonry building has.  But also, good professional design is the first rule for building homes that hold up under catastrophic conditions. 


For the future, it is hoped that small growth will continue in the somewhat uncertain world of the Offshore Financial Industry, balanced with controlled growth in the tourism sector. 

In general, Nevis will not be best served by any tourism development projects catering to the mass market and the lower end.  There are neither the infrastructure, nor the resources to support this, but it could benefit from one or two more Four Seasons type projects, with high paying tourism in low numbers which doesn't stress the comfortable balance of population and natural resources that has been achieved recently, through a passive but not unsuccessful planning policy. 

The steady turnover and increase in the development and sale of private luxury homes will continue as it has been doing for the last 30 years, and will serve to strengthen the return on investment and increase the value of all land and property in the country.  The cost of living is comparitively high in Nevis and will remain so, partly due to the high cost of land and development.

Nevis has very recently struck an agreement with a construction company to build a new five star hotel, villas and new golf course close to the Four Seasons development.  This is a massive project and will make the times much more interesting!

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Nevis Property and Real Estate

The slow ferry, and the Charlestown waterfront

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Last Updated On 15 Nov 2019