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Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings The local chapter meets Monday through Saturday 6pm-7pm at the Red Cross Building across from the airport runway, Saturday and Sunday 8:30am-9:30am at Mullet Bay Beach at the picnic tables under the Heineken tent, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday 8:30am-9:30am at Kim Sha Beach in Simpson Bay directly behind new Greenhouse (formerly Picante) Restaurant. Call 721 552-2120 or 544 3203 to confirm the latest information.

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Alcohol - This is a duty-free island. Booze is cheap. It hardly makes sense to bring anything down here. Check out our alcohol shopping page to find a fraction of the stores offering a world of goods from beer through wine to the finest single malts, cognacs, rums, and armagnacs.

The following comes from the US Government's website:

QUOTE
Alcoholic Beverages: One liter (33.8 fl. oz.) of alcoholic beverages may be included in your exemption if:
You are 21 years old.
It is for your own use or as a gift.
It does not violate the laws of the state in which you arrive.

Federal regulations allow you to bring back more than one liter of alcoholic beverage for personal use, but, as with extra tobacco, you will have to pay duty and Internal Revenue Service tax.

While federal regulations do not specify a limit on the amount of alcohol you may bring back for personal use, unusual quantities are liable to raise suspicions that you are importing the alcohol for other purposes, such as for resale. CBP officers are authorized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to make on-the-spot determinations that an importation is for commercial purposes, and may require you to obtain a permit to import the alcohol before releasing it to you. If you intend to bring back a substantial quantity of alcohol for your personal use, you should contact the port through which you will be re-entering the country, and make prior arrangements for entering the alcohol into the United States.

Also, you should be aware that state laws might limit the amount of alcohol you can bring in without a license. If you arrive in a state that has limitations on the amount of alcohol you may bring in without a license, that state law will be enforced by CBP, even though it may be more restrictive than federal regulations. We recommend that you check with the state government before you go abroad about their limitations on quantities allowed for personal importation and additional state taxes that might apply.

In brief, for both alcohol and tobacco, the quantities discussed in this booklet as being eligible for duty-free treatment may be included in your $400 (or $600 or $1,200) exemption, just as any other purchase would be. But unlike other kinds of merchandise, amounts beyond those discussed here as being duty-free are taxed, even if you have not exceeded, or even met, your personal exemption. For example, if your exemption is $400 and you bring back three liters of wine and nothing else, two of those liters will be dutiable. Federal law prohibits shipping alcoholic beverages by mail within the United States.
UNQUOTE

I once brought back 20 liters of singlemalt scotch, cognac, gin, calvados, and vodka and was charged $40 coming into Puerto Rico. I would worry a bit bringing a lot back to Florida as they are pretty testy about alcohol and the Feds say they enforce state laws - but I doubt it.

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Airfare/Airport - The name of the airport is Princess Juliana. The airline code is SXM, just like SXM-Info.com. It is serviced by American, Continental, Delta, Jet Blue, Spirit, and US Air from the states. Air France and KLM send in large planes several times each week from France and Holland. Corsair, Air France's charter branch, also comes in several times each week. Air Canada or Transat come in from the cold white north. When they are solvent and not on strike, Winair, LIAT, Caribbean Sun, and/or BWIA hop to most of the neighboring islands. The French side has a small airport called Esperance whose code is SFG.


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Animals - If you want to bring a dog or cat to the island, you should go to your vet within a week of your visit and get a health certificate, essentially claiming that the rabies vaccination is current and that the animal is in good health. Our vet in NY had a standard Federal form for this and charged $25 for our cat. Shortly before you return, you have to get the same from a vet on the island. We go to the one in Concordia. Just drive up the street off Rue du Hollande at the Grand Case (east) side of downtown Marigot. The vet will be on the left. She will want to see your rabies certificates and have a look at the animals. there is a minimal charge.

The airline will charge you for transporting the animals and if they are in the cabin, you will need reservations. They will usually insist that the animal have an implanted chip.

Having said all this, no one has ever looked at the papers and only one person at the airline noticed the cat (and charged us). On our return to the US we declared the cat, 20 liters of booze, and some cheese. They were only slightly interested in the cheese. Next time, they were interested in the cat. Both times, the booze was duty free.


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Banking - There are ATMs on the island and you can be sure that you will pay extra fees for banks outside your home network. That is usually $1.50 plus whatever your home bank charges. You should keep records and check your statement carefully when you return home. Double dipping on your account is not impossible.

On the Dutch Side:
Barclays Bank has one ATM on Front Street, Philipsburg which accepts Visa and Plus cards. RBTT has six ATMs, one at the Main Office in Philipsburg, one in the branch on the end of Front Street, one at the Simpson Bay Branch, one at the Union Road Branch in front of Port De Plaisance, and one at the 24 hour Shell Gas Station in Simpson Bay. The Union Road ATM Dispenses Euros ALSO. Visa, Cirrus and Plus cards may be used here. Scotiabank has three ATMs, at the Head Branch in Philipsburg, the Branch in Simpson Bay Yacht Club and at Ram's Food World in Cay Hill. Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus and Plus cards may be used here. Windward Islands Bank has several ATMs in the following locations, the main office in Philipsburg, Bobby's Marina in front of The Greenhouse Restaurant, Wathey Square on the Pier, the branch on the Airport Road across from Gourmet Marche , at the airport in the arrival area, and in front of Casino Royale at Maho Beach Hotel and at the Shell Station in Madame Estate. Visa, MasterCard, AMEX, Cirrus and Plus cards may be used here. All Dutch ATMs dispense cash in US Dollars.

On the French Side:
BDAF has three ATMs located at the Main Office on Rue de la Republic in Marigot, Cirrus and MasterCard may be used here. BFC has ATMs in the following locations, at the Head Office as you enter Marigot, in Howell Center by Super U Supermarket and at Simply Supermarket by the French bridge. Cirrus, Plus, Visa and Euro MasterCard may be used here. Banque Inchauspe has one ATM on Rue de President Kennedy in Marigot, this machine dispenses US Dollars. Credit Mutuel has two ATMs on Rue de la Republic in Marigot. Cirrus, Plus, Visa and MasterCard may be used here. La Poste (French Post Office) has two ATMs on Rue de la Liberté in Marigot and one ATM in the branch in the Howell Center (Match). Cirrus, Plus, Visa and MasterCard may be used here. Unless otherwise noted French side ATMs DO NOT dispense US Dollars, they dispense Euros.

If you need cash, ATM's are the only way to go. Cashing a check involves opening an account at a local bank (which may entail a letter of reference given the US's money laundering initiatives) and then waiting two weeks for the check to clear. You will probably be home by then. If you are staying longer, there are several banks, especially on the Dutch side:

ABN Amro | phone 542 3344 | fax 542 2564
RBTT | phone 542 5908 | fax 542 5964
Citco Bank | phone 545 3972 | fax 545 2073
Windward Islands Bank | phone 542 2313 | fax 542 4761

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Bulletin Boards - There are several bulletin boards devoted to SXM. TravelTalkOnline is very active. Caribbean-On-Line: SXM Travel Forum and SXM Travel Forum also exisit. These boards generally don't allow commercial postings, especially any that interfere with their business, i.e. don't post rental units. The nude resort and its beach have their own board, not focused on fine dining and hotel accommodations.


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Buses - Buses are generally mini-vans, but some get a bit larger. None, except tour buses, approach the behemoths found in American cities. They are privately owned and operated, but licensed by their respective governments. They travel back and forth across the unregulated border, causing each side to complain about the other. They frustrate car drivers by slamming on the brakes at the slightest hint of a passenger pickup. Thus, if you want a bus ride, stand anywhere and flag one down. They will gladly back up traffic for miles while you discuss the itinerary, fare (a dollar or two will get you almost anywhere), weather, appropriate beach attire, whatever.


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Carseats - Carseats for children are now required. The roads are not as good as those in the US, the cars are not as sturdy, and partying is heartier. If you don't want to bring yours (which we understand fully), many rental car companies will rent one to you for a reasonable price. Some give them out at no charge. Some will rent them for unreasonable prices. Best to check before you arrive.


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Churches - The Dutch side has Roman Catholic churches in Philipsburg, South Reward, and Simpson Bay. St Martin of Tours at 30 Front Street has services Monday and Tuesday at 6AM, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 6 PM, and Sunday at 8 AM. The phone is 721 542 5892. There are Methodist churches in Philipsburg, Cole Bay, Betty's Estate, and Simpson Bay. The French side has Roman Catholic churches in Marigot, Grand Case, and the French Quarter. There is a Methodist church in Marigot. The St Maarten International Baptist Church has services on Sundays at 10:30 am on the second floor of the RBTT building in Simpson Bay. Grace International Baptist Church has services on Sundays from 10:30 am to 12:00 noon in the Royal Pavillion Room of the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort.

There is no synagogue on the island.

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Clubs and Organizations - There is an Alcoholics Anonymous on the island and a Rotary. I'll add anyone who sends me info - FREE - just send an email.


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Country codes - In the fall of 2011, the Dutch side joined the North American Numbering Plan Area (NANPA). Essentially, they were assigned a three digit area code (721) like everyplace in the US and Canada, and a few other Caribbean islands. To call the Dutch side from the US, dial 1 721 and the seven digit number. In the summer of 2000, all land lines in St Maarten changed from 5 digits to 7 digits via a prefix of 54. Thus, a number such as 21250 became 542 1250. This makes all the numbers seem much like those in the US. (The original first digit was a rough indication of the location of the phone with 2 being a Philipsburg numbers and 3, 4, and 5 stretching from there to Cole Bay, Simpson Bay, and the Lowlands. This, of course, facilitated the switch to NANPA. Note that this will still be an international call and the rates will reflect that.

French side: French phones generally have six digits, usually given as three pairs of numbers. Now all France needs to have additional digits added in front of the usual three pairs, something like an area code, but it has to be dialed even within the area. Thus, inside French St Martin, one must now dial 0590 plus the usual six digits. Now you really are confused, but it gets worse: From the US, you have to dial the country code but only the last nine digits. The country code for St Martin is also 590. For overseas calls, most people in the US add 011 to the front of this, getting 011 590 590 and the six digit phone number as an exercise in digital dexterity before you can make a restaurant reservation. It's much easier and cheaper to use email!

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Customs Duty - Typically, you will be given a duty-free allowance of $400 when you return to the US, but check the US Government's website for the latest info and some arcane rules. Note that alcohol and tobacco are dutiable beyond certain small quantities, regardless of cost.

There is no customs duty upon entering SXM and therefore, there is no inspection of luggage to find dutiable items. You really shouldn't bring illegal drugs onto the island, but bringing alcohol, cigarettes, meat, jewelry, whatever, while generally silly in terms of cost savings, is not illegal.

This is the basis of the island's claim to being a duty-free paradise. Be that as it may, most businesses are expected to pay a 5% Turnover tax (TOT) to the government. It used to be 3%, but the savings from being a separate country appear to be -2%, so the TOT was raised to 5% after November 2011. Basically they add up their total sales and give 5% to the politicians. Given that few businesses make more than a 10% profit on their sales dollar, this is a rather high tax on their profits and few businesses can, much less, will give it up willingly. Most raised prices by 5%. Some started to add 5% to all bills as they were presented to customers. This then put the lie to the "duty-free" part of paradise. Though many people have accused politicians of being dumb, it is rarely true. They know where they make their money and act accordingly. Thus, the authorities came out with:

Inspectorate of Taxes, St Maarten
ANNOUNCEMENT
TO ALL ENTERPRISES TAXABLE FOR THE TURNOVER TAX ( T.O.T.)
Hereby, the Inspectorate of Taxes, makes known to all the enterprises taxable for the turnover tax, that the turnover tax is NOT a Sales Tax and should NOT be levied as such. THE CUSTOMER SHOULD NOT BE CHARGED TURNOVER TAX NOR SHOULD THE TURNOVER TAX BE SPECIFIED ON THE RECEIPT OF THE CUSTOMER. Please take notice that the Turnover tax should NOT be specified as a "3% Government tax" which frequently appears on receipts within the hotel and catering industry. PLEASE TAKE GOOD NOTICE OF THE ABOVEMENTIONED !

Thank you for your understanding.

Philipsburg, February 4th, 2003
The Head of the Inspectorate of Taxes St Maarten
Mr. R.G. Richardson

visiting address : Vineyard Building, Buncamper Road 33, Philipsburg
visiting hours : 8am to 12pm and 13pm to 15pm
Postal adress : P.O. Box 1026, Philipsburg
Telephone : 542.2143 / 542.5301 / 542.5304 / 542.3839
Fax : 542.2918

Obviously this was issued after the 3% TOT was started. They have said similar things more recently but basically, this ensures that the tourists will not notice the government's hand in their pocket. In theory, you can demand that this charge be removed from any bill, as the charge is supposed to be included in the prices that you are given. Good luck.

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Departure Tax - You can get in free, but it costs $30 US to fly out and they used to want cash, no credit cards. Nowadays, this is generally included in the airline ticket. There is a smaller charge to fly to other islands in the Netherlands Antilles. There is a smaller charge for ferries and boats.

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Documentation - You need a passport to get back to the US. And while you don't need anything to travel from the French side to the Dutch side, you will need a passport for day trips to St Barts or Anguilla. You can fill out a passport application on-line and print it out or print out the blank form and fill it out by hand. In either case, you have to take the form and more documentation to a Passport Acceptance Facility. Follow the link for complete information. To renew an existing passport , you need Form DS-82: Application for a U.S. Passport by Mail

For other countries, the St Maarten island government had put up a website with the visa requirements. In 2011, after achieving separate country status, the website no longer has the info. Good luck. Don't ask me.


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Drinking - The drinking age on the Dutch side was recently raised from 16 to 18, but is loosely enforced. If you are driving and are caught without a drink, first-time offenders are issued a warning and a Heineken. While that last sentence is not strictly true, it is not too far from the truth. There is currently no law prohibiting drunk driving on the Dutch side, ie no legal limit to BAC, blood alcohol content. There is a law against driving while impaired for any reason. The French side is part of France and enforces their laws which are stricter than those in the US. The limit is 0.05 BAC versus 0.08 in the US. For a 150 lb man, one drink will raise his BAC by 0.02. One hour will reduce it by 0.02. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, one and a half ounces of booze. Be careful of 100 proof booze and multiple shot drinks. Heavier people can handle proportionately more. Women, lacking an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol, should drink less.


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Driving - Tourists drive on the right, just like the US. Locals, especially buses and taxis, drive in the center and generally move to the right. The Tourist Board and my rental car agent say that any valid driver's license and a credit card will get you a rental car, unlike Anguilla, where there is a charge for a "local" license. We have made inquiries about Japanese and Mexican licenses and were told they were acceptable. Licenses from Absurdistan and the Republic of Melchenik would probably work, but I wouldn't count on it.

Remember: Cows have the right of way!
The caption says that the municipal council voted to give cows the right-of-way. The photo shows a cow and several cars on the hill heading out of Marigot toward Grand Case. More light-hearted looks at driving in the Caribbean are a click away.

Priorité aux Vaches

The causeway has caused changes in the Dutch bridge schedule: 8:30AM outbound, 9:30AM inbound, 10:30AM, outbound, 11:30AM inbound, 3:00AM inbound, 4:00PM, outbound, and 5:00PM inbound.

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Electricity - The Dutch side uses 120 volts/60 cycles just like the US and the receptacles are the same. The French side uses 220 volts/60 cycles and the plugs are two cylinders, not like the flat prongs in the US. (You may see 50 cycles mentioned in various publications, but Paul B. Streng, Director of the Housing Education and Research Center Construction Management Program at Michigan State University, to whom I am eternally grateful, measured it with his oscilloscope and it is 60 cycles, so they can swap power from one side to the other.) If you get a plug converter, you can plug in your laptop and the battery charger on newer laptops usually can handle the voltage. Check the input voltage as written on the charger itself: newer ones claim 100-240 volts and thus, have no switches. Older ones may have switches to select 120 or 240. Travel hairdryers frequently have switches to allow them to run on 240 volts. Forget to flip the switch and you could dry more than your hair.

Most computers, phone chargers, tablest, and whatever else they dream up have will have the ability to handle 110-240 volts as an input. Read the small writing on the charger. If so, it is merely a question of plugging it into the 240 volt. For this you need something like the lower photo. This will fit into the round hole of the receptacle and will not hang up on the receptacle's ground prong. The back side of this one works for flat bladed US plugs and for the slightly more widely spaced round plugs used in some other countries. You can get this at the Radio Shack in SXM and in several hardware stores and electronic stores.

If your device won't handle 240v, then you will need a voltage converter and if you insist on getting an adapter before your visi check Walk About Travel Gear.

French plug and receptacle
French/US adapter

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Email/Internet - There are several service providers on both sides of the island. It is possible to hook your laptop to the power (see electricity) and the phone lines (no special equipment needed, at least on the Dutch side), but bear in mind that it is an expensive call from one side of the island to the other. Thus, get a service provider on your side of the island or forget it and just go to a Cyber Café. If you do, you will have to know your mailbox settings (account name, and password, at the least, possibly your mail server id or name).

The Mailbox on the in Simpson Bay provides many services: mail, phone, fax, copies, and internet/email access. You can't miss the distinctive paint job on the front of the building on the lagoon side of the road. They are open from 8AM to 8PM Monday through Friday and 9AM until 5PM on Saturday and Sunday. There email is themailbox@caribserve.net. There are several Cyber Cafés in Philipsburg and many on the French side. However, if you are reading this, you probably speak English, so you would probably be better served on the Dutch side in that the operating system, programs, café staff, and keyboards will not be using the French language.


Emergency Phone numbers - St Martin
Louis Constant Fleming Hospital, Concordia, Marigot – Emergency department: 0590 52 25 52
S.A.M.U. (medical emergencies): 15
Police: 17
Fire: 18
Centre Médecins de Gardes (ADGUPS) (doctors on call): 0590 90 13 13
Medicall / Medical assistance: 0590 29 04 04
Erick Ambulances: 0590 29 29 34
Ambulances des Iles du Nord: 0590 52 00 52
Les liaisons dangereuses, health prevention centre (6, rue Fichot, Marigot): 0590 87 01 17
Fire department, La Savane: 0590 29 02 86
Fire department, Grand Case Airport: 0590 87 95 01
Gendarmerie (police), Marigot: 0590 52 21 90
Gendarmerie (police), La Savane: 0590 52 30 00
Gendarmerie (police), Quartier d'Orléans: 0590 52 35 95
Municipal police, Marigot: 0590 87 88 33
Municipal police, Grand Case: 0590 87 19 76
Border Police, Marigot : 0590 87 57 13
C.R.O.S.S. sea rescue between Anguilla and French Guiana : 0596 70 92 92
S.N.S.M. Saint Martin (lifeguards) - manned 24/7: 0690 76 75 00 - 0690 41 17 07 - 0690 72 59 59 - 0690 31 37 47

Emergency : 911
Hospital: 543 1111
Ambulance: 912 or 542 2111 or 520 6262
Fire: 919 or 542 6001
Police: 911 or 542 2222
Water police: 542 2277

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Free WiFi hotspots: SkipJack's and Cappucino Diner in Simpson Bay, Rancho del Sol above Orient Beach. Many more restaurants.

L'Esperance Hotel and The Horny Toad Guesthouse have free wireless for their guests.

By far the wildest exterior for an internet café belonged to Café Dot Com at the head of Philipsburg (that would be the eastern end near the cruise ship dock), no longer in operation.

sign

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Ferries - There are ferries from Marigot to Blowing Point, Anguilla that leave every half hour or so from 7AM until 7PM. There are several of them and the larger ones are more comfortable, but it is only about a half hour ride across the three mile wide channel, so the timing is probably more important than the comfort. Besides, how comfortable will you be sitting in the ferry terminal for another half hour waiting for a better ferry. Both sides get a departure tax. The French side accepts euros, dollars, and more. The exchange rate for dollars is generally awful but they make sure that you pay in dollars by having little change in euros. It's a quaint island custom. The ferry costs $12 per head, one way. Don't buy a round trip as it will tie you to that ferry and its return schedule. It's quite easy to go over in the morning, grab a cab at the ferry dock, and travel to anyplace on the island for about $20. The beaches are great and generally less crowded than SXM, probably because most everything is more expensive than SXM. Add a few days onto your week in SXM and hop across the channel (a mere three miles by ferry, charter boat, or plane) to Anguilla.

St Barts is another daytrip, albeit a bit longer, about 15 miles through some pretty choppy water. There are sailboats that take about three hours, so most of your day will be consumed by sailing on the bounding main, with a bit of time for lunch and shopping in Gustavia, the capital of St Barts. The powered cats get over there in about an hour and a half from Marigot and cost $70 round trip on the same day and a bit over $90 round trip on different days. Add in departure taxes. You might be able to get two for one coupons someplace. The Voyager leaves from Marigot and Oyster Pond. The Oyster Pond run takes about half as long. The new Voyager can make the trip in about a half hour from Oyster Pond. The ferry from Philipsburg is a bit quicker, as you start a few miles closer.

Saba is another daytrip, if done by plane. The 26 miles across the channel are the roughest in the area. There is a ferry but most of the day would be spent traveling over and back. The plane ride is part of the fun, if you like roller coasters.

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First-time visitors - Putting together a list of must-see/must-do activities for visitors is fraught with troubles. Different people like to do different things and even people who like the same things back home, may want to do different things on vacation. However, let's assume that you are coming to SXM to experience the best of what makes SXM different. What are these things? Warm weather, sandy beaches, warm water, great restaurants, nightlife, casinos, and no import duties.

Beaches - We have a section on beaches, but again, your favorite beach will depend on your desire for quiet seclusion versus lots of people, bars, and activities. Your best bet is to read the descriptions and make your own choice.

Activities - We have a section on activities, but if you get seasick, then a ride on the 12m America's Cup boats is probably not a must-do activity. The same can be said for snorkeling and scuba diving. Both are great activities, taking advantage of the best that SXM has to offer, but if you don't like water sports, it's not for you. There is parasailing, jet-skiing, banana boating, sunset cruises, hiking, biking, kayaking, and more.

Restaurants - We have a section on restaurants, but like beaches, personal preferences are important, and unlike beaches, prices come into play, and even driving distances after drinking should be important on the twisting, dark roads in SXM. The restaurant section breaks down restaurants by area and cuisine and there is even a restaurant finder to help you find the one you want. There are links to any restaurant on the island that has a website.

Nightlife - We have a section on nightlife and another on casinos, but do not recommend any place in particular.

Attractions - We have a section on attractions with plenty of photos. There aren't too many butterfly farms in the world and they have a good website to tell you about theirs. The zoo probably doesn't compare to those in the US, but does concentrate on smaller animals that live in warm climates. They have many birds, especially now that they have taken all the birds from the Parrot Jungle in Cupecoy.

Shopping - We have a section on shopping that covers alcohol, cigars, clothing, cosmetics, electronics, groceries, and jewelry. The island is duty-free, so any place can say they are a duty-free store. Philipsburg probably has the best prices on electronics and liquor. Marigot has the best prices and selection on French goods such as wine, cognac, clothing, but the new cruise ship terminal and the increased traffic makes Philipsburg very competitive. Cigars, cosmetics, and jewelry can be found in both places and oftentimes the stores have the same owner, so if you haggle with the same effort, you should get the same price on either side. Just watch out for funny exchange rates from the French side. Groceries don't have much duty, but some do get a great mark-up in the US, so if you want some special French comestible, go to the French side for the best selection, but remember that most uncooked material cannot be brought into the US. See our customs duty info for a link to the US government site that covers this.

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Flags -

Most tourists don't care, but sailors do, so here are the flags for the two sides:

Sint Maarten Flag

Sint Maarten

Frech Saint Martin Flag

Saint Martin flag, the familiar French Tri-color

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Gasoline - In 2012, the Dutch side was selling gas at about $5.30 per gallon, still cheaper than than the French side if you are buying at the correct exchange rate, but you'd save about 60 US cents per gallon if you got gas at the Cadisco stations offering 1 to 1. The French side is a mess because the Euro is so strong. Some stations are accepting dollars at better than market rates, some aren't. I've seen prices range from $4.60 per gallon to the $5.80 per gallon. On a ten gallon fillup, that's a range of $12. If you care, ask before it gets pumped and watch any currency conversions carefully. Subscribe to our newsletter for more timely gasoline price information.

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Holidays - The French side is France, known for secularity and therefore not a lot of religious holidays are celebrated. Except of course, it's part of the Caribbean and a lot of holidays are celebrated. What it amounts to is that some of the bigger supermarkets are open on major holidays and smaller markets and shops are closed. On the Dutch side, they do celebrate Christmas and Boxing Day (26 Dec), Good Friday, Easter, and Easter Monday. There are big vacations around 1 May with the Queen's Birthday, Labor Day, and carnival. St Maarten's Day is 11 November, celebrated, but most shops are open. There's a St Martin/St Maarten Unity Day in the summer, although they are far from united. Another problem is that if it would be convenient to have an extra day to join a Thursday holiday to weekend, it can easily be done. The Airport and cruise ship shops are always open and restaurants and bars are almost always open - Easter has presented a problem. Shops associated with resorts can usually stay open.


Hospitals/Health - There is hospital near Philipsburg on the Dutch side: Medical Center, PO Box 956, Welgelegen Road in Cay Hill (fax 011 721 543 0116). As you drive over Cay Hill from Simpson Bay into Philipsburg, Welgelegen Road is on the right, just after the Ace Hardware store. On the French side, the Hôpital (fax 011 590 87 50 72), BP 381, Marigot is actually on the back side of Marigot in Concordia. (BP is Boite Postale, PO Box). There are several doctors with clinics on both sides of the island. The good news is that most were trained in Holland or France and speak English. The bad news is that they don't speak Blue Cross and certainly not HMO. Further good news is that they are not as expensive as in the US. One can actually call 119 and reach a fully equipped medi-van with US trained EMTs. Skymed says that if, during your travels, you become critically ill or injured, they will return you home by air ambulance. Alpha Healthcare Services NV sells and/or rents a wide variety of healthcare equipment from a location across from the Dutch Hospital The phone is (721) 559-3200.

Emergency numbers Dutch Side French side
Ambulance 541 3011 87 86 25 (day)
87 72 00 (night)
Doctor on Duty 543 1111 87 25 00
Hospital 543 1122 29 57 57
Medi-van 119  

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Information - Written information is widely available for tourists. Most hotels have a copy of Discover magazine in the room. Written in both English and French, it is a glossy (and at times, a bit risqué), look at everything on both sides of the island. There are three new alternatives, even glossier with English titles: Experience, Nature, and Tourism. The rest of these very beautiful magazines are written in French and Franglais or Dutchish, adding a soupçon of humor to their articles. Ti Gourmet (as in Petite Gourmet - it fits in a pocket) is a must for dining out as it lists restaurants and provides maps. In theory, holders of the book get a free apertif or digestif, but most restaurants do this anyway. Discover has started a similar small dining guide.

The Daily Herald is the local newspaper and is almost as good as the Miami Herald. On Thursday they publish a section on Dining and Entertainment. How the Saturday timeshare arrivals are supposed to get this is an exercise for the reader. St Martin's Week (another French publication with an English name) previously published a free newspaper once a week with a bit of news and lots of entertainment info - all in French. It has kept its name and now publishes twice a week. Even minimal French will allow you to figure out what is going on. Remember that they use a 24 hour clock. Thus, 17:00 is what used to be 5PM several hundred miles away. Get used to it and get over it.

There used to be two other newspapers, but they couldn't compete. At this point, many of the former staffers are putting out St Martin Today. It includes an entertainment section called Whassup that more conveniently comes out on Friday and they say will be moving to Saturday.

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Jobs - Don't expect to come down and find easy employment. The Dutch side requires working papers which are a bit hard to get and the French side is part of France and therefore part of the EU. As such, any citizen of any country that is a member of the EU can come and work on the French side. Don't count on it. Your best bet is to have a skill that an employer wants that can't be filled with locals. The employer will battle the paperwork and red tape. This is a tourist site, so don't try to quote any of this to the local authorities. we're just warning you that showing up with your knapsack and expecting to get a job as you sleep on the beach is unlikely. For a light-hearted view of working in the Caribbean, check out this page.

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Money - The Dutch side uses the US dollar although the official currency is the Netherlands Antilles Florin or Guilder (NAF), not the same as the original Florin or Guilder from the Netherlands, which of course has disappeared now that the Euro, (EUR or €) has taken over Europe. Many places don't even post prices in NAF. Some do, and in theory, there is a conversion rate between the dollar and NAF, but it is set by the NA government and remains fixed from one budget crisis to the next. Currently it is about 1.8 NAF to the dollar. If you are bad at math, divide the NAF price by 2 and add 10%. If you are looking at a NAF price per kilo, divide the NAF price by 4 to get $/lbs. After achieving country status in November of 2011, St Maarten will have to issue its own currency. You probably guessed they would be late and are still using the NAF.

The French side currently uses Euros (EUR or €), but everyone accepts US dollars - the question is, at what rate? In the winter of 2010, the Euro dropped from $1.5/€ to $1.2/€, but rose to about $1.3/€ for the start of the 2010/2011 high season. It wandered about for a year and is still close to 1.3 in early 2012. Your credit card is generally charged in foreign currency and you should get a good exchange rate from them, but most have added a foreign currency conversion charge. Some places on the French side only have a dollar credit card account so they convert their currency to dollars and put that amount on the charge slip. There used to be advice here about watching the exchange rate that you get from French-side merchants. It's still true, maybe even more so now, because many of the are offering 1 to 1 in an attempt to keep their American customers. It's just that now, almost every establishment will be offering better exchange rates than your credit card. This is the first time I have seen this happen in fifteen years.

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Parking - There is limited parking in both Marigot and Philipsburg. There is a parking lot in Philipsburg that has always been full and limited parking on the streets of town, but there is parking along the salt pond and many restaurants have valet parking at night. Marigot has parking lots on both sides of the marina, a large lot on the waterfront, some parking near the school/stadium on the Rue de Hollande, and a lot in town on St James. Remember that the French think they are much more important than you and their birthright includes a dispensation to park you in at their convenience. The locals have learned this also. Thus, even if you do find a parking spot, you may share it with someone.
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Shared parking


Pharmacies - There are several pharmacies on both sides, generally denoted by a garish green neon cross. The French even have one that stays open late and on holidays, and worst of all, (from a Frenchman's viewpoint) during lunch! It's not the same one all the time, so we can't tell you where it is, but each week there is an announcement on the inside back page of the paper (St Martin's Week) notifying the community of the "Pharmacie de garde". There's also a doctor on duty, the "Medecins de garde." While pharmacists here have a bit more leeway than in the US, it is always best to have your prescription with you.

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Phones - Most hotels view their phone system as a potential profit center. Some charge $4 per minute to call the US. Stay on the phone for an hour and you could have flown to Puerto Rico, made a much cheaper call, and flown back for less. There are alternatives. Calling directly via the local phone company is cheaper, but AT&T can be reached and is cheaper still. The Mailbox (phone 545 3890) in Simpson Bay has phone services that are cheaper than the hotels.

The easiest and cheapest approach is to let Pack Light Vacation Rentals supply you with a GSM cell phone for about $20 per week. You buy a prepaid phone card for a minimum of $10, non-refundable. Use up your $10 at the rate of 10 to 35 cents per minute for local calls, 50 cents for long distance all the way to the French side, and 40 cents back to the US or Canada. If you arrange the rental in advance and get the phone number, your friends can call you. Incoming calls are free.

If you are reading this on a computer, you should have Skype for free computer to computer calls (obviously, you'll need an internet connection) and 2 cents per minute for calls to land lines in most of the world. MagicJack also works fine.

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Postage - The stamps on the Dutch side are colorful, as befits a Caribbean island looking to make money by selling stamps to collectors. The stamps on the French side are standard French stamps. In either case, you will probably return home faster than any postcard you can send. If you really have to send something fast, go to The Mailbox (phone 545 3890) in Simpson Bay and use their service. It is slightly more expensive than the local mail, but they put US postage on your letter, put it on a plane to the US, and put it into the US system in Miami.

I have never been impressed with the services of the government post office. For instance, I once had a small piece of jewelry shipped for Christmas to our home on the island. The store used the USPS because they offered the highest possible amount of insurance. That meant that the package came to the local postal service ... in time for Valentine's Day! But wait! There's more! The package was being held at the main post office in Pburg. After a 20 minute drive and 10 minutes searching for a parking spot followed by a ten minute walk, we got to the back end of a 20 minute line at the post office. When we finally got to the clerk, we found that we had to pay even more money to get our package.


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Recycling - The French side has placed recycling containers at several spots on their side of the island. Generally they consist of a pair of blue containers marked verre (glass) on a green placard and a pair of blue containers marked emballages (packaging, cans and plastic) on a yellow placard. They have pictures so you don't even have to learn French. Each container is about the size of a port-a-potty. A set has been placed just outside Rouge Beach, in front of the Howell Center, at the entrance to Columbier, in the parking lot at Grand Case, and a few other places. Given that the French burn their garbage and the Dutch fill in Great Salt Pond, it would be a great help to remove something from the waste stream.


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Recycling Bins


Rentals - Pack Light Vacation Rentals has all the things you might want to bring: strollers, umbrellas, beach chairs, coolers, golf clubs, and more.

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Residency - Call the consulate at 721-542-2091 for a list of required residency documents and a residency application. The are open from 7AM until 12 noon eastern standard time.

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Sunshine/Tanning - In a word, be careful. OK, that's two words, but heed them. You are at 18°N latitude. The sun shines for 11 hours per day in the winter and only 13 hours per day in the summer. No long, lingering twilights here, but when it shines it is almost directly overhead. These focused rays will crisp up your skin quickly. Use sunscreen, better yet get a base tan at a tanning salon before your vacation and enjoy yourself.

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Taxis - Taxis are ubiquitous and when they aren't protesting something (high gasoline prices, water taxis, tour buses, the other side's dangerous laxity in enforcement of safety, etc), they are readily available in some spots and quite friendly. They are not metered so you have to trust that they are charging the correct amount, but usually they do because it is too good a job to lose. The set rates are for two passengers and minimal luggage. If you and your fifty closest relatives show up with luggage for a six month vacation, expect to pay a bit more. Periodically, a website puts up taxi fares and then disappears. I have linked to two of them over the years and they both dissolved. The last time we checked, a short cab ride was about $10 for two people and the longest cab ride on the island (ie, halfway around, say from the airport to Grand Case) costs about $30. That's for two passengers and it's $4 more for each extra person. There is a 25% surcharge between 10 PM and midnight and 50% from then until 6 AM. the really adventurous may try this link.

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Time - St Maarten is on Atlantic Standard Time year-round. This is the same as Eastern Daylight Time and one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time. Thus, in the winter, St Maarten is one hour ahead of the US East Coast and, in the summer, it is the same time as most of the US East Coast. I can explain St Maarten, but I cannot explain Indiana.

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Tipping - Most restaurants on both sides add 12 to 15% automatically. Many don't mention this although it may be on the menu. Some show it on the bill and then put the total amount on the credit card spot leaving the tip section blank, hoping you will add more. This is especially true in French restaurants that help you by converting the bill to dollars and putting that on a dollar-denominated credit card slip which has a spot for a tip. The normal French credit card slips in Euros have no such box to fill in because the tip was included. Should you leave more? Some people knowingly leave 5 to 10% more for good service, frequently in cash on the table. Taxis get 10%. Baggage handlers now ask for $1 per bag. Be a sport, they need it more than you do.

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Tobacco - The following comes from the US Government's website:

QUOTE
Tobacco Products: ... a returning resident is eligible for the $800 exemption, which includes not more than 200 cigarettes and 100 cigars ... The tobacco exemption is available to each adult. Except for information and informational materials, no traveler (whether traveling legally under an Office of Foreign Asset Control license or traveling illegally without an OFAC license) may import Cuban-made goods, including Cuban cigars.

In brief, brief, for both alcohol and tobacco, the quantities discussed in this booklet as being eligible for duty-free treatment may be included in your $800 or $1,600 exemption, just as any other purchase would be. But unlike other kinds of merchandise, amounts beyond those discussed here as being duty-free are taxed, even if you have not exceeded, or even met, your personal exemption. For example, if your exemption is $800 and you bring back three liters of wine and nothing else, two of those liters will be dutiable. Federal law prohibits shipping alcoholic beverages by mail within the United States.
UNQUOTE

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Tours - There are bus tours available and they are pretty good at showing off the island in a whirlwind way. Most hotels have concierge desks that can arrange a bus tour. Taxis will do tours and are not much more expensive, but allow one to customize a day: a bit of shopping in the morning, lunch on one beach, a bit of sightseeing, and a late afternoon on another beach. Again, your hotel desk probably knows a driver that they like, and you will too.

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Tourism Offices - The Dutch side has a website: www.st-maarten.com. After achieving country status in 2011, the website seems to have changed from a government sponsored site to a tourist bureau site. The French have a site at http://www.geographia.com/st-martin. They didn't even purchase their own URL, the site is loaded with ads, some for other islands, and it starts off with the lie that this is the "smallest island in the world ever to have been partitioned between two different nations". It is as incorrect as it is unimportant. The site is copyrighted 1997-2010 and the updating has been slim, based on a reading of their restaurant information, some of which is copyrighted 2005.

You can write or call US-based tourist offices:
Contact the French:
675 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017 - suite 1807
Phone: 212-475-8970 | Phone: 877-956-1234 | e-mail: sxmtony@msn.com

French Government Tourist Office
645 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 3360
Chicago, IL 60611
Tel: 312-751-7800

French Government Tourist Office
9454 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
Phone: 310-271-6665

Or Cananda-based offices:
French Government Tourist Office
1981 Avenue McGill College, Suite 490
Montreal, Quebec H3A 2W9
Canada
Tel: 514-288-4264


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Travel Tips - many of these come from Neil Rooney.

Relax, you're on VACATION

Don't forget the sun screen, apply liberally to the back of your neck and knees when snorkeling

Secure your passport and travelers cheque stubs in your room safe or hotel safe deposit box.

Call the 800 number on your credit card to be sure it covers your rental car OUTSIDE of the USA Have them email you confirmation of this! (yes gold cards too) Notify them of your travel dates. It keeps them from refusing charges.

The "R" on your rental car license plate stands for "RIP ME OFF", leave no valuables in the car.

It's a small island, when touring in your car go clockwise on even number days and counter clockwise on odd number days so the tires will wear evenly. (This is a joke.)

Neil says, "Carry a color photocopy of your passport with you", although I only carry my driver's license. The passport is locked in the room safe and a copy is hidden in the room.

Prepare a good meal to carry on the plane.

Ignore the "You won!" scratch ticket scammers. If you get pestered by a timeshare salesperson (OPC) ask if it matters that you just declared BANKRUPTCY! They'll go away quickly.

DO NOT go to the same beach every day, there are too many great beaches to be stuck on one. You may just like the next one BETTER.

Do wear Polarized sunglasses, the water looks SO much better with them on.

Do clear old photos off the memory card from your camera before leaving home. Charge the batteries too. (We can buy batteries down here, but you'll have better things to do.)

Leave the black socks at home. NO you can't wear them with sandals. We locals love to make fun of the black socks brigade of voyeurs on Orient Beach.

Do get a Heineken for about $1.50 at the drive-thru window at the KFC in Philipsburg, near Le Grand Marche. No, you do not have to buy any food.

Careful on your first visit to a Nekkid beach. Some body parts haven't seen the Sun since you were a kid. Guys, no putting on lotion on those parts in public, it looks 'funny'.

Do get a throw away waterproof camera for when you're snorkeling.

Do not pack 6 suitcases, you'll be on the beach most of the time. If you check luggage, do pack enough clothes, medicines, and contact lens solutions for a day or two in your carry-on, just in case. Some people pack two suitcases. Don't do his and hers, do half and half in each, unless you look good in her bikini.

Yes, the water is safe to drink. If you do have a sensitive system then do drink bottled water.

And do have FUN


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Water - All municipal water comes from desalination plants using waste heat from the electrical generation process. Basically, sea water is boiled, leaving behind the salt and any other impurities and killing any organisms. It doesn't get much safer.

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Weather - The temperature during the day runs from 75°F to 85°F in the winter and 80°F to 90°F in the summer. Evenings might be 10°F cooler. Sea breezes make it quite refreshing, even in summer. Hurricane season is from 1 June until 30 November and September can get very steamy. By October it is quite pleasant and November is beautiful, unless a late-season hurricane (like Lenny) arrives. Click the banner below for a complete reading, including sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset, and phase of the moon. Other sources are via Shortwave radio at 0630 everyday on frequency 3855 LSB or Chris Parker's website. In the tropics, the sun is out from 11 to 13 hours per day, resulting in sunsets near 6PM year-round. There are no long lingering twilights and a romantic sunset dinner is unlikely. Use this link and think about moonlit dinners, especially in Grand Case. All the places on the water, including California, L'Escapade Restaurant, Le Tastevin, and Il Nettuno will have lovely views of Grand Case Bay shimmering in the moonlight. Moon rise

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