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Yes, YOU Can Afford a Private Island!

Aug. 17, 2012
Personal Finance
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Want to get away from it all at the ultimate retreat—your own private island? It’s a city dweller’s dream: a hammock swaying lazily between two palm trees; a sweet, cold strawberry daiquiri in your hand; the waves lapping; the twittering of tropical birds…but how much would it cost?

In this case, the old saying is wrong: just because you have to ask, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t afford it. There are currently small, undeveloped islands for sale for as little as $40,000, or about as much as a single year of private university. While the bigger, better located, and sewage system-ed islands can run as high as $200 million and up, that private island dream could become a reality.

So start saving your pennies—if you’re willing to live modestly, you don’t have to be a millionaire to afford your own island.

The “Virgin” Islands

If you buy an undeveloped “virgin” island, the first thing you’ll have to do is find and build a way to access fresh water, usually by building a well. You’ll be responsible for maintaining the cleanliness of your water, so installing a waste management system is key—and not exactly the place to skimp on quality, either. Depending on the location of your island and the sophistication of your systems, these basic needs will probably cost almost as much as that $40k island itself.

And you’re going to need a source of energy to keep that daiquiri blender whirring. Since your island is probably off the mainland’s electric grid, your best bet is solar power. You can get a photovoltaic array for as little as $4 a watt—a small 120 watt solar panel system will cost under $1,000 installed and is appropriate if you’re using minimal lighting and occasionally watching a small television. If you want all the comforts of home like a fridge and hot water, you’ll be looking at a much larger investment.

Your total cost of making your island livable depends, of course, on exactly how livable you want it to be.

Your Island Home

Before you purchase an island, you’ll have to find out what the island’s government will allow you to build on the land. Some islands can sustain a large resort, while others aren’t even allowed a single residence.

If you’re buying an island just to have a private oasis, there are many pre-fab cabin options available for your home. With Noble Homes, a green line of modular cabins based in the U.S., you can purchase a building kit to build a private island home for as little as $40 per square foot. If you’d prefer something custom, you’re looking at as much as $500—$1000 per square foot for a modest home—supplies and labor cost about 30% more on an island than they do on the mainland. If you don’t live on your island full time or have multiple buildings, you’ll need a caretaker or two to keep an eye out for squatters and damage caused by storms or flooding while you’re away.

Your house is built—now how do you get to it? If your bed is a hammock and your shower is the water, you’ll probably want to go cheap with a rowboat, which are available used for under $2,000. Depending on your island’s tides, you may not even have to build a dock. If you’d prefer to arrive at your island in style, you might prefer a helicopter: once you shell out for the copter (a cheap one runs about $15k, plus about $5k a year for fuel and maintenance), you can build a helipad for as low as $40,000.

And like any other land and homeowner, don’t forget to pay your taxes. L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt recently sold her Seychelles island for $60 million—that sounds like a good deal until you hear that she owed $133 million in back taxes.

Can I make money with my private island?

If you’re not planning to live on your island full time, you can use it as a moneymaking venture by simply renting out your private residence or, if your island’s government allows it, building a hotel and resort.

Or you can get creative like the entrepreneurs behind Blueseed, a ship intended to dock twelve miles off the coast of California in international waters. The international waters location lets them circumvent U.S. taxes and visa laws, and they plan to fly the flag of The Bahamas or Marshall Islands in order to keep everything onboard legal and judicial. Over 250 startups have already said they want to live on the Blueseed ship.

You could take a page out of Blueseed’s book by buying an island in a tax haven like the Cayman Islands, although it might be difficult to convince your employees to pack up everything and come live like Robinson Crusoe (or Lost’s John Locke, depending on how cheap of an island-builder you are).

But if you think like Blueseed, keep the startup entrepreneurial spirit alive, and think way outside the box, you might be able to do more than afford a private island—you might be able to turn one into a moneymaker.


Private island image via Shutterstock