Saturday, April 16, 2011

How to start a business in Dominica.

So you want to start a business here, eh?

You'll need the courage of Chance, Shadow, and Sassy to guide you through this harrowing process.
If you've heard that bureaucracy in Dominica is a nightmare, I assure you it's true. What seems like a pretty simple process is a veritable obstacle course of patience-testing demands. A process that should take barely a week takes several months. But if you ask a local employee, here's all you have to do:

1. Register your company name.
2. Acquire the appropriate work permits.
3. Register with Inland Revenue for taxes.

Easy peasy. Here's what you actually have to do:

1. Register your company name.

Woah, slow down there partner. You're a little too eager. Think you can just go online or something and figure out what to do? Goodness no! You'll have to head down to the capitol Roseau from Portsmouth. So fork up some cash, get a transport or a taxi, and spend an hour getting your butt down there. Oh, and don't even think about phoning them, because they won't answer. If you want to, you know, try to figure out where the actual building in which to register your company actually is, be prepared to ask a few locals: there aren't really any comprehensive landmarks or, you know, sidewalks in Roseau, and the office is up a completely unnoticeable set of stairs. But somehow, you manage to get there. Poof, voila.

I hereby spare you the clusterfuck of finding the cursed office.
Ok, you're there. Hello registrar lady. Oh...all this trouble to get here and all I really needed was a Word document? Couldn't this have been available online? Right, shit, sorry forgot about where I am. Ok then, so I just fill this out and bring it in? No, no, of course not. Needs to be signed in front of a notary public. Sounds fair. What? What the fuck is deed paper? I'm sure it's very nice, but I don't know what you're talking about. It has to be printed on "deed paper". Sure I'll take your free sample, appreciate it. So in the meantime, while I'm here, guess I might as well take care of steps two and three...hmm? Right, of course, can't do those without finishing step one. Ok, peace out.

After you've finally completed the form, and were unable to find this phantom "deed paper" anywhere, you print it on the nicest paper you can buy, and head on down again, spending your time and money on a taxi or transport.

"Boom." You say to the registrar as you sit down at her desk and place the document in front of her.

She lazily stares at the papers before her. Boredom seeps through her entire being.

"This is not deed paper," she says to you.

"Yes, but it is very very nice paper. Feel how thick it is!"

She stares at you for a minute. "I need to ask my supervisor." Then she leaves for five minutes. You notice that the ceiling is just as nondescript as you imagined it would be. She returns. "It's ok, we'll take it."

"Well thanks, that's nice of you."

She thumbs through the form. "Uh-oh."

Exhausted apprehension swells inside you. "What?"

"These pages should be double sided."

You look at her and shrug very slowly. She stares at you, her ennui threatening to destroy your soul by osmosis.

"I need to ask my supervisor."

"Right on." You wait five minutes. Behind you another employee chuckles at something she reads online. Good times. Your worker returns. "We'll glue them."


"We'll glue them. So they're double-sided."

"Great! I really, really appreciate your cooperation." You then watch her slowly glue the pages together, aligning the corners juuuuuuuuuuust so. They leave no stone unturned here. Finally, satisfied with her craftsmanship, she looks up at you. "And where is your twenty dollar stamp?"



"Your twenty dollar stamp."

"I don't know what that is."

She sighs. "It explains it on the form."

What form?

"Right...ok. Where can I get one?"

"There is a post office five blocks towards the bay. Turn right. Ask them."

"Great, thank you. This is very helpful."

So there you'll go, walking towards the bay, about to discover that they have all sorts of stamps of insane costs here, the purpose for which you doubt even the Prime Minister understands. But there it is in your hand, a stamp worth about 7.50 US in your hand, as you return to the registrar.

Strange, it feels just like a regular stamp...

"Ok, thank you," she tells you.

"Not a problem."

"Now I need your registration slip."


"Your registration slip."

"You're filling out my registration."

She does not appreciate your sass.

"You need to pay for registration."

You look at her. You just spent twenty bucks on a stamp for something that won't be mailed anywhere. "They explain this on the form don't they?"

She nods.

"Where do I pay this?"

"Walk five blocks towards the bay. Turn left, to the courts."

Here we go again.

Twenty minutes later, you've acquired a receipt from a long line-up, which leads to a desk that says only "MARRIAGE AND DEATH CERTIFICATES", for a cool 90$ EC. You march proudly back to the registrar.

"Boom," you say a bit more timidly this time.

"Ok," and she gets to work.

"That's it?"

"Sign here." I can do that, you think. Your John Hancock is applied. She hands you a fancy shmancy business certificate, and you are now the proud owner of a fancy shmancy business certificate. You then waste another hour getting back to Portsmouth.

Oh, the delicious taste of victory.

2. Don't let it get you down, dear entrepreneur.  The government wants you to give up; they don't take no sissy business applicants. This is not for the weak hearted, so man up and get 'er done. Next up: work permits.

You're not allowed to be employed in Dominica without a work permit (cough cough), so you'll need to get yourself one. By this point you're inclined to believe that nothing will be available online, but you check anyways...and of course there's nothing. Ooh! A phone number for the Labour department... nope, no answer, ok then. Alright, saddle up partners, we're heading back down to Roseau for something that should take ten minuts online.

You said it Johnny.
So, you've spent an hour and however much money it costs to get down there, and you're not really sure where to go, but most people you talk to seem to think that the Ministry of Labour is a good place to go. In you walk and find the office on the second floor, which they've mysteriously labelled the First Floor. Hmm. Strangely enough, someone there is very helpful. She sits you down, takes out a badly photocopied form of the application for a work permit, and walks you through it. Not terribly difficult: Take your original Resident Permit, attach it, along with a letter from your employer and from the Commisioner of Police, oh and 200$ US, and wham bam thank you ma'am it's done.

"How long should this process take?" You ask her.

"Oh they usually process these in about two weeks."

You find out later that day that most people here wait 7 months to get theirs. She was close.

And so you take the long road back, forking up more time and money. You head right for the Police station in Portsmouth. The officer behind the counter is laughing and talking to a friend. The second she looks at you she seems bored.


"Hi there. I'm applying for a work permit and it says I need a letter from the Commisioner of Police stating that I haven't committed any crimes. Am I in the right place?"

"Um...yeah, yeah. Ok let me see." She looks around her. There isn't a single computer to be found, but piles and piles of slips of paper, and super old looking ledgers. She picks up one paper that says:

"______________________ HAS / HAS NOT committed a crime in Dominica.

Signed, Portsmouth Police _________________________________________"

She asks for a licence, and writes your name. Then she seems stumped. She looks around her again, as if to find a supervisor. She finds none. She looks back at you.

"Have you, um, have you ever committed a crime?"

You shake your head.

"Even been arrested?" She holds her wrists together to let you know what it looks like to be arrested in Dominica.


"Ok...ever been to court?"


"Alright then." She signs it, staples it and hands it over. Excellent screening process, Dominica. And why not? After all, I'm very clearly not a resident here, and they have no way of checking either way. "Please bring this down to Roseau to Police Headquarters. They'll make it into a letter." Damn it. Roseau? "Oh, and please get a 20$ stamp."

"Right you are."

Back to Roseau with you, assuming you have a letter from your employee. For those not keeping track, by the time you get there, you will have spent about 300$ US in taxis, 15$ US in stamps, and about seven hours on the road. Once there, you make your way to the Police Headquarters, strut in innocently, and place the sheet from the Portsmouth Police on the counter.

"Boom," you say with gusto. You've even supplied the 20$ stamp with it.

"We need a 50$ stamp."


Out you go, down to the bay, into the post office, back down the street, into the police headquarters. This is about the point in which you submit to the all powerful will of bureaucracy. They've broken your spirit. You place the extra 30$ in stamps on the counter.

"Ok. We will process this now. It should be ready in three hours."

"I can't stay here another three hours."

"We'll keep it here until you come back to Roseau."

This must all be a scam to keep taxis employed, you think.

Smug bastards.
Not so be completely destroyed, you head to Inland Revenue. The work permit fight will have to wait for another day, but you can do some reconaissance on how your business, if it ever begins, can get taxed by this model of efficiency.

3. Oh God. We're almost done. Lordy this sucks. Alright, onwards and upwards.

You walk into the Inland Revenue agency.

"I'd like to start a business and this is where they sent me."

The worker looks at your business registration, stands up, and gets a form.

"Please fill this out, bring it back with 100 EC, and then you'll be registered."

You stare at him. "That's it?"

"Yes sir."

"You don't need me to like, ride a horse while I fill this out or anything?"

"No sir."

"You don't need any stamps."

"No sir."

You slowly back away, glaring at him. What is this magic? You get the hell out as fast as you can.

At some point you'll have to return, but for you the battle is essentially over. All that's left are the formalities, and the slow regathering of your manhood. The Dominican system has just had its way with you, several times over.

Now all you have to is actually start the business.


  1. That sounds awful! But I learned when working on my visa application for my exchange that having forms online often didn't help. I'd get to whatever office I was supposed to file said papers with and they'd take one look and tell me 'oh, this is the old version, the website hasn't been updated so you'll have to fill out another 20-page application due to this one caveat that changed last month.' ARG!
    Sounds like you're doing very well though! And maybe I missed a post, but what business are you starting?

  2. MARK! Oh my goodness, I am dying reading this! I totally believe it, it is so crazy... you are a very, very good sport. I probably would have punched somebody!

  3. I like the second person narration. Really makes you feel like you're there.

  4. Denise - jerkface.

    Marika - Good call, and there's no way anyone here would know how to update anything online. Not to mention the fact that they probably love updating laws just for shits and giggles. I'm helping a small company here, Island Thrift, become legitimate. PS I haven't forgotten you, you're scheduled for a lovely shout out very soon.

    Clare - Yeah, I don't know if you're at this point yet, but after awhile you stop expecting anything from this country, and just start laughing at it. Luckily, I was getting paid the big bones as manager, which shored up my patience.

    Joss - Word.

  5. This is the tri-effing-fecta of the blogosphere! Hilarious and...well, I can't think of two additional adjectives. Anyway, stumbled onto your blog whilst looking for real estate in the Dom. A thoroughly delightful detour. Merci!

  6. o wow... and im thinking of starting a business there..."wheeew, wipes forhead" and i bet the sun was not too friendly that day too..i got a nice laugh today tho.

  7. Funny blog . . . yes that is typical of these peoples ( my people ) somebody needs to come in with a technology biz to speed things up. Boy you have patience. Not me nuh.

  8. Excellent,funny piece. I've been there often on vacation. No surprise here.

  9. Mind wonders just how much research was done before this epic journey.
    It’s a 3rd world country my friend. 70K people and an average of 700 per village. Putting this into perspective...Old Trafford (Manchester United Stadium) holds 79K people. So let it be known that it will cause some hide & seek to get a shower started never mind something so bold as a business. Its how it is and somewhat a good thing. Laid back and low crime rate and its easy to spot someone that you know and or have only just met. So in a nutshell it’s the very small price to pay to start a business in a paradise and nature island. Consider yourself a lucky one! You have just been nature-isled.

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