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25th April 2023

Douglas Stewart: Letter from the Isle of Man

Douglas Stewart


After many years loving life in London followed by working for seven years in glitzy, noisy and brash Las Vegas, moving to this small island in the Irish Sea was quite an adjustment. That was back in 2009. I may now have acquired “stop-over” status rather than being seen as a mere “come-over.” There are thousands of both categories – many linked to financial services or eGaming. However, like the UK, the island needs more new arrivals to fill vacancies, especially in the Health Service. Helping people like me to relocate was Mary Linehan of BLocal –

The Isle of Man is an independent nation and not part of the UK. In Tynwald, it has the world’s longest continuous running Parliament, dating back over 1000 years. The Government issues Manx passports but remains a Crown Dependency, having strong ties with the UK. However, when referring to the UK, islanders will say “I’ve been across” or “I’ve been to England but will never say: “I’ve been to the mainland.” The M-word is a big no-no!

Our island is much larger than Malta, Jersey or Guernsey and is dominated by rolling hills, forests and wonderful sea views With a population of around 85,000, the island is similar in size to Singapore which has approaching six million people. Beautiful green space we have in abundance.

In June 2022, a report by KPMG LLC, confirmed that we have a larger economy by GDP than either Jersey or Guernsey. In 2021, the Government’s report “Our Island, Our Future” has targeted a population of 100,000 by 2037. New arrivals are needed to boost and diversify the economy. The population is ageing and with unemployment in handful figures, the need is for newcomers, especially families, to start a new life in a safe, welcoming and environmentally aware community. While the island welcomes retirees, the main need is for a larger and younger working population. Covid19 brought a stream of new residents, snapping up properties off-plan.

The Island has a reputation as a respected and well-regulated financial centre and is especially strong in insurance with many Corporate Service Providers. A bespoke fund, corporate and private wealth provider such as Suntera Global has its substantial international engine-room in Douglas. Such a business provides a wide array of international advice and support, perhaps involving e-Gaming, property, trusts, jets and super-yachts.  As one of the world’s few blue-chip eGaming centres, this sector has been a major boost during the past fourteen years. Global giants like Pokerstars and Microgaming are headquartered here along with the likes of Celton Manx.

There is some light engineering and manufacturing industry, such as Strix, a world leader in kettle safety controls. Regulated cultivation of medicinal cannabis commenced in 2021. Crypto has also been embraced though, currently, what the future holds is less clear than once it was.

In Ballasalla, an easy commute into Douglas, Dandara is offering new-builds of 3-4 bedrooms for just over £400,000. Castletown, the ancient capital is close by. This delightful small town is dominated by its magnificent castle, parts dating back to Norman times.

Rural properties generally range from around £300,000 to multi-millions, the latter providing country estates for international HNWs who take advantage of the highly attractive tax regime. The rental market is buoyant with demand being high from financial institutions and eGaming sector.

There are two hospitals – one on the outskirts of Douglas and the other at the northern part of the island in Ramsey. Just like the UK, the hospitals currently struggle to attract consultants and nurses. Under a deal with the UK, residents needing specialist care, such as for heart operations, are flown at public expense to Manchester or Liverpool, just 40 minutes away.

In a changing society, the demands on and for teachers present all the problems similar to the UK. Children from here gravitate to the Universities across the water and may be eligible for some financial support.  University College Isle of Man (UCM) has offerings for 14–16-year-olds through to Advanced Education. King William’s

There are two ferries linking the Island to Liverpool, Heysham, Dublin and Belfast. A new vessel, the Manxman, is being completed now in South Korea and will soon be improving travel facilities. The airport caters for private jets as well as commercial airlines. There are flights including to Heathrow, Gatwick, London City, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, Birmingham and Scotland. Direct charter flights offer travel into Europe at peak seasons. Flybe are restoring services to compete with Easyjet and Loganair. Cheap flights were plentiful before Covid 19. Now, with soaring energy costs and staff shortages, prices have risen whether by air or when taking a car by ferry to Liverpool.

I was told before my arrival that there was no crime and although that is not strictly accurate, most residents do not feel threatened by real risks of burglary, rapes or murder – such as cause increasing concern in the UK’s major conurbations and even smaller urban communities. Even here, there will always be a criminal element but parents have far less cause to worry about their children’s welfare than in the UK’s major cities. Sadly, though the Isle of Man is not drug-free. Pushers and dealers from the UK have seen to that but if caught, sentences can be severe.

Commuting is a doddle for anyone more used to long tailbacks around the big cities or standstills on the M6 motorway.  For eating out, the number and quality of restaurants has also improved since 2009. Now with Greek, Chinese, Turkish, Japanese, Italian and French offerings, the choice is considerably wider.

There are two cinemas, a casino and two main entertainment centres where every taste of live music or theatre are catered for. Well-known sporting and entertainment celebrities are regulars appearing at the venues or charity events. Entering the Villa Gaiety is like being back in London’s West End. The magnificent building was designed by the celebrated architect Frank Matcham, whose legacy lives on around London’s theatreland.

The renowned TT motorbike races attract over 35,000 visitors to watch these fearless competitors race through town and country on our winding roads at mind-boggling speeds. They cover the 37 miles in about 17 minutes – averaging over 135mph. It takes me over an hour longer.

There is an excellent Sports Centre and football, rugby, hockey and cricket all thrive, along with the other indoor sports. Cycling on our roads was also the starting point for Olympic Gold medallists – the legendary Mark Cavendish and Peter Kennaugh. There are several good golf-courses including the challenging Castletown Golf Links, now rated number 261 in the world. Walking paths abound. While strolling round the bays, whether on beaches or clifftops, seals, dolphins, whales and sharks and seabirds can sometimes add to the pleasure.

It is typically never as cold nor as hot as most of England Sadly, there are too few gloriously sunny days. When they do come, the blue sea and swaying palm trees mean there are few better sights anywhere. If it is wet, cloudy and blustery, then perhaps its time to sort out the annual Tax Return – a far less demanding task than in the UK

Except for VAT, the Manx Government fixes its own tax rates and policies. Starting at 10% and only rising to 20%, Income Tax is far less than the UK’s 45% top rate. Even better, for the world’s HNWs, the maximum tax payable by a single person on global income is only £200,000 – a bargain that attracts many to live in grand homes, hidden away amidst the hills and glens. The island operates in lockstep with the UK on VAT, something that can be advantageous or sometimes a negative for international business.

For most companies, the rate of Corporation Tax is 0%, tax only being taken via dividends on withdrawals. There is no Stamp Duty Land Tax, no Capital Gains Tax and no Inheritance Tax – benefits that attract many to take up residence. The income in Manx Trusts can roll up tax-free.

Strand Street, the main shopping centre in Douglas, is scarcely the Trafford Centre, Bluewater or London’s Bond Street. However, most needs are catered for on-Island through such as Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Next, Currys and B&Q. Otherwise, many shoppers get their fix on away-days in Liverpool or Manchester, sometimes combined with supporting the great football teams in those cities. There’s plenty to love about life on this Island.

Douglas Stewart is an Author and Lawyer


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