It’s the middle of a long workweek and you’re having that island escape fantasy again. You’re picturing yourself tan and shoeless and thousands of miles away from your office, beer in hand, lazing away afternoons on the deck of your cozy little bungalow. The location: one of a few independent islands ungoverned by international law and free from the outside world – a place where you, your money and your history can disappear.
Sound too good to be true? Believe it or not, there are still a few corners of this world where you can really escape. Read on to find out where.
One thousand miles east of Sydney and 900 north of New Zealand, the choice to inhabit this tiny piece of land adrift in the rollicking Pacific requires an active desire to be absorbed into a quirky community that prides itself on being behind the times. Inhabitants brag that the island’s telephone book is the only one in the world listed by nicknames. Residents speak Norf’k – a blend of old seafaring English and Tahitian. There are no stoplights – nor any railways, ports or harbors for that matter.
Although technically part of Australia, with that country’s postcode, currency and police force, Norfolk Island is proudly independent. It has its own nine-member government, not to mention its own customs rules, immigration laws and stamps. In true competitive Aussie form, it even has its own Commonwealth and South Pacific Games teams. Australian residents are not automatically entitled to relocate there. You have to be sponsored by an existing resident or business. If you make the cut, part of your Norfolkian reward is not having to pay Australian federal taxes. Instead the island raises money through an import duty, fuel and Medicare levies, and GST and local and international phone calls (and good luck getting an Internet connection consistent enough to use Skype).
Jersey is a parliamentary democracy that is a British island but not part of the United Kingdom. Constitutionally, its status is that of a Crown Peculiar, which implies the place is or was some sort of plaything for the King. Jersey’s official name is the Bailiwick of Jersey, which means a bailiff presides over it. Think Norman England, not Judge Judy. Here there are no political parties, no cabinet, not even a prime minister lurking about.
The largest of the Channel Islands, it’s divided into twelve parishes all named after Christian saints. Each is run by a Constable who serves the community for free (and you thought Mayor Bloomberg’s $1 a year salary was impressive). The Constable’s initial job description included “ensuring fresh horses for the royal entourage.” Today he still controls the Centeniers and Vingteniers, which are not the names of “Game of Thrones” characters, but rather the two branches of local police. Amongst others, they also enforce laws relating to ormer – an indigenous shellfish no one I know has ever heard of. Ormers are fiercely protected by a wealth of regulations, including: it is an offence to either possess fresh ormers or export them on the first day of a new or full moon and the five days following.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands is part of Micronesia in the Pacific Ocean. It’s made up of five islands, 29 low-laying atolls and around 65,000 people. It’s a presidential republic in free association with the United States – who offers defense, funding and social services. Oh, and $57 million a year. We’ve piled on another $2.3 billion for the small favor of using one of their atolls, the one with the largest lagoon in the world, as a missile test range until 2066.
Recently, the Marshallese government has turned their lawmaking attention to marine life. In 2011, they announced that over 700,000 miles of ocean (around the size of Mexico) would be reserved as a shark sanctuary. Enforcement officials will cut the gear right off your boat if they find you fishing for them, not to mention levy fines high enough to put you off shark fin soup completely. You might, however, be tempted to console yourself by downloading some pirated movies and music: the islands have no copyright laws.
The Cook Islands are a parliamentary democracy in free association with New Zealand. Cook Island’s own website offers what is now officially my favorite description of a place: “The 15 islands of the Cooks lie halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, scattered like fragrant frangipani petals floating across 2.2 million square kilometers of a seductive, sensual ocean.” (If you don’t have to Google frangipani, you officially know more about flowers than I do.)
Sorry for the double standard Kiwis but you can be a Cook Islander and also a New Zealand citizen but not vice versa. Any foreigner who wants to purchase residential property must first invest in a business for at least five years. An exception to the law is snatching up a place no resident wants: that run-down warehouse on the highway is looking pretty good right about now. Two of my favorite local laws: you’re not allowed to build anything higher than a palm tree and no franchised businesses are allowed. Sorry, Starbucks.
Rachel Friedman is the author of The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure. She has written for The New York Times, New York and BUST magazines, among others. More about her at: www.rachel-friedman.com.
[Flickr image via bawpcwpn]