Expert guidance for legal careers

A Lawyers Guide to Living & Working in Bermuda

Bermuda

  • Located in the Sargasso Sea
  • 650m from the US and 1000m north of BVI
  • 138 islands covering 21 square miles
  • Flights of 2.5 hours to New York and 7 hours to London
  • Famous pink sand beaches and turquoise sea
  • World class diving, sailing and water sports
  • Rich in history and culture

So, let’s start by getting something straight, Bermuda is not in the Caribbean! It’s a sun blessed island with picture postcard beaches and stunning blue seas – easy mistake to make right? In fact it’s located around 1000 miles away, in the North Atlantic Ocean (or more evocatively, the Sargasso Sea). Look at a map, head directly west from Morocco and you’ll hit Bermuda a few hundred miles before making landfall on the US eastern seaboard.

The capital, Hamilton, is situated on Main Island and is both the financial and administrative hub for the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda. Spread around the idyllic harbour, this is where you will find many shops and restaurants, not to mention the law firms you might be joining. It’s no metropolis though – on a typical day, around 25% of the islands’ 64,000 inhabitants might be found in the city, but when the working day ends and the tourists return to their hotels or cruise ships, around 1100 residents remain.

Many of Bermuda’s attractions speak for themselves. It has some of the best beaches and water sports in the world, and thanks to the Gulf Stream, a sub-tropical climate that affords you a year-round outdoor lifestyle. It is a bustling high-end tourist destination and a major international financial centre that attracts professionals from around the globe, making for a dynamic, cosmopolitan environment with all the leisure activities you might expect, yet there remain plenty of places to escape it all and enjoy the relaxed vibe that only island life can offer. All this and the opportunity to get your hands on complex, cross-border legal work that compares with anything in the onshore sector…for the right person, this really is somewhere you can build a career without compromise.

The Economy

  • International business is the leading economic driver
  • Home to one of the world’s premier (re)insurance sectors
  • Major destination for US and international tourism


Bermuda is an affluent island with an economy driven in large part by international financial services, tourism, and the sectors that support them. Long established as a world class hub for insurance and reinsurance, the market houses over 1,100 operators with total assets in excess of $1.6 trillion, attracted by a strong regulatory regime and a reputation for being at the cutting edge of new products and solutions.

It’s not all about insurance though. This same combination of regulatory prowess and innovation is proving equally instrumental in Bermuda’s development as a global centre for new technologies, with a tailor-made framework providing the perfect ecosystem for fast growth fintech, insurtech, and digital asset businesses. The private wealth sector is among the world’s most sophisticated, and regulatory changes have enabled the island to become increasingly attractive to clients in the funds and asset management space.

Public spending in Bermuda has long been financed by a range of indirect taxes, principally payroll tax and duty on imports. Payroll tax is charged on a progressive basis up to a maximum of 12.5% (for income of $500k-$1m) but as an example, a lawyer on $200k, will be obliged to pay $15,080 in payroll tax for 2024/25, or 7.54%.

In line with the OECD initiative on global minimum tax, the government is in the process of implementing a corporate income tax of 15%, only on Bermudian businesses that are part of a large multinational (with annual revenue €750m+).

The Legal Sector

  • World renowned offshore legal centre
  • Increasingly competitive market of multi-office firms
  • Thriving high-end boutique firms


For many years the Bermudian legal sector was something of an outlier in the global offshore market, being the one major jurisdiction that had not opened to overseas firms. Whilst its peers in the Channel Islands and the Caribbean saw an influx of offshore firms over the first decade of the 21st Century, Bermuda continued to be dominated by two heavyweights and a handful of elite level boutiques.

With restrictions easing, things have begun to change and whilst Appleby and Conyers remain major players, and specialist Bermudian firms such as ASW Law and Wakefield Quin continue to thrive, the entry of global offshore outfits Carey Olsen, Walkers and Harneys, as well as the growth of a Bermudian arm of London law firm Kennedys, has made for a more dynamic and competitive sector. As an increasingly diverse range of work flows into the jurisdiction, the firms have capitalised with the addition of new practice areas and a steady, consistent growth in headcount.

Firms are typically staffed by a combination of Bermudian nationals and ex-pat, Commonwealth trained lawyers with backgrounds in some of the world’s most prestigious onshore law firms. Team sizes might be smaller here, but when it comes to quality, this is a legal market comparable to any you might find in the top onshore financial centres.

The Legal Recruitment Market

  • Corporate
  • Banking & Finance
  • Commercial Litigation
  • Insurance
  • Fintech / Digital Assets
  • Private Wealth & Trusts


After a relatively quiet period in hiring, the changes in the Bermudian legal sector outlined above have reinvigorated demand for high-quality legal talent over recent years. New entrants to the market have cherry-picked senior level lawyers from established heavyweights, creating openings within teams that had become somewhat static and fuelling demand for Associates to bolster new practices. With a minimum requirement of three years’ post qualification experience required for a work permit, openings in the three to six years’ range are commonplace, but this is also a healthy market for more senior level candidates, with vacancies coming up regularly at Senior Associate and Counsel level.

Demand tends to mirror the global offshore market with strong and consistent need for lawyers with good experience in Corporate, Private Equity, M&A, Finance, Commercial Litigation (both Solicitors and Barristers), and Private Wealth. Sector expertise in Insurance will always be in high demand in Bermuda and as the market develops, interest in lawyers with some exposure to Fintech/Crypto/Digital Assets is increasingly sought after. We occasionally see openings for other practice areas such as Employment, Real Estate or Regulatory work.

Irrespective of your practice area you are likely to need an impressive track record gained with a good law firm in the UK or an equivalent Commonwealth jurisdiction such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada or South Africa. Those from a Magic Circle, top-tier international or equivalent can certainly find a home here but that shouldn’t discourage applicants with strong credentials outside of the traditional elite firms. If you have done good quality work for high-value clients and you are serious about relocation, there may well be opportunities for you in Bermuda.

 

Life as a Lawyer in Bermuda

  • International client base
  • Bermudian Law
  • Varied workload
  • Lots of responsibility and client contact
  • Enviable lifestyle outside of work
  • Attractive low-tax salaries


Moving from an onshore law firm, you will notice differences in your role. It’s Bermudian law after all – not a radical departure from English law in principle but there will be plenty to learn nevertheless. The good news is that almost all your new colleagues will have been through the same process and will likely know where your blind spots are before you even realise you have them! Everyone recognises that it can take a good six months or more before you are fully up to speed.

The changes don’t end there as it is commonplace for a Bermudian lawyer to advise on complex aspects of a matter relating specifically to Bermuda, often working alongside onshore counsel in London, New York or elsewhere in the world. You might be involved in a greater number and wider range of matters, with less long and laborious document work and an increased focus on specific aspects of a deal or case, so the ability to think on your feet and enjoy working outside your comfort zone could come in handy. As an offshore lawyer, you will also need to be comfortable sometimes taking a slightly more peripheral role rather than being part of a team at the core of it, although anyone you speak to in a Bermudian firm will say this is more than offset by your increased level of personal involvement, responsibility and client contact.

You will almost certainly see an improvement in your work-life balance in Bermuda but anyone looking at this as a step off the fast-track should be cautious. Life outside of work may be very relaxed but the legal market here is fiercely competitive and the matters you are working on will be just the same as those in a big international law firm. It’s not a nine to five environment, but neither is there any culture of presenteeism – people work hard when they need to, but there is certainly a more reasonable balance.

Salaries vary across the firms but for most, notwithstanding increasing salaries in some of the onshore markets, this will be a financially sound move – particularly when the low tax rates are taken into account. It’s a constantly changing picture so we are not quoting numbers here, but your Origin Legal contact will be happy to give you an outline of the range you could expect in the current market. All firms offer full benefits and good relocation packages.

 
Qualifications

Admission to the Bermuda Bar is a straightforward process and does not require additional examinations, although you will need to work on the island as a Registered Associate for one year before admission (this has no material impact on your role). As mentioned previously, you will need a minimum of three years’ post-qualification experience by the time you relocate, and you will be admitted in the UK or an equivalent Commonwealth jurisdiction – most commonly Canada, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa.

Education

Most ex-pats in Bermuda will send their children to one of the several private schools, and the consensus is that the standard of education provided is very good. As in any location, decisions on schooling are very much down to individual families’ preferences and we would encourage anyone relocating with children to spend some time looking at potential options well in advance.

Work Permits

If you are not a Bermudian citizen, you will need a work-permit. If you meet the criteria above, there is no reason at all to think that you won’t get one. Although law firms must advertise in the local market for a suitably qualified Bermudian national, the reality is that firms will already know many of those lawyers and the suitable ones are almost always in positions already, so you would be very unlucky to find yourself missing out on that basis. Whilst you will need to complete the paperwork at the outset, including providing a medical certificate and certified copies of your qualifications, it is then sent to the firm or their immigration agents, and they will take care of the rest. Note that whilst spouses can travel and live in Bermuda on their husband/wife’s permit, unmarried partners are likely to need separate work permits.

Career Path

It is perfectly possible to build a long-term career in Bermuda and work towards Counsel and then Partnership. Like anywhere, it must be earned, but in the right place it’s realistic and attainable, without the log jam that sometimes exists in large onshore firms.

Whilst many in Bermuda have no intention of leaving, for some, island life has a finite time frame, raising the question of what next. If you’re with a large offshore law firm in Bermuda you may simply be able to transfer to another office – perhaps another offshore financial centre or a major metropolis such as London, Singapore or Hong Kong. Those with smaller firms on the island shouldn’t worry either. Yes, if your time in Bermuda is up you will need to change firms, but the experience and exposure you will have gained in your role here is sure to see you being snapped up by another firm in no time, whether elsewhere in the offshore world, or back in the onshore markets.

Accommodation

There are restrictions on buying property in Bermuda and since a large majority of new arrivals in Bermuda will be renting, we will focus on that here. Whilst good places of the kind many ex-pat lawyers are seeking will be in high demand, there is a decent supply of apartments and condominiums spread across the island. As anywhere, prices vary widely but as a guideline you can expect to pay $2000-$3000 per month for a one bed and $3000 to $4000 per month for a two bed. If this will suffice you are unlikely to have too many problems finding somewhere that fits the bill but if you are moving with a family and looking for a house, it will pay to do some research as prices for larger properties can jump significantly. Remember, you won’t be doing this on your own – firms are helpful in offering advice and putting you in touch with real estate agents once an offer is accepted and it is common for accommodation to be provided for one month on arrival, allowing you plenty of time to find your feet.

 

CONTACT

If you would like to find out more about the market, discuss potential opportunities or just ask a few questions about living and working in the British Virgin Islands, please get in touch.  If you would like to send us a CV you can rest assured that it will be treated confidentially and never released without your advance approval. If you prefer to chat first, you can contact us any time on the details below:

Jason Horobin

ddi. +44 (0)1206 326 902
[email protected]
www.linkedin.com/in/jasonhorobin/

Charlotte Hooper

ddi. +44 (0)1206 326 901
[email protected]
www.linkedin.com/in/charlottehaxell/

About The Author

Picture of Stuart Phillips
Stuart Phillips
Picture of Stuart Phillips
Stuart Phillips

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