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Moving to Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico, also known as 'la isla del encanto' (the island of enchantment) is a small and beautiful island, located between the Dominican Republic and The Virgin Islands, forming part of an island chain in the Caribbean. Expats moving to Puerto Rico will find themselves in an unincorporated territory of the United States, a widely contested issue for the local population of just under 3 million. 

Puerto Rico's close proximity to the US has make it an attractive destination for American retirees. Other expats living in Puerto Rico have usually relocated to work in the territory’s major economic sectors, such as manufacturing and tourism.

The official languages in Puerto Rico are Spanish and English, and although expats should get by without learning Spanish, it may make integration to life on the island easier and quicker. The education system is based on that of the US, although Spanish is the primary language of instruction at public and most private schools. The cost of living on the island is pricey, but expats relocating for work purposes will usually receive benefits to cover a number of monthly expenses.

Expats moving to Puerto Rico will find themselves living on an island that offers beautiful mountainous scenery, tropical beaches and a relaxed lifestyle. It's also a great spot for travel to nearby islands, with southern areas of the US and northern parts of South America also easily accessible.


Fast facts

Population: 2.8 million

Capital city: San Juan

Neighbouring countries: Located in the Carribean Sea, Puerto Rico has two neighbouring islands: Dominican Republic towards the west and Virgin Islands to the east.

Geography: Puerto Rico is an archipelago made up of the main island as well as several smaller surrounding islands, only a few of which are inhabited year round.

Political system: Devolved presidential constitutional dependency

Major religions: Catholicism 

Main languages: Spanish and English

Money: United States Dollars (USD), subdivided into 100 cents. ATMs are readily available throughout most of Puerto Rico and it's fairly easy to open a bank account.

Tipping: 15 percent is standard, unless included in the bill.

Time: GMT-4

Electricity: 120V, 60 Hz. Plugs are standard North American plugs with two flat blades.

Internet domain: .pr

International dialling code: +1

Emergency contacts: 911

Driving and transport: Driving is on the right-hand side of the road. Public transport is sufficient to get around, especially in San Juan, which has a metro. There are also buses, minibuses and ferries as well as taxis.

Weather in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico enjoys a warm tropical climate. With little variation in temperature throughout the year, the mercury never seems to stray far from 85°F (29°C). Due to certain winds, the temperature in the south is usually a few degrees higher than the north, and temperatures in the central interior mountains are typically cooler than the rest of the island.

The hurricane season is between June and November, with the island being subject to severe tropical storms once in about every five years. There's little need to fret as the movement of major cyclones is tracked and can be predicted in advance. That said, it's best to be overprepared rather than underprepared for storms of this magnitude. In case such a storm does occur, it's always a good idea to ensure access to non-perishable food, a few bottles of water and, if possible, a back-up generator.

The dry season is typically from December to March but short showers can be expected throughout the year. This is generally a pleasant period with plenty of sunny beach days.

 

Embassy contacts for Puerto Rico


Puerto Rico embassies

  • Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 778 0710

  • United States Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7499 9000

  • United States Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 688 5335

  • United States Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6214 5600

  • United States Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 431 4000

  • United States Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 668 8777

  • United States Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 462 6000


Foreign embassies in Puerto Rico

  • Canadian Honorary Consulate in San Juan, Puerto Rico: +1 844 880 6519

  • British Embassy, Washington DC (also responsible for Puerto Rico): +1 202 588 6500

  • Australian Embassy, Washington DC, United States (also responsible for Puerto Rico): +1 202 797 3000

  • South African Embassy, Washington DC, United States (also responsible for Puerto Rico): +1 202 232 4400

  • Irish Embassy, Washington DC, United States (also responsible for Puerto Rico): +1 202 462 3939

  • New Zealand Embassy, Washington DC, United States (also responsible for Puerto Rico): +1 202 328 4800

Public Holidays in Puerto Rico

 

2021

2022

New Year's Day

1 January

1 January

Epiphany

6 January

6 January

Good Friday

2 April

15 April

Easter Sunday

4 April

17 April

Mothers' Day

9 May

8 May

Fathers' Day

20 June

19 June

Thanksgiving

26 November

25 November

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

Working in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a popular retirement destination for expats, especially US citizens, for its easy accessibility and incredible scenery. For those interested in working in Puerto Rico, the two most common sectors are manufacturing and tourism.


Job market in Puerto Rico 

The manufacturing sector makes up close to half of the annual GDP of Puerto Rico, with pharmaceuticals, textiles and electronics being the major industries in this sector. Tourism also contributes a large percentage to the island's GDP along with other service-based sectors such as finance and insurance.

Teaching English is also fairly common for expats, and as salaries are paid in US Dollars, this can be advantageous for expats coming from countries with weaker currencies. 


Finding a job in Puerto Rico 

The internet is a valuable resource for expats looking to work in Puerto Rico. Alternatively, going through an agency might be more reliable. Word of mouth and networking can also be valuable resources for those already within the country. US expats will not need a visa to work on the island, whereas citizens from other nations will need work and residency permits to take up employment and live in Puerto Rico.

Doing business in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rican business culture is a unique blend of Latin American characteristics and North American drive. Expats doing business in Puerto Rico should be aware of cross-cultural sensitivity, and maintain an awareness of etiquette and customs. 

Puerto Rico ranked 65th out of 190 on the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2020. The country did well in subcategories such as getting credit (4th) and resolving insolvency (10th). On the other hand, areas that were lacking significantly include dealing with registering property (161st) and paying taxes (163rd). 


Fast facts

Business hours 

9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

Business language

Both Spanish and English are used. 

Dress

Varies depending on the industry. Businesspeople tend to dress in dark suits while workwear in other sectors is often much more casual.

Gifts

Gifts aren't expected but will be welcomed if given. It is best to avoid anything too expensive. If invited to a Puerto Rican home, gifts like a bottle of wine, flowers or chocolates are safe choices. They are usually opened when received.

Gender equality

Although Puerto Ricans value equality, machismo is still prevalent on the island and women are underrepresented in leadership positions.


Business culture in Puerto Rico

Hierarchy

Puerto Ricans value the concept of family highly, and this extends into business. Puerto Ricans therefore prefer to do business with those they know and trust. This can also include extended family and friends.

In addition, there is a tendency for Puerto Ricans to treat their business colleagues as family, which requires getting to know colleagues well. This can result in long lunches and dinners that go beyond normal working hours. These informal meetings allow expats to build up credibility and establish trust. 

Communication

When meeting people in a workplace environment for the first time, it is best to address them by their professional title or by Señor (Mr), Señora (Mrs) or Señorita (Miss) followed by their surname. Shaking hands is common for both men and women.

Puerto Ricans tend to be direct and won't skirt around an issue. They are demonstrative people, often smiling, standing close and touching.

Time

Deadlines can be fluid in Puerto Rico, and expats should be prepared for this. Even if deadlines are set well in advance, expats should be aware that these are regarded as flexible. Patience will play an essential part in successful cross-culture management.


Dos and don'ts of business in Puerto Rico

  • Do be formal at first and don’t use first names unless invited to do so

  • Don't expect business meetings to start on time

  • Don’t talk about Puerto Rico’s status as a US territory as this is a sensitive and controversial topic

  • Do broach small talk conversations with topics like sports and travel

Cost of Living in Puerto Rico

The cost of living in Puerto Rico is, on the whole, significantly lower than that of the US. However, it's still by no means cheap. In Mercer's Cost of Living Survey for 2020, San Juan ranked 66th out of 209 countries, placing it on a par with large cities worldwide such as Sydney and Amsterdam.


Cost of accommodation in Puerto Rico

Expats will find that a large portion of their salary will go towards accommodation in Puerto Rico. Apartments are most common and are cheaper than freestanding houses. As with most places, housing is priciest in city centres and tends to be lower in outlying suburbs. In addition, smaller cities outside of San Juan are generally cheaper than living in the capital.


Cost of healthcare in Puerto Rico

Most expats opt to use private healthcare in Puerto Rico. The cost of this is much less than one would expect, though it's important to be properly insured. Health insurance in Puerto Rico is well known for being affordable but comprehensive. 


Cost of education in Puerto Rico

The cost of education in Puerto Rico will vary greatly depending on whether parents send their child to a public or private school. Public schools are free to attend but the language barrier can be difficult to overcome for non-Spanish-speaking families. Private schools are more likely to teach bilingually or in English. Tuition at these schools is pricey though.


Cost of living in Puerto Rico chart

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for February 2021.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

1,500 USD

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

1,000 USD

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

800 USD

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

600 USD

Shopping

Eggs (dozen)

3 USD

Milk (1 litre)

1.90 USD

Rice (1kg)

2.20 USD

Loaf of white bread

2.40 USD

Chicken breasts (1kg)

11.50 USD

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

10 USD

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

7 USD

Coca-Cola (330ml)

1.30 USD

Cappuccino

3 USD

Bottle of local beer

3 USD

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

70 USD

Utilities

Mobile-to-mobile call rate (per minute)

0.25 USD

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

50 USD

Basic utilities (per month for small apartment)

250 USD

Transportation

Taxi rate (per kilometre)

2 USD

Bus/train fare in the city centre

1.50 USD

Petrol/gasoline (per litre)

0.75 USD

Accommodation in Puerto Rico

Finding accommodation in Puerto Rico is relatively easy, especially if one plans to rent rather than purchase a home. Most expats go the route of renting as it's the best way to get to know the island and its various areas as a newcomer.


Types of accommodation in Puerto Rico

The most common type of accommodation in Puerto Rico is apartments. Though these can come either furnished or unfurnished, they're most commonly unfurnished. In some cases, expats may be able to negotiate the inclusion of furniture in a rental at an additional cost. However, it's always best to ask to take a look at any additional furnishings beforehand to see if they're up to standard – furniture that comes with rentals is often outdated and worn.

Other types of housing, such as freestanding homes, can also be found but there isn't as much of a selection as there is with apartments. Many expats favour luxury gated communities which, while pricey, offers a safe and comfortable stay.


Finding accommodation in Puerto Rico

The easiest way to find accommodation in Puerto Rico is through online classifieds. Many of these are in Spanish, so having a decent grasp of the language will be useful.

Word of mouth is often the best way to find a good deal. Expats who are already in Puerto Rico should tap into any network they may have there, even if it's just the owner of the hotel they're staying at. Otherwise, expats may want to enlist the services of a real-estate agent, preferably a bilingual one fluent in both English and Spanish.


Renting accommodation in Puerto Rico

Which utilities are included in the rental is up to the landlord, and should reflect in the price. Expats should be clear on this before signing the lease so as not to accrue unexpected additional expenses. A typical lease length is 12 months.

The deposit is usually the equivalent of one or two months' rent, but this varies according to the owner. A full inspection of the accommodation is also advised before signing any lease, and if there are any issues that need to be fixed, expats should insist that they are dealt with before the move-in date. At the completion of the lease the deposit will be returned in full if the property is left in good condition.

Healthcare in Puerto Rico

Healthcare in Puerto Rico is of a high standard, but conditions do vary throughout the island. The standard of healthcare is similar to what one would expect in the US, but some areas are better equipped than others. While medical professionals in Puerto Rico are highly knowledgable, there is a pronounced shortage of doctors due to the underfunding of public healthcare. Many move over to the US in search of better pay.

The island is home to dozens of hospitals, not to mention clinics and pharmacies. There are also several hospitals and other healthcare facilities in San Juan that have medical staff on-site around the clock.


Public healthcare in Puerto Rico

Public healthcare in Puerto Rico is managed under a government-run programme. This programme provides medical and healthcare services by means of contracting private health insurance companies.

The quality of public healthcare is generally good, but due to the shortage of doctors, expats should expect long waiting times even if they've made an appointment in advance. Most expats opt for private healthcare instead.


Private healthcare in Puerto Rico

Expats can expect private healthcare in Puerto Rico to be of a high standard with shorter waiting times. Insurance is recommended. Medical insurance is affordable, especially if an expat has their insurance through their employer. Also, insurers in Puerto Rico are generally more open to covering things that may not have been covered in an expat's home country, like pre-existing conditions. Small co-payments are standard in most health insurance policies.


Health hazards in Puerto Rico

There are no major health risks associated with Puerto Rico. Tap water is considered clean and safe to drink.

Routine vaccinations, such as those for measles, polio, tetanus and others, should be kept up to date but there are no specific vaccinations required to enter Puerto Rico.


Emergencies in Puerto Rico

In a medical emergency, call 911. Many operators will speak Spanish when answering a call but transfer to an English speaker is usually possible. Ambulances are run by private companies and require payment upfront. Health insurance may cover this but it's always best to confirm this ahead of time in case there is a future emergency.

Education and Schools in Puerto Rico

Education is highly valued in Puerto Rico and there are many good schools to choose from on the island. While the quality of public schools varies greatly, private schooling is generally of a high standard and is typically preferred by expat parents. The Puerto Rico education system is based on the American model. School is compulsory from ages six to 17 for all children. 


Public schools in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico grants the right to an education to every citizen on the island. To this end, public schools in Puerto Rico provide free and secular education at the compulsory elementary and secondary levels. 

Despite the system being based on the American model, the teaching language in public schools is Spanish. This may be a deterrent for expats with children who are not familiar with the language. English is taught as a second language and is compulsory at all levels. Also, parents should be aware that the quality of public schools varies considerably. Schools in rural areas tend to be extremely under-resourced. 


Private schools in Puerto Rico

Private schools in Puerto Rico are operated by non-governmental institutions. Most Puerto Rican private schools are Catholic.

Expats should be aware that it is illegal for a school to deny admittance based on faith, and therefore being of the denomination is not a requirement for attending a private school in Puerto Rico. Students of different denominations are allowed to refrain from taking part in any religious-based activities at school. 

The language of instruction in Puerto Rican private schools can vary. Some teach bilingually while others teach in English or Spanish only.


International schools in Puerto Rico

Though there are no foreign-curricula schools in Puerto Rico, there are a few schools offering the International Baccalaureate (IB). Many expat families opt for the IB as it's globally respected and taught all over the world, allowing for easier transfer between schools. These schools are typically expensive, however, so expats should ensure their budget has room for fees and other expenses.


Special-needs education in Puerto Rico

Public schooling in Puerto Rico is underfunded in general, and this is even more apparent in the very limited special-needs provisions offered by the government. That said, there are a number of special-education schools across Puerto Rico.

However, with most education systems worldwide striving towards integration of special-needs children into mainstream schools, the separate-schooling approach is somewhat outdated and is often thought to hold such students back rather than encourage participation in general society.

Parents of children with special needs should rather seek support in private schools, which are more likely to have appropriate resources and policies.


Tutors in Puerto Rico

Whether a family wishes to hire a tutor to help a child with a problem subject, prepare them for big exams or assist them with picking up a new language, there are plenty of options to suit parents' needs. Online and in-person services are available and expats often find tutors to be a great help in easing their child into a new school system. There are a number of reputable online portals and tutoring companies offering their services, or expats can ask around locally for a recommendation.

Transport and Driving in Puerto Rico

Expats might struggle to arrange matters of transport and driving in Puerto Rico. Those living in San Juan will be in a better position than most, thanks to the city's compact size and the availability of the only metro in the country.

Public transport in Puerto Rico, outside of the main cities, is lacking. During rush hour, larger cities in Puerto Rico experience heavy traffic.


Public transport in Puerto Rico

Metro

Only San Juan has a metro, known as the Tren Urbano. It is the first of its kind in the Caribbean. Currently it consists of one line with 16 stations, but there are plans to expand in future.

Bus

The bus is cheap, with San Juan being serviced by Autoridad Metropolitana de Autobuses. Operating hours and frequency of service vary by route and the day of the week, but generally buses run from around 5am to 8pm or 9pm.

Públicos

Públicos are public minibuses. This is the cheapest form of public transport, but offers little in the way of comfort. Públicos tend to leave only when full, so there is no set schedule.

Ferries 

Passenger ferries operate with limited capacity from the main island to smaller surrounding islands. Tickets should be booked in advance.


Taxis in Puerto Rico

Taxis are available in larger cities. White tourist taxis with turístico logos congregate around tourist areas of San Juan and charge by zone rather than by meter. Non-tourist taxi drivers have meters but don't always use them, so it is best to establish a rate prior to the journey.

In larger cities such as San Juan, ride-hailing applications like Uber are operational.


Driving in Puerto Rico

Expats moving to San Juan will find that a car is not a necessity. Driving can be dangerous, as local drivers are reputed to ignore traffic laws. However, if expats are interested in exploring the island and taking weekend trips, a car can certainly come in handy. In Puerto Rico, cars drive on the right-hand side, and road signs are often in Spanish.

Expats in Puerto Rico will only be able to drive on their foreign licence for 120 days. After this, expats will need to obtain a local licence. The complexity of this will depend on where the initial licence was issued. In some cases licences can simply be swapped, while in others written and practical tests may be necessary.

Banking, Money and Taxes in Puerto Rico

Dealing with banking, money and taxes in Puerto Rico is no simple matter. Expats may find that things don't run as smoothly on the island, so it is recommended to approach banking with a bit of patience and persistence.


Money in Puerto Rico

As a territory of the United States, Puerto Rico's currency is the United States Dollar (USD) subdivided into 100 cents.  

  • Notes: 1 USD, 2 USD, 5 USD, 10 USD, 20 USD, 50 USD and 100 USD

  • Coins: 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 cents, and 1 USD 


Banking in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has a number of international and local banks scattered throughout the island. Bank branches are generally open Monday to Friday, with some opening on Saturdays. There are ATMs all over the island, but may be harder to find in smaller towns.

Requirements to open a bank account include identification, proof of address and a minimum deposit. Expats do not need a social security number to open a bank account, although a bank may ask for one. 


Taxes in Puerto Rico

The taxes paid by expats in Puerto Rico will differ according to their tax residency status. Expats who are in Puerto Rico for 183 days or more of the tax year are considered residents for tax purposes and must pay income tax on global earnings as well as income generated locally. Those who aren't tax residents only pay income tax on their earnings in Puerto Rico and aren't liable to pay tax on income generated outside of the island.

Puerto Rico has a reputation as being a tax haven but the generous incentives apply to businesses rather than individuals. That said, this does make Puerto Rico an excellent candidate for starting a business.

Expat Experiences in Puerto Rico

When considering a move to a new city, there is nothing more useful than hearing real life stories and experiences from other expats who have lived there. We'd love to hear about your expat experiences. Please contact us if you live or have lived in Puerto Rico and would like to share your story.


American Lynn Stravecky moved to Puerto Rico with her husband and children more than 15 years ago. She says it took her a while to get over the culture shock of living in a new country, but her perseverance paid off and her family loves their lives in the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan. Nowadays Lynn, a psychotherapist and certified cross-cultural trainer, provides expats with support during and after the relocation process. Read more about her expat experience in Puerto Rico

Lynn Stravecky is an American expat living in Puerto Rico