San Juan, Puerto Rico Report of what it's like to live there - 01/24/14

Personal Experiences from San Juan, Puerto Rico

San Juan, Puerto Rico 01/24/14


1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. Poland and Colombia.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Midwest US. It's about 8-10 hours with a connection through Atlanta or Dallas.

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3. How long have you lived here?


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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?


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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Houses are nice and commutes aren't bad (in my opinion) unless you live in Dorado. We lived in suburban housing and my husband drove downtown in 20 minutes each day. Getting home might take 45 minutes max. Most expats choose to live in Condado (downtown), Guaynabo or Dorado (bad commute).

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Expensive! Food on this island is expensive. Seriously expensive. On top of the cost of goods, the cost of electricity is insane. Even if you only use the air conditioners at night, you won't pay less than US$400 a month for a family of four.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?


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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Way too much American food. We didn't eat out a lot because the choices weren't great and the prices expensive. When we travel outside the city, however, there are some great little Puerto Rican places. (We always stopped at Dela's near Cueva La Ventana.)

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Mosquitoes! There is a lot of dengue on the island, which is a problem. Mosquitos, cockroaches, ants and lizards everywhere (including our house).

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Regular U.S. mail. It is nice because you can order many things from the U.S. but there are times where some items won't be shipped to the island (some appliances or miscellaneous goods). It seems random which items can or can't be shipped so you just have to try.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

About US$70 a day. I'm not sure about the experience of others but mine was not good. I think that the island work ethic is bad and I can't say I blame them because the economy is terrible and the cost of living high. I'm not sure I'd be willing to give my all if my economic future was bleak.

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3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Just like the U.S. No problems.

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4. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

A lot. Puerto Ricans can be quite impatient when it comes to language and I was called "gringa" a lot by cashiers and others talking about me. I needed to be more proactive about learning Spanish but in the face of the difficult accent, I didn't work hard enough. I'm big on learning the local language and Puerto Rico still uses Spanish for daily life so don't expect otherwise.

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1. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

We had an SUV, which we enjoyed. The roads can be bad in places but generally road infrastructure is good. It's mostly like the U.S. in terms of availability of cars and parts. Good highway system but the mountain roads are barely more than one-lane wide. Driving in Puerto Rico is like playing pinball where you are bouncing from one side to the other to avoid all the people merging into you without warning and stopping in the middle of the highway to buy an avocado from some guy leaning on the guardrail. Treat it like a game and don't let it make you crazy.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Internet is available for about US$60+ per month. It works great except when the electricity goes out, which happens a lot.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

They have the regular U.S. services. I think AT&T is the most common.

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1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

Bringing and having a pet in Puerto Rico is easy (as long as you enter with the proper paperwork). The cost of vet care is comparable to the U.S. (i.e. kind of expensive).

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

If you can work in the U.S., you can work in Puerto Rico. However, the economy is in shambles so there aren't a lot of jobs available.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

San Juan is reasonably dressy and flip flops will mark you as a tourist. However, on the other side of the island (Mayaguez, etc) everyone is quite casual.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Puerto Rico is not a safe place. Colombia feels safer to me. Unfortunately, crime has been getting worse. Carjackings (including death) occur frequently, including at the gate to our neighborhood. We know five people who were carjacked at gunpoint in the last year (one killed). Burglaries and robberies are common. It is unfortunate that such a beautiful island is plagued by such crime.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The quality of care is comparable to the U.S. as most doctors have been trained there but you can expect to wait around a lot and speaking Spanish really helps when it comes to making appointments and speaking with the nurses.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

It's fine as far as I could tell. A lot of people talked about the haze from African sand but I didn't notice so much.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot and humid. In the winter it is nice but otherwise hot and humid.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

The schools aren't "international" per se. We chose Baldwin School, and were very, very happy with our choice. Other expats have chosen St. John's downtown, which might be closer to an international school experience. We loved Baldwin and while all classes were in English, it retained enough Puerto Rican flavor to make it a great place. We have moved a lot and it has been their best schooling experience.

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2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Most of the schools are very, very into their sports programs. There are no problems finding sports for your kids.

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Expat Life:

1. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

I think Puerto Rico is great for families. Puerto Ricans have close families and I felt like everything was set up to cater to families. Crime is the only issue that made me wonder if it wasn't a good place for my kids but, as always, we deal and make things work.

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2. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

We've enjoyed driving across the island and snorkeling.

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3. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

There are some great waterfalls in El Yunque and if you do some looking online, you'll find out about the ones that are not in the tourist books. The waterfalls outside San Sebastian are wonderful too. Visit the caves...Cueva La Ventana and Cuevos del Indio are amazing.

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4. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

The only advantages are the beaches and the U.S. stores (Costco, etc).

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5. Can you save money?

Not a chance. It is very expensive to live on the island and since it is not an 'expat' assignment for most Americans, there is a lot of cost involved. Don't forget to negotiate schooling as public schools are not an option.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Maybe. Because of my kids' school (Baldwin School) and the opportunities my kids were given academically, I would go there again for them. They really had opportunities we've never had in other places and it really helped my oldest get into the university of his choice. However, from a living perspective, I'm not sure I would go again. I didn't enjoy island life and I'm not much for the tropics so I may have a skewed perspective. However, many Puerto Ricans take education very seriously and I can't overstate how valuable my kids' experience on the island (at Baldwin School, in particular) has been to their educational achievement.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Sweaters and coats.

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3. But don't forget your:

Get those electric mosquito swatters at Home Depot (available on the island). Lots of fans. Get a house with a pool if you can afford it. Most things are available on the island and what isn't can usually be ordered from Amazon.

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