San Juan, Puerto Rico Report of what it's like to live there - 05/03/23
Personal Experiences from San Juan, Puerto Rico
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
1) Lagos, Nigeria
2) Kuwait City, Kuwait
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?
4-5 hour nonstop flight
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Retired from oil industry, opened a Bed n Breakfast.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Wonderful re-bar reinforced concrete , concrete roofed fortress. (to survive hurricanes. If you buy a US-style 'stick house', eventually, you will be ruined by hurricanes). Semi-retired. No commute. I've lived in Houston and Los Angeles, San Juan is relatively awful at rush hour but much less awful than those places. West coast and small towns east coast are a piece of cake.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Food from supermarkets about 20% above USA mainland. Delicious milk is available from the numerous local dairies bug is about $6/gallon. Buy/rent a house with a yard as lack of freezes makes a fresh veggie garden easy. Supermarkets have produce rather poor quality - days or weeks in a ship from the states although young people are trying hard to revive the local ag sector with small organic farms. You have to hunt a bit though, compared to the states. At SOME PRICE everything available.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
American chains. All of them. Also very good and interesting local restaurants, food trucks, and roadside stands.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Its in the tropics. Lizards, bugs, frogs. All rather benign compared to my experience in Houston and Australia. Nothing super poisonous. Iguanas are huge and look like baby dinosaurs but they are sweethearts when you get to know them.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Reliable US postal service. Only weirdness is most houses lack point to point mail service and don't have real addresses. You have to find a local US POst office and buy a "box" or a private mailbox shop.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Expensive compare to Nigeria and Kuwait. It's basically American citizens demanding minimum wage at the very least. It's an expensive CoLA. I don't blame them.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. Cheap US chains and cool little buttonhole places too.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Safe and widespread. Even country roadstands use ATH movil phone app hooked up to your PR bank.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Mostly spanish outside of SJ, Dorado, and Palmas del Mar.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
More than I suspected when I moved here. Everybody has English in school but unless they attend an expensive private bilingual school the teaching is pretty poor. This is alleviated by the fact that many folks served in US military service and spruced up their spoken English. Also many went to college in USA. All lawyers and doctors are expected to be fluent. However, I would have tried to learn Spanish much better, in hindsight, before moving here. Up in the mountains, there are not Americans, and schoolyard English is lost by age 30 from underuse. Also outside San Juan many small town English teachers are only marginally competent speaking English.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Not too bad. USA standards apply to most businesses.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Affordable, but uncommon. An extensive rail network has decayed as cars became common to most families. Only San Juan has a metro and its just one line. Uber only in SJ. All are safe.
2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?
Small SUV. Big SUVs and cars ok in SJ but will kill you in narrow switchback roads in the mountains and campos. (country).
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
In wealthy areas (Palmas, Condado, Guaynabo, Dorado) state of the art fiber optic
in other urban areas, decent cable up to 500 Meg.
In the other 80% of the island, its much slower.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Use your old USA plan as it will work here. Especially A&TT and T-Mobile cover 95% of island except the most remote mountain valleys.
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?
Good but expensive vets.
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?
Stray dogs and horses (!) a big problem. Shelter volunteers needed. Also jobs in medicine but pay 30-50% of USA.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Like in USA.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
It's pretty safe outside of the "caserios" (projects).
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Some really good doctors commited to helping the folks of their "country". I had very good results with a double-hernia operation and both eyes' cataract removal. However, there have been many doctors and nurses leave for higher salaries in the US and the western island away from the San Juan Metro especially hard to find doctors, esp specialists. Often a 3-6 month wait for appointments. Quality is there, just not quantity.
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?
Air is very good for a big city, densely populated island.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Loneliness and burnout from cultural differences, especially those with no Spanish.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Close to perfection. Summer is 95/75. Winter 85/70. Swim all year which is my main attraction to moving here!
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
In San Juan metro and the surf bum favorite of Rincon maybe 20-30%. Most other places neglible. I live 30-40 minutes outside San Juan and my suburb has only 2 or 3 other gringo families in a town of 30,000.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Haven't really tried. My local Puerto Ricans are great to hang with!
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
I bit of anti-gringo colonialism in the abstract, but if you are 1 on 1 decent to Puerto Ricans they are warm and friendly towards you.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Best in Caribbean. Have numerous gay and lesbian bars, even drag shows. Much more liberal than Florida as a whole.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Every skin color on earth here. Less predjucice than in the mainland.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Mountain waterfalls and natural pools. Beaches, beaches, beaches. Cruise ships out of old San Juan, the western hemisphere's biggest cruise port.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Charcot Hippie. Waterfalls and natural pool in the Sierra del Luquillo foothills.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Go to small town "Artesimal Markets" on weekends. Gurabo and Caguas come to mind.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Weather, people, scenery.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Take hurricanes seriously. Hurricane Maria reduced my net wealth by about 50%. Only concrete houses. Storm shutters, Generator, all are essential . also good hazard insurance for house and cars.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Parkas and gloves
4. But don't forget your:
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
There is a Johnny Depp movie kind of dated but gives the flavor: The Rum Diaries.