Puerto Rico, an archipelago in the northeastern Caribbean, is a U.S. territory known for its beautiful beaches and perfect weather, plus a variety of rums and locally grown coffees. At just two-and-a-half hours away from Miami by air (or four hours from New York City), Puerto Rico is a popular retirement destination for those looking for new experiences and a better climate without having to travel to the other side of the world. As with retiring abroad anywhere—close to home or far away—there are always pros and cons to consider before making any decisions. Here are a few for Puerto Rico.
Making the transition to Puerto Rico is easier than many popular retire-abroad destinations. For starters, it’s easy to get to: There are many direct flights from the U.S. to San Juan. As it’s a U.S. territory, you won’t need a passport or have to go through customs. The currency is the same (the U.S. dollar), and there are no restrictions on property ownership, meaning you can buy a house or a condo if you choose. As an added bonus, Medicare is valid in all U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, and there should be no issues with collecting your Social Security benefits.
Lots of Festivals
Puerto Rico hosts a variety of festivals and celebrations, which makes it easy to be social, meet new people and find something fun to do. A few of the biggest parties include the following:
- Three Kings Day, or Epiphany
- The San Sebastian Festival, an outdoor affair with music, arts and food (and rum)
- The Casals Festival, considered the Caribbean’s premier classical music event
- Saborea, Puerto Rico’s largest food festival
- Ponce Carnival, Puerto Rico’s version of Mardi Gras
- One of the Caribbean’s largest jazz get-togethers, the four-day-long Heineken Jazz Festival
A Tropical Island
Puerto Rico offers more than 300 miles of beaches. You can find the perfect one whether you want to surf, kiteboard, dive, snorkel, or just enjoy a quiet walk. Inland you can golf, hike, mountain bike or explore a cave.
The weather is lovely year round. Temperatures average 80 degrees in the lower elevations and 70 degrees in the mountains in what is technically a tropical marine climate. The rainy season lasts from May to November, but, with the exception of tropical storms, rain typically occurs in quick bursts, not lasting more than an hour or two.
The economy is weakening. Several factors are hurting the Puerto Rican economy:
- The government has an “unpayable” debt: Standing at $72 billion, Puerto Rico’s debt is higher than that of most U.S. states. Because it’s not a state, Puerto Rico is prohibited from using bankruptcy to help restructure its debt—something Washington is working to change.
- It has bad economic numbers: Puerto Rico has a junk credit rating, a 45% poverty rate, an unemployment rate of 12% and had a record number of foreclosures in 2015.
- The population is declining: The Great Recession stimulated migration to the U.S., and Puerto Rico’s population has dropped steadily since.
Finding a lower cost of living is often a motivator when opting to retire overseas. According to city and country database website Numbeo.com, the cost of living (excluding rent) in Puerto Rico is 3.12% lower than in the U.S. (aggregate data for all cities). While some things are cheaper in Puerto Rico than you’ll find at home—property taxes, for example—certain goods and services (such as utilities) can cost much more. In general Puerto Rico’s costs are close enough to those in most parts of the U.S. that you won’t be going there to save money.
Long Waiting Times
Be prepared to wait, whether it’s at the bank, the supermarket, the doctor’s office, or the emergency room. For example, the median time from emergency department arrival to departure is 778 minutes, meaning that patients can expect to wait approximately 13 hours to be admitted to a hospital room, according to a 2014 state-by-state report card on America’s emergency care environment released by the American College of Emergency Physicians.
The CDC has included Puerto Rico in a level 2 travel warning advising travelers to "practice enhanced precautions." CNBC reported 19 confirmed cases as of Feb. 1, 2016.
The Bottom Line
No matter where you settle down overseas, it’s important to have realistic expectations. You can’t (and shouldn’t) expect everyday life abroad to be the same as it is in your home country. Even though there may be many differences—everything from the language and culture to food and the brands of toothpaste you can buy—keep in mind that change isn’t always bad.
That being said, the culture shock of living abroad—even in a U.S. territory—can be more overwhelming than you expect, especially if you haven’t traveled much. In some cases it makes sense to do a trial run in your destination. Take a long trip—say six to 12 months—to see if you will really enjoy living abroad as a local or if it’s a place you’d rather keep on your vacation list.