Moving to Puerto Rico | Start Here

Start here if you are thinking about Moving to Puerto Rico. Information on Cost of Living for Housing, Utilities, Groceries, Transportation, Healthcare, and more!

Are you dreaming of living in Puerto Rico - Start Here

Are you dreaming of island life? You are not alone!

Before you pack up and move to Puerto Rico, you probably want to know about Cost of Living, Safety, Healthcare, and a million other details!

Before we moved to Puerto Rico, there really wasn’t much information available online and I had no idea who to ask. Speaking with Puerto Ricans that moved to the US helped me to understand some of the challenges (lack of jobs in PR) and some of the cultural differences, but we really had no idea what we were getting into until we officially moved here.

These are my tips learned in the past few years living in Puerto Rico, information that I wish I had known before moving and trying to adjust to my new island life. The purpose of this information is to guide you through the challenges of island life and help set expectations for your move to the Island of Enchantment!

Feeling restless and wanting a major change in life, we started researching warm weather locations outside the continental United States. We started planning a move “somewhere” several years before we knew Puerto Rico was the ONE!

Where to Live

Months before moving, we spent 2 weeks driving through neighborhoods around the island. We went to the local grocery stores, compared prices, explored local festivals, and asked everyone that we met about their island life.

The criteria we considered important:

  • Proximity to San Juan Airport (SJU) – one hour or less drive
  • Beach access – sand beach, not rocky cliffs
  • Community with activities
  • Affordable
  • Good telecom – access to cable internet and good phone coverage from AT&T
  • Dog Friendly (more information on cargo shipping dogs and large pets here)

Some of the areas included in our search are:

  • Condado
  • Dorado
  • Fajardo
  • Isla Verde/Ocean Park
  • Luquillo
  • Palmas Del Mar

Many gated communities will not grant you access without an appointment (usually coordinated with a realtor or on-property leasing agent). The private residences at the St Regis in Rio Grande have a strict access policy, whereas Palmas del Mar can be accessed for public visitors easily (tell them you are considering moving and ask for a map, you can also stop into Palmanova Plaza for food & drinks on your visit).

Search for housing options (long-term rentals and properties for sale) on Clasificados online website.

Ultimately, we decided to move to Palmas del Mar. Our first rental was a condo in Beach village (booked via VRBO). We signed annual leases for our next 2 homes. Renting gave us the opportunity to see more of the community and not feel rushed to buy something without all of the facts.

Some of our housing criteria changed with the loss of our dog, and we have a new perspective of requirements after settling into our island lives. Renting our home(s) proved to be the right decision for us. I do recommend that new residents to Puerto Rico rent for at least a year before buying. Whereas, I know people that found the perfect home, in a great neighborhood, that they bought right away and are very happy with their choice. Do not feel like you have to rush into buying a home.

Cost of Living

Housing

Our first short-term rental was $2000/week including all utilities, paid in peak winter season for a 2 bed / 2 bath furnished beach front condo. The view was spectacular and steps from the ocean.

Signing an annual lease, we found a 4 bedroom/3 bath house, 2 car carport, with dog appropriate yard for under $2,000/month. This home was partially furnished with washer/dryer, water heater, dishwasher and appliances. We purchased bar stools, couch, coffee table, patio set, and bedroom furniture. Most of the furniture in the home, including what we purchased, was damaged from Hurricane Maria.

We checked suitcases of clothes with us on the airplane, then shipped some larger electronics and artwork via USPS. After researching the cost of shipping containers and how long everything would take to arrive and clear customs, we opted to purchase new rather than ship our existing stuff. As an example, it was less expensive to buy a new color laser printer than to ship our 3 year old model to us.

When negotiating your housing lease, it is very common in PR, the renter is responsible for maintenance on everything, even on large issues. The appliances in our second home were older and not maintained in the previous years. Our lease agreement did not cover any expenses or repairs $200 or less, including basic appliance repairs. Funny enough, every repair ended up $190 or less, for each occurrence. The first 6 months I paid $300-500 “extra” in basic repairs that I did not expect and had not budgeted for cost and hassle. This amount is completely negotiable as part of the rental agreement, and I made sure that our “deductible” was $100 for our current home.

Our current home is a 3 bedroom / 4 bath house with rooftop balcony and 2 car garage. This home is completely furnished, dishwasher, washer/dryer, water heater, couches, beds, TV, tables and chairs. We replaced the artwork with our own and brought in our computer desks and electronics. As part of our move-in agreement, the landlord added a backup generator with transfer switch.

Three bedroom homes in Palmas del Mar can range between $1,000 – $5,000 or more per month depending on location, view, amenities, square footage, floor plan and more.

Some of the “unfurnished” properties did not have appliances such as missing refrigerator and stove! Dishwashers and water heaters are not standard in Puerto Rico, and will not be included for many of the lower priced housing options. Look for “equipped” to indicate refrigerator and stove.

Utilities

Below are our actual utility expenses, based on 2 adults and the occasional house guest. We run the AC unit at night and a few hours during the afternoon.

Water (Palmas Del Mar has a private water utility) is around $90/month

Cable internet from Liberty is just under $100/month

Satellite internet (as a backup) from HughesNet is $100/month

Electricity is around $230/month based on 23 cents/kWh, compared to average 13 cents/kWh in mainland United States.

Landscaping/Yard Maintenance is $100/month for lawn care and maintenance for a small grass yard (depends of size of the yard and if this is included in the rental lease).

We kept our existing AT&T phone plan, Puerto Rico is part of the US and covered territories for our plan, there is no difference in price and coverage is good around the island. Verizon and Sprint also include Puerto Rico in their regular US plans, but several friends have expressed concern to me regarding their poor coverage on the island. Claro is the local phone service for mobile and land lines, with lower advertised rates than AT&T for mobile service and good coverage around the island.

Groceries / Food expense

Our grocery bill is lower in Puerto Rico than Phoenix, Arizona. We buy local meats, fruit, and vegetables (as much as possible). We eat very little processed food. We also have significantly reduced how often we eat out.

Processed and imported foods are more expensive on the island. Anything in a box, bag, can, or jar is likely imported and may be 20% more expensive. Buying in the “gringo” stores will also ensure that you may be paying up to double the price as shopping in local grocery stores like Econo, Amigo, Ralph’s, or even Wal-Mart. Mini-markets near the tourist zones are also more expensive.

Healthcare

As soon as you establish residency in Puerto Rico, you can apply for local health insurance. As a territory ACA is not mandatory and health insurance is different in several ways. My island health insurance cost is significantly lower, and many other friends have also shared that their health costs are lower here, too.

Going to the Doctor and Emergency room visits are very different than in the mainland US. Here is a complete guide to healthcare and what to expect in an emergency in Puerto Rico.

There are good Doctors around the island, but this will involve some research to find them. Elective procedures are very popular for medical tourism on the island.

Transportation

Public transportation is virtually non-existent on the island. There is a small commuter train that runs between Bayamon and San Juan financial district. There is also limited bus service operated by Metropolitan Bus Authority (AMA – Autoridad Metropolitana de Autobuses). I have not ridden either of these transportation options.

Car share apps (Uber) are available in the metro areas for pick-up. I have taken Uber rides around San Juan and all the way out to Humacao, but pick-up is not an option in many areas.

Taxi Turístico operates throughout the island. There are set taxi rates from the airport and around metro San Juan. Check taxi fare before getting into a taxi, so there are no surprises. Some taxi drivers are able to accept credit cards, most will only accept cash.

Driver’s License

You can buy a car without a PR driver’s license, but you if you plan to make the island your full-time, year round home, here is step by step guide to get your Puerto Rico driver’s licence. PR Driver’s license is a requirement for most (if not all) the tax incentive programs such as Tax Act 22.

Vehicle Purchase

We were able to downsize and are now a single car household. Based on the shipping and registration costs, we decided to buy a vehicle on the island rather than ship a car here.

Traditional vehicle leases are not available and most people end up buying a car. You will need proof of residence (usually a water or electricity bill) for vehicle registration.

Buying a car private party involves a trip to the CESCO office with all the required documents. Both buyer and seller need to show identification, bring the vehicle title, and current year registration document. Both parties show identification (CESCO office will take a copy of both licenses and confirm your identity), and both parties sign the title. Then go to another office to buy the stamp (really it is a sticker) for $17 or $21 if purchased from the lawyers office. Back to the CESCO to present the stamp and transfer the title. When complete the new vehicle owner has a clean title for the vehicle and the sale is complete. This can take as little as 30 minutes (especially if you have a senior citizen as buyer or seller, they get priority through the lines), or this can take several hours.

Car Registration

The Marbete sticker is vehicle registration and minimum required auto insurance. This sticker is placed on the inside of the passenger side windshield. The expiration month is indicated by hole punch in the sticker and renewed annually.

Any traffic violations, speeding tickets, parking violations, or other issued tickets stay with the vehicle, not the driver. Buyer beware when purchasing a (used) vehicle, any outstanding tickets will be transferred with the vehicle.

Even paid tickets are sometimes “forgotten” by DTOP and will remain with your vehicle. These tickets will need to be paid (re-paid or prove that you already paid) before DTOP will issue a new Marbete registration and sticker.

The vehicle owner can verify registration and any outstanding tickets on the DTOP website or download the CESCO app for verifying tickets, paying fines, and getting your car registration form.

Any traffic tickets (speeding or parking tickets) must be paid before the annual car registration. Any outstanding tickets can be paid via the smartphone app with VISA or MasterCard.

Start or Move a Business

While many people have the opportunity to transfer to Puerto Rico with their current job, or even more rare to obtain a job in Puerto Rico to move to, another great option is to start or move an existing business to the island.

There are many incentive programs to bring businesses and the corresponding jobs and economic development to the island, including the Tax Act 60. Previously known as the Tax Act 20 /22 incentive program, businesses that export goods or services from Puerto Rico while operating on the island qualify.

I am not a lawyer to advise or assist with the application process, but the experts at PRelocate can help.

Receive $100 off Tax Act 60 Application services when you mention JenThereDoneThat sent you!

Hurricane Preparation

Hurricane season is June through November in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Sea. Historically, the most active months are August & September. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provide forecasts, calculated paths, and evacuation information for hurricanes and tropical storms.

Stock up on non-perishable food (shelf stable food in cans and jars) and store several gallons of water. I stock up on supplies in the months leading to Hurricane Season (the worst months are August – October), then donate or use these supplies starting in November to keep my inventory fresh.

My complete hurricane preparation checklist includes food, fuel, solar lights, cash, and other supplies to stock ahead of time.

If you are caught by surprise, here are 9 last minute hurricane prep tips.

Most importantly, if the authorities issue an evacuation notice – LEAVE! Grab your emergency backpack, pets, family members and get to a shelter or family/friend’s house in a protected area immediately.

Hurricanes are part of living in the Caribbean. Puerto Rico is recovering and most residents are better prepared for disasters than a few years ago. Here is more information on recovery from Hurricane Maria.

Is Puerto Rico right for you?

I love my island life! It is not easy, and there are certainly challenges living here.

Are you dreaming of living in Puerto Rico? Start Here guide for areas of the island, cost of living for housing, utilities, car, medical, and more!

Most information is shared verbally and it was very difficult to find any information online before we moved. I hope this guide is useful to you in your research on living in Puerto Rico. Only you can decide if the island life is right for you, but I certainly hope this provides a starting point to make a more informed decision.

Did I miss something? Leave a comment below if you have questions or other topics that I should add.

25 thoughts on “Moving to Puerto Rico | Start Here”

  1. Thank you for this useful guide, Jen. My husband and I have been following your YouTube and Instagram for a few months. After visiting Puerto Rico in late September we have decided to make the move to PR in the next couple of months. We’ll look into the three real estate companies that you linked in your youtube video so thank you for that.

    Is there any reason in particular you chose Palmas Del Mar over Dorado? We narrowed it down to Palmas Del Mar and Dorado for our eventual home purchase (we will be Act 60 applicants, formerly Act 22), but for now we are going to rent in Palms Del Mar. Any neighborhoods in particular you recommend? There are so many little communities there!

    We also have two mini aussies and I’m wondering what airline you used for any travel back to the mainland and what their pet policies were? Our dogs are certified emotional travel companions.

    Thank you!

    1. Best wished for your move to PR!

      I preferred the community in Palmas del Mar, but it is just a personal preference.

      I used United PetSafe to bring my dog to PR. If your dogs are small, consider bringing them in cabin. They stay in an approved kennel for the flight under your seat. Far less stressful to be with you than in the cargo hold of the airplane.

  2. What company did you use to move your belongings.we are moving in 3yrs and I want to find the most effect way to ship. I am just taking medical equipment for my daughter and son and a couple of other things

  3. We are looking at moving to Puerto Rico, any suggestions on how far in advance to contact a realtor and do you have any recommendations on a realtor to use?

    1. Realtors are very location specific.
      https://www.clasificadosonline.com/ is a good place to start, for areas and generic pricing. Unfortunately, PR does not use any sort of MLS system. Many properties are word of mouth, it is common to find outdated listings on Classificados, and many realtors do not respond to messages. Most realtors will only show you their listings, so I tend to work with multiple realtors when looking at properties here.
      I recommend starting to look at least 1 month before moving. You may also consider getting a short-term rental for arrival (AirBnB/VRBO) for a few weeks/month to find a long-term rental property or purchase.

      1. Hey Jen, great article! We lived in PR for many years and moved to US 15yrs ago. Things have changed so much. Moved back to PR to go to college and currently taking classes, which have been online not needing the car immediately. Looking to buy used car from owner. I wanted to ask what would be an alternative option if I don’t have a utility bill on my name since staying at a relative’s place at the moment.

        1. Welcome back!

          Your cell phone bill at that address may work. You may also need to create a “lease” with your relative to show that you live on the island. Before you purchase, call and ask what they will accept for proof of residency.

  4. I think you don’t understand the history between Puerto Rico and the US mainland. Puerto Ricans for many generations fought to be a “free associated state” aka sovereign nation and ONLY after Hurricane Maria did Puerto Ricans think it was a good idea to make it a point to tell “Americans” that they too were Americans but if you just do a small amount of studying you would quickly learn that MOST Puerto Ricans don’t actually consider themselves American. WHATS MY POINT? Your post seems to imply that because its a territory that things should be the same. (Healthcare, Driving rules, etc etc). The facts are that you ARE INDEED in a foreign country its why out of ALL US territories this is the only one which has maintained its language and VERY distinct culture. But I have good news for you. If you want the island life and want to feel like you’re in America the USVI is but a short trip away.

    Cheers…

    1. “Knowledgeable” Puerto Rican HUH???

      You have no idea what you are talking about. I was born in PR and served 22 years in the US Army. I am proud to be an American who happens to be born in PR.

      Go spread your socialist nonsense elsewhere.

      Jen, I would love to meet you and your family one day. I am going to purchase a condo at Harbour Lakes at the end of the month.

  5. Hi, we are leaving this week with the strong possiility of just staying, but we have been looking at the lack of banks and were wondering how you have managed… any suggestions for someone that is going to possibly be staying for 6 months and trying to avoid an abundance of withdrawal fees?? Let us know what you think!

    1. Does your bank have a relationship with one of the island banks? Before we moved, I had zero ATM fees at Banco Popular through my US bank. As soon as we had an address on the island, we opened bank accounts.

    2. Lesly

      I believe the Pentagon Fed Credit Union is open to all, not just service members. I may be wrong about that, but I have not had a PR ban in over 30 years. I retired from the military and kept my USAA Bank. It does make things tougher like when the vendor only accepts ATH Movil which is some PR only banking method much like Apple Pay but with only Banco Popular, which in my opinion is the worst bank of the world but they have a pure monoploly in the island.

  6. Ok, we have started looking at Palmas del Mar instead of Bahia Beach. Just too pricey and not enough “community” for us as homeschoolers. Would love the name of a couple realtors you trust. And any family currently doing classical style homeschool. Act 60 from California. Thanks Jen!

  7. In the pit of disappointment over challenges trying to transition to San Juan, your article gave me hope and determination. Thank you for this information. Priceless.

    1. I use them, too! The subscription box is great and I have started ordering off of the app as well. Good suggestion!

  8. I love this article, it really describes well each of the pros who have to go to live in Puerto Rico and how this can change your life, it’s no secret that sometimes one would like to leave the routine of the day and just go to an island and live away from everything, fishing, enjoying life, I would love to know Puerto Rico from the bottom of my heart, for everything you say and the photos I’ve seen is definitely a paradise, definitely once retired because not living in this place or somewhere in Mexico, I’ve heard that in Yucatan is a great place to live after retirement!

      1. I think it’s a great thing to know that going to Puerto Rico is good but I want to know if it’s very easy or bad as others countries is?

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