concerns about moving to puerto rico one year in
It’s hard to believe that, as of this past Thursday, we’ve lived here in Puerto Rico now for a full year! This move was a dramatic change of scenery for us, to say the least, so it’s no surprise that we had some concerns and reservations beforehand. In this post, I’m going to revisit some of these and see how things actually panned out, a year on.
Having a couple of young boys, personal safety was a big concern of ours. Sensational stories of rampant gunfire and shootings from some of my coworkers had us fearing the worst. Just a few months before our move, a concerned friend and triathlete breathlessly told us about a shooting at a triathlon in Puerto Rico. Thankfully, after a year here on the west side of the island, we have no exciting, near-death experiences to speak of. In fact, I find it reassuring to see women and children feeling safe enough to walk alone along Cam Playa or in downtown Aguada. This goes for property crime as well. The developer of our condo said they didn’t have a single item stolen from this work site. This stands in stark contrast to a work site they had on the other side of the island, where thieves were brazen enough to steal in broad daylight! Having said all this, necessary or not, I do find additional peace of mind in that we live on the third floor of a condo where the front door stays locked.
One night as I was falling asleep, I felt something tiptoe across my beard. I quickly swiped it away and flipped on the lights to see what it was. To my horror, it was a roach! This traumatic, isolated incident aside, this is another area where we feared the worst, but ultimately discovered our concerns were overblown. The fact is we’ve seen no more roaches at our condo here than at our house in Texas; about five in total all year. (Update: 9/1/2019 – and none in the last three years!) We’ve had success controlling roaches both here and in the states by using roach bait. We got rid of the ants in our condo the same way.
Our experience is that there are significantly fewer mosquitos here than back in Texas, although I will say that their “bites” do seem to hurt more and the effects last longer. I’ve already discussed our mosquito control tactics in a prior post so I won’t repeat myself here.
Every now and then we will find that a somewhat large and scary-looking spider has found its way into our condo. Trying to catch these critters can be a harrowing affair because just as you get close to them in order to strike, they dash off frantically, resulting in me and anyone watching to completely freak out! The best tool we’ve found for dealing with these is the BugZooka, which allows you to stay at a somewhat safer distance when attempting to vanquish these jumpy uninvited guests.
Tree termites are a new problem for us, but after last year’s experience we were ready for them this year. When we noticed a few of them start to swarm at dusk after a big rain, we closed the windows, turned out the lights and just went to bed early. The next day, we still found some of the bodyless wings they leave behind on our balcony, so we are planning to spray the interior of our condo just to be safe.
Another concern we had before moving was the reliability and cost of utilities. As far as reliability, water service has been the worst with several outages last fall. Because of this, we make sure to keep plenty of jugs filled with tap water on hand for washing dishes and flushing toilets, as well as an ample supply of bottled drinking water. We also bought a camping shower, which we fill when we notice the water pressure start to get wonky; a sign that water loss may be imminent. Most outages are short-lived but it is worth checking acueductospr.com to try to get an idea of when you can expect water service to be resumed. As I said, we had several water outages last fall, but thankfully we’ve only had a few since. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we won’t have to go through a repeat this fall. (please see my updated tips on preparing for water outages…)
As far as electricity and internet, the whole time we’ve been here we’ve only had a handful of outages, the longest of which lasted about 12 hours. During stock market hours I need to stay connected, so I use my phone (AT&T) for backup internet and bought car chargers for both my laptop and phone to keep them up and running should the electricity go out. I’ve only actually had to resort to this setup a couple of times. (please see my updated tips on internet reliability…)
Regarding cost, I’ve discussed electricity in a post earlier this year. Since then, the price of oil has jumped over 60%! However, so far, the price per kilowatt hour reported on my bill has only increased slightly to $16.73. The latest news I’ve seen is that rates may be raised by 26% in 2017!
(Please see my updated thoughts on banking in Puerto Rico…)
Banking wasn’t really a huge concern for us before the move. To keep things simple, we closed all of our stateside accounts except one, and in hindsight I’m very glad we kept it. When we arrived, we opened a savings account at FirstBank. Later, we opened an account at Cooperativa de Ahorro y Crédito de Rincón, so these are the only local financial institutions we have firsthand experience with.
The good news is that the interest rate for a savings account is slightly higher than even the money market rates at our stateside credit unions.
The bad news is they offer FAR fewer perks and services. For example, at FirstBank we are only allowed four withdrawals a month without getting dinged. We had no such limit in the states. Also, at one of our stateside credit unions we could schedule “external transfers” to another person’s account for FREE. This is a feature we use to pay our monthly HOA fee which saves us both time and a stamp. FirstBank does not offer this service. In fact, credit unions in the states typically offer lots of free perks such as coin counting machines, cashier’s checks, online deposits and notary services. FirstBank has none of these. Only lawyers are allowed to notarize documents in Puerto Rico so it’s not surprising that the lowest price we’ve been able to find is $25.
Even if only to access the online services they offer, I recommend you keep at least one stateside bank account open.
Something related that has proven to be invaluable for us is our Sam’s Club MasterCard which provides InClub Cash Access of up to $100 a day. This enables us to avoid ATM fees and fees for exceeding the four withdrawal limit I mentioned above. Cash is used here a lot more than in the states, so it’s important to have some on hand at all times.
Those are the topics that jump out at me as we close out our first year here and look forward to many more years to come! We can only share our experiences as one family on this beautiful and diverse island. If you have any insights to add or additional concerns I didn’t touch on, feel free to share them in the comments.