Moving to Puerto Rico?
Moving to Puerto Rico
At a Glance:
- The tropical marine climate of Puerto Rico is responsible for year-round sunshine but also for tropical storms.
- As Puerto Rico is a US territory, US consulates are responsible for handling visa applications.
- Most expats settle in Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, or in the south in Ponce, its second-largest city.
- Carros Públicos (public cars) allow you to travel all over the island and reach even remote areas.
- A working knowledge of Spanish can be of great help during the housing search in Puerto Rico.
In September 2017, Puerto Rico, along with other Caribbean islands, was hit by a series of hurricanes, one of which caused severe destruction to the infrastructure, as well as destroyed 80% of the island’s crops. At the end of 2017, large parts of the island are still without electricity and running water, leading to a severe healthcare crisis. It is unclear how long it will take the island to recover.
As beautiful as this Caribbean island is, moving there is far less popular than moving away from it. Emigration from Puerto Rico was at its highest in the earlier and middle decades of the 20th century, when generations of young Puerto Ricans dreamed of a better life on the US mainland. Although Puerto Rico is a popular expat destination, its population keeps shrinking and many move back to the mainland again in pursuit of better opportunities.
A Short Introduction to Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a small archipelago in the northeastern Caribbean, just east of the Dominican Republic, and consists of one main and several smaller islands. The main island is the prime destination for most people. Of the smaller islands, only Vieques and Culebra are inhabited throughout the year.
Lovers of nature and those trying to escape the tourism industry are likely to consider moving to one the smaller islands. Even if some of them may lack the infrastructure to make them inhabitable all year round, they certainly make up for this with their long, sandy, deserted beaches and unspoiled nature.
Puerto Rico means “rich port”, but you’ll probably come across some other names for the island, too. Locals often refer to it as Borinquen, stemming from Borikén, the indigenous name for Puerto Rico. Another common nickname is la isla del encanto (the Island of Enchantment). Back when the first immigrants came to Puerto Rico, the island was known as San Juan Bautista, the name given to it by Christopher Columbus. In official terms, it is also often called the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a title used ever since 1950 when the territory was granted the right to draft a local constitution.
Storms and Sunshine in the Caribbean
With a land area of 8,959 km², Puerto Rico is only 8% of the size of Cuba, yet in terms of inhabitants it holds close to a third of Cuba’s population. What is more, most of Puerto Rico’s land area consists of mountains and is therefore uninhabited, so the majority of people opt to move to the island’s coastal plain belt in the north.
Puerto Rico is known for its tropical marine climate (and all that comes with it). Generally speaking, this means average temperatures of 28°C throughout the year with very little seasonal change. In the mountainous center, it can get a lot cooler, though. The hurricane season lasts from June to September.
While the beautiful beaches and year-round sunshine are great, Puerto Rico is also a geological hazard zone where earthquakes, tsunamis, and landslides may occur. Frequent tremors are, in fact, nothing unusual.
Although these hazards are to be expected, Puerto Rico was hit by a series of hurricanes in September 2017 which caused significant damage across the island. At the time of writing in late 2017, large parts of the population were still without electricity and running water.
Visas and Residence Permits for Puerto Rico
As an unincorporated territory of the United States, Puerto Rico has no government body dealing with external affairs. It is therefore subjected to US policy making in areas such as foreign relations, trade, customs administration, immigration and emigration, nationality and citizenship, etc. This means that you will have to deal with the US immigration authorities in order to get your visa for Puerto Rico.
Getting a residence and work permit for the US is notoriously difficult if you are not on a traditional expat assignment. A basic distinction is made between immigrant and non-immigrant visa categories. The Visa Wizard of the US Bureau of Consular Affairs can help you figure out which type of visa you need and how to apply for it. You will still need to schedule an interview appointment at the US embassy or consulate at your place of residence, though.
Residents of countries who take part in the Visa Waiver Program can travel to Puerto Rico without a visa if their stay does not exceed three months. However, they cannot take up employment during that period and they must register with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) beforehand.
We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.