Puerto Rico is a complicated place. As you know, it???s a territory of the U.S. It???s like having a split personality. In many respects, you???re like any other state. You pay into and receive social security and medicare. Federal funds for transportation, health and human services, environmental quality, etc. are administered through federal agency presence on the island. In many other ways, though, it???s like a separate country. You cannot vote for President. This is despite the fact that Puerto Rican soliders, sailors, and airmen have fought and died for the U.S. Some say that if you don???t pay federal taxes you shouldn???t be able to vote for the Presidency. I contend that there are millions of Americans who don???t pay anything into the federal government due to their economic status. Yet, they can vote for President. (Sorry, I digress.) As far as schools go, the majority of people, if financially able to, pay to put their kids through private school. The primary reason is that the public school system is in shambles. Despite receiving federal and local funding, the lack of proper administration, fair pay, and a general malaise among teachers prevent the public school system from being productive and effective. Along these lines, I believe that if local politicians were to put their own children in public schools, they would ultimately pay much more attention to the quality of education. (Again, I digress.)
In general, the cost of living in Puerto Rico is high when compared to most stateside cities. I can???t give you statistics, but I would put it somewhere between Orlando and Miami. A three bedroom, two bath house in a decent neighborhood in the San Juan metropolitan area will cost you $275,000+. Access controlled neighborhoods are the norm, with only older neighborhoods being completely open. Utilities (water/electricity) are high when compared to a lot of places. On average, we pay between $250-400 per month for electricity. Water service isn’t that expensive, but the maintenance of the sewers is horrendous, which leads to frequent flash flooding in the same areas everytime it rains hard. The roads aren’t like a third world country by any means, but they need a lot of improvement. Like so many cities, cost is more important than quality. Along these lines, the sad truth is that PR has lost millions in federal funding simply by not raising the drinking age to 21.
I do have to mention that Vieques and Culebra are great for tourists, but living there is something entirely different. The lack of stores and common necessities make it necessary to depend on the ferry. (Also, the lack of a sewage system on Culebra makes me not want to stay for more than a few hours.) Unfortunately, the ferries often break down or don’t run at all. Space on them is also at a premium. In another lifetime, I spent several days a week in Vieques. It was like being on the main island of Puerto Rico twenty years earlier. I have to admit that while I like the outdoors and nature, I am not Henry David Thoreau. I appreciate modern conveniences, 24-hour pharmacies, and Dunkin Donuts. I know people that embrace the opposite and could live there forever. I’ll just go for a week at a time.
One thing a lot of tourists say is that there seem to be “Projects” all over. In reality, the number is probably the same as you’d find in any major city. The difference is that, instead of being on the south side of the tracks or in a certain burrough, they’re spread out. This leads into a high crime rate. Yes, the rate is high when compared against most states. My personal, unresearched theory is that the population density (3.75 million plus on 110×35 miles) makes it sem worse. The largest cross-section of murders are drug-related and, sadly not of consequence to the general public. The San Juan metropolitan area is a lot like Boston, in the sense that San Juan isn’t that big, but all of the surrounding cities expanded and melded into it. As you get out into the island, you still have Walgreens, Walmart, Marshalls, etc, but the pace is decidedly slower. In general, it’s much less frantic than the constant traffic throughout San Juan. We have an apartment in Fajardo that is like going to another world, even though it’s only an hour from my house.
A lot of what I’ve told you could be construed very negatively. Puerto Rico, like any other place, has some bad things and bad people. In general, it is a great place. The beauty and variety of the flora and fauna is phenomenal. You can drive from a soaked rain forest to dry plains in two hours. Most people are warm and welcoming. The food is unbelievable, with European, Spanish, African and countless other influences. Of course, the white sandy beaches and crystal clear water are amazing.
In most cases, gringos like me that I’ve known are usually split in their opinions. You seem to either love it or hate it. I couldn’t have asked for any more. I came here at 19 and, truthfully, grew into an adult here. I don’t care what awful jokes or stereotypes people like to perpetuate, people of hispanic descent take care of their own. Who cares if some people don’t speak English well. Half of Miami, Boston, New York, Los Angeles and Dallas don’t either. People should do like I did and learn to speak Spanish. It means that anywhere you go, you’ll have more people with whom to talk. Puerto Ricans may yell when they’re mad, but they yell just as loud in celebration. The party always lasts late, and everyone is always welcome. For these reasons and a thousand more, I consider Puerto Rico my home after fourteen years.