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Living in Puerto Rico?

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Saad Dessouki

Living in Puerto Rico, from Egypt

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Living in Puerto Rico, from Canada

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Puerto Rico at a Glance

Healthcare and Education in Puerto Rico

Dreaming about the good life in Puerto Rico? While Puerto Rico certainly gives expats a taste of the Caribbean, it is not all about palm trees and long sandy beaches. Find out all you need to know about being an expat in Puerto Rico, the people, the culture, and all that comes with it.

When it comes to the technicalities of living in Puerto Rico, you’ll find that things like visa and work permits, taxes, social security, etc. are either partly or completely regulated by U.S. law. For more information on taxation in Puerto Rico, you can consult our article on Working in Puerto Rico; everything else is dealt with in detail in our Expat Guide to the USA. In this article, we will tell you more about the healthcare and education systems of Puerto Rico and about the island’s current status within the United States of America.

Healthcare in Puerto Rico

The Puerto Rican Healthcare System is closely tied to U.S. Social Security in that Puerto Ricans contribute to the latter. However, they do not enjoy the same benefits as people on the mainland. Puerto Rico is often left out of or only partially benefits from US healthcare reforms and does not receive an equal share of healthcare funding.

The island had its own health reform in 2005, by which healthcare services to indigent and impoverished citizens of Puerto Rico are no longer provided through government-owned hospitals and emergency centers, but through private health insurance contractors. In 2005, nearly 40% of the island’s population was covered by this scheme.

An article published in Science Daily in June 2011 suggests that the quality of hospital care in U.S. territories (including Puerto Rico) is inferior to hospital care provided in the 50 states. This can be interpreted as a direct result of the funding inequalities between US states and territories.  

Expats in Puerto Rico definitely need to take out private health insurance, which will also give them access to the island’s various private hospitals and clinics. You can consult the US hospital finder to locate your nearest healthcare provider in Puerto Rico.

Even though there are no common health risks associated with travelling to Puerto Rico, you should make sure that all your standard vaccinations have been refreshed. If in doubt, consult your doctor or a travel health clinic. There have been increased outbreaks of Dengue fever in the Caribbean, so do take precautions against mosquito bites while in Puerto Rico.

Education in Puerto Rico

Education is a high-priority matter in Puerto Rico and receives 40% of budget spending. The island is proud of its overall literacy rate of 94% and has one of the highest college education rates in the whole world. Puerto Rico has over 1,530 public schools, around 570 private schools, and 44 universities.

School is compulsory for all residents of Puerto Rico between the ages of 6 and 17. Children usually attend primary school for the first six years of their education; secondary education is divided into two cycles of three years each. In public schools, all tuition takes place in Spanish; English is taught from kindergarten to high school. There are some private schools where the language of tuition is English, and some international schools, too. Most of them are located in or around San Juan and Ponce.

Puerto Rico’s Relationship with the United States

Puerto Rico has been under U.S. sovereignty since 1898, when the Treaty of Paris ended the Spanish-American War. Since 1917, Puerto Ricans are officially citizens of the United States, but they cannot vote in presidential elections and have no voting representation in either the Senate or the House of Representatives.

Puerto Rico achieved commonwealth status in 1952, when the Governor of Puerto Rico proclaimed the Constitution, which had been drafted by an elected convention and approved by Congress and the President of the United States. However, the old laws defining the political, economic, and fiscal relationship between Puerto Rico and the US remained effective.

In June 2011, the UN Special Committee on Decolonization called on the United States to expedite a process that would “allow Puerto Ricans to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence”. As a result, a two-step plebiscite has been set up, the first of which was held in November 2012. In the referendum, voters were asked whether or not they want to maintain the status quo (i.e. commonwealth status under the territorial clause of the US Constitution). The three options given were statehood, independence, free association. However, as of the beginning of 2013, unambiguous results and consequences remain to be seen.

It is widely assumed that a clarification of Puerto Rico’s status will benefit the island’s economy, as the current uncertainty is seen as an obstacle to economic development.

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