Moving to Puerto Rico?
Puerto Rico’s Highlights: Where to Live and How to Get Around
Puerto Rico’s small size and mountainous interior limit the places where expats, especially working expats, tend to settle. We’ve picked the two most important cities of Puerto Rico, one on the north coast and one on the south coast, to give you a brief overview.
San Juan — The Proud Capital
With more than 395,000 inhabitants, the capital of Puerto Rico is not just the biggest city but also the most populous municipality on the island. Together with the municipalities of Bayamón, Guaynabo, Cataño, Canóvanas, Caguas, Toa Alta, Toa Baja, Carolina, and Trujillo Alto, San Juan forms a metropolitan area with approximately 2.5 million inhabitants.
Founded by Spanish colonists in 1521, San Juan is now an important economic and industrial center of the commonwealth of Puerto Rico and serves as a springboard for tourism in the whole region. San Juan experienced notable economic growth after World War II. Today, it is one of the manufacturing centers of Puerto Rico, specifically in the area of textile, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, machinery, and electronics.
The city has a corporate district called Hato Rey, which is often referred to as the “Wall Street of the Caribbean”. This is mostly due to la Milla de Oro (the golden mile), a part of the Ponce de León Avenue in Hato Rey, which is home to the headquarters of numerous local and international banks.
Ponce — The Pearl of the South
Ponce is the second largest city and municipality of Puerto Rico with a city population of about 160,000. Although the city at the southern shore lives in the shadow of its “big brother” San Juan, Ponce has its own charm. It is often referred to as La Perla del Sur (The Pearl of the South) and the Puerto Rican author Abelardo Díaz Alfaro called it a baluarte irreductible de puertoriqueñidad (a bastion of the irreducible essence of Puerto Rico).
The sugar cane industry was Ponce’s main source of income until the 1950s when the city started to diversify its economy. Today, it mostly revolves around mixed-industry manufacturing, retail, agriculture, and services. The Port of the Americas, a mega port modeled after those in Rotterdam and Singapore, has so far not brought in enough business to make up for its cost. However, there is still hope that the port will make Ponce an important trade and distribution center and give its economy a boost.
As a popular destination for cruise ships in the Caribbean, Ponce also derives significant income from tourism.. Travelers appreciate the city for its historic architecture, the many different museums, and its close proximity to Isla Caja de Muertos, with its hiking trails and gorgeous beaches.
Puerto Rico’s Transportation Connections
The island has eleven seaports, including the aforementioned Port of the Americas in Ponce and San Juan Port, enforcing Puerto Rico’s status as a center of trade and logistics in the Caribbean. If you ever want to visit the smaller islands or explore the Caribbean, the island’s ports are also where you will find the right ferry. From the port of Fajardo, for instance, you can catch a boat to Vieques or Flamenco islands.
There are three international airports on the island: Luis Muñoz International Airport in Carolina, near San Juan, is the largest air transportation hub in the region and often referred to as the Gateway to the Caribbean. In addition, there is Mercedita Airport in Ponce and Rafael Hernández Airport in Aguadilla.
The network of roads, freeways, expressways, and highways in Puerto Rico is maintained by the Highways and Transportation Authority, answering to the US Department of Transportation. In the metropolitan area of San Juan, a network of buses and a metro system (tren urbano) provide public transportation to all visitors and residents. The Autoridad de Transporte Integrado offers lots of information on how to get around town and plan your trip.
If you want to leave the capital, so-called Carros Públicos (public cars), or simply públicos for short, are a popular way to travel. They have set rates which are controlled by the Departmento de Transportación y Obras Públicas (DTOP) and offer travel on set routes and even to remote parts of the island. In fact, it is the only collective public transportation system, providing service to the entire island.
Accommodation in Puerto Rico
In Puerto Rico, all types of housing are available to expats. Most of them rent their accommodation, but purchasing property is also possible if you are in for a long stay. Due to continued economic struggles and growing debt, property sales and prices have dropped significantly. Expats tend to settle mostly in in the cities, including San Juan and Ponce.
The process of finding a place to live is probably similar to what you’d do in your home country if you were looking for a new place. You can consult real estate agents, property websites, or local and national newspapers during your housing search. Although English is one of Puerto Rico’s official languages, a working knowledge of Spanish will be very useful when dealing with local landlords.
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