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Mistakes expats make in Puerto Rico

Hello everyone,

Did you make any mistakes when you first moved to Puerto Rico? What were they?

How did you address your mistakes? Did you learn anything from them?

With hindsight, what would you do differently?

Are there any tips you could give future expats in Puerto Rico to help them avoid these kinds of mistakes?

We look forward to hearing from you!

Priscilla

Thinking PR will be like the states since it's a territory.

Treating everyone like they are servers
Asking for favors but not reciprocating
Not trying hard to learn the language but expecting others to try to speak their language
Living isolated in English speaking communities
Not learning and embracing the local customs

Then complaining they are lonely and have few local friends

The culture and language is so important to many and one of the main reasons I'm moving there! It makes me sad to hear of gringos moving there with all of their privileges disrespecting the locals. Happens everywhere, unfortunately. Those kind should stay home and keep their #maga mentality there. Just my dos centavos.

In almost 20 years, I've never seen a mainlander disrespecting locals. What have I been missing?

Definitely learn Spanish. That is the gateway to the culture, not to mention that Puerto Ricans use perhaps the richest selection of idioms any language has to offer.

I'm referring to the many posts on this forum,and others, complaining about the people not speaking English, belong lazy, etc. As others have said, the culture and way of doing things is not like the U.S. and to demand they should speak English to accommodate you is disrespectful in my book.

It is funny how things work, I was in Rincon which caters to the tourists and found myself being mistreated and mostly ignored because me and Carlos are locals, that is how much the locals there cater to tourists.I guess they figure our tips would be smaller, I wanted to leave a penny for the tip, but Carlos gave then 15% which I felt they did not deserve.

As to treatment of Puerto Ricans by expats, I seen the demands and mistreatment personally and heard their conversation about how ass backward the country was and being demanding and condescending. I seen it in supermarkets, restaurants, banks and shops. I guess they still have their tourist hat on and have not yet put on the expat hat,

I will say one of the most common mistakes is thinking that because PR is part of the USA things are done the same way. You cannot compare the way things are done in the mainland to the island. Some folks move to the island without doing a thorough investigation and then complain because things are not going their way.

Yup. Husband is half Puerto Rican and Mexican and grew up with his PR side of the family and has family on the island and honestly thought the island was going to be like the states at least as far as the gov systems (DMV, IRS, road signs). LOL I told him no, and to get ready for some culture shock especially since he doesn't speak Spanish, but understands it. I was excited to speak Spanish and teach it to my daughter so she grows up bilingual (My family/heritage is Mexican). I actually read up on PR before our trip out here since it was one of his job locations. In 2015 all you read on the news was the debt crisis as it was being compared to Greece, the black outs and water rationing (which our realtor recommended a tourist area since we were having a baby when we moved out here), and the first breakouts of Zika. I was pregnant my first visit here when Zika was first on the radar.

As for me, having small children and working in Health Care and being told to bring her in when she's sick, no 2,4,6,12,18 month check up was definitely a shock to me. But hey, I save on the time waiting. I've also had my share of people calling me a gringa for my accent or saying a word in English when I don't know what it is in Spanish. Example: "Mira, de Latinoaméricana a gringa en dos oraciones, hahaha" from an MD at the ER. BUT, In a visit in the states or a phone call and they ask where I live and say PR they say "Wow, your English is very good" That's just my experience. I get asked where I'm from and their thought has been Guatemala, Colombia, Indian. Whatevs. It's a conversation starter. Lol

Rey i do agreee with you. Going out we've waited a very long time to be served and of course husband too always leaves a good tip no matter the service. But with his other friends who may look like tourists to them have a different experience. 

PR does have a beautiful culture, we frequently go out (toddler permitting) and attend events with the community and in San Juan. As far as society now though, there's a lot of things going on you just can't ignore especially if someone moves out here or lives here and has to go to work 9-5 to make a living a support their family. If you go to school at UPR, their budget is being cut and prices are going up, students are protesting and Administrators are quitting. If you work retail, Walgreens is laying off 100 workers JUST TO REHIRE! Probably because of the new labor law. Payless is bankrupt and closing stores in PR and US and even in Isla Verde El San Juan Resort closed for remodeling and didnt hire back A LOT of employees, to which the Local 610 is protesting in front of the hotel with a huge blow up of a rat right in front.

As far as advice to other expats.
-Read your rental contract thoroughly and make sure you understand it. You might end up having to fix the home Cistern and pay to have it fixed because it's included in maintenance as per the contract.
-If your buying make sure you know the property history, you don't want to buy a condo and later find out it was part of a lawsuit and have it affect the property price when it's your time to sell.
-If you have a decent paying job here and end up in a higher tax bracket be prepared to pay A LOT in taxes.
-You're in a different country even though it's part of the US and not labeled as such. Expect the legal system, police, signs everything to be in Spanish. Customs are different, you may be greeted with a hug or kiss in the cheek LOL.  Everything is different. You are no longer in the states. That's probably the most Important along with having a good attitude when the power goes out when you're in the middle of making dinner!

My experience may be different from many. Hell, my experience is different from my husband. We can all agree to disagree.

Very interesting post, and I feel I may have a somewhat similar to what you and your husband experience, justpeachyy.  When on the Island it's assumed I'm Puerto Rican and although I understand Spanish, I don't speak it as well so it makes for slightly awkward situations when I've said it's fine they can speak to me in Spanish, no need to apologize, which sadly, many do!  I'm the one apologizing every five minutes for not having very good Spanish, as I feel I should! I'm on their turf! 

It's just unfortunate that some people are so arrogant to treat others as servants, whether on vacation or expat.   I wasn't equating disrespect of culture and language with physical assault in my comment earlier, although neither should be acceptable.  I certainly wasn't trying to start an argument or be disagreeable here.  I don't (yet) live there, but I've seen that similar attitude played out here in the states even, against myself and others who are 'othered' (ie, lazy, don't speak 'good english' etc.)  and it's heartbreaking to think it's carried over there, to such kind and beautiful people.

Pardon my typos, I am recovering from surgery trying to pack and follow the board all at the same time.

I personally have never seen a Puerto Rican treated like a servant and at that I stay in touristy areas. They will shut you down at first sign of disrespect. (Per husband and his family) Although, opinions on how people and cultures that are different from us may be, are just that, opinions. Prejudice is in the states as well as here and everywhere else until one becomes educated.

As far as my husband goes, I do and say everything since everything is in Spanish. Soon, it will be our toddler too.  :D Until then, I will be the gringa Mexican Guatemalan Colombian Indian from California that speaks good English. LOL

Not trying to speak Spanish is a huge mistake.

We haven't moved yet, but we have been spending time in the winter for 20+ years.  Our Spanish is still terrible, but we find that the locals appreciate that we try.  Most locals have been absolutely lovely to us.  Most people are more than willing to help.  More frustrating, is that oftentimes people will switch to English, which is easier for them than trying to deal with our our Spanish.  They think they are doing you a favor.  I expect to improve a lot after we move.

Hola, Anna,
Your words are encouraging to me. I'm trying to spend time each day studying Spanish. I can read fairly well, but I'm very nervous about trying to carry on conversations. My husband and I are moving to PR in May. I think I will have more courage when I am able to actually talk with native speakers -- I hope.
Nan

Nanraughley :

Hola, Anna,
Your words are encouraging to me. I'm trying to spend time each day studying Spanish. I can read fairly well, but I'm very nervous about trying to carry on conversations. My husband and I are moving to PR in May. I think I will have more courage when I am able to actually talk with native speakers -- I hope.
Nan

Do not let fear paralyze you. Natives have the same fear with their English.

My brother for example has never left the island, when me and the wife last visited him I had to translate between him and the wife, however a few weeks ago he was texting with me and the wife and she was texting him in English and he was responding in Spanish. This is a guy in the country side of the island that hardly has any contacts with people from the US. He can read English and understand it when spoken (for the most part), he just have a fear of making a mistake trying to speak in English. He is in his mid fifties.

Maybe it is that English is easier to learn. When I was going to school in PR (long ago) we had 1 hour of English every day in school but it was mostly learning words unlike English here in the states where you have to write papers and do compositions, etc. The rest of the classes were all in Spanish, this is first grade thru Hight school. UPR for the most part is the same way to my knowledge but some of the books may be in English.

Don't let fear stop you, you make mistakes, so what? We all do for many years. I am very fluent on both languages but I been in the US for 43 years and in PR for 20.

My 2 cents

I'm a local 49 yrs.. 

Expecting to get everything for free.. awesome service needs to be well compensated nothing is for free, the real reason many agents won't move finger locating a property or being a buyer's agent.... I can get deeper into this..

Not doing enough homework.. and then expect someone do it for you... again for free.

Expect to have someone answer the phone 24/7.

Expect to have somebody on the phone for 3 hours at any hour.

Having someone busy for a month without any compensations or intention to.

Complaining about everything you didn't research enough.

Not hearing the person asked for counseling because is your way or the highway.

Listening to all but the facts, people give too much weight on the opinion of others which might have done things wrong or not with enough knowledge or fact finding.. get your own opinion, research and fact find so you can have a more solid background or you might be living under others expectations and failures.. sometimes I can only flop on comments that are so away from reality but then again are just opinions.

Don't be cheap but live under your possibilities, you are going to relocate do it thinking about what you really want and deserve not on how much money you are going to save.. one thing is to make good financial moves another is being cheap.. at the end it will bite you!

Thinking you are moving to a 3rd world country.. we are the star of the caribbean baby!

Looking for property, price as first priority.. not the best idea it can bite back... buy the best property you can afford after all you are going to live and sleep there also your significant others.

Need to embrace the term "Island Time".. ask me about it

Be respectful, courteous and a good person.. most locals see mainlanders as our brother US citizens.. be one!... we also know when you are not!

Most of all enjoy and relearn another way of thinking, living and see things.

regards  :D ,

For those of you, remotely new to Puerto Rico.

Remember, tomorrow is the most somber of all Christian Holy Days.

Most stores and offices will be closed tomorrow.

Moving to PR without a guaranteed job or sufficient passive income is by far the biggest mistake people make.

Thinking that just because Puerto Rico it a Territory that it's going to be somewhat like the states, this place is nothing like the states,  i've never seen such incompetence anywhere in my life,  in all aspects of service, example, I paid my utility bill online and they still shut off my power, tried calling but nobody answered the phone for a whole day, went in to pay my bill, and they assured me the power would be on the next morning, it wasn't. And this is only one aspect, the police don't  enforce traffic laws at all, cars driving around with headlights, tail lights out sometimes no lights, it's a  dangerous hazard to everybody else. They talk about  Puerto Rican Pride here but they trash the beaches, I've seen people throw out their car windows bags of trash while driving, where's the pride in that? If I had to do it all over again I would never have moved to this place of garbage, 15%  unemployment, And over $70 billion in debt, it's a  major disaster in the making. Humanitarian crisis.

One thing that outraged me the most (other than the hit-and-runs, the impunity granted to criminals by the so-called justice system, the stifling, business-killing bureaucracy, and people not honoring contracts), was people leaving their glass beer bottles on the beach.

Serious danger for the kids and everyone else!

Also hated the noise pollution.

Wow guys, a lot of negativity, I think we went from mistakes people make to what is bad about Puerto Rico. But I understand, sometimes one gets burned and some stuff gets under your skin,  :D

Sorry, Rey - it just seeps out sometimes 🙂

Most people think that even thou PR is part of the US everything is run the same. Unfortunately they don't do a thorough investigation before making the move and then blame it on the island culture.
Moving away, to a lower cost of living place requires understanding of the place you're moving to. Either you adapt or turn back. I have read on forums of expat moving to other places and this is a common issue.

NomadLawyer :

Sorry, Rey - it just seeps out sometimes 🙂

One has to take the good with the bad, that is why I tell people to visit the island several times and rent before they buy. PR is not for everyone, I am a native and I see the faults also, specially after spending 44 years in the states.
So to everyone..... research, visit, revisit, make sure one is not making a super expensive mistake.

ReyP :
NomadLawyer :

Sorry, Rey - it just seeps out sometimes 🙂

One has to take the good with the bad, that is why I tell people to visit the island several times and rent before they buy. PR is not for everyone, I am a native and I see the faults also, specially after spending 44 years in the states.
So to everyone..... research, visit, revisit, make sure one is not making a super expensive mistake.

Maybe because we both are native we see it differently. Living in the island is no cake walk. I know a lot of things are mayor BS and should be better but we understand the culture and are more tolerant. PR is not for everyone, sometimes just saving money is not enough incentive.

Justpeachyy......my husband is from Mexico.  When we are in PR they think he's Columbian too.  Too funny.  How is the reception towards Mexicans in PR?  We met a Mexican man who had a taco stand in Rincon.  He felt that PRicans discriminate against Mexicans.  While my husband loves my culture and the island, I would hate to move there and have him feel like an outsider.  He already went through culture shock when he moved to New Jersey from Mexico at age 13.

10YRStoRincon :

Justpeachyy......my husband is from Mexico.  When we are in PR they think he's Columbian too.  Too funny.  How is the reception towards Mexicans in PR?  We met a Mexican man who had a taco stand in Rincon.  He felt that PRicans discriminate against Mexicans.  While my husband loves my culture and the island, I would hate to move there and have him feel like an outsider.  He already went through culture shock when he moved to New Jersey from Mexico at age 13.

To be honest, I will always feel like an outsider unless I'm in a tourist area. I've been told they're gonna "Explain it to me the Mexican way", and just recently I got a lecture on the way ahora and ahorita are used in PR apparently it's different, I've been told by an MD that I went from Latin American to Gringa in two sentences when answering questions in Spanish then English because I didn't know the word. It's hard to find Mexican candy, I haven't seen conchas/Mexican sweet bread or snacks. No lemon lays or spicy chips, Only Best Buy by plaza las americas sells hot cheetos, Pueblo used to sell Takis and you won't find Tapatío or Valentina as I am still looking lol. Sorry this turned into a food you won't find here, I am heavily pregnant with cravings.

In PR, We use "ahora" for now, and "ahorita" as in a little bit, however we rarely use ahorita. It is more of a Mexican speech pattern.

Mexican Spanish has a lot of their Indian influence and local lingo, we have some Taino words but the taino part is not as strong since they were killed off early in PR history, our strongest influences came from Spain and Africa.

Our music while both in spanish are different and our food are fairly different, in PR most foods have no heat and we use Sofrito which is closer to Italian in that it is a lot of green pappers, onions and garlic with other herbs like cilantro and oregano. We do not use anywhere near the amount of corn, while we like corn on the cob and make some side salads with some corn and use a little corn in soups and Asopaos, our use of corn is fairly limited. We use the Platano and Guineos very heavily instead. Some it is portions of the spices, Like Oregano, we use it in most things, I have not seen that much Oregano in Mexican food, we use cumin, but just a dash, mexican food use more, Cilantro we mostly use it cooked as part of sofrito, we normally do not use it uncooked like in Mexico.

Back in the time when I was growing up in PR, there were few Mexicans now there are a lot more, and while we speak the same language if we stick to correct Spanish we can understand each other, but our choice of words is different and our taste for music is different. We use Biscocho, Mexicans tend to use Torta instead, both are correct, we say habichuelas, mexicans tend to use Frijoles, it is a choice of words based on what you hear others use when you are a child. Not going to debate that one word is generic and the other is a specific type of bean or a specific type of pastry, not going there!!!

I myself like two flavors of Spanish the most, the one spoken in Spain and the one spoken in Argentina, they both sing to me.

I spend 2 years in Brownsville Texas and traveled to Mexico itself and Mexico city several times and spend 2 months working in Mexico on a project, so I am more tuned to their ways and their speech than many Puerto Ricans I know. In Brownsville there were my only source of Spanish, I even learned some Pachuco while I was there.

As a non native, it is hard to blend in when your culture is different and your speech pattern is different, but after a while we all have the same place to speak about and the people around you stop hearing the differences and concentrate more in what we all have in common.

It is how we express ourselves that make a big difference, like men, I wish I could find some tomatillos, versus ..... This freaking country has no tomatillos.

I am not perfect by any definition, but I do naturally study people and how they speak and express themselves and find it very interesting to see what makes people tick.

Any of this makes sense?

10YRStoRincon :

He felt that PRicans discriminate against Mexicans.

I would not call it discrimination, but I understand, we don't have as many Mexicans in PR unlike the US where everyone thinks that if you speak Spanish you must be Mexican and your food must be hot.

We are more familiar with Cubans and Dominicans since they are next door and they been coming to PR since the islands were colonized, we also have similar histories and fairly similar bloodlines.

We do watch a lot of Mexican soap Operas (Novelas)!!!!!

Well if you ever need a shipment of Mexican products let me know.  We have a lot if the brands here.  I totally understand the pregnancy/craving thing.

I think one if the reasons my husband and I both liked Rincon is because there are many transplants living there so it's almost like being in the states.  He grew up around Puerto Ricans so he is very familiar with the way we talk.  I in turn was completely reeducated as well in speaking "mexican" .   

But I know he'll miss his Mexican food products.  I'm not too worried about the salsas because we make them from scratch and in PR we'll be able to grow most of the ingredients.  But I know I'll miss a good taco al pastor with un jarrito.

Good luck with the pregnancy!!!  And feeling welcomed in your new hometown.

Those Mexican novelas....hahaha....as much as we criticize we are hooked to them....lol

We live on the east coast for a while we were all Puerto Ricans and ate rice and beans if we spoke spanish.  With the influx of other cultures, we are not getting pegged as much.

But I do worry about him feeling like an outsider.  Every time we go to PR he's had a positive experience, in fact he loves and embraces our culture....but I worry still. 

Thank you for your input.

I spend 44 years in the states as an outsider, nothing is falling off yet and my skin is a lot thicker now.

There are educated people (even with PHD's) everywhere that have no clue about other cultures or how the world works and say some very stupid incencitive things and label everyone as either Puerto Rican, or Mexican and make many assumptions. I tend to call them out as I have little patience for fools.

I think adlin is on to something re criticism of PR (basically, resulting from unmet expectations) but I would argue that it is a mistake to categorize those who are more critical of PR as being less knowledgeable about its culture. I think the fact that many native born and raised Puerto Ricans are incredibly critical of the island (more so than anyone in this site) shows that criticism is not generated by mere ignorance. In fact, I would argue that the more one knows about PR, the more critical one may become. (Note that I am not saying this is inevitable).

I, for one, will compliment PR where I feel it is warranted, but I have grown more critical of the place since I first fell in love with the island 20 years ago. Which brings us back to adlin's point about expectations, which is true. I've lived in and visited third world countries. I do expect more from PR than third world conditions because I know PR has such potential. I therefore critize PR more than those third world locations. And I know that many natives want to see the same potential unleashed. To have seen so many opportunities missed is difficult. A million Puerto Ricans have voted with their feet and left.

I add my criticisms to this site along with my positive comments in the hope that they inform people who are considering a move to PR of what is in store for them. During a friendly argument that I was having once, my sparring partner said to me that any country is good to live in if you're rich. I think there is a lot of wisdom in this statement. It also reveals the opposite. PR is not a good place to live if you are just scraping by. Therefore, do not move there unless you have the money.

You know what they say, it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. Such is my relationship with PR.

Over the long run PR will be as expensive as Hawaii, if one is scrapping by and the amount will not grow at the same rate it is a matter of time before one will be living above its means.

While Puerto Rican's do have a good heart and are friendly, we do tend to be very self centered and not think how our actions affect others, examples: taking the whole isle in the supermarket having others say excuse me to pass, leaving trash at beaches, driving well below the speed limit on the left lane, and many more stupid distracted things we do instead of being aware and caring of the needs of others.

I agree with Rey and adlin20 comments. People are making assumptions without researching. For those from other cultures other that American and PRican here is a fact that I have not seen anyone mention.
Even thou PR is part of the US we have lived in 3 states and 7 mayor cities and 90% of the time have not been able to find spices and ingredients from our culture to cook with. Had to have family purchase and ship of buy online. And if available, have always had to drive 45mins plus which makes it a weekend trip. If you look around in US and PR you will not see many products for salvadorean, columbian, etc. So again, dont assume, research and adapt accordingly. We had to adapt to each US city which had its own specific set or rules/laws that are not posted anywhere and usually find out after a ticket. One place cannot be like another, might as well stay where you are. There is always a compromise. Those are my 2 cents.

Well said

I came to the US about 43 years ago and still to this day people ask me how hard was it to to get a work permit, how long did it take me to become a citizen, or asking me for a Mexican recipe or to recommend a good Mexican restaurant. Miracle some don't call immigration to make sure I am legal.

Frustration is a 2 way road guys.

On the other hand, Ladies tend to like us latinos, so in that area, I was very happy in the states.

Exactly, and this is what this forum is for right? So people can ask questions and learn. Some of us are lucky enough to visit before we move and some have to come out because they have no other option due to work. The more people know the better. So if the cons outweigh the pros for some people it's better for them to research as much as they can instead of learning the hard way or not come here at all. You can't paint a perfect picture of an island with beautiful beaches and cheap properties and not mention the economic crisis, the closings of schools, protests, etiquete etc. especially when families are moving here that don't know what's going on. So for those living on the island being without water because water randomly goes out or they're doing repairs on the main lines or the random black outs as well, it would be nice to know that as a newcomer so they at least prepare with a cistern or a generator when renting or buying. As far as with food culturally obviously it's going to be addressed with demand anywhere you go unless the place you're in is culturally diverse. People are ignorant until they learn.

Justpeachyy,
I believe we been doing a good job of letting the people know both, the good and the bad, have we not?
Yes in this forum we try to help the people with information and try very hard not to let them come unprepared and wearing rosy glasses.

Maybe I misunderstood your post?

In all honesty, and this is my opinion  so you can take it or leave it, if you paint anything other than a rosy picture you get attacked  or it gets compared to somewhere else in the states. We're talking about Puerto Rico. One thing is saying what you have experienced in Puerto Rico because you are asked, compared to insulting (like that one guy who posted here not long ago) which I don't agree with, and in that case you get what's coming to you.

People come to forums like this to get a glimpse of what it's like or for more info. If you're out here scouting properties and schools  for a move out here you don't visit hospitals, CESCO or the courts or police department to research what you need to know on a visit here. So when they do move and realize that it's not run like the states it's an experience on its own. For example; having to pay for parking at the hospital.

Justpeachyy :

In all honesty, and this is my opinion  so you can take it or leave it, if you paint anything other than a rosy picture you get attacked  or it gets compared to somewhere else in the states. We're talking about Puerto Rico. One thing is saying what you have experienced in Puerto Rico because you are asked, compared to insulting (like that one guy who posted here not long ago) which I don't agree with, and in that case you get what's coming to you.

People come to forums like this to get a glimpse of what it's like or for more info. If you're out here scouting properties and schools  for a move out here you don't visit hospitals, CESCO or the courts or police department to research what you need to know on a visit here. So when they do move and realize that it's not run like the states it's an experience on its own. For example; having to pay for parking at the hospital.

I am sorry you have felt attacked for expressing your opinion or describing your experiences.

As to states versus PR, there are a lot of differences between the two but some similarities also. My wife just had a knee operation in Boston and I had to pay the parking at the hospital 35 for every time I visited her, so paying parking in a PR hospital is not surprising to me. We all have different experiences based on what we are used to.

Going to another country or territory is a shock to a lot of people, but each is shocked in a different way based on their experiences in other places.

But comparisons is normal, it is how we as people determine if the crime is lower or higher than what we are used to, the same with education, taxes, humidity etc. Where a monkey wrench is throw in is when people compare it against a city or state that you are not familiar with, for them it makes sense for others it won't.
We are all people, we see things differently based on our previous experiences and comfort level.

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