Sunday, September 16, 2007

Stay away.... or PAY !

There are countries ( like Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Malaysia, Singapore - to name just a few) that welcome immigrants, particularly those, who, like retirees or investors, will bring their money with them, without competing for the jobs with the locals. Those countries try to lure those desirable immigrants by allowing them a host of privileges, of which most common is a right to bring their possessions like cars, furnishing and other household items duty free.

Not Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is rarely a retirement destination for Americans, other than Nyoricans (= New York Puertoricans) although it could for most Americans be a “living overseas light” destination, a primer in the pleasures and perils of living in another climate, another culture, yet with many aspects of life similar to those in the USA.

For starters US citizens do not need to jump though legal hoops to gain residency - Puerto Rico is a US territory and - at least in theory - every US citizen - or resident - is entitled to living - and even working - in Puerto Rico.

Yes, there is a high unemployment in Puerto Rico and the income levels are much lower than in the USA:- according to official statistic the unemployment rate is over 12%, while median wage in Puerto Rico is only about 1/3 of the median wage in the lowest median-wage state in the USA - Mississippi. And the cost of living in Puerto Rico is higher than anywhere else in the Caribbean or Latin America, with San Juan supposedly the most expensive city in the Caribbean - but - legally - there are no restrictions on a US immigrants’ right to live and work there.
There are, however, economic restrictions: Puerto Rico tried hard to restrict the influx of immigrants - any kind of immigrants - by imposing excise duties on any and all goods brought to the island by practically anybody.
This is no longer the case, at least for Americans, except for cars.
Even its tourist board, while welcoming vacationers, is doing its best to discourage potential immigrants: on its discussion board, experts on Puerto Rico try hard to actively discourage anybody whose questions suggest a willingness to become a Puerto Rican resident.

They point to island’s overcrowding ( which, statistically, is undoubtedly true: Puerto Rico has a population density much higher than most other places in the world), on its low income levels ( also, judging by statistics - true), lack of public transportation, which is at least one of the causes of the horrific amount of cars on the island, judging both by its size and by a cars per capita ratio.

Somehow you don’t find them discussing positives, like a much better access to affordable health care - far, far more affordable and far more accessible than in the US proper.

Positives like the island's bilingual status, which, at least in theory, should allow you to conduct at least government business in English - though I have as yet no information on how well does it actually work in practice.

Positives like similarity of laws and jurisprudence, which - although tinged with Spanish traditions - appears to be pretty Americanised. No, I am not a - blind - fan of American legal system or its jurisprudence - far from it. I simply think that to an average US citizen similarity of jurisprudence is a plus, a fact that makes assimilation easier.

Positives like an abundance of American stores with goods a US citizen is familiar with. Etc. Etc.

Add to it a rich culture, a - save for transportation - well developed infrastructure, an abundance of natural diversity: beaches galore, mountains galore, and all kinds of forests, from dry forest (Guanica) to rain forest (El Yunque); interesting food, pleasant climate through most of the year, etc.

Finally, consider proximity to the United States and ease of reaching it thanks to a well developed network of flights.

But…. if you decide to not stay away …. be prepared to pay at least exaggerated shipping fees for everything you bring there. And if you decide to bring a car - which you can hardly live without on a relatively large island with no transportation - you’ll pay through the nose.

The newer and more fancy car, the more you’ll pay in excise taxes: nominally up to 40% of your car’s value ….but with shipping costs added to the value, to make the tax even higher.

It may not be a sufficient deterrent to someone who knows Puerto Rico, knows that he/she likes living there and plans on staying there a long time. But for someone who is moving there on a temporary basis - who, like me, was offered a job, a contract or an assignment there with a possibility to end it after 6 months, a year, two years, but with an option to stay there as long as one likes, it becomes a guessing game, an exercise in figuring out how to balance cost and comfort.

Is it worth while bringing my car over if I decide to stay there only six months? Or will I be better off buying - or renting/leasing a car there, even though cars cost considerably more over there? What if I stay a year, or two, or indefinitely? The calculation will change in each and every case, so you have to factor different scenarios, assign probabilities, etc.

Still, life seldom follows the logical patterns and the probabilities assigned by our mind are vulnerable to the havoc our irrational emotions - or even fleeting moods of estrangement and loneliness - might at any time wreck on them. Why, or why can’t we be more lice Vulcans (= from Star Trek)???

Or Puerto Rico more immigrant friendly?

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