So we have been in Puerto Rico for just over a year now. I can’t comprehend just how quickly that time has gone – particularly the last seven months since we were home in Ireland. It’s been a whirlwind and an adventure at the same time.
I think it’s normal with any expat journey to have some challenging experiences when trying to settle into a new country. I’m so settled here now that I think of Puerto Rico as our home. We have a routine and have adjusted to making life work here. And it’s wonderful. I have to pinch myself at times to remind me just how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful country. The beaches, the weather, the friends that we have made here. We have been so lucky to have so many great friends here for support and to have so many laughs with. To be honest without those people our experience would be a lot different and Puerto Rico would be more of a stop gap rather than our home for the next two years.
When thinking back over what we have been through to get to this point of our expat journey there is a number of things that I wish I had known before we started. So here’s my top 10 notes of advice for anyone considering an expat assignment in Puerto Rico but which I’m sure apply to all countries.
- Relocation companies suck. Do not rely on them for support or even to know the basics of what they’re doing. Google the hell our of where you’re going and have a back up plan for what you need to do if the company doesn’t deliver on their promises.
- Don’t go into any assignment with a set amount of time in your head. They always change. Just be open to the time frame and then there’s no disappointment if it’s shorter or longer.
- Make contact where possible with someone who has done a similar move and ask all the questions in the world – forewarned is forearmed.
- Do come on a reki – I didn’t and I really wish I had. I just got on a plane and moved and while that added to the excitement it also added to the stress. Take a week to visit and get your bearings. Particularly as a trailing spouse – most likely your partner goes to work after a day and you’re left at home. A week before to find your way around will ease the transition into calling your new location home.
- Don’t rush into your long term home or accommodation. We were stressing over not being able to find anywhere to live that we liked due to the incompetent and greedy realtors. The best move we made was booking a house rather than a hotel as our temporary accommodation that we could extend if needed. It allowed us time to get to know the area, seek advice and to find the house that we loved. Best thing we did. We love our house and area.
- Relax – it took me a long time to get this one. I was stressed over finding somewhere to live, setting up home, buying everything we needed. Particularly here in Puerto Rico where it’s difficult to get anything done fast. Everything takes time but you’ll get there in the end and guess what? You’ll grow and learn so much about yourself in the process.
- Routine – this is the most important one. Short term assignment or long term expat you need to make this new strange location your home. Routine is the only way to do that. Get out there, make plans, particularly if you have kids. All those play dates and coffee dates are now your access to the community around you. For me routine involves working out and having part time childcare in the form of a nanny. Without either of these things I wouldn’t be as happy as I am here. I’m often approached by ladies in the gym looking for a chat – its a great resource for meeting people and the exercise helps with stress relief.
- Ship what you can. We decided to just basically come with our suitcases and I miss having our personal belongings and all my own kitchen items. Making your house feel like your home is an important part of settling into life here.
- Take some time out as a couple – plan a night away or date nights after your first month. Most likely your spouse will have been adjusting to a new job and possibly new culture and language and you will have been trying to adjust your entire family and keep it all together. You’ll have been so busy that you won’t have had time to catch your breathe and take stock of where you’re at. Lean on one another for support and talk about what you can do to help the transition for the other one.
- Last but not least – Travel. You’re here because you wanted to see more of the world. Because you wanted your kids to experience something new, to see something different. You can’t do that if you stay in one place. Here in Puerto Rico, and especially in Dorado it’s so easy to just stay in our little gated communities where everyone speaks English. That’s a great convenience for every day life but it’s not what you came here to do. Get out, go on day trips, visit other islands. See everything that your new home has to offer. Your time will go quickly once you establish a routine and before you know where you are you’ll be planning your move home or your next assignment. Make sure that you’ll really experienced the place that you’ve been living in.