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Cost Of Living In Puerto Rico Vs. USA (And Spain)

The cost of living in Puerto Rico is higher than in parts of USA.

What? No Way! No How!

I heard this statement recently and I bristled. I know that for us, it has been a lot cheaper to live here in PR that it was in Michigan. So, how could someone think that it’s cheaper in the States? But, it’s been a couple of years, and things change as we go, so I decided to look at the numbers again and see for myself.

Is It Cheaper To Live In USA Than Puerto Rico?

First, I have to acknowledge that we lived in an expensive area/state in USA. It was a hip collage town with good salaries and lots of well-paid people. This was mainly due to the high salaries the University of Michigan paid, comparing to other employers. We both owned and rented in the area and both rents and real estate taxes were ridiculously high.

So, instead of looking at our old area, I decided to compare the cost of living of Puerto Rico to cost of living in a less expensive area in the States. I chose Tucson Arizona. And, I chose it for 3 reasons:

  1. We have family that live in Arizona, so I am familiar with the costs.
  2. Tucson is another hip college town.
  3. We were just there, so I was curious.

insurance

The biggest concern I always had about living in the States, has been the cost of insurances, see my post Why Move Abroad Instead Of To Florida? This included health insurance, car insurance, renters, real estate insurance, or whatever.

So, when I started putting together the numbers, I was certain Puerto Rico would be cheaper than Tucson, AZ. But, to my shock and surprise it was not! WOW! In fact, Tucson came up almost $2,000/year cheaper – WHAT?!

OK, let me show you my numbers and then I will tell you more…

Comparing Cost Of Living In Puerto Rico To Arizona

PR
Basics    
Expense Monthly Yearly
Rent (800 sft apartment) 750 9000
Electric 125 1500
Water/Sewer 40 480
Cable/Internet 78 936
Car Insurance 100
Renters Insurance 0
Health Insurance 175 2100
Other Medical 0
Gasoline (car) 150 1800
Car Maintenance 200 2400
Toll Roads 20 240
 Total Basics $1,538 $18,556
Haircuts/Grooming 100 1200
Groceries 500 6000
Going Out 400 4800
Entertainment 100 1200
Total Other $1,100 $13,200
 Yearly Cost Of Living $33,268

Now let’s look at the same costs in Tucson Arizona:

Tucson
Basics    
Expense Monthly Yearly
Rent (800 sft apartment) 693 8316
Electric 100 1200
Water/Sewer 45 540
Cable/Internet 60 720
Car Insurance 55 660
Renters Insurance 150
Health Insurance 75 900
Other Medical 0
Gasoline (car) 250 3000
Car Maintenance 75 900
Toll Roads 0 0
Basics Subtotal $1,353 $16,386
Other
Haircuts/Grooming 100 1200
Groceries 400 4800
Going Out 400 4800
Entertainment 200 2400
Total Other $1,100 $13,200
Total Yearly Cost of Living $31,098

Heh…

Well, clearly, some of the numbers for Tucson are estimations but I am going by numbers provided by my family members that live in Arizona, so I think they are close to the mark.  The Puerto Rico numbers are based on what we have spent for the past 2 years living on the island. Note that we live pretty frugally here. We conserve energy by choosing to not use AC very much, and we do not have cable, just internet and basic local channels. We would do the same in AZ.

On the other hand, our going out/entertainment costs may be higher than yours. It all depends on how you live and what you choose to do for fun. For example, we found that dinners out in Puerto Rico, in a nice restaurant are more expensive than in AZ. However, there are lots of cheap local places to eat too. But if you’re a movie buff, well, PR is much cheaper at only $6.50/pp!

Health insurance costs for AZ are taken from an online estimator from Healthcare.gov and they are specific to us, our income, and the fact that only one of us needs coverage (Tim gets his insurance elsewhere). But for us, clearly, it would be cheaper to live in Arizona.

shopping

The results were a bit surprising to me. We have been toying around with the idea of moving back to the mainland once we learned how difficult and how expensive it is to run a business here in PR. As a result, we have been trying to figure out what to do (that’s a topic for another post) but from a pure cost of living standpoint, the numbers really surprised us!

So, then, I decided to go a step further. I decided to add Spain to the mix. We spent 2 months living there this summer (and loved it) and also have a good idea of the costs there. Here are my numbers (specifically for Granada):

Cost Of Living In Granada Spain

    Spain
Basics
Expense Monthly Yearly
Rent (800 sft apartment) 450 5400
Electric 150 1800
Water/Sewer 25 300
Cable/Internet 20 240
Car Insurance 0 0
Renters Insurance 0
Health Insurance 275 3300
Other Medical 0
Gasoline (car) 0 0
Car Maintenance 0 0
Toll Roads 0 0
 Basics Total $920 $11,040
Haircuts/Grooming 60 720
Groceries 300 3600
Going Out 300 3600
Entertainment 100 1200
Total Other $760 $9,120
 Yearly Cost of Living $20,160

HOLY MOLY!

As I always say, it pays to put it on paper. There is nothing like seeing these numbers in black and white. We could tell that Spain was much cheaper but adding it all up, it’s A LOT cheaper.

So, Puerto Rico is definitely not the cheapest place to live, whether compared to USA or Europe. In fact, Poland (where my parents live), is even cheaper than Spain. Sooo…… maybe we’ll have to look at those numbers sometime too.

Bear in mind that I am not looking at costs such as sales tax and income taxes (I will write about those later). If you factor those in, than living in Puerto Rico becomes even less cost effective.

Naturally, your own going out/entertainment expenses will be different, as well as your car expenses and gasoline costs. Some of those things are dependent on where you live and how much you drive. But I think you get the idea.

So, there you have it; that’s how living in Puerto Rico breaks down on paper. It was shocking to me too.

PS. I want to add that we are keeping in touch with folks in Panama (the country we originally thought to make home) and they have confirmed for us that their average monthly spend is between $2,200-$2,500. So, not really that much cheaper than PR.

Cheers!

Joanna-

About Joanna Rolston

is a Polish American living in Arizona with her husband Tim. She is a founding partner of JTR Tech and she is proud to be a professional geek. She had dreamt of living abroad for many years. So, she and Tim created AbroadDreams.com to document the process of making their dream of moving abroad come true. They spent 2 years in Puerto Rico and several months in Spain and Poland. Now they are exploring the American Southwest.

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14 comments

  1. Hi Joanna,

    My husband and I live in Scottsdale, AZ and are moving to Vieques, PR in a few months. I find your comparison of PR and Tucson very interesting. The one area we seemed to have question about is the health/medical insurance assessment. With Obama Care these days, the rates are not even close. Arizona will have the highest medical insurance rates in the country going forward. PR will be a blessing to have cheaper/more cost effective medical insurance options. We are currently paying $750/month with a high deductible. Maybe you missed a zero in there. 🙂

    Anyway, your blog has helped us out with a ton of questions we were having trouble finding online. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. Keep the information coming. It is so valuable!!!!

    • Hi Laura,
      That’s awesome! Vieques is gorgeous, some of the best beaches in the world. No, actually, I didn’t miss any zeros 🙂 In fact, I signed up for AZ insurance and paid the premium – so no mistake there. It is, of course, dependent on your income, how many people you are covering, and what you get. In PR, you can expect to pay $200-250/per person/mo for insurance. The cheapest I was able to find for myself (Tim doesn’t need it because he gets VA) in PR is $175/mo. But in order to not have large copays (50%+) with this insurance, I’d have to stay completely in their system, including using their hospital (which is not that great).

      Anyway, it sounds like for the two of you it will be a savings to get insurance here. Also, the deductibles are definitely lower here. Depending on which insurance company you choose on the island, it will go either by your ages, by your income, or by both to set rates.
      The first year we were here, we went the route of insuring ourselves, which means, no insurance, just paying everything out of pocket. We’re pretty healthy but we still ended up paying about the same amount as it would cost us to pay the premiums. Luckily, we didn’t need any hospital stays, but if we did, they would add to the cost very quickly, so after evaluating, we chose to get insurance.
      PS. Here is a good article on health insurance costs in USA: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gobankingrates/10-best-and-worst-states_b_9030422.html
      Good luck.
      Cheers,
      Joanna-

  2. Interesting post for two reasons. 1) We live in Ann Arbor, so this was very relateable. 2) Glad that atleast compared to where we live now, PR would still have less expensive living costs for a great opportunity to experience tropical living and spanish culture.

  3. hi , curious as to how the cost of gas per month was 2.5 times higher in PR ? gas here per gallon is the same as most of new england , so that would mean the cost of gas in Ariz is about $1.00 per gallon ?

    • Ed,
      Good catch! I somehow transposed the car costs section for PR and Tucson (sigh, too many numbers), I corrected it in the tables. Gas is about $.3 – .4/gallon cheaper in Tucson but the distances are greater, so therefore the gasoline costs will be higher. However, there are no toll roads in AZ and the car maintenance costs are expected to be much lower in Tucson.

      Anyway, I fixed the typos in the tables. Unfortunately, that makes PR even more expensive. Sigh.
      Joanna-

  4. I’ve been gone for almost 3 years and I am STILL having to deal with the difficulties of living there. I’m simply trying to rollover an IRA. Rolling over my IRA here took a 10 minute phone call to get the check sent to me. Contrast that with the 5 hours I spent on the phone Monday trying to get my check from Banco Popular. Over 10 calls to Hacienda and I still spoke to no one. Still struggling with getting my IRA out of Banco Popular. Trying to do anything with banks and government in PR is mostly very difficult and time consuming. Sometimes you get lucky.

  5. Hi, Joanna — Yes, when we moved to Costa Rica from Maine, we saw HUGE savings primarily in 2 areas, our property taxes and fuel oil for heating. But now that we’re back in the states, in Utah, we spend less overall than in Costa Rica and for a far superior standard of living. We loved our 5+ years in CR and I still think living abroad as a “life adventure” can be a very worthwhile experience, but as a permanent plan, particularly as a way to “save” on your cost of living, not so much. As I say (often) in my new book REALITY CHECK (due out very soon!), the U.S. is a big place and cost of living varies tremendously depending on where you are. You might well save money moving to CR (or Panama or Ecuador or PR or whatever) but you could ALSO very likely save a similar amount of money by simply moving to a different part of the U.S. Interestingly, about 4 separate ex-expats that we know now live in Tucson (all unrelated to each other being there). Look forward to reading about your ongoing decisions.

    • Hi Arden,
      What a great name for a book! Yeah, I have been telling people that move here to abstain from investing in real estate for that very reason. Living somewhere is a lot different than vacationing there. We certainly are getting an education here too. I am sure it is the same everywhere. That’s awesome about Tucson! Well, the more we research the more it surprises us how affordable it is.
      Joanna-

  6. We made the move to PR recently , having followed your posts for the past year and I am surprised to read your almost throwaway remark on the difficulties and costs of running a business here (evidently so much so that it sounds like you are considering a move). PLEASE a subject for your next post- expand on that comment. I really value your careful analysis and thoughtful insights on all matters abroad.
    Thanks
    Greg