2020: COVID and Relocating to Puerto Rico

Let’s face it, 2020 has been a year and it’s only about 75% complete. COVID has been at the forefront, but there has also been a renewed passion for civil rights and an understanding that saying that black lives matter does not take away from anyone else’s value. It’s not a pie. The economy is suffering, small businesses are closing, and restaurants have been hit particularly hard. And then there is the extreme hostility of the political climate. I am actually not going to talk about any of these things much. Lots of other people have done a fine job addressing these things.

For me, 2020 has been the year of the big move. However, it started in 2014. In the spring of 2014, my then boyfriend and I were looking for a vacation spot that might also be a contender for retirement. We had not taken a real vacation in 13 years. Puerto Rico made sense because it is an American territory – no passport, US currency, etc. So, we planned a week trip with a private tour on the first day. After a couple of days in San Juan, we knew that the big city was not for us. We rented a car and took day trips to different parts of the island. We found my favorite swimming beach in Loquillo. We drove the coast through lots of small towns. On our last day, we headed out west to Rincon. We did not want to like the west because we had been reading a pretty popular blog about Rincon and weren’t terribly fond of the creators.

We went to a few beaches including Steps and were entranced by the beauty. We spent the evening at restaurants in the plaza at the center of town. It was such a wonderful day and the evening was magical, including early Christmas lights in the square. As we left town, I cried – not wanting to leave.

In November 2015, we returned to stay for a week in Rincon. We rented a small vacation rental from a charming young man named Gio. It was an extremely short walk to the beach. We explored more and fell in love with the area. Again, as we left town to head to San Juan for our flight, I cried. I did not want to leave.

In November 2016, we broadened our experience of the west coast by staying in Cabo Rojo in a condo. We spent the first few days preparing for our beach wedding (Domes Beach) and then the last few days honeymooning. We explored the area more and found the best fish/seafood restaurants in Joyuda.

2017 brought a bit of a change. I was sent to San Juan for training for my job. Unfortunately, 2 days into the trip our dog (back home) had to be euthanized. I was devastated and withdrew from the training. Instead, we went to some beaches and explored more. We had scheduled our normal November trip and planned to stay the first week in Luquillo on the east coast and the second week in Rincon. We also had a first anniversary catamaran snorkeling trip planned to Culebra. But Irma and Maria had different plans and we had to cancel.

We rescheduled all of our plans from November 2017 for November 2018. We stayed in a vacation rental in Luquillo (short drive to my favorite swimming beach) and even considered buying the home – except that it was in worse shape than we realized at first look. Our second week was in Rincon and while the rental was entirely too noisy, we became certain enough about the area to start looking at property.

We returned to Rincon in April 2019 for two weeks to see if we could run our telehealth practice effectively. We stayed in a lovely home across a small road from the beach. Things went reasonably well until the power went out in our last few days and we left early for San Juan. However, during that time, we found a property and began the process of buying it. We figured we would buy it and then take our time building it – not planning to move for a few years. We even met with Vincent, a wonderful architect and began the process of designing a home.

That fell through. As sometimes happens in Puerto Rico, the paperwork for the property was not in order. But we were still wanting to move forward, looking at properties and needed to see if it really was feasible to do telehealth here. We packed up the dogs in late September 2019 and spent two months in Aguada (next to Rincon to the north). The rental worked out well and, for the most part, telehealth worked. We looked at more property and houses and I was starting to feel a bit hopeless. And then my husband showed me a listing in Aguada. The price and size were good. So we took a look. I knew that it was the house and told my husband we needed to make an offer before we even walked out the door.

Our plan had been to move in a few years, not in a few months. However, it was the right house, right price, right location, and with things on the mainland becoming so hostile and so untenable, we decided that we would rather take the leap rather than having regrets.

Buying a property with a loan in Puerto Rico is not as easy as it is stateside. It takes a long time and a lot of paperwork. I am not sure whether it is an effort to dissuade gringos or if it is just that hard for everyone. We started the loan on 11/22/19 (our third anniversary) and it closed on March 10, 2020. My husband just made it back home before the island shut most businesses down in an attempt to control COVID.

It took a while to get our home in Nevada in shape to sell and to go through all of our things – giving away what we could, packing what we needed, and selling the big items. We put the house on the market just before Memorial Day and at 23 days, we were in escrow. The house actually closed a few days after we arrived in Puerto Rico.

Freight shipping container packed, vehicles shipped, the dogs, my husband, and I flew one-way tickets to Puerto Rico. We arrived in the middle of the night and quickly made it through the health screening (COVID) because we had completed our paperwork prior to flying.

There were some glitches. The governor had shut down all businesses on Sundays and we had planned to pick up the rental the next day (Sunday). So we paid more and rented Saturday night. That meant that the vacation rental we planned to stay in overnight in San Juan was out of the question – no parking. So, we drove two hours to our new home. It felt a little sneaky coming in at 2am, but also exciting.

Thankfully, the previous owners had left us towels, soap, bedding, a bed, and some dishes. We explored the house and then crashed. The next day, we checked into the vacation rental in Rincon. We had reserved it because we had no idea that we would have most of what we needed in the house. After a couple of nights, we checked out and moved into the house. Neither of us really wanted to be anywhere other than our new home – Casa Vaeda.

I will write some about what we have learned in my next post.

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