With more people working remotely, have you dreamed of becoming a digital nomad? You’re not the only one!
In 2019, my wife and I took our two sons out of school, packed our cherished items into a 5×10 storage unit in Vermont, and got rid of our home and everything in it to become full-time digital nomads. It was both liberating and challenging to say goodbye to everything we owned. Not to mention, our friends and family that we visited with frequently.
As a digital nomad, you make a lot of sacrifices. You give up the comforts of home, the possessions that once brought you joy, and deep interpersonal relationships. You give these up in exchange for cultural variety, food experiences, architecture, and a new perspective. It’s rewarding, but it’s also incredibly complex, emotionally.
Hearing about COVID-19
Several months into our travels, I remember my wife telling me about a “crazy virus” that was going around the far east. This was happening while we were flying back from Spain to spend some time in Charlotte, North Carolina at the beginning of 2020. Little did we realize, in just a few short months, we would find ourselves still in North Carolina. We were canceling our future travel plans and trying to figure out where we wanted to quarantine.
Wanderlust on Hold
As CRO of Reconciled, I am lucky enough to talk with entrepreneurs around the world every day. I found that my fellow digital nomads were finding themselves in the same position as we were. Almost overnight, COVID-19 ripped the rug out from under all of the upsides of working remotely, with no end in sight. Remote work culture suddenly swept the world. Unfortunately, one of its greatest benefits (limitless travel) was rendered useless. Frozen in place, drifters with wanderlust were waiting out the storm, desperate to move on.
What to Do Now?
I witnessed a variety of responses. Some of my friends working remotely settled in place and nested for the first time in a long time. Others fled to Mexico or other countries with fewer restrictions in place. Some chose to simplify their travel. They were now voyaging cross country instead of the cross globe. Many targeted more remote locations less impacted by the pandemic and the associated restriction. My family and I chose the first option…at first. We returned to our home state of Vermont and enjoyed some time there. Before long, we were doing homework again. We were trying to understand how we could safely enjoy the joys of travel while being smart and following the rules. The research brought us back to Puerto Rico.
Working Remotely from Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a US territory, and at the time of this post, it is labeled as a higher risk location. Upon closer inspection, we discovered that most of the virus outbreak was saturated in the main city of San Juan. After reaching out to some friends on the island, we learned that the restrictions in place were not highly dissimilar to what we were experiencing in Vermont.
Puerto Rico requires 30% capacity at stores and restaurants. Also, masks are worn pretty much everywhere, by everyone. Quarantine and testing requirements upon arrival. Not at all bad for a Caribbean location with affordable beachfront accommodations and an “always outdoor” climate. With that, if you are thinking about taking your social distancing on the road and considering working remotely from Puerto Rico, here are a few tips and lessons learned.
Choose Your Location
Puerto Rico is about 30 miles tall by 100 miles wide and sits right in the middle of the Caribbean ocean. The beaches are beautiful and there are plenty of outdoor activities to keep you busy for days. That said, the west coast has notably fewer cases of Corona (virus, not beer…there seems to be plenty of beer). So, I recommend staying on the west coast. If, and when, you visit the east coast, make it a day trip. Spend that time in the more rural areas and secluded beaches.
Double-Check Your Internet
Puerto Rico is a part of the US, but when it comes to infrastructure, things aren’t always all there. Everywhere you go will have wifi, just like on the “mainland.” That said, we’ve found the reliability of both power and connectivity can vary. Both are crucial when working remotely.
If you’re staying in a hotel or resort, you probably have very little to worry about. Most large facilities have well-designed utilities and reliable connections held to a high standard. If you are like us and prefer to stay in a home rented from a website or app like Airbnb, just take a few minutes to shoot the host a message. Have them confirm that the connectivity is reliable. Some homes even have solar panels or generators. All homes that we’ve seen have Wi-Fi standards.
Follow the Rules
As a US citizen, getting into Puerto Rico right now is easy. But, there are a few rules that you need to follow. First, check out the Discover PR website for travel guidelines. Discover PR is the official tourism website for the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. The website has very reader-friendly instructions on how to safely visit the island during the time of the pandemic. If you’re planning to visit Puerto Rico or want will be working remotely, you have a few options to meet the testing and/or quarantine requirements:
- Complete a travel declaration with the PR government – Every visitor must do this. They are actively checking it before you exit the airport. A QR code is issued upon completion of the travel declaration. Airport officials will scan that when you arrive. It takes 5 minutes to complete the declaration. And scanning the QR code took all of 10 seconds when we arrived.
- While filling out the travel declaration, you can upload a negative COVID-19 test result. Complete the test within 72 hours of arrival (though nobody checked this specifically when we arrived in San Juan). If you have the 72-hour negative COVID-19 test, and you have completed the declaration, the Puerto Rican government policy allows you to enjoy the island right away.
- If you do not have a negative COVID-19 test taken 72 hours before your arrival, you are required to quarantine for 2 weeks. Or the duration of your trip, if your stay is shorter than the 2 week quarantine period. How do they enforce this? It doesn’t appear that they do. From what I could tell, this seems to be an honor system type quarantine. This means that you probably still need to get your car rental, drive to your host home or hotel, and then lockdown for 2 weeks. Then, pray that the people you came into contact with don’t catch anything that gets traced back to you…yikes! There’s plenty of contact tracing completed regularly. So, I would imagine there would be serious consequences if you brought the virus with you. Safe to say it’s not worth the risk – go get a test.
- Finally, the cell phone associated with your travel declaration will receive a daily text message for the first 2 weeks of your stay. The “SARA Alert” text message will list symptoms associated with COVID-19. It will ask if you are experiencing any of them. You simply respond with a “yes,” or “no.” Fortunately, we never had to respond “yes,” so, I’m not sure what happens if you do. I believe they also issue test vouchers if you are symptomatic during your stay.
It sounds like a lot, but Puerto Rico has made it pretty easy to complete.
Enjoy the Food
One of my favorite things about Puerto Rico is the abundance of inexpensive and amazing food. Not only is it some of the best, but has easy access to everything from barbeque to tacos to smoothies and acai bowls.
Driving up and down the cost, you will see smokehouses and food trucks selling “Pollo Al Carbon” or “Carbon Chicken.” Prepped every morning, these fresh chickens smoked all day. Delicious sides include rice, beans, cooked green bananas, and white sweet potatoes.
Another classic dish is Lechon. Lechon is slow rotisserie pork shaved off the pig. Some other “must-try” Puerto Rican foods are pechuga rellenos, mofongo (mashed seasoned plantains), and tostones (smashed fried plantains). Here are a few specific recommendations from the west coast of Puerto Rico, and around Aguada. Aguada is the small beach town that we usually stay in.
- Rancho Carbon Express: Carbon Chicken Tip: Get there before 1p (they sell out daily)
- La Guarapera: Frappe, acai bowls, and fresh juice Tip: Order Guarapa de Cana – fresh sugar cane juice (I like mine with ginger and lime)
- El Jibarito: Pechuga and Mofongo Tip: Definitely a local’s spot – a little off the beaten path, but well worth the trip.
There’s a lot of reasons to find some time to enjoy this little island. Also, if you’re going to be socially distancing, you might as well distance out on the beach. If you are thinking about embracing the digital nomad life as you are working remotely, or if you are a traveler itching to hit the road, Puerto Rico might be a lower risk spot to consider.
Going anywhere during the pandemic should be navigated with caution. The Puerto Rican government is discouraging travel that’s not completely necessary (perhaps somewhat of a subjective term). Nonetheless, this island relies a lot on tourism to sustain its economy. I haven’t felt even the slightest bit un-welcomed as a traveler since arriving here in January.
I think the most important thing right now is to remember that everyone is handling and reacting to the pandemic differently. Everyone will have different levels of comfort around everything. It’s important to stay sensitive to that. Also, respect people’s space, body language, and rules, especially when you are a guest in their community.
Ian Bouchett – Director of Revenue Operations at Reconciled
Ian Joined Reconciled at the beginning of 2018. His experience includes professional business development in banking and finance and being an entrepreneur. Ian enjoys leading Reconciled’s sales, marketing, and revenue programs. He also enjoys working with business owners to improve their operational efficiency and better understand their financial direction.