How the Pandemic Brought Me to Puerto Rico - Mitchell Dong

Insights from Leaders
6 min readAug 11, 2021
Image from Unsplash by Wei Zeng

During the pandemic, I realized that I didn’t need to live and work in New York anymore. Because of Covid 19, there were no face-to-face meetings, no in-person conferences and even seeing my adult children/ grandchildren were over zoom. I love New York and I grew up there, but I realized that all the advantages of big city life were stripped away as a result of the coronavirus. There were no restaurants, no bars, no social events, no Harvard Club, no concerts, no swimming pools. The options for outdoor biking, walking, swimming, and other sports were restricted by social distancing requirements in the dense urban environment.

As a result, I decided to move out of New York and work remotely. First I tried Florida, then I got more adventuresome and went to Alaska, then Hawaii. I was able to do all the webinars and zoom meetings easily from Florida as it was in the same time zone. I found Alaska’s time zone friendly enough for New York. With a 4 hour time difference, I could work from 5 am to 1 pm and be done with the workday, leaving the afternoon for hiking and exploring Alaska: climbing glaciers, kayaking among icebergs, halibut fishing, hiking Denali, soaking in hot springs, and even encountering bears. The same advantage stood with Hawaii’s 6 hour time difference from the Eastern Time zone. I would work from 3 am till 11 am and then explore Hawaii: hiking and sailing the Napali coast, hiking on volcanoes and lava rocks, walking in tropical rain forests, learning to surf, swimming with sea turtles and seals, watching whales and dolphins, and touring farms of pineapple and macadamia nuts. I found I could get all of my work done, zoom with the family and also do my daily routine of exercise combined with experiencing new adventures.

After a year of living in Airbnbs and zooming around, it changed my outlook on life. I’m 68 years old and queried, “Why go back to New York?” During the pandemic, my children moved out of New York too. They worked remotely and most of their employers have decided to allow them to work remotely permanently. Zooming with my grandchildren is not ideal, but it’s also not so bad either. I can still visit frequently.

Now the topic of taxes. If I don’t have to be in New York, I could avoid the additional 10% income tax for living in New York City. I worked remotely from Florida for 3 months and I could easily live in there and fly to see the kids. But a 10% savings didn’t do it for me. If I went 2 hours further south to Puerto Rico, I could avoid all US federal income taxes and keep my US citizenship, unlike moving to Bermuda or the Bahamas, for example. Puerto Rico has no US Federal taxes because of the doctrine of the American Revolution, “no taxation without representation”. By moving to this US territory, I could double my after-tax income.

My friends asked, “What are the requirements of becoming a bona fide resident of Puerto Rico?” The answer: spend more than 6 months a year in Puerto Rico and give up your ties to New York. So I gave up my New York apartment, bought a house in San Juan, got a mortgage from a local institution, opened a local bank account, bought a car, got a car loan, gave up my New York driver’s license, and got one in Puerto Rico, canceled my voter registration in New York and registered to vote in Puerto Rico, signed up with a local gym with a pool, changed my status at the Harvard Club of New York to non-resident and joined the Harvard Club of Puerto Rico, found a local doctor and dentist, hired a local housekeeper and all other things necessary to live a life in my new surroundings.

Life in Puerto Rico is good at this two-month junction. I bought a 300-year-old house overlooking the bay of San Juan. Our neighbor is Casa Blanca, the house built by Ponce De Leon, who founded San Juan in 1521. Two blocks away is Fortaleza, another old fort built in the 1530s, and serves as the current Governor’s Mansion. Across the street, is a National Park and El Morro, a castle-like fort that took 250 years to build from the 1500s to the 1700s. In my biased perspective, my new home has the most spectacular view of the Bay of San Juan.

I like the Latino vibe of Old San Juan. There are hundreds of restaurants, bars, and clubs featuring local food, Caribbean and European cuisine. The architecture is a mix between Old Spain and Colonial Latin America. The walled city has the same festive feeling as Cartagena in Colombia. The economy is driven by tourism, so the City is kept safe and clean. There are masked police everywhere. The bluish cobblestone streets are clean. The only disadvantages are the traffic, the parking, the very narrow streets designed for yesteryear, and the loud Puerto Rican music. Fortunately, I live on the very end of a quiet residential street.

The American ex-Pat community is robust and very social. The cryptocurrency enthusiasts have meet-ups almost every weekday evening. There are many hedge fund managers here taking advantage of tax arbitrage. I also belong to a Chinese American social group and a yoga/ healthy living group. I do regular lessons in yoga, tennis, and surfing with my new friends.

I’m able to maintain my main exercise which is to swim ½ mile a day in a ½ hour. When I was younger, I was nearly twice as fast. But unlike swimming in an indoor pool in New York City, I now swim in the sea at Escambron Beach which is a 10-minute drive or bike from my house. When the sea gets too rough or if I want a change of pace, I swim at the Natatorium which is a 50 meter, Olympic size outdoor swimming pool in the Central Park of San Juan. It is the biggest swimming venue I have ever swum in; even bigger than Blodgett pool at Harvard. The free membership is even cheaper than the municipal pools of New York which I used to pay $25 per year as a senior. The local Park also features 17 tennis courts, which are never used and comes with the $2 daily entrance fee. I also have a tennis court a 5-minute walk from my house. It is nice to be able to play tennis outdoors year-round, immediately followed by a swim in the sea or a clean modern enormous pool.

For the next 3 years, 2022–24, I plan to spend 6 months a year in Puerto and then balance the rest of the months in the States visiting family and in Singapore, and HK and China visiting my Asian business partners.

I want to use my experience and skills to give back to the Puerto Rican community. I learned that half of the electricity here comes from oil. The island has a goal of sourcing 100% of its electricity from renewables by 2050. Given my 25 years of experience with developing solar and hydropower, I can help with this goal. My experience with the Nutrition Department at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health can be useful in developing strategies to reduce obesity and diabetes in Puerto Rico, which like many countries, is reaching epidemic proportions. My connections to the Broad Institute at Harvard and MIT can help with eliminating rare genetic disorders which are unique or prevalent in Puerto Rico, such as Hermansky-Pudlak Syndrome which results in albinism and blindness, and the common collagen disorder which affects 2% of Puerto Ricans.

So far life is good in Puerto Rico. Let’s see what more I can contribute and what the next few years Puerto Rico has in store.

About Mitchell Dong: Mitchell is a savvy investor and entrepreneur. He serves as the CEO of Pythagoras Investment Management, a firm that invests in hedge funds and trades cryptocurrencies. They hold the oldest and largest Bitcoin fund in the world. Mitchell dedicates himself to funds and investing in markets that are groundbreaking, innovative, and have some social benefit.

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