Does and Don'ts - Puerto Rico UPDATED Traveling Requirements and Tips

With so many traveling restrictions and limitations these days, Puerto Rico has become one of the few destinations where tourists can enjoy a relatively safe stay for an affordable price. Yet, that doesn’t mean you should (or can) just book your flight and spontaneously take off for a weekend getaway like we use to do back in the good old days, pre-Covid 19.


A little planning pays off. You’ll be able to move around confidently, relax more, and keep your traveling party and locals safe while on the island. To help you get started, here are a few does and don’ts from a couple that travels to Puerto Rico at least once a year.

BEFORE YOU ARRIVE
Before you even picture yourself on the beach with a piña colada, consider these things:

Do Travel Off-Season
Puerto Ricans have been moving to the mainland in unprecedented numbers and that means they go home for the major holidays, particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas. Therefore, tickets also go up in price around that time, making your trip more expensive. Certain attractions and restaurants might also close for the holidays, which is something to keep in mind.

However, if you still want to enjoy a tropical Christmas, do know that it is a very fun a beautiful season. Islanders take their traditions and celebrations very seriously; the towns dress up for the occasion and the food is amazing.

Don’t Worry About a Passport
While we always carry a passport out of habit, you’ll just need a valid license or photo ID.

Don’t Worry About Cell Coverage

Most phone plans in the continental US will include coverage in Puerto Rico. There might be some areas around the island with spotty coverage, but for the most part, you should be able to post those pictures just fine.

Do Take a Covid-19 Molecular Test
Hospital resources on the island are even more limited after Hurricane Maria, meaning that for the safety of those on the island, it is your responsibility as a traveler to prevent the virus from spreading ever further during your stay. The Puerto Rican government requires every traveler to arrive with a negative Covid-19 molecular test (the one with the swab) within 72 hours of your arrival. Otherwise, you will have to arrange a local test and quarantine for 2 weeks or the duration of your stay.

You will also need to upload your information to Travelsafe.pr.gov to get a QR Code that will be scanned upon arrival. Your symptoms are monitored during your stay through quick and simple text messages.

Do Prepare for Hot Weather and Rain
Puerto Rico is pretty hot and humid most of the year so we like to pack breathable materials for our trips. And if you don’t like to get wet, a light rain jacket is also a good idea. It rains almost every afternoon, even in summer. Also, I gave up on taking my hairdryer or flat iron. There’s no fighting the humidity.

When planning your activities, always check the weather forecast, too. And have a plan B in case it rains. When we go out to explore, we try to do it before 2 pm when it tends to rain. That way, if it rains, we’re already having lunch somewhere.

Do Pack More than a Bathing Suit
San Juan is still very much a city and people don’t hang out in bathing suits and sandals. For the most part, T-shirts and shorts are fine, but I always take a nice light blouse or dress and Nabol takes at least 1 light button shirt, in case we go to a nice bar or restaurant.

MOVING AROUND
Now that you’re all tested and packed up, let’s talk about moving around the island:

Don’t Count on Public Transportation
It really is inexistent. Taxis are expensive too and Uber is limited to some areas in San Juan. The train is a great way to avoid traffic, but once you get to a station is hard to move around. Most things are too far.

Don’t Go with the Cheapest Rental Car Option
Even though our families have vehicles, we like to rent our own, which means we’ve had quite a bit of experience with low budget rental car companies. Not all of them respond well outside of the metro area and we’ve had to deal with flat tires and mechanical problems on our own. Since we have family to help us out, we’ve managed, but as a tourist that would be a pain.

Our advice? We pay a little extra for well-known companies like Enterprise and National for better customer service.

Do Get the Toll Pass
When you rent a car in the States, getting the toll pass is usually unnecessary. In Puerto Rico, it’s not. Unless you want to carry a bag full of coins, not to mention the inconvenience of having to stop every time there’s a toll (there are a lot), do yourself a favor and get the pass. You can also recharge it as you go, which is very convenient.

Do Explore Beyond San Juan
Old San Juan is indeed beautiful, but to get a true taste of the island’s natural beauty and everything it has to offer, do venture outside of the metro area. In fact, as someone who lived in both the metro area and the West Coast for quite a few years, I prefer to hang out outside of the San Juan area. There’s less traffic, more to see and more to eat! Every town is unique and it’s an opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture.

Do Drive Defensively
If you’re from New York or Chicago, you’re probably good. Puerto Ricans drive fast and the roads can be confusing. Did we mention the potholes? Your good driving skills will come in handy for sure, including parallel parking skills from when you visit Old San Juan.

Do Follow the Metric System
Puerto Rico also uses the metric system when it comes to roads and filling up the tank. Distance is measured in kilometers and gas is measured in liters. (Speed however is measured in miles per hour – Yes, I know. Weird!)

Do Use Google Maps
For the most part, it works fine – even better than other GPS maps. But be ready to ask for instructions when visiting lesser-known areas.

Don’t Trust Google to Know What’s Open
Not everything that’s online regarding restaurants or attractions is updated. We’ve gone to places that Google says are open and they have been closed. So make sure to call or contact the restaurants through their Facebook page. You can also ask a local for help.

Do Ask the Locals
Puerto Ricans are very friendly and take great pride in showing host a good time. If you get lost or need recommendations, make sure to ask around.

Do Bring Cash
While many places take credit cards, some places only take cash or the local version of Venmo (ATH mobile). We usually carry a few $20s with us for drinks or food at smaller shops.

OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
Here are some additional tips based on questions that we’ve answered for friends traveling to the island:

Do Use Commonsense
We’ve never had problems with safety on the island and we consider Puerto Rico generally safe. But we do follow commonsense. We don’t wear flashy valuables in public. We stay away from places that look sketchy unless we’re with people that know the area. We go out at night to places that are well lit and that have plenty of consumer traffic. We even drive around an area before deciding on staying or leaving – which we do in any city.

Don’t Worry Too Much About Knowing Spanish
Most Puerto Ricans are bilingual or know enough English to help you out during your stay. You might have a hard time in smaller towns depending on where you go, but you could download a translation app in case you encounter such a situation. But really, you should be fine.

Don’t Drink the Water
While the government says the water is safe to drink, most people on the island filter or buy their water since Hurricane Maria. We do as the locals do.

Do Tip Your Waiter
Same as the US, we tip 15% to our waiters and even a little more for good service. Sometimes part of a waiter’s salary comes out of the tip, so we’re happy to tip.

Don’t Buy Unpackaged Goods to Take Home
Once you get to the airport to go back home, your luggage will have to be scanned by the Department of US Agriculture. If you have any fruits, seeds, or unpackaged food, they will ask you to leave it on the island.

Do Arrive Early to the Airport
Not only will your luggage need to be scanned by the Department of US Agriculture, but the ticketing and TSA portion of the process at the Luis Muñoz Airport is notoriously slow. It has taken us a couple of hours to get to our gate. We recommend arriving at least 3 hours early. Check-in, drink your last coffee, and relax before your flight.

We hope you find these tips useful, and if you have any questions or tips to add, make sure to leave a comment below. If you need ideas on where to go and what to do in Puerto Rico, don't miss our ISLAND DAILIES videos. Safe travels. 




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