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Shipping to Puerto Rico? Three Things to Keep in Mind

A UPS delivery worker carries packages while walking through a town in Puerto Rico.

There’s much to consider when shipping to Puerto Rico. Do taxes and duties apply? What paperwork do I need to complete? How far is Puerto Rico off the Florida coast anyway?

From real-time opportunities for e-commerce growth to how much coffee you can bring in for personal use, here are key things you need to know about Puerto Rico shipping.

1. Puerto Rico is a Territory of the United States

The first thing to understand about Puerto Rico is its status.

Unlike Hawaii and Alaska (both of which assumed full statehood in 1959), Puerto Rico is an overseas U.S. territory. While Puerto Ricans automatically hold U.S. citizenship and may come and go freely from the mainland, they cannot vote in U.S. elections. 

So, what does this mean for shipping to Puerto Rico?

Customs and Taxes

Goods entering Puerto Rico from the fifty states—known as state imports—are not considered international shipments and are exempt from customs duties. However, state and municipal taxes do apply. This is an important distinction.

As a shipper, understand the applicable tax rates before you ship. Avoid nasty surprises and accurately ascertain the landed cost—that is the total cost of shipping inclusive of all costs such as insurance and taxes—ahead of time.

Commodity-Specific Stipulations

Be aware of any stipulations that may apply to specific commodities entering Puerto Rico.

For instance, coffee for personal use is subject to a tax per pound on entering the territory from the United States, while expect to pay a recycling fee on commercial shipments of tires.

As a rule, personal items ship tax-free provided that:

  1. the items are more than six months old
  2. the reason for shipping, such as relocation or vacation, is clearly stated; and
  3. the goods are not ordinarily subject to excise tax (think alcoholic beverages or perfume).

Here’s an up-to-date list of applicable rules:

United States to Puerto Rico: Commodity Specific Stipulations

Entry Paperwork

Although not classed as international exports, goods entering Puerto Rico from the United States typically require documentation not unlike a cross-border shipment. 

When shipping to , paperwork may include: 

  • a standard bill of lading
  • commercial invoice
  • Electronic Export Information filing (if the declared value of the shipment is more than $2,500 USD)

Log into UPS.com and determine the forms needed for your shipment. Or speak with a UPS representative for advice.

2. Puerto Rico is More Than 1,000 Miles off the Florida Coast

Distance matters. Plan your Puerto Rico shipments wisely.

Choose between air and maritime shipping services, depending on how quickly you need the shipment to arrive.

  • Sea freight departs the port of Jacksonville, Florida for the capital San Juan in what is typically a three-day journey.
  • For faster delivery, explore a range of air services.

Of course, Puerto Rico is much more than San Juan. As an archipelago, Puerto Rico consists of a main island, several smaller islands (most notably Vieques and Culebra), and more than one hundred islets.

With the main island about the size of Connecticut, shipments can move around easily once inside Puerto Rico. While UPS offers 100% coverage inside the territory, factor any onward travel into your planning.

Alternatively, freight shipments may be collected from the UPS agency service center in San Juan.

3. Puerto Rico is Heavily Dependent on Imports from the Mainland

As a territory of more than three million people, Puerto Rico spells opportunity for U.S. businesses eager to expand their market reach:

  • Total state imports into Puerto Rico totalled $24.3 billion (USD) in 2019. Goods ran the gamut from auto parts and engineering supplies to food and beverages.
  • The Puerto Rican economy is heavily based around medical and pharmaceutical In 2019, pharma exports from Puerto Rico represented almost a quarter (24.6%) of total U.S. exports for this sector.

Despite a turbulent decade—from the island’s debt crisis to the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017—the territory’s need for consumer and business goods from the mainland remains strong.

E-commerce Opportunities

For e-commerce merchants based on the U.S. mainland, shipping to Puerto Rico –while straightforward—is not quite the same as shipping to Kansas or New Mexico. As outlined above, slight differences apply.

Take care in devising your Puerto Rico shipping policy. Questions to ask include:

  1. Will you apply a surcharge for shipping to Puerto Rico? Some e-commerce sellers charge more for shipping to Hawaii, Alaska and U.S. overseas territories.
  2. What other options do you have for managing your shipping costs in a customer-friendly way?
  3. What is your returns policy? Returns are a routine part of selling online nowadays.

Once you have settled on your Puerto Rico shipping policy, clearly communicate this to your customers across your website and other sales channels.

Scaling Up

Single package shipping is great to get started, but what happens when the online orders build up? When does it make sense to engage a distributor or warehousing solution on the ground in Puerto Rico?

For advice on how to extend your e-commerce presence on the island, schedule a consultation with a UPS business growth advisor.

Pack Smartly

As the shipper, it’s your responsibility to pack your goods safely and securely for transit. How you pack will largely depend on what you’re shipping:

Get helpful tips from the UPS® Packaging Advisor or stop by your The UPS Store® location for advice and practical support with your Puerto Rico shipping needs, from everything from small items to large shipments weighing more than 150 lbs.

For additional peace of mind, explore UPS Capital® shipping insurance options.

Calculate Time and Cost

Questions you may be asking include:

What are the major differences between air and ground services? What’s the cheapest way to ship to Puerto Rico? How quickly can I get my package to arrive?

Use the Calculate Time & Cost tool for estimated costs of shipping to Puerto Rico. For further information and downloadable resources, view the UPS® Rate and Service Guide.

Dangerous Goods Restrictions

Shipping dangerous goods to Puerto Rico is on a contractual basis only. Review dangerous goods resources or speak with a UPS representative for more information.

Get Shipping to Puerto Rico

It’s a beautiful island territory teeming with opportunities. Broaden your business horizons and get shipping to Puerto Rico now.  

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