I visited Puerto Rico – Here’s what you need to know right now
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Puerto Rico is opening back up after several setbacks during the coronavirus pandemic. I was really excited to learn from my colleague Victoria Walker’s reporting that the island would drop its COVID-19 PCR testing requirement the week I was set to arrive for a work trip for TPG.
Unfortunately, the rollout of that plan has been delayed until at least Friday, May 28, but it is coming. That should make it much easier for tourists to visit. In the meantime, I’ll walk you through what the current process is like and what you can expect once the new system is in place. This should help guide you through an awesome vacation in PR.
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Testing required for visitors — for now
It’s a good thing I didn’t depend on the rollout of the new policy of no testing for vaccinated visitors. It was supposed to happen on the week of my arrival on May 24, but when I arrived in PR I learned it wasn’t going to happen until Friday, May 28. I wouldn’t count on everyone being on board with it for a few more weeks, though, and it could be delayed again. Best to get tested before your trip, just in case.
You’ll need to show a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 72 hours prior to your arrival in Puerto Rico. It must come from a lab that Puerto Rico has approved, though it appears the territory will take most PCR tests. Puerto Rico has a searchable map to find a testing facility in the U.S. at this website: TravelsafePR.com.
That’s also the website you’ll need to register at to get into Puerto Rico. Even when they roll out the “no testing” policy for those who are vaccinated, all visitors will need to fill out the electronic arrival forms.
You will need to visit the travel safe Puerto Rico website and register an account. Then it will ask you when you are arriving, where you are staying and other details of your visit. The next steps take you to a series of questions on if you are vaccinated or not, and it will ask for proof of vaccination and for proof of testing. Remember that most visitors will still need to have proof of a negative PCR COVID-19 test no more than 72 hours old.
When you’ve filled out all the fields and uploaded your documents, you get a QR code that you will show to airport personnel, wearing full PPE, who are greeting all passengers in the baggage claim area.
Those workers will ask to see your QR code and if you haven’t filled it out or there are other issues, you’ll need to visit a nearby table where employees can help you or do further screenings. Since I had my QR code all ready to go, I was waved through. I did ask about the new policy and the worker confirmed it was going to happen on May 28. We’ll see.
If you show up without a negative test, you technically will need to quarantine for 14 days, but there are ways to get out of that requirement. You will have to pay a $300 fine, but if you get tested within 48 hours of your arrival, you can upload the results and get a refund of the money.
You can also get vaccinated at the Puerto Rico airport if you want. If you are flying into Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU), you can get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine right in the terminal.
Vaccinated travelers may soon skip testing
Back on May 21, the government of Puerto Rico announced fully vaccinated U.S. travelers will no longer be required to show a negative COVID-19 PCR test upon arrival. That was supposed to start the week I arrived in PR, but it’s been delayed until May 28 at the earliest.
Once it is rolled out, arriving visitors won’t have to show a negative test, but only if they’ve been fully vaccinated. Vaccinated travelers will still need to fill out the safe travel PR forms and register with the territory.
Visit TPG’s Caribbean destination hub for more stories about traveling to the region on points and miles, where to stay and what to do.
And do note that this is only for U.S. visitors. All international visitors will still need to show negative test results. U.S. visitors who are not vaccinated will also need to show negative PCR test results.
What it’s like in Puerto Rico right now
Visiting Puerto Rico was awesome. Most venues are open again, including restaurants and museums. Businesses can operate at 50% capacity and masks aren’t required in parks or beaches if you are fully vaccinated.
Like Alaska and Hawaii, tourism has rebounded almost completely in Puerto Rico. Many hotels are at capacity. It was hard for our team to find restaurant reservations, so plan ahead. Many venues are only operating at half-capacity, so it makes less supply for more demand. I would strongly advise visitors to book car rentals early and have dinner reservations already made upon arrival.
In general, masks are still being worn in most public settings in Puerto Rico. Prominent signs still point out that you can be fined for not wearing a mask or forgoing physical distancing.
It’s not being rigorously enforced anymore, especially now that the CDC has said vaccinated travelers can take off their masks outside. In general, Puerto Rico has done a good job with compliance with public health and safety measures. PR is an island territory with limited hospital infrastructure, so while the country is open, most hospitality workers I talked to asked me to pass along the message that the pandemic isn’t over. They say Puerto Rico is open, but visitors should be respectful.
Unfortunately, there has been a series of ugly incidents with tourists behaving badly, including refusing to wear masks. In fact, there’s been a lot of extra police officers assigned to busy tourist areas like Old San Juan. It felt perfectly safe and people were following the rules during my visit.
There is a $100 fine in place for those violating mask mandate rules.
Businesses close at 11 p.m. and there is still a midnight curfew that is enforced, so keep that in mind as well.
Discover Puerto Rico CEO Brad Dean in a statement said, “As restrictions loosen, we look forward to welcoming travelers seeking to responsibly explore our Island, immerse themselves in unforgettable culture, unique natural wonders and delicious cuisine, while taking advantage of the ease of travel that comes with Puerto Rico being a U.S. territory, including no need for a passport for U.S. citizens.”
Remember that Puerto Rico has been through several major cataclysms in the past few years, including earthquakes and hurricanes. The territory then had to deal with COVID-19. All the tourism people I talked with said they want visitors to come back, but they are also demanding that tourists follow the law and be respectful.
I really enjoyed my trip to Puerto Rico. I am a little bummed it didn’t roll out the “no-testing required”-policy in time for my visit, but hopefully it will be rolled out soon and you’ll be able to skip testing if you are vaccinated. It’s really not too much trouble to find testing facilities these days anyway, so don’t let that dissuade you. Puerto Rico is an easy trip for Americans with no passport required.
You also won’t need to get a COVID-19 test to return to the U.S. mainland since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory.
Be sure to plan ahead if you are going as PR is already crowded with tourists again. It’s also not a cheap destination, so don’t expect many bargains. Still, despite the testing requirement and paperwork involved, it’s well worth the hassle to get to visit this historically rich, beautiful and warm tropical destination.
Featured photo of a beach at Condado Ocean Club in San Juan, May 2021 by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy
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