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Is Puerto Rico a Domestic Flight? — The Definitive Answer

Is Puerto Rico a Domestic Flight? — The Definitive Answer

With only a two-hour flight time covering the 1,150 miles from Florida to Puerto Rico, the island’s many charms can make it a great place to visit.

I don’t think anyone would call Puerto Rica an island paradise, but it has plenty of old-world charm and fantastic places to visit. Best of all, it isn’t a tourist trap scrounging a living off of gullible tourists.

One of the greatest charms of Puerto Rico is how easy it is to visit and integrate with life on the island as a US citizen.

This is no happy coincidence but comes about because of the peculiar nature of Puerto Rico’s governance and state allegiance, as I explain below.

Is Puerto Rico a domestic flight?

Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States of America. Hence, Puerto Rico is considered a domestic flight for U. S. Citizens who travel directly to Puerto Rico from US soil. Traveling to Puerto Rico differs little in bureaucratic terms from traveling between any two states on the mainland US. If traveling by air, visitors will note that their entry point is ‘domestic arrivals’, quite distinct from ‘international arrivals’ applied to those visiting from countries outside the US.

 

Puerto Rico, as a US territory

So, what exactly is a territory of the United States?

Well, a territory is a governed place or region that is governed by the United States but is not part of the Union of States (hence, the “United States” in “United States of America.” Puerto Rico is one such US-governed area, and as such, it is a US territory.

The chances of Puerto Rico becoming a state

Territories can become states within the Union, but Congress has to approve the application, and, this being Congress, such approvals don’t get sorted out for decades.

About six decades at the last count, so even if Puerto Rico were to apply to join the Union today in 2022, no one should expect to see the island join the Union until 2082. In other words, don’t hold your breath.

Do you know: 1959 saw the most recent additions to the Union. The former territory of Alaska became a state in January 1959, and the former territory of Hawaii became a state in August 1959.

The bureaucratic essentials of flying to Puerto Rico

The easiest way to think about flying to Puerto Rico is to compare it to flying to a mainland state.

Imagine that you live in Idaho and you intend to fly to Florida. What would you take with you? What bureaucratic problems can you foresee? Whatever the answers are, the exact same applies to flying to Puerto Rico.

For the purpose of identification, for example, it would be a good idea for US citizens to carry some form of ID. Legitimate forms of identification are:

  • A driver’s license that complies with REAL ID protocol. (Please contact your state’s dept of motor vehicles to confirm the compliance of your driving license with REAL ID protocol; don’t just assume it.)
  • Photo identity card issued by a federally recognized Indian Tribe or Tribal Nation
  • Border crossing card
  • An ID card (FAST, SENTRI, Global Entry, NEXUS) that is DHS-trusted for travelers
  • Permanent resident’s card
  • Enhanced Drivers Licenses that are state-issued
  • Transportation worker’s ID credential
  • US Employment Authorization (I-766) Card allocated by Citizenship and Immigration Services
  • US Dept of Defense ID
  • US Merchant Mariner Credential
  • US passport
  • US passport card
  • VHIC (Veteran Health ID Card)

With that said, it is important to note that US citizens and those individuals who hold a green card can visit Puerto Rico directly from US soil without using a passport.

 

What travelers can take with them when traveling to Puerto Rico (from other parts of America)

Most American travelers to Puerto Rico take advantage of the fact that their destination is an American territory and therefore travel with much the same form of identification as they would when traveling between states on the mainland.

Thus, Americans tend to favor government-issued photo ID cards (for identification purposes, all legitimate ID cards must have a photo of the card holder, no exceptions).

Green card holders, not being American citizens, have an added responsibility.

Although not subject to passing through passport control (don’t forget, every flight to Puerto Rico from an American departure point is seen as being a domestic flight), it is possible that circumstances on the island might lead to authorities there demanding to see a green card holder’s passport.

If the individual being questioned can produce a valid foreign passport, that at least would be one less hurdle to clear.

Foreigners who are temporarily visiting the States should have their passports with them at all times.

Again, I must stress that foreign visitors will not be required to pass through passport control at Puerto Rican airport having completed an internal flight from the American mainland, but just as with green card holders, foreigners may have occasion to show their passport if it is demanded by island authorities.

 

When is a domestic flight not a domestic flight?

The golden rule here is the origin of the flight, because that determines whether or not a flight is domestic or international and can have significant ramifications on everything I’ve written here.

Any flight originating from an American territory or state and flying directly to Puerto Rico is a domestic flight.

Any other flight is an international flight.

So, a flight that originated in Miami, Florida, but stopped in Mexico City to pick up passengers before traveling on to Puerto Rico is no longer a domestic flight.

Similarly, a flight originating in Mexico City that picks up passengers in Miami and thence on to Puerto Rico is also international.

However, these are pretty fantastical flight plans that probably don’t exist in reality.

 

Frequently asked questions on whether Puerto Rico is a domestic flight for US Citizens

 

If Puerto Rico is a domestic flight, do I need to purchase an international plan for my mobile phone when I travel there?

Puerto Rico is a US territory; ergo, there is no need to purchase an internal plan for your mobile phone when traveling there. Although Puerto Rico lies well away from mainland America (southwest of the island of Haiti and the Dominican Republic), because it is US territory, people living on the island and visitors also have access to services on exactly the same basis as they would if they were on mainland United States.

 

If Puerto Rico is a domestic flight, can I visit Puerto Rico without jeopardizing my green card status?

Since Puerto Rico is a domestic flight, you can travel there without jeopardizing your green card status. Green card holders are forbidden from traveling outside the US for longer than one year, but traveling to Puerto Rico does not constitute traveling to a foreign country, and therefore, time spent in Puerto Rico is not held against green card holders, and no penalties thereby accrue.

 

If Puerto Rico is a domestic flight, as a non-US citizen, do I need to carry my passport with me when I travel there?

There is a huge difference between “you must show your passport” and “you must be able to show your passport.” Just like when, as a non-US citizen, it is wise for you to carry your passport when you visit border states within mainland America, it is also a stupendously sensible idea to bring your passport with you when you visit Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, it is improbable that anyone will ever ask you for a passport–but it sure saves a lot of issues if, when asked, you can produce one.

 

Afterword: Is Puerto Rico a domestic flight?

Passengers to Puerto Rico from American departure points should realize that they will not cross an international border upon arrival in Puerto Rico. This one fact is the proof at the heart of the matter that such journeys are domestic in nature, not international.