Area Codes -- Puerto Rico has two area codes: the more common 787 and the newer 939. The codes are not geographic specific. For all calls on the island, the area code must be used.
Banks -- Offices are generally open 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday, but most institutions are open Saturday for at least a half day. Stores are generally open from 9am to either 7pm or 9pm Monday through Saturday and Sunday 11am through 6pm. Most malls and big box retailers are open 9am to 9pm Monday to Saturday, 11am to 7pm on Sundays. Normal banking hours are 8am to 4pm or 9am-5pm Monday through Friday and 8:30am to noon on Saturday. Most banks have some branches with extended hours, open all day Saturday and on Sundays from 11 to 4pm, as well as extended evening hours to 6pm.
Business Hours -- Offices are generally open 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday, but most institutions are open Saturday for at least a half day. Stores are generally open from 9am to 6pm or 1am to 7pm Monday through Saturday, Sunday 11am through 6pm. Most malls and big box retailers are open 9am to 9pm Monday to Saturday, 11am to 7pm on Sundays.
Doctors -- Hotels will be able to recommend a good doctor, which are listed under “medicos” in the telephone directory. There are also several hospitals and other healthcare facilities in San Juan that have medical staff on site around the clock. Also see “Hospitals,” later in this section.
Drinking Laws -- The legal age for purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages is 18; proof of age is required and often requested at bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, so it's always a good idea to bring ID when you go out.
Do not carry open containers of alcohol in your car or any public area that isn't zoned for alcohol consumption. The police can fine you on the spot. Don't even think about driving while intoxicated.
Other than the lower drinking age, Puerto Rico treats drinking and driving as seriously as most other U.S. states.
Drugs -- A branch of the Federal Narcotics Strike Force is permanently stationed on Puerto Rico, where illegal drugs and narcotics are a problem. Convictions for possession of marijuana can bring severe penalties, ranging from 2 to 10 years in prison for a first offense. Possession of hard drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, can lead to 15 years or more in prison.
Drugstores -- It's a good idea to carry enough prescription medications with you to last the duration of your stay. If you're going into the hinterlands, take along the medicines you'll need. If you need any additional medications, you'll find many drugstores in San Juan and other leading cities. One of the most centrally located pharmacies is Walgreens, 1130 Ashford Ave., Condado (tel. 787/725-1510), open 24 hours. There is at least one 24-hour Walgreens in every tourist district (Condado, Old San Juan, and Isla Verde), and they are linked with the U.S. chain for prescriptions. There are also locations throughout the island in major cities and shopping malls. Another option is the Puerto Rico Drug Co., Calle San Francisco 157 (tel. 787/725-2202), in Old San Juan, which is open daily from 7:30am to 9:30pm.
Electricity -- Like Canada, the United States uses 110 to 120 volts AC (60 cycles), compared to 220 to 240 volts AC (50 cycles) in most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Downward converters that change 220 to 240 volts to 110 to 120 volts are difficult to find in the United States, so bring one with you.
Embassies & Consulates -- Because Puerto Rico is part of the United States, there is no U.S. embassy or consulate. Instead, there are branches of all the principal U.S. federal agencies. Foreign governments have no embassies here, as Puerto Rico is part of the United States. A number of governments, however, have honorary consulates on the island. Britain has a consulate at Av. Chardón 350 (tel. 787/758-9828) in Hato Rey, while the Canada consulate is at Av. Ponce de León 268 (tel. 787/759-6629).
All embassies are in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. Some consulates are in major U.S. cities, and most nations have a mission to the United Nations in New York City. If your country isn't listed below, call for directory information in Washington, D.C. (tel. 202/555-1212), or check www.embassy.org/embassies.
The embassy of Australia is at 1601 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20036 (tel. 202/797-3000; http://australia.visahq.com). Consulates are in New York, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
The embassy of Canada is at 501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20001 (tel. 202/682-1740; www.canadainternational.gc.ca/washington). Other Canadian consulates are in Buffalo (New York), Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle.
The embassy of Ireland is at 2234 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/462-3939; www.embassyofireland.org). Irish consulates are in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and other cities. See website for complete listing.
The embassy of New Zealand is at 37 Observatory Circle NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/328-4800; www.nzembassy.com). New Zealand consulates are in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Seattle.
The embassy of the United Kingdom is at 3100 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/588-6500; http://ukinusa.fco.gov.uk). Other British consulates are in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Emergencies -- In an emergency, dial tel. 911. Or call the local police (tel. 787/343-2020), fire department (tel. 787/722-1120), or emergency medical corps (tel. 787/775-0550).
Family Travel -- Puerto Rico is an extremely family-friendly travel destination. Nearly all resorts court parents traveling with children as guests. In only a few cases did my own family find that not true of restaurants and lodgings, and I’ve pointed those out. To locate accommodations, restaurants, and attractions that are particularly kid-friendly, look for the “Kids” icon throughout this guide.
Gasoline (Petrol) -- Taxes are already included in the printed price. One U.S. gallon equals 3.8 liters or .85 imperial gallons. Gas prices on the island are listed in liters and are currently hovering around 76¢ per liter for regular.
Holidays -- Banks, government offices, post offices, and many stores, restaurants, and museums are closed on the following legal national holidays: January 1 (New Year's Day), the third Monday in January (Martin Luther King, Jr., Day), the third Monday in February (Presidents' Day), the last Monday in May (Memorial Day), July 4 (Independence Day), the first Monday in September (Labor Day), the second Monday in October (Columbus Day), November 11 (Veterans' Day/Armistice Day), the fourth Thursday in November (Thanksgiving Day), and December 25 (Christmas). The Tuesday after the first Monday in November is Election Day, a federal government holiday in presidential-election years (held every 4 years, and next in 2012). Puerto Rico holds its elections at the same time. In addition, the island also celebrates several important local holidays, such as July 25, the anniversary of the Puerto Rico constitution and the birth of its commonwealth political status.
Hospitals -- In a medical emergency, call tel. 911. Ashford Presbyterian Community Hospital, Av. Ashford 1451, San Juan (tel. 787/721-2160), maintains 24-hour emergency service and is the most convenient to the major tourism districts. Another option is Pavia Hospital, 1462 C. Asia, Santurce (tel. 787/727-6060). Service is also provided at Clinica Las Americas, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Ave. 400, Hato Rey (tel. 787/765-1919), and at Puerto Rico Medical Center, Av. Americo Miranda, Río Piedras (tel. 787/777-3535).
Insurance -- If you are considering buying travel insurance, expect to pay between 5% and 8% of the vacation itself. You can get estimates from various providers through InsureMyTrip.com. Enter your trip cost and dates, your age, and other information for prices from more than a dozen companies.
Trip-cancellation insurance will help retrieve your money if you have to back out of a trip or depart early, or if your travel supplier goes bankrupt. Permissible reasons for trip cancellation can range from sickness to natural disasters. In this unstable world, trip-cancellation insurance is a good buy if you're purchasing tickets well in advance -- who knows what the state of the world, or of your airline, will be in 9 months? Insurance policy details vary, so read the fine print and make sure that your airline or cruise line is on the list of carriers covered in case of bankruptcy. A good resource is "Travel Guard Alerts," a list of companies considered high-risk by Travel Guard International. Protect yourself further by paying for the insurance with a credit card -- by law, consumers can get their money back on goods and services not received, if they report the loss within 60 days after the charge is listed on their credit card statement.
For more information, contact one of the following recommended insurers: Access America (tel. 866/807-3982; www.accessamerica.com); Travel Guard International (tel. 800/826-4919; www.travelguard.com); Travel Insured International (tel. 800/243-3174; www.travelinsured.com); and Travelex Insurance Services (tel. 888/457-4602; www.travelex-insurance.com).
Language -- English is understood at the big resorts and in most of San Juan. Out in the island, Spanish is still numero uno.
Legal Aid -- If you are "pulled over" for a minor infraction (such as speeding), never attempt to pay the fine directly to a police officer; this could be construed as attempted bribery, a much more serious crime. Pay fines by mail, or directly into the hands of the clerk of the court. If accused of a more serious offense, say and do nothing before consulting a lawyer. Here, the burden is on the state to prove a person's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and everyone has the right to remain silent, whether he or she is suspected of a crime or actually arrested. Once arrested, a person can make one telephone call to a party of his or her choice. The international visitor should call his or her embassy or consulate.
Mail -- At press time, domestic postage rates were 28¢ for a postcard and 44¢ for a letter. For international mail, a first-class letter of up to 1 ounce costs 98¢ (75¢ to Canada and 79¢ to Mexico); a first-class postcard costs the same as a letter. For more information go to www.usps.com.
If you aren't sure what your address will be in Puerto Rico, mail can be sent to you, in your name, c/o General Delivery at the main post office of the city or region where you expect to be. (Call tel. 800/275-8777 for information on the nearest post office.) The addressee must pick up mail in person and must produce proof of identity (driver's license, passport, and so on). Most post offices will hold mail for up to 1 month, and are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm, and Saturday from 9am to 3pm.
Always include zip codes when mailing items in the U.S. If you don't know your zip code, visit www.usps.com/zip4.
Police -- In an emergency, dial tel. 911. Or call the local police (tel. 787/726-7020), fire department (tel. 787/725-3444), or medical emergency line (tel. 787/754-2550).
Smoking -- Stringent antismoking regulations have been passed banning smoking in all public areas, including restaurants, bars, casinos, and hotel rooms. Enforcement, however, is less strict here than in other areas in the United States. Smoking is even banned at outdoor cafes that are serviced by waiters or waitresses, but this prohibition is often overlooked.
Taxes -- The United States has no value-added tax (VAT) or other indirect tax at the national level. Every state, county, and city may levy its own local tax on all purchases, including hotel and restaurant checks and airline tickets. These taxes will not appear on price tags. Puerto Rico levies a 7% sales and use tax on most major goods and services. All hotel rooms on Puerto Rico are subject to a 9% to 11% tax.
Time -- Puerto Rico is in the Atlantic Time Zone, which is 1 hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST), and identical to Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). When the U.S. East Coast is on daylight time, EDT, there is no time difference. The continental United States also contains Central Standard Time (CST), Mountain Standard Time (MST), and Pacific Standard Time (PST), which range from 1 to 3 hours behind EST. San Juan time is normally 4 hours ahead of Los Angeles, but only 3 hours during EDT.
Daylight saving time runs from 1am on the second Sunday in March to 1am on the first Sunday in November, except in Arizona, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Daylight saving time moves the clock 1 hour ahead of standard time.
Tipping -- In hotels, tip bellhops at least $1 per bag ($2-$3 if you have a lot of luggage) and tip the chamber staff $1 to $2 per day (more if you've left a big mess for him or her to clean up). Tip the doorman or concierge only if he or she has provided you with some specific service (for example, calling a cab for you or obtaining difficult-to-get theater tickets). Tip the valet-parking attendant $1 every time you get your car.
In restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, tip service staff and bartenders 15% to 20% of the check, tip checkroom attendants $1 per garment, and tip valet-parking attendants $1 per vehicle.
As for other service personnel, tip cab drivers 15% of the fare; tip skycaps at airports at least $1 per bag ($2-$3 if you have a lot of luggage); and tip hairdressers and barbers 15% to 20%.
Toilets -- You won't find public toilets or "restrooms" on the streets in most Puerto Rico Cities, but they can be found in hotel lobbies, bars, restaurants, museums, department stores, railway and bus stations, and service stations. Large hotels and fast-food restaurants are often the best bet for clean facilities. Public beaches, called balnearios, run by the commonwealth's National Parks or by municipal governments, have restroom, shower, and changing facilities. Restaurants and bars in resorts or heavily visited areas may reserve their restrooms for patrons.
Water -- Although tap water is said to be safe to drink, many visitors experience diarrhea, even if they follow the usual precautions. It's best to stick to bottled water. The illness usually passes quickly without medication if you eat simply prepared food and drink only mineral water until you recover. If symptoms persist, consult a doctor.