With the highest-volume port system in the Caribbean, the island of Puerto Rico sees its share of container freight.

 

If you’re doing business on Puerto Rico, you already know that efficient, cost-effective cargo movement is critical for driving consistent revenue and protecting your margins. Below, we’ll share our tips and insights to keep your containers moving on time and on budget.

 

You’ll discover what type of containers ship to Puerto Rico, how long your shipment to Puerto Rico will take, how much it might cost, what documentation your shipment will need, what taxes you’ll pay, and how to keep your freight moving smoothly and effectively.

In This Article:

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Puerto Rico Container Shipping: Know the Basics

Ports in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has three ports that handle cargo:

  • The Port of San Juan
  • The Port of the Americas in Ponce
  • The Port of Mayagüez

The Port of San Juan currently handles the majority of the island’s cargo. In 2021, the port handled 11,236,361 short tons in cargo throughput and 1,094,071 total TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units). This volume made the Port of San Juan the 13th busiest container port in the U.S.

Common Origin Ports for Puerto Rico Shipments

When it comes to containers shipped between the mainland U.S. and Puerto Rico, the large majority of those shipments move through the Port of Jacksonville (also known as JAXPORT) in Florida. Eddystone, Pennsylvania is another likely origin point for domestic freight shipments to Puerto Rico. 

Container shipments from Asia to Puerto Rico often originate at the Port of Hong Kong; the Port of Busan, Korea; Bangkok Port, Thailand; the Port of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; and the Ports of Ningbo-Zhoushan and Shanghai, China. 

Common Commodities Imported to Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico regularly imports more than $2 billion in goods monthly. Major imports to Puerto Rico include the following commodities:

  • Mineral fuels and oils
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Electrical machinery and equipment
  • Vehicles and automotive parts
  • Plastics and plastic articles
  • Machinery and mechanical appliances
  • Organic chemicals
  • Iron and steel
  • Optic, photographic, and medical equipment
  • Furniture and lighting

Common Trading Partners with Puerto Rico

The United States is Puerto Rico’s main partner in trade. However, businesses in the territory also regularly work with the following trading partners:

  • Mexico
  • China
  • Singapore
  • Brazil
  • Ireland
  • Japan
  • South Korea
  • Germany

Choosing the Right Freight Service: Container Shipping to Puerto Rico

Ocean freight shipping

Ocean freight will likely be your most economical option for shipping freight to Puerto Rico. Considering the short transit times between Jacksonville and Puerto Rico, ocean freight can also be a relatively efficient to move cargo the island.

(Of course, air freight to Puerto Rico is also available for time-sensitive, high-value shipments!)

Shipping a Container to Puerto Rico: Available Types & Services

Steamship lines move all types of containers to Puerto Rico, including:

  • 20-foot containers
  • 40-foot containers
  • 40-foot high cube containers
  • 45-foot containers
  • 53-foot containers
  • Refrigerated containers/reefers
  • Flat rack containers
  • Open-top containers

(Want to learn more about container types, sizes, and specs?)

When you choose FCL (full container load) service, you’ll get one of these types of containers dedicated entirely to your shipment. You can fill it as you please, up to the specified weight limits.

LEarn More About LCL Shipments

LCL Service Is Available to Puerto Rico

Don’t have enough to fill a container? Consider less-than-container load (LCL) service to Puerto Rico. Instead of paying for an entire container by yourself, your load will essentially “share” the space and cost with other shipments bound for the island.

 

LCL shipments are also called consolidations, and they’re arranged through freight forwarders. Each forwarder gathers shipments from individual shippers, packs them into a container, and sends that container to Puerto Rico—either once the load has reached a critical mass or on a specified schedule.

LEarn More About LCL Shipments

Container Transit Times to Puerto Rico

Concept of shipping and logistics management. Use smart phone for parcel tracking in the mobile application.

How long does it take to ship a container to Puerto Rico? To answer that question, let’s take a look at some common origin points along with their estimated transit times to Puerto Rico. 

A Note About Transit Times

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Transit time represents the time it takes a container ship to go from one port to another. Transit times don’t take into account:

  • The cut-off time for receiving freight at the origin point, which may be a few days prior to the sail date.
  • Unloading time at the destination port.
  • The time it takes to retrieve the container from the port and make it available for pick-up or delivery.

Finally, keep in mind that there may only be one or two sail dates to Puerto Rico from a given port. If your freight is ready on Monday and the sail date is Thursday, the transit time clock doesn’t start counting down until the ship leaves port on Thursday.

 

The best way to get a precise timeline for your Puerto Rico container shipment is to request a quote.

U.S. Mainland–Puerto Rico Container Transit Times

Ocean freight transit times between Jacksonville, Florida and San Juan, Puerto Rico can be pretty short—as little as three days. From Miami to San Juan, transit time is usually around four days.

 

Southbound Container Transit Times to Puerto Rico

Jacksonville, FL to San Juan, PR

3 Days

Miami, FL to San Juan, PR

4 Days

Puerto Rico cargo may also move by barge, which takes a little longer—6-7 days between San Juan and Jacksonville.

 

Asia–Puerto Rico Transit Times

 

If you’re sourcing goods in Asia and shipping them directly to Puerto Rico, you’re not alone. We work with plenty of customers who move containerized freight between Asia and Puerto Rico.

 

To give you a sense of how long it might take your cargo to arrive in Puerto Rico, take a look at the sample transit times below for containers moving between Asia and Puerto Rico:

Average Asia–Puerto Rico Container Transit Times

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  • Main China ports to San Juan: 45 days
  • Vietnam ports to San Juan: 65 days
  • Malaysia ports to San Juan: 50 days
  • Indonesia ports to San Juan: 65 days
  • Cambodia ports to San Juan: 60 days
  • India ports to San Juan: 45 days

The Cost to Ship a Container to Puerto Rico

Traffic entering the capital of Puerto Rico, San Juan at night.

Wondering how much it costs to ship a container to Puerto Rico? The price largely depends on the following factors:

  • Origin—i.e., where your shipment starts
  • Size/type of the container you want to ship
  • Fuel surcharges in effect at the time of your shipment
  • Additional services like pick up, delivery, and storage

Shipping unusual freight like hazardous materials or oversized equipment will also change your cost.

The best way to get a dependable price for a container to Puerto Rico is to reach out to one of our experts for a free quote. We’d be happy to help you find the best rates available for your shipment.

Planning Your Container Shipment to Puerto Rico

To set the stage for an efficient, cost-effective Puerto Rico freight shipment from start to finish, you’ll need to be aware of the following four areas:  

Prohibited and Restricted Items

As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico is subject to the same import laws as the 50 U.S. states. That means that any items on the Customs and Border Patrol Prohibited List are not eligible for import to Puerto Rico.

One other item to note: coffee seeds/green coffee beans or other coffee plant parts intended for planting are not permitted for import to Puerto Rico.

If you have any questions, ask your forwarder or carrier up front to avoid any issues when your container reaches Puerto Rico.

Hacienda

Goods arriving in Puerto Rico are subject to an excise tax, payable to the Puerto Rico Department of Treasury or el Departamento de Hacienda de Puerto Rico 

For many goods, the tax is 11.5%. (For help figuring out the excise tax for your specific container shipment, reach out to us!) This excise tax must be paid to Hacienda before your container will be released in Puerto Rico.  

To pay the excise tax, shippers need to create an account with SURI (Sistema Unificado de Rentas Internas). If you don’t speak Spanish, choose “English” at the top right to translate the page.  

Once you’ve set up your SURI account, you’ll be able to make your excise tax payments to ensure prompt release of your container(s). 

Learn more about Puerto Rico customs procedures and taxes. 

Documentation

Your container will also need to be accompanied by the proper paperwork. This generally includes:

  • A standard bill of lading
  • A commercial invoice
  • An Electronic Export Filing (EEI) if the declared value of any commodity shipped exceeds $2,500

A freight forwarder can help you prepare your bill of lading and file the EEI on your behalf.

U.S. Customs

Because Puerto Rico is located within the customs territory of the U.S., shipments from outside the U.S. will be subject to U.S. Customs & Border Patrol regulations. This means some additional paperwork, including an Importer Security Filing 

A freight forwarder should be able to handle these items for you to expedite speedy clearance.  

Additionally, if you hit any snags clearing your goods into the U.S., your forwarder should also be able to refer you to a customs broker. These specialists can assist in clearing up any problems to keep your cargo moving. 

After Your Container Arrives in Puerto Rico

Location Puerto Rico and San Juan city, red push pin on the travel map, marker and point closeup, tourism and trip concept, North America

Once your container arrives at the Port of San Juan, a few more things need to happen before you’ll receive the freight inside your container:

  • First, dockworkers at the Port of San Juan will unload the ship. They’ll remove all containers from the boat, including yours.
  • Next, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol may screen your container. Assuming you’ve paid your excise tax, your shipment shouldn’t be held by Hacienda. If there’s an issue, a network of couriers and runners in San Juan can help get corrected paperwork over to remedy any potential errors.
  • If there are no challenges, your container will be made available for pickup at the port.
  • If a freight forwarder is handling your shipment, they’ll pick up your container at the port and bring it back to their terminal.

From there, you’ll have two options:

  1. You can arrange to pick up the goods yourself from your forwarder’s terminal.
  2. Or, you ask have your goods delivered to your warehouse or place of business.

Puerto Rico Freight Tip: If you anticipate needing your freight delivered in Puerto Rico, look for a forwarder with on-the-ground resources on the island. For example, our trucking partners make deliveries daily to every zone, which means you can get your freight delivered quickly. 

Shipping a Container to Puerto Rico, Easily and Cost Effectively

If you’ve shipped containers anywhere in the world, you may have noticed that shipping containers to Puerto Rico isn’t vastly different. As with any destination, there are a few distinct requirements to be aware of—such as Puerto Rico’s excise tax. However, now that you know what to look out for when shipping containers to Puerto Rico, you’ll be perfectly positioned for a simple, efficient, cost-effective experience the next time you need to move freight to Puerto Rico.

Ready to ship a container to Puerto Rico? Reach out to our experts. We’ll get you a great rate—and we can deliver flexible, nimble freight solutions that will keep your Puerto Rico business moving forward.

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