With a population that’s just over three million, Puerto Rico can offer your business a quick and relatively simple way to expand your customer base. This can be especially true if you already have an existing business model that’s working well in another Jones Act destination. With the help of a good freight forwarder, you may be able to rapidly duplicate this setup to serve the Puerto Rican market.

As we continue rolling out our full-service logistics solutions to Puerto Rico, we’ve gotten a number of questions about customs and taxes when shipping to and from Puerto Rico. To give you the information you need to decide whether doing business in Puerto Rico is right for you, we’ll answer those questions (and more)!

Of course, if you have questions that aren’t answered in this article, you can always reach out to our experts. We’d be happy to get you the information you need—or put together a quote for your next Puerto Rico freight shipment.

Question #1: Is Puerto Rico a U.S. Territory?

Yes. Puerto Rico became an unincorporated territory in 1898. Today, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has the largest population by far of the five populated U.S. territories. Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States, although they do not pay federal taxes and they do not get to vote in the presidential election.

Most importantly, though, Puerto Rico’s territorial status means that shipments originating in the U.S. are considered domestic shipments. This becomes more important in the next section.

Question #2: What Do I Need to Know About Customs/Taxes for Goods Shipping to and from Puerto Rico?

First, we need to draw the distinction between domestic shipments coming from any other part of the United States and international shipments arriving from outside the U.S.

Domestic Shipments Arriving to Puerto Rico:

  • Because Puerto Rico is a territory, no customs duties are assessed on goods arriving from the U.S.
  • However, these goods are subject to an excise tax. For many goods, the tax is 11.5%, although it differs depending on your goods. (For more on figuring out the excise tax for your specific shipment, reach out to us.)
  • This tax is directly paid to the Puerto Rico Department of Treasury or el Departamento de Hacienda de Puerto Rico.
  • Shipments must be paid for and cleared by Hacienda before they can be released and delivered.

International Shipments Arriving to Puerto Rico:

  • Shipments arriving directly to Puerto Rico from international destinations must first clear U.S. Customs.
  • Then, they’ll be subject to the excise tax and clearance by Hacienda, as described above.

Shipments Leaving Puerto Rico for the U.S.:

  • Because of Puerto Rico’s territorial status, these shipments won’t be subject to excise taxes or customs inspection.

Shipments Leaving Puerto Rico for International Destinations:

  • As with any international shipment, your goods will be subject to local customs regulations and inspection at their destination.

Question #3: What About Documentation?

For domestic shipments, you will need to provide documentation in order to get your shipment cleared by Hacienda. In general, this includes items such as a standard bill of lading, a commercial invoice, and an Electronic Export Filing (EEI) if the declared value of any commodity shipped exceeds $2,500.

Your freight forwarder can help you prepare and, in some cases, submit this documentation on your behalf.

Exact documentation requirements will change for every shipper’s unique circumstances. So it’s best to check with your freight forwarding partner to know exactly what you need.

Question #4: How Do I Get Set Up to Pay My Excise Taxes to Hacienda?

The easiest and best way to get started is to establish an account with SURI (Sistema Unificado de Rentas Internas). If you’re not a Spanish-speaker, you can choose “English” at the top right to translate the page. Once you’ve established an account, you can make direct payments for your shipments to ensure the timely release of your goods.

Question #5: What If Something Goes Wrong and My Shipment Doesn’t Get Released by Hacienda?

This is when it pays to have a partner on the ground in Puerto Rico. If there’s a problem, there’s a network of couriers and runners who can help get corrected paperwork over to the local Hacienda office to remedy any potential errors.

Your freight forwarder should be able to facilitate any issues concerning documentation. That being said, look for someone with a local footprint. They’ll simply find it easier to untangle any possible challenges.

Question #6: What If I Have More Questions?

Reach out to us for a complimentary consultation with one of our experts! We can assist with any queries you might have about accessing the Puerto Rico market and establishing your supply chain.

With multiple sail dates each week as well as the ability to receive freight in several U.S. locations, we can connect you with a flexible and affordable logistics solution to Puerto Rico. Additionally, we have on-island resources that allow us to deliver seamless, door-to-door service. There’s significant potential for growth opportunities in Puerto Rico, and we’d love to help you set up a logistics solution to expand your customer base.