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Basics of Driving in Puerto Rico

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                   Road signs in San Juan Metro

Driving in Puerto Rico is just like in the United States with a few differences and challenges due to culture and amount of traffic. The truth is that traffic laws are generally the same, almost identical actually. Also, road signs are the same color and shape as they are in the United States, it’s just that as opposed to “STOP”, it will say “PARE”. =)

However, driving in Puerto Rico is not as organized or “clean” as it is in the United States. A former supervisor of mine called it “organized chaos”, and this is due to the fact that people don’t seem to take traffic laws very seriously, so there are a lot of people speeding, running red lights, turning left on red, and cutting people off among other things. However, it seems to actually work very well, everybody expects this to happen and everyone drives pretty much the same way, so there are no misunderstandings.

A few things you need to consider about driving Puerto Rico is that you have to be very aware of where you are and your surroundings. You need to try and guess the other driver’s moves before you make your own, also, the right-of-way rule is not as heavily understood here, so a lot of people rely on the kindness of other drivers to let you through, such as turning left on a green light, or letting you go if you are at a four-way stop (most people don’t even stop on stop signs).

One thing that a lot of tourists notice right away is that people here use their horn all the time as if to tell you to hurry up or just to give you a heads up “hey I am here”. Sometimes 1 second pass after the light turns green and you’re already been honked at by 5 or 10 cars telling you to “hurry up, light is green!” Yes, very aggressive driving here in Puerto Rico. Lots of people have told me: “people here are wonderful! I love the people here! That’s unless they are driving!”. I guess driving in Puerto Rico, whether it is due to the amount of traffic or whatever the reason is, it makes everyone cranky LOL.

So needless to say that driving Puerto Rico is one of the main complaints that a lot of people have once they get here. It doesn’t help that some, if not most of the roads are not properly labeled, some don’t even have the white lines to separate the lanes. Also, the road signs are in Spanish (most of them) so a lot of people have a lot of trouble trying to figure out where they are and what do they mean. A friend of mine calls this place “Wonderland”simply because you’re always wondering where you are and you don’t really know the road that you are in and you have to keep asking for directions. Most people here use landmarks as opposed to road names or signs; it is not at the intersection on “this road and this road” people would say “it is right next to this store” or “right in front of this fast food restaurant” or “right next to the big tree”, it is just easier that way because some (most) roads are just not marked.

Typical San Juan, Puerto Rico Traffic

Typical San Juan, Puerto Rico Traffic

Another thing that a lot of people don’t expect is the amount of traffic. Remember there are 3.8 million people in Puerto Rico, so a lot of people drive to work and pick up their kids at school, so right at rush hour there is simply a lot of cars out there and it seems that it can take you forever to get to one place that is only 5 miles away. Some people actually will walk to work because it’s faster than driving, that’s if you can though because not all roads have sidewalks either. I live 7 miles from work and it takes me at least 20 minutes to get to work, that is if there is no traffic, when there is traffic, it has taken me over an hour to get to work or to get home from work.

Having said all this, the truth is that driving here is actually not that bad. I just want you to be aware that driving in Puerto Rico may be a little bit different than driving in the states so that you don’t get too much of a shock. However, I may be a little bit biased, I live in the metro area where traffic is the worst in the island and the road conditions are also the worst of them all. Potholes speed bumps, unlabeled roads, and cranky drivers are the norm in the metro area. Once you get out of the metro area it is much smoother, especially in the freeway.

So now that you know this, you know what to expect about Puerto Rico driving, so get out there and start exploring this island! =)

 

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Jay-Webmaster

Author: Jay-Webmaster

Jay is an Atmospheric Physicist and Massage Therapist who was born and raised in Puerto Rico but went to college in the US before moving back to Puerto Rico. Creator of NewToPuertoRico.com and the new forum NewToPuertoRico.com/forum

9 Comments

  1. I grew up driving in Chicago, Illinois, so when my wife and I stayed in Condado and rented a car it was just like being back home, especially in Old San Juan

  2. I Have a question about getting a drivers license in Puerto Rico I have a license from the United States Virgin Islands but it expired a week ago I want to renew my licensed but do it in Puerto Rico since I am living over there now would I need to take the written and driving test as well and where do I go to start the process thank you

    • Jay-Webmaster

      Hello, it depends on where you live, but you have to go to a “DTOP” a.k.a. CESCO. I’ve been to one in Bayamon, Carolina, and Humacao. The one in Humacao was the quickest but unless things have changed recently you may have to go to the nearest “DTOP” to your permanent address.

      I know the one in Bayamon has a trailer in front of it where you can get just about every paper you need to get your license, plus they will do the vision test and everything there, just make sure you have cash to pay. It’s $40 for a license renewal, maybe more for the paperwork and government fees to also take the tests.

      Make sure you also have your current/original birth certificate (or passport I think), expired license, social security card, and some sort of bill or something to prove that you live at the address that you give them.

      To find the nearest DTOP you can check online on their website http://www.dtop.gov.pr/

      Use Google Chrome browser and have it translate it to English, that way you can navigate through the drop-down menu on the right hand side and find your nearest DTOP (CESCO).

      Let me know if you need any more help!

      • Thanks for the Information I have started the process. I wasn’t able to switch license due to mines being expired. So I had to start a brand new process I have already passed the written exam and have gotten the Permit. Now what I don’t understand is why I have to wait 30 days before I can take the driving test. I guess it have different rules over here in Puerto Rico. overall the process is straight forward but this task is something you have to do early in the morning if not you might as well bring a lunch to the DMV thanks again for the information.

        • Jay-Webmaster

          Yeah, unfortunately once your license is expired you have to go through the entire process from the beginning. I’m not exactly sure why there’s a waiting period but it actually used to be 90 days so believe it or not 30 days wait is progress! =)

          As far as when to go to the DMV, I’ve actually found early afternoon to be the best time to go, I’d say 230pm or so, although if you are early enough to be one of the first in line then go ahead and go early!

          Thanks for the comment!

  3. Hello Again! Speaking of traffic, any suggestions on car insurance. We had USAA but they only insured Active Duty here in Puerto Rico (now I know why). We are slowly settling in, any suggestions in this area would be appreciated!

    Thanks Again!

    • Jay-Webmaster

      Hello Jean!

      I know that sucks about USAA! I used to have them too!

      I actually do not pay for private insurance since the “Marbete” covers liability insurance, and that’s all I need.

      However, if you want private insurance, the most popular is “Universal”. You may visit http://www.universalpr.com click on the “English” link at the top.

      I did have a lady hit me one time and she had insurance through them. I went to their offices and they did what they had to do and gave me a check to fix the car the same day. I did wait several hours though, almost preferred them to mail it since it caused me to be very late to work, but same day may be ok to some people.

      Check them out!

  4. Any insight on ACAA stickers? I am currently stationed here for 3 years and my car just arrived from the states. From what Iunderstand I have to optain a ACAA sticker in order to get my car out from the ports. Your help will definitely be appreciated.

    • Jay-Webmaster

      Yes you have to pay ACAA and the compulsory insurance, among other things. I however wasn’t under the impression that you needed it before taking it out but maybe you do. You may have to register the car at DTOP (The DMV), I recommend not going at the end of the month of in the first few days. They will give you a “Car License” which is really the car registration. Every year you will have then to get your “Marbete” which is like the license tags for your car but the sticker goes on the windshield on the bottom right corner. Total of the marbete is about $200.

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