The author sitting on a bamboo with different flags on her side

Driving in Puerto Rico (A Local’s Guide, for First Timers)

You’ve probably heard horror stories about driving in Puerto Rico and you’re already having second thoughts.

But before you decide to spend your budget on private shuttles and taxis, as a Puerto Rico local I can tell you some of those stories are exaggerations, and that Puerto Rico is safe for driving if you take sensible precautions and learn some basic tips I’ll cover in this article.

Let’s go over what you should and shouldn’t do while driving on the island.

Disclosure: Travel Lemming is an independent reader-supported blog. You can support my work by purchasing through the affiliate links on this page, which may earn a commission for this site. Thank you!

Driving Laws and Rules in Puerto Rico

View of a street sign in Puerto Rico

Overall, Puerto Rico’s roads follow a system quite similar to the continental United States. If you’re used to driving in mainland USA, you’ll find that Puerto Rico’s driving signals are mostly those universal ones you are already used to, just with words in Spanish. 

But, there are still a few things you should know about driving in Puerto Rico:

  • In Puerto Rico, you drive on the right side of the street.
  • The right lane is for heavy vehicles or drivers under the speed limit, the left lane is the fast lane, although in Puerto Rico people drive wherever they feel like honestly.
  • The roads in Puerto Rico are mostly wide and paved, but some neighborhoods and streets in the mountains sport narrow roads.
  • Puerto Rican drivers are aggressive on the street. They change lanes without a turn signal, honk at you, and cut in front of you if you’re slow. Drive defensively!
  • Seatbelts are mandatory for everyone in the car. Infants below 12 must ride on the back.
  • Driving while talking or texting on the phone is illegal in Puerto Rico.
  • Puerto Rico’s standard speed limits are 25 in urban areas, 15 in school zones, 45 in rural areas, and 65 on the highway, unless otherwise specified. See other speed limits variations here.
  • Alcohol blood levels must be below 0.08 for small vehicles and 0.02 for heavy vehicles.
  • Drivers can turn to the right with a red light unless otherwise instructed.
  • Streets sometimes have multiple names.
  • Police cars always have their lights on, it doesn’t mean they’re stopping you.
  • The main highways have tolls, you need to get an Autoexpreso stamp with your rental agency.
  • Distances get measured in kilometers but cars speeds are in miles per hour.
  • Gas stations display prices of gas per liter.

👉 Not sure where to go in Puerto Rico? Check out some of my top places to explore in Puerto Rico for ideas!

License Requirements

Visitors from the United States can use their driver’s license to drive in Puerto Rico since the island is a territory of the United States. International visitors will need an International Driving Permit along with their country’s license. 

Even if some car rentals don’t ask for a license, it’s safer to have it, in case you get pull-over by the local police.

Where to Rent a Car in Puerto Rico

View of the author from her car on her way to El Yunque
Driving on my way to El Yunque

When you arrive in Puerto Rico, you’ll find plenty of rental cars companies, right at the airport and some others in San Juan. Some of them are internationally known like Avis and some are local, but, if you don’t have experience with any of them, you can use Discover Cars Puerto Rico to compare prices and get the best deal on your rental.

🚗 Rental Car Warning: Some companies will quote a really small price and then charge you more on the counter. Always make sure the price you’re getting includes insurance, and Autoexpreso and read the contract for hidden fees.

Car Insurance Rules

Overall, renting a car in Puerto Rico is easy if you have a credit card and a driver’s license, but there are two types of insurance you’ll need to pay for: the Supplemental Liability Insurance (SLI), and the CDW/LDW (Collision Damage Waiver and Loss Damage Waiver). 

The SLI is mandatory,  and it covers the costs of an accident that affects a third party. The CDW/LDW insurance is optional, but this insurance covers any damage to the vehicle, robbery, or an accident so you don’t have to pay for it yourself.

If you’re under 25 years old or you want to include a second driver in your contract, you may need to pay an extra fee for renting a car. If an accident occurs while someone else besides the person in the contract is driving, insurance will not cover you.

🚗 Pro Tip: If you have a credit card, you can check if they have the benefit of insurance when you rent a car and ask your bank for proof of coverage. If your card doesn’t provide insurance, you can buy one when renting your car through Discover Cars Puerto Rico or you can also save money by buying travel insurance that covers both your trip and car rentals. Travel Lemming loves World Nomads travel insurance, but do your own research.

Driving in Rain in Puerto Rico

View of an empty road while raining

Is not uncommon to find yourself driving under a pouring sky in Puerto Rico. If you’re driving while it’s raining, reduce your speed, and use the intermittent lights if the visibility is poor. Keep in mind that when it rains too much in a short time, some streets and neighborhoods can get flooded. Needless to say, never try to cross flooded areas.

Nighttime Driving in Puerto Rico

If you drive during the night in Puerto Rico, you’ll find some poorly lit areas while driving, most of them a product of Hurricane Maria. Always keep your eyes on the road and take common safety measures when you’re driving around, like keeping your doors locked. After midnight, you can drive past red lights, so you don’t have to stay alone at the intersection.

📚 Related Reading: Concerned about your safety in Puerto Rico? Check out my Puerto Rico safety guide.

Mountain Driving in Puerto Rico

The author's view from her car while driving

While the center area sports breathtaking landscapes and some of the best activities in Puerto Rico, the island’s mountain roads aren’t for the weak-hearted. The rural area sports very narrow roads with little lightning and signs. Always double check your destinations with local guides, and know some Spanish phrases in case you need to ask for directions.

If you’re driving in the mountainous area during the winter you’ll have limited visibility due to the fog. Always drive slowly and keep your eyes open for upcoming cars.

🚗 Pro Tip: You may lose your phone signal in some areas of Puerto Rico. When you’re heading to a destination, make sure to download the map from your GPS so you can access it offline.

Tips for Driving in Puerto Rico

Tip #1 – Keep Your Eyes on the Road

View of a not so busy highway in Puerto Rico and a rainbow on the sky

Driving in Puerto Rico is usually safe, but it’s true you will find some Puerto Ricans are crazy drivers, changing lanes without a signal, overspeeding, and crossing red lights. You should be fine as long as you keep your eyes on the road ALWAYS and drive safely.

Tip #2 – Watch Out for Potholes and Speed Bumps

View of a colorful street in Puerto Rico

Some streets in Puerto Rico are in bad condition. Watch out for potholes on the street, as they’re often the cause of flat tires. You’ll also find multiple speed bumps in urbanizations so that drivers keep the speed limit.

Tip #3 – Check the Traffic Direction

The Cobblestone street in Old San Juan with colorful houses
One ways are common on the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan

Some Puerto Rico areas like Old San Juan, Hato Rey, and mostly the cities’ old town centers sport a complicated one-way driving system. This means one street goes in one direction and the next street goes in the other. If you’re in doubt, check for do not enter signs, the direction cars park, or imitate what local drivers do.

Tip #4 – Avoid Peak Hours

View of people walking near the sea and a traffic jam on the road

Peak hours in Puerto Rico are a nightmare. Traffic jams can triple the time to get to a destination plus you’ll see more cases of road rage, people turning without turn signals, and drivers ignoring traffic lights. If you’re driving during the rush hour, just make sure to leave your hotel with enough time to arrive at your destination.

Tip #5 – Prepare for Toll Roads

The author's view from her car on a highway going to Ponce
Reaching Ponce through the Highway

If you’re moving outside Old San Juan, you will find multiple toll roads on your way. Tolls in Puerto Rico work with an electronic stamp your car rental company can provide to you. Although you can pay in cash in some tolls, some tolls are already changeless, so it’s easier to ask for your rental car with an Autoexpreso stamp.

Tip #6 – People Will Approach Your Car at Intersections

Very few guides mention the fact that you will commonly find people asking for money on intersections, especially in San Juan, and the metro area. You might feel intimidated, but I assure you they’re usually harmless. If you don’t feel like giving them money, you can just keep your window up and say no with your head when they approach your car.

👉 Be sure to bookmark my full list of my best travel tips for Puerto Rico here!

FAQ’s About Driving in Puerto Rico

Is driving in Puerto Rico difficult?

Overall, driving in Puerto Rico is easy. The main streets are in good condition and the sign system is the same as most countries in the world. Although some drivers in Puerto Rico drive recklessly, visitors that take normal precautions and keep their eyes on the road should be safe.

Are taxis expensive in Puerto Rico?

Taking taxis in Puerto Rico can be expensive if visitors are going to travel frequently within San Juan, or if they’re planning to ride longer distances. Some additional charges for luggage or additional passengers can make fares pricey.

Can you drive in Puerto Rico with a US license?

Visitors from the United States can use their driving license from the state they come from to rent a car and drive in Puerto Rico, without any additional permit.

Is it better to rent a car in Puerto Rico?

Travelers planning to move around Puerto Rico should rent a car. Renting a car is the easiest way to move around since public transportation and bus routes don’t cover the complete island.

Is it safe to rent a car in San Juan Puerto Rico?

It’s completely safe to rent a car in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico sports well-known car rental companies like Avis, Enterprise, and Target. Visitors can also research and choose a local company to rent a car by taking common-sense precautions.

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You’ve reached the end of the Driving Guide for Puerto Rico! I hope I eased some of your fears about whether it is safe to drive in Puerto Rico.

If you’re still uncomfortable with the thought of renting a car in Puerto Rico, you can always just choose to stay in San Juan, where you can get around without driving. Check out the great things you can do in San Juan alone, without the need for a car.

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