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The United States Department of Interior’s (DOI) Office of Insular Affairs (OIA), Division of Policy frequently receives inquiries about the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a United States insular area. The Office of Insular Affairs, however, does not exercise any responsibilities vis-a-vis Puerto Rico.  For a list of offices that may be contacted for further information  regarding Puerto Rico, please refer to Contacts at the bottom of this page.

Political Status

San Juan, Puerto Rico. [Photo courtesy of Myra Rodriquez]
San Juan, Puerto Rico.
[Photo courtesy of Myra Rodriquez]

Puerto Rico, a U.S. possession since 1898, became a commonwealth in 1952. Since then, Puerto Ricans have been considering three significantly different political status options --statehood, enhanced commonwealth, and independence -- as an alternative to the present relationship with the United States. The political status debate continues, in part, because the last plebiscite, held on December 13, 1998, failed to yield a majority vote on any of the five options: 0.29% enhanced commonwealth, 46.4 statehood; 2.5% independence, 0.06% free association, 50.3% none of the above.

Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917.

The Puerto Rico Constitution establishes a democratic and republican form of government, divided into three branches: the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

Commonwealth voters elect a resident commissioner, who has a voice but no vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. The current resident commissioner is the Honorable Pedro Pierluisi.

Although Puerto Ricans do not pay Federal taxes on income received from island sources, they do pay customs taxes paid to the Federal treasury but these revenues are returned to the Commonwealth.

Relations between Puerto Rico and the United States are defined in the Puerto Rico-Federal Relations Act. Such matters as currency, defense, external relations, communications and interstate commerce are within the jurisdiction of the Federal government. Local government - with the exception of San Juan which has a city-management rule - is run by a popularly elected mayor and council.


The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico occupies a central position in the West Indies. To the west lie the other larger islands of the Greater Antilles - Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic and Haiti), Jamaica and Cuba - while to the east is Saint Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Puerto Rico Map
Map of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico is comprised of six main islands with a land area of 3,421 square miles and a population of about three million people. The island is divided into three main geographical regions: the mountainous interior, the northern plateau, and the coastal plains. The central mountain range, known as the Cordillera Central, rises to more than 3,000 feet, with the highest points at Cerro de Punta, 4,389 feet, and Monte Guilarte, 3,949 feet. In the northeast, the Sierra de Luquillo includes the rain forest of El Yunque. The whole area of 29,000 acres is included in the Caribbean National forest and is a major tourist attraction.

San Juan, Puerto Rico. [Photo courtesy of Myra Rodriquez]
San Juan, Puerto Rico.
[Photo courtesy of Myra Rodriquez]

The island's varied precipitation is the direct result of its topography. The east-west mountains form a barrier to the dominant east-to-northeasterly winds, giving the north an abundance of rain. On rising over the Cordillera Central, the warm, humid air masses cool and lose much of their moisture, so that rain on the southern coast is scarce and a dry climate predominates.

Lying within the tropical zone, Puerto Rico enjoys a pleasant climate greatly influenced by the sea and the warm North Equatorial Current. Temperatures in Puerto Rico very seldom fall below sixty degrees Fahrenheit (sixteen degrees Celsius). Extreme temperatures are rare. The highest recorded average is eighty-nine degrees Fahrenheit (thirty-two degrees Celsius); the lowest, sixty-six degrees Fahrenheit (nineteen degrees Celsius).  Hurricane season is June l through November l.

Travel Requirements

No passports or immunizations are necessary for U.S. citizens or U.S. nationals travelling to Puerto Rico. Aliens travelling to Puerto Rico are required to have a valid passport and an appropriate U.S. visa, if required.


The U.S. dollar is the currency used in Puerto Rico.



For further information on Puerto Rico, please contact any of the following offices:

  • Office of the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico The Honorable Pedro Pierluisi.
    U.S. House of Representatives
    Washington, D.C.
    telephone: 202-225-2615
    fax: 202-225-2154
    website:  http://pierluisi.house.gov/
  • Office of the Deputy Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs
    The White House
    telephone: 202-456-2896
    fax: 202-456-7015
  • Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration
    Government of Puerto Rico in Washington
    1100 Seventeenth Street, NW, Suite 800
    Washington, D.C. 20036
    telephone: 202-778-0710



U.S. Department of the Interior • Office of Insular Affairs
1849 C Street, N.W. • Washington, DC 20240
Phone: (202) 208-6816 • FAX: (202) 219-1989
Last Updated on 05/30/12