A simple question with a simple answer: do you need a passport to visit Puerto Rico?
No, you don't need a passport if you are a U.S. citizen.
Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, and U.S. citizens do not need a passport to go to Puerto Rico (or any other US territory.) In fact, traveling to a U.S. territory from the mainland United States is the same as driving from Illinois to Iowa, or taking a flight from New York to Los Angeles. You're still within the United States' legal jurisdiction, so you can travel with other forms of legal ID, such as a driving license, just like anywhere else in the country.
And here's a fun fact for students: Puerto Rico's legal drinking age is 18, so not only do you not need a passport to visit this beautiful island, but if you're under 21, you can grab a cold beer on a warm beach when you get there. Perfect for spring break!
Are There Any Exceptions?
The only thing is to take note of your flight routings.
If you don't have a passport, you'll want to make sure that your flight to Puerto Rico doesn't pass through any international countries (Mexico, the Caribbean, etc), because you'll need a passport to transit through them. Because of this, you'll only want to buy direct flights.
Likewise, on your return trip home, make sure you fly directly to the United States or you will be in trouble when you attempt to transit through a country without a passport.
Who Does Need a Passport to Visit Puerto Rico?
Quite simply: everyone else! If you need to apply for a U.S. visa before visiting the United States, you'll need to do exactly the same before your trip to Puerto Rico. If you normally can apply for an ESTA in advance, you'll want to do that in advance of your departure date. As always, make sure that you have at least six months validity in your passport or you won't be allowed into the country.
In some instances, you'll be expected to show proof of onward travel (an airline ticket proving you'll be leaving the country), so be sure to book this before you arrive. I either print out this ticket and carry it in my purse or save a screenshot of it to my phone so that I can easily show immigration officials my proof. Unfortunately, most immigration officers don't accept overland travel as proof that you'll be leaving, so make sure you do have a flight out of the country to show as you arrive.
Where Else is a U.S. Territory?
You may be surprised to discover that there are quite a few U.S. territories spread out across the world, and you won't require a passport to visit any of them. If you're therefore dreaming of a luxury adventure to a paradise island, but don't yet have a passport, checking out the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and, of course, Puerto Rico is a great way to treat yourself to an island getaway.
The U.S. commonwealths/territories are as follows: American Samoa, Baker Island, Howland Island, Guam, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Islands, Navassa Island, Northern Mariana Islands, Palmyra Atoll, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas), and Wake Island.
How to Apply for Your First U.S. Passport
If you found your way to this article, you probably don't have a U.S. passport, but I'd highly recommend applying for one -- even if you don't need it for your holiday to Puerto Rico.
Having a passport opens up the world to you, and travel is something I firmly believe everyone should do. It challenges your perceptions, it gets you out of your comfort zone, it introduces you to new ideas, it teaches you life skills, and it shows you how much the rest of the world has to offer. Travel gave me confidence, a greater sense of empathy, and an enormous improvement in my mental health. Yes, I credit travel with eliminating my anxiety disorder from my life!
Fortunately, it's very easy to apply for a U.S. passport and the following articles will help walk you through the process:
How to Get a Passport: Start here. This is a detailed guide that outlines all of the documents you'll need in order to apply for your first passport, as well as how to work your way through the application process with minimal stress.
How to Rush a Passport Application: Only have a limited amount of time? This article covers how you can rush your passport application, so that you can get yours as quickly as possible.
How to Get a Passport Without a Birth Certificate: Don't have a birth certificate? No problem. This article covers what other documents and forms of ID you can use to get your passport.
This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff.