Black and Gold Coast - Cash vs Credit in Puerto Rico - Picture of scramble crossing in shibuya, tokyo, japan

cash vs. credit in puerto rico

Holding the greasy paper trays and wooden skewers of some fresh grilled yakitori (essentially Japanese pinchos) at a bon festival in Tokyo this summer, I would’ve LOVED to find a trash can.  However, having already been in Japan for a few weeks, I knew that in reality, I would be carrying the messy remains of my snack for quite awhile.  Trash cans are surprisingly elusive in Japan and yet somehow, the streets are remarkably litter free.

This is just one of several contrasts I noticed between life on the island nation of Japan and Puerto Rico.  However, there was one similarity I did not expect; in both Puerto Rico and Japan, cash is king.

cash vs. credit in puerto rico

When we lived in Texas, I rarely used cash.  Paper money and coins are inconvenient and germ-ridden.  Besides, I’d rather be racking up points on my credit cards.  I had a system of keeping exactly $19 in my wallet (to ensure I had a nice assortment of bills) and would often go several MONTHS before I had to replace any of the bills.

Similarly, when we were planning our trip to visit family in Japan this summer, I really didn’t want to have to convert a bunch of dollars to yen.  Not only do you take a hit with currency conversion fees, but it’s risky to carry around a huge wad of cash.  Credit cards with no foreign transaction fees do the currency exchange on the fly.   Further, you are assured to only convert as much as you need.

One would think, with Japan being such a modern country, with bullet trains whizzing back and forth and high tech toilets, you could get by without having to carry around pieces of paper and metal tokens to pay for things.  Surprisingly though, this is not the case.  Many small restaurants only accept cash, and in general, train tickets and passes MUST be paid for in cash.  Furthermore, I noticed that even where credit cards were accepted, most Japanese pay with cash.

Here in Puerto Rico , it’s pretty much the same.  We had to get used to keeping a healthy pile of cash on hand at all times.  Not only is it necessary in case of emergency, but also to pay the many service providers and small restaurants that only accept cash.  Even the movie theatres here don’t take credit cards!

credit card points in puerto rico

If you are also someone who likes to earn credit card points, you might think you’d accrue far fewer here than you otherwise would in the states.  Counterintuitively though, I have found this is NOT the case.  The reason is there are some expenses, sometimes very BIG expenses, that are paid in cash in the states that can be paid with credit card here!

For example, in Texas, my electric, water and cable internet bills were all paid with an automatic deduction from my bank account.  In Puerto Rico, ALL of these bills can be paid with a credit card online.  These expenses though are often a drop in the bucket compared to the granddaddy of them all; the income tax.

In the states, if they are not automatically withheld from your paycheck, you have to pay your income and payroll taxes with a direct deposit.  Any option to pay with a credit card incurs additional fees.  However, a self-employed Puerto Rican can pay income taxes online with a credit card, without facing any additional fees.  You have to pay anyway, so why not make it a more “rewarding” experience.

cash vs credit in puerto rico - paying estimated income taxes on the credit card - picture of hacienda virtual portal

best credit cards for (western) puerto rico

With all that said, here are my go-to credit cards:

  1. Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card – In Puerto Rico, having an Amazon Prime membership is a MUST.  It’s the only way to receive free shipping from Amazon.  This membership also qualifies you for the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card which provides 5% back on all purchases on  Now that Amazon started collecting the 11.5%(!) sales tax in Puerto Rico, using this card can soften the blow.
  2. Sam’s Club Mastercard – There is no Costco on the west side of the island (yet!) so a Sam’s Club membership is another must have.  The Sam’s Club Mastercard provides 5% cash back on gas and 3% on dining and travel.  Strangely though, you only receive 1% back at Sam’s Club itself which is why we actually use the card below in the store…
  3. Citi Double Cash Mastercard – This is what we use on everything else.  This card is dead simple; you get 2% back on anything and everything.  One place we didn’t pull this card out was in Japan though, because this card charges foreign transaction fees.  However, the other two cards above don’t, so we were well covered.

Bottom line, don’t fret about the “cash economy” here in Puerto Rico if you like collecting credit card points.  There are still PLENTY of opportunities to rack them up here!

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