mail service in puerto rico
Mail service is another of those things that just works in the states, but can take some extra effort here in Puerto Rico. Our condo didn’t have mail service, so we had to get a post-office box when we first moved to Puerto Rico. Since UPS and Fedex deliver to the post office here, this setup worked well enough. However, I was growing tired of having to visit the post office multiple times a week to wait in line every time we received packages.
initiating mail service in puerto rico
One day near the beginning of 2017, I decided that I had enough. At the post office, I asked the clerk behind the counter what needed to be done for us to receive mail at our condo. He directed me to the postmaster who took me into his office. He told me the first step is to get a USPS approved CBU (cluster box unit) installed at our condo. It turns out, this is easier said than done.
obtaining the mailbox
I found a USPS approved 12 door CBU on Amazon for around $1,400 (with free shipping!) and submitted it to our HOA for approval. They agreed, so I placed the order. A week or so later, the order was abruptly cancelled by the seller without reason. I repeatedly reached out to the seller and to Amazon but received no answers. I’m guessing they experienced sticker shock when they saw how much it was going to cost them to ship to Puerto Rico.
Not sure what to do next, I asked the postmaster if he knew of a local source for a mailbox. He provided me with the name of a man in San Juan who quoted me $2,200 for the same mailbox. I notified the HOA that Amazon wouldn’t ship it and that it looked like our only option was to go with the contact in San Juan. However, some on the board balked at the higher price. Most of them don’t live here full-time and therefore have little need for a mailbox here. Thankfully, the president of the HOA overcame the impasse by finding a place online called Global Industrial that would ship it to us for about the same price as Amazon.
A few weeks later, I started receiving official sounding phone calls all in Spanish. It took several calls before I could piece together what the lady on the other end was trying to tell me. Apparently, import taxes are levied on merchandise arriving to the island by ship as opposed to air. They would not allow our mailbox to leave the port until I paid taxes of about $150. Of course, I had no idea how to actually pay these import taxes. The lady mentioned an online portal called “SURI” where I needed to create an account to pay the taxes. I created an account on the site and poked around, but couldn’t figure how to actually pay the tax. After a few days of struggle, I was relieved to find out that the accounting firm for our HOA was familiar with this process, and would take care of the taxes.
Finally cleared to leave the dock, our mailbox was taken by the trucking company and on it’s way. Of course at this point our “address” was still the local post office, so I had to meet them there and take it the rest of the way, back to the condo.
installing the mailbox
It took about six months, but at last we had our mailbox. I slid the box into the stairwell of the condo and notified the postmaster that our mailbox had arrived. He sent the mail carrier for my area over who gave me the number of man who would install the mailbox for $100. A couple of weeks later, our mailbox was installed and ready to go!
receiving our address(es)
The postmaster told me that all he had to do now was issue us addresses and submit them for approval by the main post office in San Juan. The problem we ran into was that the street our condo is on has no name! He first submitted an address using just our condo name and no street. This was rejected by the San Juan office a few weeks later. Then the postmaster told me to go down to the mayor’s office in Aguada and ask the staff to look up the name of our street. They looked perplexed as they dug through their file cabinets. After about an hour of futility, they said there is no name and apparently naming it wasn’t an option.
I went back to the postmaster to speak about this and he told me he would just give us an address on the nearest named street. This kind of blew my mind. We won’t even live on the street in our address! Nevertheless, a couple of weeks later, our new addresses were approved. This meant we could fill change of address forms and not renew our PO box. A few weeks later, literally a month before Hurricane Maria flooded the post office in Aguada, mail started trickling in to our new mailbox!
notifying ups and fedex
The next step was to notify UPS and Fedex where we are, since our “address” is really no help. The key is to make sure your phone number on file at Amazon is up-to-date, because they print it on every package. It wasn’t long before we received calls from both the UPS and Fedex drivers asking where we were located. After a few deliveries, they have become well acquainted with our location. Now, they just honk when they pull up to the condo with our packages.
usps package limits
I want to end this post by sharing a tip about what you can have sent to Puerto Rico via USPS. My parents are selling their house where we were storing our beloved Portable Kitchens Charcoal Grill so I asked them to find out how much it would cost for them to ship it to us. My dad broke the grill down and hauled it to the UPS store where they quoted him $700!
That’s more than the grill cost brand new! Understandably, I told my dad to hold off. I wanted to check and see whether I could just buy a new one and have it shipped. Unfortunately though, neither Amazon nor PK would ship it here.
Having used several large flat rate boxes for our initial move to Puerto Rico, we were well aware that the USPS would cost less. This is because, unlike UPS and Fedex, the US postal service treats Puerto Rico as domestic. My only concern was that the package would exceed USPS’s size and weight limits. Before asking my dad to lug the grill to the post office, I went online to determine what these limits were. Here are the exact USPS Retail Ground physical limits:
- Maximum weight: 70 pounds
- Maximum combined length and girth: 130 inches.
Armed with this information, I asked my dad to check and it turned out that my grill just barely fit within these parameters. Knowing they would accept it, my dad hauled my boxed up grill to the post office. The price for shipping this beast from Texas to Puerto Rico was $186.15. That still may seem a bit high, but it’s a whole lot better than $700! For us, it was well worth the money to have finally have our grill with us in Puerto Rico. As you can see, it’s definitely worth knowing these limits and using USPS whenever possible.
mail service in puerto rico
Like many things, mail service in Puerto Rico is not a given. In fact, NONE of the other homes in our neighborhood even have mailboxes! Most people around here seem to be perfectly fine with just a PO box. Personally though, I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to finally have mail and packages literally delivered to our doorstep once again. It just goes to show that if you put in a little effort (or a lot!), you can recreate most of the comforts and conveniences that those of us from the states took for granted, all while living here on a beautiful tropical island in the Caribbean!