Puerto Rico

Is Puerto Rico overseas? We can give you a firm “It depends” answer on that one.

Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States

Puerto Rico is a territory belonging to the United States, not a state, but clearly part of the United States. People born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens, but nobody living in Puerto Rico gets to vote in presidential elections and the Island has no voting representatives in Congress.

An airplane flight from a state to Puerto Rico is a domestic flight, you don’t need a passport, and you don’t need to change currency. People born in Puerto Rico, since they are U.S. citizens, can travel, study, and work freely in any state. Moving from Puerto Rico to Minnesota is just like moving from Nevada to Minnesota. In fact, if you were born in Puerto Rico and move to a state, you can immediately register to vote in the next presidential election.

However, the Insular Cases determined that Puerto Rico is “a territory appurtenant and belonging to the United States, but not a part of the United States within the revenue clauses of the Constitution.” In one of the most famous lines from these troublesome 20th century decisions, Puerto Rico is “foreign in a domestic sense.” Also, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t apply fully in Puerto Rico.

What about shipping?

For people, it may be complicated, but what about shipping? USPS considers Puerto Rico domestic, but FedEx considers the Island an international destination. Packages don’t go through customs, though, and don’t require a customs declaration.

However, a package with a value over $2,500 (such as a commercial shipment) will require an Electronic Export Information form. This is required under the Foreign Trade Regulations. Experts on the subject agree that this is illogical and weird, but it is still required. Here’s what the Senate Finance Committee has to say on the subject: “The requirement of Electronic Export Information (EEI) filings for shipments between the mainland United States and Puerto Rico perpetuates the mischaracterization of Puerto Rico as a foreign country, imposes an unnecessary burden on interstate commerce, and impedes economic development on the island.”

Since shipping from a state to Puerto Rico is a question of shipping between U.S. ports, shipments from a state to Puerto Rico are subject to cabotage laws like the Jones Act, just as shipments from one state to another are.

How about economics?

Puerto Rico is not included in the GDP (gross domestic produce) of the United States, and the Census Bureau does keep tabs on imports and exports between the states and Puerto Rico. These things make it seem as though Puerto Rico is overseas and not really part of the United States.

On the other hand, trade between Puerto Rico and the United States is interstate commerce and is covered by the laws relating to interstate commerce, not the laws about international commerce.

Oh, except for those pesky shipping issues.

Space-A has an answer

So far things have been somewhat confusing and uncertain, but Space-A, the Military Space Available Travel system, has a clear and unambiguous answer: Puerto Rico is overseas. So is Hawaii. This is because both places have a large body of water between them and the continental United States.

Space-A counts Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and foreign nations all as overseas because they are taking things very literally. Do you go over some sea to get there? Then it’s overseas.

There are some other cases in which you can get a firm answer. For example, 22 U.S. Code, the laws about foreign relations, specifically says that Puerto Rico is not a foreign country, although they do not use the word “overseas.”

Once Puerto Rico becomes a state…

When Puerto Rico becomes a state, most of these confusing issues will be solved. People born in Puerto Rico will still be U.S. citizens, and will have all the rights and privileges of other U.S. citizens. Shipping will be the same as for Hawaii, another state which is across a body of water. Puerto Rico will be included in the GDP and in the other statistics kept by the United States.

Space-A will still count Puerto Rico (and Hawaii) as overseas, but they’re special.

It’s time for statehood now. Tell your representatives to get on the right side of history and make it happen.



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