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Wait line in Puerto Rico

What’s With The Lines in Puerto Rico?

Lines, lines, lines, everywhere there’s lines!

I found myself standing in yet another mile-long line at the bank last Friday, thinking: what’s with all the damn lines in Puerto Rico?

I mean, really! There are lines everywhere! – No matter where I go, there is nearly always a line.

This was one of the very first things I noticed about the island. And yes, we’ve traveled enough and we had been warned enough about “island time” – so it’s not like we didn’t expect things to be slow.

But these lines are even beyond anything I could have envisioned and a rather big culture shock to us.

We have found that if you go ANYWHERE to purchase ANYTHING or do any type of business, you can expect to find a line of people already waiting.

I’m not exaggerating one bit! If you go to Walgreens, you can expect to stand in line of 6-10 people; if you go grocery shopping there is ALWAYS a long line; if you go to the ATM to withdraw money, you will find a line; if you go to the gas station, there is a line to pay; and even if you just want to run out and get a movie at the Redbox, you will find a line there too.

And let me tell you, these lines are not fast – I’m talking SLOOOOWWWWWW.

So, pretty much, you can expect to stand in a lot of lines in Puerto Rico. It will definitely teach you patience – I know it is adjusting my mid-western “go-go-go” attitude.

The only thing I can think of as a reason for the lines, is simply the culture or mentality here. People are used to slow services and don’t seem to mind standing in line. It’s expected, in fact.

Wait line in PR

Take a doctor’s office, for example: you made an appointment for 9:00AM, you show up at 8:50 and find that there is already a line of ten people waiting before you. You’re first reaction might be: what the hell?!

But, you may not know, that everyone in that line had an appointment for 9:00AM and so, whoever gets in line first – wins. In fact, I found out that most medical appointments are made either at 9:00AM or 1:00PM for EVERYONE and so you may have 10 scheduled for each slot (9:00 or 1:00) of the day, and you show up and wait in line.

Oh, and if you’re dealing with the government, for things like getting your license plates on a car, expect to wait in line multiple times over multiple days – see post Registering Your Car in Puerto Rico. That’s just the way it is.

I am not sure if the reason for the lines is that everyone just moves slower around here because of the tropical weather or if it’s something ingrained into the culture. In either case, if you go to a restaurant and wait 30 minutes to have your order taken, do not be surprised. It has nothing to do with you being a foreigner here, the locals get the same treatment.

While most people do not mind the slow pace here for a vacation, in fact it may be one of the attractions to take a break from the fast daily grind, they do seem to have trouble adjusting to it as a way of life.

If you can adjust your expectations and get used to the lines and long wait times, you will be just fine. If you have to have everything fast, you may want to skip Puerto Rico, you won’t get it here.

For me personally, the lines are a small price to pay for living in paradise.



About Joanna

is a Polish American living in Arizona with her husband Tim. She is a founding partner of JTR Tech and she is proud to be a professional geek. She had dreamt of living abroad for many years. So, she and Tim created AbroadDreams.com to document the process of making their dream of moving abroad come true. They spent 2 years in Puerto Rico and several months in Spain and Poland. Now they are exploring the American Southwest.

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  1. The best part about being retired is going to stores when everyone else is working. There are times we drive and nobody else is on the road, or in the stores, banks, gov offices, etc.

    It is nice being able to go to Home Depot on a Tuesday at 10:15am. You just have to time it right. Of course here in Rincon/West Coast there aren’t as many people as in the metro area either. So your mileage may vary.

    • Hi Britton,
      Funny you should say that, we use the same tactic here, always work around the “rush” hour for both business and travel. Unfortunately, we’ve also observed that even when there is almost no line, the cashiers, tellers, etc.. are super slow, causing backups and lines. I don’t really know why that is. We went to a bank once and there was only 1 person in line ahead of us and there were 5 tells behind the counter. But only one of them was working, while the others seemed to be just hanging out. It took 20 minutes for that one teller to get through with the first customer and get to us, while the others just didn’t seem to care and made of show of avoiding eye contact. By the time we got to the window, there was about 6 other people behind us.
      So, my best guess is that’s “normal” and expected here. We have just adjusted our attitude and decided to slow down rather than get upset about it. 🙂

  2. Hi guys! Yup – same thing here in San Juan too. A couple of weeks ago, I waited 45 minutes to pick up my dry cleaning. And there was only one person in front of me!!! I agree with the above response – my Kindle is my constant companion here.

  3. Yes, that’s actually a complaint you sometimes hear lodged against Americans in other parts of the world — we’re always in a hurry! 😉

  4. Hi, Joanna,

    Yes — Costa Rica tends toward the same thing. I think there really is just such a long-standing cultural expectation in Latin countries that “things take time” and often very inefficient ways of even doing things (making it take that much longer) that it’s almost as though it’s never occurred to them to be upset or impatient about waiting in line. Definitely odd for us “fast-paced” gringos! 😉 In CR, most gringos learn to take a paperback book (or kindle, even easier although more risk of being stolen) EVERYWHERE to help pass the time waiting in line. Locals just hang out and wait.

    • Hi Arden,
      It seems to be the norm Latin American countries. We saw the same in Mexico as well. And you’re right it does stem from a lot of inefficiency but I suspect that North Americans are not the norm with the fast-paced attitudes, rather we are the acceptation. Europe (at least the countries I’ve been to), also have similar long wait times for services – but perhaps that’s changed because it’s been a while since I’ve been out there.