Puerto Rico Education System: Expats’ Guide to School Navigation

Puerto Rico’s education system is based on the American model and offers a variety of options for expatriate families. Ensuring your child receives a quality education while living abroad can feel daunting, but understanding the structure and options available can help ease the transition. Public schools in Puerto Rico are available for all students, though the quality varies from school to school; on the other hand, private schools generally provide a high standard of education and are often preferred by expat parents.

Navigating the Puerto Rican school system for expats involves researching the available options, understanding the enrollment process, and considering the curriculum and language instruction offered. For those seeking an internationally recognized education, some schools offer International Baccalaureate (IB) or Advanced Placement (AP) programs. Additionally, while some schools primarily teach in Spanish, others provide bilingual education or instruction in English, which can be especially helpful for expat children.

The education system in Puerto Rico faces its own set of challenges and opportunities, such as rebuilding infrastructure after natural disasters and addressing disparities in educational access. Despite these challenges, the system remains resilient and continues to adapt to better serve the needs of students, including those with special needs, making it a viable option for expats seeking quality education for their children.

Key Takeaways

  • Puerto Rico offers various educational options for expats, including public and private schools with differing curricula and language instruction.
  • Understanding the structure, curriculum, and enrollment process of the Puerto Rican school system can help ease the transition for expat families.
  • The education system, while facing challenges, remains resilient and continues to adapt in order to better serve the needs of all students, including those with special needs.

Puerto Rico Education System Structure

Primary Education

In Puerto Rico, primary education is compulsory and generally covers six years for students aged 6 to 12. During these years, students focus on core subjects such as reading, writing, mathematics, and basic science. The primary education curriculum is designed to provide a foundation for future learning and to help students develop essential skills in critical thinking and socialization. It is worth noting that the overall literacy rate in Puerto Rico was 94.1% in 2002 with little difference in literacy rates between males and females.

Secondary Education

Secondary education in Puerto Rico is divided into two phases: intermediate and high school. Intermediate education typically covers grades 7 to 9, while high school spans grades 10 to 12. During these years, students continue focusing on core subjects and may also begin to explore electives in areas such as arts, music, and other career-oriented subjects. By the end of secondary education, students are expected to have achieved a well-rounded knowledge base in preparation for higher education or entry into the workforce. According to the 2010 Census, 60.0% of the population attained a high school degree or higher level of education.

Higher Education

Higher education in Puerto Rico includes colleges, universities, and technical institutes. These institutions offer a variety of programs leading to undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as vocational and technical certifications. Students pursuing higher education have the opportunity to specialize in their fields of interest and further develop their skills and knowledge. As of the 2010 Census, 18.3% of the Puerto Rican population has a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The Puerto Rican education system is currently undergoing restructuring efforts and an influx of funding, with the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE) receiving over $9 billion in the 2022 fiscal year. This includes funds from the certified Commonwealth budget as well as COVID-19 relief packages and FEMA disaster-related funds. These resources are expected to contribute towards improving the quality and accessibility of education within the territory.

Navigating School Options for Expats

Public Schools

Public schools in Puerto Rico follow a standard state curriculum, and the education system is based on the US model. However, classes are mainly taught in Spanish. While expats can enroll their children in public schools, it is essential to note that the quality of education varies greatly among these institutions 1.

Private Schools

Private schools in Puerto Rico are generally preferred by expat parents due to their higher educational standards and English-speaking environments 2. These schools often offer smaller class sizes, better facilities, and a more comprehensive curriculum than public schools. Some private schools also provide bilingual education, ensuring a smoother transition for expat children adapting to a new language and culture.

International Schools

International schools can be an excellent option for expat families, as they offer globally recognized curricula such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. They typically have a diverse student population, enabling children to be exposed to various cultures while learning in a comfortable, English-speaking environment 3. These schools tend to have smaller class sizes and provide numerous extracurricular activities. However, international schools can be more expensive than private and public options, so it is essential for parents to carefully consider their budget when choosing the best school for their children.


  1. Education System in PR
  2. Expat Arrivals – Education in Puerto Rico
  3. Living in Puerto Rico >> A Local’s Guide to Expat Life

Enrollment Process

Required Documents

To enroll a child in the Puerto Rican education system, expat parents will need to provide several documents. These include the child’s birth certificate, proof of residence in Puerto Rico (such as a utility bill), and a report card or transcript from their previous school. It is crucial to have these documents prepared and translated into Spanish, if necessary, to facilitate the enrollment process1.

Vaccination Requirements

In Puerto Rico, vaccinations are required for all children attending school. Parents or guardians must provide an up-to-date immunization record for their child before they can be enrolled in a public or private school2. These vaccination requirements are in line with the recommendations of the CDC and aim to protect the health of all students within the Puerto Rican educational system3.

In summary, expat parents should prepare the required documents and ensure their child’s vaccinations are up-to-date before starting the enrollment process for schools in Puerto Rico. This will help to make the transition to the Puerto Rican education system as smooth as possible.


  1. https://www.expatarrivals.com/americas/puerto-rico/education-and-schools-puerto-rico
  2. https://www.studycountry.com/guide/PR-education.htm
  3. https://www.theclassroom.com/differences-united-states-puerto-rico-8320238.html

School Curriculum and Languages

Puerto Rico’s education system is based on the American model, with Spanish being the primary language of instruction in public schools1. The curriculum is designed to meet the diverse needs of students and provide them with a well-rounded education2. In this section, we discuss the language offerings and available extracurricular activities in Puerto Rican schools.

Language Offerings

Spanish is the primary language of instruction, but English is taught as a second language in all public schools1. This dual language approach helps students develop bilingual and bicultural skills2. Some private schools offer bilingual education with English as their primary language of instruction3, but they may also provide optional Spanish courses to promote cultural immersion.

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities are an important aspect of the Puerto Rican education system, allowing students to develop their interests, skills, and talents beyond the classroom4. Schools provide a variety of options, including art, music, sports, and clubs5. These are designed to enrich the academic experience and social development of students, promoting teamwork, responsibility, and leadership skills6.


  1. Studycountry.com: The Education System in Puerto Rico 2
  2. Departamento de Educación: Curriculum Framework 2
  3. Expat Arrivals: Education and schools for expats in Puerto Rico
  4. Scholaro: Puerto Rico Education System
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.

Assessment and Accreditation

Standardized Tests

In Puerto Rico, students take standardized tests, which play a crucial role in evaluating their academic progress and overall performance. The Puerto Rico Department of Education administers these assessments at various grade levels, focusing on essential subject areas such as language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. It is important for students and expat parents to be familiar with these tests, as they can significantly impact students’ educational trajectories.

College and Career Readiness

Preparing students for college and career success is a primary objective of the Puerto Rico education system. To achieve this, the system incorporates academic advising and professional development programs into the curriculum. This approach ensures that students acquire essential skills, knowledge, and qualifications needed for pursuing higher education or entering the workforce.

Moreover, the Puerto Rico education system places a strong emphasis on developing bilingual learners, as English and Spanish are the primary languages spoken on the island. This dual focus gives students a competitive edge in the global job market and enables them to communicate effectively in diverse settings.

To ensure schools meet their desired goals and progress towards achieving higher standards, Puerto Rico has implemented accreditation and evaluation processes. The evaluation process for accreditation primarily emphasizes:

  • Economic feasibility of the school
  • Safe and hazard-free facilities
  • Concrete and enforceable policies against harassment and bullying
  • Proper teacher recruitment processes

Accredited schools in Puerto Rico demonstrate quality education and commitment to continuous improvement, making them attractive options for expats seeking excellent learning environments for their children.

Special Needs Education


In Puerto Rico, the special education system strives to provide appropriate services and support for students with disabilities. The Puerto Rico Department of Education oversees the implementation of special education policies and ensures compliance with federal regulations. Specialized programs and services are tailored to meet the individual needs of students, and may include speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, counseling, transportation, and assistive technology.

Additionally, the Organization for Autism Research offers a comprehensive guide to help parents navigate the special education system within the United States, including Puerto Rico. This can be an invaluable resource for expat families seeking assistance in understanding and accessing services for their child with special needs.


Schools in Puerto Rico are required to adhere to the Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each student with special needs. The IEP outlines the specific accommodations, modifications, and support services needed for a student to succeed in the educational environment. Some examples of accommodations include extended time on tests, preferential seating, modified assignments, and the use of visual aids.

To ensure a successful educational experience for students with special needs in Puerto Rico, expat parents should collaborate closely with school officials and professionals in the development and implementation of the IEP. Maintaining open communication and advocating for the child’s unique needs contributes significantly to achieving the desired outcomes in their learning journey.

Challenges and Opportunities in Puerto Rico Education System


The Puerto Rico education system faces considerable funding challenges. A significant factor in this struggle is the island’s ongoing economic crisis, which has led to budget cuts and school closures. Additionally, the aftermath of Hurricane Maria also contributed to the financial strain on the education system. On a positive note, recent efforts by the U.S. Department of Education have focused on working with the Puerto Rico Department of Education to create safer and more sustainable schools, which may improve the funding situation over time.

Class Sizes

Large class sizes remain a concern for the quality of education in Puerto Rico. Overcrowded classrooms can result in a decrease in individual attention for students and can negatively impact students’ academic performance. However, recent efforts to decentralize the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE) may help address this issue, allowing for more localized decision-making and allocation of resources to schools.

Teacher Quality

Improving teacher quality in Puerto Rico is an ongoing challenge, with a need for better hiring practices, professional development, and support for educators. As part of their efforts, the PRDE has set priorities to improve teacher hiring practices, raise academic expectations, and deepen parental engagement in the educational process, which should have a positive impact on teacher quality.

While the Puerto Rico education system still faces challenges related to funding, class sizes, and teacher quality, opportunities for improvement are emerging as the island’s government and the U.S. Department of Education work in tandem to effect change. These ongoing efforts are aimed at creating a better educational environment for all students in Puerto Rico.


The Puerto Rico education system, based on the American model, faces significant challenges but also offers opportunities for expats. With a diversity of schools available on the island, expats can find an educational environment suited to their family’s needs.

Public schools in Puerto Rico may vary in quality, but private schools are generally held to a high standard, making them the preferred choice for many expat families. Expats should research the curricula, resources, and extracurricular opportunities available at each school to determine the best fit for their children.

In recent years, Puerto Rico’s education system has undergone significant changes in an effort to accelerate positive change for the students it serves. With ongoing improvements and the aid of external support, there is potential for the Puerto Rican education system to provide a better learning experience for both local and expat students.

In conclusion, it is essential for expat parents to carefully evaluate the education options available in Puerto Rico. With proper research and consideration, parents can make informed decisions, selecting schools that will not only provide a strong academic foundation but also help their children integrate and thrive in Puerto Rican society.

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