Utilities have changed over the years, mostly for the better. I'll leave my old comments, as they may amuse and are probably still relevant if you have to go to the office. I was able to do everything by phone the last time I tried. If you don't know about names in Puerto Rico, you need to be careful about what how you give people your name, so that the bills have an address that can be routed to you.
History: To set up most of your utilities, you have to go to the office. Expect it to take a few hours. I was able to do electricity and water in 3-4 hours, but my landlord was amazed how fast that was. You will have to pay a deposit, for which they give you a certificate. I think you need the certificate to get your deposit back, so keep track of it. They may even pay interest.
When I went, none of the offices spoke any English, though I'm sure that's luck of the draw. I went with my landlord, so that wasn't a big problem. It will help to have the previous bill for the same house (or at least an old bill). Let me rephrase that: bring the old bill. There is a possibility that you will have to pay any outstanding balance.
July 1997: A new arrival recently got electricity and water turned on (not just name-changed) with just a couple hours in the offices and they were working one day later. Not bad. He had the old bills. Don't expect this service after a hurricane.
May 1999: Water and Electricity can now be turned on by telephone (yay!).
November 2001: A new Observatory employee got a telephone in one business day! It can happen!
The water company is called the "Autoridad de Acueductos y Alcantarillados de Puerto Rico". If possible, get a copy of the old bill. If not, get the meter number ("contador"). It's on the meter somewhere. Even if you have the bill, it's a good idea to find the meter physically, because they can be hard to find, and / or buried in weeds.
You can call them by phone at: (877) 411-2482 (Metro San Juan: (787) 621-2482). If you get the water turned on by phone, they will add the deposit to your first month's bill. You can in principle get your deposit back when you leave, or have it transferred when you move, but I've never succeeded in having that work. I went to the office last time, and was told it could only be transferred if I did it by phone.
The office is on the "Hacia 22" road: Heading downhill from the observatory, turn right at the light, and it's on your right after a bit. The offices used to be downtown, and that one may just be being renovated, so ask. The old office was downtown (turn off of Route 2 where it says "Aceptemos plan W.I.C." all over a grungy building, and go a few blocks on the diagonal street). It's on the ocean side of the street.
When I went, the guard spoke english (as is often the case), and got me in the right queue. Take a number. There are two kinds of numbers: yellow ones from a machine, and green ones that are a pile of cards. You want the green ones. They want a drivers license, a social security card (my Cornell ID with SS# on it worked), and a $60 cash deposit.
The water goes out occasionally (how occasionally depends on where you live: some places it's daily), so it's a good idea to keep some around. Many people find that observatory water tastes better, and take home a little for drinking.
The electric company is called the "Autoridad de Energia Electrica de Puerto Rico". Their phone number is (800) 981-2434 (Metro San Juan (787) 289-3434). If you have the "luz" (light) turned on by phone, they will tell you your account number, and also tell you to immediately send a ~$100 deposit to a PO box in San Juan, because they have to have it sooner than you can be sure of getting the bill. This is an apparently legitimate request: I did get the deposit noted on my bill. Supposedly the deposit can be transferred when you move, but only if you go to the office, and I did this one by phone, so I'm 0 for 2.
The office is on Route 653 a few blocks from Route 129, on the side away from the ocean. Take a number. As with the water, bring an old bill. The deposit was $75, and they took a check. When my first bill arrived, it had some old charges, but it was $18, so I didn't complain. Bills are due pretty soon after you get them.
The Electricity goes out occasionally too. Keep candles and flashlights around. Don't forget matches. Oil lamps last longer than candles on windy days. I just bought an emergency light like they have in stores with two big bulbs, and I think it's great.
2006 October: We moved again, and were able to do everything on the phone. They even transfered the deposit for the water, and were willing to let me have a two weeks of overlap between the old and the new if I wanted.
The only gas is LP bottle gas, which is delivered. Even if your other utilities are paid, you probably have to get your own gas. I was charged $60 for a tank, half of which was for installation of the stove. My landlady arranged it, so I don't know the details. I had a working stove 3 hours after I asked her how to get the gas, but YMMV. Gas is generally sold by furnature stores, though there's usually a man in your neighborhood who actually delivers it.
May 1999: Now I've bought gas. You have to call the same company as installed it. Their name (and maybe number) may be painted on the tank. They'll probably come that same day Monday - Saturday, if you call them in the morning. It was $42 for the cylinder this time.
One advantage of a gas stove is that it works when the electricity goes out. Of course, not if it needs electricity to run. Some electric-start stoves can be lit with a match if the electricity is out, but others can't (the valves are electric).
The telephone company has been privatised since I first wrote this, and some parts are different. You call them on the phone at 811 to place your order.
If you go to the office, you have to go to the correct office for where you live. That's probably the one in Arecibo, unless you live pretty far away (Quebradillas is still Arecibo). The Arecibo office is on the cutoff to Route 2 heading East from 129, across from the Arecibo Mall (which is a convenient place to park, if it's still open). Take a number. Find a form and fill it out. They should speak English, at least a little. They will want to know what calling plan you want: unlimited, or one of two metered rates. The break-even points for the metered rates are 60 and 120 calls per month (rate 1 to rate 2 and rate 2 to unlimited). Note that you don't have to call very far for it to be long distance. I make maybe 5 local calls per month. It's pretty cheap in any case. You pay a deposit and installation, but all of that appears on your bill; you don't need cash when you walk in. You also need to tell them if you want to rent a telephone or provide your own. You have to have it when they show up, if you're providing your own (I think).
They'll give you a work order number, and tell you to call back in three weeks if you haven't heard back. Everybody's experience varies at this point. It depends a lot on how full the lines are in your neighborhood. Note that it does not particularly depend on whether or not there are lines to your house. They usually install all new anyway, probably due to rust. I got a call about a week later, saying they were in my neighborhood, and could I come now or in the morning. Unfortunately I was travelling, and couldn't do anything about it. When I didn't show up, they told Marilyn that they were cancelling the work order, and I'd have to get a new one. Well, about 3 weeks later, they randomly showed up, and were irritated that I wasn't there. My landlady yelled at them for a while, and told them to come back tomorrow morning before 10 AM (so I could be there). At 9:55 AM they showed up, and at 11 told me my telephone #; and it worked. Apparently, I may hold the record for speediest installation (about 3 weeks). Many report up to a year. If there's phone service already (not just a line, actual dial tone), then you may be able to have it put in your name.
I've been told that it is now possible to get a second phone line.
Lots of people get cellular phones, but remember that up in the hills, you may not be able to get reception. My current landlady says that cell phones work if you stand on the other side of the street in front of our house.
ATT, Sprint, and MCI all have special deals for calling cards. Sprint and MCI both gave you something like 25% off domestic and 10% off international if you have your bill charged directly to a credit card. Sprint considers PR to be domestic, but MCI considers it international, which makes a big difference if you talk long enough that the per-use fee doesn't dominate. Sprint also has an arrangement for a home phone: 10 cents a minute 7PM to 7AM; 22 cents a minute 7AM to 7PM. You also get miles on America West (ooh aah). July 1997: Rather than miles on HP, you can ask for a 10% rebate. I don't know the rates for the other companies.
October 2001: The rate schemes are completely different than they were when I first got a phone. The best I could find now was 7c/min with no monthly fee if you agree to have everything done over the internet. I just signed up for that, and don't actually know whether it works yet.
Last modified: Wed May 19 15:32:44 AST 2004