San Juan From Above
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On Sunday, the people of Puerto Rico voted overwhelmingly in favor of becoming the 51st state. So what exactly does that mean, and will it affect any future travel plans to the culturally-vibrant U.S. territory? Keep reading to learn more.

It's not the first time Puerto Rico has voted on this issue.

On Sunday, for the fourth time in history, Puerto Rico voted on whether or not it wanted to join the union as the 51st state in the United States of America. Though, like statehood votes in the past, this came with controversy.

As CNN reported, only 23 percent of eligible voters turned out to cast a ballot. But, of those who did, more than 97 percent voted in favor of becoming a state.

Puerto Rico has been a territory of the United States since it was acquired from Spain in 1898 in the Spanish-American war. Puerto Ricans were given U.S. citizenship in 1917 with the signing of the Jones Act; however, they do not retain the full rights of citizens and the commonwealth (established in 1952) does not retain the full rights of a state.

For example, Puerto Ricans living on the island cannot vote in a presidential election and do not have the right to vote in Congress. Puerto Ricans also only pay federal income tax on work done within the United States mainland.

Becoming a U.S. state does come with some perks.

For Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, becoming a state is all about the people "claiming [their] equal rights as American citizens." However, as CNN noted, joining the U.S. could also help the island get out of its disastrous economic situation.

Currently, Puerto Rico is about $123 billion in debt and unemployment is running at about 11.5 percent, CNN reported. By becoming a state, the federal government would have to step in and assist.

The vote doesn't guarantee statehood.

Just because Puerto Rico wants to become a state doesn’t mean it will. As Mic reported, Rosselló has submitted the final vote to the U.S. Justice Department for review. Next, the U.S. Congress would have to confirm statehood.

However, as of yet, the government has not proposed any terms for statehood, including if Puerto Ricans would have to start paying federal taxes, which could make more than a few locals change their minds. Additionally, the currently Republican-controlled House and Senate will likely not confirm the vote, as it would mean Puerto Rico would gain a five-member representation in the House as well as two senators, according to NPR, who would almost certainly be Democrats.

lirios cave mona island, puerto rico
Credit: Isaac Ruiz Santana/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Regardless, travel to Puerto Rico will not be affected.

Like always, you can fly to and from the island with just a simple ID, no passport or visa required. In fact, traveling to Puerto Rico may be exactly what the small island territory really needs, as you’ll boost the local economy by staying in its old-school Caribbean hotels, exploring the only tropical rainforest in the United States, dining at some of the best restaurants in the world, and enjoying all this incredibly colorful and lively island has to offer, from Old San Juan to Ponce.

Check out our Puerto Rico travel guide to plan the perfect stay while we wait to hear if we will soon add a new star to the flag.