Is Dominican Republic a safe place to visit?
Crime continues to be a problem throughout the Dominican Republic. Street crime and petty theft involving U.S. tourists does occur, and you should take precautions to avoid becoming a target. While pick pocketing and mugging are the most common crimes against tourists, reports of violence against both foreigners and locals are growing. Valuables left unattended in parked automobiles, on beaches, and in other public places are vulnerable to theft, and car theft remains a problem.
Travelers to the Dominican Republic should strongly consider leaving valuable property at home. We recommend bringing no item on your trip that cannot be easily replaced, and to make contingency plans in case of theft. These precautions include: making photocopies of all credit cards and licenses which include the numbers to call in order to report theft; photocopies of passports and birth certificates; and leaving emergency funds with someone at home in case it is necessary for money to be sent on short notice.
Carry cellular telephones in a pocket rather than on a belt or in a purse. Avoid wearing headphones, which make the bearer more vulnerable and readily advertise the presence of a valuable item. Limit or avoid display of jewelry; it attracts attention and could prompt a robbery attempt. Limit cash and credit cards carried on your person. Be sure to store valuables, wallet items, and passports in a safe place.
There are continuing reports of thefts that target tourists en route from the airport to their hotel or home. Some U.S. citizens have been victimized in taxis. In a typical case, a taxi with rolled-down windows stops at a traffic light, and a motorcyclist reaches in and steals a purse or other valuables. You are advised to utilize the taxi service authorized by the airport if you did not make arrangements before arrival. Even when using such an authorized taxi service, you should always be aware of the potential for a criminal to stalk travelers leaving the airport parking area. Motorcyclists have also been known to steal purses or jewelry of pedestrians. U.S. citizens in privately owned vehicles have also been targeted, and you should always keep doors and windows locked and be aware of your surroundings to deter criminals. Some travelers returning to local residences in privately owned vehicles have been followed, assaulted, and robbed upon arrival at their home. Several U.S. citizens have also been targeted and robbed at bus stations, possibly as a result of gang activity. Take measures to safeguard your personal security at all times.
The dangers present in the Dominican Republic are similar to those of many major U.S. cities. Criminals can be dangerous -- many have weapons and are likely to use them if they meet resistance. Visitors walking the streets should always be aware of their surroundings. Be wary of strangers, especially those who seek you out at celebrations or nightspots. Travel with a partner or in a group if possible.
Many public transportation vehicles are unsafe, especially the route taxis or “carros publicos” in urban areas. These are privately owned cars that run along certain routes, can take up to six or more passengers, and are inexpensive. Passengers in “carros publicos” are frequently the victims of pick pocketing, and passengers have on occasion been robbed by “carro publico” drivers. Urban buses (“guaguas”) are only marginally better. We are also aware of at least one incident in which the driver of a “motoconcho” (motorcycle taxi) robbed a U.S. citizen passenger. The U.S. Embassy cautions its staff not to use these modes of transportation. As an alternative, some scheduled interurban bus services use modern buses and run on reliable timetables. These are generally the safest means of intercity travel. With respect to taxis, visitors to the Dominican Republic are strongly advised to take only hotel taxis or taxis operated by services whose cabs are arranged in advance by phone and can subsequently be identified and tracked. Drivers should exercise extreme caution when driving at night and use major highways when possible. There was a case of a U.S. citizen riding her moped who was stopped and robbed on a rural road near Samana. Although kidnappings are not common in the Dominican Republic, U.S. citizens have been kidnapped and held for ransom in the past.
The U.S. Embassy calls attention to certain criminal techniques that have surprised U.S. citizens and other victims in recent years:
Several individuals reported robberies perpetrated by criminals on mopeds (often coasting with the engine turned off so as not to draw attention). The driver approaches a pedestrian, grabs his or her cell phone, purse or backpack, and then speeds away. This type of robbery is particularly dangerous because the motorcyclist reaches the intended victim at 15–20 miles per hour and often knocks the victim to the ground.
The Embassy has received reports of crime involving apparent police collaboration. A seemingly-friendly stranger shakes hands with a tourist, who then finds that the stranger has placed a small baggie of cocaine or other substance into the tourist’s hand. The tourist is then immediately apprehended by a police officer, and pays a “fine” to the police to be set free.
U.S. citizens have been victimized at the airports in Santo Domingo and Punta Cana as they checked in their luggage and prepared to leave the country. Smugglers obtained an authentic airline baggage tag in a U.S. citizen’s name and placed it on baggage that contained drugs, presumably to be retrieved by an accomplice at the other end of the flight.
Criminals may also misrepresent themselves in an effort to gain access to your residence or hotel room. In one case, Dominican police arrested a building’s maintenance man and an accomplice for a violent crime against a U.S. citizen. There have been instances when U.S. citizens were robbed of large amounts of cash immediately prior to a scheduled financial transaction by thieves with apparent inside knowledge of the transaction. In one case, a U.S. citizen was robbed just outside his attorney’s office, and in another case a U.S. citizen reported he was victimized by two police officers.
U.S. citizens residing in private homes have been the victims of robberies, sometimes resulting in fatal violence. In one case, an elderly couple in San Pedro de Macoris was violently assaulted in their home and the husband murdered. In another case, a home in Puerto Plata was broken into and the visiting U.S. citizen occupants assaulted, tied up, and robbed. In still another case, two elderly U.S. citizens in Santiago were robbed and attacked in their home with a machete. One died and the other was hospitalized with critical injuries.
The U.S. Embassy continues to receive reports from U.S. citizens who have been stopped while driving and asked for “donations” by someone who may appear to be a police officer before they are allowed to continue on their way. Usually, the person(s) stopping the U.S. citizen drivers had approached from behind on a motorcycle; several of these motorcyclists pulled up alongside the driver's window and indicated that they were carrying a firearm. In some cases, the perpetrators were dressed in the light green uniform of “AMET,” the Dominican traffic police; however, they often seemed too young to be police officers or wore ill-fitting uniforms that might have been stolen. In another incident, individuals dressed in military fatigues told the victim they were police and requested the victim to follow them to the police station prior to robbing him. Such incidents should be reported to the police and to the Consular Section. If Dominican police stop you for a traffic violation, you should request a traffic ticket rather than paying an on-the-spot fine. You also have the right to ask police for identification. Regulations require police to wear a nametag with their last name. While everyone driving in the Dominican Republic should abide by traffic laws and the instructions of legitimate authorities, U.S. citizens finding themselves in the aforementioned scenarios should exercise caution. In general, you should keep your doorslocked and windows closed at all times and leave yourself an escape route when stopping in traffic in the event of an accident or other threat. Incidents involving police may be reported to the Internal Affairs Department of the National Police at 809-688-0777.
You should use credit cards judiciously while in the Dominican Republic. Credit card fraud is common, and recent reports indicate that its incidence has increased significantly in Santo Domingo as well as in the resort areas of the country.
If you elect to use your credit or debit cards, you should never let the cards leave your sight. You should also pay close attention to credit card bills following time spent in the Dominican Republic. There have been reports of fraudulent charges appearing months after card usage in the Dominican Republic. Victims of credit card fraud should contact the bank that issued the credit card immediately.
Minimize the use of automated teller machines (ATMs), which are present throughout Santo Domingo and other major cities. One local ATM fraud scheme involves sticking photographic film or pieces of paper in the card feeder of the ATM so that an inserted card becomes jammed. Once the card owner has concluded the card is irretrievable, the thieves extract both the jamming material and the card, which they then use. There are other more sophisticated ATM scams as well, including operations that involve “insiders” who can access and manipulate electronic data entered by legitimate card holders at properly functioning ATMs. Exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings when using an ATM card.
The overall level of crime tends to rise during the Christmas season, and you should take extra precautions when visiting the Dominican Republic between November and January.
Beaches and Resorts: The Embassy regularly receives reports of individuals and families who have become victims of crime while within the boundaries of their resort hotel. A growing number of these crimes involve the burglary of the room and even the removal of the room safe. In general, the criminals do not commit their crime in the presence of the guest, but it is not unheard of for guests to be victimized in their own room, caught off guard in their sleep. We strongly recommend vigilance. Hotels generally will not assume responsibility for valuables left in a room.
The Embassy has become increasingly aware of overly aggressive and dishonest merchants along the beaches in front of resort hotels. The Dominican Government has been trying to improve oversight of these merchants, but has not made visible progress to date.
The Embassy has received numerous reports of instances of sexual assault at the resorts, particularly while at the beach. Some hotel employees have ingratiated themselves with guests as a ruse to ultimately isolate and force the victim into compromising circumstances. Many hotels have policies that discourage employee fraternization with guests. Please report any unwanted attention you receive to hotel management. Be aware of cultural differences and stay in the company of your traveling companions. It has also been reported that some predators will use date rape drugs, or take advantage of alcohol consumption, to render their victims unaware. Be cautious of accepting any drink or food from a stranger, as it may have been tampered with. Again, the Embassy strongly encourages vigilance. “All-inclusive” resorts are well known for serving abundant quantities of alcohol and there are no laws in the Dominican Republic against serving alcohol to intoxicated persons. Drink responsibly. Remember that excessive alcohol consumption may decrease your awareness of your surroundings, making you an easy target for crime.
If you become a victim of sexual assault and another violent crime, we urge you to report the incident immediately to the Embassy’s American Citizen Services Unit during working hours, or to the U.S. Embassy’s duty officer after hours. You should also report the incident to local authorities for a police report. It is essential that sexual assault victims insist on an immediate examination by an authorized police medical examiner (medica legista) to ensure that a documented report is available for any future prosecution of the case.
Please be aware that crime can happen anywhere and that everyone must take personal responsibility to stay alert of their surroundings at all times. Read the U.S. Embassy’s security tips for more information.
The Embassy also receives reports of individuals who have suffered accidents or medical crisis at resorts. Check your insurance coverage prior to going overseas or consider travelers’ insurance. Hospitalization in the Dominican Republic can be extremely expensive and patients are expected to pay for services immediately. For additional information, see the section below on medical insurance.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
Tourist Police: The Dominican Republic has police that are specially trained to assist tourists who require assistance. This public institution is called Politur and represents a cooperative effort between the National Police, Secretary of the Armed Forces, and the Secretary of Tourism. Politur typically has personnel in tourist areas to provide first responder type assistance to tourists. If you are the victim of a crime, Politur can help you get to a police station so that you may file a police report and seek further assistance. Politur is located at the corner of 30 de Marzo and Mexico, Bloque D, Governmental Building, Santo Domingo. The general phone number is 809-221-8697.