What makes Trinidad and Tobago a unique country to travel to?
Trinidad and Tobago is a developing nation in the Caribbean composed of two islands. The islands gained independence from the British in 1962. The country is one of the most prosperous in the Caribbean, largely as a result of petroleum and natural gas reserves. The majority of tourist travel is to the smaller of the two islands, Tobago. Tourist facilities are available on both islands.
Violent crime remains high on both islands and affects local and expatriate communities, and tourists. You should exercise caution and good judgment as in any large urban area. Be particularly cautious when traveling after dark from Trinidad’s Piarco Airport as incidents have been reported in the past involving armed robbers trailing arriving passengers from the airport and accosting them in remote areas of the airport parking lot, on the highway leading from the airport to downtown Port of Spain, and outside the gates of residences. Areas in the Port of Spain metro area to avoid include Laventille, Morvant, Sea Lots, the interior of the Queen’s Park Savannah, South Belmont, and Cocorite. Visitors should avoid the following areas after dark: scenic rest stops including Fort George, downtown Port of Spain, and all beaches. Tourists are particularly vulnerable to pick-pocketing and armed assaults in these locations. Holiday periods, especially Christmas and Carnival, often see an increase in criminal activity.
Violent crimes, including assault, kidnapping for ransom, sexual assault, and murder have involved expatriate residents and tourists, including U.S. citizens. The perpetrators of many of these crimes have not been arrested. It is highly recommended that female visitors and residents avoid traveling alone, particularly at night or in secluded areas.
Burglaries of private residences are common. Robbery is a risk, particularly in urban areas and especially near ATMs and shopping malls. You should avoid wearing expensive jewelry, riding in flashy cars or displaying large amounts of money in public. In some cases, robberies of Americans have turned violent and resulted in injuries after the victim resisted handing over valuables. Visitors and residents are encouraged to seek out accommodation with hardened security doors, strong locks, grilles, and alarms.
When riding in a vehicle, always be sure to have your windows up and doors locked. On more than one occasion, U.S. citizens have been approached in their vehicles by people attempting to attain rides to nearby areas despite the short, walkable distance and availability of public transportation. It is highly advisable to avoid offering rides to people you do not know.
In Tobago, violent crime is an issue, including attacks on expatriate residents and tourists in their residences, many of which involve the use of machetes. There have been reports of home invasions in the Mt. Irvine/Buccoo Bay, and Bacolet areas, and robberies occurring at the waterfalls and on isolated beaches in Tobago where visitors are not in a group. If you rent a villa or private home, the Embassy urges you to ensure adequate, 24-hour security measures are in place. Visitors residing at these facilities have encountered intruders in the middle of the night who entered the rented, private residences with copied sets of the actual keys.
Be cautious when visiting isolated beaches or scenic overlooks where robberies can occur. In Trinidad, for example, there are isolated strips of beach, just beyond Maracas Bay, where visitors have been robbed of valuables in broad daylight. Visitors to some recreation areas such as Bamboo Cathedral, have had their parked vehicles broken into. It is advisable to avoid leaving valuables in plain view in your vehicle. You should not walk alone or in unfamiliar areas. Valuables left unattended on beaches and in other public places are vulnerable to theft. You should avoid neighborhoods known for high crime rates. When in doubt, consult the establishment where you are staying to identify areas to be avoided.
Traditional, non-shared, marked yellow-cab-style taxis do not exist in Trinidad and Tobago. Unmetered, unmarked private taxis are available at the airports and major hotels. You can hire them to take you door to door (fares should be agreed upon in advance). Private taxis and route taxis both have plate numbers beginning with “H”. You should ensure your taxi is not a route taxi before getting in, because route taxis will stop to pick up additional passengers. Crimes including rapes, assaults, robberies and thefts have taken place inside taxis. Taxis have also caused serious traffic accidents when they swerved suddenly across several lanes of roadway in order to pick up or discharge passengers. You should also avoid small buses and vans known as “Maxi Taxis” for the same reasons. You should therefore use only private taxis for transportation around Port of Spain, and only private taxis or full-sized inter-city buses for travel between cities. If unsure, consult with the establishment where you are residing or through your travel agency, if applicable.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are these articles illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
Scams: While Nigeria-operated scams are infamous for their cleverness and ingenuity, these types of financial scams are also common in Trinidad and Tobago. These scams target foreigners worldwide posing risks of both financial loss and personal danger to their victims. Scams are often initiated through Internet postings and unsolicited emails. No one should provide personal or financial information to unknown parties via email, telephone, mail or fax. Bilateral law enforcement efforts are targeting Internet fraud, with the goal of reducing the overall level of overt fraud activity, but criminals are continually introducing new types of sophisticated scams.
A recurring scam involves phone calls to elderly persons in the U.S. by scammers who told them their grandchild had been arrested in Trinidad and Tobago for involvement in a traffic accident, and needed money immediately. Often an actual relative’s name was used, lending credibility to the hoax. In all cases, the young relatives were ultimately located, and in fact had never traveled to Trinidad or Tobago. If you are informed that a loved one has been arrested, please note the arresting officer’s name, the police station name, and contact number. Then contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. If you are notified via email that a loved one has been arrested or detained in Trinidad and Tobago, we strongly urge you not to provide any personal or financial information in response. Please immediately forward any such communications to the Embassy’s American Citizen Services unit so that the claims can be investigated. If a U.S. Citizen is arrested, an Embassy consular officer will arrange to visit the arrestee as soon as possible.
U.S. citizens are frequently the victims of Trinidad and Tobago con men/women offering companionship through Internet dating web sites. These con men/women almost always pose as U.S. citizens visiting or living in Trinidad and Tobago who unexpectedly experience a medical, legal, financial or other type of “emergency” that requires the immediate financial assistance of the U.S. citizen in the United States. In these cases, we strongly urge the U.S. citizen in the United States to be very cautious about sending money to this person or any unknown person purportedly acting on his/her behalf, or traveling to Trinidad and Tobago to meet someone they have only known via the Internet and have never actually met in person.
While you are traveling in Trinidad and Tobago you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. In some areas, it may be illegal to take pictures of government and military facilities. In these instances, it is advisable to obtain permission before taking pictures. In some places driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Trinidad and Tobago your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.
Persons violating Trinidad and Tobago laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Trinidad and Tobago are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
If you are arrested in Trinidad and Tobago, authorities of Trinidad and Tobago are required to notify the U.S. Embassy of your arrest. If you are concerned the Department of State may not be aware of your situation, you should request the police or prison officials to notify the U.S. Embassy of your arrest.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical care is significantly below U.S. standards for treatment of serious injuries and illness, with limited access to supplies and medications. While care at some private facilities is better than at most public health facilities, patients may be expected to prove their ability to pay before assistance is given, even if emergency care is needed. Patients requiring blood transfusions are expected to arrange for at least the same amount to be donated on their behalf. Physicians and nurses have been known to go on strike, causing strain on public and private medical services. Ambulance service is extremely limited in the quality of care, response time, and the availability of vehicles. Most ambulances lack standard emergency life-saving equipment.
The CDC recommends yellow fever vaccine for travel to Trinidad. However, CDC does NOT recommend vaccination if you ONLY plan to visit Tobago. Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required only if you are arriving from an infected area within a 5-day time period or have an onward destination that requires proof of vaccination for travelers coming from a country with Yellow Fever.
Dengue fever deaths have been recorded in Trinidad and Tobago as recently as 2011. Dengue is the most common cause of fever in travelers returning from the Caribbean, and is spread through the bites of infected mosquitoes. Usually dengue fever causes a mild illness, but it can be severe and lead to dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF), which can be fatal if not treated. People who have previously been infected with dengue fever are at greater risk of contracting severe dengue. There is no vaccine for dengue. To avoid infection, it is advisable to utilize insect repellent and ensure lodging or residence has adequately screened areas to prevent the entrance of mosquitos. Commonly used repellents usually contain one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin (KBR 3023), Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus/PMD, or IR3535.
Marine hazards include corals, jellyfish, sharks, and sea urchins. Heed posted warnings at organized beaches, and do not bathe at unmarked, unpatrolled beaches. Use extreme caution at Maracas Beach on Trinidad, as the tides and undercurrents can be dangerous, and waves can exceed five feet in height.
Safety and Security
When visiting or residing in Trinidad and Tobago, you should avoid large crowds and demonstrations. While non-violent demonstrations occur on occasion, widespread civil disorder is not typical. You should also exercise caution when visiting or residing in Port of Spain, especially in crowded urban areas.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Trinidad and Tobago, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. In February 2011, Trinidad and Tobago outlawed the use of mobile phones while driving, except in “hands-free” mode. The penalty for talking or texting while driving is approximately USD$160 or imprisonment for three months. Trinidad and Tobago authorities will sometimes administer breathalyzer tests at unannounced checkpoints and traffic stops when driving under the influence is suspected. Penalties are stiff and may include imprisonment and steep fines.
Traffic moves on the left in Trinidad and Tobago. Most vehicles are right-hand drive, but left-hand drive vehicles are permitted. Rental cars are available, and are generally right-hand drive. A U.S. driver's license and/or an International Driving Permit are valid for up to 90 days after arrival. Seatbelts are required for drivers and front seat passengers. Cars may be stopped and drivers fined for not wearing seatbelts.
Trinidad has several good four-lane highways and one controlled-access highway. However, road quality decreases quickly on secondary roads. Rural roads are narrow and often have deep drainage ditches on either side. Some are in poor repair, and are frequently congested. Night travel should be avoided other than on major highways. Roadside assistance exists, but is limited and may be subject to lengthy delays. The Beetham Highway, a main thoroughfare in and out of the city, can be very dangerous if your vehicle has broken down. If your vehicle is still drivable you should get out of the area before seeking help. On the Beetham stretch, there are regular incidents of pedestrians running out into the road or throwing debris at cars – including masonry bricks – for the purpose of causing accidents and forcing cars to stop, whereupon a group of accomplices then descend upon the accident victims, robbing them of valuables, and often violently assaulting them, even if they are compliant. Elsewhere in Port of Spain, especially in Laventille, “bump and rob” incidents have been reported, in which the perpetrator rear-ends the victim, often causing only minor damage. When the victim emerges from the car, he or she is then robbed of valuables, and possibly carjacked as well. Some of these incidents have turned fatal, even when the victims were compliant. If you are involved in an accident in Laventille or on the Beetham Highway, if your car still drives, you should get out of the area, and get to a safe location before seeking help or assistance. Emergency ambulance services exist but may take a lengthy amount of time to reach the site of an accident and may not provide service in rural areas. The Ministry of Works and Transport is responsible for road conditions and safety in the country, but demand often outpaces availability of resources. On the road to Maracas Bay and onwards, landslides do occur. During heavy rains, drivers in all areas are advised to be extremely cautious as flooding and sinkholes have also been known to occur.
Trinidadian drivers may use hand signals to indicate turning, stopping, or slowing, which do not necessarily correspond to hand signals used in the United States. Trinidadian drivers are generally courteous, but can be flexible with the rules of the road. For example, cars traveling north on a two way street may cross into the southbound lane to stop and let passengers out. Visitors need to be attentive and alert. Intoxicated drivers on the road are a particular concern on the weekends, especially after dark when many locals are going to or returning from social events. Drivers should take extra precaution on narrow and winding roads leading in and out of beaches and small towns in Trinidad and Tobago. As always, defensive driving is strongly encouraged.
We suggest that you visit the website of the country’s Ministry of Tourism and national authority responsible for road safety.
Vehicle Accident Procedures: For cases in which there is major damage or any injuries, contact local authorities immediately. If it is safe to do so, render aid or assistance and remain on the scene until authorities arrive.