What makes Dominican Republic a unique country to travel to?
The Dominican Republic covers the eastern two-thirds of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The capital city is Santo Domingo, located on the south coast of the island. Tourist facilities vary according to price and location. Spanish is the official language. Though English is widely spoken in major cities and tourist areas, it is much less common outside these areas.
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.
While you are traveling in the Dominican Republic, 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 questioned if you don’t have your passport with you. 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 as well as the Dominican Republic. If you break local laws in the Dominican Republic, 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 laws of the Dominican Republic, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the Dominican Republic are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Arrest notifications in host country: Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries, and customary international law, if you are arrested in the Dominican Republic, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. Embassy of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the U.S. Embassy.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
While adequate medical facilities can be found in large cities, particularly in private hospitals, the quality of care can vary greatly outside major population centers. There is an emergency 911 service within Santo Domingo, but its reliability is questionable. Outside the capital, emergency services range from extremely limited to nonexistent. Blood supplies at both public and private hospitals are often limited, and not all facilities have blood on hand even for emergencies. Many medical facilities throughout the country do not have staff members who speak or understand English. A private nationwide ambulance service, ProMed, operates in Santo Domingo, Santiago, Puerto Plata and La Romana; the telephone number is 809-412-5555. ProMed expects full payment at the time of transport.
Consult closely with your medical practitioner in the United States regarding any locally available treatments or therapies before traveling to the Dominican Republic for procedures which are not licensed and approved in the United States. Experimental procedures carry certain risks as the quality of treatment varies from U.S. standards.
The U.S. Embassy maintains a non-comprehensive list of medical providers in the Dominican Republic. The availability of prescription drugs varies depending upon location. Also, specific brand name drugs may not be available in the Dominican Republic. There have been some instances of counterfeit drugs infiltrating the Dominican market. You are advised to make sure you are traveling with an adequate supply of prescription drugs to meet your needs while in the Dominican Republic.
Tap water is unsafe to drink and should be avoided. Bottled water and beverages are considered safe.
Dengue: Dengue is endemic to the Dominican Republic. To reduce the risk of contracting dengue, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends wearing clothing that exposes as little skin as possible and applying a repellent containing the insecticide DEET (concentration 30 to 35 percent) or Picaridin (concentration 20 percent or greater for tropical travelers). Because of the increased risk of dengue fever and the ongoing risk of malaria in the Dominican Republic (see below), practicing preventative measures is recommended by the CDC. Forfurther information on dengue fever, please visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's website.
Cholera: According to the Dominican Republic's Ministry of Health, more than 15,000 suspected cases of cholera and 262 related deaths have been reported throughout the country from November 2010 to early 2013. Several cases have been reported in travelers returning from Punta Cana resorts. Cholera vaccine, available in many countries, but not in the U.S., is recommended for aid and refugee workers only. Extreme care in hygiene and food habits for travel to risk areas, including resort areas, is advised. Carry oral rehydration salts in case of severe watery diarrhea. Azithromycin is recommended for diarrhea self-treatment; the epidemic strain of Vibrio cholerae has reduced susceptibility to ciprofloxacin and other quinolones.
Malaria: There are occasional reports of cases of malaria in areas frequented by U.S. and European tourists including La Altagracia Province, the easternmost province in which many beach resorts are located. Malaria risk is significantly higher for travelers who go on some of the excursions to the countryside offered by many resorts. Prior to visiting the Dominican Republic, travelers should consult the CDC web site for more information on malaria.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Be aware that sexually transmitted diseases are common in the Dominican Republic. Please take appropriate precautions to help stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Cosmetic Surgery: The U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo and the CDC are aware of several cases in which U.S. citizens experienced serious complications or died following elective cosmetic surgery in the Dominican Republic. The CDC's Website contains a report on patients who suffered postoperative infections following cosmetic surgery in the Dominican Republic. Patients considering travel to the Dominican Republic for cosmetic surgery may also wish to contact the Dominican Society of Plastic Surgeons (tel. 809-688-8451) to verify the training, qualifications, and reputation of specific doctors. Note that some plastic surgeons continue to practice after patients have died during or after cosmetic surgery procedures, so the U.S. Embassy urges strong caution when considering cosmetic surgery in the Dominican Republic. Please note there is no regulatory authority governing claims that some doctors or clinics make on their websites.
Safety and Security
Foreign tourists are often considered attractive targets for criminal activity and you should maintain a low profile to avoid becoming a victim of violence or crime. In dealing with local police, you should be aware that the standard of professionalism might vary. Police attempts to solicit bribes have been reported, as have incidents of police using excessive force.
Protests, demonstrations, and general strikes occur periodically. Previous political demonstrations have sometimes turned violent, with participants rioting and erecting roadblocks, and police sometimes using deadly force in response. Political demonstrations do not generally occur in areas frequented by tourists and are generally not targeted at foreigners. However, it is advisable to exercise caution when traveling throughout the country. Street crowds should be avoided. In urban areas, travel should be conducted on main routes whenever possible. Power outages occur frequently throughout the Dominican Republic, and travelers should remain alert during blackout periods, as crime rates often increase during these outages.
If you are considering overland travel between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, you should first consult the Country Specific Information page, the Travel Warning for Haiti, and the Messages for U.S. citizens page on the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince's website for information about travel conditions in Haiti. While Santo Domingo and the majority of the tourist destinations within the Dominican Republic are located several hours from the Haitian border, the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti has contributed to increased congestion in the area between Barahona, Dominican Republic, and the Haitian border along route 44. There were two incidents involving attacks against U.S. citizen relief workers as they traveled from Haiti to Santo Domingo. In both cases, the U.S. citizens observed common safety practices such as traveling in a large group and in conjunction with other vehicles. Despite the extra precautions, the groups were attacked. In one incident, armed men blocked the highway with burning tires and opened fire on a passing bus. The armed men also shattered a bus window with a rock and the bus driver was forced to ram the burning blockade in order to escape to safety. In another incident, armed gunmen and men with machetes detained a group of U.S. citizen relief workers for several hours.
The U.S. Embassy cautions its staff to use extreme caution while in Haiti. Other than official business, travel to Haiti for U.S. Embassy personnel is discouraged. The Department of State has issued a Travel Warning for Haiti. U.S. citizens who travel to Haiti despite this Warning, especially in the area along route 44 near the border of Haiti, should travel in groups during daylight hours and use caution. Drivers who encounter illegal roadblocks should stop a significant distance away, drive in reverse or turn around, and drive to the nearest town to report the blockade to local authorities. Drivers should do their best to leave the danger zone and get to safety.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in the Dominican Republic, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning the Dominican Republic is provided for general reference only.
Traffic in the Dominican Republic moves on the right side of the road. Speed limits vary from 25 mph in the city to 60 mph on rural roads, but they are generally not enforced. Drivers are required to carry liability insurance.
If you do drive in the Dominican Republic, you should be aware that the utmost caution and defensive driving are necessary. Traffic laws are similar to those in the United States, but undisciplined driving is common, due to a lack of adequate traffic controls. Many drivers will not use turn indicators. It is common for a vehicle operator to stick his hand out the window to signal a turn. Drivers can also be aggressive and erratic, often failing to yield the right-of-way even when road signs or signals indicate that they should. Turning right on red lights is permitted, but should be done with caution.
Travel at night on intercity highways and in rural areas should be avoided, due to animals on the road, poor road conditions, poor lane markers, missing manhole covers, large potholes, unmarked speed bumps, and other vehicles being driven at excessive speeds, often with malfunctioning headlights or taillights. Drivers should be aware that road hazards and closures are often indicated by piles of debris littered across the roadway, without any lettered signs or reflective surfaces to help call attention to the road condition. Often times, there is no indication of the road hazard whatsoever. Blackouts also increase the danger of night travel. Mudslides and bridge washouts can be a problem during and after heavy rains. The distances between reliable roadside services or major population centers can be considerable, which also increases the risk involved in driving after dark.
Traffic accidents often result in serious injury or death. This is often the case when heavy vehicles, such as buses or trucks, are involved. Traditionally, vehicles involved in accidents in the Dominican Republic are not moved (even to clear traffic), until authorized by a police officer. Drivers who violate this norm may be held legally liable for the accident.
Dominican law requires that a driver be taken into custody for driving under the influence or being involved in an accident that causes serious injury or death, even if the driver is insured and appears not to have been at fault. The minimum detention period is 48 hours; however, detentions frequently last until a judicial decision is reached (often weeks or months), or until a waiver is signed by the injured party (usually as the result of a cash settlement).
Visitors to the Dominican Republic might want to consider hiring a professional driver during their stay in lieu of driving themselves. Licensed drivers who are familiar with local roads can be hired through local car rental agencies. In case of accidents, only the driver will be taken into custody.
Pedestrians tend to step out into traffic without regard to corners, crosswalks, or traffic signals. Many pedestrians die every year crossing the street (including major, multi-lane highways) at seemingly random locations. Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way, and walking along or crossing busy streets – even at intersections with traffic lights or traffic police present – can be very dangerous.
Seat belts are required by law, and those caught not wearing them will be fined. There are no child car seat laws. The law also requires the use of hands-free cellular devices while driving. Police stop drivers using cell phones without the benefit of these devices. Penalties for those driving under the influence and those involved in accidents resulting in injury or death can be severe.
Motorcycles and motor scooters are common in the Dominican Republic, and they are often driven erratically. Dominican law requires that motorcyclists wear helmets, but local authorities rarely enforce this law. Motor vehicle authorities report that less than one percent of motorcyclists in the country are actually licensed. As noted previously, public transportation vehicles such as the route taxis (“carros publicos”) and urban buses (“guaguas”) are unsafe.