What makes Martinique a unique country to travel to?
The French West Indies consists of the islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Martin (the French side) and St. Barthélemy. These islands are well developed. French is the official language on these islands; English is widely spoken in St. Martin and St. Barthelemy, but much less so in Martinique and Guadeloupe. U.S. currency is widely accepted in St. Martin and St. Barthélemy. If visiting Guadeloupe and Martinique, you will need to use a credit card or change your U.S. currency to Euros.
Petty street crime, including purse snatching, occurs throughout the French West Indies. On occasion, tourists are injured during the commission of these crimes. Visitors should take care whenever traveling to safeguard valuables and always lock hotel rooms and car doors.
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 be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in the French West Indies, 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 places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. 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 the French West Indies, 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 French West Indian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the French West Indies are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
IF ARRESTED: If you are arrested in the French West Indies, authorities are not required to notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate 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 nearest U.S. embassy or consulate of your arrest.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Relatively good medical care is available throughout the French West Indies. Not all doctors speak or understand English. Hyperbaric chambers are available in Guadeloupe at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in Abymes and in Martinique at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in Fort de France.
Safety and Security
Demonstrations and strikes, usually caused by labor disputes, can occur and can have a substantial effect on all sectors of society, including halting many social services. Commercial activities, including fuel sales and flights, can be curtailed significantly or shut down entirely. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. While not common, these strikes significantly impact the tourism industry in the French West Indies, and U.S.citizens should avoid the islands when a strike is ongoing. U.S. citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in the French West Indies, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Driving in the French West Indies is on the right side of the road. Children under 12 are not legally allowed in the front seat. Seatbelt laws are strictly enforced. The roads in the French West Indies are the best in the Eastern Caribbean. Roads are well paved and well maintained. Main roads are well marked; secondary roads and tourist sites are adequately marked. Excellent maps are available and local residents are helpful, especially if greeted in a friendly manner. Both Martinique and Guadeloupe have expressways. Traffic safety is enforced by the police. Night driving can be dangerous, especially in the mountains and on winding rural roads. Public transportation in the form of taxis, vans, and buses is relatively safe. For specific information concerning French West Indies driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the French National Tourist Organization offices at: http://www.franceguide.com/.