What makes Bahamas a unique country to travel to?
The Bahamas is a developed, English-speaking Caribbean nation composed of hundreds of islands covering a territory approximately the size of California. Tourism and financial services comprise the two largest sectors of the economy. Independent from the United Kingdom since 1973, The Bahamas is a Commonwealth nation with a democratic tradition more than a century old. The capital, Nassau, is located on New Providence Island. To the north lies Freeport on Grand Bahama Island, the nearest sizeable settlement to Florida’s major shipping hub, and the second most important populous city in The Bahamas.
The criminal threat level for New Providence Island is rated as critical by the Department of State. New Providence Island has experienced a spike in crime that has adversely affected the traveling public, with a spate of more violent criminal activity between 2009 and 2012. The U.S. Embassy has received multiple reports indicating tourists have been robbed at gunpoint or knifepoint in tourist locations in the downtown areas of Nassau, including the cruise ship docks and the Cable Beach commerce areas; several of these incidents occurred during daylight hours. Burglaries, larcenies, and “snatch-and-grab” crimes happen in Nassau and U.S. citizens have been victims of these crimes as well. The U.S. Embassy has received reports of assaults, including sexual assaults, in diverse areas such as in casinos, outside hotels, or on cruise ships. The Bahamas has the highest incidence of rape in the Caribbean according to a 2007 United Nations report on crime, violence, and development trends. The majority of sexual assaults reported occurred after excessive consumption of alcohol. The loss of ability to remember facts and details due to alcohol consumption makes prosecution of sexual assaults more difficult. Much of the violent crime occurs outside tourist spots, such as in the “over-the-hill” section of Nassau (the area inland from Bay Street, to the South of Bay Street, behind the tourist district), but can occur anywhere, including in areas frequented by tourists. Home break-ins, theft, and robbery are not confined to any specific part of the island.
The upsurge in criminal activity has also led to incidents that, while not directed at tourists, could place innocent bystanders at risk.
Armed robbery remains a major criminal threat facing U.S. citizens in The Bahamas. The Royal Bahamas Police Force issued a message citing concerns about the increased number of armed robberies in Nassau. AU.S. citizen was fatally shot in Nassau in May 2013 during an armed robbery. Between January 1, 2013, and April 15, 2013, there were 328 armed robberies, 111 robberies, and 660 house break-ins, according to statistics available on the Royal Bahamas Police Force website.
Criminal activity in the outlying family islands does occur, but to a much lesser degree than on New Providence Island. The Embassy has received reports of burglaries and thefts, especially thefts of boats and/or outboard motors on Abaco and Bimini.
The Embassy has received no reports of harassment or hate crimes motivated by race, religion, or citizenship. Visitors have reported harassment of persons based on sexual orientation; some women have reported verbal harassment and unwanted attention. Some organized criminal activity is believed to occur in The Bahamas, primarily related to illegal importation and smuggling of illicit drugs or human trafficking. The Bahamas, due to its numerous uninhabited islands and cays, has historically been favored by smugglers and pirates. As a tourist, you would typically not have noticeable interaction with organized crime elements; however, those operating their own water or air vessels should be alert to the possibility of encountering similar crafts operated by smugglers engaged in illicit activities on the open seas or in air space near The Bahamas.
You are advised to report crime to the Royal Bahamian Police Force as quickly as possible. Early reports frequently improve the likelihood of identifying and apprehending suspected perpetrators. In general, the Royal Bahamian Police Force is responsive to reports of crime and takes the threat of crime against tourists very seriously. However, the police response is sometimes slowed by a lack of resources or by physical constraints imposed by geography and infrastructure.
There is nobody better at protecting you than yourself. Beware of your surroundings at all times. The U.S. Embassy reports that victims of crime are often those who have let their guard down to individuals who appeared overly friendly or became victims after criminals targeted them as easy prey due to the visitor appearing excessively drunk or unaware. Take some time before traveling to improve your personal security—things are not the same everywhere as they are in the United States.
While traveling in another country, 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 driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States. You can be prosecuted under U.S. law upon return to the U.S. if you buy pirated goods overseas. 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 Bahamas, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking illegal drugs in The Bahamas can result in long jail sentences and/or heavy fines. It’s very important to know what is legal and what is not where you are going before you go.
Mandatory Consular Notification Country: Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries, and customary international law, if you are arrested in The Bahamas, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
For additional information regarding arrests and the judicial process, please see the U.S. Embassy’s website on Arrests in The Bahamas. Travelers should also be aware that Bahamas laws do not include a right to a public defender in lower courts. Any legal representation is at the expense of the visitor.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Adequate medical care is available on New Providence and Grand Bahama islands, but visitors should be aware that serious health problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars in up-front costs, and air ambulance companies generally require payment or an insurer’s guarantee of payment before providing service.
Ambulance service is available on the major islands; however, U.S. citizens have reported major delays in service, both in the length of time to arrive and once at the Emergency room. Ambulance service is even more limited in more remote locations. The endemic traffic congestion on New Providence Island may also impede a quick response. Service is likely to be extremely slow in the event of a major emergency or disaster.
Good information on vaccinations and other health precautions can be found via the CDC website or The Bahamas Ministry of Health page. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information. The Bahamas had an outbreak of dengue fever in 2011 with 10 reported deaths and 1,000 reported cases of individuals with dengue fever symptoms. For additional information regarding Dengue fever in the Bahamas, please visit The Bahamas Ministry of Health website.
Safety and Security
The threat of terrorism is low, but you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks which could take place in public areas, including places frequented by travelers.
For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution. You can also call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the United States and Canada, or by calling a regular toll line, 1-202-501-4444, from other countries. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except on U.S. federal holidays).
The water sports and scooter rental industries in The Bahamas are not carefully regulated. Every year people die or suffer injuries due to improper, careless, or reckless operation of scooters, jet-skis, and personal watercraft or scuba/snorkeling equipment. You should rent equipment only from reputable operators, and insist on sufficient training before using the equipment. Travelers have reported that some operators do not actually provide insurance coverage even when the renter opted (and paid) for insurance coverage. You should insist on seeing proof that operators have sufficient medical and liability insurance and are properly licensed to operate in The Bahamas before renting any motorized or other vehicles.
As visitors, you should exercise caution and good judgment at all times. Do not engage in high-risk behavior such as excessive alcohol consumption, as it greatly increases your vulnerability to accidents or opportunistic crime. Do not accept rides from strangers or from unlicensed taxi drivers.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning The Bahamas is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
It is the law that all drivers and their passengers wear seat belts while riding in a vehicle in The Bahamas. Wearing helmets while riding on a scooter or motorbike is also compulsory.
Driving in The Bahamas is on the left side of the road (i.e. opposite the United States). Traffic congestion in Nassau is severe, and drivers occasionally display aggressive or careless tendencies. You should always drive defensively and be alert to cars pulling out in front of you from side streets. Local practice is to allow this on an individual basis. Roundabouts are common; unless otherwise designated, you should give way to traffic coming from the right when joining a roundabout. Remember that the slow lane is the far left, not the far right one. Some major streets do not have adequate shoulders or passable sidewalks, compelling pedestrians to walk in the right-of-way. Motorcyclists tend to weave through slow traffic and between lanes of moving vehicles. It is not uncommon to see poorly maintained or excessively loaded vehicles on roadways. Rural roads can be narrow, winding, and in poor condition.
Road flooding occurs frequently in many areas, including Nassau and Freeport, during and after rainstorms. Drivers should be alert for unmarked or poorly marked construction zones. Travel by moped or bicycle can be hazardous, especially in the heavy traffic prevalent in Nassau. You should exercise appropriate caution when renting vehicles in The Bahamas. If you ride a moped or bicycle follow Bahamian helmet law, and drive defensively. Accidents involving U.S. tourists on motorbikes have resulted in severe injuries and fatalities.
Look right then left when crossing the road! Pedestrians should try to remember that vehicular traffic comes from the opposite direction to what they are used to. Many tourists have been struck by cars after failing to check properly for oncoming traffic.
Emergency ambulance service is generally available and can be reached by dialing 911 or 919. Roadside assistance is also widely available through private towing services. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of The Bahamas’ national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety.