|Street crime and petty theft involving U.S. tourists does occur, and precautions should be taken 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 reports of car theft have increased.
Travelers to the Dominican Republic should strongly consider leaving valuable property at home. The Embassy recommends 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. Store valuables, wallet items, and passports in a safe place.
There are continuing reports of thefts that target Americans as they leave the airport in a taxi that lacks air-conditioning. The driver rolls down the windows and when the taxi stops at a traffic light, a motorcyclist reaches in and steals a purse or anything they can grab. Travelers are advised to utilize the taxi service authorized by the airport if they have made no arrangements before arrival. Even when using such an authorized taxi service, Americans should always be aware of the potential for a criminal to stalk travelers leaving the airport parking area. 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 vehicles 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. The U.S. Embassy is also aware of at least one incident in which the driver of a “motoconcho” (motorcycle taxi) robbed an American 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. In 2006, the U.S. Embassy received reports of Americans and others who were victims of vehicular-armed robberies in the northern provinces of the Dominican Republic. At least three of the reports indicate the victims were intercepted during the morning hours, when there was little other traffic, while driving on rural highways connecting Santiago and Puerto Plata.
Although kidnappings are not common in the Dominican Republic, in 2007, two American citizens were kidnapped and held for ransom, in separate instances.
The American Embassy calls attention to certain criminal techniques that have surprised Americans and other victims:
- 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 received two reports in 2008 of a crime involving 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 the police, who settle the case for a fee.
- Americans were victimized more than once this year at Santo Domingo’s airport 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 a confederate 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 2005 homicide, a U.S. citizen was murdered by two men who posed as repairmen to gain access to the apartment. In another similar case, in 2008 the Dominican police arrested the building’s actual maintenance man and an accomplice for a crime. There were also instances in 2008 when U.S. citizens were robbed of large amounts of cash just before 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 claimed he was victimized by two police officers.
The U.S. Embassy continues to receive reports from Americans 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 American 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 an American driver for a traffic violation, the driver should request a traffic ticket rather than paying an on-the-spot fine. The driver also has 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, Americans finding themselves in the aforementioned scenarios should exercise caution. In general, drivers should keep their doors locked and windows closed at all times and leave themselves 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 809 688-1777 or 809 688-0777.
Travelers are advised to 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.
Travelers who elect nevertheless to use their credit or debit cards should never let the cards leave their sight. They 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.
Travelers are also advised to 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 ATM scams as well. 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 visitors to the Dominican Republic should take extra precautions when visiting the country between November and January.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on this serious problem is available from the Department of Justice.
Read more country specific information about the Dominican Republic from the US Gov website