The Dominican Republic is one of the safer islands in the Caribbean. A first impression may make you think otherwise. Although the Dominican Republic is a very poor country—and crime does happen—violent crime against foreigners is rare. And even though you may hear warnings about pickpockets and purse snatching by motorcycle-riding thieves, both are relatively unusual. In fact, you may find Dominican honesty refreshing.
However, petty theft (particularly of cell phones), pickpocketing, and purse snatching (thieves usually work in pairs) is not rare and is most frequent in Santo Domingo. Pay attention, especially when leaving a bank, a cambio, or a casino, despite the very visible police. Crime has even come to Santiago, so be cautious at night, and lock the doors of your car or taxi. Armed private security guards are a common sight at clubs and restaurants.
The best tactic for dealing with the Dominican Republic is not to be paranoid, just cautious, and as in any area with a crime problem, only carry the credit cards and money that you actually need. Keep the rest in your hotel safe.
If you are the victim of a crime, you may have to offer the police "gas money" and a reward to really get some help. With the Politur (tourist police), it's less likely to happen, but it still does. Should you find yourself in that predicament, consult a savvy, English-speaking Dominican and ask what amount would be appropriate; this transaction always works best when you have a translator.
Each area in the Dominican Republic has its own safety concerns. For example, avoid walking in Cabarete after midnight, as much to protect yourself from speeding motoconchos as from criminals. Prostitution can be an annoyance there, as can drug dealers. "Bad boys" have been known to follow lucky winners at casinos. They can also be waiting behind a palm tree when one of their women slows you down to ask if you need "company." Wise tourists avoid such complications, particularly drugs; trust us when we tell you that you do not want to have to spend time in a Dominican jail. One hears stories of friends and relatives having to come up with US$10,000 to bribe a jailer to spring a young man who was cuffed and incarcerated for smoking a joint on the street. As for the security at all-inclusive resorts, the good news is that in general it's really good.
In Punta Cana, which is one of the safest regions, muggings or robberies have occurred when turistas have come out of a casino stumbling drunk and bragging about their winnings.
As for Santo Domingo, even though it's considerably safer in the tourist zones now, it's still a large metropolitan city, with higher crime rates than smaller towns. Muggings and thefts rise during street parties, such as Carnaval.
Regardless of where you are, if you leave your resort, take hotel-recommended taxis at night. When driving, always lock your car and never leave valuables in it, even when doors are locked. If you have a safe in your hotel room, use it; many can now accommodate a laptop. If it doesn't, camouflage it or secure it with a laptop lock to a pipe or immovable piece of furniture. If a computer costs $600 in the states, it would be worth twice as much in the Dominican Republic.
Government Information and Advisories
U.S. Department of State (travel.state.gov.)
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