OSAC logo

Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

264 all time - 58 last 7 days

Dutch Caribbean 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Willemstad, Curaçao. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in the Dutch Caribbean, to include Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten. This report focuses mainly on Curaçao, the location of the U.S. Consulate serving the Dutch Caribbean, but mentions conditions on the other islands where they differ significantly from those in Curaçao. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

Current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisories at the date of this report’s publication assess Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten as being MEDIUM-threat locations, and Saba and Sint Eustatius as LOW-threat locations for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

As a major Caribbean tourist destination, the principal crimes of concern in Curaçao are petty theft and street crime (e.g. pickpocketing and purse snatching, particularly at beaches, in hotel lobbies, or from cars). Many feel Curaçao’s official statistics understate the amount of crime on the island. These statistics currently reflect a trend of decreasing violent crime (reflecting a steady drop every year since 2014), car thefts (fewer than 200 in both 2018 and 2019 after more than 400 in 2017), and robbery (halving since 2017). Home burglaries have risen slightly each year since 2017, but burglaries of businesses have dropped slightly. Statistics show that victims who resist criminals are more likely to have incidents result in injury or death.

Although it appears that gangs are becoming more common, with a corresponding increase in gang violence, homicides have remained fairly steady, with between 19-22 murders per year, apart from a small bump to 27 in 2017. Home invasions have also become more common in the last two years. Rapes and sexual assaults are infrequent but do occur. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

Violent crime is very infrequent elsewhere in the Dutch Caribbean. There was a high-profile murder case involving a Canadian citizen victim in Sint Maarten in 2019 where the suspected assailants fled across the unguarded border into French St. Martin for several days. Authorities eventually captured the suspects with the cooperation of French authorities.

Do not leave valuables in cars in plain view or unattended in unsecured hotel rooms and rental homes. Parking lots that are unattended and without access control are higher-risk locations for car break-ins. Some beaches charge a fee for access and employ private security, which provides some deterrent to crime. Exercise caution when visiting more isolated areas of Curaçao. Some thefts and assaults have been reported near nature areas, remote beaches, and small or informal parking areas used by divers. Travelers should exercise caution at night in Koredor, Punda, Otrobanda, Director’s Bay Beach, Baya Beach, the Mambo Beach parking lot, and the neighborhoods of Scharloo, Fleur de Marie, Seru Fortuna, Marchena, Seru di Kandela, Souax, Koraalspecht, Seru Loraweg, Dein, Kanga, and most beach areas. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind, Hotels: The Inns and Outs, and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Authorities throughout the Dutch Caribbean do not enforce the legal drinking age (18) rigorously, so extra supervision of minors may be appropriate. Those who patronize bars or nightclubs should travel in pairs or groups to minimize their risk of victimization. Review OSAC’s report, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

Avoid withdrawing large amounts of cash from banks or ATMs. If you need to withdraw a large sum of money, consider conducting an electronic transfer instead. Ensure your credit card stays in your sight, and monitor the billing activity on that card for several months. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Cybersecurity Issues

The Dutch Caribbean is not immune to cyber intrusion. In April 2018, malefactors interrupted the public-facing electronic resources of the Government of Sint Maarten for an entire day. Curaçao is home to CARICERT, the Caribbean Cyber Emergency Response Team, which currently focuses on prevention and detection of cybersecurity incidents, and plans to expand into incident response and advisement. CARICERT currently has partnerships with CERTs in the Netherlands, Brazil, and the United States. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Driving regulations are similar to those in the U.S. Vehicles drive on the right side. Local law requires drivers and passengers to wear seat belts, and motorcyclists to wear helmets. Right turns at a red light are illegal. The use of cellular telephones while driving is illegal, unless used with a hands-free device. Authorities will fine drivers caught talking on a cellular telephone while driving.

Several complex intersections route through roundabouts. Vehicles in a roundabout have the right of way, unless otherwise marked. Curaçao’s main roads generally have adequate lighting, but road lighting on the other islands can be less so. Serious traffic jams are rare. Markings/signals may be confusing; nonexistent, hidden, or poorly maintained street signs are a major hazard. Traffic signs prohibiting actions have a red circle around them, but not the red slash one would expect to see in the U.S.

During and after a rainstorm, roads frequently become extremely slippery. Night driving is reasonably safe, as long as drivers are familiar with their route and the condition of the roads. When driving at night, use well-traveled, well-lighted streets. Plan your route before you leave. The speed limit is 40 km/hr in urban areas and 60 km/hr outside urban areas, unless otherwise indicated. Driving while intoxicated should result in a fine or loss of driver’s license, but authorities do not enforce this rule consistently. Outside of urban areas, watch for herds of animals (especially goats) that may cross the road in unexpected areas. In Bonaire and St. Eustatius, be vigilant for wild donkeys or other animals crossing the road. Use caution when driving in Saba, as roads tend to be steep and have many sharp turns.

Watch for aggressive drivers traveling at high speeds, as they are frequently the cause of serious or fatal accidents. Traffic accidents are a regular occurrence. If an accident occurs, drivers should not move vehicles. Immediately contact ForenSys (a private company with official responsibilities for non-injury accidents, formerly known as “Curaçao Road Services”) at 199 or (599-9) 747-1333. In the event of an injury, reach emergency medical services at 912.

Car thieves have targeted vehicles left unattended, either for joy riding or to be stripped down for parts. In many cases, local insurance may not fully cover rental vehicles in the case of theft or damage. Those renting vehicles should ensure that they carry sufficient insurance.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Public transportation is limited. There are two bus terminals in Curaçao, one in Punda near the post office at the Waaigat, and another in Otrobanda near the overpass. Minibuses in Bonaire and Curaçao (bearing the word “BUS” on their license plates) are inexpensive and run nonstop throughout the day with no fixed schedule. Each minibus has a specific route displayed in its front windshield. Limited government-run buses (Konvooi) operate on fixed routes, generally running on the hour throughout the day.

Buses in Aruba run every 15 minutes between 0545 and 1800, and every 40 minutes between 1800 and 2330.

There is no public transportation in Saba or St. Eustatius.

Taxis are well-regulated and generally safe, but are fairly expensive. As they do not operate with meters, patrons should verify the price before entering. All taxi drivers carry badges, and all taxis should be clearly identified. Taxi stands are available at the airport, in Punda and Otrabanda, and outside most major hotels.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

In 2012, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) downgraded Curaçao’s air safety rating from Category 1 to Category 2, based on International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. Current air service is unaffected, but local airlines may not establish any new routes to the U.S. until Curaçao returns to Category 1. Sint Maarten is similarly assessed as not compliant with ICAO aviation safety standards.

The FAA has assessed the Civil Aviation Authority in Aruba, Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius as compliant with ICAO aviation safety standards. 

The U.S. Consulate prohibits U.S. Consulate personnel from flying on Insel Air, a Dutch Caribbean airline based in Curaçao with service to multiple Caribbean destinations, adopting this policy following an internal review of safety-related considerations. The ban will continue until the airline proves that it is once again safe to fly. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Maritime Security Conditions

Yacht owners wishing to anchor in littoral waters or marinas should educate themselves on required registration procedures and permits prior to visiting the Dutch Caribbean. Mariners planning travel to Curaçao must have completed a Customs Form 1300, Vessel Entrance or Clearance Statement declaring their intention to travel to Curaçao prior to their departure from the U.S. port. Curaçao will deny entry to mariners failing to fill out and submit this form.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Willemstad as being a LOW-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Elements associated with dissident groups of the former of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) may sometimes enter the Dutch Caribbean to engage in illegal activities related to the drug trade. However, the Consulate is unaware of any terrorist attacks being planned or executed in the Dutch Caribbean.

All travelers should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks. These could take place in public areas, and terrorists have targeted sites foreign travelers frequent. Curaçao has procedures in place in case of terrorist attacks in the handbook of the Terrorist Incident Response Plan.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Willemstad as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Elections are generally free and fair. Layoffs from the Isla Oil Refinery and austerity measures implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in several recent protests against the local government. Although these protests did not target U.S. interests, they did result in damage to nearby vehicles and buildings. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

Occasionally, individual government or civil-society leaders criticize U.S. government policies or the presence of the U.S. armed forces’ forward operating location in Curaçao, but such criticism is limited to rhetoric and generally does not adversely affect U.S. travelers.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

The hurricane season in the Dutch Caribbean normally runs June-November. The northern islands (St. Maarten, Saba, and Sint Eustatius) are within the active hurricane zone, with major hurricane hits every six years on average. In 2017, Hurricane Irma hit Sint Maarten, causing extensive damage to roads, communications, electrical power, and housing. The UN estimated the storm destroyed or damaged 90% of the buildings, and Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) sustained heavy damage and closed to commercial air traffic for five weeks. Most hurricanes pass well to the north of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao, which have no recent record of major hurricane damage, although Hurricane Matthew did brush the islands in 2016, causing some localized flooding. The significant rainfall hurricanes bring can cause serious flooding in low-lying areas.

Travelers should monitor local and international weather updates from the Meteorological Department of Curaçao, which serves all islands within the Dutch Caribbean. The U.S. National Hurricane Center also provides hurricane forecasts and a wealth of weather-related resources. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that persons living in areas prone to hurricanes make preparations outlined in the hurricane and tropical storm preparation section.

There is difficulty in properly disposing of waste produced by the large numbers of tourists throughout the Dutch Caribbean.

In Aruba, waste burning in the landfill causes air pollution and poses an environmental and health risk.

Critical Infrastructure

The primary source of industrial risk in Curaçao is the Refineria di Korsou (RDK, the Isla Refinery). The refinery, operated by the Venezuelan national petroleum company, is in Sint Anna Bay at the eastern edge of Willemstad’s harbor. RDK processes heavy crude oil from Venezuela. In recent years, there have been reports of significant environmental damage to the surrounding area because of neglect and a lack of strict environmental controls. The release of noxious fumes and potentially hazardous particles causes schools downwind to close on a regular basis.

Curaçao has state-of-the-art information and communication technology connectivity with the rest of the world, including a Tier IV datacenter. With several direct satellite and submarine optic fiber cables, Curacao has one of the best Internet speeds and reliability rates in the Western Hemisphere.

Economic Concerns

Counterfeit and pirated goods are readily available throughout the Dutch Caribbean. Authorities occasionally confiscate counterfeit products (e.g. cigarettes, clothing) sold in stores. The illegal downloading, copying, and selling of movies is also widespread.

There are isolated reports of corruption in Dutch Caribbean. Sint Maarten authorities arrested two members of parliament on suspicion of accepting bribes in 2019. Aruba courts sentenced a government minister to a four-year prison terms and a nine-year prohibition on running for office for issuing work permits without following proper procedures. In November 2018, the High Court in the Netherlands upheld the conviction of a former Curaçao prime minister on charges of corruption and money laundering.

Violations of labor laws in Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten involve mainly hired workers from Latin America, particularly in the construction and transportation sectors, earning less than the minimum wage.

Personal Identity Concerns

Same-sex marriage is legal in Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba, but not available in Curaçao. However, as part of the Netherlands, Curaçao must recognize same-sex marriages as valid. There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI+ events in Curaçao. Many see Curaçao as one of the most accepting Caribbean locations for LBGTI+ travelers, although local LGBTI+ people have reported discrimination still exists. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Throughout the Dutch Caribbean, a wide-ranging law prohibiting discrimination applies to persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, health care, transportation, and the provision of other government services. Some public buildings and public transport are not easily accessible to persons with physical disabilities. Sidewalks and crossings in many areas are not wheelchair accessible, and many buildings lack ramps. Human rights observers noted that in Curaçao, persons with disabilities had to rely on improvised measures to access buildings and parking areas. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

The islands continue to serve as a major transit point for cocaine, heroin, and marijuana from Colombia and Venezuela. Drugs entering Aruba, Curaçao, Bonaire, and offshore areas are generally destined for Europe (especially the Netherlands) and the U.S. Drugs passing through Sint Maarten generally head to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Traffickers transport drugs via aircraft, with the help of drug mules, and aboard fishing boats. Traffickers also use high-speed boats.

Enforcement policy concerning drug possession in the Dutch Caribbean differs significantly from the Netherlands. Authorities enforce laws against possession of controlled substances rigorously, including against tourists in possession of marijuana for personal use. Although drug smuggling remains a serious issue, intensive cooperation with U.S., Dutch, and international law enforcement authorities has resulted in significant interdictions and disruptions of narcotic smuggling in the region. In recent years, law enforcement has seen an uptick in confiscations of marijuana but a decline in cocaine seizures. A relatively high percentage of Aruba’s population consumes cocaine.

Kidnapping Threat

There have been very infrequent cases of kidnapping reported in the Dutch Caribbean. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics

Police Response

The emergency line in Aruba is 100; elsewhere in the Dutch Caribbean, it is 911. Victims of any type of crime should call emergency services to report the crime to the police or visit a police station. Each station is responsible for handling the crimes that occur within its district. Do not rely on hotel/restaurant/tour staff to make the report. Police support is generally adequate for victims of violent crime, but the police have at times been less helpful in cases of burglary or theft. Boaters should contact the Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard at 913 for any maritime emergency. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

  • The Curaçao Police Force (Korps Politie Curaçao, KPC) manages general law enforcement and narcotics, weapons, homicide, and robbery investigations.The Control and Security Division (formerly the Servisio di Kontrol i Seguridad, SKS) no longer exists, and its officers have been merged into the KPC.
  • The Curaçao Security Service (Veiligheidsdienst Curaçao, VDC) gathers and analyzes security intelligence. VDC works in close cooperation with the Dutch civilian intelligence service (AIVD) and military intelligence service (MIVD), as well as with U.S. and other foreign agencies.
  • The Dutch Special Police Forces Unit (Recherche Samenwerkings Team, RST) is a special investigations unit from the Netherlands that supports the KPC with anti-drug, money laundering, human smuggling, and other high-profile cases.
  • The Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard pursues drug traffickers and assists with accidents and emergencies at sea, with the support of the Dutch Royal Navy.
  • The Dutch Royal Military Police (Koninklijke Marechaussee, KMAR) performs immigration investigations at the airport and harbor, investigates crimes by and against the Dutch military, and provides occasional support to the KPC.

Each of the other islands in the Dutch Caribbean has its own police force, complemented by Dutch forces similar to the arrangement in Curaçao. Find more information at the websites for the Aruba Police Force (KPA), Sint Maarten Police Force (KPSM), and the Dutch Caribbean Police (KPCN, for Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius).

Medical Emergencies

The emergency line in Curaçao and Sint Maarten is 912; elsewhere in the Dutch Caribbean, it is 911. Emergency response may be quick or may take hours. Ambulance services are under-staffed and under-equipped, especially in the western part of the island. It may take more time for first responders and medical professionals to stabilize a patient and provide life-saving assistance. In the event of an injury, basic emergency medical treatment is widely available. Curaçao’s medical system emphasizes the use of “house doctors” (huisarts), outpatient primary care physicians who may not have completed postgraduate training such as a residency program. The recent opening of the Curaçao Medical Center attracted new medical professionals to the country and greatly enhanced the country’s medical capabilities. Some surgical specialties (e.g. neurosurgery and cardiac surgery) are not available on the island. Some facilities do not offer the health and service standards typically expected in the U.S. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the Consulate’s Medical Assistance page.

Critical injuries often require medical evacuation (medevac), which can cost $15-25,000. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

Boticas are drug stores that provide both prescription and emergency medicine. The variety of drugs available locally is smaller than in U.S. pharmacies.

The CDC recommends that travelers have the following up-to-date vaccinations at least four weeks before traveling: measles/mumps/rubella (MMR); diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT); polio; hepatitis A and B; typhoid; and rabies (only for travelers whose activities that will bring them into direct contact with bats).

The following diseases are also prevalent: Zika virus, chikungunya, and dengue fever. Zika outbreaks have occurred on Curaçao. All three diseases spread through the bite of the same mosquito species. There are no vaccines to prevent infection by these viruses. The most effective protective measures are those that prevent mosquito bites.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?,Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

OSAC Country Council Information

There is no Country Council in the Dutch Caribbean. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions.

U.S. Consulate Contact Information

J.B. Gorsiraweg 1, Willemstad, Curaçao

Hours of operation: 0800-1700

Switchboard: +599-9-461-3066

Website: https://cw.usconsulate.gov/

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

Processing

Warning

Error processing!