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The Bahamas 2017 Crime & Safety Report

Western Hemisphere > Bahamas; Western Hemisphere > Bahamas > Nassau

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Nassau does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED NASSAU AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Please review OSAC’s Bahamas-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

The Bahamas is a prominent Caribbean tourist destination with major cruise ship ports of call in Nassau and Freeport and an assortment of luxury properties. Over six million U.S. citizens visit The Bahamas each year, an archipelagic nation of more than 700 islands and cays that covers a geographical region approximately equivalent in scale to the state of California. At its closest point, The Bahamas is only 50 miles from the U.S. As a result, the country is considered the “third border” of the U.S. Approximately 80% of tourists are U.S. citizens.

According to a 2010 census, The Bahamas has a population of 353,000, but current estimates indicate these figures have increased to approximately 370,000. Some 70% reside on the island of New Providence, where Nassau is situated. Another 15% live on Grand Bahama, which has Freeport. The rest of the population is dispersed over two dozen outer islands (commonly referred to as the “Family Islands”).

Crime Threats

In January 2017, Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade publicly highlighted 2016 statistics citing a 26% drop in serious crimes, the largest decrease in 12 years. Violent crime reportedly dropped by double digit percentages in every category, although some observers have questioned the legitimacy of this claim. Murders were down 24% from a record high in 2015 (111 in 2016 vs. 146 in 2015). Despite the publicized numbers, crime continues to represent the primary security threat in The Bahamas. The Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) continued administering assertive policing methods, which included high visibility checkpoints and a robust crime reduction plan in tourist areas. The preponderance of reported violent crimes were perpetrated against local Bahamians and mostly occurred in areas of saturated criminality not typically visited by tourists; however, New Providence has witnessed violent crimes in locations more commonly frequented by U.S. citizen tourists. In some instances, these incidents resulted in fatalities. Criminality and violent crime has increased on Grand Bahama island, notably crimes involving the use of machetes.

Many criminals carry firearms, machetes, or knives, and these weapons are commonly brandished. Unless provoked, criminals engaged in property crimes typically did not engage in gratuitous violence. However, there were reports of firearms used in the commission of armed robberies, where the assailant assaulted the victim after the victim resisted. Many of these armed robberies were snatch-and-grabs involving purses, jewelry, cell phones, and cash. Should you be confronted by someone demanding money/valuables, you should comply with their demands and make the encounter as brief as possible. If confronted, try to remain calm, clearly display your hands and do not make any sudden moves that could be interpreted as resistance.

Armed robberies, property crimes, purse snatchings, theft, fraud, and sexual assaults remain the most common crimes perpetrated against tourists. There is no indication that U.S. citizens were targeted directly. In 2016, numerous incidents were reported that either involved tourists or occurred in well-known tourist locations. Crimes occurred near popular tourist areas adjacent to the cruise ship port (Prince George Wharf) and the Cable Beach resort areas as well as the popular downtown area. Several armed robberies of U.S. citizens have occurred in daylight hours in heavily frequented tourist areas. Armed assailants have placed random items in the street as roadblocks, forcing unassuming drivers to stop then be robbed. Most crimes occur at night so think prudently about night-time travel. Inform someone of your travel plans and when to expect you.

Make a copy of your driver’s license/passport photo page to carry with you.

Use an ATM/credit card when possible and check your credit card statements regularly for potential fraud or unauthorized charges. Avoid using ATMs in isolated areas; consider using ATMs in shopping centers that have security coverage. Use the buddy system when using ATMs.

Residential security remains a major concern. Crimes ranging from theft of personal watercraft, lawn furniture, and vehicles to home invasions occur, even within gated communities. Do not leave belongings unsecured outside your residence or hotel. Vehicles, bicycles, generators, and other property will attract criminals. If the items cannot be placed inside, then visibly secure them with a chain and lock as a deterrent. Official numbers are difficult to come by, in part due to anecdotal reports of landlords’ tendency to compensate tenant victims personally without reporting incidents to police in order to protect the reputation of communities and maintain property values. There have also been unsolved burglaries of homes in gated communities, despite the presence of private security guards. Home invasions in Nassau are common. Armed home invasions, which occurred in both New Providence and Grand Bahama, were conducted within direct proximity of Embassy residential housing. Although forced entry of residences is a concern, the combination of a residential alarm, anti-burglar grille-work, neighborhood watches, and roving security patrols serve as deterrents, pushing criminals to softer, less protected targets. Home invasions are generally not random events. Do not answer your door at your residence unless you know who it is. Secure your home/hotel room. Consider purchasing timers to turn on lights automatically throughout the night especially if you are off island. Arrange to have your lawn mowed periodically if you will be gone for an extended period. Arrange to have a friend/colleague check on your home and pick up newspapers or other deliveries daily. . Have an escape plan for you and your family and know how to get out of the house/hotel room.

Gangs are present. There has been targeted gang-related violence, including a drive-by shooting that resulted in one death and two injuries next to Embassy-owned residential properties.

Home invasions, theft, and robbery are not confined to a specific part of the island. The upsurge in criminal activity has led to incidents that could place innocent bystanders at risk. The U.S. Embassy has received reports of assaults, including sexual assaults, at residences, hotel rooms, casinos, outside hotels, and on cruise ships. In some sexual assault incidents, the victim reportedly had been drugged. The Embassy issued several Security Messages for U.S. Citizens in 2016.

The water sports rental industry is only loosely regulated, and in 2015, there were reported sexual assaults of U.S. citizens, including minors, by jet-ski operators. The majority of these sexual assaults were reported to have occurred on relatively “safe” beaches within the confines of Paradise Island, which is heavily frequented by tourists and Embassy personnel. Embassy Nassau placed the use of jet-skis operated by local nationals in New Providence off-limits to all Chief of Mission personnel in The Bahamas.

The Bahamas has experienced a wave of armed robberies at super markets, convenience stores, fast food restaurants, banks, outside of places of worship, and residences. Perpetrators typically conduct pre-attack surveillance. There were several reports of victims being followed home after closing a business in an attempt to steal the nightly deposit. In one robbery, assailants entered a popular supermarket on a busy Sunday morning; they fired weapons and stole bags of cash.

Criminal activity in the outlying Family Islands occurs but to a lesser degree than on New Providence Island. The RSO has received reports of burglaries and thefts, especially thefts of boats and other watercraft.

Cybersecurity Issues

Opportunistic crimes (petty thefts, vehicle theft) and the fraudulent use of bank/credit card account numbers occur. There have been numerous reports of credit/debit card numbers being compromised and unauthorized charges placed on the card holder’s account from other countries. In 2016, there were significant reports of credit card and bank fraud.

Other Areas of Concern

In November 2016, the U.S. Embassy placed The Sand Trap venue off-limits to Chief of Mission personnel following a gang-related murder. The Sand Trap is on the north side of West Bay Street at the intersection of West Bay Street and Saint Albans Drive.

Areas of Nassau referred to as “Over the Hill” by locals should be avoided after sunset unless you are intimately familiar with the areas. This is generally south of the downtown Nassau area, south of Shirley Street. These areas are not clearly defined but encompass many lower income areas on New Providence. Visitors should avoid these areas, especially at night.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Traffic moves on the left side of the road. Vehicular traffic comes from the opposite to what one would expect in the U.S. Tourists have been struck by cars after failing to check properly for oncoming traffic. Traffic circles are a common feature, and traffic in the circles has the right-of-way. Traffic congestion in Nassau is prevalent, and drivers occasionally display antagonistic tendencies and sometimes drive recklessly, passing on the right into oncoming traffic. Many motorists disobey stop signs, speed limits, and traffic signals.

Police enforcement of traffic laws has increased in 2016 but is still considered minimal, and visitors should exercise extreme caution. While it is against the law, drinking and driving is common. The legal ban is infrequently enforced, resulting in numerous traffic accidents and fatalities, including some involving tourists and motor scooters.

Traffic accidents pose a safety hazard in some parts of The Bahamas, primarily due to intolerant drivers speeding and driving recklessly on two-way, two-lane roads not designed for high-speed travel and, in some cases, in need of maintenance. Some major streets do not have adequate shoulders or even passable sidewalks, compelling pedestrians to walk in the right-of-way. Motorcyclists frequently swerve through slow traffic and drive between lanes of moving vehicles. It is not uncommon to see poorly maintained or excessively loaded vehicles on roadways. Passengers regularly ride in the bed of trucks without any safety restraints. Roads on the outer Family Islands can be narrow, winding, and in poor condition.

Bahamian law requires individuals who intend to stay in country longer than three months to obtain a Bahamian driver’s license. Individuals over the age of 18 who are driving must obtain a driver’s license. Third-party liability insurance is also required for individuals residing in The Bahamas. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

If involved in a traffic accident, the vehicles should not be moved until a police officer arrives to investigate the accident. The police can be slow to respond to vehicle accidents. The police will issue a “Notice of Prosecution” form letter to each driver involved in the accident with an initial court hearing to be held within a week of the accident to determine who is at fault. Roadside assistance is widely available through private towing services.

Flooding frequently occurs on roads, including in Nassau and Freeport. This flooding sometimes makes roadways impassable.

Drivers should be alert for unmarked or poorly marked construction zones.

Visitors should exercise caution when renting vehicles. Travel by moped or bicycle can be quite hazardous, especially in the heavy traffic conditions in Nassau. Those who choose to ride a motorcycle, moped, or bicycle should follow Bahamian helmet laws and drive very defensively. Wearing a helmet is highly recommended to avoid serious injury. The Embassy continues to see a significant number of moped accidents, resulting in serious injury as a result of alcohol/drug impairment, driver inexperience, or inattention by the moped operator and other motorists.

At night, park in well-illuminated areas observable by shops, passersby, or attendants when possible. Utilize a car alarm or steering wheel locking device. In crawling traffic or in a stopped line of cars, leave at least a half a car length between your vehicle and the car in front of you. If you believe you are being followed, drive immediately to a safe location and call the police. Keep your cell phone charged and with you and use a GPS-enabled device if you are traveling in unfamiliar areas.

Public Transportation Conditions

Visitors should not accept rides from strangers or from unlicensed taxi drivers.

Other Travel Conditions

Persons who operate their own water craft or aircraft should be alert to the possibility of encountering vessels operated by armed smugglers engaged in illicit activities on the open seas or air space in or near The Bahamas.

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED NASSAU AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is a reasonable threat of transnational terrorism due to the porous borders in The Bahamas. Terrorist groups native to the Western Hemisphere do not typically operate in the northeastern Caribbean.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED NASSAU AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

The Bahamas is a parliamentary democracy and a member of the British Commonwealth. The Governor General holds a largely ceremonial role and represents Queen Elizabeth II, who is the head of state. The Bahamas is a stable democracy that shares democratic principles, personal freedoms, and rule of law with the United States. The Bahamas has been an independent country since 1973.

Civil Unrest

Peaceful public protests and demonstrations occurred in November 2016 and January 2017. Limited law enforcement resources make rapid response to public disorder difficult, particularly on islands other than New Providence. Visitors should avoid demonstrations. Strikes are generally limited to industrial actions or work-to-rule actions and slowdowns. The airports have also seen instances of Go Slow non-protest actions resulting in considerable delays by flights.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Hurricanes and tropical storms frequent The Bahamas from June-November. Travelers and U.S. businesses should consider devoting resources and time to emergency planning for the possibility of inclement weather, particularly during hurricane season. Travelers should pay close attention to the weather forecast during the hurricane seasons.

Critical Infrastructure

Although The Bahamas prides itself on keeping the country clean, there is minimal enforcement of environmental standards, and recycling is not a common practice.

Economic Concerns

Counterfeit and illegitimately reproduced goods are accessible. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under Bahamian law. Bringing such products into the U.S. may result in forfeitures/fines. Organized, systematic criminal activity is primarily related to the illegal importation and smuggling of illicit drugs, weapons, and people. The Bahamas, due to its numerous uninhabited islands and cays, has been favored by smugglers.

Personal Identity Concerns

The Embassy has not received reports of persecution or hate crimes motivated by race, religion, or citizenship in 2016. In previous years, there have been reports of harassment and killings of persons based on sexual orientation.

Drug-related Crimes

The Bahamas has a long history of being a route for smugglers of narcotics, illegal immigrants, and weapons. Drugs, including marijuana, are illegal. U.S. businesses should be attentive to not conduct business with questionable persons or enterprises. There have been numerous reports of visitors being arrested for possession and use of drugs in The Bahamas. Individuals who are arrested may be expected to serve prison time and/or pay a substantial fine.

Police Response

In general, the RBPF is receptive to reports of crime and takes the threat of crime against tourists seriously. Recent changes in the police structure have promised a more proactive approach to deter crime. However, the police response can be reduced by a lack of resources or by the physical constraints imposed by geography, infrastructure, and traffic. Police have limited emergency vehicles, and streets and houses are generally unmarked, inhibiting responders from locating affected residences. To ensure quick response to a residence, victims may have to go to the local police station and provide transportation to the site.

It is lawful for the RBPF to use entrapment techniques.

Unregistered firearms and ammunition are illegal. Check local laws before bringing any firearms into The Bahamas by boat or by plane. Possession of unregistered firearms can lead to arrest and imprisonment.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

If detained by the police, one should immediately cooperate, identify yourself as an American citizen and request to make contact with the U.S. Embassy immediately.

Police harassment of Americans is rare. Attempting to bribe an officer of the RBPF is a serious offense and should be strictly avoided. Visitors should not attempt to tip police officers for their services.

Crime Victim Assistance

Visitors are recommended to report crime to the RBPF as rapidly as possible. Prompt reports to the police may increase the prospect of suspected perpetrators being identified and arrested. The police generally respond rapidly to hotels and establishments frequented by foreigners who are victims of crime.

911 or 919 are the police/medical emergency numbers. There have been complaints that police are slow to respond to emergency calls in the residential areas and that the 911 and 919 numbers go unanswered.

Police/Security Agencies

The Royal Bahamas Police Force is the primary agency that handles all law enforcement matters for The Bahamas (Tel: 242-322-4444). RBPF officers are uniformed in bright white dress coats and blue trousers. Officers also wear a more subdued navy blue uniform with a black beret. Officers are regularly seen walking foot patrols or on bicycles in areas frequented by tourists. In some cases, they may be armed with automatic weapons.

Medical Emergencies

Medical facilities are generally limited and not equipped to handle many emergencies, especially those requiring surgery. Generally, adequate medical care is available on New Providence and Grand Bahama islands. Medical care is more limited elsewhere. Some private clinics offer basic primary care.

There is a chronic shortage of blood at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau (the country’s largest public hospital) where most emergency surgery is performed. Travelers with rare blood types should know the names and locations of possible blood donors should the need arise.

The Lyford Cay Hospital has a hyperbaric chamber for treatment of decompression illness associated with deep sea diving.

Ambulance service is available but may not be able to respond quickly in the event of a major emergency or disaster.

General emergency numbers: 911 or 919 for police/fire/ambulance.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

New Providence Island

Doctor’s Hospital (Private hospital)

Located on Shirley Street in downtown Nassau

Ambulance Service: (242) 302-4747

Emergency Room: (242) 302-4658

General: (242) 322-8411 or 322-8418 or 302-4600

 

Princess Margaret (Public hospital)

Located on Shirley Street in downtown Nassau

Ambulance Service: 919 or (242) 323-2586 or 323-2597

Emergency Room: (242) 326-7014

General: (242) 322-2861

 

Medical Walk-In Clinic – Colin’s Avenue – Near Downtown Nassau

General: (242) 328-0783 or 328-2744

 

Medical Walk-In Clinic – Baha Mar Boulevard – Next to Scotia Bank Across from Baha Mar

General: (242) 327-5483

 

Grand Bahama Island

Sunrise Medical Center (Private hospital) (242) 373-3333

Rand Memorial Hospital (Public hospital): (242) 352-6735 or (242) 352-2689

Lucayan Medical Center (Clinic West Freeport): (242) 352-7288

Lucayan Medical Center (Clinic East Freeport): (242) 373-7400

Available Air Ambulance Services

Air ambulance companies generally require payment or an insurer’s guarantee of payment up front. New Providence has air ambulance services available.

Air Ambulance: (242) 323-2186 (between 5pm-8am), (242) 380-6666 (between 8am-5pm)

SOS (Emergency Air Flight Services) servicing The Bahamas. Alarm Center, Philadelphia, open 24 hours for International SOS Assistance, Inc. 1 (215) 942-8226 or 1 (800) 523-5686 or 1 (215) 245-4707

Insurance Guidance

Serious health problems requiring hospitalization/medical evacuation to the U.S. can cost thousands of dollars. Bahamian physicians and hospitals do not usually accept U.S. medical insurance policies and typically expect immediate cash or credit card payment/deposits for professional services. The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to determine whether their policy applies overseas and whether they cover emergency expenses. For serious cases, treatment in even the best hospitals would probably require medical evacuation after stabilization.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

HIV/AIDS is a significant health concern.

Zika is present. Dengue virus is present in all tropical and many subtropical areas worldwide. Travelers should take precautions to prevent contact with mosquitoes. The mosquitoes that carry dengue bite most often in the morning and evening and during hot, wet times of the year. However, they can bite and spread infection all year long and at any time of day.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for The Bahamas.

OSAC Country Council Information

There is currently no active Country Council in Nassau. Please contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team if you are interested in private-sector engagement in Nassau or have questions about OSAC’s Country Council programs.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

The Embassy is located at 42 Queen Street, Nassau, The Bahamas. It is located next to the McDonald’s downtown and across the street from the British Colonial Hilton.

Embassy Contact Numbers

Embassy Operator (242) 322-1181
Regional Security Officer (242) 322-1181 ext 4267
American Citizen Services (242) 322-1181 ext 4519
Political/Economic Section (242) 322-1181 ext 4226
Marine Post One (242) 322-1181 ext 4311
Website: http://nassau.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens are encouraged to sign up for the Smart Traveler Program (STEP). STEP is a free service provided by the U.S. government to U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country. STEP allows you to enter information about your upcoming trip abroad so that the Department of State and the U.S. Embassy can assist you in an emergency.

Additional Resources

The Bahamas Country Information Sheet