According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, The Bahamas has been assessed as Level 2: exercise increased caution.
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 original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.
The Bahamas is a prominent tourist destination with major cruise ship ports of call in Nassau (New Providence Island), Freeport (Grand Bahama Island), and an assortment of resort properties on smaller islands. The Bahamas, an archipelagic nation of more than 700 islands and cays that covers a geographic region approximately equivalent in size to California, receives over six million U.S. citizen tourists each year. At its closest point, The Bahamas is 50 miles from the U.S. and is considered the “third border” of the U.S.
The Bahamas 2010 census shows a population of 353,000; however, the current population is estimated to be approximately 370,000. Around 70% of the population resides on New Providence, another 15% live on Grand Bahama. The rest of the population is dispersed over two dozen outer islands (commonly referred to as the “Family Islands”).
In January 2018, Commissioner of Police Anthony Ferguson publicly highlighted 2017 statistics, citing a 14% drop in overall crime and a 22% drop in violent crime. The one exception to the drop was a 10% increase in murders. According to the Commissioner, most murders occurred on the streets of New Providence between 1600 and 2400 hrs.
Despite the publicized numbers, crime represents 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 presence in tourist areas. Most of reported violent crimes were perpetrated against Bahamians in areas of saturated criminality, not typically visited by tourists. However, New Providence has witnessed a steady stream of violence in locations commonly frequented by tourists. In some instances, these incidents resulted in fatalities.
Crime also occurs on Grand Bahama. In 2017, 9% of all murders in The Bahamas occurred on Grand Bahama, down from 16% in 2016, according to the RBPF.
Many criminals carry firearms or edged weapons. Unless provoked, criminals committing property crimes typically did not engage in gratuitous violence. However, there were reports of armed robberies, where the assailant assaulted the victim after the victim resisted. In many of the snatch-and-grab crimes involving purses, jewelry, cell phones, and/or cash, the assailant was armed. If confronted by someone demanding valuables, comply and make the encounter as brief as possible. 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 2017, numerous incidents were reported that either involved tourists or occurred in well-known tourist locations.
To help replace lost or stolen documents, make a copy of your driver’s license/passport photo page and keep them in a secure location.
Use an ATM/credit card for payments when possible (instead of carrying large amounts of cash). Avoid using ATMs in isolated areas. Skimmers, devices fitted over real ATMs and used to record card data, have been reported throughout Nassau. In August 2017, RBPF reported 86 people had been defrauded of approximately $72,000 due to skimming. If you observe a skimming device on an ATM take a cell phone picture of it (if it is safe to do so) and contact police immediately. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.”
Opportunistic crimes (petty thefts, vehicle theft) and the fraudulent use of bank/credit card accounts occur. There have been numerous reports of credit/debit cards being compromised and unauthorized charges placed on the card holder’s account from other countries. This trend continued into 2017, with numerous reports of credit and ATM card fraud.
Residential security remains a major concern. Crimes ranging from theft of personal property to burglaries occur, even in gated communities. Do not leave belongings unsecured outside your residence. 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.
Accurate residential crime 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. Although forced entry into residences is a concern, the combination of a residential alarm, anti-burglar bars, neighborhood watches, and roving security patrols serve as deterrents, pushing criminals to softer, less protected targets. Home invasions are generally not random. Do not answer your door unless you know who it is. Secure your home/hotel room even when inside. Have an escape plan for you and your family and know how to get out of the house/hotel room.
For long-term absences, consider using timers to turn on lights automatically throughout the day, especially if you are off-island. Arrange to have your lawn cut periodically, and arrange to have a friend/colleague check on your home and pick up newspapers or other deliveries daily.
Gangs are present in The Bahamas. There has been targeted gang-related violence, including a drive-by shooting resulting in one death and two injuries, next to Embassy-owned residential properties in November 2016. In April 2017, a well-known dive shop shuttle bus was targeted and the driver killed along the busy Bay Street corridor. Fully automatic rifles were used in both incidents.
Home invasions, theft, and robbery are not confined to a specific part of the island. 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 2017.
The water sports rental industry is only loosely regulated and there have been 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 on 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 2015.
The Bahamas has experienced armed robberies at super markets, convenience stores, restaurants, banks, 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 a November 2016 robbery, multiple assailants entered a popular Cable Beach supermarket frequented by both locals and tourists on a busy Sunday morning. They fired weapons and stole bags of cash. In another act of violence, a popular coffee shop in Cable Beach was robbed at gunpoint in August 2017.
Criminal activity in the outlying Family Islands occurs but to a lesser degree than on New Providence Island.
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.
In December 2017, the State Department issued a Travel Warning for The Fish Fry and areas of Nassau referred to as “Over the Hill” by locals to be avoided after sunset. “Over the Hill” is generally south of the downtown Nassau area, south of Shirley Street. This area is not clearly defined but encompasses many lower income areas on New Providence. Although a high visibility effort by the Bahamian government to clean the area up was initiated in January 2018, it is too early to tell how effective these efforts will be.
In January 2018, the Arawak Cay Conch, Fish, Vegetable and Food Vendors Association claimed petty crime and robberies have proliferated at the Fish Fry due to lack of police presence, especially on weekends, holidays and at night.
For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”
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 common, and traffic in the circles has the right-of-way. Traffic congestion in Nassau is prevalent, and drivers occasionally display antagonistic tendencies and 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 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, poorly illuminated roads in need of maintenance and repair, and not designed for high-speed travel. 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 back of trucks without any safety restraints. Roads on the outer Family Islands can be narrow, winding, and in poor condition. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”
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.
If involved in a traffic accident, Bahamian law states 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 may 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 scooter or bicycle can be quite hazardous, especially in heavy traffic conditions. Those who choose to ride a motorcycle, scooter, or bicycle should follow Bahamian helmet laws and drive 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/or other motorists.
Public Transportation Conditions
Visitors should not accept rides from strangers or from unlicensed taxi drivers. When using a taxi, be clear where you want to go. There have been anecdotal reports of taxi drivers working with criminals to drive tourists to known high-crime areas and leaving them to be victimized.
Other Travel Conditions
Persons who operate their own water craft or boats should be alert to the possibility of encountering vessels operated by armed smugglers engaged in illicit activities.
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 U.S. The Bahamas has been an independent country since 1973.
Peaceful public protests and demonstrations occurred in the run-up to the national election in May 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.
Hurricanes and tropical storms frequently hit The Bahamas; the official hurricane season runs from June 1-November 30. 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.
Although The Bahamas prides itself on keeping the country clean, there is minimal enforcement of environmental standards, and recycling is not a common practice.
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. Counterfeit U.S. currency is prolific in The Bahamas. American and Bahamian dollars are of equal value and both currencies are used interchangeably in The Bahamas.
Personal Identity Concerns
The Embassy has not received reports of persecution or hate crimes motivated by race, religion, or citizenship in 2017. In previous years, there have been reports of harassment and killings of persons based on sexual orientation.
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 avoid conducting 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.
In general, the RBPF is receptive to reports of crime and takes the threat of crime against tourists seriously. Recent changes in the police command 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 law enforcement techniques, which in the U.S. might be construed as entrapment.
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 cooperate, identify oneself 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.
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 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
For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.
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 1700-0800), (242) 380-6666 (between 0800-1700)
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
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 no Country Council in The Bahamas. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions.
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
Marine Post One (242) 322-1181 ext 4311
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.
The Bahamas Country Information Sheet