According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Haiti has been assessed as Level 3: reconsider travel.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Embassy Port-au-Prince 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 Port-au-Prince as being a CRITICIAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Please review OSAC’s Haiti-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.
Haiti is unique in the Caribbean for its relative lack of tourism, scarcity of foreign investment, and poor infrastructure.
Crime statistics in Haiti are hard to verify, and they should be considered as uncorroborated when assessing the threat from criminal activity. This lack of reliable data makes it difficult to compare the crime threat in Haiti with other countries in the region, and comparisons of reported statistics should be avoided.
Traditional tourist-oriented crimes (pickpocketing, purse snatching) are less frequently reported than elsewhere in the region. This results from both a lack of tourism and underreporting.
The most frequently reported crimes against U.S. citizens in Port-au-Prince are aggravated assaults and robberies. A typical mugging in Port-au-Prince involves a group of young males who surrounds and overwhelms a victim in a public area. Reports of robberies of Haitian-Americans appear to increase around holiday seasons, but that appears to correlate with an overall increase in visitor traffic. Armed robberies against motorists/pedestrians remain a serious concern and have increased dramatically since the departure of UN Security Forces in October 2017. In recent years, many people have been robbed en route from Toussaint L’Ouverture airport. Banks continue to be a frequent location for armed robberies. Motorcycle-mounted assailants frequently follow their victim a short distance and rob them in a less public area. Shootings during these incidents are common.
Vehicle break-ins and thefts from vehicles, occupied or empty, occur frequently. Unattended vehicles with visible valuables are subject to break-ins. There have also been reports of pedestrians opening unlocked doors of idling vehicles and snatching valuables.
Violent crime appears to remain predominantly gang and/or robbery-related. Robberies are most common in Port-au-Prince and affect affluent areas frequented by visitors (Petionville). Gang-related violent crime was centralized in specific areas of Port-au-Prince (Cité Soleil, Carrefour, Martissant), none of which are traditional tourist/business areas; however, criminal gangs have expanded or at least shifted their operations to more affluent areas frequented by visitors (Petionville).
Homicides continue to be a major concern. In 2017, there were 890 reported homicides, with 79% occurring in Port-au-Prince. (Statistics are grossly underreported by the government of Haiti, and with the departure of United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), statistics are considered unreliable.)
Residential theft (burglaries, home invasions) trends over the past few years have suggested a decline in traditional criminal burglary and a rise in home invasions. There was a continuation of home invasions in the more affluent areas of upper Port-au-Prince in 2015, 2016, and 2017. The bulk occurred in middle-class neighborhoods (Delmas 75, Delmas 83, Laboul, and Pelerin) outside the traditional expatriate residential areas. Assailants have little fear of resistance from residents and do not appear to consider whether a residence is occupied. Criminals are not reluctant to use violence; however, the vast majority will brandish a firearm/weapon, fire it randomly, tie up their victim(s), and abscond with currency or a vehicle. Criminals do not seem overly concerned with police response, as they know none will be dispatched quickly.
Other Areas of Concern
Cite Soleil remains an area of particular difficultly for Haitian National Police (HNP) forces to rein in. Other areas of concern include Belair, Carrefour, Fort National, Simon Pele, Martissant, and Grand Ravine.
For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Road conditions, particularly in Port-au-Prince, have continued to improve in 2017. There have been significant improvements to the road network in parts of the metropolitan area. However, driving conditions can still be chaotic. Many roads outside of the main cities are either topped with gravel or are poorly maintained dirt roads.
Driving requires extreme caution, particularly in the evening. Road safety remains a significant threat to the average visitor. Travel at night outside of main cities is ill-advised due to poor lighting and unpredictable road conditions that may result in an increased risk of not seeing pedestrians, broken-down vehicles, and oncoming traffic. Vehicles, including large buses and trucks, are known to travel at high rates of speed, especially on provincial roads.
In rural/mountainous areas, drivers should expect no guard rails, few traffic signs/road markings, and little/no vehicle or road lighting. Drivers should use caution when driving around bends, as it is common for vehicles coming from the other direction to pass slower vehicles or for vehicles to drive in the middle of the road. People traveling outside of Port-au-Prince should do so during daylight hours and in tandem due the security situation and road conditions.
Armed robberies are less common but do occur in the countryside.
Accidents can draw angry, potentially violent, crowds very quickly. If a mob forms, proceed directly to a safe place (police station) to resolve the situation. Remaining at the scene could be a risk to one’s safety.
U.S. citizens should take special care to ensure they do not become stranded in remote regions or enter certain areas deemed unsafe, especially in Port-au-Prince. Avoid driving at night outside the low-density, suburban areas. Rural and suburban areas are poorly illuminated and pose additional safety hazards due to pedestrians and animals crossing the roads.
In the case of vehicular robberies (smash-and-grabs) and carjacking, a group of street criminals (hidden in the grass or in ditches) often waits for vehicles to stop in traffic or at traffic lights. They rush the vehicle and attempt to open the vehicle doors. If all doors are locked and the driver fails to take immediate action, the group will attempt to break a window to access the vehicle and gain control violently. Occurrences increase at night and in heavy mid-day traffic. The road from the Port-au-Prince International Airport is particularly targeted.
For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”
Public Transportation Conditions
Avoid travelling by local or public transportation. Embassy policy prohibits the use of any public transportation for U.S. government employees. Many vehicles are poorly maintained and often lack working equipment (headlights, reliable brakes). Tap-taps (small trucks that are converted into a bus) are the primary form of public transportation for most Haitians. Tap-taps can be dangerous, as the vehicles are frequently poorly maintained, and accidents and robberies are common.
Travelers arriving at the airport should refrain from taking public transportation, safeguard their belongings, and remain alert after departing the airport.
Before using smaller airlines, one is advised to research recent history. Those that have a shoddy appearance are very likely to be remiss on safety standards.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Port-au-Prince as being a LOW-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
In 2017, the U.S. Embassy experienced a handful of demonstrations targeting the Embassy, the majority of which involved demonstrators marking the 1915-1934 presence of U.S. Marines in Haiti. These protests typically did not exceed a couple of dozen protesters.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Port-au-Prince as being a CRITICAL-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Although Haiti elected a new president in 2016, political demonstrations orchestrated by “opposition” groups continue to pose a security threat. A number of small-scale incidents of unrest and political violence occurred in 2017. This unrest was motivated by a variety of political and social movements, ranging from the Haitian political situation, minimum wage concerns, school curriculum, etc. They share a common trend in that the protestors are quick to barricade streets with burning tires and regularly stone the windows of passing vehicles.
Civil unrest, either motivated by political or socio-economic issues, occurs frequently in downtown Port-au-Prince around the National Palace, the Champ de Mars, and the State University campuses, along with sporadic incidents scattered throughout the city.
Travelers are reminded of the potential for spontaneous protests and public demonstrations. Any demonstration is capable of turning violent, and bystanders/travelers can be caught up in a clash between demonstrators and the HNP, rock throwing, tire burning, or road blocks. Travelers are advised to avoid all demonstrations and be prepared to seek alternate routes should one be encountered.
There were a number of significant politically-motivated attacks in 2017:
Violent demonstrations began on September 12 when approximately 3,000 demonstrators headed toward Petionville, the center of commerce. The demonstrators turned violent in Delmas 75, and the police deployed tear gas to disperse the crowd. The demonstrators split into several groups and attacked businesses with stones and gunfire. The demonstrators threw stones at the Canadian Embassy and burned vehicles along their path. Armed demonstrators exchanged gunfire with responding HNP units and opened fire on several businesses in the Delmas area. The angry crowd marched to downtown Port-au-Prince area and attacked several businesses, including the Marriott. The crowds were recorded chanting "Prepare your weapons, the revolution has started." The HNP were caught by surprise at the intensity of violence and were unprepared to immediately contain the violence, causing concern throughout the city. According to sources, the organizers specifically planned to leave from various areas of the city to stretch HNP resources thin. Sources believe it was to test HNP response in the absence of UN Security Forces.
Feeling like they had gained momentum, the opposition pushed forward with their agenda, joining forces with various public transportation unions, calling for general strikes and continued street marches and calling for the departure of President Jovenel Moïse. The movement failed to gain traction, however, as the various opposition parties, such as Fanmi Lavalas, objected to the fact that former Senator Moïse Jean-Charles had emerged as the leader. This in-fighting caused the numbers of protestors to drop significantly. The government negotiated concessions with a majority group of transportation unions, further taking wind out of opposition sails. While the opposition has not been able to maintain the large number of demonstrators they started with, they organized small protests through the latter half of 2017. These small but violent demonstrations disrupted normal business operations and placed pressure on President Moïse.
On April 22, an unknown gunman was found walking around the presidential offices at the National Palace. Members of the National Palace General Security Unit (USGPN) arrested the gunman who was wearing a Counter Assault Team (CAT) uniform jacket/hat and carrying a CAT-issued Galil automatic rifle. Preliminary investigation revealed that the suspect had been able to penetrate the outer perimeter of the National Palace, broke into the CAT dormitory, stole CAT materiel, crossed the palace yard, and infiltrated the presidential offices without detection.
On April 7, President Moïse’s motorcade came under attack on Rte. National #1 in the Luly area near Archaie. President Moïse was on his way to Port-au-Prince after touring agricultural projects in the Artibonite department, accompanied by the Presidents of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. The motorcade pushed through a first set of unmanned barricades and was ambushed by gunmen as they came upon a second set of barricades. The President’s Counter Assault Team (CAT) exchanged gunfire with the suspects.
On March 20, an Investigative Judge ordered former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to appear before the court to answer questions regarding a money laundering case. After several hours of questioning, Aristide was allowed to leave accompanied by a group of supporters who followed his slow moving motorcade on foot. HNP officers recognized an armed, wanted person in the crowd and moved in to make an arrest. Aristide supporters began throwing stones at the police, and some armed Aristide supporters opened fire on the officers, resulting in a shootout. At least two people were injured. The Fanmi Lavalas party claimed it was an assassination attempt on their leader, while the HNP dispute the allegations.
The island of Hispaniola lies directly in the path of Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes during hurricane season (May-November).
In September 2017, two Category 4 hurricanes came close to making landfall in Haiti.
On October 4, 2016, Haiti was struck by Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm that devastated Haiti’s southwest region. The storm destroyed more than 200,000 homes, leaving 1.4 million people in need of humanitarian aid. Monetary damage was estimated at US$2.8 billion. Nearly complete crop damage occurred in Grand'Anse and Sud departments, leaving the impoverished population without a source of food. Communication networks and the road system were also compromised. An ongoing cholera outbreak worsened after the hurricane, killing at least 29 people.
Due to severe deforestation of the mountains, even modest rains can cause flash flooding and other life threatening hazards.
Haiti is also in a seismically active region. A 7.0 earthquake struck near Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010. Much of the infrastructure of Port-au-Prince was destroyed, and it has taken years for Haiti to recover from the catastrophic damage. Services (health care, basic services) have been greatly reduced but are seemingly making small comebacks in certain sectors.
Personal Identity Concerns
Crimes against persons, including gender-based violence, remain a serious problem.
Haiti is a major transshipment point for South American narcotics en-route to the U.S.; however, the threat of narco-terrorism has not been a major issue.
The HNP reported 63 kidnappings in 2017 compared to 36 reported in 2016. Despite the significant up-tick, kidnappings of U.S. citizens remain low compared to previous years.
Most kidnappings are criminal. All who are perceived to have wealth or family with assets (in Haiti or abroad) are vulnerable. U.S. citizens who are kidnapped are usually of Haitian descent. The breakdown in reported kidnapping victims from the last few years is spread fairly evenly among men, women, and children. While most cases were resolved through the payment of ransom, some kidnappings did include physical/sexual assaults. While less frequent, depending on the motive, gang, and/or knowledge of the kidnappers by the victim, a few incidents resulted in the death of the victim. There were no confirmed reports of U.S. citizens being kidnapped in 2017.
Kidnapping of U.S. citizens should be reported to the Haitian National Police and the American Citizens Services (ACS) section of the U.S. Embassy (509.2229.8000). As the lead U.S. law enforcement agency, the Diplomatic Security Service/Regional Security Office plays an active role in all kidnappings of U.S. citizens and coordinates closely with Federal Bureau of Investigation entities. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Kidnapping: The Basics.”
The Haitian National Police (HNP) has about 15,000 officers, approximately two-thirds of whom are deployed in the greater Port-au-Prince metropolitan area (approximately three million residents). As a result, some communities do not have reliable means to report crimes, although experts tend to agree that there is much less crime in the provinces. The HNP has a limited response capability, which hinders the deterrent effect on criminals, who operate without fear of the uniformed or traffic police. Investigations are frequently limited by a lack of resources.
Haitians, particularly outside of Port-au-Prince, lack basic policing services, and many residents do not report crimes. Underreporting or inaccurate reporting of crime appears to be an issue, partly due to the de-centralized nature of the HNP commissariats and to the perception that judicial or investigative follow-up is ineffective. Progress in skill-building among the HNP has been noteworthy, and the HNP enjoys the highest level of trust among the general population when compared to other government agencies. However, investigative capacities are overtaxed and remain mostly centralized in Port-au-Prince. The judiciary system has struggled for decades to demonstrate strength and reliability.
Visitors should be respectful and comply with local police authority.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
U.S. citizens who feel they are harassed are encouraged to call American Citizen Services (ACS) at the U.S. Embassy (tel: 509.2229.8000). ACS advises that if you are arrested, request to speak with the U.S. Embassy immediately. If you cannot reach the Embassy, try to contact someone locally who can contact the Embassy on your behalf.
Crime Victim Assistance
If you are the victim of a crime, first get to a safe location and seek medical attention, if needed. You should immediately report the incident to the nearest police station. Police can be contacted at: 114. Then, notify local authorities and the U.S. Embassy (Tel. 509.2229.8000).
The HNP Information and Operations Center can be contacted at 509-3835-1111. Calling a phone number from a cell phone to a landline can be problematic.
For information about services available to victims of crime, please see the U.S. State Department website. In addition, information about sexual assault crisis hotline information, counseling services, and other services for crime victims is available online. Victims of crimes may be eligible for assistance or compensation from state crime victims assistance programs.
The lack of quality, reliable, health care is a serious concern. Medical services are far below U.S. standards and can be difficult to obtain. Emergency medical care is not always readily-available, as most hospitals do not have an emergency department staffed 24 hours/day.
Prescription pharmaceutical drugs are in short supply, and specialty care is extremely limited. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.
Available Air Ambulance Services
There is one air ambulance service in Haiti: Ayiti Air Anbilans: 509 3166-8197.
Air ambulance companies based in the U.S. that service Haiti:
National Air Ambulance (Ft.Lauderdale, FL) 1.800.327.3710
Air Ambulance Networks 1.800.327.1966
Air Ambulance Professionals 1.800.752.4195
Health care providers do not accept U.S. medical insurance. Medical professionals require a cash payment up front and will provide a receipt that can be provided to a U.S. insurance company.
Medical evacuation is required for most major medical care. It is strongly advised that those visiting Port-au-Prince obtain medical evacuation insurance. The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses (medical evacuation). U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the U.S. unless supplemental coverage is purchased. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the U.S. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas, including emergency services. Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided on the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs home page.
For international treatment and medical insurance, AEA International: 206.340.6000.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Haiti.
OSAC Country Council Information
The Country Council in Port-au-Prince Country Council is active, meeting every other month. 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
Route de Tabarre, Port-au-Prince
Hours of Operation: Mon-Fri, 0700-1530
Embassy Contact Numbers
Afterhours Emergencies: 011-509-2229-8122
U.S. citizen visitors are highly encouraged to register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
Haiti Country Information Sheet