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Bahamas 2019 Crime & Safety Report

Western Hemisphere > Bahamas; Western Hemisphere > Bahamas > Nassau

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses The Bahamas at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to crime.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

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

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.

Crime Threats

There is serious risk from crime in Nassau, and considerable risk in Freeport. Crime represents the country’s primary security threat. Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) statistics for 2018 highlight an overall drop in crime from 2017. According to RBPF statistics, the number of murders decreased by 25% compared to 2017. The number of robberies and attempted robberies decreased; however, the number of rapes increased slightly. The majority of murders occurred in the southern portion of New Providence (the island home to Nassau and Paradise Island). June was the deadliest month, followed by January and December. In Grand Bahama, the number of murders decreased by 45%, but overall crime remained constant, with drug trafficking as the major concern.

Despite the publicized numbers, incidents involving U.S. citizens (mostly rape, sexual assault, and robbery/theft) increased by 32%. Armed robbery, property crime, purse snatching, theft, fraud, and sexual assault remain the most common crimes perpetrated against tourists.

The RBPF increased assertive policing methods, which included high-visibility checkpoints, focused raids, and a robust presence in tourist areas. Most reported violence perpetrated against Bahamians occurred in areas of saturated criminality tourists do not typically visit. However, New Providence has witnessed crime in locations tourists frequent. Gangs are involved in targeted violence.

There were eleven police-involved shootings resulting in death in 2018; an additional nine police shootings resulted in non-life threatening injuries.

Many criminals carry weapons. The vast majority of murders involved firearms, including fully automatic rifles and pistols illegally modified to shoot in full automatic mode. Unless provoked, criminals committing property crimes typically did not engage in gratuitous violence. However, there were reports of armed robbery during which 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, be observant, clearly display your hands, and do not make any sudden moves that criminals could interpret as resistance.

To help replace lost or stolen documents, make a copy of your driver’s license/passport photo page and keep the originals in a separate, secure location.

Instead of carrying large amounts of cash, use a debit/credit card for payments when possible. Avoid using ATMs in isolated areas. ATM skimmers are active throughout Nassau. According to the RBPF, criminals commonly use two types of skimmers – a fake overlay device or a deep insert skimming device – along with a hidden camera to capture pin numbers. Skimmers create duplicate cards with stolen information, and then withdraw money from the victim’s account. If you observe a skimming device on an ATM, take a picture of it (if it is safe to do so) and contact police immediately. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Opportunistic crimes (e.g. petty thefts, vehicle theft) and the fraudulent use of bank/credit card accounts occur. There have been numerous reports of credit/debit card compromise and unauthorized charges from other countries. This trend continued into 2018, with numerous reports of credit and ATM card fraud.

Residential security remains a major concern. Crime ranging from theft of personal property to burglary occurs, even in gated communities where vacation or temporary rentals are common. Do not leave belongings unsecured outside your residence. Vehicles, bicycles, generators, and other property will attract criminals. If you cannot store items inside, visibly secure them with a chain and lock as a deterrent.

It is difficult to assess residential crime numbers accurately, in part because some property owners compensate tenant victims personally without reporting incidents to the 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, security lighting, 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 residence even when inside. Have an escape plan for you and your family, and know how to get out of the house or 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. 

Home invasion, theft, and robbery happens throughout the island. Innocent bystanders can be at risk from criminal activity. The U.S. Embassy receives reports of assaults, including sexual assaults, at residences, in casinos, on hotel property, and aboard cruise ships.

There have been armed robberies at super markets, convenience stores, restaurants, banks, and residences. Perpetrators typically conduct pre-attack surveillance. There were several reports of victims followed after closing a business in an attempt to steal the nightly deposit.

The Bahamian government loosely regulates the water sports rental industry. U.S. citizens have reported sexual assaults by jet-ski operators for a number of years. According to the criminal complaints, the majority of these sexual assaults occurred on relatively “safe” beaches on Paradise Island and along Cable Beach, which tourists frequent heavily. The Embassy has prohibited all personnel from using jet-skis operated by local nationals in New Providence since 2015.

While some criminal activity occurs in the outlying Family Islands, it does so to a lesser degree than on New Providence and Grand Bahama Islands.

Other Areas of Concern

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

Exercise caution in the Fish Fry at Arawak Cay in Nassau, and in areas of Nassau referred to as “Over the Hill,” especially after sunset. “Over the Hill” is generally south of the downtown Nassau area, from the entirety of Shirley Street as far south as Robinson Road. This area does not have distinct boundaries, but encompasses many lower-income areas on New Providence. Although the Bahamian government initiated a high-visibility effort to improve the area in 2018, it is too early to assess the effectiveness of their efforts.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Traffic fatalities are a major concern, with a 29% overall increase in traffic-related deaths from 2017. Traffic moves on the left side of the road. Cars have struck tourists who failed to check properly for oncoming traffic; vehicles have struck runners and cyclists. Traffic circles are common, and traffic in the circles has the right of way. Traffic congestion in Nassau is prevalent. 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 have increased enforcement of traffic laws, but it is less than U.S. standards. Visitors, particularly pedestrians, cyclists, and runners, should exercise extreme caution. While it is against the law, drinking and driving is common; police infrequently enforce the ban, resulting in numerous traffic accidents and fatalities, including some involving tourists on foot or on motor scooters.

Traffic accidents pose a safety hazard in some parts of The Bahamas, primarily due to intolerant drivers speeding and driving recklessly. On many islands, the roads are two-way, poorly illuminated, 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 oncoming traffic. Motorcyclists frequently swerve through slow traffic and drive between lanes of moving vehicles. Poorly maintained or excessively loaded vehicles also use the roadways. Passengers regularly ride in the back of trucks without any safety restraints; and although required by law, motorcyclists often do not wear helmets. Roads on the outer Family Islands can be narrow, winding, and in poor condition. For more information on self-driving, 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, do not move vehicles 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 involved driver with an initial court hearing scheduled within a week of the accident to determine 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.

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. The Embassy continues to see a significant number of serious injuries from accidents in which the operator suffered from alcohol/drug impairment, lack of experience, or inattention operator and/or other motorists.

Public Transportation Conditions

Do 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 colluding with criminals to drive tourists to known high-crime areas where the criminals target them.

Other Travel Conditions

Persons who operate their own watercraft or boats should be alert to the possibility of encountering vessels operated by armed smugglers engaged in illicit activities.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is minimal risk from terrorism in Nassau and Freeport. A reasonable threat of transnational terrorism exists 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

Civil Unrest

There is minimal risk from civil unrest in Nassau and Freeport. The Bahamas is a stable democracy that shares democratic principles with the United States, including personal freedoms and the rule of law. Peaceful public protests and demonstrations occurred in the run-up to the national election in 2017. Limited law enforcement resources make rapid response to public disorder difficult, particularly on islands other than New Providence. Strikes are generally limited to industrial actions or work-to-rule actions and slowdowns. Airports have experienced instances of Go Slow non-protest actions, resulting in considerable flight delays. Avoid demonstrations.  

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Hurricanes and tropical storms frequently hit The Bahamas; the official hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30. Consider devoting resources and time to emergency planning for the possibility of inclement weather, particularly during hurricane season. Pay close attention to the weather forecast during hurricane season.

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, and bringing such products into the United States may result in forfeitures/fines. Organized, systematic criminal activity centers on the illegal importation and smuggling of illicit drugs, weapons, and people. Due to the thousands of uninhabited islands and cays, smugglers have favored The Bahamas as a transshipment route for centuries. Counterfeit U.S. currency is prolific in The Bahamas. There is no need to exchange money prior to travel to The Bahamas; the country pegs its currency to the U.S. dollar, and merchants widely accept U.S. dollars.

Personal Identity Concerns

The Embassy has not received reports of persecution or hate crimes motivated by race, religion, or citizenship in 2018. Same-sex sexual activity is legal, although the age of consent is higher for homosexual activity than it is for heterosexual activity (18 versus 16). There is no legal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There have been reports of harassment and crime against 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. organizations should be attentive to avoid conducting business with questionable persons or enterprises. There are numerous arrest reports involving tourists traveling in possession of or using drugs in The Bahamas. Arrested individuals can expect to serve prison time and/or pay a substantial fine.

Police Response

In general, the RBPF responds to reports of crime and takes crimes against tourists seriously. The current police command structure is proactive about deterring crime; however, a lack of resources or physical constraints, such as geography, infrastructure, and traffic, can hinder police response. Unmarked streets and houses can impede first responders from locating affected residences or victims quickly. To ensure a faster response, victims may need to go to the local police station. Reporting crime can be a cumbersome and time-consuming process.

It is lawful for the RBPF to use law enforcement techniques illegal in the United States, such as the undercover sale of narcotics.

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, fines, and/or imprisonment.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

If police detain or arrest you, cooperate. U.S. citizens should identify themselves and request to make contact with the U.S. Embassy immediately.

Police harassment of U.S. citizens is rare. Attempting to bribe an RBPF officer is a serious offense; strictly avoid doing so. Do not attempt to tip police officers for their services.

Crime Victim Assistance

Report crime to the RBPF as soon as possible. Prompt reports to the police increase the prospect they can identify and arrest the perpetrators. The police respond rapidly to crime reports from hotels and establishments foreigners frequent.

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 calls to 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 wear bright white dress coats and blue trousers. Officers also wear a more subdued navy blue uniform with a black beret. Officers regularly walk foot patrols or ride bicycles in areas tourists frequent. In some cases, they may carry automatic weapons.

Medical Emergencies

Medical facilities are limited, and not equipped to handle many emergencies, particularly those requiring surgery. Adequate medical care is available on New Providence and Grand Bahama Islands, but more limited on the Family Islands. Some private clinics offer basic primary care.

There is a chronic shortage of blood at Princess Margaret Hospital, the country’s largest public hospital. 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 on New Providence and Grand Bahama islands, 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)

International SOS: 215-942-8226, 800-523-5686, or 215-245-4707

Insurance Guidance

Serious health problems requiring hospitalization/medical evacuation to the United States 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 it covers emergency expenses. For serious cases, treatment in even the best hospitals would probably require medical evacuation (medevac) after stabilization. Consider purchasing medevac insurance prior to travel.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

HIV/AIDS is a significant health concern.

Dengue virus is present in all tropical and many subtropical areas worldwide. 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

Please contact the Regional Security Office or OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team for OSAC-related information.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

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

Embassy Operator (242) 322-1181

Marine Post One (242) 322-1181 ext. 4311

Website: http://bs.usembassy.gov

Embassy Guidance

The Department of State encourages all U.S. citizens 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