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Worldworx Travel> Safety> Americas> Bahamas

Safety Travel Safety: Americas: Bahamas

Bahamas: Commonwealth of The Bahamas
Capital: Nassau
Population: 300,529
Currency: Bahamian dollar (BSD)
Languages: English, Creole (among Haitian immigrants)
Religions: Baptist 32%, Anglican 20%, Roman Catholic 19%, Methodist 6%, Church of God 6%, other Protestant 12%, none or unknown 3%, other 2%
Borders: 0 km

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION ^
The Bahamas is an English-speaking Caribbean nation composed of hundreds of islands covering a territory approximately the size of California. Tourism and financial services comprise the two largest sectors of the economy. The capital, Nassau, is located on New Providence Island.

SECURITY AND SAFETY ^
The water sports industry in The Bahamas is not carefully regulated. Visitors should rent equipment only from reputable operators, and should insist on sufficient training before using the equipment. Every year, people are killed or injured by the improper use of jet-skis and other personal watercraft or by the careless or reckless operation of such equipment by others. Jet-skis and other watercraft should be rented only from operators having sufficient medical and liability insurance.

CRIME ^
Crime is increasing, and visitors should exercise caution and good judgment when visiting The Bahamas. While most criminal incidents take place in a part of Nassau not usually frequented by tourists (the "over-the-hill" area south of downtown), crime and violence has moved into more upscale tourist and residential areas.

In the last year the U.S. Embassy has received several reports of sexual assaults, including against teen-age girls. Most assaults have been perpetrated against intoxicated young women, some of whom were reportedly drugged. To minimize the potential for sexual assault, the Embassy recommends that young women stay in groups, consume alcohol in moderation, and not accept rides or drinks from strangers.

Travelers should avoid walking alone after dark or in isolated areas, and avoid placing themselves in situations where they are alone with strangers. Be cautious on deserted areas of beaches at all hours. Hotel guests should always lock their doors and should never leave valuables unattended, especially on beaches. Visitors should store passport/identity documents, airline tickets, credit cards, and extra cash in hotel safes. Avoid wearing expensive jewelry, particularly Rolex watches, which criminals have specifically targeted. Use only clearly marked taxis and make a note of the license plate number for your records.

The legal age in the Bahamas for consumption of alcoholic beverages is 18. Parents should be aware, however, that enforcement of the drinking age is weak. It is easy for teenagers to obtain alcoholic beverages and underage drinking is prevalent. Many of the arrests, accidents and violent crimes suffered by U.S. citizens in The Bahamas involve alcohol.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES ^
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Bahamian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Police enforcement is aggressive in tourist areas, and drug dealers are known to frequent areas where tourists congregate. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in The Bahamas are strict, and convicted offenders can expect severe jail sentences and heavy fines.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

MEDICAL FACILITIES ^
High quality medical care is generally available, but expensive, in Nassau and Freeport. Medical care is limited outside of Nassau and Freeport. Bahamian doctors and hospitals do not usually accept U.S. medical insurance policies and typically expect immediate cash payment for professional services. It is the patient's responsibility to seek reimbursement later from their insurance companies. Serious health problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars. Persons with serious or life-threatening conditions who wish to return to U.S. medical facilities for treatment normally must be airlifted.

There is a chronic shortage of blood at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau, 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.

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

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS ^
The Bahamas, like all countries in the Caribbean basin, is vulnerable to hurricanes. Hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to November 30, although hurricanes have been known to occur outside that time period. Visitors to The Bahamas during hurricane season are advised to monitor weather reports in order to be prepared for any potential threats. General information about disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS ^
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the U.S. The information below concerning The Bahamas is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Fair

Traffic in The Bahamas moves on the left side of the roadway. Roads in Nassau and Freeport are generally adequate, but traffic congestion in those cities is endemic. Rural roads can be narrow, winding, and in poor repair. Flooding frequently occurs on roads in low-lying areas throughout the Bahamas, including Nassau and Freeport. Drivers should be alert for unmarked construction zones throughout the Bahamas.

Travel by moped or bicycle can be quite hazardous, especially in the heavy traffic conditions prevalent in Nassau and Freeport. Travelers should exercise appropriate caution when renting motorbikes. Accidents involving U.S. tourists on motorbikes have caused severe injuries and fatalities. Those who choose to ride a moped or bicycle should wear helmets and drive defensively.

Pedestrians need to remember that vehicular traffic comes from the right. Pedestrians have been hit by cars after failing to check properly for oncoming traffic.

For specific information concerning driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance in The Bahamas, please contact The Bahamas Tourist Board in New York at telephone (212) 758-2777 or Dallas at telephone (214-560-2280) or the official website.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT ^
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of The Bahamas civil aviation authority as Category 1 - in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of The Bahamas air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.cfm.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

BOATING/FISHING ^
Boaters should be aware that long-line fishing in Bahamian waters is illegal. All long-line fishing gear is required to be stowed below deck while transiting through Bahamian waters. Fishermen should note that stiff penalties are imposed for catching crawfish (lobster) or other marine life out of season or in protected areas.

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Please also refer to the separate Travel Warning for Bahamas and to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

August 11, 2004

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