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Safety Travel Safety: Americas: Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic: Dominican Republic
Capital: Santo Domingo
Population: 8,721,594
Currency: Dominican peso (DOP)
Languages: Spanish
Religions: Roman Catholic 95%
Borders: Haiti 360 km

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION ^
The Dominican covers the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola. The capital city is Santo Domingo, located on the south coast of the island. Since 2002, the nation's economy has shown a steady downward trend. Tourist facilities vary according to price and location. English is widely spoken in major cities and tourist areas, but outside these areas it is often difficult to find English speakers.

HIV/AIDS ^
The Dominican Republic has no HIV testing requirement for tourists or other temporary visitors. U.S. citizens planning to seek residency in the Dominican Republic are required to have an HIV test administered by Dominican immigration medical personnel upon arrival in the country. U.S. tests are not accepted.

TRAVEL OF CHILDREN ^
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, the Dominican Republic requires that minors under 13 years of age traveling alone, or with anyone other than a parent, present written authorization from a parent or legal guardian. This authorization must be in Spanish, and it must be notarized at a Dominican consulate in the United States. In addition, Dominican immigration authorities have recently begun restricting the ability of children to depart the country with only a birth certificate, especially when those children are American citizens of Dominican heritage. Because of this policy, the Embassy strongly urges that children obtain a passport in the United States before traveling to the Dominican Republic.

For further information concerning entry and exit requirements, travelers may contact the Embassy of the Dominican Republic at 1715 22nd St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, tel. (202) 332-6280. There are also Dominican consulates in, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Chicago, and San Juan. Travelers may obtain further information via the Internet at http://www.domrep.org.

SAFETY AND SECURITY ^
American citizens should be aware that foreign tourists are often seen as targets, and should maintain a low profile to avoid becoming victims of violence or crime. In dealing with local police, U.S. citizens should be aware that the standard of professionalism might vary. Police attempts to solicit bribes have been reported, as have incidents of police using excessive force.

Protests, demonstrations and general strikes occur periodically. Presidential elections will be held in May of 2004 and increase the possibility of politically motivated demonstrations. These disturbances have the potential to turn violent. Previous political demonstrations turned violent, with participants rioting and erecting roadblocks. In the past, police have used deadly force in response to violent protests. Political demonstrations generally occur in towns and cities, not in areas frequented by tourists, and are generally not targeted at foreigners. However, it is advisable to exercise caution when traveling throughout the country. Street crowds should be avoided. In urban areas, travel should be conducted on main routes whenever possible. Power outages occur frequently throughout the Dominican Republic. Travelers should remain alert during blackout periods, as crime rates often increase during these outages.

U.S. citizens considering overland travel between the Dominican Republic and Haiti should first consult the Consular Information Sheet for Haiti as well as the Internet site of the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince for information about travel conditions to and in Haiti. Santo Domingo and the majority of tourist destinations are located several hours from the Haitian border, and recent events in Haiti have not directly affected these areas.

CRIME ^
Crime is on the increase throughout the Dominican Republic. Street crime involving U.S. tourists does occur, and precautions should be taken to avoid becoming a target. While pick pocketing and mugging are the most common crimes against tourists, reports of violent crime against both foreigners and locals are growing. Criminals are becoming increasingly more dangerous and visitors walking the streets should always be aware of their surroundings. Valuables left unattended in parked automobiles, on beaches and in other public places are vulnerable to theft, and reports of care theft have increased. Cellular telephones should be carried in a pocket rather than on a belt or in a purse. One increasingly common method of street robbery is for a person or persons on a moped (often coasting with the engine turned off so as not to draw attention) to approach a pedestrian, grab the cell phone, purse or backpack, and then speed away.

Passengers in private taxis (known locally as �carros publicos�) are frequently the victims of pick pocketing and passengers have on occasion been robbed by the carros publicos drivers. Visitors to the Dominican Republic are strongly advised to take only hotel taxis or taxis operated by services whose cabs are arranged in advance by phone and can subsequently be identified and tracked.

Burglaries of private residences have increased, as have crimes of violence. Home invasions have become more frequent and increasingly violent. The U.S. Embassy is aware of at least two home invasion robberies since August 2003 in which the victims were U.S. citizens. In each case, the Americans were robbed and held hostage for several hours.

Credit card fraud is common. Visitors should limit their use of personal credit cards and may wish to consider coordinating their trip with their credit card company so that specified expenses such as hotel bills, may be charged. In order to prevent the card's information from being copied down for illegal use, credit cards should never leave the sight of the cardholder. It is advisable to pay close attention to credit card bills following time spent in the Dominican Republic.

Automated Teller Machines (ATM's) are present throughout Santo Domingo and other major cities. However, as with credit cards, the use of ATM's should be minimized as a means of avoiding theft or misuse. One local scheme involves sticking photographic film or pieces of paper in the card feeder of the ATM so that an inserted card becomes jammed. Once the card owner has concluded the card is irretrievable, the thieves extract both the jamming material and the card, which they then use.

The overall level of crime tends to rise during the Christmas season, and visitors to the Dominican Republic should take extra precautions when visiting the country between November and January.

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 Dominican laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the Dominican Republic are strict, and convicted offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences and heavy fines. For additional information, see also the U.S. Embassy's specific flyers on Criminal Procedures in the Dominican Republic and Drug Offenses in the Dominican Republic, available on the Embassy's Website.

MEDICAL FACILITIES ^
Medical care is limited, especially outside Santo Domingo, and the quality of care varies widely among facilities. There is an emergency 911 service within Santo Domingo, but its reliability is questionable. Outside the capital emergency services range from extremely limited to nonexistent. Blood supplies at both public and private hospitals are often limited and not all facilities have blood on hand even for emergencies. Many medical facilities throughout the country do not have staff members who speak or understand English. A private nationwide ambulance service, "Movi-med," operates in Santo Domingo, Santiago, Puerto Plata and La Romana; its telephone number is 532-0000 in Santo Domingo and 1-200-0911 outside Santo Domingo. �Movi-med� expects full payment at the time of transport.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS ^
The Dominican Republic is a hurricane-prone country. In the event of a hurricane alert, a notice will be posted on the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo 's web page, cited below. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency 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 United States. The information below concerning the Dominican Republic is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

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

Driving in the Dominican Republic is on the right side of the road. Speed limits vary from 28 mph in the city to 48 mph on rural roads, but they are generally not enforced. Traffic laws are similar to those in the United States, but undisciplined driving is common, due to a lack of adequate traffic controls.

Defensive driving is advised at all times. Drivers can be aggressive and erratic, and often fail to yield the right of way even when road signs or signals indicate they should. (A local traffic custom is that the larger the vehicle, the greater the right of way, regardless of the traffic laws.) Travel at night on inter-city highways and in rural areas should be avoided, due to vehicles' being driven at excessive speeds, often with malfunctioning headlights or taillights. Blackouts also increase the danger of night travel. Turning right on red lights is permitted, but it should be done with caution.

Pedestrians tend to step out into traffic without regard to corners, crosswalks or traffic signals. Many pedestrians die every year crossing the street (including major, multi-lane highways) at seemingly random locations. Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way, and walking along or crossing busy streets � even at intersections with traffic lights or traffic police present � can be very dangerous.

Seat belts are required by law, and those caught not wearing them will be fined. There are no child car seat laws. The law also requires that all cell phone use be done through a hands free set while driving. Police do stop drivers using cell phones without the benefit of these devices. Penalties for those driving under the influence and those involved in accidents resulting in injury or death can be severe. Motorcycles and motor scooters are ubiquitous in the Dominican Republic, and they are often driven erratically. Dominican law requires that motorcyclists wear helmets, but local authorities rarely enforce this law.

There are a variety of options for inter-city travel in addition to travel by car. The more reputable tourist bus companies generally offer the safest means of inter-city travel. Local buses known as "guaguas" and taxis also offer transportation but are not generally as safe.

For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, please see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html. For more specific information concerning Dominican driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the Dominican Republic National Tourist Organization offices in New York via e-mail at dr.info@ix.netcom.com, or via telephone at 1-888-DR-INFO-1.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT ^
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the Dominican Republic 's civil aviation authority as Category 2 - not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for the oversight of the Dominican Republic 's air carrier operations. While consultations to correct the deficiencies are ongoing, the Dominican Republic air carriers currently flying to the United States will be subject to heightened FAA surveillance. No additional flights or new service to the United States by the Dominican Republic 's air carriers will be permitted unless they arrange to have the flights conducted by an air carrier from a country meeting international safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the United States at tel. 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.cfm.

The Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. In addition, the DOD does not permit its personnel to use air carriers from Category 2 countries for official business except for flights originating from or terminating in the United States. Local exceptions may apply. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at telephone (618) 229-4801.

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Please also refer to the separate Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

April 28, 2004

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