Avoiding theft in the Dominican Republic

Whether at a resort or strolling the streets, you‘ll only make yourself more of a target for theft by donning flashy clothing and showing off valuables like jewellery or cameras on the island.

Smugglers target luggage tags, removing them to place them on their own bags, which contain drugs.

There's also been an alarming increase in 2012 of armed robbery of tourists leaving the Las Americas international airport. Criminals impersonating police force taxis or private vehicles to stop and rob travellers at gunpoint. The situation is particularly bad at night and you should try to arrange to arrive in the Dominican Republic in daylight hours.

It's also common for thieves on motorcycles swoop in at a red light and reach into vehicles to lift whatever they can. Either suffer through the stifling heat with the windows rolled up, or put a stronghold on your purse or bag.

Also, avoid unmarked taxis, which may try to scam riders.

Overall, this country ranks very low in areas of personal security for actual residents, so the commonality of theft if understandably high. Almost a fifth of the population reported being a victim of theft over a yearlong period, according to the 2009 Legatum Prosperity Index.

One in 10 people had been assaulted over the same period. It is possible for robberies to turn more violent: in 2007, a Canadian traveler was attacked with a machete, resulting in a cut-off finger. The man had recently won the lottery.

Don‘t be lulled into a false sense of safety if you‘re staying in an all-inclusive resort. Recent travellers who‘ve stayed in accommodation of this type have reported having their rooms broke into, including the normally iron-clad safes.

Others have been sexually assaulted at their resorts or on the beaches near them, sometimes after receiving a reportedly spiked drink. Cases involving criminals who misrepresent themselves to enter rooms also occur. In rare instances, these interactions can lead to assault or murder; two men killed a U.S. tourist in 2005 after posing as repairmen to get into his apartment. In a more recent case, a maintenance man in a building participated in a crime.

It‘s probably smart to trust what many travellers say about sticking to your resort and avoiding many areas outside, especially at night, but still take precautions and be extremely leery of anyone who tries to enter your room. Becoming a crime victim is also possible on the beaches, but guards patrol many of the ones at the resorts, travellers say.

Another resort danger involves “sankies.“ The term describes local men who try to wine and dine female travellers so they can eventually extort money from them or get access into their countries. These rogue romantics often work at the resorts, but they can pop up anywhere.

Whether at a resort or strolling the streets, you‘ll only make yourself more of a target for theft by donning flashy clothing and showing off valuables like jewellery or cameras on the island.

Avoid isolated tourist areas and walking around at night. One traveler to Santo Domingo said the area of Independencia and el Malecon west of Parque Independencia in the city centre is shadier. The area around the casinos is also more likely to include hustlers and prostitution and put tourists at risk for pickpocketing or robbery.

Like in some European countries, more and more thieves are striking while cruising by with the engine off on a moped, often snatching a purse and possibly knocking over the victim. Tourists also increasingly report theft from cars.

Other types of theft include credit card and ATM fraud. In fact, the U.S. Department of State goes so far as to warn travellers against using credit cards at all; some have reported fraudulent charges appearing on their statements months after their trip to the D.R. Another danger is “progressive keno,“ in which players can lose large amounts of money quickly.

The latter is a big con in the DR, so move onto another game if frequenting the casinos.

Some tourists say the rules are confusing, which leads to some of the money-wasting. Other names this game goes by include “Super Keno,“ “Caribbean Keno“ or “Progressive Roulette.“ A traveler to Provincia de Puerto also reported that bars outside the resort areas will run up your tab past what it should be or overcharge for drinks.

There are also beggars in the street, including children. A Santo Domingo resident advised tourists against giving money to anyone, even if they truly look needy or appear to be crippled, as locals simply ignore their pleas.

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5 Comments

  • Rosa Martínez said

    I'm dominican, and I can confirm that this advice is really good. If you want to be safe the first thing you have to do is NOT look like a tourist. Use clothes that locals use , DON'T use your cellphone or camera in the street or public transportation, DON'T wear expensive (or expensive looking) jewelry. Since the Dominican Republic population is mostly people of color, if you are white and blond you are in more danger, beacuse thugs will assume you are a tourist. That is if you are in the streets. If you are in a beach you can get robbed, but it's most likely that commerciants will sell you stuff three times the price, specially if you look like a tourist.
    About the beggars: many of them are fakers, and most are in conditions to have a job. Be careful if you want to give them money, specially, again, if you look like a tourist.
    About the police: even locals are careful around them. If you are driving at night and they stop you, DON'T pull over until you see a light. You never know if a police officer is corrupt, or if is actually a thief disguised (this has happened more than once).
    If someone assaults you: DON'T fight back, no matter what. NEVER try to identify them (they can kill you if you see their faces). Keep your head down and give them what they want. Your life is more valuable than your grandmother's ring or you Iphone 7. Then you can report the rob. Sometimes police solve these cases, and you may get your stuff back (but don't expect anything).
    LGBTQ+ : No one will shoot you for being LGBTQ+, but if you act the way people expect LGBTQ+ people to act, expect dirty looks. Maybe someone will insult you. Please don't think all dominicans are like that. If you are in a homosexual relationship and you come with your couple, the wisest thing you could do is don't act like you are a couple. Homosexual marriage has a lot of debate here and maybe someone could try to hurt you.
    Women travelling alone: NEVER walk at night unless is a crowd place. If a man is hitting on you and you don't want anything with him, pretent to have a boyfriend or husband, or that you can't talk to him beacuse you are expecting someone. If you feel nervous, don't be afraid to be rude. They will recover. But dominican men (not all, but many) are really straightfoward. Sometimes they are trying to compliment you, and aren't actually hitting on you. Trust your insticts.

    Please be safe!! This country is really beautiful. Don't let the dangers stop you from enjoying.
    You can always find someone who will help you without expecting anything. There are bad people here, but most people are nice.

  • Stephanie M White said

    Thank you for the advice. My girlfriend's and I are traveling to DR and was considering forfeiting our expenses and not going. Knowing this information helps us stay safe and enjoy ourselves at the same time.

  • Amanda Janik said

    This is so helpful, especially Rosa’s comment above. We are coming to Punta Cana for a wedding later this year and we usually like to explore away from resorts when staying in one, as we like to see more of an area especially when visiting someplace new, but this time we might just stay put.

    I appreciate the info!

  • makhosi said

    it is with heavy heart that I agree. I am in a two-year relationship now with a Dominican man, and every Dominican male I meet has tried in some way to screw my boyfriend to take me for my money. This includes his friends, neighbours, coworkers and two male family members (one of whom robbed me in my first half hour in the country last year of every cent I had traveled with, then faked a broken leg to extort more from me). I have gone so far as to say Dominicans are evil and I am getting my boyfriend out of there as fast as I can because the island is nothing but thieves and con artists... and there is a certain truth in this. However, I agree that the silent majority are likely good people. But the men want your money and are out to screw each other if money is involved. Please be so careful with anything involving this island. It is a profoundly dangerous society for both insiders and outsiders. Thank you.

  • makhosi said

    ps I forgot to add this but I am Canadian, and where I come from we have never heard anything like the debauchery and deliberate human foulness that I have seen in the DR. My undergraduate minor was in International Development and I studied indigeneous medicine for five years in South Africa-- I am exposed to the concept that there are underdeveloped areas of the world. But what I am indicating takes place in the DR is not about poverty. It is a society with serious problems.

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