How to Avoid Crime and Scams in the Dominican Republic

Petty crime is common in the Dominican Republic, and it may start as soon as you land at the airport. Find out how to beat the crims at their own game with these tips to avoid theft.

Cayo Levantado in the Dominican Republic Photo © Getty Images/Laila Stern / EyeEm

Overall, the Dominican Republic is a friendly and welcoming country. However, it has a high crime rate ranging from petty bag snatching to more violent crimes such as armed robberies, sexual assault and even murder. But there are things you can look out for and precautions to take to make sure your holiday is a memorable one – for good reasons.

Rule number one: whether you're at a resort or strolling the streets, you‘ll only make yourself more of a target for theft by wearing flashy clothing and showing off valuables like jewelry or cameras on the island. 

Transport crime

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

Always keep a close eye on your baggage and avoid displaying valuables like cameras and laptops which can entice potential thieves for a quick snatch and grab.

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, as the drivers may try to scam riders.

Resort crimes

Don‘t be lulled into a false sense of safety if you‘re staying in an all-inclusive resort. Travelers 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 travelers 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, travelers say.

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.

Tour scams

There are plenty of tour operators in the Dominican Republic trying to sell you a great deal on packages and day tours. Scams are unfortunately rife, so as tempting as those cheap deals may be, resist the urge to depart with the dollars. Some tour operators aren't insured let alone registered, which can create massive problems should you get injured.

Others will ask for an initial deposit and give you a fake phone number and address. When it comes to contacting them close to the tour day, that number they gave you.. it doesn't work. That address? The office doesn't exist. Dodgy Brothers Tours has made off with your money and you have no tour.

Another way tour companies make their tours irresistably cheap is by cutting corners such as a boat tour or snorkeling without life jackets, which places your safety at risk. Don't risk the biscuit, book your tours before you leave home with reputable companies.

Safety for women traveling alone

While most locals tend to be friendly and helpful, female travelers whether solo or not, will get harassed by the local men trying to get their attention. To stave off the stares and calls, dress in conservative clothing and ignore their nuisance comments.

A danger around beach resorts involves sankies. The term describes young local men who try to wine and dine female travelers 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 jewelry or cameras on the island.

Avoid isolated tourist areas and walking around at night. In the resort town of Punta Cana, sexual assaults are common 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, which puts 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.

Credit card fraud and other money scams

Other types of theft include credit card and ATM fraud. In fact, the U.S. Department of State goes so far as to warn travelers against using credit cards at all; some have reported fraudulent charges appearing on their statements months after their trip. Always keep your card in sight when using it.

Avoid using ATM's at night and only use ATM's inside banks and shopping malls. Same applies with exchanging money, Exchange at your hotel or at a reputable money changer in a shopping mall or bank.

Another danger is “progressive keno,“ in which players can lose large amounts of money quickly.

The latter is a big con, 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.

Drugs in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republican is very strict on drug offences, and penalties can range from large fines to long jail sentences. It doesn‘t matter how much or what you‘re packing -- the authorities impose severe penalties regardless. Don‘t think the jail will be like your resort.

Prisons are tough and poorly-maintained. The country is either getting stricter or those carrying drugs are getting more careless, as the rate of arrests of foreign travelers for drug offences has risen dramatically.

Officials from the Dominican Drug Enforcement Agency often have their sniffer dogs at the airport to catch foreigners carrying drugs right as they step off the plane. Smugglers target luggage tags, removing them to place them on their own bags, which contain drugs.

Even if you‘re clean as a whistle, some shady strangers may try to plant drugs on you. In what‘s called the “dishonest cop scam,“ a chipper local will come up and shake your hand, then place a bag of cocaine or other illicit drug in your palm. A police officer then steps in and “arrests“ you, but says you can get off by paying a fine.

Even if you don‘t participate in it, drug activity is something you might see being conducted by dealers or gang members. Gangs do exist in the D.R., most notably in the Capotillo, Guaricano and La Cienega areas of Santo Domingo. Members can sometimes be seen hanging out at the mall in that city.

Any violence they commit will usually involve rival members, but occasionally, their initiation process includes harming a random stranger. Gangs, and other local residents, may carry weapons, and sometimes they are visible. There are drug cartels in the Dominican Republic, but they are mostly a stopping off point for getting drugs to Europe or the States.

Emergency numbers in the Dominican Republic

Should you find yourself in a spot of bother, here's the numbers to call:

  • Police - 911
  • Tourist Police - 809 222 2026/809 685 0508
  • Fire - 911
  • Ambulance - 911

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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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