How to stay safe during trips to Jamaica and Bahamas after State Department travel advisories

A boat sails near Grand Bahama, Bahamas.
A boat sails near Grand Bahama, Bahamas. (Roberto Machado Noa/Getty Images)

The Caribbean has long been a desirable destination for Americans looking for a change of scenery. But the State Department recently warned U.S. citizens who plan on traveling to Jamaica and the Bahamas to exercise caution because of recent crime surges in those locations.

For those who just can’t shake the travel bug, here’s the latest on what’s happening and how to stay safe.

What's happening in Jamaica?

The State Department on Jan. 23 issued an updated travel advisory for Jamaica, positioning its concern at Level 3, indicating that Americans should “reconsider travel.”

“Violent crimes, such as home invasions, armed robberies, sexual assaults, and homicides, are common. Sexual assaults occur frequently, including at all-inclusive resorts,” the advisory states.

U.S. officials warned that local authorities "do not respond effectively to serious criminal incidents" and said cases "are infrequently prosecuted to a conclusive sentence."

Jamaica's national police force reported 65 murders in January — down from 81 during the same time last year. Sexual assault has also decreased by 44% over the same period in 2023. But the rates of shootings and people injured have increased since this time in 2023.

Jamaica’s tourism ministry has pushed back at the State Department’s advisory, saying sometimes these alerts can do more harm than good for their country.

“Not withstanding the advisory, Jamaica remains not only a desirable destination but a safe and secure destination for international visitors,” Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett told the Miami Herald.

According to the Herald, the Jamaica Tourist Board said the crime rate against tourists is at 0.01%, and that over 40% of its visitors have been there before.

What’s happening in the Bahamas?

Meanwhile, the Bahamas is under a Level 2 advisory, which means travelers should “exercise increased caution,” especially on New Providence (Nassau) and Grand Bahama (Freeport) islands. The advisory says gang violence has led to a high homicide rate, which mainly involves locals.

“Violent crime, such as burglaries, armed robberies, and sexual assaults, occur in both tourist and non-tourist areas. Be vigilant when staying at short-term vacation rental properties where private security companies do not have a presence. “

The U.S. Embassy in Nassau recently issued a security alert citing 18 murders in January alone. The alert points to gang violence as a cause of the murders, which happen during all hours of the day. In a statement to CNN, the State Department said It was “not aware of any U.S. citizens who have been affected.”

But Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Edward Davis has pushed back against the advisory as well, saying in a statement: “The incidents described in the January 2024 US Embassy crime alert do not reflect general safety in The Bahamas, a country of sixteen (16) tourism destinations, and many more islands.”

Davis’s office also told Yahoo News in an email that he, along with the tourism ministry, collaborates with local law enforcement and international agencies to provide a “safe and inviting destination.”

While the State Department updated its advisory on Jan. 26 for the Bahamas, it was to add water safety information. The advisory level has not changed.

The Arts and Straw Market in Freeport, Grand Bahama.
The Arts and Straw Market is a tourist attraction in Freeport, Grand Bahama. (Roberto Machado Noa/Getty Images)

What to know if you’re planning to travel

The State Department has stressed the importance of getting traveler’s insurance, including medical evacuation insurance, before venturing to the islands to protect against high fees. In Jamaica, some private ambulance companies require an upfront payment before transporting a patient to the hospital.

Government officials also encourage U.S. citizens traveling overseas to sign up for STEP, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This program allows travelers to get important information from local embassies about safety conditions at their desired destinations and set emergency contacts who can be notified if necessary.

Travelers can also view security reports that detail areas of concern, general crime threats and law enforcement concerns for Jamaica and the Bahamas.

What to know when you get to Jamaica

Let’s kick off the safety tips with a major rule: Leave the firearms and ammunition at home. Jamaica has a zero-tolerance policy regarding tourists traveling with guns.

The State Department also cautions travelers that it will not be able to help U.S. citizens in many high-risk areas due to “the ineffectiveness or policies of local authorities, armed conflict, or poor governance.”

For Jamaica, the State Department suggests travelers avoid:

  • St. Ann Parish

  • St. Catherine Parish

  • Clarendon Parish — except if passing through using the T1 and A2 highways

  • St. Elizabeth Parish

  • Hanover Parish

  • St. James Parish

  • All of Montego Bay on the inland side of the A1 highway and the Queen’s Drive from San San to Harmony Beach Park

  • Kingston and St. Andrew Parish

  • Manchester Parish

  • St. Thomas Parish

  • Trelawny Parish

  • Westmoreland Parish

Tips to stay safe

The State Department and World Nomads — a group of global travelers who offer travel insurance and safety advice — have shared suggestions for traveling safely while on the islands, especially when away from a tourist area, such as a resort.

  • Always have a contingency plan in place for emergencies.

  • Don’t walk or drive at night.

  • Don’t ride on public buses.

  • Don’t travel alone, especially to secluded places.

  • If you are being robbed, do not physically resist.

  • Stay vigilant of your surroundings and try to maintain a low profile.

  • Avoid answering the door of your hotel/residence unless you know who it is.

  • Don’t carry your passport around.

  • Don’t keep all your cash together.

  • Don’t advertise valuables in a crowd.

  • Avoid free rides.

  • Avoid buying or using any illegal substances.

  • Keep an eye on your drink at all times.