US issues new travel advisory for Jamaica, Bahamas due to increased crime

The Jamaica alert asks U.S. visitors to "reconsider travel."

The U.S. Department of State has issued a new warning for American travelers headed to the Caribbean due to violent crime that has impacted the local populations of Jamaica and the Bahamas.

US raises travel advisory for travel to Jamaica

The State Department reissued a Level 3 travel advisory for Jamaica last month, asking Americans to "reconsider travel to Jamaica due to crime and medical services."

"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, reissued on Jan. 23, stated in a summary of what's happening in the Caribbean country.

"Local police often do not respond effectively to serious criminal incidents. When arrests are made, cases are infrequently prosecuted to a conclusive sentence," the alert warned. "Families of U.S. citizens killed in accidents or homicides frequently wait a year or more for final death certificates to be issued by Jamaican authorities."

The State Department further reminded that homicide rate as reported by the Jamaican government "has for several years been among the highest in the Western Hemisphere."

As of time of publication, the State Department has "prohibited" U.S. government personnel under Chief of Mission (COM) security responsibility "from traveling to the areas" listed in the advisory, as well as "using public buses, and from driving outside of prescribed areas of Kingston at night."

Additionally, the agency said emergency services and hospital care in Jamaica may not meet U.S. standards, because response times and quality of care can vary throughout the island.

"Public hospitals are under-resourced and cannot always provide high level or specialized care. Private hospitals require payment up front before admitting patients and may not have the ability to provide specialized care," the State Department said. "Ambulance services are not always readily available, especially in rural areas, and are not always staffed by trained personnel."

The State Department does not pay medical bills, and advisory notes, so it strongly encourages that Americans "obtain traveler’s insurance, including medical evacuation insurance, before traveling to Jamaica."

Finally, U.S. Medicare or Medicaid does not apply overseas and most hospitals and doctors overseas do not accept U.S. health insurance, according to the advisory.

"U.S. citizens with medical emergencies can face bills in the tens of thousands of dollars," the advisory stated, adding that the cost of air ambulance services to the U.S. can range from $30,000 to $50,000.

Read the country information page on the State Department website for additional information on travel to Jamaica.

Areas in Jamaica on State Department's Do Not Travel list

St. Ann’s Parish, St. Catherine’s Parish, Clarendon Parish -- except if passing through Clarendon Parish using the T1 and A2 highways -- St. Elizabeth’s Parish, Hanover Parish, St. James Parish and Montego Bay, Kingston and St. Andrew Parish, Cassava Piece, Downtown Kingston, Manchester Parish, St. Thomas Parish, Trelawny Parish, Westmoreland Parish.

Click here for further details regarding each county and parish, including specific neighborhoods and popular tourist areas.

Safety information for Americans who travel to Jamaica

While the State Department has urged U.S. travelers to avoid the Caribbean country, it also shared a list of best practices if you are still planning to visit the island.

Do not attempt to bring firearms or ammunition. This includes stray rounds, shells or empty casings. The penalties for carrying firearms and/or ammunition, even inadvertently, are severe, and can include lengthy prison sentences.

Avoid walking or driving at night.

Avoid public buses.

Avoid secluded places or situations.

Do not physically resist any robbery attempt.

Be aware of your surroundings and keep a low profile.

Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.

Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.

Review the Country Security Report for Jamaica.

Prepare a contingency plan for emergency situations. Review the Traveler’s Checklist.

Visit the CDC page for the latest Travel Health Information related to your travel.

Violence and shootings occur regularly in many neighborhoods, communities, and parishes in Jamaica.

If you do decide to travel to the above-listed "Do Not Travel" areas, the Department of State asks Americans to visit this website for information on travel to high-risk areas.

What to know about US travel advisory for the Bahamas

The advisory, issued on Jan. 26, urged travelers to "exercise increased caution" should they decide to visit the Caribbean country.

According to the State Department, the majority of crime – which includes burglaries, armed robberies, and sexual assaults – has occurred on the island of New Providence, home of the Bahamian capital of Nassau, and on the island of Grand Bahama.

"In Nassau, practice increased vigilance in the 'Over the Hill' area (south of Shirley Street) where gang-on-gang violence has resulted in a high homicide rate primarily affecting the local population," the government alert states. Violent crime has been happening "in both tourist and non-tourist areas," according to the alert, so the State Department is urging travelers to "be vigilant when staying at short-term vacation rental properties where private security companies do not have a presence."

The State Department also suggested that U.S. travelers steer clear of activities like boat tours with commercial recreational watercraft because they are "not consistently regulated."

"Watercraft may be poorly maintained, and some operators may not have safety certifications.  Always review and heed local weather and marine alerts before engaging in water-based activities," according to the State Department. "Commercial watercraft operators have discretion to operate their vessels regardless of weather forecasts; injuries and fatalities have occurred. Due to these safety concerns, U.S. government personnel are not permitted to use independently operated jet-ski rentals on New Providence and Paradise Islands."

Click here for additional travel information on the State Department's country information page for the Bahamas.

The U.S. Embassy in the Bahamas also issued a security alert on Wednesday, advising "U.S. citizens to be aware that 18 murders have occurred in Nassau since the beginning of 2024."

"Murders have occurred at all hours including in broad daylight on the streets," the statement declared. "Retaliatory gang violence has been the primary motive in 2024 murders."

Safety tips for travel to the Bahamas

If you do decide to travel to the Bahamas, the State Department shared a checklist of dos and don'ts to help Americans stay safe.

Do not answer your door at your hotel/residence unless you know who it is.  
Do not physically resist any robbery attempt.  
Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.  
Follow the Department of State on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  
Review the Country Security Report for the Bahamas.  
Prepare a contingency plan for emergency and medical situations.  Review the Traveler's Checklist.  
Visit the CDC page for the latest Travel Health Information related to your travel.

The U.S. Embassy in Nassau also issued its own list of safety precautions for U.S. travelers.

Exercise extreme caution in the eastern part of New Providence Island (Nassau).
Use caution when walking or driving at night.
Keep a low profile.
Be aware of your surroundings.
Do not physically resist any robbery attempt.
Review your personal security plans.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.