When shopping for jewelry, handicrafts, artwork or other souvenirs, bargaining is fairly common. Even when the price is marked on the item, it's worth a shot and usually turns out to be a casual, low-pressure affair.
Dangers & Annoyances
The Dominican Republic is not a particularly dangerous place to visit, but tourists should be aware of the following:
- Street crime is rare, but locals advise tourists to avoid talking on or looking at cellphones in public (thieves are known to snatch them).
- Don't walk on beaches at night, and consider taking a cab when returning home late from bars.
- Car theft is not unheard of, so don't leave valuables inside your car.
- Tensions along the Haitian border flare up occasionally: check the situation before crossing.
- To prevent cholera, use purified water for drinking, brushing teeth and hand washing.
Perhaps the number one annoyance is not being given the proper change after a purchase. In many cases it is a legitimate error in math. But it's not entirely uncommon for waiters, taxi drivers and shop owners to 'accidentally' give you less than warranted. If something's missing, say so right away.
Buying drugs in the DR should be avoided. The seller is often in cahoots with the police who 'catch' the exchange in order to extract a bribe from unwary foreigners. Any transactions involving large amounts can result in significant prison time. Also worth noting is the reputedly 'impure' quality of the cocaine distributed in the DR – public service announcements warn that the majority is more dangerous chemical filler than anything else.
Prostitution is not illegal (brothel ownership and 'pimping' are) and is big business in the DR (Boca Chica and Sosúa have the highest visible presence). It is definitely illegal to have sex with anyone under the age of 18, even if the offender doesn’t know the prostitute’s real age. Female prostitutes, when propositioning foreigners, are known to grab and touch aggressively, often a sly attempt at pick-pocketing.
Embassies & Consulates
All of the following are located in Santo Domingo.
Av Winston Churchill 1099
Calle Francisco Prats Ramírez 808
Calle Las Damas 42
Av Gustavo Mejia Ricart 1986
Calle Juan Sánchez Ramírez 33
Calle Pedro Henriquez Ureña 80
Av Lope de Vega
Torre Citigroup Bldg, 21st fl, Av Winston Churchill 1099
Nuñez de Cáceres 11
Av Independencia 1205
Av 27 de Febrero 233
Av República de Colombia 57
Emergency & Important Numbers
For all calls within the DR (even local ones), you must dial 1 + 809 or 829 or 849. There are no regional codes.
Entry & Exit Formalities
The vast majority of tourists entering the Dominican Republic arrive by air. Independent travelers typically arrive at the main international airport outside of Santo Domingo, Aeropuerto Internacional Las Américas. Passing through immigration is a relatively simple process. Once disembarked, you are guided to the immigration area where you must buy a tourist card (US$10). You’re expected to pay in US dollars (Euros and GBP are accepted, but you lose out substantially on the rate); then join the queue in front of one of the immigration officers. You’re allowed up to 30 days on a tourist card. The procedure is the same if you arrive at one of the other airports such as Puerto Plata or Punta Cana; the latter is easily the busiest airport in the country in terms of tourist arrivals.
Other than the obvious, like weapons, drugs and live animals, there are only a few specific import restrictions for foreigners arriving in the Dominican Republic. Visitors can bring up to 200 cigarettes, 2L of alcohol and 1 box of cigars. It’s best to carry a prescription for any medication, especially psychotropic drugs.
It is illegal to take anything out of the DR that is over 100 years old – paintings, household items, prehistoric artifacts etc – without special export certificates. Mahogany trees are endangered and products made from mahogany wood may be confiscated upon departure. Black coral is widely available but although Dominican law does not forbid its sale, international environment agreements do – avoid purchasing it. The same goes for products made from turtle shells and butterfly wings – these animals are facing extinction. It is illegal to export raw unpolished amber from the DR, though amber jewelry is common and highly prized.
Most travelers run into problems with the export of cigars, and it’s not with Dominican customs as much as their own. Canada, European countries and the US allow its citizens to bring in up to 50 cigars duty-free.
The majority of would-be foreign travelers in the Dominican Republic do not need to obtain visas prior to arrival.
Tourist cards (you don’t need to retain this for your return flight) are issued for US$10 upon arrival to visitors from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US, among many others. Whatever your country of origin, a valid passport is necessary.
Tourist Card Extensions
A tourist card is good for up to 30 days from the date of issue. If you wish to stay longer, it’s unnecessary to formally extend – instead you’ll be charged RD$1000 when you depart the country for any stay up to 90 days. Another way to extend your time is to leave the DR briefly – most likely to Haiti – and then return, at which point you’ll be issued a brand-new tourist card. (You may have to pay entrance and departure fees in both countries, of course.)
To extend your tourist card longer than three months, you must apply in Santo Domingo at the Dirección General de Migración at least two weeks before your original card expires (up to nine months will cost RD$1000).
Dominicans are generally very polite, but observe a couple of strict rules for dining and etiquette. Generally, it's a laid back, leisurely culture, so be patient if things are moving slower than you'd like.
- Dining Lively background music in restaurants is the norm, so loud conversations aren't unusual.
- Attention Rather than calling out, hissing is the preferred method for getting someone's attention.
As a whole, the Dominican Republic is quite open about heterosexual sex and sexuality, but still fairly closed-minded about gays and lesbians. Gay and lesbian travelers will find the most open community in Santo Domingo, though even its gay clubs are relatively discreet. Santiago, Puerto Plata, Bávaro and Punta Cana also have gay venues, catering as much to foreigners as to locals. Everywhere else, open displays of affection between men are fairly taboo, between women less so. Same-sex couples shouldn't have trouble getting a hotel room.
The Dominican Republic has a surprisingly limited number of internet cafes; most charge RD$35 to RD$70 per hour. Many of these cafes also operate as call centers.
Wi-fi access is widespread in cafes and restaurants, as well as at midrange and top-end hotels and resorts throughout the country. Travelers with laptops won’t have far to go before finding some place with a signal. However, the majority of the all-inclusives, as opposed to most midrange and even budget hotels, charge daily fees (around US$15 and up) for access. Many hotels that advertise the service free for guests only have a signal in public spaces like the lobby and limited or poor access in guest rooms.
Most internet cafes have Spanish language keyboards – the '@' key is usually accessed by pressing 'alt', '6' and '4'.
The Dominican Republic has two police forces – the Policía Nacional (national police) and Cuerpo Especializado de Seguridad Turística (tourist police, commonly referred to by its abbreviation, Cestur).
Cestur officers are generally friendly men and women whose job is specifically to help tourists. Many speak a little bit of a language other than Spanish. They wear white shirts with blue insignia and can usually be found near major tourist sights and centers. You should contact Cestur first in the event of theft, assault or if you are the victim of a scam, but you can equally ask them for directions to sights, which bus to take etc.
It’s best to have as little interaction with the Policía Nacional as possible. If a police officer stops you, be polite and cooperate; heavily armed roadway checkpoints aren't uncommon, particularly in regions bordering Haiti – they're looking for drugs and weapons. They may ask to see your passport – you’re not required to have it on you, but it’s a good idea to carry a photocopy. You might also be asked for a 'tip' in cash or merchandise; feign misunderstanding or simply politely decline. More often than not, you'll simply be waved through.
- Newspapers El Listin Diario (www.listin.com.do), Hoy (www.hoy.com.do), Diario Libre (www.diariolibre.com), El Caribe (www.elcaribe.com.do), El Día (www.eldia.com.do) and El Nacional (www.elnacional.com.do), plus International Herald Tribune, the New York Times and the Miami Herald can be found in many tourist areas. Local papers cost RD$25.
- Radio & TV There are about 150 radio stations, most playing merengue and bachata (popular guitar music based on bolero rhythms), and seven local TV networks, though cable and satellite programming is very popular for baseball, movies and American soap operas.
ATMs can be found throughout the DR. Credit and debit cards widely accepted in cities and tourism-related businesses.
The Dominican monetary unit is the peso, indicated by the symbol RD$ (or sometimes just R$). Though the peso is technically divided into 100 centavos (cents), prices are usually rounded to the nearest peso. There are one- and five-peso coins, while paper money comes in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1000 and 2000 pesos. Many tourist-related businesses, including most midrange and top-end hotels, list prices in US dollars, but accept pesos at the going exchange rate.
ATMs (cajeros automáticos) are common in the Dominican Republic and are, without question, the best way to obtain Dominican pesos and manage your money. Banks with reliable ATMs include Banco Popular, Banco Progreso, BanReservas, Banco León and Scotiabank. Most charge ATM fees (around RD$195 on average); it’s worth checking with your domestic bank before you travel whether there are additional fees on their end. And there's a range of frustratingly low maximum withdrawal limits – BanReservas is RD$2000 and Banco Progreso RD$4000 – and limits to the number of withdrawals per day. As in any country, be smart about where and when you withdraw cash. Most ATMs are not in the bank itself, but in a small booth accessible from the street (and thus available 24 hours).
Credit and debit cards are more and more common among Dominicans (and more widely accepted for use by foreigners). Visa and MasterCard are more common than Amex but most cards are accepted in areas frequented by tourists. Some but not all businesses add a surcharge for credit-card purchases (typically 16%) – the federal policy of withdrawing sales tax directly from credit-card transactions means merchants will simply add the cost directly to the bill. We’ve had reports of travelers being excessively overcharged when paying by credit card, so always check the bill before signing.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Moneychangers will approach you in a number of tourist centers. They are unlikely to be aggressive. You will get equally favorable rates, however, and a much securer transaction, at an ATM, a bank or an exchange office (cambio).
A shock to many first-timers, most restaurants add a whopping 28% (ITBIS of 18% and an automatic 10% service charge) to every bill. Menus don't always indicate whether prices include the tax and tip.
- Hotels A 10% service charge is often automatically included; however, a US$1 to US$2 per night gratuity left for cleaning staff is worth considering.
- Taxis Typically, you can round up or give a little extra change.
- Tours You should also tip tour guides, some of whom earn no other salary.
- Restaurants Tipping generally not expected since 10% automatically added to total. If especially impressed, you can add whatever else you feel is deserved.
Opening hours vary throughout the year. We've provided high-season opening hours; hours generally decrease in the shoulder and low seasons.
Banks 9am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday, to 1pm Saturday.
Bars 8pm to late, to 2am in Santo Domingo.
Government Offices 7:30am to 4pm Monday to Friday, officially; in practice more like 9am to 2:30pm.
Restaurants 8am to 10pm Monday to Saturday (some closed between lunch and dinner); to 11pm or later in large cities and tourist areas.
Supermarkets 8am to 10pm Monday to Saturday.
Shops 9am to 7:30pm Monday to Saturday; some open half-day Sunday.
Mail service in the DR can't be relied upon, no doubt in part because mailing addresses are non-existent in much of the country. It can take as long as a month for a letter to arrive from the US. Your best bet is FedEx or UPS; within the country, use either Caribe Pack or Metro PAC; each bus company's own package delivery entity is located in their respective terminals.
New Years Day January 1
Epiphany January 6
Lady of Altagracia January 21
Juan Pablo Duarte Day January 26
Independence Day February 27
Good Friday Friday before Easter
Easter Sunday March/April
Labor Day May 1
Corpus Christi June 15
Restoration Day August 16
Our Lady of Mercedes Day September 24
Constitution Day November 6
Christmas Day December 25
- No laws against smoking in public spaces or anywhere else
Taxes & Refunds
An ITBIS (Industrialized Goods and Services Transfer Tax) of 18% sales tax is levied on most goods and services, and in restaurants, a 10% service charge may also be included in the bill. Be sure to ask when booking hotels if the quoted price includes the tax.
There is no refund mechanism for VAT-exempt goods for the average traveler.
Remember that you must dial 1 + 809, 829 or 849 for all calls within the DR, even local ones. Toll-free numbers have 200 or 809 for their prefix (not the area code).
The easiest way to make a phone call in the DR is to pay per minute (average rates per minute: to the US US$0.20; to Europe US$0.50; to Haiti US$0.50) at a Codetel Centro de Comunicaciones (Codetel) call center or an internet cafe that operates as a dual call center.
Calling from a hotel is always the most expensive option.
Local SIM cards can be used or phones can be set for roaming.
Cell (mobile) phones are ubiquitous and iPhone and Galaxy are both popular smart phone brands. Travelers with global-roaming-enabled phones can receive and make cell phone calls. It’s worth checking with your cell-phone carrier for details on rates and accessibility – be aware that per-minute fees can be exorbitant. If you have a GSM phone, and you can unlock it, you can use a SIM card bought from Orange or Claro (prepaid startup kit US$30). Or you can buy a new cell phone (the cheapest is around RD$800; DR cell phones work at 1900 MHZ, the North American standard) and pay as you go (around RD$4 per minute for a call and a recharge costs RD$200). In terms of customer service, Orange has a better reputation than Claro.
These can be used at public phones and are available in denominations of RD$50, RD$100, RD$150, RD$200 and RD$250.
The DR is four hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. In autumn and winter it is one hour ahead of New York, Miami and Toronto as well as Haiti – extremely important to keep in mind if heading to or from the border. However, because the country does not adjust for daylight saving time as do the USA and Canada, it’s in the same time zone as New York, Miami and Toronto from the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October.
There are public restrooms in most public buildings and restaurants. It's rare that somebody will try to charge you for use, but nearly every bathroom will instruct you to dispose of the toilet paper in a waste basket instead of the toilet. Septic systems are sensitive here, so try to avoid contributing to a blockage.
Almost every city in the DR that’s frequented by tourists has a tourist office, and a number of less-visited towns do as well. In general, the information you get at tourist offices will feel a bit canned, but it can certainly still be helpful. Some tourist offices offer maps, bus schedules or a calendar of upcoming events, which are handy. The official DR tourism website, www.godominicanrepublic.com, is a useful resource.
Travel with Children
All-inclusive resorts can be a convenient and affordable way for families to travel, as they provide easy answers to the most vexing of travel questions: when is dinner? Where are we going to eat? What are we going to do? Can I have another Coke? For independent-minded families the DR is no better or worse than most countries – its small size means no long bus or plane rides, and the beaches and outdoor activities are fun for everyone. At the same time, navigating the cities can be challenging for parents and exhausting for children. For excellent general advice on traveling with children, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
All-inclusive resorts have the best child-specific facilities and services, from high chairs in the restaurants to child care and children’s programming. That said, not all resorts cater to families with young children (some even have adults-only policies). Independent travelers will have a harder time finding facilities designed for children.
Child safety seats are not common, even in private cars, and are almost unheard of in taxis or buses. If you bring your own car seat – and it’s one that can adapt to a number of different cars – you may be able to use it at least some of the time.
Breastfeeding babies in public is not totally taboo, but nor is it common. It is definitely not done in restaurants, as in the US and some other countries. Nursing mothers are recommended to find a private park bench and use a shawl or other covering. Major grocery stores sell many of the same brands of baby food and diapers (nappies) as in the US.
Few Latin American countries are well suited for travelers with disabilities, and the Dominican Republic is no different. On the other hand, all-inclusive resorts can be ideal for travelers with mobility impairments, as rooms, meals and daytime and nighttime activities are all within close proximity, and there are plenty of staff members to help you navigate around the property. Some resorts have a few wheelchair-friendly rooms, with larger doors and handles in the bathroom. And, it should be said, Dominicans tend to be extremely helpful and accommodating people. Travelers with disabilities should expect some curious stares, but also quick and friendly help from perfect strangers and passersby.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Many NGOs operating in the DR are primarily community networks attempting to develop sustainable ecotourism. Formal volunteering programs may be hard to come by, but if you speak good Spanish and don’t mind some elbow grease (or office work), you may be of some use to them. A few more established organizations that accept volunteers:
CEDAF This nationwide NGO helps local farmers develop sustainable ways to use the land.
Fundación Taigüey This is a network of small NGOs, several of which focus on ecotourism.
Grupo Jaragua The largest and oldest NGO in the southwest. Based in Santo Domingo, it concentrates on biodiversity and conservation through microfinancing to assist locals with bee farming etc.
Mariposa Foundation Dedicated to empowering and educating girls living in and around Cabarete through a 'holistic' program that involves English-language classes, health and wellness seminars, athletics and family involvement. Minimum three month commitment, generally teaching in varying capacities. Located near Kite Beach.
Punta Cana Ecological Foundation One of the pioneers of sustainable development in the DR; projects targeted at coral reef restoration and preserving the natural environment in the Punta Cana area.
REDOTOR Promotes alternative and sustainable tourism projects.
SOEPA Sociedad Ecologica de Paraíso, founded in 1995, is dedicated to the preservation and protection of the environment and natural resources in the area around Paraíso; its biggest project is maintenance and development at Cachóte.
Women traveling without men in the Dominican Republic should expect to receive some attention, usually in the form of hissing (to get your attention), stares and comments like ‘Hola, preciosa’ (Hello, beautiful). Although it may be unwanted, it’s more of a nuisance than anything else. If you don’t like it, dressing conservatively and ignoring the comments are probably your best lines of defense.
That is not to say that women travelers shouldn’t take the same precautions they would in other countries, or ignore their instincts about certain men or situations they encounter. Robbery and assaults, though rare against tourists, do occur and women are often seen as easier targets than men. Young, athletic Dominican men who 'target' foreign women, especially in beach resort areas like Punta Cana, are referred to as 'sanky-pankys'. Their MO is subtly transactional, usually involving 'promises' of affection in exchange for meals, drinks, gifts and cash from generally older North American and European women.
Weights & Measures
The DR uses the metric system for everything except gasoline, which is measured in gallons, and at laundromats, where laundry is measured in pounds.
It can be difficult for a foreigner to find work in the Dominican Republic, as opportunities are limited unless you have special skills and speak Spanish. Otherwise, your only options will likely be teaching English, doing something in the tourism industry or working at a call center. Salaries are very low, so don't expect to have much extra spending money.