Haiti in detail

Directory

Bargaining

Haggling with street vendors, artisans and moto-taxi drivers is part of daily life in Haiti. Do your best, don't take it too seriously and keep in mind they likely need that extra dollar more than you do.

Dangers & Annoyances

Many governments advise against nonessential travel to Haiti, and certainly caution is advised.

  • UN troops have helped the country deal with large-scale gang and kidnapping problems, but keep your ear to the ground for protests around election time, which can get violent and should be avoided.
  • To avoid street crime, use hotel safes for anything you're not willing to lose. Hide your money in pockets, and avoid taking out smart phones on the street.
  • Common annoyances include a poor electricity supply, snarling traffic, begging, and getting stared at or called blanc, which is a generic word for a foreigner.

Travel Advisories

The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots.

  • Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
  • British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
  • Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca)
  • US State Department (https://travel.state.gov)

Embassies & Consulates

All of the embassies and consulates are in Port-au-Prince or Pétionville. Australia, New Zealand and Ireland do not have diplomatic representation in Haiti; British citizens can seek assistance at the UK Embassy in Santo Domingo.

Brazilian Embassy

Canadian Embassy

Cuban Embassy

Dominican Embassy

French Embassy

Mexican Embassy

US Embassy

Venezuelan Embassy

Emergency & Important Numbers

Haiti doesn’t have separate area codes, so always dial the full eight-digit number.

Haiti's country code509
International access code00
Fire115
Minustah113
Police114

Etiquette

Warm and sociable, Haitians observe some unspoken rules of etiquette, particularly when it comes to greetings.

  • Strangers acknowledge each other in the street by saying bonjou (good morning) or bonswa (good afternoon).
  • It's common to shake hands with men, women and children when meeting for the first time and when saying goodbye.
  • Females are often greeted with a kiss on each cheek.
  • Not all earthquake survivors want to discuss their experience, so exercise your judgment.

LGBT Travellers

Haiti isn’t as homophobic as some other places in the Caribbean. There are no dedicated gay venues, however; these were clamped down on in the 1980s following negative publicity about HIV and AIDS in Haiti. While you may commonly see friends of the same sex holding hands and being openly affectionate with each other, tourists doing this will likely attract attention. Same-sex couples sharing a room should have no problem.

Insurance

Travel insurance is highly recommended, and it's essential to have as much medical cover as possible (including emergency evacuation cover). Haitian medical services insist on payment on the spot, so collect all the paperwork you can when being treated so you can claim later. Some policies ask you to call them (they’ll usually call you back) so that an assessment of your problem can be made. Also remember to check excess fees for lost, stolen or damaged luggage.

An important point to note is that some governments issue travel warnings advising against nonessential travel to Haiti. Some insurance policies (or certain areas of their cover) may be invalidated in such circumstances, so check the fine print before signing up.

Internet Access

Online access isn’t a problem in any decently sized Haitian town, and internet cafes open and close frequently. Broadband connections are increasingly standard, along with webcams, CD burning and USB connections for uploading digital photos. Prices cost around HTG50 (US$0.75) per hour. The more expensive the joint, the better the electricity supply is likely to be. If you’re bringing a laptop, wi-fi access is increasingly widespread.

Maps

Of most use to travelers is the Haïti Carte Touristique, which can be found in Port-au-Prince bookshops. On one side there is a detailed country map with lots of tourist information, and on the reverse there are street plans of Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haïtien, Jacmel and all the other departmental capitals.

A decent alternative is the map produced by the Association of Haitian Hoteliers, which is available for free from most car-rental companies and includes a map of Port-au-Prince. Guides Panoramas produces the best up-to-date map of Port-au-Prince (US$5), as well as a street plan of Jacmel; it is available from Tour Haiti.

Media

  • Newspapers Key newspapers include Le Matin, Le Nouvelliste, Haiti Progrés (has an English section), Haiti en Marche and Libète (Creole). International press is available in Port-au-Prince.
  • Radio & TV Radio stations include Radio Haiti Inter, Radio Soleil and Radio Ibo. French and US TV is available on satellite/cable.

Money

Bigger cities have ATMs, but they often run out of money or stop working. Credit cards are usually accepted in the capital but rarely elsewhere.

ATMs

Automated teller machines are increasingly common in Port-au-Prince, Pétionville and Cap-Haïtien, but have yet to catch on in much of the rest of the country. They’re the simplest way to manage your money on the road, although obviously you’ll need to make sure you’re liquid when heading out of the capital. Most ATMs are directly on the street, with some in secure booths. Always be aware of your surroundings when using an ATM and pocketing a wad of cash – use machines in large grocery stores that staff security guards when possible.

Cash

The Haitian currency is the gourde, usually written as ‘GDE’ or ‘HTG’. The gourde is divided into 100 centimes, although the smallest coin you’re likely to see is the 50 centimes, followed by the one and five gourde coins. Bank notes come in denominations of 10, 25, 50, 100, 250, 500 and 1000 gourdes, all with a revolutionary hero on one side and a historic fort on the other. There are still a few very grubby one, two and five gourde notes in circulation, although these are no longer issued.

In practice, most Haitians refer to the Haitian dollar (H$) when quoting costs. The gourde used to be tied to the US dollar at a rate of one to five, with the result that five gourdes is universally known as one Haitian dollar. It’s a system seemingly designed to perplex short-term visitors. When buying something, always check what people mean when quoting the price, eg whether a hundred is in gourdes or dollars (in which case it’s 500 gourdes). To make things even more confusing, prices for expensive goods (or tourist souvenirs) are sometimes listed in US dollars.

The way to minimize headaches is to choose one system, either the Haitian dollar or the gourde, and stick with that. If you choose to work in Haitian dollars, you must divide prices in gourdes by five; if you choose to think in gourdes, you must multiply all Haitian dollar prices by five. Most costs in listings are presented in US$; some smaller items/services, however, such as local transport costs, may be presented in gourdes. For many purchases – hotel rooms, for instance – it’s acceptable to pay in US dollars instead of gourdes.

Note that cash is king in Haiti. With the exceptions noted for credit cards, almost everything you buy will be with folding stuff. Traveling outside Port-au-Prince, you’re likely to be carrying plenty of money, but there are a few precautions to reduce the risk of losing your stash to misadventure.

  • It’s unwise to carry wads of money in your wallet, and you’re similarly more prone to being robbed if you carry valuables in a shoulder bag, which can easily be snatched.
  • Keep a small amount of money for the day in a handy but concealed place (eg in an inner pocket), and the bulk of your resources more deeply hidden. A well-concealed money belt is one of the safest ways to carry your money as well as important documents, such as your passport. It’s also a good idea to have emergency cash (say US$100 in small bills) stashed away from your main hoard, as a backup.

Credit Cards

Most midrange and all top-end hotels (and many Port-au-Prince restaurants) will happily let you flash the plastic. Visa, MasterCard and (to a slightly lesser extent) American Express will all do nicely. With an accompanying passport, cash advances on credit cards can be made in the larger banks.

Exchange Rates

AustraliaA$1HTG52
CanadaC$1HTG51
Dominican RepublicRD$2HTG3
Europe€1HTG73
Japan¥100HTG60
New ZealandNZ$1HTG48
UKUK£1HTG84
USUS$1HTG68

For current exchange rates see www.xe.com

Money Changers

Haiti must be one of the few countries where if you want to change money, the simplest option is to go to a supermarket. These generally have a separate counter near the cashier where you can top up your gourdes. The US dollar rules supreme, although Canadian dollars and euros are usually accepted, along with Dominican pesos. Don’t bring any other currency. Where there are street money changers, they’re only interested in US dollars.

Tipping

Most Haitians don't tip, but in tourist areas it is usual to tip and certainly all gratuities are happily accepted. Restaurant bills generally include a 10% tax and a 5% service charge, and if you'd like to add a little extra for great service, nobody will be upset. It's also considerate to give bellhops and drivers a little something extra for a job well done.

Traveler’s Checks

Traveler's checks are generally not accepted in Haiti.

Opening Hours

Many restaurants and most businesses close on Sunday.

Banks 8:30am to 1pm Monday to Friday; some major branches also open 2pm to 5pm.

Bars & Clubs 5pm to late.

Offices 7am to 4pm Monday to Friday; many close earlier Friday; government offices close for an hour at noon.

Restaurants 7am to 9pm.

Shops 7am tp 4pm Monday to Saturday; some close earlier Friday and Saturday.

Photography

Taking photos of airports and police buildings is forbidden, and it’s a good idea to obtain permission first before snapping a policeman or a UN soldier.

Haitians are well aware of their country’s poverty, and often dislike being photographed in work or dirty clothes. Always ask permission – whether you’re in a market or the countryside, producing a camera out of the blue can occasionally provoke a reaction. This goes double at Vodou ceremonies, where you should always check with the houngan or mambo (respectively male or female Vodou priest) before you start clicking away.

Post

There are post offices in every town. Postcards to North America cost HTG25 (US$0.35) to send, or HTG50 (US$0.75) to Europe and Australia. It’s generally better to send from a post office, although the larger towns also have mailboxes dotted around. The service is reasonably reliable, although hardly superfast.

If you’re in Haiti long term and want to receive mail, you can have it addressed to Poste Restante at the central post office where you’re based. Senders should underline your name and you should bring your passport identification when collecting mail.

Faster in both directions are the international couriers. DHL, UPS and TNT are all represented in Port-au-Prince and Pétionville, with a few offices elsewhere.

Public Holidays

Government offices and most businesses will be closed on the following days:

Independence Day January 1

Ancestors’ Day January 2

Carnival February (three days before Ash Wednesday)

Good Friday March/April

Agriculture and Labor Day May 1

Flag and University Day May 18

Ascencion Day 39 days after Easter

Corpus Christi May/June

Anniversary of the death of Jean-Jacques Dessaline October 17

Anniversary of the death of Toussaint Louverture November 1

All Soul's Day November 2

Anniversary of the Battle of Vertières November 18

Christmas Day December 25

Smoking

  • Smoking Smoking is allowed in public places in Haiti.

Taxes & Refunds

Hotel and restaurant bills typically include a 10% tax, and occasionally a 5% service charge.

Telephone

Landlines Connections can sometimes be patchy. Most businesses list several numbers on their cards and many people carry two cell phones on different networks.

Cell/Mobile Phones Haiti uses the GSM system. The main operators are Digicel and Natcom. Coverage is generally good. The providers have international roaming agreements with many foreign networks, but it can be cheaper to buy a local handset on arrival in Haiti for about US$20, or a SIM card for about US$5. Take a copy of your passport to the dealer for identification.

Costs Within Haiti calls cost around US$0.10 per minute, and to call overseas around US$0.90 per minute. Top-up scratch cards are available from shops and ubiquitous street vendors.

Codes Haiti's country code is 509. There are no area codes. To make an international call, first dial 00.

Calling The quickest option is to find a phone ‘stand’ – usually a youth on the street with a cell phone that looks like a regular desk phone, who will time your call and charge accordingly.

Mobile Phones

Local SIM cards can be used in American and European phones, or set your phone to roaming (but beware roaming charges).

Time

Haiti runs on Eastern Standard Time (GMT minus five hours), putting it in the same time zone as New York, Miami and Toronto. Haiti doesn’t adjust for daylight savings, so from the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October it’s an hour ahead of eastern US and Canada.

Toilets

There are no public toilet facilities in Haiti, but you can use the toilets in hotels or restaurants. The Haitian sewerage system is overstretched so, where supplied, dispose of toilet paper in a bin. Many Haitians think nothing of urinating in the streets and, on long journeys, relieving oneself at the side of the road is often the only option. For women, this is more easily accomplished if you’re wearing a loose-fitting skirt or dress, although you’ll see plenty of local women pulling down their trousers in such situations.

Tourist Information

Haiti’s all-but-moribund tourist industry has left visitors to the country scrabbling around for information. You may have luck contacting the Ministry of Tourism, but we make no promises. There’s an occasionally staffed information booth at the Aéroport International Toussaint Louverture. Alternatively, the country’s private tour operators are probably your best source of up-to-date information.

Travel with Children

The congested and trash-strewn streets of Port-au-Prince aren't exactly an ideal place for kids, and most hotels in and around the capital don't offer kids clubs or playgrounds. But Haiti's less hectic north, with the Citadelle and plenty of secluded beaches, would certainly appeal to young people and laid-back parents. Jacmel and Kabic would also be of interest to families looking for a beach escape with some culture to boot. One issue to consider would be the cost – most hotels in Haiti charge extra for additional guests in the room, and private transport (the only way you'd want to get around with young children) is expensive.

Accessible Travel

Haiti is going to be hard going for travelers with disabilities. Crowded and broken streets, anarchic traffic and the absence of wheelchair-accessible buildings all pose serious problems. Traveling with an able-bodied companion can help immensely in overcoming these obstacles. At the very least, hiring a vehicle and a guide will make moving around a great deal easier. Travelers with disabilities shouldn’t be surprised at stares from Haitians, but they’ll often also receive offers of assistance where needed.

For more information, consider contacting Mobility International USA (www.miusa.org), which offers general travel advice for travelers with physical disabilities, and download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.

Volunteering

The country attracts many volunteers, but whether they are actually helpful to Haiti is another matter. Many organizations can offer life-changing experiences for volunteers, but the prime objective must be to provide sustainable benefits for the local population. The website Good Intentions Are Not Enough (www.goodintents.org) is a good place to start to dissect this thorny issue.

Fondam Haiti Working on reforestation in the southwest, particularly Port Salut.

Gheskio A Haitian HIV/AIDS NGO, working since 1982 and providing free health care for HIV patients.

Lambi Fund A grassroots civil society NGO, working on sustainable development, environment and civic-empowerment programs in rural areas.

Partners in Health Set up by Dr Paul Farmer, providing health care across rural Haiti.

Weights & Measures

  • Weights & Measures Haiti uses the metric system, although gasoline is sold in gallons.

Women Travellers

It’s easier for a woman to travel alone in Haiti than in many countries in the region. The catcalls, whistles and leering that women may experience in other places seem to be at a minimum. Haitian men do enjoy flirting and complimenting, but it usually isn’t too overbearing.

Work

Paid work is in short supply in Haiti. Official unemployment estimates mask far higher figures, and wages are desperately inadequate. Competition for jobs is enormous, so to find work you need to be able to demonstrate you have skills that no one in the domestic market possesses. Fluency in French and/or Creole is virtually essential. After you’ve been in the country for 90 days you must register as a resident with the Department of Immigration, for which you’ll need a letter from your embassy and your employer, a health check and a Haitian bank account proving solvency. You must also apply for a Haitian work permit at the Ministère des Affaires Sociales.

Many foreigners working in Haiti and not in business are involved in aid and development. ReliefWeb (www.reliefweb.int) and DevNet (www.devnetjobs.org) are good places to look for jobs in the development sector in Haiti.