Generally, in the Bahamas, you have no option but to pay the stated price. One exception is the straw markets, where you may be able to haggle a little; but don't play hardball when it comes to locals selling their own handicrafts at reasonable prices.
Dangers & Annoyances
Crimes against people and property have increased in the Bahamas since 2010, principally in certain neighborhoods of Nassau. Drug- and gang-related crime is highest in the suburbs south of downtown, known collectively as 'Over the Hill.' That said, the vast majority of these crimes are perpetrated against Bahamians; take sensible precautions and it's unlikely you'll be a victim.
Freeport on Grand Bahama has traditionally had higher crime rates than the Bahamas in general, but is by no means a crime hotspot. Generally speaking, the Out Islands are safe, quiet and conservative, and most of the country is safe for visitors.
Electrical outlets are 120 volts/60 cycles, which is compatible with US appliances. Plug sockets are two- or three-prong US standard: appliances may require an adapter and 220-volt converter.
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Police||911 or 919|
|Fire||911 or 919|
|Ambulance||911 or 919|
Entry & Exit Formalities
As an open-for-business tourist destination, the Bahamas doesn't place undue restrictions on entry and exit to the country.
Visitors to the Bahamas may import the following, without attracting duty or prohibition:
- 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 454 grams of tobacco
- 1.1 liters of spirits or wine
- Unlimited foreign currency
On leaving the Bahamas, it's prohibited to export:
- Manufactured goods of 100 years or older
- More than $200 Bahamian dollars, without Central Bank permission
Residents of the US, Europe and most Commonwealth countries do not need a visa to enter the Bahamas for a 90-day tourist stay.
Everyone needs a passport with at least six months' remaining validity. Remember that it's necessary to have ESTA authorization or a visa to transit through the US.
As a predominantly Christian country in which good manners are instilled in school, a certain formal civility prevails in the Bahamas.
- Basics It's common for strangers to wish each other 'good morning/afternoon'; 'please' and 'thank you' is also expected.
- Deference Children who don't treat their elders with respect won't win many admirers.
- Physical contact For both genders should be limited to handshakes on early acquaintance.
- Socializing The Bahamian reputation for sociability is well justified, particularly in situations that invite interaction (bars, fish fries, popular beaches). A genuine and friendly interest is often shown in visitors, and locals respond well to an open, easy, respectful manner. It helps if you don't take yourself too seriously.
- Visiting If you're invited to a Bahamian home, bring a small gift. There are no rules, but a bottle or something nice to eat is generally appropriate.
Homosexuality is legal in the Bahamas (for those 18 and over), though the pink dollar isn’t particularly welcome. There’s not much public support for gay and lesbian populations across the islands, and discretion is the better part of affection here. Gay bars and clubs are very subterranean.
The Facebook page of the gay-rights group Rainbow Alliance of the Bahamas is a good place for information and contacts.
- Almost all hotels have wi-fi, although speeds can be poor on more remote islands.
- Larger hotels may have a business center with computers.
- Downtown Nassau and Freeport have a handful of internet cafes, as well as public wi-fi hot spots.
The Bahamian legal system bears traces of UK common law and the US constitutional model. Innocence is presumed, and arrests must follow prescribed legal limits.
Recreational drugs are strictly prohibited in The Bahamas. There are reports of cruise-ship passengers in possession of small amounts of marijuana and cocaine being faced with either paying a BS$500 to BS$800 on-the-spot fine, or being sent to jail for three months.
The legal limit for blood alcohol content when driving is 0.06%; breaching this can attract penalties of up to BS$3000, or time in jail.
If you are arrested, authorities are obliged to contact your embassy or consulate on request. There is no automatic public-defense provision for foreigners in lower courts, and any representation must be self-funded.
- Newspapers Daily New Providence newspapers include the Nassau Guardian, the Tribune and the Bahama Journal. Grand Bahama offers the daily Freeport News, and Abaconians enjoy the weekly Abaconian.
- TV & Radio The government-owned Bahamas Broadcasting Corporation operates ZNS-13 and the radio stations ZNS-1, ZNS-2AM, ZNS-2FM and ZNS-3AM. Commercial radio stations include Love 97FM, More 94.9FM and Jam 100FM. Most hotels also offer American cable TV.
Bahamian (BS$) and US (US$) are equal and interchangeable throughout the country.
There are plenty of banks with ATMs in the major tourist centers, though they can be rare to nonexistent on the Out Islands. ATMs near the Nassau cruise-ship dock offer either BS$ or US$.
Bahamian transactions are increasingly plastic-based, but you should always carry some cash too.
Some smaller Out Island hotels and restaurants do not accept credit cards. You can use your credit card to get cash advances at most commercial banks.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
A tip of 15% or so is standard for restaurants, but it’s often added to your bill automatically – check before you pay. About 15% is the norm for taxis, while BS$2 per bag is routine for porters.
Exceptions to the following business hours are noted in specific listings. Banks on smaller Out Islands and cays may be open only once or twice a week.
Banks 9am–4pm Monday to Friday
Businesses 9am–5pm Monday to Friday
Shops 9am–5pm Monday to Friday, 9/10am–5pm Saturday
Post offices 9am–5pm Monday to Friday, 9am–noon Saturday
Restaurants breakfast 7–10am, lunch noon–2pm, dinner 6–9pm
Tourist information 9am–5pm Monday to Friday
Postal services in the Bahamas are quite reliable, but can take some time to reach more distant countries. First-class postage, per 14 grams, is BS$0.65 for the US and Canada (1-2 weeks), BS$0.75 for the UK and Europe (2-3 weeks), and BS$0.80 for Australia and Asia-Pacific (3-4 weeks). Most population centers, including small settlements, have post offices, open 9am to 5pm on weekdays and 9am to noon on Saturdays). Fedex has offices in major centres such as Nassau.
Bahamian national holidays that fall on Saturday or Sunday are usually observed on the previous Friday or following Monday.
New Year's Day January 1
Majority Rule Day January 10
Good Friday March/April
Easter Monday March/April
Whit Monday Seventh Monday after Easter
Labour Day First Friday in June
Independence Day July 10
Emancipation Day First Monday in August
National Heroes Day Second Monday in October
Christmas Day December 25
Boxing Day December 26
The Bahamas have been slow to implement smoking legislation, and restrictions are often at the discretion of individual businesses and organizations. That said, public tobacco use isn't rampant anyway.
Taxes & Refunds
Value-added tax (VAT) of 7.5% is imposed on all goods and services in the Bahamas. Some businesses list the pretax price, some the final price, and some both prices. Hotels and restaurants usually list just the pretax price.
The introduction of a VAT Free Shopping Scheme in 2016 has enabled participating merchants to sell goods tax-free to tourists.
Hotel phones Rates are expensive across the region and should be avoided when possible. Many hotels also charge for an unanswered call after the receiving phone has rung five times.
Phone codes The Bahamian country code is 242. You need to dial this when making interisland calls from landlines, but not from cell phones. To call the Bahamas from the US and Canada, dial 1-242. From elsewhere, dial your country’s international access code + 242 + the local number. Most US toll-free numbers can’t be accessed from the Bahamas. Usually you must dial 1-880, plus the last seven digits of the number.
Public phones The government-owned Bahamas Telecommunications Corporation, or BTC, has an office on most Bahamian islands. Even the smallest settlement usually has at least one public phone.
Unlocked cell phones can be used with Bahamian SIM cards. Locked phones can only be used when roaming. Service is poor on many of the Out Islands.
All of the Bahamas falls within the Eastern Standard Time Zone. It switches to Daylight Saving Time (DST) at the same time as the USA and Canada.
Public toilets are rare in the Bahamas, especially in touristy areas. You'll usually be expected to buy something in a cafe or other business in order to use the bathroom.
Travel with Children
With endless acres of beach, a tourist industry that avidly pursues the family dollar and a naturally kid-friendly culture, the Bahamas are an ideal place to vacation with wee ones. The larger hotels provide good facilities, including babysitting, pools and activities, and resorts such as Atlantis are such kid-friendly wonderlands that families could feasibly never leave their pleasure compounds (and many don't). Children under 12 years often room with their parents for free.
From the colossal Aquaventure Waterpark on Paradise Island to the eccentric petting zoo at Andros's Pineville Motel, there's a full spectrum of attractions for kids of all ages. Dive outfits like Stuart Cove offer discounted snorkeling rates to kids between four and 11, for whom the personal submersibles (SUBs) rented by Abaco Scuba Center are also a sure bet. For the very small (or less confident), companies such as Reef Tours run glass-bottomed boats that make getting face-to-face with the reef and its critters a cinch.
Sightseeing with a stroller is easiest in the built-up centers of Nassau, Paradise Island and Port Lucaya. Outside these areas, sidewalks get rougher, and often disappear altogether, obliging you to walk on the shoulder of the road. Dedicated change facilities are scarce to nonexistent in public, so prepare to improvise.
Well-behaved kids are generally welcome in all restaurants, barring a few top-end places that explicitly advertise a minimum age.
Disabled travelers will need to plan their vacation carefully, as few allowances have been made for them in the Bahamas. The larger hotels and resorts are generally well set up for accessibility, but beyond their gates, things get tough. Tourism boards can provide a list of hotels with wheelchair ramps, as can the Bahamas National Council for Disability and the Bahamas Association for the Physically Disabled. While these organizations don't have offices open to the public, you can call them or contact them online for help hiring equipment and organizing accessible holiday options.
For more ideas, download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Volunteering options aren't rich in the Bahamas, outside of missionary organizations. Hurricane season does bring its opportunities, sadly, as there can be huge cleanup and reconstruction efforts to be undertaken. Organizations such as Volunteer Match (www.volunteermatch.org) can help you find a way to make a difference in the wake of a particularly violent storm.
Marine monitoring and conservation is, however, an area in which volunteer programs are well established in the Bahamas. Programs lasting several weeks to several months and involving volunteers in reef monitoring, turtle tagging and similar activities can be found through Earthwatch Institute (www.earthwatch.org). The Bahamas National Trust (http://bnt.bs) also invites volunteers for conservation programs in the 2 million acres of habitat it manages throughout the islands.
Weights & Measures
The imperial and metric systems are both in use.
The society of the Bahamas remains conservative and patriarchal in many respects, despite the prominent roles Bahamian women play in all walks of life and decades of exposure to independent female travelers. While women traveling alone shouldn't have cause to worry, they can expect attention or inquiries about their husbands, most of it hopefully well-meaning and non-threatening. That said, the usual precautions apply, especially when walking alone at night or in unfamiliar places. Swimwear is as acceptable for women as men at the beach, but may draw unwanted attention further away from the shore.
Getting a permit to reside and work in the Bahamas for longer than 90 days is tricky. You'll need to have a job lined up, and you'll have to be able to prove your nationality, character, work history, good health and financial solvency. It's also necessary to prove that the position can't be filled by a Bahamian applicant (near impossible for all but specialized roles). Skilled, seasonal teaching positions in the tourist industry (kite-surfing instruction, for instance) are one example of a more feasible line of work for foreigners.
Forms and instructions for the application process, which costs BS$100, can be found at www.bahamas.gov.bs.