The 911 emergency number is only available within the Santo Domingo Area. Its reliability, however, is questionable, as emergency responses range from slow to non-existent.
The Dominican Republic is generally a safe country though this is not always the case. Although the major cities of Santo Domingo and Santiago have experienced the growth of a thriving middle class, construction booms and reached a high level of cosmopolitanism, the Dominican Republic remains a third world country and poverty is still rampant so you need to take common sense precautions:
Try to avoid being alone in cities as muggings are very common.
Very few streets are lit after dark, even in the capital of Santo Domingo. Those that are lit are subject to routine power outages.
Wild dogs are common throughout the country but largely ignore people feeding these dogs is not recommended as this may induce aggressive behavior.
Western travelers should dress casually and remove rings and other jewelery when away from tourist destinations, but common tourist destinations, particularly the more expensive and the luxury hotels and areas, are very safe.
Sex tourism is prevalent in the Puerto Plata province of the country, so you may be hassled by young men or women trying to offer you 'services'. A firm 'No' is good enough, although if threatened, your best bet is to relinquish your valuables to guarantee your safety. The age of consent is 18, and tourists who have sex with minors may also be prosecuted by their home country.
There are no laws dictating the maximum amount of alcohol that can be drunk prior to driving. However, there is a 0.05% limit for professional drivers. Be wary of vehicles, especially during the late evening, as there is a much higher possibility at that time that the driver is intoxicated. It is illegal for tourists and visitors to drink and drive and you may be penalized for doing so. However, it is rarely enforced.
The level of professionalism of the National Police is somewhat debatable. To protect income from tourism, the government has established the Politur or "tourist police" for the safety of foreign tourists. Travellers should contact this agency if any problems are encountered as they will have a much more positive response than with the national police.
Avoid the following neighborhoods in Santo Domingo: Capotillo, 24 de Abril, Gualey, Guachupita, Ensanche Luperón, Domingo Savio, María Auxiliadora, Villa Consuelo, Los Alcarrizos and all of their subneighborhoods, La Puya, El Manguito, La Yuca, Santa Bárbara, Los Tres Brazos. These are some of the poorest parts of the city, and while Dominicans are very friendly, it is best to avoid these areas, as tourist may be associated with money. In Santo Domingo, the Zona Metropolitana Piantini, Naco, Evaristo Morales, etc. and Zona Colonial excluding Santa Bárbara are safer areas.
Probably the most important tip on safety in Dominican Republic is: DON'T FLASH what you have, as this makes you a potential target for theft.
Malaria can be a rare issue around rainforests if travelers don't take protective measures such as repellents against mosquito bites. No cases have been reported over the past 8 years within the tourist areas. Be sure to consult with a physician before departure. The US "Centers for Disease Control and Prevention" CDC also have recommendations for vaccines and other tips for staying healthy when travelling in the Dominican Republic.
There is a risk of dengue fever which is contracted through mosquitoes that bite during the day and during some seasons of the year. No vaccine is available, so again using mosquito repellent is advisable.
Many of the local foods are safe to eat including the meats, fruits, and vegetables.
Visitors, however, should not drink any of the local water and should stay with bottled water or other beverages. It is important for visitors to stay hydrated in the hot, humid climate.
Sunburn and sun poisoning are a great risk. The sun is very bright here. Use at least SPF30 sunblock. Limit sun exposure.
The country's adult HIV/AIDS prevalence is reaching 2.0% or 1 in 50 adults, which is almost 3 times higher than the USA. If you engage in a sexual relationship, always use protection.
The Dominican Republic is part of the North American Numbering Plan Area NANPA and shares the Country Code of +1 with all the NANPA territories. Area codes used are 809, 829, and 849. Local phone numbers are basically the same format as in the United States and Canada with a 3 digit area code and 7 digit subscriber number. .
If you're planing to use a GSM cell phone here, Viva, Claro and Orange are the only known companies that have GSM plans and SIM cards. It's unknown about Tricom and Wind if they offer GSM. However, Orange and Tricom also have 4G LTE.
The official language of the Dominican Republic is Spanish. You will find some Spanish-English bilingual locals especially in Santo Domingo and tourist areas. Many Dominicans have spent considerable time in the United States, especially New York City, and enjoy speaking English with foreigners in order to keep their language skills sharp. If you speak some Spanish, most Dominicans will try hard to meet you half way and communicate. If you have a problem, you can probably find someone who speaks sufficient English or probably French and possibly German or Italian in tourist areas to help you out. Dominicans are quite friendly and will be quite helpful if you are polite and respectful. The large community of Haitians living in the DR speak Haitian Creole and in some cases French, and most speak Spanish well. In rural areas, you may hear a few African and Arawakan words interspersed with the Spanish, but standard Spanish is universally understood. Communication should not be a problem even for those who speak only a minimum of Spanish. If you are traveling to one of the large all-inclusive hotels, you will have no language problems.
Dominicans are kind and peaceful people. Attempts at speaking Spanish are a good sign of respect for the local people. Be polite, show respect, and do your best to speak the language, and you will be treated with kindness.
Avoid talking about Haiti. Although relations have improved, many Dominicans, particularly of the older generations, harbor resentment towards Haitians. Santo Domingo was invaded and occupied by Haiti for a good part of the 19th century, and the Dominican Republic actually fought its first war of independence against Haiti, not Spain, after which the Dominican Republic faced several other invasions from its neighbor.
In the 20th century, Trujillo's dictatorship massacred tens of thousands of Haitians in the 1930's, which fueled into the resentment between both nations. Nowadays, about a million Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, most of them illegally. Some Dominicans' opinions towards illegal immigrants from Haiti are similar to some Americans' attitudes towards Mexican illegal immigrants, with the major difference that, unlike the US, the Dominican Republic is a small and poor country by world standards. Gang wars can erupt along the border, so stay cautious and be sensitive.
Still, the issues remain very complex and Dominicans often find their position to be misunderstood by foreigners. For example, Dominican Republic was the first country to come to Haiti's aid in the 2010 Haitian earthquake and has made impressive efforts to help its neighbor during this crisis. This shows that despite their historical, linguistic, religious, cultural and racial differences, Haitians and Dominicans still consider each other to be brotherly, yet proudly independent, nations.
When staying at the luxury resorts or really any place in the Dominican Republic, it is advisable to tip for most services. The Dominican Republic is still a fairly poor country and tipping the people who serve you helps them be treated well.As for the tips: nobody demands them from you, but of course it is nice to do so. Especially if you stay in all inclusive hotels or eat some fancy dinners for 20 usd/ person.