Travel Safety and Health Issues
One of the most asked questions about traveling or purchasing property in Nicaragua involves the safety issue. Many people think that traveling and/or living in Nicaragua is somewhat unsafe because of past wars, civil disturbances and occasional gang related activities as reported in mass media outlets.
While there always is the necessity to follow common procedures when traveling (as outlined below), the facts about Nicaragua such as those compiled by Richard Leonardi, author of Footprint Nicaragua Handbook, may help you have a better understanding of the actual conditions in Nicaragua in comparison with other countries and, hopefully, calm some of your fears about traveling there. I suggest that you read his December, 2003, article titled NICARAGUA SAFETY: Is Nicaragua's Negative Image Justified? on his excellent website "Update Nicaragua".
The United States Department of State website provides an extensive review of Nicaragua including a section about safety and driving within the country.
Another informative source about the safety issue is the article about safety prepared by the Spanish Language Schools of Nicaragua.
Here are some suggestions to promote your safe travel within Nicaragua (or any country in the world, for that matter):
Before traveling, make copies of your passport, tickets, other travel documents and your credit cards. Carry one set with you and leave another with a trusted friend or relative at home.
You are encouraged to leave expensive jewelry, watches and other valuables at home. Items that you DO bring with you should not be visably shown or, at least, very descreetly worn (i.e., avoid drawing attention to them).
Bring only those credit cards that you plan to use and do not put them in one place. United States currency is welcomed but you may want to change a reasonable amount to Nicaraguan currency after your arrival. Travelers Checks are generally not accepted.
Keep a watchful eye on your luggage and other belongings at all times (especially in large airports such as Atlanta and Miami). Be onguard for purse-snatchers and pickpockets when in a large crowd (if you're pushed by someone, you've probably lost something). Women should always keep their handbags closed and close to their bodies; men should carry wallets in a secure area (which does not include the infamous rear pocket).
Carry some small amounts of currency in an easily reachable location in case you are approached by someone (including a child) who becomes uncomfortably forceful (generally, they do not intend to harm you and may have a legitimate reason to ask you for emergency money). Encounters such as this are extremely rare but can happen.
When venturing out, be sure to know where you are located and where you are going at all times. Maps of Nicaragua (especially Managua) are somewhat difficult to read and are not very precise. At first, you may want to hire a guide or go with a tour group for orientation purposes.
Avoid traveling alone and never at night.
Continually check your surroundings... know what (and who) is going on around you at all times.
A corporate attorney sent the following out to the employees in his company (author unknown):
1. The next time you order checks have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them. If someone takes your checkbook, they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name, but your bank will know how you sign your checks.
2. Do not sign the back of your credit cards.Instead, put "PHOTO ID REQUIRED".
3. When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the "For" line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number, and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check processing channels won't have access to it.
4. Put your work phone # on your checks instead of your home phone If you have a PO Box use that instead of your home address. If you do not have a PO Box, use your work address. Never have your SS# printed on your checks.(DUH!) You can add it if it is necessary. But if you have it printed, anyone can get it. 5. Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Do both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place. I also carry a photocopy of my passport when travel either here or abroad. We've all heard horror stories about fraud that's committed on us in stealing a name, address, Social Security number, credit cards.
Unfortunately, I, an attorney, have firsthand knowledge because my wallet was stolen last month. Within a week, the thieve(s) ordered an expensive monthly cell phone package, applied for a VISA credit card, had a credit line approved to buy a Gateway computer, received a PIN number from DMV to change my driving record information online, and more. But here's some critical information to limit the damage in case this happens to you or someone you know:
(a) We have been told we should cancel our credit cards immediately. But the key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call Keep those where you can find them.
(b) File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your credit cards, etc., were stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and this is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one).
But here's what is perhaps most important of all (I never even thought to do this):
(c) Call the 3 national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. I had never heard of doing that until advised by a bank that called to tell me an application for credit was made over the Internet in my name. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen, and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit. By the time I was advised to do this, almost two weeks after the theft, all the damage had been done. There are records of all the credit checks initiated by the thieves' purchases, none of which I knew about before placing the alert. Since then, no additional damage has been done, and the thieves threw my wallet away. This weekend (someone turned it in). It seems to have stopped them dead in their tracks.
Now, here are the numbers you always need to contact about your wallet, etc.,has been stolen: 1.) Equifax: 1-800-525-6285 2.) Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742 3.) Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289 4.) Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271
Health issues: avoid mosquito bites, wash you hands often (carry a little "instant hand sanitizer" now available at pharmacies and general stores), watch what and where you eat... most obviously clean restaurants are probably safe; but, you are encouraged to ask questions and look at their facilities (which may not be up to or may be equal to United States standards). Get professional medical advise before your trip. Remeber, if your medication includes antimalarial treatment, it may have to be started two weeks before your trip and all your "anti-this-and-that" shots should be up-to-date. Your medical advisor may also suggest you take precautionary medication with you (be sure it is accurately identified and in it's original container) as a precaution. Any fungus problem (including "athletes foot") or open sore should be healed before you travel to any tropical region. Never walk anywhere with bare feet. Take along a first aid kit and be prepared for insect and (very rare) snake bites.
Too much information... are you afraid to go? I only meant to inform... not alarm you. Most of the above will be second nature to you in no time and is, for the most part, just common sense. Go... have a great time!