COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The French West Indies consists of the islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Martin (the French side) and St. Barthélemy. These islands are well developed. French is the official language on these islands; English is widely spoken in St. Martin and St. Barthelemy, but much less so in Martinique and Guadeloupe. U.S. currency is widely accepted in St. Martin and St. Barthélemy. If visiting Guadeloupe and Martinique, you will need to use a credit card or change your U.S. currency to Euros. Read the Department of State Background Notes on France for additional information.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATOIN: If you are going to live in or visit the French West Indies, please take the time to tell our Embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados about your trip. If you check in, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency. Here’s the link to the Department of State’s travel registration page.
Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.
U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown
Wildey Business Park
St. Michael, Barbados
Telephone: (246) 227-4399
Emergency after-hours telephone: (246) 227-4000
Facsimile: (246) 431-0179
Hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, except Barbadian and U.S. holidays.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: Passports are required of U.S. citizens entering the French West Indies. Visas are generally not required for visitors planning to remain for 90 days or less. For further information, travelers can contact the Embassy of France at 4101 Reservoir Road, N.W., Washington, DC 20007; telephone 1 202 944-6000; or the nearest French consulate in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, New Orleans or San Francisco. Visit the web site for the Embassy of France at http://www.info-france-usa.org for the most current visa information.
All U.S. citizens traveling outside of the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter the United States. This extended to all sea travel (except closed-loop cruises), including ferry service on June 1, 2009. Travelers must now present a Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) compliant document such as a passport or a passport card for entry to the United States. While passport cards and enhanced driver’s licenses are sufficient for entry into the United States, they may not be accepted by the particular country you plan to visit; please be sure to check with your cruise line and countries of destination for any foreign entry requirements. We strongly encourage all U.S.citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport or passport card well in advance of anticipated travel. U.S. citizens can visit travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.
NOTE: Be aware that Caribbean cruises that begin and end in the U.S. (closed loop cruises) do not require that you travel with a valid passport. However, should you need to disembark due to an emergency and you do not have a valid passport, you may encounter difficulties entering or remaining in a foreign country. You may also have difficulty attempting to re-enter the United States by air because many airlines will require a valid passport before allowing you to board the aircraft. As such, we strongly recommend that you always travel abroad with your valid passport.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of the French West Indies.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: Demonstrations and strikes, usually caused by labor disputes do occur -- most recently in February/March 2009 on the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. These strikes can have a substantial effect on all sectors of society. The 2009 strikes led to a halt in many social services. Most commercial activities, including flights, were curtailed significantly or shut down entirely. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. While not common, these strikes significantly impact the tourism industry in the French West Indies, and U.S.citizens should avoid the islands when a strike is ongoing. U.S. citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times.
Stay up to date by bookmarking our Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website, which contains the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution. Follow us on Twitter and become a fan of the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on facebook as well.
You can also call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or by calling a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444, from other countries. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
Take some time before travel to improve your personal security—things are not the same everywhere as they are in the United States. Here are some useful tips for traveling safely abroad.
CRIME: Petty street crime, including purse snatching, occurs throughout the French West Indies. On occasion, tourists are injured during the commission of these crimes. Visitors should take care whenever traveling to safeguard valuables and always lock hotel rooms and car doors.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may be breaking local law.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (see the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates). If your passport is stolen we can help you replace it. For violent crimes such as assault and rape, we can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and help you get money from them if you need it. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in the French West Indies is: 18 for Fire, 17 for Police, and 15 for Medical Emergencies.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in the French West Indies, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods.Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in the French West Indies, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.
Persons violating French West Indies laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in French West Indies are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: In addition to being subject to all French laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on French citizens. Although France recognizes dual nationality, dual nationals are considered French citizens and are subject to French laws without regard to the other nationality. For additional information, please see our Dual Nationality flyer.
French customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from the French West Indies of items such as firearms, medications, animals, etc. For questions, travelers may wish to contact the Embassy of France or a French Consulate for specific information regarding customs requirements. Please see our information on customs regulations.
The French West Indies can be affected by hurricanes. The hurricane season normally runs from June to the end of November, but there have been hurricanes in December in recent years. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their citizenship documents with them at all times so, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship are readily available.
Please see our Customs Information.
Accessibility: While in the French West Indies, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what you find in the United States. Access to buildings, pedestrian paths and transportation is extremely difficult for persons with disabilities. Sidewalks (if they exist) are very uneven and will only occasionally have ramps at intersections. Pedestrian crossings are also very infrequent. In general, restaurants, hotels and residential buildings have stairs at the entrance without wheelchair ramps, except perhaps major hotels and retail areas. Buses and taxis do not have special accommodations for disabled persons.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Relatively good medical care is available throughout the French West Indies with the exception of St. Barthelemy, where there is no hospital. Not all doctors speak or understand English. Hyperbaric chambers are available in Guadeloupe at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in Abymes and in Martinique at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in Fort de France.
You can find good information on vaccinations and other health precautions, on the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors’ and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in the French West Indies, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Driving in the French West Indies is on the right side of the road. Children under 12 are not legally allowed in the front seat. Seatbelt laws are strictly enforced. The roads in the French West Indies are the best in the Eastern Caribbean. Roads are well paved and well maintained. Main roads are well marked; secondary roads and tourist sites are adequately marked. Excellent maps are available and local residents are helpful, especially if greeted in a friendly manner. Both Martinique and Guadeloupe have expressways. Traffic safety is enforced by the police. Night driving can be dangerous, especially in the mountains and on winding rural roads. Public transportation in the form of taxis, vans, and buses is relatively safe. For specific information concerning French West Indies driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the French National Tourist Organization offices at: http://www.franceguide.com/.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government ofFrance’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of France’s air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for the French West Indies dated October 21, 2009 without substantive changes.