Safety in Nicaragua

Questions around the safety in Nicaragua always arise when you talk to friends and family about retiring there. Isn’t the country ruled by a dictator? Is it politically stable? 

Those types of questions are understandable. After all, Daniel Ortega, the infamous Nicaraguan Sandinista leader, was re-elected in 2006 and again in 2011.

Here’s a snapshot of the current political climate. After the 2006 election, real estate prices plummeted and foreign investors feared for the worst. But once that initial period of panic was over, the Nicaraguan constitutional democracy has been as peaceful and stable as before.

While President Ortega has not fully lived up to his promises of creating new jobs and fostering economic growth, he has achieved some positive developments, like re-establishing free education and health services.

His newest project, the construction of the controversial Nicaraguan canal, has certainly brought the country international attention. Only time will tell if the China-funded mega project will indeed be realized, and in what time frame.

Safety in Nicaragua: Crime Rates

Nicaragua is reportedly one of the safest of all Central American countries today, at least according to a report from INCAE, the Harvard Business School affiliate in Managua.

A global study about homicide rates conducted by UNODC in 2012 (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) ranks Nicaragua at the second lowest rate amongst Central American countries. Its homicide rate of 11.2 per 100,000 people is just behind Costa Rica’s rate of 8.6 (in comparison, United States has a rate of 4.5, Canada 1.6 and Spain 0.8). 

Despite its relatively low Central American crime rate, Nicaragua does experience both violent and nonviolent crimes (predominantly thefts and robberies). Main crime areas are Managua, the capital city, and the major tourist areas, San Juan del Sur, Granada, Masaya, León and Corn Islands.

Police coverage in rural areas is extremely sparse, and even in the cities the police force is often badly equipped. For example, I’ve heard stories about police officers being picked up in private vehicles because their police cars had run out of gas.

Safety in Nicaragua: Types of Crime

Robbery accounted for 75% of all violent crime reported in 2014 (OSAC Nicaragua Crime and Safety Report, 2015). While many of the perpetrators possessed a weapon, fortunately only a third of them used it. Most of the burglaries occurred at night and in either commercial districts or tourist areas.

The report also noted that car heists and thefts of vehicle parts were the most frequent examples of nonviolent crimes. They often happen during daytime and especially in situations where the driver is distracted by a flat tire.

Another concern is petty theft and bag snatching. These crimes target both pedestrians and car passengers. For example, a thief will try to reach through an open window or unlocked door as a car stops at a traffic light.

Nicaragua Safety Tips

Safety in Nicaragua: 7 Tips to Stay SafePlease Use the Pin Button to Share These Nicaragua Safety Tips
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Although Nicaragua is a much safer place than most of its neighboring countries, and definitely safer than its reputation, there are some things you should keep in mind for your safety in Nicaragua:

  1. Don’t leave your house unattended, especially at night. The safest option is to either live in a gated community with 24/7 security services, or hire your own safety guard.

  2. Don’t ever leave any valuables in your car!

  3. Lock your car doors and keep the windows shut while driving, especially when you have to stop or the traffic is slow going.

  4. Don't wear flashy jewelry and keep your bag close to your body when you are out and about, especially in crowded places like markets or bus stops.

  5.  When you hail a taxi from the street, first make sure that it has a red stripe across the top and bottom of the license plate and that the number is legible. Before you get into the taxi, agree on the fare with the driver and tell him not to pick up other passengers. (This is a normal practice here in Nicaragua. It’s a way for the locals to save on the taxi fare, and for the drivers to earn more money.)

  6. In Managua, don’t use the yellow city buses. While I know that some expats, especially younger ones, have used them without any problems, they are an ideal environment for pick-pocket thieves. Based on my own experience, the smaller, van-like, mini buses are safer to use. (These buses normally connect Managua with other cities, but you can also use them to get around town.)

  7. Last, but not least, don’t wander around on your own. This advice applies to basically everywhere in Nicaragua. In my opinion, the only exception would be shopping malls in Managua. 

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