Crime in St Martin | St Maarten | Is SXM safe?

27 Feb

You won’t believe that I wrote this entire blog a few weeks ago and then when I hit publish, it was all deleted and I hadn’t copied it beforehand. So, it took me awhile to get over my frustration and re-write this blog. So originally I was in the dive shop on a Sunday, but now I am sat at my kitchen table and it is a Friday.

I wanted to write a post about crime in St Martin. I had a phone call the other day from a customer called Chad, who was staying at the Westin for a convention and he wanted to book some diving for him and snorkeling for his wife. We had a long conversation as he has a lot of questions about the safety of St Martin and what was my opinion  as a local. That still sounds quite cool… .that I am a “local.” 🙂

This is what I said… well, not exactly because I wasn’t recording the conversation, but basically. Actually, after writing the entire blog and coming back to this sentence, what I said to Chad was much shorter. Otherwise I would have bored him to death, and that would’ve been a crime. If you are reading this now and want to skip to the end to read a summary, it won’t hurt my feelings because I will never know about it.

So….. It isn’t so easy to answer that questions with a “Yes” or a “No.” There is crime on the island. Any time you get somewhere where affluent tourists are put in close proximity to impecunious locals, there is going to be some crime. Especially opportunistic crime. (Points for me if I have forced you to look up a word in the dictionary.)

For me, there are a couple of problems with just stating that SXM is unsafe. The first one that come to mind is what I like to call “Vacation Head Syndrome.”

“Vacation Head” is a syndrome inflicted upon many tourists when on vacation (and also prior to actual vacation and immediately after) in which they do not use their same common sense that they use when they are at home.

I get this, I totally do. Vacation is a time to relax, to de-stress. Many of you are coming from busy jobs and complicated lives, so you don’t want to be worrying about things when you are on vacation. So, I do sympathize. However, this can often create situations that are difficult to remedy and some times dangerous. Let me give you an example. The other day we had a couple diving with us and the wife (maybe girlfriend) accidentally locked her keys in the car. OK, not a big deal. However… the car was still running. How she did this, I am still not sure, but I am fairly certain that this was a classic example of “Vacation Head Syndrome.” Luckily Chris was able to pull the spark plugs (or some wire thingy magigy) and stop the engine so that it didn’t catch on fire and she could go on the diving trip as we waited for the rental car company to arrive.

I have tons of examples; people showing up for their trips on the wrong day, people leaving their phones at the dive shop and getting on the cruise, people leaving with out their shoes, people stopping in the middle of the road to look at an interesting piece of garbage. It just doesn’t end.

Part of “Vacation Head” is also an unrealistic idea of safety that one should feel when on vacation. This means that people step off the plane into the warmth, they breath in that humid air and then breath out, and they feel good…. they feel safe. They feel… invincible.

“Look how beautiful that sunset is, no one would ever steal anything from me here.”

“Should we go to that special beach while we wait for our hotel room to be ready? We can just leave all our luggage, and passports in the car while we swim. We can even leave the window open. No one would every break in when the weather is this good.”

“Wow, that was such an amazing dinner, the food in Grand Case is everything they said it would be. Look honey, you have a hundred dollar bill hanging out of your purse, isn’t it so great that no one in this beautiful little village would ever take that?”

And I totally get it, I really do. You are on vacation, you don’t want to have to think about all the potential hazards that could come your way. The thing is, you have to. You wouldn’t leave your purse on your car seat back home and go for a swim, nor would you walk around late at night in an unknown area. You just wouldn’t.

Okay, here is another thing to mention. People love it here, they LOVE IT. I do too. They go home and they dream of the island. Before they get here, they research everything and then they find someone who also loves St Martin / Sint Maarten. Then they start a chat group, or a Facebook group. There are quite a few (some that are actually rival FB groups if you believe it?) Then the whole sensationalism thing happens. Chad (you remember Chad from the beginning of the blog?) Chad told me on the phone that he heard about a restaurant in Grand Case that was held up at gun point and everyone was robbed. Well, I never heard about this, and I live in Grand Case. I’m pretty sure if an entire restaurant was held up at gun point and everyone mugged, I would know about it. Have there been instances of crime in Grand Case? Yes, yes there have. Normally at about 2 in the morning when people are drunkenly walking back to their hotel from the Blue Martini or Calmos or something like that. Or someone that left their window open and the purse is gone. There are bigger cases of crime here, sadly; car theft, muggings, and things like that. It’s just that those impecunious locals here see all the money you are spending, and they want some. It isn’t right, but it is unavoidable in tourist locations.

He also said that he heard it was unsafe for a woman to be driving around by herself….. Well, I am a woman in my now-mid-thirties (yikes, that feels weird to actually write) and I drive around by myself all the time. I sometimes find that I am in the car driving around the entire island in one day because the traffic is so horrendous (that is a subject for a whole ‘nother blog!) And I feel totally safe. HOWEVER, there are places that I don’t drive around by myself at night. Just like there are back home in NY.

Let me tell you about those sketchy places in St Maarten and the places I avoid.

You should avoid; Sandyground, the French Quarter and The Dutch Quarter. You can go through these places in the daytime.  You can stop, go to a bakery, buy some fruit, talk to the locals and shop. But in the night time, when the sun goes down, you should just drive right through or if you are all by yourself, just stay on the main road.  I would also avoid walking around Marigot at night. Unfortunately it isn’t as safe as it used to be. Day time, fine. Nighttime, no.

Oooooh, this brings me to another point.

Rental cars. For some reason the government on the Dutch side decided to make it a law that all rental cars have to have a specific letter on their license plate so everyone in the entire world knows that it is a rental car. Guess what letter they chose? That’s right, when you are rent a car from Dutch rental car company, you get a license plate with a big fat “R” on it. Does it stand for “Relieve me of my luggage?” Or perhaps “Requisition my wallet from the front seat?” Or perhaps “Rifle through my personal belongings?” I am not sure. Perhaps. It does, however, stand for “RENTAL CAR.”

So, I recommended to Chad that they rent a car from our friend Don, who runs GCL Car Rental. He used to be our neighbor and he is just the nicest guy ever. He runs a French car rental company and besides you sitting in the passenger seat with a map open, you can’t tell the difference from any other car on the French side. There are no distinguishing signs on his car that would let you know this. You can contact him at and tell him Sally sent you! 🙂

Wow, time for me to wrap this up and spend some time with the little boy. Who I also feel totally safe bringing up on this island.

For people that wanted to skip to the end for a summary on how to avoid any nasty incidences in St Martin / Sint Maarten please read below:

1. Try and be aware of the “Vacation Head Syndrome” and use the same common sense you would when you are at home. Don’t leave valuable items on display in your car. Don’t walk around late at night in places you don’t know.  Don’t lock yourself out of your when it is still running 🙂

2. Please be aware that some people tend to exaggerate crimes that happen here. Think about if that same crime happened when you are at home, would it be as big a deal. So, take a pinch of salt with some of these stories you hear, folks!

3. Rent a car from the French side. (Sorry Dutch side car rental business owners!!!) so you don’t advertise you are a tourist.

4. Don’t put yourself in situations that are dangerous and you are vulnerable. Like getting really wasted and not having a designated chaperone.

That’s it for now. I hope this was helpful! Enjoy that unavoidable Vacation Head Syndrome when you get to the island! I know I will enjoy your funny escapades.


(Sally wrote this blog 🙂 )


16 Responses to “Crime in St Martin | St Maarten | Is SXM safe?”

  1. Sally Dupuis February 27, 2015 at 9:48 pm #

    Sally, this is a great post. i agree with everything that you pointed out in your explanation of crime on the island. I have been on vacation ( and went diving with Octopus!) many times. I was originally on the island to bring my daughter to medical school. It would be a great idea if this post could be copied to the AUC web site so that other parents who are sending their kids to school there can be well informed. I heard a lot of rumors before we first arrived!

    • Sally Davies February 28, 2015 at 12:02 am #

      Thanks Sally! Hope to see you again soon. X

  2. Bart Verschuur February 28, 2015 at 1:16 pm #

    Thank you Sally for this blog,
    We have been on St. Martin and surrounding islands three times now since 2007 (and soon again…!) and every time we were issued a leaflet warning us for all kind of criminal risks. But since we have never behaved as foolishly as you describe, we have never encountered any problems and basically have never felt unsafe on the island except for one occasion when a cab driver took a road through a quarter where we thought that you should better not have car trouble when driving there after sunset… But as long as you stay away from that kind of places at night, and you wouldn’t do it differently at home or when visiting a big city, there is nothing wrong with the safety on St. Maarten/St. Martin.
    So my compliments for your blog.
    See you soon.

  3. Derek February 28, 2015 at 1:53 pm #

    Having vacationed to the island for about 10 years, I can confidently say there has never been a single instance where safety, security, or well-being was ever a question. And we go everywhere on the island. At all times of day/night. However, we always keep our wits about us and don’t do foolish things (wallets/cameras/watches in cars, flashing money around, etc).

    In fact, in one case similar to a situation Sally noted above (being a bit tipsy after a long night of consumption in Grand Case) we simply could not find a cab back to Orient (the only year we stayed there…we’re Grand Casian’s now!). One of the local drivers who was transporting guests back to the Weston actually flagged a friend down, chatted with him for a minute, then offered us a FREE ride back to our place in Orient Bay! Literally, he would NOT take a dime from us. Nice people, and it truly is the Friendly Island.

    While I won’t exaggerate and claim there isn’t crime at all (hey, there is crime EVERYWHERE in the world) it is few and far between, certainly more opportunistic and petty in nature rather than violent or aggressive. It’s very easy to avoid by following a few common-sense rules as noted above. I’ll say this – the locals KNOW their earning potential is based almost exclusively on tourist dollars…they aren’t going to let that be impacted by crime and will be quick to deal with it – I’ve seen it first hand in Orient when a bar owner catches a local punk screwing around. Swift and final.


  4. Rose Jenkins March 1, 2015 at 4:41 pm #

    Hi Sally, i love you blog. My family and i are taken a trip to St.Maarten in July, you talk about rental company have having R on the license plate does that also include American base rental Alamo, hertz and Budget? My children are also coming with us, do you know of any fun places to take children to have fun.

    Thank you

  5. DeeDee June 29, 2015 at 6:54 pm #

    My husband and I are considering relocating to St. Martin for his work. We don’t know if the move will be permanent or just for about 4-5 years. Where would you recommend we look to rent? Budget is not a huge concern. We want to live in the nicest place we can afford. Thought about buying but would like to rent first to make sure we will be there for a while. We currently live in Atlanta.

    Any onsite will be appreciated.

    • Sylvie Lawson November 22, 2015 at 1:26 am #

      Hi DeeDee,

      Sally is right in her description of crime on the Island, use common sens and you will be fine! After going years after years in SXM we Decided to buy in Point Blanche which is the business local residency of the Dutch side but not much of a night life but access to fun place are real fast! But your idea to rent might be the best as everyone of us has different taste. there are many nice places: Simpson Bay” Lot to do over there night life is great but Traffic during the day is quiet heavy!! Oyster Pond has beautiful view and and has a night life as you a great Grand case could be another place or around it.
      We wish you a great time! It is called the friendly Island and it is true.

      Braf & Sylvie

  6. Chip July 6, 2015 at 11:23 pm #

    Thanks for the blog Sally. We’ll be there 7/9 – 7/19. I’ve reached out to Don for vehicle rental, per your suggestion. If it works out I owe you and your husband a cocktail.
    I agree with your statement. As my wife and I have traveled much of the Caribbean, it’s always best to keep your head out of the clouds while still enjoying life. Cheers!

  7. Rob July 26, 2015 at 7:27 am #

    Sal. I’m up late just reading about people’s experiences here that suck.

    I’ve been here for 8 years and have a place in cupecoy.

    I also have been to the dodgy parts of the island at night and even though I’m a guy I’ve never felt threatened.

    It’s about attitude and the way you carry yourself I guess.

    I’ve also made friends with the French police inspector and he gave me something I can’t mention. But I’ve never pulled it out but sits in my wallet and anytime I’m at a dodgy place and pay I leave my wallet open for all to see.

    But I’m different I guess from your average tourist from Idaho. Megan though I’m Australian I learned French and it helps a lot.

    So to any tourist afraid of coming. I say this is a cake walk compared to other islands. Suck it up be smart and walk like you own the place.

    • Tom August 6, 2015 at 2:18 pm #

      “Suck it up be smart and walk like you own the place”, Now that’s the best advice I’ve read.

      Love this post, Sally.

      It’s a shame that people build all this fear up from a few exaggerated posts they read on the net.

      As a small town, Canadian guy, I have travelled many a “sketchy” street throughout the world and if you think you’re gonna find crime in St Maarten, try some cities in Brazil (not recommended to travel 2 blocks without taxi). I’ve been to St Maarten twice (via cruise) and many of the islands. The key it all is commonsense and attitude. It’s not so bad to look like a tourist, but being pegged as a “mark” is. Keep your flashy jewelry at home, there’s no place in a “third world” country for it. Impress your friends at home, not entice locals who have very little.

      I’ll be in St Maarten in September and will be a tourist, but I will certainly carry myself like I own the place.


  8. Shannon October 29, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

    I appreciate this post more than you know. I laughed I love vacation head syndrome and the just because there is a beautiful sunset doesn’t mean there isn’t crime!
    I am planning a 5 day romantic trip with my husband – St. Maarten sounds perfect! Now to figure out what side to stay on!!!??

  9. Linda February 11, 2016 at 2:21 am #

    Hello Everyone,
    I have been going to St Maarten for over 20 years. I always stay on the Dutch side but go all over the Island to all the beautiful beaches & restaurants. I always rent my car on the Dutch side never have a problem!!
    Like anywhere we go be aware of where you are, what your doing & the time of day or night. use common sense & you’ll be safe. enjoy your vacation on this Island of beautiful beaches & fabulous restaurants!
    my grandchildren come to spend a week with us, they’ve been coming since 18 months old the oldest is now almost 10 & youngest 16 months. any place in the world has crime, yiu’d never go anywhere if you live in fear, enjoy life it’s short!!!!

  10. Jane March 3, 2016 at 1:16 pm #

    Great article! Thanks for the info about your island. We are traveling to St. Martin in May/16 and would like to rent a car. I can’t seem to find any info about GCL Car Rental. Are they still around? I have read some good reviews about Kenny’s Car Rental. I don’t know if they are on the Dutch side or the French side? What do you know about them?

  11. Dianne July 13, 2016 at 7:30 pm #

    I’m curious, isn’t the airport on the Dutch side? If so, how would you go about renting a car on the French side such as Don’s GCL? Do you get a taxi at the airport to take you? Never been but we are going in October2016. Any advice appreciated!

    • Sally Davies July 14, 2016 at 11:52 am #

      Hey Dianne, there are actually two airports – one on the Dutch Side and one on the French Side. The French Side airport is only small, and only goes to Guadeloupe, St Martinique, St Barts and a couple other small islands. The one on the Dutch Side is the one that you are most likely flying into. Some French Side car rental agencies, like Don, pick you up at the airport (either one) and drive you to your hotel and then leave the car at the hotel with you! hope this helps.

  12. Tracy July 14, 2016 at 2:39 am #

    I’m a female traveling alone for the first time this November. So glad to find out about the rental car plates! I will be checking with the local car rental you recommended for sure. I agree to not leave your common sense at home but I will be a bit more cautious just for the fact that I am traveling alone, but I think that goes for any vacation place or even in my home town! Thanks and I will be reading up more on your blogs until November!