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Newfoundland is a very safe place to visit. Having said this, there are certain precautions that should be taken by anybody traveling to the province. Like always, common sense is the most important tool for staying safe.
It is a fact that Canada in general has a low crime rate when compared to the vast majority of the rest of the world. Newfoundland is geographically quite remote and isolated. This combined with its small historic capital, tiny coastal towns and sense of community, visitors are often lulled into a false sense of security. Newfoundland has a crime rate on par with the rest of Canada as such it is wise to take basic precautions and have a certain sense of awareness.
This is a general recommendation for any unfamiliar area, but should be followed in St. John’s as well: Avoid traveling alone at night. If staying with a group is not an option, make sure to remain in lighted areas and take safe modes of transportation (car or taxi). Walking alone at night is never a good idea, especially for women. Don’t carry around large amounts of money, and avoid wearing expensive jewellery or looking flashy. Drawing unneeded attention to oneself is never a good idea. Try blending into the crowd instead of sticking out.
Moose: Moose are very common in all areas of the island, including in the metro area. Moose are most active at dusk and dawn, as a result it is best to avoid these hours and drive after 9 am and before 7 pm. Moose vehicle accidents, unlike deer vehicle accidents, are frequently fatal for both driver and moose. There are on average 450 moose vehicle accidents annually in Newfoundland, with May-September being peak months.
Wildlife: Newfoundland has no poison ivy, poison oak, deer, skunks or snakes. Avoid feeding foxes, as rabies, while not common, does exist on the west coast of the island and Labrador. Both black bear and moose enter communities and can be encountered while hiking. Incidents of aggression are uncommon but care should be taken. Take caution when encountering caribou herds as they cross roadways. It is an offence to remove plant materials, wildlife, and produce, as well as fossils out of the province without permits.
Ocean: Cliffs are inherently dangerous. Many coastal areas which people frequent are dangerous and eroded, as such proceed with caution. Currents, waves and low water temperatures pose some risk to swimmers and kayakers. It is not uncommon for waves to wash people off shore. If there is a sign advertising this as a risk, such as at Cape Spear, it’s not an over exaggeration: do not approach the surf.
Driving: Obey all rules of the road; some, such as a prohibition on mobile phone use, may be new to some visitors but Highway Traffic Enforcement is prevalent by both police forces. Many visitors to the metro area become confused over the unusual traffic flow and parking layout, especially in the downtown. This poses some risk to visitors both from the issuance of tickets and the possibility of accidents as locals travel the downtown at top speed out of familiarity. Know what “one way”, “no entry” and “all traffic must go ______” signs look like. Also understand the difference between “right of way”, “yield”, and “merge”.
Police: Two police forces work in the province. The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) have blue stripes on their pants. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have yellow stripes. The RNC operate in the metro area as well as the smaller cities, while the RCMP work in the rural areas. 911 works in most areas of the province, although coverage is not complete. The number of the RNC in the metro is 729-8000. The number for the RNC and RCMP varies by community. In an emergency try 911 first, if unsuccessful ask a local for a secondary number. When speaking with 911, tell them your location first because it is possible for your call to have been bounced to an incorrect location and they will have to reroute your call prior to offering assistance. Parking tickets issued to you can be paid or contested at City Hall. Traffic tickets issued can be paid or contested at Provincial Court on Water St.Homeless: There are no homeless or street people in the province although there are a small number of panhandlers. Most are benign and a lack of eye contact or a “sorry I have no cash” will usually dissuade them. Some will try and engage you in a conversation first, if this occurs keep walking and they will give up.
George Street: George St. in St. John's is no longer as safe as it had been previously. Random violence is not uncommon and weapons are often present. This is primarily a concern for people under 35, however people of all ages are advised not to become too intoxicated and not to engage in conflict with other patrons. As the peak hour for violence on the strip is from 3-4am, leaving the bars at 2 am, rather than 3:30 am, will avoid a lot of this conflict and will make it easier to find a cab.
Crime: There is very little random crime in Newfoundland that a visitor will be exposed to. Most can be prevented by sobriety and basic situational awareness. Theft from vehicles in the metro area is very common. Belongings left visible in a parked car will be gone within an hour. Leave belongings at a hotel or B&B, thefts from these locations are rare. Pack unimportant belongings in the trunk of the vehicle. Carry valuable or important belongings on your person, as muggings are unheard of. Items such as passports should be left in your hotel room safe. Break-ins at campsites do occur so don’t consider a camper or van as a safe place to store valuables.
Prostitution: The prostitution stroll for women is on Church Hill, for men it’s on the east end of Duckworth St. If you make new friends on these streets expect there to be an accompanying price tag.
Scams: There aren’t any true scams currently operating in Newfoundland. Guard your PIN numbers while at interac and ATM machines. If you hire a taxi and stop somewhere mid fare they will leave the meter running, so ask for a flat rate. Waiters will sometimes add an automatic 15% gratuity to a large table’s bill, check your bill so you don’t over tip. If you put a stranger’s drink on your credit card tab at a bar make sure the bartender knows that it is just the one drink, some people will drink for free on your card the whole night on the mistake of the bartender.
Water and Food Safety: If camping or hiking be aware of water borne pathogens. Most areas of the province still dump raw sewage into the ocean. Don’t contact the water or contaminate your clothes when boarding boats or kayaks until you reach the open ocean.