Currency -- The official currency is the Trinidad and Tobago dollar (TT$). As regards the U.S. dollar, TT$1 = 15¢. Stated inversely, that means that $1 is worth TT$6.26 in Trinidadian currency. As regards the British pound, at press time, TT$1 equaled 10p and £1 = TT$10.10. When you get to Trinidad or Tobago, be sure to predetermine what currency is being referred to whenever rates are quoted -- most places in T&T will accept the Trinidad and Tobago dollar or the U.S. dollar. Smaller local establishments may prefer Trinidad and Tobago dollars. Prices in this chapter are quoted in U.S. dollars.
Customs -- To avoid the long delays inherent in clearing Trinidad's Customs (reportedly the worst delays in the southern Caribbean), it helps to arrive during the day. Visitors may bring in 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars plus 1 quart of spirits.
Documents -- Citizens of the United States, Britain, and Canada need passports and an ongoing or return ticket to enter Trinidad and Tobago. A visa is not required for tourist or business stays of 90 days or less. Save the carbon copy of the immigration card you'll fill out when you arrive; you'll have to return it to immigration officials when you depart.
Electricity -- The electricity is either 110- or 230-volt AC, so ask when making your hotel reservations if you'll need transformers and/or adapters.
Embassies & High Commissions -- In Port-of-Spain on Trinidad, the U.S. Embassy is at Public Affairs Section, 7-9 Marli St. (tel. 868/822-5585), and 15 Queen's Park West (tel. 868/622-6371; Tues-Thurs 1-4pm); the Canadian High Commission is situated at Maple House, 3-3A Sweet Briar Rd., St. Clair (tel. 868/622-6232); and the British High Commission is found at 19 St. Clair Ave., St. Clair (tel. 868/350-0444).
Emergencies -- On both Trinidad and Tobago, call the police at tel. 999; to report a fire or summon an ambulance, dial tel. 990.
Language -- English is the official language, although you'll hear it spoken with many different accents, especially British. Chinese, French, Spanish, Hindi, and Trinibagianese -- a local dialect -- are also spoken.
Safety -- Like neighboring countries such as Colombia and Venezuela, Trinidad is importing a dangerous kidnapping culture. High unemployment and easy money lure newcomers to the kidnapping industry. No one, including tourists, is immune. There is no sure way to prevent kidnappings, but do take the usual precautions -- avoid lonely beaches and walking alone at night.
As a general rule, Tobago is safer than Trinidad. Crime does exist on Tobago, but it's not of raging dimensions. If you can, avoid the downtown streets of Port-of-Spain at night, especially those around Independence Square, where muggings have been reported. Evening jaunts down Wilson Street and the Market of Scarborough are also discouraged. Visitors are open prey for pickpockets during Carnival, so be alert during large street parties. It is wise to safeguard your valuables; never leave them unattended at the beach or even in a locked car.
Taxes & Service Charges -- The government imposes a 15% value-added tax (VAT) on room rates. It also imposes a departure tax of TT$100, or $15, on every passenger age 6 and over, and it must be paid in local currency. The big hotels and restaurants add a 10% to 15% service charge to your final tab.
Telephone -- The area code for Trinidad and Tobago is 868. Make calls to or from the islands as you would to any other area code in North America. On either island, just dial the local seven-digit number. For MCI call tel. 800/888-8000, for Sprint tel. 800/877-8000, and for AT&T tel. 800/872-2881.
Time -- Trinidad and Tobago are in the Eastern Standard Time zone but don't follow daylight saving time; when all time zones are on standard time, time here is the same as the U.S. East Coast. During daylight saving time in the United States, T&T is 1 hour behind (when it's 6am on the East Coast, it's 5am in T&T).
Tipping -- Tip taxi drivers 10% to 15% of the fare, and tip waiters 10% to 15% of the cost of a meal. Tip skycaps and bellboys $1 per bag.
Water -- On Trinidad and Tobago, stick to bottled water.
Weather -- Trinidad has a tropical climate all year, with constant trade winds maintaining mean temperatures of 84°F (29°C) during the day and 74°F (23°C) at night. It rarely gets above 90°F (32°C) or below 70°F (21°C). The rainy season runs from May to November, but it shouldn't deter you from visiting; the rain usually lasts no more than 2 hours before the sun comes out again. However, carry along plenty of insect repellent if you visit then.