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Travel Security Advice for Afghanistan

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Afghanistan_OverviewAFGHANISTAN


 

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION

Afghanistan has made significant progress since the Taliban were deposed in 2001, but still faces daunting challenges, including defeating terrorists and insurgents, dealing with years of severe drought, recovering from over two decades of civil strife, and rebuilding a shattered physical, economic and political infrastructure.  Coalition and NATO forces under ISAF work in partnership with Afghan security forces to combat Taliban and al-Qaida elements who continue to seek to terrorize the population and challenge the government.  The ISAF Coalition-Afghan partnership contained the spring offensive planned by insurgent forces, who have turned instead to isolated terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings and kidnappings.

President Hamid Karzai was sworn in as President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on December 7, 2004.  He and his ministers work with the parliament, which first convened in late 2005, to establish policies and procedures to deal with the array of issues any government must address, as well as Afghanistan’s unique challenges.  The government is in the process of developing a more effective police force, a more robust legal system, and sub-national institutions that work in partnership with traditional and local leaders to meet the needs of the population.  The U.S. works closely with the international community to provide coordinated support for these efforts.  The recent Afghanistan-hosted Peace Jirga with Pakistan resulted in a commitment to cooperate in combating terrorism, facilitate the return of Afghan refugees, and support regional economic activity.  Read the Department of State Background Notes on Afghanistan for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:

A passport and valid visa are required to enter and exit Afghanistan.  Afghan entry visas are not available at Kabul International Airport.  American citizens who arrive without a visa are subject to confiscation of their passport and face heavy fines and difficulties in retrieving their passport and obtaining a visa, as well as possible deportation from the country.  Americans arriving in the country via military air usually have considerable difficulties if they choose to depart Afghanistan on commercial air, because their passports are not stamped to show that they entered the country legally.  Those coming on military air should move quickly after arrival to legalize their status if there is any chance they will depart the country on anything other than military air.  Visit the Embassy of Afghanistan web site at http://www.embassyofafghanistan.org for the most current visa information.  The Consular office of the Embassy of Afghanistan is located at 2233 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Suite 216, Washington, DC 20007, phone number 202-298-9125.

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.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:

The latest Travel Warning for Afghanistan states clearly that the security situation remains critical for American citizens. There are remnants of the former Taliban regime and the terrorist al-Qaida network in various parts of Afghanistan, as well as narcotraffickers and other groups that oppose the strengthening of a democratic government.  Those groups aim to weaken or bring down the new Government of Afghanistan, and often, to drive Westerners out of the country.  They do not hesitate to use violence to achieve their aims.  Terrorist actions may include, but are not limited to, suicide operations, bombings -- including vehicle-borne explosives and improvised explosive devices -- assassinations, carjackings, rocket attacks, assaults or kidnappings.  There is an ongoing threat to kidnap U.S. citizens and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) workers throughout the country.  Since the beginning of 2007, more than three dozen foreigners have been kidnapped and held for extended periods of time, and six foreigners have been kidnapped and murdered; foreigners and Afghan nationals have been killed or injured in improvised explosive device attacks.  Kabul continues to experience suicide bombers attacking Afghan government personnel as well as international civilians and military personnel.  Riots -- sometimes violent -- have occurred in response to various political or other issues.  Crime, including violent crime, remains a significant problem.  Official Americans' use of the Kabul-Jalalabad road and other roads throughout the country is often restricted or completely curtailed because of security concerns.  The country faces a difficult period in the near term, and American citizens could be targeted or placed at risk by unpredictable local events.  There is also a real danger from the presence of millions of unexploded land mines and other ordnance.  Terrorists continue to use roadside or vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.   Private Americans should not come to Afghanistan unless they have made arrangements in advance to address security concerns.

The absence of records for ownership of property, differing laws from various regimes and the chaos that comes from decades of civil strife have left property issues in great disorder.  Afghan-Americans returning to Afghanistan to recover property, or Americans coming to the country to engage in business, have become involved in complicated real estate disputes and have faced threats of retaliatory action, including kidnapping for ransom and death.

Large parts of Afghanistan are extremely isolated, with few roads, mostly in poor condition, irregular cell phone signals, and none of the basic physical infrastructure found in Kabul or the larger cities.  Americans traveling in these areas who find themselves in trouble may not even have a way to communicate their difficulties to the outside world.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the Travel Warning for Afghanistan, and the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.  These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.  For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:

A large portion of the Afghan population is unemployed, and many among the unemployed have moved to urban areas.  Basic services are rudimentary or non-existent.  These factors may directly contribute to crime and lawlessness.  Diplomats and international relief workers have reported incidents of robberies and household burglaries as well as kidnappings and assault.  Any American citizen who enters Afghanistan should remain vigilant for possible banditry, including violent attacks.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.  The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.  Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is 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.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:

Well-equipped medical facilities are few and far between throughout Afghanistan.  European and American medicines are available in limited quantities and may be expensive or difficult to locate.  There is a shortage of basic medical supplies.  Basic medicines manufactured in Iran, Pakistan, and India are available, but their reliability can be questionable.  Several western-style private clinics have opened in Kabul:  the DK-German Medical Diagnostic Center (www.medical-kabul.com), Acomet Family Hospital (www.afghancomet.com), and CURE International Hospital (ph. 079-883-830) offer a variety of basic and routine-type care; Americans seeking treatment should request American or Western health practitioners.

Afghan public hospitals should be avoided.  Individuals without government licenses or even medical degrees often operate private clinics; there is no public agency that monitors their operations.  Travelers will not be able to find Western-trained medical personnel in most parts of the country outside of Kabul, although there are some international aid groups temporarily providing basic medical assistance in various cities and villages.  For any medical treatment, payment is required in advance.  Commercial medical evacuation capability from Afghanistan is limited and could take days to arrange.  Even medevac companies that claim to service the world may not agree to come to Afghanistan.  Those with medevac insurance should confirm with the insurance provider that it will be able to provide medevac assistance to this country.

There have been outbreaks of Avian Influenza in poultry in Afghanistan, to include the areas of Nangahar, Laghman, and Wardak provinces, and in the city of Kabul, however, there have been no reported cases of the H5N1 virus in humans.  Updates on the Avian Influenza situation in Afghanistan are published on the Embassy’s web site at http://kabul.usembassy.gov/information_for_travelers.html.  For additional information on Avian Influenza, please refer to the Department of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet available at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/health/health_1181.html

Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Afghanistan.  For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB.  http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s websiteee at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.  For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.  Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

MEDICAL INSURANCE

The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.  Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.  The information below concerning Afghanistan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.  All drivers face the potential danger of encountering land mines that may have been planted on or near roadways.  An estimated 5-7 million landmines and large quantities of unexploded ordnance exist throughout the countryside and alongside roads, posing a danger to travelers.  Robbery and crime are also prevalent on highways outside of Kabul.  The transportation system in Afghanistan is marginal, although the international community is constructing modern highways and provincial roads.  Vehicles are poorly maintained, often overloaded, and traffic laws are not enforced.  Vehicular traffic is chaotic and must contend with numerous pedestrians, bicyclists and animals.  Many urban streets have large potholes and are not well lit.  Rural roads are not paved.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:

As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Afghanistan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.  For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s internet website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

U.S. Government personnel are not authorized to travel on Ariana Afghan Airlines or any other airline falling under the oversight of the Government of Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, owing to safety concerns; however, U.S. Government personnel are permitted to travel on international flights operated by airlines from countries whose civil aviation authorities meet international aviation safety standards for the oversight of their air carrier operations under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:

Because of the poor infrastructure in Afghanistan, access to banking facilities is limited and unreliable.  Afghanistan's economy operates on a "cash-only" basis for most transactions.  Credit card transactions are not available.  International bank transfers are limited.  Some ATM machines exist at Standard Charter Bank and Afghan International Bank (AIB) in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul, but some travelers have complained of difficulties using them.

International communications are difficult.  Local telephone networks do not operate reliably.  Most people rely on satellite or cellular telephone communications even to make local calls.  Cellular phone service is available locally in Kabul and some other cities.  Injured or distressed foreigners could face long delays before being able to communicate their needs to family or colleagues outside of Afghanistan.  Internet access through local service providers is limited.

In addition to being subject to all Afghan laws, U.S. citizens who are also citizens of Afghanistan may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Afghan citizens.  U.S. citizens who are also Afghan nationals do not require visas for entry into Afghanistan.  The Embassy of Afghanistan issues a letter confirming your nationality for entry into Afghanistan.  However, you may wish to obtain a visa as some Afghan-Americans have experienced difficulties at land border crossings because they do not have a visa in their passport.  For additional information on dual nationality in general, see the Consular Affairs home page for our dual nationality flyer.  U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passport with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship are readily available.  As stated in the Travel Warning, consular assistance for American citizens in Afghanistan is limited.

Islam provides the foundation of Afghanistan's customs, laws and practices.  Foreign visitors -- men and women -- are expected to remain sensitive to the Islamic culture and not dress in a revealing or provocative manner, including the wearing of sleeveless shirts and blouses, halter-tops and shorts.  Women in particular, especially when traveling outside of Kabul, may want to ensure that their tops have long sleeves and cover their collarbone and waistband, and that their pants/skirts cover their ankles.  Almost all women in Afghanistan cover their hair in public; American women visitors should carry scarves for this purpose.

Afghan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Afghanistan of items such as firearms, alcoholic beverages, religious materials, antiquities, medications, and printed materials.  American travelers have faced fines and/or confiscation of items considered antiquities upon exiting Afghanistan.  It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements.  Travelers en route to Afghanistan may transit countries that have restrictions on firearms, including antique or display models.  If you plan to take firearms or ammunition to another country, you should contact officials at that country's embassy and those that you will be transiting to learn about their regulations and fully comply with those regulations before traveling.  Please consult http://www.customs.gov for information on importing firearms into the United States.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.  Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.  Persons violating Afghanistan’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.  During the last several years, there have been incidents involving the arrest and/or detention of U.S. citizens.  Arrested Americans have faced periods of detention—sometimes in difficult conditions—while awaiting trial.  Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Afghanistan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.  Another potentially-sensitive activity is proselytizing.  Although the Afghan Constitution allows the free exercise of religion, proselytizing may be viewed as contrary to the beliefs of Islam and considered harmful to society.  Proselytizing may lead to arrest and/or deportation.  Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.  Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:

For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:

Americans living or traveling in Afghanistan are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Afghanistan.  Americans without internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.  The U.S. Embassy is located in Kabul on Great Massoud (Airport) Road, local phone number 0700-108-001 or 0700-108-002, and for emergencies after hours 0700-201-908.  The web site is http://kabul.usembassy.gov/.

 


 

You can also check out what Travel Advice the Foreign Commonwealth Office has to say with regards to Afghanistan HERE

Need to find an Embassy, check out our Embassy Listings Section HERE (For US Citizens) or HERE (For UK Citizens)...

Please check out our travel warning section for this country HERE......

Regards

The SW Team.........

 

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