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Travel Security Advice for Haiti

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COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:

Haiti is one of the least developed and least stable countries in the Western Hemisphere. While the availability of consumer goods and services is adequate in the capital, Port-au-Prince, other parts of the country experience chronic shortages. Most consumer products are imported and expensive. Some tourism facilities in the large cities and resort areas are satisfactory, but many are rudimentary at best, and are difficult to find in most rural areas and small towns. Read the Department of State’s Background Notes on Haiti for additional information.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:

U.S. Citizens living or traveling in Haiti are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate at the Department of State’s travel registration page in order to obtain updated information on local travel and security.  U.S. citizens without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.  Registration is important; it allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency. 

Embassy of the United States Port-au-Prince Haiti


Boulevard du 15 October, Tabarre 41, Tabarre, Haiti
Telephone: (509) (2) 229-8000
Facsimile:  (509) (2) 229-8027
[Email:
  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

American Citizens Services Unit office hours are 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Consular Section is closed on U.S. and local holidays.]

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:

All U.S. Citizens traveling by air from outside of the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States. Haitian law requires U.S. citizens to have a passport to enter and exit Haiti. Once in Haiti, an undocumented U.S. citizen can experience delays of several weeks for the issuance of a passport, as it is often more difficult to establish identity and citizenship overseas than in the United States. The Haitian government requires foreigners to pay a departure fee. U.S. citizens are encouraged to contact the Embassy of the Republic of Haiti for more details regarding current entry, departure and customs requirements for Haiti. The Embassy of the Republic of Haiti is located at 2311 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008; the telephone number is (202) 332-4090. There are Haitian consulates in Miami and Orlando, Florida; Boston, Massachusetts; New York, New York; Chicago, Illinois; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Visit the Embassy of the Republic of Haiti web site for the most current visa information.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Haiti.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website.  For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information Page.

THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY:

U.S. citizens should exercise a high degree of caution and are strongly encouraged to register online prior to travel.  While the overall security situation improved in 2009, political tensions remain, and the potential for politically-motivated violence persists.

Travel in Haiti can be dangerous and all visitors are urged to exercise vigilance and caution. In some cities and towns ordinary services such as water, electricity, police protection and government services are either very limited or unavailable. While a U.N. force has provided assistance to police  in Haiti since 2004, their presence does not guarantee absolute security for residents or visitors.

The U.S. mission in Haiti issues security related messages warning U.S. citizens of violent or unstable conditions and has been forced to suspend service to the public or close the Embassy because of security concerns.  These concerns have also prevented Embassy personnel from traveling to or through some areas. Since October 2004 Embassy personnel have been prohibited from entering central Port-au-Prince after dark due to security concerns. The Embassy has also imposed a curfew on its officers. As a result, the ability of Embassy officers to come to the aid of U.S. citizens in distress may be limited.  If situations occur where the Embassy must suspend operations or when officers are unable to travel freely, the Embassy will continue to be available by telephone to offer emergency services to U.S. citizens.

Incidents of violent demonstrations, looting, and transportation disruptions in Les Cayes and Port-au-Prince   resulted in several deaths.  In 2009 the Embassy issued several security related messages advising U.S. citizens to avoid downtown Port-au-Prince near the universities (Avenue Christophe, Rue Capois, and Avenue John Brown) when student demonstrators barricaded streets and threw rocks at passing cars, attracting a large police presence, which responded with tear gas and other forceful measures.  Demonstrations in Haiti often result in violence and require police intervention.  U.S. citizens are advised to avoid all demonstrations.   As a result of such civil unrest, U.S. citizens have been temporarily stranded in isolated locations and could not safely travel until calm was restored.  U.S. citizens are strongly advised to thoroughly consider the risks before traveling to Haiti and to take adequate precautions to ensure their safety if traveling to Haiti.

U.S. citizens in Haiti should avoid all large gatherings, as crowd behavior can be unpredictable. Visitors encountering roadblocks, demonstrations, or large crowds should remain calm and depart the area quickly and avoid confrontation. The Haitian National Police increased their visibility in 2009 and are gradually contributing to improving public security, especially in the metropolitan area of the capital,  However, assistance from Haitian authorities is often unavailable. U.S. citizens must be particularly cautious on days when there are political activities planned in Haiti. U.S. citizens are urged to take common-sense precautions and avoid any event where crowds may congregate.

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 by calling a regular toll line, 1-202-501-4444, from other countries. 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 U.S. 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 extensive tips and advice on traveling safely abroad.

CRIME:

There are no "safe” areas in Haiti. There is a persistent danger of violent crime, which can be subject to periodic surges sometimes not obviously explained by other events or conditions.  Haiti is among the four most important countries for drug transit to the United States.  . Law and order in Haiti has steadily deteriorated as a result.  Kidnapping, death threats, murders, drug-related shootouts, armed robberies, home break-ins and car-jacking are common in Haiti. Generally, these crimes are committed by Haitians against other Haitians, although several foreigners and U.S. citizens have been victimized. The incidence of kidnapping in Haiti has diminished from its peak in 2006 when 60 U.S, citizens were reported kidnapped.  In 2008, there were 27 reported kidnappings of U.S. citizens, and as of September 2009, one U.S. citizen had been reported kidnapped. Many U.S. citizens who were kidnapped reported being beaten and/or raped by their hostage takers. Kidnapping remains the most critical security concern.  Kidnappers have frequently targeted children.

U.S. citizens who travel to Haiti should exercise a high degree of caution throughout the country. Travelers should keep valuables well hidden, ensure possessions are not left in parked vehicles, use private transportation, alternate their travel routes, and keep doors and windows in homes and vehicles closed and locked. U.S. citizens should avoid all night-time travel due to poor road conditions and increased criminal activity after dark. They should be alert for suspicious onlookers when entering and exiting banks, as criminals often watch and subsequently attack bank customers. Withdrawals of large amounts of cash should be avoided.

Criminal perpetrators often operate in groups of two to four individuals, and may occasionally be confrontational and gratuitously violent. Criminals sometimes will seriously injure or kill those who resist their attempts to commit crime. In robberies or home invasions, it is not uncommon for the assailants to beat or shoot the victim in order to limit the victim's ability to resist. If an armed individual demands the surrender of a vehicle or other valuables, the U.S. Embassy recommends compliance without resistance. This recommendation also applies in the event of a kidnapping. Visitors to Haiti should exercise caution at all times and review basic personal security procedures frequently.

U.S. citizens in Haiti must be particularly alert when arriving from overseas at the Port-au-Prince airport, as criminals have often targeted arriving passengers for later assaults and robberies. The use of public transportation, including "tap-taps" (private transportation used for commercial purposes) should be avoided. Visitors to Haiti should arrange for someone known to them to meet them at the airport.

U.S. citizens should decline all requests to carry items for others to or from Haiti. Traffickers of illegal drugs have duped unsuspecting travelers into helping transport narcotics aboard commercial airlines.

Certain high-crime zones in the Port-au-Prince area should be avoided, including Croix-des-Bouquets, Carrefour, Martissant, the port road (Boulevard La Saline), urban route Nationale #1, the airport road (Boulevard Toussaint L'Ouverture) and its adjoining connectors to the New ("American") Road via Route Nationale #1 (which should also be avoided). [Should we check this with RSO?]  This latter area in particular has been the scene of numerous robberies, carjackings, and murders. Embassy employees are prohibited from remaining in the downtown area after dark or entering Cite Soleil and La Saline and their surrounding environs due to significant criminal activity. Neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince once considered relatively safe, such as the Delmas road area and Petionville, have been the scenes of an increasing number of violent crimes.

Cameras and video cameras should only be used with the permission of the subjects; violent incidents have followed unwelcome photography. Their use should be avoided altogether in high-crime areas.

Holiday periods, especially Christmas and Carnival, often bring a significant increase in criminal activity. Haiti's Carnival season is marked by street celebrations in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday. In recent years, Carnival has been accompanied by civil disturbances, altercations and severe traffic disruptions. People attending Carnival events or simply caught in the resulting celebrations have been injured and killed. Random stabbings during Carnival season are frequent. Roving musical bands called “rah-rahs” operate during the period from New Year's Day through Carnival. Being caught in a rah-rah event may begin as an enjoyable experience, but the potential for injury and the destruction of property is high. A mob mentality can develop unexpectedly leaving people and cars engulfed and at risk. During Carnival, rah-rahs continuously form without warning; some rah-rahs have identified themselves with political entities, lending further potential for violence.

The Haitian police are understaffed, poorly equipped and unable to respond to most calls for assistance. There are continued allegations of police complicity in criminal activity. The unsatisfactory response and enforcement capabilities of the Haitian national police and the weakness of the judiciary frustrate many victims of crime in Haiti. In the past, U.S. citizens involved in business and property disputes in Haiti have been arrested and detained without charge, and have been released only after intervention at high levels of the Haitian Government.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.  Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.  In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.

VICTIMS OF CRIME:

If you are the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (see the end of this sheet or see the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates).  This includes the loss or theft of a U.S. passport.  The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds may be transferred.  Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are 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. 

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Haiti is 114.

Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in 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 offences.   Persons violating Haiti's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Haiti are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. The judicial process in Haiti can be extremely slow; progress is often dependent on considerations not related to the specific case. Detainees may wait months or years for their cases to be heard before a judge or to have legal decisions acted upon by the authorities. Bond is not usually available to those arrested for serious crimes with the result that often suspects remain in custody for many months before formal indictment. 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.]

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:

The official currency of Haiti is the gourde, which has a variable exchange rate (currently approximately 40 gourdes to the U.S. dollar). Visitors will notice that most establishments in Haiti price items in an unofficial currency known as the “Haitian dollar.” (One Haitian dollar is equivalent to five gourdes.) Others give prices in gourdes or even in U.S. dollars. It is always a good idea to clarify with vendors which currency -- the gourde, Haitian dollar, or U.S. dollar -- is being used in a given transaction, as price tags often bear a number without indicating currency. The currency itself shows a value in gourdes. U.S. dollars are the currency of choice at the Labadee Beach cruise ship port-of-call.

Travelers' checks are often difficult to change in Haiti, but credit cards are widely accepted and some establishments accept or cash personal checks. At least one local bank chain has ATMs around Port-au-Prince that are compatible with some U.S. ATM cards. These ATMs are frequently out-of-order, and there have been reports of overcharging and robberies at the ATMs.

Haiti, like most Caribbean countries, can be affected by hurricanes and other storms. Hurricane season runs from approximately June 1 - November 30 each year. During the 2008 hurricane season, the country was struck by three tropical storms and one hurricane that resulted in torrential rains, extensive flooding and mudslides, and hundreds of reported casualties. The lack of government infrastructure and rescue services, combined with impassable roads and bridges, severely hindered rescue and relief efforts.

Daily weather information in Haiti is available from national and international media. The Haitian meteorological service provides hurricane warnings via national radio. Most information local media broadcast only in Kreyol and/or French. Warnings are also available on the internet from many sources, one of which is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). General information about natural disaster preparedness is available from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Please see our Customs Information sheet.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:

Medical facilities in Haiti are scarce and for the most part sub-standard; outside the capital standards are even lower than in Port-au-Prince. Medical care in Port-au-Prince is limited, and the level of community sanitation is extremely low. Life-threatening emergencies often require evacuation by air ambulance at the patient's expense. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Haiti. 

For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the 
World Health Organization (WHO) web site.  The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:

The Department of State strongly urges U.S. Citizens to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether the policy covers them while  overseas and whether it covers emergency expenses such as medical evacuation.  For more information, please see our information on medical insurance overseas page.

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 Haiti is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Cars are supposed to be driven on the right side of the road in Haiti, but few roads have lane indicators and drivers use whatever part of the road is open to them, even if it is not the correct side of the road. Traffic is extremely congested in urban areas, and hours-long traffic jams develop throughout the country.

Driving in Haiti must be undertaken with extreme caution. The situation on the roads can be described as chaotic at best, and it is advisable for those with no knowledge of Haitian roads and traffic customs to hire a driver through a local hotel. Roads are generally unmarked, and detailed and accurate maps are not widely available. Lanes are not marked and signs indicating the direction of traffic flow seldom exist. This lack of organization, along with huge potholes that appear without warning, may cause drivers to execute unpredictable and dangerous maneuvers in heavy traffic. The Haitian government lacks adequate resources to assist drivers in distress or to clear the road of accidents or broken-down vehicles blocking the flow of traffic. While drinking and driving is illegal in Haiti, people frequently drive after drinking, especially at night.

Public transportation, as it is usually defined, does not exist in Haiti. While Haitians use buses, "tap-taps," and taxis, which may observe regular routes, much like public transportation, none of these should be considered reliable. The Embassy strongly discourages their use.

Those who drive in Haiti should do so defensively and conservatively, avoid confrontations such as jockeying for position, and remain aware of the vehicles around them. Drivers should carry the phone numbers of people to call for assistance in an emergency, as Haitian authorities are unlikely to respond to requests for assistance. When traveling outside of Port-au-Prince, drivers should caravan with other vehicles to avoid being stranded in the event of an accident or breakdown.

Although Haitian law requires that applicants pass both a written and a driving test to qualify for a drivers license, many Haitian drivers appear unaware of traffic laws. Signaling imminent actions is not widely practiced and not all drivers use turn indicators or international hand signals properly. For instance, many drivers use their left blinker for all actions, including turning right and stopping in the road, and others flap their left arm out the window to indicate that they will be taking an unspecified action. Drivers do not always verify that the road is clear before switching lanes, turning, or merging.

Speed limits are seldom posted and are generally ignored. Speeding is the cause of many fatal traffic accidents in Haiti, as are overloaded vehicles on winding, mountainous roads and vehicles without brakes. Poor maintenance and mechanical failures often cause accidents as well. Drivers should be particularly cautious at night, as unlighted vehicles can appear without warning.

Right of way is not widely observed in Haiti, and there are few operational traffic lights or traffic signs. It is advisable at most intersections to stop and verify that there is no oncoming traffic even if it appears that you have the right of way. Drivers can be quite aggressive and will seldom yield. Walls built to the edge of roads frequently make it impossible to see around corners, forcing drivers to edge their cars into the road at intersections to check for oncoming traffic.

In addition to vehicles, a variety of other objects may appear on the road in Haiti, such as wooden carts dragged by people or animals, small ice cream carts, animals, mechanics working on vehicles parked on the street, and vendors and their wares. Vehicles are often abandoned in the road or by the side of the road. There are few marked crosswalks and sidewalks, and pedestrians often wend their way through traffic in urban areas.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. 

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Haiti’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Haiti’s air carrier operations.  Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:

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

This replaces the Country Specific Information for Haiti dated March 3, 2009, to update sections on Safety and Security, Crime, Aviation Safety Oversight, and Special Circumstances. 


There is also a Malaria Warning for Haiti HERE.......

Be advised of the Travel Warning for Haiti HERE........

The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office also has information regarding travel to Haiti HERE.....

Looking for an Embassy ?, You can also check out ouyr World Wide Embassy Listings Section HERE (For US Citizens) or HERE (For UK Citizens).........

Regards

The SW Team......

 

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