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Travel Security Advice for Mauritania

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COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:

Mauritania is a developing country in northwestern Africa. Arabic is the official language, but French is widely used and several local languages are also spoken. Tourist facilities in the capital, Nouakchott, are adequate, but limited or non-existent elsewhere. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Mauritania for additional information.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:

U.S. citizens living or traveling in Mauritania are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate at the Department of State 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. 

Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.

Embassy Nouakchott


Address:  The U.S. Embassy is located between the Presidency building and the Spanish Embassy on Rue Abdallaye.  The postal address is B.P. 222, Nouakchott.
Telephone:  (222) 525-2660/2663, 525-1141/45, or 525-3038 (ext. 5441)
Emergency after-hours telephone:  (222) 525-3288
Facsimile:  (222) 525-1592
The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy may be contacted
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS:

A passport and a visa are required, as is evidence of yellow fever vaccination.  Mauritanian visas require an invitation or sponsor, can take up to several months to process, and must be obtained prior to travel.  Visas are no longer available at border crossings or at the airport upon arrival.  U.S. citizens who apply for Mauritanian visas occasionally experience significant delays, often waiting several weeks for the issuance of their visas.  For the most current visa information, contact the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, 2129 Leroy Place NW, Washington, DC  20008, tel. (202) 232-5700, or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , 211 East 43rd Street, Suite 2000, New York, NY 10017, telephone (212) 986-7963 or 8189.  Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Mauritanian embassy or consulate.  The U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott cannot provide assistance to private citizens seeking Mauritanian visas.

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

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.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:

There is increasing activity by the terrorist group Al Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Mauritania.  On November 29, 2009, in a presumed terrorist action, three Spanish NGO workers were kidnapped from their vehicle while traveling from Nouadhibou to Nouakchott.  On August 8, 2009 there was a suicide bombing near the French Embassy in Nouakchott.  Two French guards and one Mauritanian citizen were injured.  The bomber is believed to have been a member of, or acting under the orders of, AQIM.  On June 23, 2009, a private American citizen was shot and killed in Nouakchott in an apparent kidnapping attempt by individuals who were either sympathetic to or directly tasked by AQIM.  In December 2007, terrorists shot and killed four French tourists and wounded a fifth near the town of Aleg in southeastern Mauritania.  Two days later, terrorists killed four soldiers near the town of El Ghallaouiya in northern Mauritania.  These two attacks were followed by an attack on the Israeli Embassy and an adjoining nightclub frequented by Westerners in February 2008.  Terrorists killed 11 Mauritanian soldiers out on patrol approximately 40 miles from the northern town of Zouerate in September 2008.  The perpetrators of these attacks are all believed to be linked to AQIM.  As a result of these safety and security concerns, Peace Corps has temporarily suspended its Volunteer program in Mauritania.  The State Department, Peace Corps, and Embassy Nouakchott are continually evaluating the security situation in preparation for a return of the Peace Corps’ Volunteer program when possible.

Travelers should avoid all non-essential travel to the Hodh El Charghi region of southeastern Mauritania, the eastern half of the Tagant region of central Mauritania (east of Tidjika), and the Zemmour region of northern Mauritania, due to increased AQIM activities in these areas.  Travel in the unpopulated areas of eastern Mauritania (areas east of Zouerate and Chinguetti and north of Nema) is strongly discouraged without a government escort.  Travelers should check the website of the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott for current consular Warden Messages concerning Mauritania.
 
The Mauritanian military led a bloodless coup on August 6, 2008.  International mediation resulted in the creation of a Government of National Unity that held elections on July 18, 2009.  These elections were certified to have been satisfactorily free and fair.  However, the possibility of political instability or of spontaneous violent protests still remains.  In addition, deteriorating economic conditions could cause civil unrest.  U.S. citizens should be prepared for an increased police presence, avoid large crowds, and maintain security awareness at all times. 

Travelers should exercise prudence and caution when traveling in Mauritania.  Given AQIM threats to attack western targets in Mauritania and the region, and due to indications of a desire to kidnap Westerners for ransom, U.S. citizens are urged to remain vigilant and be alert to surveillance or other risks to their safety.  Faith-based organizations, regardless of their location, may also be particularly targeted.  U.S. citizens should not venture outside of urban areas unless in a convoy and accompanied by an experienced guide, and even then only if equipped with sturdy vehicles and ample provisions.  U.S. citizens traveling outside of urban areas are strongly discouraged from driving after dark. The U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott has received reports of banditry and smuggling in the more remote parts of Mauritania.  Landmines also remain a danger along the border with the Western Sahara and travelers should cross only at designated border posts.  The Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens avoid travel in regions north and east of Zouerate, Ouadane, and Tichit unless traveling with a government escort.  Travelers planning overland trips from Mauritania to Morocco, Algeria, Senegal, or Mali should check with the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott before setting out.  For more information about travel in Mauritania, please see the section “Traffic Safety and Road Conditions” below.
 
In Nouakchott and other major cities in Mauritania, there is an increased security presence and additional checkpoints.  Police routinely conduct road blocks at which they may ask for proof of identity and driver’s licenses.  These checkpoints should be respected.  U.S. citizens visiting Mauritania should be prepared for such inquiries and carry their identification cards at all times.  It is best to drive cautiously and be prepared to stop at short notice.
 
U.S. citizens should be aware of their surroundings at all times and maintain good personal security practices, including always locking their homes and cars, varying routes and time of travel, and avoiding drawing attention to themselves.  When going out, they should avoid being part of large, highly visible groups of Westerners, and avoid sitting in areas that are easily visible from the street when in restaurants or cafes.  U.S. citizens should be particularly alert when frequenting locales associated with Westerners, including cultural centers, social and recreation clubs, beach areas, and restaurants.
 
Although U.S. citizens are generally welcomed in Mauritania, there were reports of anti-American incidents such as threats and stoning of vehicles following the 1998 U.S. and British-led intervention in Iraq, and demonstrations outside the Embassy during the 2003 U.S. intervention in Iraq. 

For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs website.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within 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:

Crime in Mauritania is moderate but steadily increasing.  Most incidents occur in the cities and larger towns and are petty crimes, such as pick-pocketing and the theft of improperly secured or openly visible valuables left in vehicles.  Most criminal activity occurs at night; therefore, walking alone at night is not advisable.  Residential burglaries and robberies, particularly at the beaches in Nouakchott, are not uncommon.  In Nouakchott, travelers should avoid the beach at night.  During the day, beach-goers should travel in large groups or stay in popular areas because of the increase in the number of thefts and robberies there in the past several years.  Violent crimes and crimes involving the use of weapons are rare, but increasing.  Rapes and assaults have occurred and, in some instances, involved the American community.  Foreign tourists, including Americans, might be targeted for kidnapping in Mauritania. 

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.

INFORMATION FOR 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 Department of State 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. 

There is no local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Mauritania.

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 offenses.  Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Persons violating Mauritanian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.  Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Mauritania are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:

Mauritanian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning the temporary import or export of items such as firearms, narcotics, alcoholic drinks, and pork products.  Contact the Embassy of Mauritania in Washington, DC, for specific information regarding customs regulations.

The local currency is the ouguiya, and it may not be imported or exported.  Credit cards can be used only at a few hotels in the capital, Nouakchott, and in the northwestern city of Nouadhibou.  ATMs are available only in Nouakchott.  Major foreign currencies are changeable at banks and numerous currency exchanges; however, this service is not always available without advance notice or prior arrangement.  There is a risk of receiving fraudulent bank notes even from banks, which often do not have the security means to detect fake bank notes.  Furthermore, credit card fraud is a problem, so travelers are strongly advised to pay hotel bills in cash.

Islamic ideals and beliefs in the country encourage conservative dress.  Sleeved garments and below-the-knee skirts are recommended, and travelers should avoid wearing shorts. 

Please see our Customs Information.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:

Medical facilities in Mauritania are limited.  There are few modern clinics or hospitals beyond the capital and a few major towns.  At local pharmacies, some medicines are difficult to obtain; travelers are advised to bring their own supplies.

Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease.  Chloroquine-resistant P. falciparum malaria is a severe form of the disease that is found in many parts of western Africa, including Mauritania.  Because travelers to Mauritania are at high risk for contracting malaria, they should take one of the following anti-malarial drugs:  mefloquine (Lariam™), doxycycline, or atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone™).  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have determined that a traveler who is on an appropriate anti-malarial drug has a greatly reduced chance of contracting the disease.  In addition, other personal protective measures, such as the use of insect repellents, may help to reduce malaria risk.  Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and the names of the anti-malarial drugs they have been taking.  For additional information on malaria, please visit the
CDC travelers’ health website.

For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website.  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 their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to determine whether the policy applies overseas and whether it covers emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.  For more information, please see our 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 Mauritania is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Public transportation is not safe and road conditions in Mauritania are generally poor, particularly in the interior.  Overland travel is difficult and roadside assistance is almost nonexistent.  The country’s size and harsh climate make road maintenance and repair especially problematic.  Mauritania has only about 2,070 km (1,286 miles) of surfaced roads, 710 km (441 miles) of unsurfaced roads, and 5,140 km (3,194 miles) of unimproved tracks.  Drivers should not offer rides to hitchhikers, nor should visitors to Mauritania accept rides offered by strangers.
    
The traditional route to Nouadhibou, prior to the completion of a paved road, was along the beach during low tide.  Some travelers continue to use this route, as do visitors to coastal fishing villages and other points of interest, as well as smugglers and others who try to avoid the security checkpoints that are often established along the asphalt roads.  Pedestrian visitors to the beach should exercise caution because of the beach’s use as a route for motorized vehicles.

U.S. citizens traveling overland for long distances in Mauritania should travel in convoys and be sure to have suitable four-wheel drive vehicles, a local guide, an adequate supply of water and food, and a second fuel reservoir.  Multiple vehicles are recommended in case of breakdown.  A Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver and satellite phone are essential when traveling in remote areas.  Visitors are urged not to travel alone into the desert or after dark when outside of major urban areas.

Driving in Mauritania can be treacherous, and we encourage travelers to hire a trained local driver.  Traffic patterns differ considerably from U.S.-style “rules of the road,” and many Mauritanians drive without regard to traffic signs or rules.  Roadway obstructions and hazards caused by drifting sand, animals, and poor roads often plague motorists.  These hazards, when combined with the number of untrained drivers and poorly maintained vehicles, make heightened caution imperative at all times.  Drivers should be extremely vigilant and all vehicle occupants should always wear their seat belts.  Motorcycle and bicycle riders should wear helmets and protective clothing.  Nighttime driving is discouraged.

The telecommunications infrastructure, including cellular telephone coverage, is limited.  For those traveling outside the major urban areas, it is recommended to have a satellite telephone readily available.

Please refer to our
Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:

As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Mauritania, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Mauritania’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.  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 Mauritania dated July 16, 2009, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Threats to Safety and Security, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions. 

 


The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office also has information regarding Mauritania HERE....

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

There is also a Malaria Warning provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention HERE....

Regards

The SW Team......

 

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