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Travel Security Advice for The Gambia

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gambia_mapThe_Gambia_Overview


COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:

The Gambia is a developing country in western Africa, and the capital is Banjul.  The official language is English, but many inhabitants speak indigeneous languages such as Wolof or Mandinka.  Facilities for tourism in the Banjul area are good; however, outside the capital region, tourist facilities are limited in availability and quality.  Read the Department of State Background Notes on The Gambia for additional information.

REGISTRATION:

U.S. citizens living or traveling in The Gambia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate at the Department of State travel registration page, so that they can 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.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:

A passport, visa, and evidence of yellow fever vaccination are required.  The current fee for a five-year visa for Americans is $100.  The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends obtaining a Gambian visa in advance of your arrival.  Travelers who do not obtain the necessary visa before arrival in The Gambia will have their passports stamped at the port of entry with a 24, 48 or 72 hour pass and are required to report to The Gambian Immigration Department to document their stay.  Banjul Immigration grants permission to remain for one month for about $16.  Extensions require additional visits to The Gambian Immigration Department and additional fees.  A $10.00 (U.S. dollars) tourist levy is charged upon arrival at the airport.  Payment is only accepted in U.S. dollars, British pounds, or Euros.  NOTE:  Charter flights should have this fee included in the price of the ticket.  Travelers are urged to obtain the latest information on customs and entry requirements from the Embassy of The Gambia, 1156 15th Street, NW, Suite 905, Washington, DC 20005; telephone (202) 785-1399, fax (202) 785-1430; or from the Permanent Mission of The Gambia to the U.N. at 820 Second Avenue, Suite 900-C, New York, NY, 10071; Telephone (212) 949-6640.  Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Gambian embassy or consulate.  Visit the Embassy of The Gambia website 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 The Gambia.

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.

THREATES TO SAFETY AND SECURITY:

The Gambia has not experienced any acts of terrorism or large scale violence, but much of its southern region borders the Casamance region of Senegal, which is home to a long running low-intensity conflict.  Like most countries in the region, conditions are always subject to change and travelers should check with the U.S. Embassy if they have specific concerns.  Demonstrations are rare in The Gambia.  Travelers driving a vehicle in The Gambia are obligated to stop at all roadblocks or road checkpoints in the country.  Drivers should not reverse direction to avoid a road checkpoint or make any movements that security personnel may view as suspicious or provocative.

For travel to the nearby Casamance region of Senegal, please see the Country Specific Information for Senegal.

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 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 extensive tips and advice on traveling safely abroad.

CRIME:

Petty street crime is a problem in The Gambia.  Travelers should be careful of pickpockets in crowded markets areas and on ferries.  Packages or luggage should never be left unattended, especially in taxis.  U.S. citizens in The Gambia should be careful not to leave valuables or identity documents unsecured in hotel rooms or cars.  Travelers should also be cautious of individuals who persistently offer unsolicited help.

Visitors and resident U.S. citizens should leave their windows up and doors locked while driving due to several reported automobile burglaries, including theft from occupied cars stopped in traffic with the windows open or doors unlocked.  Long-term residents should consider hiring a security guard for their home to prevent burglary and theft.

Women should avoid walking alone especially after dark, including in beach and tourist areas.  In addition, female visitors to The Gambia should be particularly cautious of men locally known as “bumsters,” who approach females wishing “just to get to know you” or offering to be tour guides.  Bumsters often use romance in hopes of gaining money and other assistance, or in the hope of departing The Gambia through marriage to a Westerner.  Travelers are advised to be polite but decisive in turning down unwanted help or attempts at conversation.

Business fraud, long associated with other parts of West Africa, has also been reported in The Gambia.  The U.S. embassy has received reports of several scams in which U.S. businesses sent, but did not receive payment for shipments.  U.S. citizens should be very suspicious of any unsolicited offers to participate in lucrative business opportunities, especially if they require financial disclosures, money transfers, large up-front investments or promises of confidentiality.  The best way to avoid becoming a victim of fraud is common sense–if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.  You should be suspicious of any unsolicited business proposal originating in The Gambia.  Carefully scrutinize all proposals before you commit any funds, provide any goods or services, or undertake any travel.  For additional information, please see the Department of State’s information on International Financial Scams.

The U.S. Embassy has also been contacted by several victims of romantic Internet scams perpetrated in The Gambia.  Generally, an American citizen befriends someone or gets engaged to someone over the Internet.  This person, who can claim to be an American or a Gambian citizen, eventually requests financial assistance from the American to help pay for urgent medical treatment, to tide him or her over after a recent robbery, or to pay some form of alleged exit tax or government fine.  In the vast majority of cases, the person with whom the American has been corresponding is using a fake identity and is in no need of assistance.  In general, Americans are advised not to send money to anyone they have not met in person.  For more information on this type of scam, please refer to the State Department brochure on International Financial Scams, specifically, the section on Internet Dating and Romance Scams.

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:

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 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.

Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Banjul for a list of lawyers practicing in The Gambia, or visit the Embassy’s website.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in The Gambia is 116 for Ambulatory services, 117 for police assistance, and 118 for fire.  The Gambian Police Force operates another 24 hour emergency line at (220) 422-4914.  Please be advised that the emergency numbers listed may or may not have an English-speaking operator available.

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 StatesCommiting a homosexual sex act is considered a crime in The Gambia.  For additional information, see the Special Circumstances section below. 

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

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:

In addition to being subject to all of The Gambia’s laws affecting foreigners, Americans who are also Gambian citizens may be subject to certain additional provisions of Gambian law while in The Gambia.  Dual nationals should inquire at a Gambian embassy or consulate regarding their status.

In May 2008, Gambian government leaders, including the country’s president, strongly condemned homosexuality and advocated for greatly increased penalties for anyone harboring homosexuals.  However, no legislative action has resulted.  The Gambia’s existing laws already criminalize homosexual sex acts, but current laws do not include the death penalty.  Violations of the laws against homosexual sex acts are occasionally pursued and Gambian citizens have been prosecuted under these laws.  In June 2008, two Western tourists were detained but not charged under this section of the criminal code.

The Gambia has strict laws on the import and export of skin-bleaching creams and some medications.  Visitors who arrive with substances containing hydroquinone, hydrocortisone, betamethasone, flucinonide, clobestatol, or clobestatone are subject to fines up to $2,000 and/or three years imprisonment.

Airport police and customs officials routinely inspect incoming and outgoing luggage.  Airline passengers are required to put their luggage through an x-ray machine before departing the airport.  Travelers in possession of prescription drugs should carry proof of their prescriptions, such as labeled containers.  Police have, on occasion, arrested foreigners carrying unlabeled pills.  For a list of prohibited items, travelers should contact the nearest Gambian embassy or consulate.

It is against the law for tourists to photograph or film government buildings, including airports, military installations or embassies due to security concerns.

The Gambia’s currency, the dalasi, is freely convertible but is not widely available outside the country.  The Gambia has a cash economy and travelers should carry sufficient currency to cover all expenses for their visit.  Visitors can exchange currency at banks or exchange bureaus.  Changing money unofficially is prohibited and individuals who do so may face prosecution.  Travelers should be aware that The Gambia has many last-minute holidays requiring banks and other businesses to close.  Travelers should always have enough cash to carry them through unexpected bank closures.

Credit cards are accepted only at major hotels, some grocery stores, and a few restaurants.  Local personal checks from U.S. citizens are accepted only at exchange bureaus and only from Americans who are resident in The Gambia.  There are a few ATMs in the Banjul area, but they often malfunction or fail to issue receipts.  ATMs only accept VISA cards for international transactions and only dispense a maximum of about $80.00 (in local currency) per transaction, with three transactions allowed per day.  Money transfers are widely available at Western Union branch offices in The Gambia.

Please see our Customs Information.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:

Medical facilities in The Gambia are very limited, some treatments are unavailable, and emergency services can be unpredictable and unreliable.  Travelers should carry their own supplies of prescription as well as over-the-counter medicines or treatments.

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

Malaria is a serious risk to travelers in The Gambia.  Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area (and for up to one year after returning home) should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history, as well as what anti-malarial medications they have been taking.  For additional information on malaria, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, visit the CDC website.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:

The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad. Important questions are 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 The Gambia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Travel in The Gambia is difficult due to poor road conditions, particularly during the rainy season, which generally lasts from June through October.  Although there are paved main roads in the greater Banjul area, many are poorly maintained and poorly lit.  With the installation of street lights on roads in the Banjul area, some drivers no longer use their vehicle lights at night.

Most roads outside the Banjul area are still unlit and unpaved.  Caution should be exercised when using taxis, particularly at night.  Most taxis lack safety belts and some are not road-worthy.  Livestock and pedestrians pose road hazards throughout the country, including in the greater Banjul area.  Drivers and pedestrians should exercise extreme caution to prevent accidents.

Numerous accidents are caused by intoxicated drivers.  Tests are rarely done to determine levels of intoxication.  If you are suspected of causing an accident while intoxicated, and the case is taken to trial, you may be subject to a substantial fine or imprisonment.

The police do not consistently apply traffic laws and regulations, and sometimes compel drivers to pay fines on the spot for violations, real or contrived.  Written citations/tickets are rarely given.  Police periodically set up impromptu traffic stops on major streets to check for drivers’ licenses and proper insurance.  Drivers should not attempt to drive around these traffic stops.

Government convoys frequently travel at high speeds and often in either or both lanes of traffic, including in the oncoming traffic lane, requiring cars to move off the road.  Whenever there are police lights or sirens, drivers should move off the road immediately and completely to avoid collisions.  There are no trauma centers in The Gambia and severe accidents often require evacuation to Senegal or Europe.

Water transportation in the region can be unpredictable and risky.  Ferries rarely keep to their posted schedules.  The ferries, which are often overcrowded, usually lack sufficient numbers of life preservers for all passengers.  In particular, the wooden dugout “pirogues” that cross the Gambia River often leave shore overloaded and occasionally sink in the middle of the river.  U.S. citizens are advised to exit their cars during the crossing.  U.S. citizens who must cross the Gambia River are advised to use the Gambia Port Authority’s Banjul-Barra or Yelitenda-Farafenni ferries, which are slower but safer than the privately operated pirogues.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.  Also, we suggest that you visit the website of the country’s national tourist office.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:

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

Gambian airlines do not offer service to the United States.  Services provided by the West African regional air carriers that serve Banjul are sometimes unreliable.  The airlines are known to alter scheduled stops, cancel or postpone flights on short notice, and regularly overbook flights.  Travelers may experience unexpected delays even after check-in, and should be prepared to handle alternate ticketing and/or increased food and lodging expenses.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:

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

EMBASSY LOCATION:

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

Embassy Banjul

Address:  The U.S. Embassy is located 92 Kairaba Avenue in Fajara, a suburb of the capital city of Banjul.  The mailing address is P.M.B.19, Banjul, The Gambia.
Telephone:  +220-439-2856, +220-439-2858 and +220-439-1971 (Available 24 hours a day.)
Facsimile:  +220-439-2475

This replaces the Country Specific Information for The Gambia dated October 23, 2008, to update sections on Country Description, Registration, Threats to Safety and Security, Crime, and Criminal Penalties.

 


 

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

There is also a Malaria Warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for The Gambia HERE......

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

Regards

The SW Team.....

 

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