Country Specific Information
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November 04, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Since the collapse of the central government in 1991, Somalia has been subject to widespread violence and instability. A Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was established in 2004 to guide the country through a transitional process to result in a new constitution and elections, planned for 2009. However, the nascent TFG remains fragile and lacks the capacity to provide services inside Somalia. General insecurity and inter- and intra-clan violence frequently occur throughout the country, and attacks and fighting between anti-government elements and TFG and Ethiopian forces take place regularly in Mogadishu and in regions outside the capital. The United States has no official representation inside Somalia.
In 1991, the northwest part of the country proclaimed itself the Republic of Somaliland and maintains a separate regional governing authority; however, Somaliland has not received international recognition as an independent state. The northeastern section of Somalia, known as the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, has also made efforts to establish a regional governing authority but has not claimed independence. Somalia's economy was seriously damaged by the civil war and its aftermath, but the private sector is trying to reemerge. Tourist facilities are non-existent. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Somalia for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport is required for travel to Somaliland and Puntland. Both regions require a visa and issue their own at their respective ports of entry. For travel to other parts of Somalia, including Mogadishu, a passport is required; however, there is no established governing authority capable of issuing a universally recognized visa. Air and seaports are under the control of local authorities that make varying determinations of what is required of travelers who attempt to use these ports of entry.
Travelers may obtain the latest information on visas as well as any additional details regarding entry requirements from the Permanent Representative of the Somali Republic to the United Nations, telephone (212) 688-9410/5046; fax (212) 759-0651, located at 425 East 61st Street, Suite 702, New York, NY 10021. Persons outside the United States may attempt to contact the nearest Somali embassy or consulate. All such establishments, where they exist, are affiliated with the TFG, whose authority is not established throughout Somalia.
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: Since the U.S. does not have an Embassy or any other diplomatic presence in any part of Somalia, including Somaliland and Puntland, the U.S. government cannot provide any consular services to U.S. citizens in Somalia. Limited American Citizen Services are available for travelers to Somalia at the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Djibouti.
While Somaliland has experienced a level of stability that has not been present in other parts of Somalia, please note that the Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens against all travel to Somalia, including the self-proclaimed “independent Republic of Somaliland” -- see Department’s Travel Warning for Somalia. Travelers insisting on traveling to Somaliland despite this warning should nevertheless always check current conditions in Somaliland before traveling. Terrorist attacks have occurred against international relief workers, including Westerners, throughout Somalia, Puntland, and Somaliland. In early 2006, an American citizen living and working in southern Somalia was kidnapped and held for ransom before being released. In July 2007, kidnapping threats were issued against international humanitarian assistance workers in Puntland. In 2007 and 2008, there were several violent kidnappings and eight assassinations of staff working for international organizations. Additionally, there have been threats against Westerners in Somalia, including Somaliland. Terrorist operatives and armed groups in Somalia have demonstrated the intent to attack air operations at Mogadishu International Airport. Additionally, a foreign terrorist organization is ostensibly in control of the southern port city of Kismayo and has openly threatened air traffic out of the local airport. Armed conflict is commonplace in the capital city of Mogadishu. All visitors are urged to restrict their movements in the region. Persons traveling to or through this area should also be aware that incidents such as armed banditry, road assaults, kidnappings for ransom, shootings and grenade attacks on public markets, and detonations of anti-personnel and-vehicle land mines regularly occur. Sporadic outbreaks of civil unrest persist and armed conflict also occurs in the rest of the country. Also, illegal roadblocks remain common throughout Somalia and have resulted in serious injury or death.
Cross-border violence occurs periodically. The area near Somalia’s border with Kenya has been the site of numerous incidents of violent criminal activity, including kidnappings and grenade attacks on hostels used by international aid workers. U.S. citizens who decide to visit the area should be aware that they could encounter such criminal activity.
Americans considering seaborne travel around Somalia’s coastal waters should exercise extreme caution, given numerous recent incidents of vessel hijacking and/or piracy. Since 2005 there have been numerous acts and attempted acts of piracy in Somalia's coastal waters, especially off of the Horn of Africa. Piracy remains rampant off the shores of south central Somalia and Puntland. Seaborne travelers should exercise extreme caution, as these groups have proven themselves well armed and dangerous. When transiting in and around the Horn of Africa and/or in the Red Sea, it is strongly recommended that vessels convoy and maintain good communications contact at all times. Marine channels 13 and 16 VHF-FM are international call-up and emergency channels and are commonly monitored by ships at sea. 2182 MHz is the HF international call-up and emergency channel. In the Gulf of Aden, transit routes farther offshore reduce, but do not eliminate, the risk of contact with suspected assailants. Wherever possible, travel in trafficked sea-lanes. Avoid loitering in or transiting isolated or remote areas. In the event of an attack, consider activating the “Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB).” Vessels may also contact the Yemeni Coast Guard 24-hour Operations Center at (967) 1-562-402. The Operations Center staff speaks English. Due to distances involved, there may be a considerable delay before assistance arrives.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affair’s web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including 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: Pervasive and violent crime is an extension of the general state of insecurity in Somalia. Serious, brutal, and often fatal crimes are very common. Kidnapping and robbery are a particular problem in Mogadishu and other areas of the south.
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.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
Malaria is endemic in many areas. There have been outbreaks of cholera in Mogadishu, Kismayo in the south, and Puntland in the northeast. For additional information on malaria and cholera, including protective measures, see the CDC travelers' health web page at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.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 web site 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/en.
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. Travelers are strongly encouraged to purchase such insurance prior to traveling to East Africa if not already covered under their current medical plan. 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 Somalia is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
There are no traffic lights in the country except in Hargeisa in Somaliland. The poor condition of most roads makes driving hazardous. Night driving can be dangerous due to the absence of lighting. Recent occurrences of land mine detonations on roads point to a potentially fatal risk for drivers.
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 Somalia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Somalia’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
There is no organized system of criminal justice in Somalia, nor is there any recognized or established authority to administer a uniform application of due process. Enforcement of criminal laws is, therefore, haphazard to nonexistent. Locally established courts operate throughout Somalia under a combination of Somali customary and Islamic Shari'a law, some of which may be hostile towards foreigners.
The Somali shilling is the unit of currency except in Somaliland, which uses the Somaliland shilling. U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere. Credit cards are not accepted in Somalia.
Please see our Customs Information.
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 laws in Somalia, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Somalia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. 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 on intercountry adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues web pages.
In accordance with Somali customary law, any child whose father is a Somali citizen is also considered to be a Somali citizen. Somali children require their father's permission to leave the country.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: There is no U.S. Embassy in Somalia. U.S. citizens who plan to enter Somalia despite the current Travel Warning 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 Somalia. 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. Travelers to Somaliland should register with the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti, and travelers to Puntland or southern Somalia should register with the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.
The U.S. Embassy in Djibouti is located at Plateau du Serpent, Boulevard Marechal Joffre, Djibouti City; telephone (253) 35-39-95. The after-hours telephone number is (253) 35-13-43. The mailing address is Ambassade Americaine, B.P. 185, Djibouti, Republique de Djibouti. The workweek in Djibouti is Sunday through Thursday. The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi is located on United Nations Avenue, Gigiri, Nairobi, Kenya; telephone (254)(20) 363-6000; fax (254) (20) 363-6410. In the event of an after-hours emergency, the Embassy duty officer is available at (254) (20) 363-6170. The Embassy's mailing address is P.O. Box 606 Village Market, 00621 Nairobi, Kenya, or mail using U.S. domestic postage may be addressed to Unit 64100, APO AE 09831, USA.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Somalia dated October 4, 2007 to update section on Safety and Security.