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 to a more representative government. The TFG was succeeded by a new federal government in September 2012. In January 2013 the United States officially recognized the Somali government for the first time since 1991. However, the U.S. government does not maintain a diplomatic presence in Somalia at this time.
Somali security forces, with the assistance of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and others, have liberated the capital city of Mogadishu and other key cities in southern and central Somalia from the control of al-Shabaab, a radical Islamist movement, but the central government’s reach and ability to provide services remains limited. Al-Shabaab still maintains control of towns and villages in Somalia’s countryside.
Regional administrations have evolved in the rest of the country with the most notable being the semi-autonomous state of Puntland in the northeast and Somaliland, which has declared independence, but is unrecognized by any other country, in the northwest. While al-Shabaab has lost ground in southern and central Somalia, it remains capable of terrorist acts and asymmetric warfare. Criminal groups conduct kidnapping for ransom and piracy, particularly in the regions of Galmuduug and Puntland, although the number of incidents have been on the decline with the introduction of land and sea-based initiatives to counter piracy. Inter- and intra-clan violence also frequently occurs throughout the country. Somalia's infrastructure and economy were seriously damaged by the civil war and its aftermath, but the private sector is trying to reemerge and has been boosted by an influx of diaspora returning to Somalia since the end of the transitional period of governance. Tourist facilities are non-existent. Read the Department of State Fact Sheet on Somalia for additional information on U.S. – Somalia relations.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: There is no U.S. Embassy in Somalia. If you are going to live in or visit Somalia, please take the time to tell our Embassy
in Kenya about your trip. If you enroll your trip, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements.
It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency. Here’s the link to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. Travelers to Somalia should register with the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya.
U.S. Embassy Kenya
United Nations Avenue, Gigiri, Nairobi, Kenya
Telephone: (254) (20) 363-6000
After-hours emergency: (254) (20) 363-6170
Fax: (254) (20) 363-6410
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: 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 and visa are required. Visas are issued at certain Somali embassies, including in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Nairobi, Kenya. 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; email firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 central government, whose authority is not established throughout all of Somalia.
HIV/AIDS restrictions: The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Somalia.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found onour website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: Since the United States 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 services for U.S. citizens 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 the Department’s Travel Warning for Somalia. Travelers insisting on visiting Somaliland despite this warning should check current conditions in Somaliland before embarking on their journey. Terrorist attacks have occurred against international relief workers, including Westerners, throughout Somalia, including Puntland and Somaliland. In every year since 2008, there have been violent kidnappings and assassinations, including by suicide bombing, of local and foreign 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 UN compounds and other places frequented by foreigners in Mogadishu, including Mogadishu International Airport. Additionally, al-Shabaab controls portions of southern and central Somalia. Persons traveling to Somalia should 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 occur in most parts of the country. Al-Shabaab remains engaged in active warfare against the central government and regional administrations, including Puntland and Galmuduug. Also, illegal roadblocks by armed men, sometimes in government uniforms, 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 violent incidents, ranging from large-scale clashes between al-Shabaab and the central government to 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 incidents.
U.S. citizens considering seaborne travel around Somalia’s coast should exercise extreme caution, given the threat of vessel hijacking and/or piracy off south central Somalia and Puntland. 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. The HF international call-up and emergency channel is 2182 MHz. 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).” In the Gulf of Aden, 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.
The United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) has advised that elevated regional tensions have increased the risk of maritime attacks being conducted by extremists to vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Bab el Mandeb regions.
MARAD recommends vessels at anchor, operating in restricted maneuvering environments, or at slow speeds should be especially vigilant, and report suspicious activity. U.S. flag vessels that observe suspicious activity in the area are advised to report such suspicious activity or any hostile or potentially hostile action to COMUSNAVCENT battlewatch captain at phone number 011-973-1785-3879. All suspicious activities and events are also to be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center at the following toll free telephone: 1-800-424-8802, direct telephone 202-267-2675, or TDD 202-267-4477. The complete advisory is available on the MARAD website at www.MARAD.DOT.gov.
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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, other areas of the south, and in Galmuduug and Puntland.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. We can:
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Somalia, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places, driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Somalia, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not wherever you go.
Persons violating Somalia’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Somalia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.
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.
Arrest notifications in host country: Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries, and customary international law, if you are arrested in Somalia, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. However, this is unlikely to happen as there is no U.S. diplomatic representation in Somalia.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Water, health, and electricity systems are poor. Functioning telecommunications systems exist only in major towns in Somalia.
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.
Accessibility: While in Somalia, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what one finds in the United States. There is no legislation in Somalia mandating access to transportation, communication, or public buildings for persons with disabilities.
Concerns for LGBT Travelers: The legal situation regarding consensual same-sex sexual relations remains unclear. Sexual orientation is a taboo topic, and severe societal stigma is pervasive making travel to Somalia generally unsafe for LGBT individuals. For further information on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender travel, please read our Information for LGBT Travelers page.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities in Somalia are extremely limited. Travelers should carry personal supplies of medications with them, as many of the health clinics in Somalia lack a doctor or a nurse and carry substandard supplies.
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.
You can find detailed information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
Almost all clinics will expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctor and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in Somalia you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. There are no traffic lights anywhere in Somalia. The poor condition of most roads makes driving hazardous. Night driving can be dangerous due to the absence of lighting. In many areas, drivers risk explosion of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) or landmines.
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 the government of Somalia’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.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Somalia dated September 18, 2012 to update the section on Country Description, STEP enrollment/Embassy location, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.