COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Afghanistan has made significant progress since the Taliban were deposed in 2001, but still faces daunting challenges, including fighting an insurgency, preventing the return or resurgence of al-Qaida, recovering from over three decades of civil strife, and rebuilding a shattered physical, economic, and political infrastructure. NATO and International Security Assistance (ISAF) forces work in partnership with Afghan security forces to combat violent extremist elements that terrorize the population and challenge all levels of government authority. Violent extremists continue to pursue a strategy of terrorist attacks, relying largely on assassinations, suicide bombings, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
As Afghanistan prepares for presidential and provincial elections in April 2014, internal problems following years of war and an ongoing, violent insurgency continue to compromise efforts by the Afghan government to improve governance and stability. The government faces challenges in trying to develop a more effective police force, a more effective and accessible legal system, and sub-national institutions that work in partnership with traditional and local leaders to meet the needs of the population. Afghan security forces took over responsibility for security nation-wide in June 2013, but the United States works closely with the international community to support and bolster Afghan government capacity on national and sub-national levels. Read the Department of State’s Fact Sheet on Afghanistan for additional information.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to work, live, or travel in Afghanistan, please take the time to tell our Embassy about your trip. If you enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), 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.
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: A passport and valid visa are required to enter and exit Afghanistan. Afghan entry visas are not available at Kabul International Airport. U.S. citizens who arrive without a visa are subject to confiscation of their passports and face heavy fines and difficulties in retrieving their passports and obtaining a visa, as well as possible deportation. U.S citizens who are also Afghan nationals do not require visas for entry into Afghanistan. Likewise, for U.S. passport holders born in Afghanistan (place of birth listed as Afghanistan on their passports), a visa is not required for entry. For these individuals, the Embassy of Afghanistan issues a letter confirming nationality for entry into Afghanistan. However, U.S. citizens born in Afghanistan may wish to obtain a visa, as some Afghan-Americans have experienced difficulties at land border crossings because they do not have a visa in their passports. U.S. citizens arriving in the country via military air usually have considerable difficulties if they choose to depart Afghanistan on commercial air, because their passports are not stamped to show that they entered the country legally. Anyone arriving on military air should move quickly after arrival to legalizehis or her status if there is any chance of departing the country on anything other than military air. Travelers may be asked to register with a representative of the Ministry of Interior’s Foreigners’ Registration Office upon arrival at Kabul International Airport. Upon registration, the traveler will be issued a card that he or she should surrender upon departure. Immigration authorities in Afghanistan have also implemented a fingerprinting system for all foreign visitors upon entry to the country with the exception of diplomats and ISAF personnel traveling on official orders. Visit the Embassy of Afghanistan ’s website for the most current visa information. The consular office of the Embassy of Afghanistan is located at 2233 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Suite 216, Washington, DC 20007, telephone 202-298-9125.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Afghanistan.
Information about dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: The latest Travel Warning for Afghanistan warns U.S. citizens against travel to Afghanistan and states clearly that the security situation remains critical. No province in Afghanistan should be considered immune from violence, and the potential exists throughout the country for hostile acts, either targeted or random, against U.S. and other Western nationals at any time. Insurgent elements including the Haqqani Network, Taliban and Taj Mir Jawad networks remain violently opposed to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Additionally, criminal organizations such as weapons and narco-traffickers undermine peace and stability. These groups aim to weaken or bring down the Government of Afghanistan, and often, to drive Westerners out of the country. They do not hesitate to use violence to achieve their aims. Terrorist actions may include, but are not limited to, suicide operations, bombings -- including vehicle-borne explosives and improvised explosive devices -- assassinations, carjackings, rocket attacks, assaults, or kidnappings. Violence has spiked during the first six months of 2013, and despite numerous interdiction operations by Afghan and coalition forces, insurgents have conducted thirteen high profile attacks in Kabul City. These attacks have consisted of complex assaults, IED detonations and suicide bombings. Insurgents continue to target various U.S. and Afghan government facilities in Kabul City, including the June 25, 2013 attack against a U.S. government facility adjacent to the Afghan Presidential Palace and the U.S. Embassy.
There is an elevated risk of kidnapping and assassinations targeting U.S. citizens and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) employees throughout the country. In May 2012, insurgents with vehicle-borne explosives and suicide vests targeted Green Village, a compound on Jalalabad Road in Kabul that houses primarily international security contractors. In May 2013, insurgents conducted a complex attack against the office of International Organization of Migration (IOM) headquarters. Several insurgents occupied an adjacent building, and from an elevated position, fired small arms and rocket-propelled grenades on nearby buildings. This attack resulted in several deaths and wounded a number of security personnel, IOM staff, and Afghan civilians.
Riots -- sometimes violent -- have occurred in response to various political and social tensions. U.S. citizens should avoid rallies and demonstrations; even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. Crime, including violent crime, remains a significant problem. The country faces a difficult period in the near term and U.S. citizens could be targeted or placed at risk by unpredictable local events. There is also a real danger from the presence of millions of unexploded land mines and other ordnance. Terrorists continue to use roadside or vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. Private U.S. citizens should not come to Afghanistan unless they have made arrangements in advance to address security concerns.
The absence of records for ownership of property, differing laws from various regimes, and the chaos that comes from decades of civil strife have left property issues in great disorder. Afghan-Americans returning to Afghanistan to recover property have become involved in complicated real estate disputes and have faced threats of retaliatory action, including kidnapping for ransom and death. Similarly, U.S. citizens involved in business disputes -- a common legal problem in Afghanistan -- have reported that adversaries in the disputes have threatened detention, arrest, imprisonment, and at times, have successfully carried out the threats. U.S. citizens who find themselves in such situations should not assume that either local law enforcement or the U.S. Embassy will be able to assist them in resolving these disputes.
Large parts of Afghanistan are extremely isolated. The few roads that exist are mostly in poor condition. Cell phone signals are irregular and none of the basic physical infrastructure found in Kabul or larger cities existU.S. citizens traveling in these areas who find themselves in trouble may be completely unable to communicate their difficulties to the outside world.
U.S. citizens should be aware that in March 2013, an Afghan government-controlled security force, the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF), assumed authority over the provision of most commercial security services in Afghanistan from private security companies. In August 2010, President Karzai issued Presidential Decree 62 ordering the disbandment of private security companies in Afghanistan. As a result, all security guard services being performed by private security companies, with the exception of diplomatic missions, have been transferred to the APPF. Only embassies and other accredited diplomatic missions are permitted to continue using private security companies after March 2013.
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CRIME: A large portion of the Afghan population is unemployed, and many among the unemployed have moved to urban areas. These factors may directly contribute to crime and lawlessness. Diplomats and international relief workers have reported incidents of robberies and household burglaries as well as kidnappings and assault. Any U.S. citizen who enters Afghanistan should remain vigilant for possible banditry, including violent attacks.
Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, but 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:
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Afghanistan is “119.” Please note that local operators do not speak English. Most are limited to Dari or Pashto.
U.S. citizens in an emergency situation in Afghanistan can reach the U.S. Embassy by phone at 0700-10-8001.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Afghanistan, 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 and may not afford the protections available to you 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 acrime prosecutable in the United States. In some areas of Afghanistan you could be detained for questioning if you do not have your passport with you. Taking pictures of military installations or personnel may result in questioning or detention. Possession of alcohol and certainly driving under the influence of alcohol could land you in jail for three to six months. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Afghanistan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. If you break local laws in Afghanistan, your U.S. passport will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is very important to know what constitutes legal and illegal actions in the area where you are traveling. Persons violating Afghan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Although the Afghan constitution allows the free exercise of religion, proselytizing may be viewed as contrary to the beliefs of Islam and considered harmful to society. Authorities take these matters very seriously. Afghan law carries a maximum penalty of death for those charged with proselytizing, if convicted. Evidence may consist of possession of non-Islamic religious material, especially in local languages. Allegations of conversion of Afghan citizens are taken particularly seriously. The testimony of three individuals or a group is enough to convict someone of proselytizing. The same penalty exists in law for Afghan citizens who convert to another religion. All Afghan citizens are considered Muslim from birth. Converts are subject to arrest regardless of where the conversion took place, and Afghan-U.S. dual nationals are also subject to this law.
U.S. citizens have also been arrested by police in cases involving debt to Afghans. In Afghanistan, debts and business disputes are not exclusively civil matters as may be the case in the United States. Instead, the aggrieved party may successfully have a U.S. citizen arrested in cases where a debt is alleged to be owed to an Afghan. The Ministries of Commerce and Interior, Afghan Investment Support Agency, the Afghan National Police, and the courts have all played roles in recent disputes involving U.S. citizens. If involved in a commercial dispute, hiring an Afghan attorney early can be beneficial. A list of English speaking attorneys in the consular district of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul can be found on the Embassy’s website. The list comprises attorneys in Afghanistan officially registered with the Afghan Ministry of Justice who have expressed a willingness to carry out legal services for U.S. citizens. The Embassy does not endorse any particular attorney and the list is not comprehensive; we encourage those seeking legal advice in Afghanistan to utilize other means of finding an attorney.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Because of the poor infrastructure in Afghanistan, access to banking facilities is limited and unreliable. Afghanistan's economy operates on a "cash-only" basis for most transactions, but the use of credit cards is becoming more common. International bank transfers are limited. ATM machines exist at the Afghan International Bank (AIB) in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul, but some travelers have complained of difficulties using it.
International communications are difficult. Local telephone networks do not operate reliably. Most people rely on satellite or cellular telephone communications even to make local calls. Cellular phone service is available locally in many parts of the country, with service more reliable in Kabul and otherlarge cities. Injured or distressed foreigners could face long delays before being able to communicate their needs to family or colleagues outside Afghanistan. Internet access through local service providers is limited.
In 2011, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior ordered the organization of a committee for the purpose of bringing better security, traffic movements, and functionality to the streets of Kabul. This committee has implemented several restrictions, namely on tinted windows of vehicles operating in Kabul. Owners of vehicles with tinted windows can be arrested if they fail to eliminate tinting or replace their windshields and windows (several U.S. citizens have recently been detained on such charges).
In addition to being subject to all Afghan laws, Afghan-Americans may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Afghan citizens. Information on dual nationality can be found on our website. We encourage U.S. citizens to carry a copy of their U.S. passport with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available. Due to security conditions and travel difficulty, consular assistance for U.S. citizens in Afghanistan is limited, particularly for those persons outside the capital.
Islam provides the foundation of Afghanistan's customs, laws, and practices. Foreign visitors -- men and women -- are expected to remain sensitive to the Islamic culture and not dress in a revealing or provocative manner, including the wearing of sleeveless shirts and blouses, halter-tops, and shorts. Women in particular, especially when traveling outside Kabul, may want to ensure that their shirts have long sleeves and cover their collarbone and waistband, and that their pants/skirts cover their ankles. Almost all women in Afghanistan cover their hair in public; U.S. citizen women visitors should carry scarves for this purpose. Consensual same-sex sexual relations are criminalized in Afghanistan. Homosexuality and cross-dressing are considered serious crimes in Afghanistan and possible punishment may include the death penalty. For further information on LGBT travel, please read our Information for LGBT Travelers page. Afghan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary import or export of items such as firearms, alcoholic beverages, religious materials, antiquities, medications, and printed materials. U.S. citizen travelers have faced fines and/or confiscation of items considered antiquities upon exiting Afghanistan. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements. Travelers en route to Afghanistan may transit countries that have restrictions on firearms, including antique or display models. If you plan to take firearms or ammunition to another country, you should contact officials at that country's embassy and those that you will be transiting to learn about their regulations and fully comply with those regulations before traveling. Please consult the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website for information on importing firearms into the United States.
ACCESSIBILITY: While in Afghanistan, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what you would find in the United States. The Afghan constitution requires the state to assist and protect the rights of persons with disabilities, including the rights to health care and financial protection, but does not mandate access to buildings and transportation. Most buildings, public transportation, communication, and road crossings are inaccessible to persons with disabilities.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Well-equipped medical facilities are few and far between throughout Afghanistan. European and American medicines are available in limited quantities and may be expensive or difficult to locate. There is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Basic medicines manufactured in Iran, Pakistan, China and India are available, but their reliability can be questionable. Several Western-style private clinics have opened in Kabul: the DK-German Medical Diagnostic Center (ph. 079-913-6210),French Children’s Hospital (ph. 020-250-0531),and CURE International Hospital (ph. 079-988-3830) offer a variety of basic and routine-type care but are not always open; if you are seeking treatment you should request U.S. or Western health practitioners.
Afghan public hospitals should be avoided. Individuals without government licenses or even medical degrees often operate private clinics; there is no public agency that monitors their operations. You will not be able to find Western-trained medical personnel in most parts of the country outside Kabul, although there are some international aid groups temporarily providing basic medical assistance in various cities and villages. For any medical treatment, payment is required in advance. Commercial medical evacuation capability from Afghanistan is limited and could take days to arrange. Even medevac companies that claim to service the world may not agree to come to Afghanistan. If you have medevac insurance, you should confirm with the insurance provider that medevac assistance is available in Afghanistan and which clinics they recommend for evaluation.
You can find detailed information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consultthe World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Afghanistan. For further information, please consult the CDC's information on TB.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You cannot assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It is very important to determine BEFORE you depart the United States whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
In many places, including Afghanistan, doctors and hospitals 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 does not cover you when you travel, it is recommended to purchase a second coverage plan for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in Afghanistan, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Afghanistan is provided for general reference only and may not be accurate in a particular location or circumstance. All drivers face the potential danger of encountering land mines that may have been planted on or near roadways. An estimated 5-7 million land mines and large quantities of unexploded ordnance exist throughout the countryside and alongside roads, posing a danger to travelers. Robbery and crime, particularly kidnappings, are also prevalent on highways outside Kabul. The transportation system in Afghanistan is marginal, although the international community is constructing modern highways and provincial roads. Vehicles are poorly maintained, often overloaded, and traffic laws are not enforced. Roadside assistance is non-existent. Vehicular traffic is chaotic and must contend with numerous pedestrians, bicyclists, and animals. Many urban streets have large potholes and are not well lit. Rural roads are not paved. With congested roads and abundant pedestrian traffic, vehicle accidents are a serious concern and can escalate into violent confrontations. We strongly urge all drivers to drive defensively and pay close attention to their surroundings.
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 Afghanistan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Afghanistan’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.
U.S. government personnel are not permitted to travel on most Afghan airlines due to these ongoing safety concerns and the lack of Afghan government safety oversight capabilities. U.S. government personnel may travel into and out of Afghanistan on international flights operated by airlines from countries whose civil aviation authorities meet the safety standards for the oversight of their air carrier operations under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program. Such countries with airlines that operate to Afghanistan have included India, Pakistan, Bahrain, Germany, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Afghanistan dated January 28, 2013, to update the sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements for U.S. Citizens, Threats to Safety and Security, Criminal Penalties, and Special Circumstances.