COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Burkina Faso, previously known as Upper Volta, is a landlocked, developing country in the Sahel region of West Africa. Its capital is Ouagadougou. Burkina Faso is a former French colony; the official language is French. With a population of nearly 17 million, it is one of the world’s least-developed countries, and infrastructure for tourism is limited. Please refer to the Department of State’s Fact Sheet on U.S. – Burkina Faso relations for additional information.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in or visit Burkina Faso, please take the time to tell our Embassy about your trip by enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). If you enroll, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements via email and SMS. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency.
Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.
U.S. Embassy Ouagadougou
Avenue Sembene Ousmane, Secteur 15, Ouaga 2000
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
Telephone: 226 50 49 53 00
Facsimile: 226 50 49 56 23
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS: U.S. citizens are strongly urged to acquire visas for Burkina Faso before traveling to the country.
U.S. citizens traveling to Burkina Faso can apply for a visa by mail, or in person, at the Embassy of Burkina Faso in Washington, D.C., where they will receive a five-year multiple entry visa for USD $100. If visas are not obtained in advance, the cost at the port of entry is 94,000 francs CFA (approximately USD $190). Travelers entering Burkina Faso are required to present their current and valid “International Certificate of Vaccination as approved by the World Health Organization (WHO)” (commonly called a “yellow card”) showing that their Yellow Fever vaccination is up-to-date.
The Embassy of Burkina Faso in Washington is located at 2340 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 332-5577. Visas are also available from Burkina Faso’s Mission to the United Nations in New York City. Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Burkinabe embassy or consulate. Visit the Embassy of Burkina Faso website for the most current visa information, or contact their offices directly. Several companies that offer visa services but have no affiliation with the Government of Burkina Faso have set up sites to resemble that of the Embassy of Burkina Faso. The correct web address for the Embassy of Burkina Faso in Washington DC is www.burkina-usa.org ; the site for Burkina Faso’s Permanent Mission is www.burkina-onu.org.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Burkina Faso.
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.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: U.S. citizens traveling to, and residing in, Burkina Faso are urged to exercise caution and maintain a high level of security awareness at all times. Roadside banditry and other violent crimes sometimes occur in Burkina Faso, especially in remote and border areas. U.S. citizens should exercise caution when traveling along the northern areas of the country near the Mali and Niger borders. The Sahel region of Burkina Faso is extremely remote, and the ability of both the Government of Burkina Faso and the Embassy to render assistance in the event of an emergency there is limited. The U.S. Embassy has placed restrictions on official government travel on the road stretching from Djibo to Dori, and to all areas north. While there have been no known terrorist incidents (bombings, hijackings, or kidnappings) directed against foreigners in Burkina Faso, it is prudent to be aware of events occurring in neighboring countries.
Burkina Faso shares a boarder with Mali. On January 11, 2013 the Malian military launched military operations against terrorist groups that have been in control of northern Mali. As a result, terrorist groups have stepped up their rhetoric calling for additional attacks or kidnappings against Westerners, particularly against those countries which support international military intervention in Mali. The al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) terrorist organization and their affiliates could therefore target Westerners in Burkina Faso, especially in the regions of the north near Mali and Niger.
Ouagadougou occasionally experiences demonstrations and civil unrest. Although most demonstrations are generally peaceful, there have been incidents of violence, looting, and destruction of property. Instances may arise where the best safe course of action is to shelter temporarily in place. U.S. citizens should remain informed of current developments, avoid crowds political gatherings, and street demonstrations, even if these appear to be peaceful.
Stay up to date by:
CRIME: Crime in Burkina Faso poses some measure of risk for visitors. Recent incidents of violent crime against visitors have included harassment, robbery, sexual assault, and rape. Non-violent crimes directed against visitors have been theft, burglary, and various confidence scams. Most reported incidents involve purse-snatchers, pickpockets, and street scam artists who target wallets, jewelry, cell phones, and other valuables. Thieves are especially active during international meetings or events which draw large crowds to the capital. The areas near and around the U.N. Circle, Avenue Kwame N’Krumah, and the Central Market in Ouagadougou experience the highest incidence of street crime. Travelers should stay alert, remain in groups, and avoid poorly lit areas. Be especially cautious at night when most reported incidents have taken place.
Although violent criminals typically operate at night, there have been daytime attacks. Several attacks have been directed at intercity public buses. U.S. citizen travelers should avoid all intercity and highway travel at night. It is best to check the Embassy website for the latest security information before setting out on your journey.
Perpetrators of business fraud often target foreigners, including U.S. citizens. Recent scams that have victimized U.S. citizens have taken many forms, including fraudulent transactions for gold and antiquities. Such fraud schemes are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Burkina Faso. The scams pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. A typical indicator of a business scam is the demand for advance payments on contracts. Persons contemplating business deals in Burkina Faso should contact the commercial section of the U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou if they have any doubts about the legitimacy of a potential business client or partner.
Normally, fraud schemes begin with an unsolicited communication (usually by e-mail) from an unknown individual who describes a situation that promises quick financial gain, often by assisting in the transfer of a large sum of money or gold dust out of the country. A series of "advance fees" must then be paid in order to conclude the transaction. In fact, the final payoff does not exist; the purpose of the scam is simply to collect the advance fees. Common variations of this scheme involve individuals claiming to be refugees, victims of various African conflicts, or former political leaders in need of help in transferring large sums of money. Sometimes perpetrators manage to induce victims to provide bank account and credit card information, and financial authorizations that allow them to incur large debts against the victim’s credit. In some instances, victims have lost their life savings.
The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense. If a proposition looks too good to be true, it probably is. Research thoroughly any unsolicited business proposal originating from Burkina Faso or any other source before committing funds, providing goods or services, or undertaking travel.
Do not purchase counterfeit and pirated goods such as CDs, DVDs, or computer software even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, but if purchased, 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 24-hour national emergency telephone number is 10-10 which will connect a caller to the Ministry of Security who can then dispatch the appropriate law enforcement or emergency assistance entity. Within Ouagadougou, emergency numbers are as follows: fire department, 50-30-69-47, 50-30-69-48, or simply dial 18; ambulance service, 50-30-66-44 or 50-30-66-45; police, 50-36-44-42, 50-32-60-69, or simply dial 17; Gendarmerie, 50-30-32-71, 50-31-33-40, or 80-00-11-45.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Burkina Faso, you are subject to its laws. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. You may be taken in for questioning if you do not have your passport with you. In Burkina Faso, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. Criminal penalties will vary from country to country; in some places driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. There are also some things that might be legal in Burkina Faso, 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 prosecutable in the United States. If you break the law in Burkina Faso, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what is legal and what is not wherever you go.
Persons violating Burkina Faso’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Burkina Faso can be severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries and customary international law, if you are arrested in Burkina Faso 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. Burkina Faso is not a party to a bilateral agreement that requires mandatory notification.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Burkina Faso’s customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning export from Burkina Faso of items such as masks, religious materials, and antiquities. The Director of the National Museum has stated that the export of objects of art (old or traditional artists’ works, and all old material of the national cultural patrimony) is subject to the prior approval of the Ministry of Culture. Contact the Embassy of Burkina Faso in Washington (see contact information in the Entry Requirements section) for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Foreigners should carry photocopies of the biographic page of their passport and their visa with them at all times. If a passport is lost and a valid visa cannot be presented by the traveler upon departure, a police report documenting the loss of the visa may be required.
Credit cards are accepted at only a few high-end establishments in Ouagadougou. Travelers' checks may be cashed at local banks, but euro-denominated traveler’s checks are much more widely accepted. There are a few ATMs in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso, but they do not always accept cards from foreign banks. ATMs generally accept Visa and MasterCard credit cards with a personal identification number.
Burkina Faso’s laws concerning photography have changed. Photo permits from the Tourist Office are no longer required for tourists. Film crews still do require permits. Note that the Tourist Office publishes a list of buildings, installations, and areas that may not be photographed at all.
Local telephone service is adequate but expensive. Cell phone networks are available in most urban areas, although service can be unreliable. Telephone coverage in rural areas is limited, though increasing. International calls cannot always be made from hotels; it may be necessary to make international calls from a Post and Telecommunications Office, where only local currency is accepted. Collect calls are not possible. Cyber-cafes for Internet access are common in both Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso.
Accessibility: Accommodation and accessibility for individuals with disabilities is limited in Burkina Faso.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities and emergency hospital care are very limited and of poor quality, particularly in areas outside of Ouagadougou. Emergency response services, such as ambulances, are in very short supply, poorly equipped, and in many regions simply nonexistent.
Some medicines are available through local pharmacies, though supplies can be limited and quality is inconsistent. Travelers requiring specific medicines should bring an adequate supply for the duration of their stay in Burkina Faso.
Malaria is a serious risk to travelers in Burkina Faso and can be fatal. Current medications recommended for malaria prophylaxis include Lariam (Mefloquin), Malarone (Atovaguone/Proguanil) and Doxcycline. 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 what anti-malarial drugs they have been taking. For additional information on malaria, including protective measures, please visit the CDC’s website.
There are vaccines not routinely given in the United States that are strongly advised before traveling to Burkina Faso. Meningitis and Yellow Fever are endemic in Burkina Faso, and cases are most frequent during the drier, dustier months of January through June. Travelers should confirm their meningitis inoculation is up to date. Tuberculosis remains a considerable health concern in Burkina Faso. For further information, please consult the CDC's information on TB.
You can find good 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. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors’ 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. It is strongly advised you have medical evacuation insurance (air ambulance) before you travel to Burkina Faso. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in Burkina Faso, you will encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information which follows is for general reference only, and may not be applicable in a particular location or circumstance within Burkina Faso.
Travelers should exercise great caution when traveling by road in Burkina Faso. While major urban and intercity roads are paved, they can be narrow and full of potholes. Dirt roads are common, even in large cities. Vehicles will often enter oncoming traffic to pass or maneuver around obstacles. Broken-down vehicles may be abandoned on the road. Rural roads outside of major arteries are often in poor condition and roadside assistance is not available. Some rural roads are impassible in the rainy season. Livestock and children may dart onto the road without warning. Road travel at night is especially dangerous and should be avoided. At night, there is a high volume of truck traffic passing through the country, and pedestrians, bicycles, and donkey carts pose a major hazard on unlit, unmarked roads. Vehicles are often dangerously overloaded and poorly maintained. Drivers, including motorcyclists and bicyclists, are at times careless. The police rarely enforce traffic laws and are virtually absent from rural roads. Emergency services in case of accidents are scarce, underequipped, and practically nonexistent in most rural areas.
Caution is urged while using any form of public transportation to travel by road, and travelers should remain aware of their personal belongings at all times.
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 Burkina Faso, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Burkina Faso’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 Burkina Faso dated February 21, 2012 to update sections on Crime and Threats to Safety and Security.