COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The Gambia is a developing country in western Africa. Its capital is Banjul. The official language is English, but many inhabitants speak indigenous languages such as Wolof or Mandinka. Facilities for tourism in the Banjul area and along the Atlantic coast south of the Gambia River are good; however, elsewhere, tourist facilities are limited in availability and quality. Read the Department of State Factsheet on The Gambia for additional information on U.S. - The Gambia relations.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in, or visit, The Gambia, please take the time to tell our Embassy about your trip. If you register online, 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. You can sign up at the Embassy in Banjul during working hours, but we recommend you sign up at the above website prior to travel.
U.S. Embassy Banjul
Address: The U.S. Embassy is located at 92 Kairaba Avenue in Fajara, a populated area and business center a few miles from 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)
Work hours: Monday – Thursday 8:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.; Friday 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport, visa, and evidence of yellow fever vaccination are required. The current fee for a five-year visa for U.S. citizens is $105; the fee for an emergency visa is $155. If you enter The Gambia without a visa, you may be allowed to enter, then given two working days in which to obtain a visa from the Department of Immigration in downtown Banjul. The Embassy strongly recommends travelers obtain visas before leaving the United States.
An “airport development” fee of 20 Euros (or its equivalent in Dollars or Dalasi) is included in ticket fees for passengers departing The Gambia.
Travelers are urged to obtain the latest information on customs and entry requirements from the Embassy of The Gambia, 2233 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Suite 240, Georgetown Plaza, Washington, DC 20007; telephone (202) 785-1399, -1379, -1425, fax (202) 785-1430; or from the Permanent Mission of The Gambia to the U.N. at 800 Second Avenue, Suite 400-F, New York, NY, 10017; telephone (212) 949-6640, fax: (212) 856-9820. Overseas inquiries should be made at the nearest Gambian embassy or consulate. Visit the Embassy of The Gambia website for 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.
You can find information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: The Gambia has not experienced any recent acts of terrorism or large scale violence; however, much of its southern region borders the Casamance region of Senegal, which is home to a long-running, low-intensity conflict. For travel to the nearby Casamance region of Senegal, please see the Country Specific Information for Senegal.
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. Drivers who encounter a government motorcade should pull completely off the road and bring the car to a complete stop until the motorcade passes.
Like most countries in the region, conditions are subject to change and travelers should check with the U.S. Embassy for specific concerns.
Stay up to date by bookmarking our Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts and the Worldwide Caution. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well. You can also access updated official travel information on your mobile device with our Smart Traveler app, which is available through iTunes and the Android market.
You can also call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the United States and Canada, or 1-202-501-4444 by regular toll line from other countries. These numbers are available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
Take some time before travel to improve your personal security — things are not the same everywhere as they are in the United States. Here are some useful tips for traveling safely abroad.
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CRIME: Petty street crime is a problem in The Gambia. Travelers should be careful of pickpockets in crowded market 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 may wish to leave their windows up and doors locked while driving due to several reported automobile burglaries, including theft from occupied cars stopped in traffic with windows open or doors unlocked. Long-term residents may wish to consider hiring security guards for their home to deter 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 is frequently contacted by victims of romantic Internet scams and health-related plea-for-help scams perpetrated in The Gambia. Generally, a U.S. citizen befriends someone or gets engaged to someone over the Internet. This person, who can claim to be a U.S. citizen or a Gambian citizen, eventually requests financial assistance from the U.S. citizen 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 U.S. citizen has been corresponding is using a fake identity and is in no need of assistance. In general, U.S. citizens 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.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, you may be breaking local law too.
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 (see the Department of State list of embassies and consulates). If your passport is stolen we can help you replace it. For violent crimes such as assault and rape, we can help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends, and help them send you money if needed. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you understand the local criminal justice process and 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 a 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, and that emergency responders may lack fuel for vehicles or face other resource challenges.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in The Gambia, 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; for instance, 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 and is prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in The Gambia, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is very important to know what is legal and what is not wherever you are traveling.
If you are arrested in The Gambia, Gambian authorities are required to notify the U.S. Embassy of your arrest. If you are concerned that the Department of State may not be aware of your situation, you should request the police or prison officials to notify the U.S. Embassy of your arrest.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: In addition to being subject to all of The Gambia’s laws affecting foreigners, U.S. citizens who are also Gambian citizens may be subject to additional provisions of Gambian law while in The Gambia. Dual nationals may wish to inquire at a Gambian embassy or consulate regarding their status.
Consensual same-sex sexual relations between men are illegal in The Gambia. There is no similar law targeting women. Prison terms can range from five to 14 years, and there is strong societal discrimination against LGBT individuals. Arrest and prosecution of LGBT persons, including foreign visitors, does occur. Eighteen men were arrested and prosecuted on suspicion of same-sex sexual relations in 2012. For further information on LGBT travel, please read our Information for LGBT Travelers page.
The Gambia has strict laws on the import and export of skin-bleaching creams and some medications. Visitors who arrive with substances containing 1% or more of: hydroquinone (in any form), hydrocortisone (unless in trace amounts and for specific purposes such as anti-itch products), 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 U.S. citizens 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 $140.00 (in local currency) per transaction, with three transactions allowed per day. Money transfers are widely available at Western Union branch offices in The Gambia.
Accessibility: While in The Gambia, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation to be different from the United States. As per Department of State’s Human Rights Report, the Gambian constitution protects persons with disabilities in terms of access to health services, education, and employment. However, there are no laws to ensure access to buildings for persons with disabilities, and very few buildings in the country are accessible to them.
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.
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.
Malaria is a serious risk to travelers in The Gambia. Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in The Gambia (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: 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:
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash (local currency) at the time of service, regardless of your insurance. 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. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in The Gambia, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Travel in The Gambia can be 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 many 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. There are no trauma centers in The Gambia and severe accidents often require evacuation to Senegal or Europe.
Water transportation in the region is unsafe. Ferries rarely keep to their posted schedules. The ferries, which are poorly maintained and often overcrowded, usually lack sufficient numbers of life preservers for all passengers. U.S. citizens are advised to exit their cars during the crossing. The wooden dugout “pirogues” that also cross the Gambia River often leave shore overloaded and occasionally sink in the middle of the river.
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 service 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.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for The Gambia dated June 1, 2011, to update all sections.