COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The Kingdom of Lesotho is an enclave located entirely within the Republic of South Africa. It is roughly the size of Maryland and has a population of about 1.8 million people. Nearly all of Lesotho lies above 5,000 ft (1,500M), and the country features Africa's highest mountain south of Kilimanjaro, Thabana Ntlenyana, at 11,400 feet (3,500M), as well as one of Africa's only ski resorts. Facilities for tourism are expanding. The capital city of Maseru provides shopping, dining and entertainment options, and Lesotho’s countryside offers an array of outdoor activities, including off-roading, mountain biking, horseback riding, and hiking. Lesotho is a politically stable constitutional monarchy. Its growing economy principally exports textiles, manufactured goods, diamonds and water. Read the Department of State’s Fact Sheet on Lesotho for additional information on U.S.-Lesotho relations.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in or visit Lesotho, please take the time to tell the Embassy about your trip. If you enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, 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.
Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: U.S. citizens entering Lesotho must present a valid passport. Visas are not required for U.S. citizens visiting for 180 days or less. Vaccination for yellow fever is a common requirement throughout Africa, and travelers should carry their international vaccination cards with them. For more information concerning entry requirements, travelers may contact the Embassy of the Kingdom of Lesotho, 2511 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 797-5533. Visit the Embassy of Lesotho’s website for the most current visa information.
While U.S. citizens normally do not need a visa for South Africa if they plan to stay less than 90 days, South African visa requirements are different for individuals who have resided in Lesotho for an extended period of time. It is common for foreigners residing in Lesotho to receive seven-day visas when crossing into South Africa by road. Check with the High Commission of South Africa in Maseru if you are planning to travel in South Africa.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Lesotho.
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 should avoid political gatherings and street demonstrations. Large gatherings can potentially become violent at any time.
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CRIME: Lesotho has a high crime rate, and foreigners must remain vigilant at all times. Foreigners are frequently targeted and robbed, and have occasionally been car-jacked and killed. A number of U.S. citizens have reported incidents – including sexual assault, armed and unarmed confrontation, and home invasion – occurring in broad daylight. There are no indications that U.S. citizens are targeted due to their nationality.
Crime can occur anywhere in Lesotho, but is most prevalent in urban areas. Crime scenes have included popular restaurants, poorly lit or unlit roads, and locations foreigners are known to frequent. Victims have included tourists, volunteer workers, and employees of non-governmental organizations.
U.S. citizens are advised to avoid walking or driving at night. Extra caution should be exercised while walking through downtown Maseru, even in daylight hours, as there have been numerous recent incidents in the middle of the day. Residences with 24-hour guards are generally less likely to be targeted. Traveling alone or at night is particularly dangerous, due to limited street lighting and undeveloped road conditions. The Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) is responsible for policing duties, but due to limited resources, LMPS response times can vary widely. U.S. citizens should report crime to the police and to the consular section of the U.S. Embassy.
There is a serious problem with theft from baggage at O.R. Tambo International Airport (Johannesburg), a required transit point for air travel to Lesotho. Travelers are encouraged to secure their luggage with Transportation Security Administration (TSA) approved locks, use an airport plastic wrapping service and avoid placing any items of value in checked luggage. Make an inventory of items in checked baggage to aid in claims processing if theft does occur. The claims processing procedure can be time-consuming.
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:
Lesotho does not have a local equivalent to 911. In the event of an emergency, you can call (266) 2231-0045. This number should be answered by police 24/7, but has been known to be out of service. You can contact the consular section of the U.S. Embassy Maseru using the information below:
Phone: (266) 2231-2666 Ext: 4124
Emergency After-Hours Duty Phone: (266) 5885-4035
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Lesotho, you are subject to its laws, even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you or if you take pictures of certain government 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 are still illegal in the United States. 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 Lesotho, 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.
Arrest notifications in host country:
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested, 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 as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Visitors to the interior of Lesotho should bring clothing and equipment suitable for extreme cold weather during the winter months of June through October. Weather conditions can deteriorate rapidly in the mountains, and snow often closes mountain passes. Temperatures can drop below freezing even in the lowlands.
Lesotho has one of the highest rates of lightning strikes per square mile in the world, and lightning-related deaths are not uncommon. If you find yourself in a storm, find shelter in a building or car.
If you are a woman traveling abroad, please review our travel tips on the Women Travelers page on Travel.State.gov.
LGBT RIGHTS: Consensual same-sex sexual relations between men are criminalized in Lesotho. Although the U.S. Embassy is not aware of any recent arrests or prosecutions, they remain illegal. There is no explicit prohibition of consensual same-sex sexual relations between women. For further information on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) travel, please read our Information for LGBT Travelers page.
ACCESSIBILITY: While in Lesotho, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what you find in the United States. The Buildings Control Act of 1995 requires that all buildings be made accessible, but enforcement thus far has been negligible. There are no mandatory standards of accessibility for sidewalks, road crossings, public transportation, and parking areas. There are no free or reduced fares for transport, and very few accessible places of lodging, medical facilities, restaurants, cafes, or bars.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities in Lesotho are limited and there is no reliable ambulance service. Specialist care is available in Bloemfontein, South Africa, 90 miles west of Maseru. U.S. Embassy Maseru maintains a list of physicians and other health care professionals, but the Embassy does not guarantee service or provide recommendations.
Many medicines are unavailable at facilities in Lesotho; travelers should carry with them an adequate supply of necessary medicines and/or prescription drugs, along with copies of their prescriptions. Lesotho has a very high HIV prevalence, currently estimated at 23 percent of the adult population. Tuberculosis is a serious health concern in Lesotho. For further information, please consult CDC's information on TB.
You can find detailed information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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 cover 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:
All doctors and hospitals still 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 cover you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out additional coverage for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in Lesotho, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Traffic moves on the left, with right-hand drive vehicles. Never assume right-of-way, as aggressive and unpredictable local driving habits result in frequent collisions. Lesotho has a high number of traffic-related deaths and injuries. Driving after dark is dangerous due to the absence of street lighting, livestock on the roads, and the prevalence of crime—including incidents of carjacking.
Travel is best done by private car. Rental cars are available in Maseru, and cars rented in neighboring South Africa may be brought into Lesotho with the written permission of the rental company. Although bus and public taxi services exist, chronic overloading combined with inadequate vehicle maintenance and lack of driver training make them unsafe. Some private taxi services are available in the capital, but roving mini-bus taxis should be avoided. There is no passenger train service in Lesotho.
Although the number of paved roads is gradually increasing, the majority of Lesotho’s 5,000 miles of roads remain unpaved. A few main rural highways are comparable to U.S. two-lane rural roads, but lane markings, signs, shoulders and guardrails do not meet U.S. standards. Lesotho's mountainous terrain makes driving on secondary roads hazardous. Unpaved roads in the interior—often narrow, winding and steep—are poorly maintained. For travel in the interior, especially in wet or snowy weather, a high ground clearance or four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended. Four-wheel-drive is also a requirement for entering or departing Lesotho through the Sani Pass on the eastern border. The authority for road safety issues rests with the Lesotho Mounted Police Service ; there are no auto clubs or reliable ambulance services. Drivers should contact the police in case of road emergencies.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Lesotho, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Lesotho’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.
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Lesotho dated February 25, 2013.