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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Democratic Republic of Congo

Democratic Republic Of The Congo - Consular Information Sheet
April 24, 2001

WARNING(Issued April 11, 2001): The Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens against travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), due to security and political uncertainties. On April 11, 2001, the Department terminated the authorized departure status of U.S. Embassy personnel in non-emergency positions and family of Embassy personnel from DRC. However, minor children are still not permitted to accompany Embassy personnel. U.S. citizens living in the DRC should continue to review their personal security situations, exercise caution and, if appropriate, depart the country.

DRC government-imposed curfews are often in effect and may be imposed or lifted with minimal warning. U.S. citizens who travel to DRC in spite of this warning should adhere to any curfew in place to reduce the possibility of questioning and detention by military authorities and police. Security personnel have been known to enforce DRC government-imposed curfews with gunfire. The U.S. Embassy has also imposed a curfew on U.S. Government employees.

U.S. citizens, English-speaking individuals of other nationalities and travelers who appear to be members of military or missionary groups have sometimes been specifically targeted for arrest, detention, deportation, increased scrutiny and difficulties at the airport and other ports of entry, or other forms of harassment. Travelers entering the DRC with visas and/or entry/exit stamps from Uganda, Rwanda or Burundi may experience difficulties at the airport or other ports of entry, including being detained for questioning or refused entry into the country. Anyone who wishes to travel outside of Kinshasa must obtain advance written permission from the Ministry of the Interior.

Extremist groups continue to make threats of violence against U.S. citizens and interests in the Great Lakes region. While operating out of northeastern DRC in March 1999, a rebel group specifically targeted and killed U.S. citizens and other English-speaking people in southwestern Uganda.

Unofficial armed groups operate in parts of the country and are responsible for pillaging, vehicle thefts, carjackings, extrajudicial settling of differences, ethnic tensions, and continued military/paramilitary operations. Travelers run the risk of attack or detention. Travelers should avoid any area where demonstrations are occurring or where crowds have gathered.

Consular access to arrested/detained U.S. citizens cannot be guaranteed.

Ferry services between Kinshasa and Brazzaville are subject to interruption with little or no notice.

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continues to be faced with a deep political and economic crisis, partially inherited from the previous regime which was deposed in the spring of 1997, and an ongoing war in the north and east involving national armies from Central and Southern Africa and rebel groups from neighboring countries that affects approximately half the country. There has been a dramatic deterioration of the country's physical infrastructure and basic security environment. Urban crime remains a problem. There is occasional official hostility to U.S. citizens and other expatriates, periodic shortages of basic items such as gasoline, a chronic shortage of medical supplies, high inflation, and in some areas, corruption and serious malnutrition.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Visas should be obtained from an Embassy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo prior to arrival. Individuals who experience difficulty entering DRC with a visa issued overseas are asked to contact the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa. Travelers entering the DRC with visas and/or entry/exit stamps from Rwanda, Uganda or Burundi may experience difficulties at the airport or other ports of entry. Some travelers with those visas or exit/entry stamps have been detained for questioning. Additional information about visas may be obtained from the Embassy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1800 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009 at (202) 234-7690 or 234-7691, or the DRC's permanent mission to the U.N. at 2 Henry Avenue, North Caldwell, New Jersey 07006, telephone (201) 812-1636. Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest DRC Embassy or Consulate.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: The security situation in the Congo is unstable. DRC is at war with its three eastern neighbors, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, several thousand of whose troops are present in the country. Rwanda and Uganda are supporting different Congolese rebel troops against the Kinshasa government. Their forces have fought against DRC government troops and, on occasion, against each other. Congolese rebels or foreign armies occupy about half of the DRC's territory, and the Kinshasa government exercises only nominal control over many areas in those parts of the country under its authority. Although armed soldiers and police are common in urban areas, including Kinshasa, the multiple and competing security forces are unable to maintain order. Ill-trained, ill-paid, well-armed, operating in a system with little effective command-and-control, the security forces often act arbitrarily and may, themselves, pose a threat to the population instead of protecting them.

Large numbers of security forces remain stationed in all urban areas, notably the capital, Kinshasa, where government-imposed curfews are often in effect. The DRC government has imposed curfews in the past with minimal warning; please check locally before traveling to DRC to confirm current curfew status. Entry by car or boat after 6 p.m. is prohibited. Travel in the downtown parts of Kinshasa and Lubumbashi is generally safe. The outlying areas, including Kisangani, are less secure due to the ongoing war, lack of adequate training/supervision of the security/rebel forces present and high levels of criminal activity. Tension in the capital is further heightened by the influx of refugees from the civil conflict in the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), across the Congo River. Civil disturbances may occur without warning in all urban areas and have the potential to turn violent.

There are numerous, often poorly marked, military roadblocks, especially after dark. Vehicles are often searched for weapons, and travelers checked for identity papers. Troops regularly seek bribes and transportation. If confronted with such a situation, it is suggested that U.S. citizens not question the individual's authority, remain as courteous as possible and report the incident to the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa as soon as possible.

REGIONAL TERRORISM: One of the many extremist rebel factions in the Great Lakes region has committed, and continues to threaten, violence against American citizens and interests. This rebel faction was responsible for the March 1999 kidnapping and murder of several Western tourists, including Americans, in Uganda. An extremist rebel faction was responsible for the kidnapping of four foreign nationals in August 1998 in the DRC. Rebel factions are known to operate in northern and northeastern DRC and the surrounding areas, including sections of Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi.

CRIME: In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, low levels of economic prosperity continue to promote crime, vehicle thefts, burglaries, armed robbery and carjackings throughout the country.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to local police and to the nearest U.S. Embassy or consulate. U.S. citizens can refer to the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20420, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

MEDICAL FACILITIES: In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), medical facilities are
limited, and medicine is in short supply.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations.

When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties, whereas travelers who have purchased overseas medical insurance have, when a medical emergency occurs, found it life-saving. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad,available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's International Traveler's hotline at telephone 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax, 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299); or via CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions which differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning the DRC is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstances.

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor/Non-Existent

Inter-city roads are poor and often impassable in the rainy season. When driving in cities, keep windows up and doors locked. At roadblocks or checkpoints, documents should be shown through closed windows. In the event of a traffic incident involving bodily injury to a third party or pedestrian, do not stop to offer assistance under any circumstances. Proceed directly to the nearest police station or gendarmerie to report the incident and request official government intervention. Attempting to provide assistance may further aggravate the incident, resulting in a hostile mob reaction or stoning.

Presidential and other official motorcades pose serious risks to drivers and pedestrians in Kinshasa. When you hear the sirens or see security forces announcing the motorcade's approach, pull as far off the road as possible and stop your vehicle. Do not take pictures. Do not use your cellular telephone, radio or any other communication devices. Do not restart your vehicle or move until the entire motorcade has passed by (the security forces will physically indicate when this has occurred). Failure to comply may result in arrest.

Visitors who wish to travel anywhere outside of Kinshasa must obtain advance, written permission from the Ministry of Interior, regardless of the purpose of the trip. Failure to comply may result in arrest.

Ferry service between Kinshasa and Brazzaville may be closed with minimal notice due to the security situation. If ferry service is functioning, a special exit permit from the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (Kinshasa) Immigration Service and a visa from an Embassy of the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) are required to cross the Congo River from Kinshasa to Brazzaville.

Ferry and riverboat service to the Central African Republic is suspended due to rebel control of the Ubangui River.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Government of DRC's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of the DRC's air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/. The Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers and has put many DRC carriers on non-use status for their personnel. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

CURRENCY REGULATIONS: U.S. citizens should be aware that there are currency laws in effect which require that all transactions be exclusively made in Congolese francs. Regulations issued September 22, 1999, prohibit the possession of foreign currency (including U.S. dollars) by anyone in DRC. U.S. citizens, as well as all other persons traveling to or from DRC are required to declare all foreign currency in their possession. Upon arrival in DRC, travelers are allowed three business days to deposit their foreign currency in a bank-run Exchange House or convert the foreign currency (at the official, government-controlled rate) at a bank or bank-run Exchange House. It remains unclear whether these facilities will sell foreign currency to travelers upon their departure. Currency transactions that are not done at a bank or bank-run Exchange house are illegal. The regulations reiterate that local currency must be used for all commercial transactions in DRC and that there are criminal sanctions for non-compliance. Any questions regarding the legality of currency transactions or conversions should be referred to the U.S. Embassy's Administrative Counselor.

American Express, Visa, Master Card and Diner's Club are accepted for payment of bills at Kinshasa's two major hotels. No other businesses in DRC accept credit cards. Credit cards may not be used at banks to obtain cash advances. Traveler's checks are accepted only if accompanied with a letter from a bank confirming the issuance of the Traveler's checks to the individual cashing the Traveler's checks. However, the use of Traveler's checks is generally not advised in DRC because banks charge substantial fees for cashing them. Traveler's checks are rarely accepted outside Kinshasa.

PROHIBITIONS ON PHOTOGRAPHY: Photographing public buildings, military installations, airports and the banks of the Congo River is forbidden. Offenders can expect to be arrested, held for at least several hours and fined. Film and cameras may also be confiscated. Due to the threat of harassment and the lack of signs designating sites prohibited for photography, photography is best practiced in private homes and among friends.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens are subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating DRC, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, and trafficking in illegal drugs are strictly enforced. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and fines.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children or international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone (202) 736-7000.

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATION: U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa upon their arrival and to obtain updated information on travel and security within the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The U.S. Embassy is located at 310 Avenue des Aviateurs, tel. 243-88-43608. The Consular section of the Embassy may also be reached at 243-88-43608, extension 2164/2376 or 243-88-46859 or 44609, fax 243-88-00228, 43467 or 03276. Cellular phones are the norm, as other telephone service is often unreliable.

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