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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for East Timor

East Timor - Consular Information Sheet
February 28, 2001

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Occupying 24,000 square kilometers on the eastern half of an island in the Timor Sea between Indonesia and Australia, East Timor has a population of approximately 800,000 people. East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia in an August 30, 1999 referendum and is currently under the authority of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). UNTAET was established by a unanimous vote of the UN Security Council on October 25, 1999, for the purpose of rebuilding East Timor and helping to establish a new government. In the violence that followed the 1999 referendum, East Timor's infrastructure, never robust, was totally destroyed and is only slowly being rebuilt. Electricity, telephone and telecommunications, roads and lodging remain unreliable. East Timor's economy relies largely on international aid.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: A passport valid for six months beyond the intended date of departure from Indonesia/East Timor is required. A visa is not required for tourist stays up to two months. For additional information about entry requirements for East Timor, travelers may contact the border control unit of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor via the New York switchboard number of 212-963-0099 or via Dili landline 670-390-312210 extension 5852.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: Violence erupted throughout East Timor after the August 30, 1999, United Nations-sponsored ballot in that province. Although stability returned to the area with the arrival of international forces, American citizens are strongly encouraged to exercise caution in East Timor.

For more specific and up-to-date information on the safety of travel in East Timor, please consult the most recent Public Announcement on East Timor, which can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs' home page at http://travel.state.gov. Americans can also contact the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta for updated information. American citizens in East Timor should exercise prudence and common sense, and avoid demonstrations and other situations that could turn violent.

Travelers and residents should always ensure that passports and important personal papers are in order in the event it becomes necessary to leave the country quickly for any reason. Americans traveling in East Timor should remember that despite its small size, much of the territory can be isolated and difficult to reach by available transportation or communication links.

CRIME: In the aftermath of the August 1999 vote for independence, East Timor was swept by violence that included widespread looting and burning and, in some cases, murder. One foreign journalist was shot to death and several others were beaten. UN peacekeeping forces quickly restored a measure of stability to the region, although violent incidents remain possible in border areas due to incursions by pro-integration militias.

The crime rate in East Timor is high. Minor crimes, such as pickpocketing and thefts, occur throughout the territory and there have been more violent attacks on foreigners on occasion. Incidents of robbery have been reported, particularly in the market area in Dili. Gang violence occurs on occasion. Visitors should be particularly careful at nighttime and should avoid wearing clothing that may be regarded as insensitive or provocative, particularly in crowded public areas such as markets.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. U.S. citizens may 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. 20402, 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: Although acceptable emergency medical care is available in Dili, routine medical care in East Timor is extremely limited. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to Australia, the nearest point with acceptable medical care, or to the United States, can cost thousands of dollars.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas may face extreme difficulties.

Check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas, including provision for medical evacuation, and for adequacy of coverage. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor 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 hotline for international travelers at 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 that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning East Timor is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: None

All traffic operates on the left side of the road, and most vehicles use right-hand drive. Roads are often poorly maintained and four-wheel drive may be required in some areas. Driving at night can be hazardous due to the lack of illumination and poor condition of roads. Taxis are available in Dili and small buses and mini-vans provide public transportation throughout the territory. However, public transportation is generally overcrowded, uncomfortable and below international safety standards.

As of December 2000 there are no East Timor driver's permits and no formal requirement that drivers possess a driver's license of any kind. UNTAET plans to introduce driver's licenses and automobile registration in the near future.

Driving in Dili is especially hazardous, with many large trucks and military vehicles sharing the streets with vendors, pedestrians and livestock. Many cars and especially motorcycles operate at night without lights.

There is a seat belt law in East Timor that is enforced by the United Nations civilian police. There is no helmet law and wearing of helmets is virtually unknown.

Accidents are frequent. During a recent month, seven people died in traffic accidents in Dili, a figure comparable to a medium-large city in the United States. UN civilian police should be contacted in the event of an accident. It is not uncommon for bystanders to attack the driver perceived to be responsible for a traffic accident. This is more common in rural areas and in accidents involving Timorese drivers, but expatriate drivers have occasionally been attacked by crowds at the scene of an accident. When an accident occurs, it may be advisable to drive to the nearest CIVPOL (civilian police) district office before stopping.

While it is possible to obtain insurance for vehicles in East Timor, only a handful of foreigners have done so and virtually no one else has automobile insurance. Most traffic accidents are settled informally between those involved.

For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html. For additional information on road safety, see the U.S. Embassy home page at http://www.usembassyjakarta.org/.

AVIATION OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers at present, or economic authority to operate such service, between the U.S. and East Timor, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed East Timor's civil aviation system for compliance with international aviation safety standards. Aviation oversight for East Timor is handled by UNTAET.

For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: East Timor's customs regulations are similar to those in most developed nations. Questions should be directed to the UNTAET border control unit via telephone in New York at 212-963-0099 or via telephone in Dili at 670-390-312210.

The US dollar is the official currency of East Timor but Australian dollars and Indonesian rupiah remain widely used. Most restaurants and larger shops charge in Australian dollars while rupiah is required for most small expenditures on the local economy such as taxi fares or purchases at the market. It is advisable to have a supply of all three currencies. Money can be exchanged at the two banks in Dili or a licensed moneychanger. Only a few establishments accept credit cards, usually requiring a substantial additional fee, and visitors should be prepared to settle all bills in cash. A single ATM machine has been installed at one of Dili's banks.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and do not afford the same 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 the laws of East Timor, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in East Timor are strict, and convicted offenders can expect severe jail sentences and fines. UNTAET is responsible for security and law enforcement in East Timor.

CONSULAR ACCESS: U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship are readily available. When U.S. citizens are arrested or detained, formal notification of the arrest is normally provided to the Embassy in Jakarta in writing, a process that can take several weeks. If detained, U.S. citizens are encouraged to attempt to telephone the nearest U.S. consular office.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: East Timor is in a state of transition to full independence and many civil and governmental institutions are currently being developed. The information provided above may change quickly as new institutions and processes become operational. Conversely, U.S. citizens traveling or doing business in East Timor may find it difficult to identify legal or administrative mechanisms should problems arise.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: East Timor is located in an area of high seismic activity. Although the probability of a major earthquake occurring during an individual trip is remote, earthquakes can and will continue to happen. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.

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 AND EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living in or visiting East Timor are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta where they may obtain updated information on travel and security within the country.

The U.S. Embassy is located in Jakarta, Indonesia at Medan Merdeka Selatan 5; telephone:(62)(21)3435-9000; fax (62)(21) 3435-9922. The Embassy's web site is located at http://www.usembassyjakarta.org. The consular section can be reached by e-mail at jakconsul@state.gov. The easiest way to register with the Embassy is on-line.

Although there is a temporary U.S. representative office in East Timor, there is no official U.S. consular presence. Americans requiring assistance should contact the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia or the U.S. representative office in the sea front Farol district of Dili, phone 0407-047052.

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