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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Haiti

Haiti - Consular Information Sheet
June 11, 2001

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Haiti is one of the least developed countries in the Western Hemisphere, and continues to experience civil and political unrest. Supplies of goods and services are adequate in Port-au-Prince, the capital, but there are shortages in other parts of the country. While tourism facilities in Port-Au-Prince, Jacmel and Cap Haitien are satisfactory, they are rudimentary at best in most other Haitian cities, and virtually non-existent elsewhere in Haiti.

ENTRY AND EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Haitian law requires travelers to have a passport to enter Haiti. In practice, officials frequently waive this requirement if travelers have a certified copy of their U.S. birth certificate. Due to fraud concerns, however, airlines do not board passengers for return to the United States unless they are in possession of a valid passport. The U.S. Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens obtain passports before travel to Haiti. The Haitian government requires foreigners to pay a fee prior to departure. For additional information regarding entry, departure and customs requirements for Haiti, travelers can contact the Haitian Embassy, 2311 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 332-4090, the Haitian consulates in Florida, Massachusetts, New York, Illinois or Puerto Rico, or via the Internet at http://www.haiti.org/embassy/.

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: Haiti continues to experience civil and political unrest. Protests and demonstrations, which can turn violent at any time, occur periodically throughout the country. Private organizations and businesses may be targets of demonstrations or take-over attempts related to business disputes or extortion demands.

Local and national elections held in late 2000 remain publicly disputed, and are expected to dominate the political climate in 2001. In the months following the elections and presidential inauguration, activists established unofficial, temporary roadblocks throughout the country, at times cutting off major thoroughfares and the airport. Protesters succeeded in paralyzing Port-au-Prince and other major cities using flaming barricades and bonfires, with U.S. Government buildings serving as the focal points of some of these actions. Recent incidents have included gunfire during organized political demonstrations and politically motivated violence perpetrated against the offices and homes of political leaders. The rhetoric of some activists and popular organizations has been anti-foreign, and the Haitian government has failed on occasion to contain or condemn certain violent and dangerous situations. Political events are often held in public areas and some have turned violent.

American citizens should avoid all such gatherings, as crowd behavior can be unpredictable. Travelers encountering roadblocks, demonstrations, or large crowds should remain calm and depart the area quickly and without confrontation. Assistance from Haitian officials, such as the police, should not be expected. Particular caution should be taken on the days of planned political activities.

American citizens traveling to or residing in Haiti are advised to take common-sense precautions and avoid any event where crowds may congregate. For current information on safety and security, contact the U.S. Embassy at the telephone numbers listed below.

CRIME: There are no "safe areas" in Haiti. Crime, already a problem, is growing. The state of law and order is of increasing concern, with reports of armed robberies and break-ins, kidnappings, murders and car hijackings becoming more frequent. The police are poorly equipped and unable to respond quickly to calls for assistance. While not specifically targeting U.S. citizens, criminals have nonetheless kidnapped, maimed or killed several U.S. citizens in recent years. Travelers should be particularly alert when leaving the Port-au-Prince airport, as criminals have often targeted arriving passengers for later assaults and robberies. Criminals also surveil bank customers and subsequently attack them; some recent incidents have resulted in the victims' deaths. Use of public transportation, including "tap-taps" (private transportation used for commercial purposes), is not recommended. It is suggested that travelers arriving at the airport be met by someone known to them.

Certain high-crime zones should be avoided when possible, including Carrefour, the port road (Boulevard La Saline), urban route Nationale #1, the airport road (Boulevard Haile Selassie) and its adjoining connectors to the New ("American") Road via Route National #1. This latter area in particular has been the scene of numerous robberies, carjackings, and murders. Due to high crime, Embassy employees are prohibited from entering Cite Soleil and La Saline and their surrounding environs, and are strongly urged to avoid Delmas 105 between Delmas 95 and Rue Jacob. Under no circumstances should one attempt to photograph in these areas, as this almost inevitably provokes a violent reaction. Neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince once considered relatively safe, such as the Delmas road area and Petionville, have been the scenes of increasing incidents of violent crime.

Kidnappings for ransom are an emerging problem. U.S. citizens resident in or visiting Haiti should exercise caution at all times and review basic personal security procedures.

Holiday periods, especially Christmas and Carnival, often see a significant increase in violent crime. Haiti's Carnival season is marked by street celebrations (Carnival starts the Saturday prior to Ash Wednesday, and continues for four days). In recent years, Carnival has been accompanied by civil disturbances, altercations and severe traffic disruption, and people attending Carnival events or simply caught in the resulting celebrations have been injured and killed.

The period from New Year's Day through Carnival is marked by roving bands called "Raras". Raras generally operate on Sundays until Carnival, when they occur at all times. Some Raras have identified themselves with political entities, lending further potential for violence.

Travelers and residents should exercise caution throughout Haiti. Keep valuables well hidden, ensure possessions are not left in parked vehicles, favor private transportation, alternate travel routes, and keep doors and windows in homes and vehicles closed and locked. If an armed individual demands the surrender of a vehicle or other valuables, the U.S. Embassy recommends compliance without resistance. Criminals have shot drivers who resisted. The Embassy also recommends against traveling at night, particularly outside Port-au-Prince. The limited response and enforcement capabilities of the Haitian national police and the judiciary frustrate crime victims.

Mariners should note that Americans and other foreigners have reported the theft of yachts and sailboats along the Haitian coast over the past year. Some of the thefts were carried out by armed gangs, and one foreigner was killed. Cameras and video cameras should only be used with the permission of the subjects; violent incidents have followed unwelcome photography.

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. Lost or stolen U.S. birth certificates and/or drivers licenses used as entry documents generally cannot be replaced outside of the United States. 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. This publication and others, such as Tips for Travelers to the Caribbean, are 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: Medical facilities are scarce and sub-standard. Medical care in Port-au-Prince is limited, and the level of community sanitation is low. Medical facilities outside the capital are generally below U.S. standards. Life-threatening emergencies may require evacuation by air ambulance at the patient's expense. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

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: Haitian pharmacies may have expired medications on their shelves. Americans always should check expiration dates on the original packaging before purchase.

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 U.S. The information below concerning Haiti is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: n/a
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: poor

Driving in Haiti should be undertaken with extreme caution. It is often preferable for those with no knowledge of Haitian roads and traffic customs to hire a driver. This can generally be accomplished through local hotels. Those who do drive in Haiti should be conservative in their actions, avoid confrontations such as jockeying for position, and remain aware of the vehicles around them. Drivers should carry the phone numbers of people to call for assistance in an emergency as the Haitian government is unlikely to respond to requests for assistance. When travelling outside of Port-Au-Prince, drivers should caravan with multiple vehicles; in case a problem occurs with one car, another will be available.

The Haitian government lacks adequate resources to assist drivers in distress or to clear the road of accidents or broken-down vehicles blocking the flow of traffic. Public transportation as it is usually defined does not exist in Haiti. While Haitians use buses, "taptaps" and taxis, which may observe regular routes much like public transportation, none of these should be considered reliable. The Embassy strongly discourages their use.

Speeding is the cause of many of the fatal traffic accidents in Haiti, as are overloaded vehicles on winding, mountainous roads and vehicles without brakes. Poor maintenance and mechanical failures often cause accidents as well. Drivers should be particularly cautious at night, as unlighted vehicles can appear seemingly from nowhere.

As neither written nor driving tests are required to qualify for driver's licenses, road laws are not generally known or applied. Signaling imminent actions is not widely practiced, and not all drivers use turn indicators or international hand signals properly. For instance, many drivers use their left blinker for all actions, including turning right and stopping in the road, and others flap their left arm out the window to indicate that they will be taking an unspecified action. Drivers do not always verify that the road is clear before switching lanes, turning, or merging.

The situation on the roads can be described as chaotic at best. Roads are generally unmarked, and detailed, accurate maps are not widely available. The lack of organization on the roads causes drivers to execute unpredictable and dangerous maneuvers in order to turn or merge into traffic.

Traffic is extremely heavy in urban areas, and hours-long traffic jams develop throughout the country. Cars are supposed to be driven on the right side of the road in Haiti. Few roads have lane indicators, however, and drivers use whatever part of the road is open to them, even if it is not the correct side of the road. Speed limits are seldom posted and are not widely known or observed.

In addition to vehicles, a variety of other objects may appear on the road in Haiti, such as wooden carts dragged by people, small ice cream carts, animals, mechanics with vehicles, and even vendors and their wares. Vehicles are often abandoned in the road or by the side of the road. There are few marked crosswalks and sidewalks, and pedestrians often wend their way through traffic in urban areas.

Right of way is not widely observed in Haiti and there are few operational traffic lights or traffic signs. It is advisable at most intersections to stop and verify that there is no oncoming traffic even if it appears that you have the right of way. Drivers can be quite aggressive and will seldom yield. Walls built to the edge of roads frequently make it impossible to see around corners, forcing drivers to edge their cars into the road at intersections to check for oncoming traffic. Drinking and driving is illegal in Haiti, but people do drive after drinking, as there is no alternative transportation.

For additional information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, see the Bureau of Consular Affairs' home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html. For specific information concerning driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance in Haiti, contact the Haitian Ministry of Tourism by email at info@haititourisme.org or on the Internet at http://www.haititourisme.org/.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Haiti's civil aviation authority as Category 2 -- not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for the oversight of Haiti's air carrier operations. While consultations to correct the deficiencies are ongoing, any of Haiti's air carriers with existing routes to the U.S. will be permitted to conduct limited operations to the U.S. subject to heightened FAA surveillance. No additional flights or new service to the U.S. by Haiti's air carriers will be permitted unless they arrange to have the flights conducted by an air carrier from a country meeting international safety standards. 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 website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/iasa.pdf.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. In addition, DOD does not permit its personnel to use air carriers from Category 2 countries for official business except for flights originating from or terminating in the U.S. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

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 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 Haitian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. The judicial process in Haiti can be extremely long; progress is often dependent on considerations not related to the specific case. Detainees may wait months or years for their cases to be heard before a judge or to have legal decisions acted upon by the authorities. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Haiti are strict. Those accused of drug-related crimes can expect lengthy legal proceedings, irregular application of Haitian law, and delayed due process. If convicted, offenders may face long jail sentences and substantial fines.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Haiti, like all Caribbean countries, can be affected by hurricanes and other storms. Hurricane season runs from approximately June 1 - November 30 each year. Extensive flooding as a result of heavy rainfall has occurred in the past. 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 and 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 LOCATIONS: U.S. citizens living in or visiting Haiti are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince and obtain updated information on travel and security in Haiti. The Consular Section is located on Rue Oswald Durand, Port-au-Prince; telephone (509) 23-7011; fax (509) 23-1641. Consular Section hours are 7:30 am to 2:00 pm Monday through Friday, except U.S. and local holidays. The U.S. Embassy is located on Harry Truman Blvd., Port-au-Prince; telephone (509) 22-0200, 22-0354, 23-0955 or 22-0269; fax (509) 23-1641. Internet: http://usembassy.state.gov/haiti.

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