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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Lesotho

Lesotho - Consular Information Sheet
December 11, 2000

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Lesotho is a very mountainous developing country in southern Africa completely surrounded by the country of South Africa. Facilities for tourists are limited. The capital city of Maseru is at 5000 ft. (1500m) above sea level, and the mountains reach to 11,400 ft. (3500m).

Visitors to the interior of Lesotho should bring clothing and equipment suitable for cold weather. In the mountains, weather conditions can deteriorate rapidly. In winter (June-October), snow will often close mountain passes, and temperatures, even in the lowlands, often drop below freezing during the night.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: A passport is required, but no visa is needed for visits of 30 days or less. For more information concerning entry requirements, travelers may contact the Embassy of the Kingdom of Lesotho, 2511 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 797-5533. Overseas inquiries may be made at the nearest embassy or consulate of Lesotho.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: Despite significant civil disorder and riot conditions in September 1998, social peace and stability have returned to Lesotho. The regional military task force invited by the government to restore order withdrew combat elements in April 1999. Although the likelihood of renewed political violence is low, U.S. citizens should avoid political gatherings and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times. The process to resolve political differences is underway, and a date for new national elections is being discussed. Commercial activity and the supply of consumable goods have returned to normal levels. A limited number of restaurants are available in Maseru. Tap water is not reliably potable.

CRIME: Deteriorating economic conditions in the country, aggravated by the return from South Africa of large numbers of unemployed miners, have caused an increase in armed robberies, break-ins and car-jackings. This occurs primarily in Maseru, but it can occur elsewhere as well. Victims have included foreign diplomats and members of foreign aid missions. Traveling alone or at night is particularly dangerous.

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 may refer to the Department of State's pamphlets, A Safe Trip Abroad and Tips for Travelers to Sub-Saharan Africa, for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. Both 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 minimal. Many medicines are unavailable. There are no reliable ambulance services. Good medical care is available in Bloemfontein, South Africa, 90 miles to the west of Maseru.

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.

Please 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. Please ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor or if you will be reimbursed later for expenses that 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 travelers hotline at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (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 Lesotho 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: Fair
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

The authority for road safety issues rests with the Lesotho Mounted Police. Travelers should never assume right-of-way because aggressive and undisciplined local driving habits result in frequent collisions. Lesotho has a high number of traffic-related deaths and injuries given its small size. Even the previous king died in a road accident in 1996. Driving after dark is dangerous due to the absence of street lighting, animals on the roads and the prevalence of crime, including occasional carjackings.

Travel is best accomplished by private car. Rental cars are available, and cars rented in neighboring South Africa may be brought into Lesotho with written permission from 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 for foreign visitors. Some private taxi service exists in the capital, but roving mini-bus taxis should be avoided. There is no train service in the kingdom.

Approximately 25 of Lesotho's 5000 miles of roads are paved in some fashion. A few main rural highways compare to U.S. two-lane rural roads, but lane markings, signs, shoulders and guardrails are not to U.S. standards, and unfenced livestock pose a particular danger. Lesotho's mountainous interior makes driving on secondary roads hazardous. Unpaved roads in the interior, although often narrow, twisting 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. A four-wheel-drive is required for entering Lesotho through the Sani Pass on the eastern border.

There are no auto club or reliable ambulance services. Drivers should contact the police in emergencies.

For specific information concerning Lesotho driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please consult the Lesotho government official web site via the Internet at http://www.lesotho.gov.Is/tourism.

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

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers at present, nor economic authority to operate such service between the U.S. and Lesotho, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Lesotho's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards.

For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at telephone 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 the DOD at telephone 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 Lesotho law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Lesotho are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

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 AND EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living in or visiting Lesotho are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy and obtain updated information on travel and security within Lesotho. The U.S. Embassy is located at 254 Kingsway, Maseru West; the mailing address is P.O. Box 333, Maseru 100, Lesotho. The telephone number is 266-312-666.

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