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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Nicaragua

Nicaragua - Consular Information Sheet
February 15, 2001

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Nicaragua has a developing economy and lacks an extensive tourist infrastructure. The capital is Managua.

ENTRY AND EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A U.S. passport, valid for six months beyond the duration of the visit, is required to enter Nicaragua. Tourists must also have an onward or return ticket and evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay. U.S. citizens do not require a visa, but a tourist card valid for 90 days must be purchased upon arrival. Tourist card fees and airport departure taxes must be paid in U.S. dollars. Visitors remaining more than 90 days must obtain an extension from Nicaraguan immigration. Failure to do so prevents departure until a fine is paid. For further information regarding entry, departure, and customs requirements, travelers should contact the Embassy of Nicaragua at 1627 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., Washington D.C. 20009; telephone (202) 939-6570 or (202) 939-6531; e-mail at embanic_prensa@andyne.net; or a Nicaraguan consulate in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, or San Juan, Puerto Rico.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: Armed criminals operating in remote areas in northern and central Nicaragua have committed robberies, kidnappings and extortion against passersby. These actions are primarily directed at local residents, but travel in these areas is discouraged. If you decide to travel to these areas, please travel only on major highways during daylight hours.

Though less frequent than in past years, political demonstrations and strikes occur sporadically. U.S. citizens are advised to take common-sense precautions and avoid crowds and blockades during such occurrences.

Boundary disputes involving the governments of Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica persist, particularly in the Caribbean coastal waters adjoining these countries, the Gulf of Fonseca, and on the San Juan River along the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border. Passengers and crews of foreign fishing boats have been detained and/or fined and vessels impounded. There also is a long-term boundary dispute with Colombia over San Andres Island and surrounding waters.

Strong currents and undertows off sections of Nicaragua's Pacific coast have resulted in a number of deaths by drowning. Warning signs are not posted, and lifeguards and rescue equipment are not readily available. U.S. citizens contemplating beach activities in Nicaragua's Pacific waters are urged to exercise extreme caution.

Although hundreds of passengers travel daily on domestic flights within Nicaragua without incident, these flights make use of small, uncontrolled airstrips outside Managua, with minimal safety equipment and little boarding security. Significant safety and security improvements, however, have been made at the Bluefields, Puerto Cabezas and Corn Island airports, all of which are located on Nicaragua's Atlantic coast.

Extensive de-mining operations have been conducted to clear rural areas of northern Nicaragua of land mines left from the civil war, which ended in 1990, but visitors venturing off the main roads in these areas are cautioned that the possibility of encountering land mines still exists.

CRIME: Violent crime in Managua and other cities is increasing, and street crimes are common. Pickpocketing and occasional armed robberies occur on crowded buses and in open markets, particularly the large Mercado Oriental. Though not at levels found in neighboring Central American countries, carjackings and gang activity are rising in Managua. Gang violence, including robberies, assaults and stabbings, is most frequently encountered in poorer neighborhoods. Purse and jewelry snatchings from motorists sometimes occur at stoplights. Motorists should travel with their windows closed and car doors locked.

U.S visitors to Nicaragua should be on the lookout for fraudulent tour guides who target tourists, particularly on the Island of Ometepe, a popular tourist destination. The U.S. Embassy has received numerous confirmed reports of con artists posing as tour guides to defraud tourists. In one of the most popular scams, the fraudulent guide demands a deposit before scheduling a tour, provides a receipt, and sets up a meeting for which he fails to appear. The guide goes into hiding until the victims depart, apparently confident that the victims will not have the time or linguistic ability to pursue criminal charges. Although the Ministry of Tourism is working on a licensing program for guides, there is currently no professional identification system for tour guides. Anyone intending to use guide services in Nicaragua, and particularly in Ometepe, should inquire as to the reputation of the guide with local hotel operators and authorities. Do not, for any reason, accept the services of anyone approaching you on the street.

Travel to Honduras on other than the principal highways with border crossings at Guasale, El Espino and Las Manos is potentially hazardous because of criminal elements operating in parts of northern Nicaragua.

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. Anyone obtaining a new or replacement passport in Nicaragua must go to the main Immigration office to obtain an entry stamp in their new passport; anyone failing to do so will not be permitted to leave the country. U.S. citizens can refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote a trouble-free journey. This publication and others, such as Tips for Travelers to Central and South America, are available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, or via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs.

MEDICAL FACILITIES: Very basic medical services are available in Managua and in many of the smaller towns and villages around the country. Treatment for more serious medical problems is either unavailable or available only in Managua. Certain types of medical equipment and medications are likewise unavailable in Nicaragua.

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 that 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 hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/.

TRAFFIC, SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Nicaragua is provided for general reference only, and it 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: None
Availability of Ambulance Assistance: Poor

Driving is on the right side of the road, and speed limits vary depending on the type of road. The Nicaraguan national police are responsible for road safety, but because the government lacks resources, traffic rules are rarely enforced.

Road travel after dark is hazardous in all areas of the country. Road signage is usually poor to non-existent. Nicaraguan roads generally lack shoulders, and are narrow, in disrepair and poorly lit. Many roads, severely damaged as a result of Hurricane Mitch in October 1998, have not been repaired; detours are common and often are not marked. Oxcarts, horses and unlit and/or abandoned vehicles are frequently encountered even on main thoroughfares in Nicaragua. Motorcyles, often carrying two or more passengers, dart in and out of traffic with little or no warning. Many vehicles are in poor condition, travel very slowly and are likely to break down at any time. Wheels have been known to fly off cars and axles to collapse on moving vehicles.

Nicaraguan drivers do not usually signal when turning, slowing or stopping. If signals are used, they often do not mean what U.S. drivers would expect. The most common signal in Nicaragua is a hand waving from the driver's window. This signal has no specific meaning, except to alert other motorists that the person signaling is about to take an unspecified action.

Drivers in Nicaragua should exercise the utmost degree of care. Be especially careful on curves and hills because many drivers pass on blind spots.

Due to the conditions discussed above, traffic accidents often result in serious injury or death. Traditionally, vehicles involved in accidents in Nicaragua are not moved (even to clear traffic) until authorized to do so by a police officer. Drivers who violate this norm may be held legally liable for the accident.

Nicaraguan law requires that motorists suspected of driving while intoxicated be taken into custody. Any driver who is party to an accident in which serious injury or death occurs will be taken into custody, even if the driver is insured and appears not to have been at fault. While the minimum detention period is 48 hours, detentions frequently last until a judicial decision is reached (often weeks or months), or a waiver is signed by the injured party relieving the driver of further liability (usually as the result of a cash settlement).

Visitors to Nicaragua may wish to consider hiring a professional driver during their stay. Licensed drivers who are familiar with local roads can be hired through local car rental agencies. In case of accident, only the chauffeur will be taken into custody.

Travel on public transportation, such as buses and taxis, should only be undertaken with great caution. Buses are often overcrowded and poorly maintained, and breakdowns are frequent. Taxis often stop to pick up other passengers. If using a taxi, please be alert to the condition of the vehicle, agree on a fare beforehand and insist that the driver not pick up other fares.

For specific information concerning Nicaraguan driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the government of Nicaragua at http://www.cancilleria.gob.ni. Additional information can be obtained from Intur, Nicaragua's national tourist organization, at http://www.intur@intur.gob.ni.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Nicaragua's civil aviation authority as Category 2 -- not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for the oversight of Nicaragua's air carrier operations. While consultations to correct the deficiencies are ongoing, any of Nicaragua'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 Nicaragua'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 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 carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. In addition, the 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 the DOD at telephone (618) 229-4801.

CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: Nicaraguan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning restrictions on the amount of undeclared currency one may bring into Nicaragua, and on the temporary importation into or export from Nicaragua of items such as firearms, ammunition, antiquities, medications, etc. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Nicaragua or one of Nicaragua's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.

Before excavating archaeological materials or agreeing to buy artifacts of historical value, U.S. citizens are strongly urged to consult with the National Patrimony Directorate of the Nicaraguan Institute of Culture. Nicaraguan law and a recently concluded bilateral accord limit the acquisition, importation into the U.S. and commercialization of said goods. Severe criminal penalties may apply.

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. Persons violating Nicaraguan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Nicaragua are strict, and convicted offenders can expect heavy fines and jail sentences of up to 30 (thirty) years in prison.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: The Nicaraguan economy is primarily cash-based. Although many restaurants and hotels now accept credit cards, especially in Managua, acceptance is not as widespread as in the U.S. Travelers checks are accepted at a few major hotels and may be exchanged for local currency at authorized exchange facilities ("casas de cambio"). There are few automatic teller machines, particularly outside Managua. English is not widely spoken.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Nicaragua is prone to a wide variety of natural disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions. 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 LOCATION: U.S. citizens living in or visiting Nicaragua are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Managua and obtain updated information on travel and security in Nicaragua. The U.S. Embassy is located at Kilometer 41/2 (4.5) Carretera Sur, Managua; telephone (505) 266-6010 or 268-0123; after hours telephone (505) 266-6038; Consular Section fax (505)266-9943; e-mail: consularmanagu@state.gov; web page at http://usembassy.state.gov/managua

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