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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet

Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Syria

Syria - Consular Information Sheet
January 24, 2001

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The Syrian Arab Republic has a developing, mixed-sector economy. The ruling Ba'th party espouses a largely secular ideology, but Islamic traditions and beliefs provide a conservative foundation for the country's customs and practices. The constitution refers to Islamic jurisprudence as a principal source of legislation, but the legal system remains influenced by French practice. Tourist facilities are widely available, but vary in quality depending on price and location. The workweek in Syria is Saturday through Thursday. The U.S. Embassy is open Sunday through Thursday.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: A passport and a visa are required. Visas must be obtained prior to arrival in Syria. The government of Syria does not allow persons with passports bearing an Israeli visa or entry/exit stamps to enter the country. Similar restrictions apply to persons born in the Gaza region or of Gaza descent. Entry into Syria via the land border with Israel is not possible. Foreigners who wish to stay 15 days or more in Syria must register with Syrian immigration authorities by their 15th day in Syria. American men between the ages of 18 and 45 who are of Syrian birth or recent descent are subject to the Syrian compulsory military service requirement unless they receive a temporary or permanent exemption from the Syrian Embassy in the United States prior to their entry into Syria. (Please see the section on "Compulsory Military Service" below.) An AIDS test is not required for foreigners prior to arrival in Syria; however, tests are mandatory for foreigners age 15 to 60 who wish to reside in Syria. The AIDS test must be conducted in Syria at a facility approved by the Syrian Ministry of Health. A residence permit will not be issued until the absence of the HIV virus has been determined. Foreigners wishing to marry Syrian nationals in Syria must also be tested for HIV. For further entry information, travelers may contact the Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic,2215 Wyoming Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone [202] 232-6313 or check the Syrian Embassy's home page on the Internet at http://www.syrianembassy.org.

American citizens are cautioned that the Syrian government rigidly enforces restrictions on priortravel to Israel. Travelers with Israeli stamps in their passports, Jordanian entry cachets, or cachets from other countries that suggest prior travel to Israel will cause Syrian immigration authorities to refuse the traveler admission to Syria. Likewise, the absence of entry stamps from a country adjacent to Israel which the traveler has just visited will cause the Syrian immigration officials to refuse admittance. In one case in 1998, a group of American citizen travelers suspected of having traveled to Israel were detained overnight for questioning.

Syrian security officials are also sensitive about travel to Iraq. There have been past instances in which Iraqi-Americans or Americans believed to have traveled to Iraq were detained for questioning at ports of entry/exit.

DUAL NATIONALITY: In addition to being subject to all Syrian laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Syrian citizens. Under Syrian law, children of Syrian fathers, even those who have never been to Syria and do not speak Arabic, are Syrian. Please see below for information on compulsory military service.

For additional information, please see the Consular Affairs home page on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov for our Dual Nationality flyer .

SAFETY AND SECURITY: Syria is included on the Department of State's list of state sponsors of terrorism. There is no record of recent terrorist attacks against Americans in Syria, and Syrian government officials have repeatedly stated their commitment to protect Americans. However, a number of terrorist groups present in Syria oppose U.S. policies in the Middle East. A 1997 bus bombing in downtown Damascus, which killed 22 people, and the 1998 and 2000 attacks against the U.S. Embassy serve as reminders that Syria is not immune from political violence and that Americans traveling through the area should remain aware that U.S. interests and citizens may be targeted.

Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities.

CRIME INFORMATION: Crime is generally not a serious problem for travelers in Syria. The loss or theft of a U.S. passport abroad should be reported immediately to local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote a 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: Basic medical care and medicines are available in Syria's principal cities,
but not necessarily in outlying areas.

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. 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 whether 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 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 Syria is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

Driving in Syria can be hazardous and requires great caution. Although drivers generally follow traffic signs and signals, they often maneuver aggressively and show little regard for vehicles traveling behind them. Lane markings are usually ignored. Vehicles within Syrian traffic circles must give way to oncoming traffic, unlike in the United States. Pedestrians must also exercise caution. Parked cars, deteriorating pavement, and guard posts obstruct sidewalks, often forcing pedestrians to walk in the street.

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. For specific information concerning Syrian driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the Syrian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

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 Syria, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Syria'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.

CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: Syrian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Syria of items such as weapons, narcotics, alcohol, tobacco, cheese, fruits, pharmaceuticals, modems, cosmetics, and some electrical appliances. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Syria in Washington, D.C. for specific information regarding customs requirements.

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 Syrian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Syria are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Penalties for possession of even small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use are severe in Syria. Persons convicted in Syria for growing, processing, or smuggling drugs face the death penalty, which may be reduced to a minimum of 20 years imprisonment.

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. Although Syria is a signatory to the Vienna Convention, consular notification and access to arrested Americans are problematic. Syrian officials generally do not notify the American Embassy when American citizens are arrested. When the American Embassy learns of arrests of Americans and requests consular access, individual police officials have, on their own initiative, responded promptly and allowed consular officers to visit the prisoners. However, security officials have also in the past denied Embassy requests for consular access, especially in the case of dual citizens.

CURRENCY INFORMATION: Syrian currency cannot be exchanged for any other currency except at government-approved exchange centers within Syria, and it cannot be exchanged back into foreign currency. Travelers must declare all foreign currency when they enter Syria. There are no foreign banks and no ATMs in Syria, and it is impossible to wire or otherwise transfer money from the United States to Syria.

COMPULSORY MILITARY SERVICE: Syrian-American and Palestinian-American men who have never served in the Syrian military and who are planning to visit Syria are strongly urged to check with the Syrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. prior to traveling, concerning their requirement for compulsory military service.

American men over the age of 18 who have never resided in or visited Syria, but whose fathers are/were Syrian, are required to complete military service or pay to be exempted. Possession of a U.S. passport does not absolve the bearer of this obligation.

A legislative decree issued by the Syrian president on July 30, 2000, allows Syrian and Palestinian male citizens who live abroad to pay $5000 to be exempted from military service. Please contact the Syrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. for more information.

U.S. GOVERNMENT ECONOMIC SANCTIONS AGAINST SYRIA: U.S. exports to Syria are subject to a range of U.S. export controls, a lack of guaranteed trade financing, and additional tax implications that stem from Syria's presence on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. For additional information, please consult the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) home page on the Internet at http://www.ustreas.gov/ofac/ or via OFAC's Info-by-Fax service at telephone (202) 622-0077.

DEPARTURE PERMISSION: Children under the age of eighteen whose fathers are Syrian must have the father's permission to leave Syria, even if the parents are separated or divorced and the mother has been granted full custody by a Syrian court. Women in Syria are often subject to strict family controls. On occasion, families of Syrian-American women visiting Syria have attempted to prevent them from leaving the country. This can be a particular problem for young single women of marriageable age. A Syrian husband may take legal action to prevent his wife from leaving the country, regardless of her nationality. Once such legal orders are in place, the U.S. Embassy cannot assist American citizens to leave Syria. For additional information on child custody issues, please refer to our Internet site at: http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html, or contact the Office of Children's Issues, telephone (202) 736-7000.

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 contact the Office of Children's Issues, telephone (202) 736-7000.

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living in or visiting Syria are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Damascus and obtain updated information on travel and security within Syria. The U.S. Embassy is located in Abu Roumaneh, al-Mansur Street No. 2, P.O. Box 29, Damascus. The telephone numbers are [963] (11) 333-2814, 332-0783, 333-0788, and 333-3232. The fax number is [963] (11) 331-9678. The Embassy is open Sunday through Thursday.

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