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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Venezuela

Venezuela - Consular Information Sheet
November 30, 2000

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Venezuela is a middle-income country with a well-developed transportation infrastructure. Scheduled air service and good all-weather roads, although sometimes poorly marked and congested around urban centers, connect major cities and all regions of the country. Venezuela's tourism infrastructure varies in quality according to location and price.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport and a visa or tourist card are required. Tourist cards are issued on flights from the U.S. to Venezuela for persons staying less than ninety days. For current information concerning entry, tax, and customs requirements for Venezuela, travelers may contact the Venezuelan Embassy at 1099 30th St. N.W., Washington D.C. 20007, tel. (202) 342-2214, Internet: http://www.embavenez-us.org. Travelers may also contact the Venezuelan consulates in New York, Miami, Chicago, New Orleans, Boston, Houston, San Francisco or San Juan.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: Cross-border violence, kidnapping, smuggling and drug trafficking occur frequently in remote areas along the 1,000-mile border between Venezuela and Colombia, specifically in Venezuela's Zulia, Tachira, Barinas, Apure and Amazonas states. In February 1997, two vacationers, one of them a U.S. citizen, were kidnapped from Venezuela in southwestern Apure State near the border with Colombia. Colombian guerrillas, who frequently operate on both sides of the border, were suspected in the kidnapping. The victims were released after payment of a ransom. In March 1999, three American citizens were abducted in Colombia and taken across the border to neighboring Apure State in Venezuela, where they were murdered. Colombian guerrillas later admitted publicly to killing the three Americans.

In September 2000, Venezuelan Government officials noted increased activity of members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) along the tributaries of the Orinoco River in northwest Amazonas State. Visitors to this area, and in the border region in general, should take proper precautions. U.S. citizens planning to visit isolated border areas should consult the U.S. Embassy for the latest security information.

"Express kidnappings," in which victims are seized in an attempt to get quick cash in exchange for their release, are on the rise in Venezuela's capital, Caracas. In September 2000, four American citizens were kidnapped from their home in the capital city. The incident lasted only a few hours until the victims obtained money from a local bank to pay the demanded ransom. While not identified as specific targets of such "express kidnappings," foreigners may be viewed as more likely to have access to large sums of money, so Americans should be alert to their surroundings and take necessary precautions.

Sporadic political demonstrations, which may at times turn violent, occur mainly in urban centers. The purpose and location of such demonstrations are often announced in advance. The number and intensity of demonstrations fluctuate, but they tend to occur at or near university campuses or secondary schools. Areas subject to sporadic demonstrations include the Los Teques area of metropolitan Caracas, the Universidad Central de Venezuela campus in Caracas, and the University district in Valencia, Carabobo State. Most major tourist destinations, including coastal beach resorts and Margarita Island, are not generally affected by protest actions. However, the city of Merida, a major tourist destination in the Andes, is the scene of frequent student demonstrations.

Travelers may keep informed of local developments by following the local press, radio and television. They should also consult their local hosts, including U.S. and Venezuelan business contacts, hotels, tour guides, and travel organizers. American citizens traveling or residing in Venezuela are advised to take common-sense precautions and avoid any large gatherings or any other event where crowds have congregated to demonstrate or protest, no matter where they occur. Additional advice about demonstrations may also be obtained from the U.S. Embassy at the telephone numbers listed below.

CRIME: Most crime is economically motivated. Pickpockets concentrate in and around crowded bus and subway stations, especially the area around "Parque Simon Bolivar," near the "Capitolio" area in downtown Caracas. The "barrios" or "ranchitos" (the poor neighborhoods of tin-roofed brick homes that cover the hills around

Caracas) and isolated urban parks can be very dangerous. These include the "El Calvario" section of the El Silencio area in Caracas, the "23 de Enero" slum area in the Catia area of Caracas, and most areas within the sprawling neighborhood known as Petare in eastern Caracas.

There have been incidents of rock throwing from highway overpasses bordering the slum neighborhoods in an attempt to force cars to stop and assess damages. Once stopped, the passengers are robbed by waiting accomplices. In a 1999 incident, a U.S. Embassy family member was killed by a rock that shattered the car's windshield.

Most criminals are armed with guns or knives and will use force. There have been cases of theft from hotel rooms and safe deposit boxes, and theft of unattended valuables on the beach and from rental cars parked near isolated areas or on city streets. A guarded garage or locked trunk is not always a guarantee against theft. Subway escalators are a favored site for "bump and rob" petty thefts by roving bands of young criminals, many of whom are well dressed to allay suspicion and to blend in with crowds of workers using the subways during rush hour. Armed robberies are common in urban and tourist areas, particularly in Caracas and Maracaibo. Travelers must exercise caution in displaying money and valuables. Numerous four-wheel drive vehicles have been targeted for carjacking in the Caracas and Maracaibo metropolitan areas, including vehicles driven by U.S. Embassy employees and/or spouses.

There have been incidents of unlicensed cabs ("piratas") overcharging, robbing and injuring passengers. Travelers should take care to use radio-dispatched taxis or check to make sure that the license plate reads "libre," which indicates the cab is licensed. Travelers arriving late at night at the domestic terminal of the international airport should be aware that "pirata" cabs are known to prey on tourists arriving on delayed flights after licensed cabs have left for the evening. Travelers should call a 24-hour radio-dispatched taxi service from a public phone in the airport lobby or ask the airline representatives to contact a licensed cab company. Drivers of licensed cabs permitted to carry passengers at the airport will have laminated identity cards, in addition to license plates reading "libre."

A number of U.S. citizens have reported that Venezuelan officials at airports, immigration offices and police stations have demanded bribes. U.S. citizens should report immediately to the U.S. Embassy any such demand and attempt to provide the Embassy with the name and badge numbers of the individuals.

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, DC 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 care in Caracas is good at private hospitals and clinics. Cash payment is usually demanded. Most hospitals and clinics, however, accept credit cards. In rural areas outside Caracas, physicians and medical supplies may be scarce.

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 the 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 the CDC 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 Venezuela is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

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

Traffic jams are common within Caracas during most of the day. Driving regulations are similar to those in the U.S. although many drivers do not obey them. Defensive driving is a necessity. Child car seats and seatbelts are not required and are seldom available in car rentals and taxis. Outside the major cities, night driving can be dangerous because of unmarked road damage or repairs in progress, unlighted vehicles and livestock. Even in urban areas, road damage is often marked by a pile of rocks or sticks left by passersby near or in the pothole or crevice, without flares or other devices to highlight the danger. Stops at National Guard and local police checkpoints (alcabalas) are mandatory. Drivers should follow all National Guard instructions and be prepared to show vehicle and insurance papers and passports. Vehicles may be searched. Economical bus service is available to most destinations throughout the country. Peak holiday travel occurs during summer and winter school breaks and major civil and religious holidays, including Carnival, Easter, Christmas and New Years holidays. Lengthy delays due to road congestion are common during these peak periods.

For information concerning Venezuela's driver's permits, vehicle inspection, any road taxes or mandatory insurance, please contact the Embassy of Venezuela at (202) 342-2214 or search their web site: http://www.embavenez-us.org. For additional information about road safety, please see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page road safety overseas feature at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Venezuela's Civil Aviation Authority as Category 2, not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Venezuela's air carrier operations. While consultations to correct the deficiencies are ongoing, Venezuela's air carriers are 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 Venezuela's air carriers will be permitted unless they arrange to have flights conducted by an air carrier from a country meeting international safety standards.

For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation at tel. 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. 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 United States. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at tel. (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 Venezuela's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Venezuela are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Prison conditions are extremely harsh, as numerous foreigners (including Americans) arrested for possession or trafficking of drugs can attest. The minimum prison sentence for trafficking (with no differentiation for category or quantity of drugs) is ten years.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: U.S. citizens visiting areas along the border with Colombia, particularly the military-controlled areas, may be subject to search and seizure. For further information regarding travel to border areas, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Caracas.

U.S. citizens who do not have Venezuelan "cedulas" (national identity cards) must carry their passports with them at all times. Photocopies of passports prove valuable in facilitating their replacement should they be lost or stolen.

CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS: Foreign exchange transactions must take place through commercial banks and exchange houses at the official rate. Hotels and banks often restrict transactions to their clients only. Money exchange by tourists is most easily arranged at "casas de cambio" or exchange houses. Credit cards are accepted at most upscale tourist establishments. Visa, MasterCard and American Express have representatives in Venezuela. U.S. citizens using credit cards at some commercial establishments have had the numbers lifted and used by others. Purchases not made by the legitimate cardholder are then reported on the next statement. Visitors should be aware of this trend. Outside the major cities, a good supply of Venezuelan currency is necessary as it may be difficult to find exchange houses. Most major cities have ATMs with 24-hour service where users may withdraw up to 100 dollars equivalent in local currency daily. The ATMs are linked to many global networks.

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: Americans living in or visiting Venezuela are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas or the Consular Agency in Maracaibo and obtain updated information on travel and security within Venezuela. The U.S. Embassy is located at Calle Suapure and Calle F, Colinas de Valle Arriba, Caracas. The Embassy is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday-Friday, tel. (011)(58)(2) 975-6411. In case of an after-hours emergency, callers should dial (011)(58)(2) 975-9821.

Direct consular office phone lines are as follows: (011)(58)(2) 975-6411 ext. 2208 for information on applications for U.S. passports, or 975-9234 (preferably mornings) for information on Reports of Birth or other U.S. citizen services. The American Citizen Services fax number is (011)(58)(2) 975-8991. Additional information is also available at the Embassy's Internet web site at: http://usembassy.state.gov/caracas/ or at the Consular Section's web site at: http://usembassy.state.gov/caracas/wwwheins.html.

A part-time consular agent in Maracaibo provides services for U.S. citizens in western Venezuela. The agent is available to the public every Monday from 8:15 am to 12:15 pm, at the Centro Venezolano Americano del Zulia (CEVAZ), Calle 63 No. 3E-60, Maracaibo; tel. (011)(58)(61) 91-1436 or 91-1880.

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