What makes Benin a unique country to travel to?
Benin is a developing country in West Africa. Its political capital is Porto Novo; however, its administrative capital, Cotonou, is Benin's largest city and the site of most government, commercial, and tourist activity.
Street crime is a significant problem in Cotonou. Robbery and muggings occur along the Boulevard de France (the beach road by the Marina and Novotel Hotels), on the beaches near hotels frequented by international visitors, and within the Haie Vive and Les Cocotiers neighborhoods (where many bars and restaurants frequented by expatriates are located), in addition to other parts of the city. Most of the reported incidents involve the use of force, often by armed persons, with an occasional minor injury to the victim. Travelers should avoid isolated and poorly lit areas and should not walk around the city or the beaches between dusk and dawn. U.S. diplomatic personnel are prohibited from visiting the Dantokpa market between the hours of dusk and dawn. Even during daylight hours, foreigners on the beach near Cotonou are frequently victims of robberies. When visiting the beach, travelers should not carry valuables and should carry only a photocopy of their passport. If you are a victim of a crime, you should contact the U.S. Embassy immediately.
There has been a continued increase in the number of robberies after dark, both within metropolitan Cotonou and on highways and rural roads outside of major metropolitan areas. Motorists are urged to be wary of the risk of carjacking in both urban and rural areas. Keep the windows of your vehicle rolled up and the doors locked, and stay alert for signs of suspicious behavior by other motorists or pedestrians that may lead to carjacking, such as attempts to stop a moving vehicle for no obvious reason. Motorists should be aware of obstacles or obstructions, such as branches, tires, or ropes, that would-be robbers place in the roadway in an effort to ambush victims. Travelers should avoid driving outside the city of Cotonou after dark and should exercise extreme caution when driving inside of Cotonou after dark (see Traffic Safety and Road Conditions below). Overland travel to Nigeria is dangerous near the Benin/Nigeria border due to unofficial checkpoints and highway banditry.
Travelers should exercise extreme caution when using credit cards and automated teller machines (ATMs) in Benin due to a high rate of fraud. Perpetrators of business and other kinds of fraud often target foreigners, including U.S. citizens. While such fraud schemes in the past have been largely associated with Nigeria, they are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Benin, and are more frequently perpetrated by Beninese criminals. Business scams are not always easy to recognize, and any unsolicited business proposal should be carefully scrutinized.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, but if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
Over the previous three years, there have been numerous pirate attacks off the coast of Benin. The attacks have been focused on oil tanker ships, not container ships or other types of vessels. It is unlikely that any tourist would become a victim of piracy, but be cautious if approached by an unknown vessel while at sea. If you spot any suspected pirates, do not approach them; immediately contact port officials, local police, and the U.S. Embassy.
While you are traveling in Benin, you are subject to its laws and regulations even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different 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. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical facilities in Benin are limited and not all medicines are available. Travelers should carry their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Not all medicines and prescription drugs available in Benin are USFDA-approved. U.S. citizens should be prepared to pay for medical services, including consultations and tests before medical advice or treatment is received. Credit cards are not accepted.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Malaria is a serious risk to travelers to Benin.
Safety and Security
U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.
U.S. citizens should not walk on the beach, at any time of day, alone. The U.S. Mission recommends that U.S. citizens not carry a passport or valuables when walking in any part of the city. Instead, carry a notarized photocopy of the photo page of your passport (see Crime section). You should not walk around the city after dark and should take particular care to avoid the beach and isolated areas near the beach after dark.
The ocean currents along the coast are extremely strong and treacherous, with rough surf and a strong undertow, and several people drown each year. Swimming conditions along Benin’s coastline are notoriously dangerous due to strong and changeable tides, waves, and rip currents. There is no safe way to determine whether conditions on any given day are suitable for entering the water, in part because waves and rip currents can develop and intensify abruptly. The U.S. Mission strongly discourages beachgoers from entering the ocean, regardless of a person’s age, size, fitness level, or swimming ability.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Benin, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Benin is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season. Benin's unpaved roads vary widely in quality; deep sand and potholes are common. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, dirt roads often become impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended.
Most of the main streets in Cotonou are paved, but side streets are often made of dirt and have deep potholes. Traffic moves on the right, as in the United States. Cotonou has a very limited public transportation system; many Beninese people rely on bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, and zemidjans. U.S. Embassy personnel are required to wear safety helmets when on a motorcycle and are prohibited from using zemidjans. Travelers using zemidjans, particularly at night, are much more vulnerable to being mugged, assaulted, or robbed. Buses and bush taxis offer service in the interior.
Gasoline smuggled from Nigeria is widely available in glass bottles and jugs at informal roadside stands throughout Cotonou and much of the country. This gasoline is of unreliable quality, often containing water or other contaminants that can damage or disable your vehicle. Drivers should purchase fuel only from official service stations. There are periodic gas shortages, which can be particularly acute in the north of the country where there are few service stations.
U.S. citizens traveling by road should exercise extreme caution. Poorly maintained and overloaded transport and cargo vehicles frequently break down and cause accidents. Drivers often place branches or leaves in the road to indicate a broken-down vehicle is in the roadway. Undisciplined drivers move unpredictably through traffic. Construction work is often poorly indicated. Speed bumps, commonly used on paved roads in and near villages, are seldom indicated. Drivers must be on guard against people and livestock wandering into or across the roads. Nighttime driving is particularly hazardous as vehicles frequently lack headlights and/or taillights, and brake lights are often burned out.
With few exceptions, Cotonou and other cities lack street lighting, and lighting on roads between population centers is non-existent. The U.S. Embassy in Cotonou prohibits non-essential travel outside of metropolitan areas after dusk by diplomatic personnel and strongly urges all U.S. citizens to avoid night driving as well. There have been numerous carjackings and robberies on roads in Benin after dark, several of which resulted in murder when the driver refused to comply with the assailants' demands. The national police periodically conduct vehicle checks at provisional roadblocks in an effort to improve road safety and reduce the increasing number of carjackings. When stopped at such a roadblock, you must have all of the vehicle's documentation available to present to the authorities.