What makes Botswana a unique country to travel to?
Botswana, a country in southern Africa roughly the size of Texas with a population of approximately 2 million, has a stable democratic, parliamentary government, and a stable economy. Diamond and mineral mining are key components of the economy, while facilities for tourism are also widely available.
Crime is a serious concern in Botswana. Visitors must be vigilant and take common-sense security precautions. Petty street crimes and crimes of opportunity, primarily the theft of money and personal property, are not uncommon. Home invasions, “smash and grabs” from vehicles, and cell phone thefts, often at knifepoint, are routinely reported to the police. Hotels and lodges are not immune from criminal activity, and visitors should remain alert and take reasonable precautions in safeguarding personal property (particularly money and electronic equipment). Visitors are urged to exercise extreme caution near the Gaborone Dam and Kgale Hill in Gaborone due to the high number of reported criminal incidents.
Travelers arriving in Botswana via South Africa should be aware that there is a serious continuing baggage pilferage problem at OR Tambo (Johannesburg) and Cape Town International Airports. Travelers are encouraged to use an airport plastic wrapping service and to avoid placing electronics, jewelry, cameras, designer athletic gear, or other valuables in checked luggage. Also, make an inventory of items in checked baggage to aid in claims processing if theft does occur.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
While you are traveling in Botswana, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own 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 Botswana’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs in Botswana are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Motorists should note that it is illegal to use a cell phone while driving; failure to comply could result in fines and/or confiscation of the cell phone. If you break local laws in Botswana, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.
Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries, and customary international law, if you are arrested in Botswana, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the U.S. embassy of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the U.S. embassy.
English is the official language while Setswana is considered the national language. Tjikalanga is commonly spoken in northeastern Botswana.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Private medical facilities in Gaborone are adequate for simple medical problems, but facilities outside of Gaborone are severely limited. Adequately equipped emergency rooms and trained physicians are available in the capital but services are rudimentary elsewhere. Professional private emergency rescue services operate air and ground ambulances throughout the country, but care is rendered only after a patient’s ability to pay is established. Response times are often slow in less populated areas. Outside of Gaborone, most airports are either not equipped or may have malfunctioning night lighting capability, so airborne medical evacuations can often only be conducted during daylight hours. Malaria is prevalent only in the north of the country, particularly around the Chobe and Okavango National Parks. Malaria prophylaxis is not required in Gaborone but is suggested for travel to the north. For advanced care, U.S. citizens often choose to travel to South Africa. Many South African manufactured prescription drugs are available in Gaborone.
In many areas of Botswana (including Gaborone), tap water can be unsafe and should be avoided or boiled for at least one minute before drinking. Bottled water and beverages are believed to be safe. However, visitors should be aware that many restaurants and hotels serve tap water unless bottled water is specifically requested. Ice may also come from tap water and should be avoided.
Approximately one-quarter of the population of Botswana is infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Travelers are advised to exercise appropriate precautions if engaging in sexual activity or if exposed to blood products through injuries or rendering assistance to accident victims. Tuberculosis is also endemic to Botswana. Several hundred cases of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) have been identified in Botswana since January 2008 when Botswana first obtained the ability to test for this form of TB. Individuals who plan to reside or stay in Botswana for extended periods are advised to obtain a tuberculosis skin test (PPD test) prior to arrival and again upon departure from Botswana. There are occasional diarrhea outbreaks in areas affected by heavy rains. Travelers in those regions are encouraged to take necessary precautions when handling food and drinking water.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Botswana, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Botswana is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving in Botswana is challenging and motorists must drive defensively. As elsewhere in the region, traffic circulates on the left in Botswana. While the roads in major population centers are generally good, rural roads can be in poor condition and treacherous. Rolling power outages mean that many traffic lights and street lamps do not work properly. The combination of long, tedious stretches of two-lane highways without shoulders, high-speed limits, intoxicated drivers, free-range domestic animals (even in urban centers), and large numbers of pedestrians and hitchhikers in the roadways make fatal accidents a frequent occurrence. Outside of Gaborone, it is also common to find large numbers of animals along or on the unlit roads, which can be particularly hazardous when driving at night. The Embassy prohibits government employees from driving outside of Gaborone after dark.
‘Smash and grab’ robberies from vehicles are increasingly common in Botswana, particularly in urban areas at traffic lights. Motorists should avoid carrying anything of value (handbags, briefcases, purses, cell phones, etc.) in the passenger compartment that could attract potential assailants.