What makes Brunei a unique country to travel to?
Brunei Darussalam is a small Islamic Sultanate on the northwest coast of the Island of Borneo. It is divided into four districts: Brunei/Muara, Tutong, Belait and Temburong. The capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, is its major city. Brunei’s official language is Malay, but English is widely understood and used in business. Tourist facilities and services are generally available throughout the country.
Most crimes that occur in Brunei are non-violent and crimes of opportunity, including residential burglaries and vehicle break-ins. While traveling or residing in Brunei, you can easily avoid being victim to a crime of opportunity by simply practicing good security awareness. For example, securing valuables (remove from plain view), avoid secluded locations, properly secure your residence and vehicle, and not traveling alone late at night.
Crime in Brunei peaks in July and December, due to the holidays and schools being out of session. Overall, many crimes carry severe penalties, and punishments such as jail, fines, caning, or deportation (for foreigners).
While you are traveling in Brunei, 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. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods, which are prevalent in Brunei. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Brunei, 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.
If you violate Brunei laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Brunei are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences, heavy fines, and, possibly, death. Brunei has a mandatory death penalty for many narcotics offenses. Under the current law, possession of heroin, ecstasy, and morphine derivatives of more than 15 grams, Cocaine of more than 30 grams, Cannabis of more than 500 grams, Syabu (Methamphetamine) of more than 50 grams, or Opium of more than 1.2 kg., carries the death penalty. Possession of lesser amounts can result in a minimum twenty-year jail term and caning. Importation of firearms is prohibited; the illegal possession of firearms or explosives and drug use/possession carry severe penalties, including the possibility of the death penalty. Any attempts to circumvent alcohol controls can result in arrest and criminal prosecution. Gambling in Brunei is illegal.
Prostitution is illegal and harsh penalties can result from engaging in the solicitation of prostitution. In addition, due to the conservative Muslim culture, any extramarital relations between a Muslim and non-Muslim, from simple acts such as holding hands or public displays of affection to sexual activity may be considered a crime in Brunei.
If you are arrested in Brunei, authorities of Brunei are required to alert the U.S. Embassy of your arrest. If you are concerned the Department of State may not be aware of your situation, you should request the police to notify the closest U.S. Embassy of your arrest.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
There is adequate care for basic medical conditions in Brunei; however, for certain elective surgery or complicated care, the best medical care in the region is obtained in Singapore. Brunei has a number of public hospitals and clinics. The biggest ones are RIPAS Hospital in Bandar Seri Begawan and Tutong Hospital in the district of the same name. The largest private hospital is Jerudong Park Medical Center about 20 minutes by car outside of Bandar Seri Begawan, which is a facility comparable to those in the U.S. Brunei also hosts a number of private clinics, many of which are staffed by expatriates. More information can be found at the U.S. Embassy Website at Medication and prescriptions are readily available, but may not be the same brands as those found in the U.S. There are no major health concerns in Brunei.
Safety and Security
Noting several past anti-Western terrorist bombings in Indonesia, the Department of State continues to be concerned that terrorist groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) have the capability to carry out terrorist attacks throughout the region. U.S. citizens in Brunei should be vigilant with regard to their personal security, maintain a low profile, vary times and routes during their daily routines, and report any suspicious activity to the local police or to the U.S. Embassy.
Brunei adheres to conservative Islamic social values, and U.S. citizens are advised to learn and respect local customs and traditions. Typically non-Muslims are not expected to follow the same customs enforced on practicing Muslims. Persons violating Brunei’s laws, even unknowingly, may be deported, arrested, or imprisoned. Any public criticism of His Majesty the Sultan or other members of the Royal Family is strongly discouraged. Alcohol cannot be purchased legally in Brunei; however, two liters of spirits/wine and 12 cans of beer may be imported per border entry by non-Muslim adults for personal consumption in privacy. Importing more than the allowed amount of alcohol per border entry will result in arrest. The Royal Brunei Police Force is generally professional and courteous. Most officers speak English but some, especially from the reserve units, have limited to no English speaking capability. Travelers are strongly urged to carry a copy of their passport as police will most always ask for identification for all parties involved in any type of incident. In the event of police detention, U.S. citizens should request to contact the U.S. Embassy. The Embassy local guard force operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and all guards speak English. The 24-hour number of the Embassy is 673-238-4616 and the Duty Officer is 673-873-0691. The emergency number for the police is 993.
Natural disasters, earthquakes and typhoons are not major concerns in Brunei. Brunei has not been affected by industrial accidents and kidnappings are not common.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in a foreign country, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
Brunei has an extensive network of roads comparable to most western countries’ and they are well maintained. Traffic moves on the left side of the road. Holders of a foreign driver’s license are permitted to drive in Brunei Darussalam for 90 days only. For longer stays, a foreign driver’s license must be endorsed to a Brunei driver’s license, available at any Land Transport Department office. Drivers must obey traffic rules at all times and should take extra caution when approaching traffic signals. In urban areas, several deadly accidents have occurred in recent years when local drivers drove through red lights.
The Royal Brunei Police Force routinely sets up checkpoints and traffic stops, particularly at night. These checkpoints are normally set up for one of two reasons: 1) for routine license and registration checks and 2) DWI/search for contraband (drugs and alcohol). In case you are stopped, be prepared to show identification card and vehicle registration. In addition to registration, you should always have your insurance policy in the car. In case of an accident you will need all three.