What makes Burundi a unique country to travel to?
One of the poorest countries in the world, Burundi is a small, francophone, densely populated central African nation bordering Lake Tanganyika, Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Burundi was plagued by a civil war from 1993 to 2006 that often involved non-governmental and non-combatant targets. In 2009, the last rebel group agreed to demobilize and register as a political party. Between May and September 2010, Burundi held a series of five elections covering elected offices at all levels of government, which domestic and international observers considered to be credible. Years of fighting have devastated a historically fragile economy that depends on subsistence agriculture. Poor public health and education, weather disasters such as drought and floods, crop diseases, soaring food and fuel prices, and lack of infrastructure exacerbate the effects of conflict and delay recovery. Limited facilities for tourism are slowly becoming available around Bujumbura. Outside the capital, particularly towards the southern town of Rumonge, tourist facilities are developing along the lakeshore. However, road and safety guidelines should be considered when traveling outside of Bujumbura.
Crime poses a high risk for foreign visitors to Bujumbura and Burundi in general. Due to insufficient resources, local authorities in any part of Burundi are often unable to provide timely assistance in emergencies. U.S. government personnel are prohibited from walking on the streets after dusk or using local public transportation. Foreigners, whether in vehicles or at home, are always potential crime targets. Common crimes, often committed by groups of armed bandits, include mugging, purse-snatching, pick-pocketing, burglary, automobile break-ins, and carjacking. Don’t leave valuable items unattended in a hotel room. Many criminal incidents involve armed attackers. Criminals in Bujumbura often operate in pairs or in small groups involving six or more individuals.
The Department of State advises you to use caution when traveling, paying particular attention when traveling to and from frequent destinations including work, home, and popular shops or restaurants. You should also avoid establishing routines and vary routes between regularly-traveled destinations in order to reduce vulnerability to targeted criminal or terrorist acts. In general, you should pay close attention to your personal security at locations where foreigners are commonly known to congregate and avoid demonstrations and large gatherings. U.S. citizens living and working in Bujumbura should take this opportunity to ensure your security and emergency action plans are up-to-date.
Likewise, outside of Bujumbura, vulnerability to criminal attacks on the roads continues to be a serious concern. The U.S. Embassy strongly cautions against traveling outside of towns after nightfall. When traveling upcountry, the best practice is to use convoys of multiple vehicles to prevent becoming a victim of crime in the event of mechanical failure or emergency while traveling. Furthermore, the U.S. Embassy recommends travelers be equipped with satellite telephones, maps, and navigation equipment, medical gear to include trauma supplies, and vehicle maintenance and recovery equipment, especially when traveling off main routes.
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.
While you are traveling in Burundi, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than those of the United States. 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. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is also a crime prosecutable in the United States.
Burundian law requires that you carry some form of identification at all times. You can be held for questioning if you do not have an identification document when one is requested by a member of the Burundian Police. It is illegal to take pictures of certain sensitive buildings/installations in Burundi. If you see Burundian Police near an installation, it’s safer to seek permission before taking photographs. Driving under the influence can land you immediately in jail. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking illegal drugs in Burundi are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
If you break local laws in Burundi, 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 wherever you go.
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. If you are arrested in Burundi, 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.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical facilities in Burundi do not meet United States standards. You should carry an ample supply of properly-labeled prescription drugs and other medications with you, as certain medications and prescription drugs are unavailable or in short supply. The sterility of equipment is questionable, and treatment is unreliable. Ambulance assistance is non-existent and emergency services are all but unavailable. Hospital care in Burundi should be considered in only the most serious cases and when no reasonable alternatives are available. Malaria prophylaxis is strongly recommended for travel to all parts of Burundi.
Safety and Security
In October 2009, al-Shabaab publically threatened to attack Burundi to retaliate for its participation in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The U.S. Embassy takes this threat seriously and regularly reviews the current security posture for U.S. government personnel and Travel Warnings for U.S. citizens in the region. Remain vigilant while performing your daily activities or while traveling outside of major cities to decrease the likelihood of becoming a victim of a crime or other violent acts.
Public demonstrations are generally nonviolent and well controlled by the police. However, any demonstration or spontaneous gathering has the potential to become violent. Avoid them.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Burundi, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Burundi is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
While travel on most roads is generally safe during the day, travelers must maintain constant vigilance. There have been reports of violent attacks on vehicles traveling the roads throughout the country outside of Bujumbura. U.S. government personnel are required to travel via two-vehicle convoy to certain areas, have their trips pre-approved by the Embassy's Regional Security Officer, and carry a satellite phone with them. The U.S. Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens not travel on the national highways from dusk to dawn. Drivers without valid permits, and the ease with which a driver's license can be acquired without training, make Burundian drivers less careful, predictable, or mindful of driving rules than U.S. drivers may expect.
There are no functioning traffic signals in Bujumbura and virtually nothing of the kind elsewhere in the country. Roadways are not marked, and the lack of streetlights or shoulders makes driving in the countryside at night especially dangerous.
Additionally, drivers may encounter cyclists, pedestrians, and livestock in the roadway, including in and around the capital. Mini-vans used as buses for 18 persons should be given a wide berth as they start and stop abruptly, often without pulling to the side of the road.
Large holes or damaged portions of the roadway may be encountered anywhere in the country, including in Bujumbura; when driving in the countryside off main roads, travelers should carry multiple spare tires. During the rainy season, many side roads are passable only with four-wheel drive vehicles. Burundi’s supplies of gasoline and diesel fuel are imported predominantly from Kenya and Tanzania, and are relatively expensive due to high transportation costs. Service stations are rare outside of the major cities.
Third-party insurance is required, and it will cover any damages in the event of an accident (property, injury, or death). If you are found to have caused an accident, you automatically will be fined 10,000 Burundian francs (approximately $6.50 U.S.) and your driver's license will be confiscated until the police investigation is completed. Although the law provides for the arrest of drunk drivers, in practice, the police do not act on this law. If you are involved in an accident causing death, it is advised that you leave the scene of the accident and proceed to the nearest police station.