What makes Cameroon a unique country to travel to?
Cameroon is a developing country in central Africa that offers many natural and cultural attractions, but lacks modern tourism facilities. The busy port and commercial center of Douala, its largest city, contrasts with the relative calm of inland Yaounde, the capital. Cameroon is officially bilingual. French dominates as the language of education and government in all regions except the Southwest and Northwest, where English is widely spoken. Most educated people and staff at major hotels speak both languages. In February 2008, social and political discord led to civil unrest; however, since that time the country has experienced relative stability and peace. Crime continues to be a significant concern throughout Cameroon. Elections for the newly created Senate occurred in April without incident. Legislative and municipal elections are expected sometime between September and November 2013.
Crime is a serious problem throughout Cameroon. U.S. citizens should exercise caution when traveling in Cameroon. Internet-based crime in Cameroon is escalating rapidly, and everyone, including businesses and other institutions, should be extremely skeptical of any financial transactions that involve sending money for goods, services, or adoptions. Crimes against property, such as carjacking and burglaries, have often been accompanied by violent acts and resulted in fatalities. All foreigners are potential targets for theft with possible attendant violence. Armed banditry has been a problem throughout all ten regions in Cameroon. In January 2011, over 20 Peace Corps volunteers were robbed at gunpoint in Kribi. In December 2010, a U.S citizen who was residing in Douala was murdered, and in Yaounde a U.S. citizen and a British citizen were sexually assaulted in separate incidents in March 2011. In August 2012, a U.S. citizen residing in Bamenda was murdered, and a British family was held at gun point in their hotel room for almost an hour in the middle of the night. Shortly after the attackers left, one of the victims went for help only to be shot at several times. This incident happened in the vicinity of Melong and the Mount Manengouba National Park in the Littoral Region.
In the past, armed bandits have erected road barricades to steal vehicles. While there have been no major incidents of banditry involving westerners since 2010, travelers may encounter random security checkpoints intended to curb the practice. Cameroonian law requires that you must carry identification at all times, and security personnel may request that travelers show their passport, residence card, driver's license, and/or vehicle registration at these roadblocks. You should keep certified copies of these important documents in a secure location separate from the originals. In an effort to monitor road safety, security personnel have also established roadblocks along major highways to check for safety triangles and fire extinguishers. Vehicles without these items may be required to pay a fine. Security personnel have been known to ask for bribes, but normally allow expatriate travelers to continue after delaying them for a period of time. The U.S. government does not condone bribery or corruption of any kind.
There have been many crimes involving public transportation. Taxis can be dangerous; U.S. Embassy personnel cannot use taxi cabs in Cameroon. Taxis in Cameroon function more like a U.S. bus system, with drivers stopping along the road to pick up additional passengers as long as there is space left in the vehicle. Taxi drivers and accomplices posing as passengers often conspire to commit serious crimes including rape, robbery, and assault. If you must use a taxi, consider hiring a driver you know and his/her private taxi for your exclusive use for that particular trip. Taxi passengers should be particularly vigilant at night.
The risk of street and residential crime is high. Incidents often involve gangs and relate to home invasion and kidnapping. Periodic efforts by authorities in Yaoundé to clear streets and public spaces of illegally constructed homes and market stalls can become confrontational, and may contribute to surges in criminality as these very modest homes and businesses are destroyed.
Many crimes involve an “inside man” and target individuals or locations involved with payrolls or other activities involving large sums of cash. Carjackings and robberies have also been reported on rural highways, especially in the northern region near Cameroon's border with the Central African Republic and Chad.
The Embassy has identified a wide range of internet scams based in Cameroon. These schemes cover a broad spectrum of bogus activities, including adoptions, insurance claims, dating, real estate, the provision of domestic services (such as nannies and household help), agricultural products, antiques, and exotic or domesticated animals. Often, these are advance-fee scams where the victim pays money to someone in anticipation of receiving something of greater value, such as a loan, contract, investment, or gift, and then receives little or nothing in return. U.S. citizens should never send money or travel to Cameroon to meet someone contacted via the Internet without first checking with the Embassy’s Commercial Section. Commercial scams targeting foreigners, many including U.S. citizens, continue to be a problem. The scams generally involve phony offers of lucrative sales and repeated requests for additional funds to pay for unforeseen airport and/or customs fees. Do not share your personal financial or account information.
Additionally, the U.S. Embassy is aware of complaints by U.S. citizens shipping vehicles or other merchandise to Cameroon who are unable to complete the transaction as they had expected, and who have ended up being detained based on these commercial disputes. The ability of U.S. Embassy officers to extricate U.S. citizens from the legal consequences of unlawful business deals is limited. U.S. citizens are urged to complete financial transactions with trusted partners only, insist on written contracts, and to avoid informal agreements.
For more information on international financial scams, including those involving internet dating, a promise of an inheritance windfall, a promise of a work contract overseas, overpayment for goods purchased on-line, or money-laundering, see the Department of State's publication International Financial Scams. If you have concerns about the legitimacy of a transaction in Cameroon, contact the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon. The Embassy’s commercial section regularly assists U.S. citizens seeking to determine the legitimacy of commercial transactions.
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 in a foreign country, you are subject to that country’s laws and regulations, even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. Cameroonian law does not afford many of the protections to which you may be accustomed in the United States. Legal proceedings tend to be complex, lengthy, and subject to inappropriate influence. If you violate the law in Cameroon, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses, and the condition of detention centers, while improving, is poor. During the February 2008 civil unrest, there were reports of arbitrary arrests by law enforcement officials. Although no expatriates were known to have been arrested, the Department of State cautions you against venturing out during such periods of unrest.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Cameroon are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. There are also some things that might be legal in Cameroon, but still illegal in the United States. 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 a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in your host country, 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 Cameroon, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert nearest U.S. Embassy or the Embassy Branch Office in Douala of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the Embassy or Branch Office. In Cameroon, the U.S. Embassy contact number is 22 20 15 00, and is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical facilities in Cameroon are extremely limited. Even in large cities, emergency care and hospitalization for major illnesses and surgery are hampered by the lack of trained specialists, outdated diagnostic equipment, and poor sanitation. Medical services in outlying areas may be completely non-existent. Doctors and hospitals often require immediate payment for health services in cash, and require family members or friends to locate and purchase any medical supplies they will need. Pharmacies in larger towns are well stocked, but in other areas many medicines are unavailable. Be aware of the potential for counterfeit medications, often very well packaged, at any location. You should carry your own properly-labeled supply of prescription and over-the-counter medicines.
The Centers for Disease Control has a comprehensive review of infectious disease issues and overall health recommendations for traveling to Cameroon.
Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease. If you will be visiting Cameroon, you will need to discuss with your doctor the best ways for you to avoid malaria. Ways to prevent malaria include the following:
Taking a prescription antimalarial drug,
Using insect repellent and wearing long pants and sleeves to prevent mosquito bites, and
Sleeping in air-conditioned or well-screened rooms and using bednets.
All of the following antimalarial drugs are equal options for preventing malaria in Cameroon: Atovaquone-proguanil, doxycycline, or mefloquine. For information that can help you and your doctor decide which of these drugs would be best for you, please see Choosing a Drug to Prevent Malaria.
Chloroquine is NOT an effective antimalarial drug in Cameroon and should not be taken to prevent malaria in this region.
If you become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in Cameroon, or for up to one year after returning home, you should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician your travel history and what antimalarials you have been taking.
Schistosomiasis is endemic in Cameroon. Avoid wading, swimming, bathing, or washing in, or drinking from bodies of fresh water such as canals, lakes, rivers, streams, or springs.
There are periodic outbreaks of cholera in Cameroon. People in high-risk areas can protect themselves by following a few simple rules of good hygiene and safe food preparation. These include scrupulous washing of hands under running water, especially before food preparation and eating, thorough cooking of food and consumption while hot, boiling or treatment of drinking water, and use of sanitary facilities. Above all, be very careful with food and water, including ice. Please see this CDC webpage for additional advice.
Yellow fever can cause serious medical problems and the vaccine, required for entry into Cameroon, is very effective. Measles and meningitis are also present in northern Cameroon. You should be sure your vaccinations are current. Polio remains a threat in northern Nigeria and Chad, which share porous borders with Cameroon.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Cameroon.
Safety and Security
If you are living in or visiting Cameroon, you are encouraged to stay abreast of local political and social developments that could signal instability for the country. Elections for the newly created Senate occurred in April without incident. Legislative and municipal elections are expected to take place on September 30, 2013. You should remain alert as these elections approach.
Embassy employees have been instructed to refrain from travel outside of city limits after dark, and to be cautious in their movements in centrally located areas within cities and towns. You should follow the same guidelines and not travel by night on Cameroon’s dangerous highways. Armed highway bandits (most notably in border areas); poorly lit and maintained roads; hazardous, poorly maintained vehicles; and unskilled, aggressive, and intoxicated drivers all pose threats to motorists. Attacks and accidents are most common outside major towns, especially in the regions bordering Chad and the Central African Republic, but occur in all areas of the country.
The U.S. Embassy recommends against travel to the Far North Region, which includes the city of Maroua. In February 2013, Nigerian terrorists affiliated with Boko Haram kidnapped a French family travelling from Waza National Park in Cameroon and took them from Cameroon into Nigeria. The French family was released after being held captive for two months, but the situation remains tenuous, and there is a continuing concern that expatriates could be targeted in the Far North Region. The U.S. Embassy has placed restrictions on travel by U.S. officials to the Far North of Cameroon; all U.S. officials must receive advance clearance from the U.S. Embassy to travel to the Far North, including the city of Maroua.
While we alert U.S. citizens against all travel to the Far North of Cameroon, we also urge extreme caution when travelling in the North region of Cameroon, especially in areas which border Nigeria. On May 14, 2013, Nigeria proclaimed a state of emergency in the states of Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe (Adamawa and Borno states in Nigeria share borders with the North and Far North regions of Cameroon). The Nigerian military has stepped up military operations against Boko Haram in these states. This could adversely affect security in neighboring regions of Cameroon should terrorists cross into Cameroon to avoid Nigerian military operations.
The U.S. Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens against travel to neighboring Central African Republic (CAR), and the U.S. Embassy in Bangui remains closed until further notice. On occasion, conflict in CAR has spilled across the border into Cameroon, affecting outposts in the Adamaoua and East Regions. Humanitarian and religious workers in eastern Cameroon are strongly encouraged to coordinate their efforts with the Embassy and the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Yaoundé.
If you are in Cameroon and considering crossing into Chad, you should review the U.S. Department of State's Travel Warning for Chad given past security concerns in the border region with Cameroon.
Cameroon assumed control of the Bakassi peninsula in August 2008. While there have been no reported attacks by armed groups on Cameroonian military forces in the last five years, Cameroon's military authorities restrict access to the Bakassi Peninsula. U.S. official travelers must receive prior approval from Embassy authorities to travel to this area. U.S. employees are not permitted to make personal travel to the region.
Armed robbery at sea and piracy in coastal areas remains a threat. While mostly occurring at sea, criminal groups have also conducted armed raids against lucrative coastal targets including banks. Heightened security measures by the government begun in 2009 have reduced the number of attacks. If you are caught in such an attack, you should comply immediately with any demands made by the aggressors and avoid any action that could be interpreted as an attempt to escape.
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. Cameroon's road networks, both paved and unpaved, are poorly maintained and unsafe at all times of the year. Drivers frequently ignore road safety rules. There are few road and traffic signs, and speed limits are neither posted nor enforced. Vehicles are poorly maintained and there is no mechanism or requirement to inspect them for roadworthiness. Livestock and pedestrians create constant road hazards, especially at night. Buses and logging trucks travel at excessive speed and are a constant threat to other road traffic. During the rainy season, many roads are barely passable even with four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Travelers on roads near the borders with the Central African Republic and Chad should ensure that they have adequate vehicle fuel, cooking fuel, food, and water for several days, as well as a reliable means of communication, such as a satellite or cell phone, or radio.
There are no national or local ordinances governing the use of mobile telephones, text messaging, and other electronic communications while operating a motor vehicle.
Visitors who do not have a valid passport and a visa may experience difficulties at police roadblocks or other security checkpoints. It is not uncommon for a uniformed member of the security forces to stop motorists on the pretext of a minor or non-existent violation of local motor vehicle regulations in order to extort small bribes. The Embassy advises you not to pay bribes, and to request that police officers provide a citation to be paid at the local court.
Local law states that vehicles involved in an accident should not be moved until the police arrive and a police report can be made. However, if an accident results in injury, be aware that a "village justice" mentality may develop. If an angry crowd forms, drive directly to the U.S. Embassy or another location where you can receive assistance. Contact the local police once you are safely away from danger.
Cameroon has no roadside emergency telephone numbers, but you can dial 112 in major cities to contact ambulance services. U.S. citizens should contact the U.S. Embassy 237 2220-1500 if emergency assistance is needed.