What makes Central African Republic a unique country to travel to?
The Central African Republic (CAR) is one of the world’s least developed nations and is currently experiencing a period of prolonged political instability and lawlessness. In March 2013, the Seleka rebel group overthrew the government in violent clashes with the CAR military and foreign troops. Despite an ongoing peace process and the creation of a transitional government, the security situation remains highly unstable. Gunfights and looting are ongoing and can erupt at any moment. The U.S. Department of State Travel Warning for the Central African Republic strongly warns against all travel to CAR. Those who choose to remain in the Central African Republic or to visit despite this advice should be aware that the U.S. Embassy in Bangui suspended operations on December 28, 2012, and therefore cannot provide protection or routine consular services to U.S. citizens in CAR.
The Government of the Republic of France, acting through its Embassy in Bangui, serves as Protecting Power for U.S. interests in CAR. The range of consular services the French Republic provides to U.S. citizens is extremely limited, and those services may require significantly more processing time than at U.S. embassies or consulates outside of CAR.
Crime remains a concern in the capital and has increased since the March 2013 overthrow of the government. You should exercise caution while traveling around the city and its immediate environs. Petty theft remains a problem in large market areas, particularly in the crowded markets near KM 5 on the outskirts of the city. Armed gangs may operate in outlying residential areas. During periods of civil unrest and conflict, citizens engage in violent, sometimes deadly, demonstrations which include widespread looting, burning of buildings, and blocking of roads. In the interior of the country, there are frequent reports of armed robbery and kidnapping by highway bandits (called “coupeurs de routes” or “zaraguinas”), especially during the December to May dry season. When a crime does occur in Bangui, the victim may have to pay to send a vehicle to pick up police officers due to the shortage of police vehicles and fuel.
While you are traveling in the CAR, 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. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Central African laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs in the CAR 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. If you break local laws in the CAR 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 the CAR, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. In some cases, U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals have been detained indefinitely without due process.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical facilities are extremely limited in the CAR, and the quality of care is unreliable. Sanitation levels are low. Many medicines are not available; you should carry properly labeled prescription drugs and other medications with you that will suffice for your entire visit.
Routine immunizations and protection from vaccine-preventable diseases such as yellow fever, rabies, polio, meningitis, typhoid, and hepatitis A and B are recommended. Malaria (predominantly P. falciparum) exists throughout the year and chemoprophylaxis is strongly recommended. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in the CAR. For further information, please consult the CDC's information on TB.
Insect-borne illnesses are of concern as is Schistosomiasis, an illness related to contact with fresh water. Insect precautions and avoiding freshwater are recommended.
Safety and Security
Indiscriminate violence and looting followed the March 2013 overthrow of the Government of CAR, and the new transitional government has been unable to provide security in the capital Bangui or elsewhere in CAR. In the absence of basic law and order, criminality has sharply risen. Increased gunfire in the capital has led to several casualties by stray bullets.
Spontaneous demonstrations take place in the CAR from time to time in response to world events or local developments. We remind you that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. You are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations. You should stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Armed rebel groups, bandits, and poachers present real dangers, and the Central African government is unable to guarantee the safety of visitors in most parts of the country.
There have been repeated attacks on Central African and expatriate travelers throughout the CAR over the last 10 years. The continued presence of the Lord’s Resistance Army in eastern CAR poses a particular safety and security threat. Bandits, militias, and armed group activity throughout the country also threaten the security of residents and travelers. Travel in the interior is strongly discouraged.
Bangui itself, in addition to ongoing insecurity, also suffers from severely limited transport and medical options. Armed actors staff checkpoints throughout the city, frequently harassing local and expatriate travelers for bribes. The U.S. Department of State advises against all travel to the CAR.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in a foreign country, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning the CAR is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
In Bangui, road conditions vary, and many roads have large holes and degraded areas that prevent the normal flow of traffic. Only a small portion of the roads in the country, including in the capital, are paved, and many of the compacted dirt roads have been degraded. Drivers tend to prefer to drive on the smoothest portion of the road and ignore basic traffic laws, thus slowing the flow of traffic and increasing the risk of collision. The city of Bangui does have a public transportation system consisting of green buses and yellow taxis, though these vehicles are often dangerously overcrowded and very badly maintained.
Due to the risk of armed attacks on motorists in the northern, eastern, and western regions of the country, overland travel in these areas should be avoided. Any driving outside the capital should be only during daylight hours. Most remote areas in the CAR that are frequented by tourists are accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicles, although some roads are not passable at all during the rainy season, from May to October.
There are currently no distracted driving laws in effect in the Central African Republic, but police may pull over drivers who talk or text while driving for not following unspecific safe driving procedures.