What makes Gabon a unique country to travel to?
The Gabonese Republic is a developing nation on the western coast of central Africa with a multiparty presidential government. French is the official language; few Gabonese speak English. Facilities for tourism outside the capital city of Libreville are available, but they are often limited and can be expensive.
Petty theft is common in Gabon. Violent crime is more common in urban areas, and there have been armed robberies in homes, restaurants, and at beaches frequented by foreigners. U.S. citizens and Europeans have been the victims of crime.
The U.S. Embassy in Gabon encourages you to take extra precautions when traveling in Libreville. To prevent carjacking and petty theft, you should travel with your car windows up, doors locked, and items of value hidden from view. The Embassy has received reports of scams where thieves cause a distraction to motorists, such as stepping in front of cars in tight traffic, in order to create opportunities for cohorts to snatch and grab from unlocked passenger doors. These incidents have occurred during daylight hours. Riding in a taxi alone or during late hours of the evening is not recommended and increases your risk of becoming the victim of crime. Carjackings and violent incidents of road rage have also been reported to the Embassy. These incidents have also occurred during daylight hours. We have also received reports of police harassment of U.S. citizens at checkpoints, and U.S. citizens should carry identification at all times, as described more fully below.
You should avoid poorly lit streets, and unfamiliar areas of the city, especially at night. You should not walk, run, or stay on the beach alone or in groups after dusk. When dining in restaurants or visiting markets, you should carry a minimal amount of cash and avoid wearing flashy or expensive jewelry. If you are the victim of an attempted robbery or carjacking, you are encouraged to comply with the attacker to avoid injury and to report all incidents to the police and the U.S. Embassy. Police response time to reports of crime is often slow.
Scams or confidence schemes do occur in Gabon. For general information on scams, see the Department of State’s Financial Scams web page.
Credit cards are not widely accepted except at hotels, and because of the high rate of credit card fraud, you should exercise caution when using them. Some hotels only accept credit cards with a European-style microchip. While withdrawing funds from ATMs, you should exercise the same safety precautions as in the U.S. as they are targeted by thieves.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in Gabon, 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 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.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 Gabon, 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.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical facilities in Gabon's major cities are limited, but may be adequate for routine or basic needs. Medical services in rural areas are either unavailable or of very poor quality. Additionally, some medicines are not available; you should carry your own supply of properly-labeled medications to cover your entire stay. For medical emergencies in Libreville, the emergency room at El Rapha Polyclinic, a private clinic, can be reached at 07-98-66-60, and an ambulance can be requested through them. You must speak French when calling this phone number.
Cerebral malaria is endemic in all areas of Gabon. Travelers should discuss prophylaxis with a physician well before planned travel as some prophylactic medications must be started two weeks before arriving in a malarial zone. Even with prophylaxis you should familiarize yourself with the symptoms of malaria and seek medical treatment immediately if you experience symptoms.
Tap water may not be potable and you should drink and cook with bottled water only. Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia, is endemic to Gabon.
Tuberculosis (TB) is an increasingly serious health concern in Gabon.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Gabon, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. If you drive a vehicle in Gabon you are required to have a Gabonese driving license (permis de conduire), vehicle registration (carte grise), proof of insurance (assurance), proof of vehicle inspection (visite technique), fire extinguisher (extincteur de feu), triangles (triangles), and first aid kid (boite de soins de premiers secours). The police may verify that you have all of the required documentation and equipment if they stop you on the road or at police checkpoints.
Travel by road in Gabon can be hazardous. You should drive with your car windows up and the doors locked. Travelers are routinely stopped at police checkpoints within cities and on roads to the interior. You should comply politely if stopped, but avoid encouraging requests for bribery if possible. You should use extreme caution when driving after dark. Two-lane roads are the norm throughout Gabon. Roads to outlying cities are usually unpaved. There are many visible and hidden dangers including large potholes, absence of road signs, poor to non-existent streetlights, timber-laden trucks, and the presence of pedestrians and animals. Construction work is generally poorly indicated. Drivers may change lanes or stop unexpectedly. Lane markings are frequently ignored. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended for travel beyond the paved road to Lambarene, especially during the rainy season.
Roadside assistance and emergency medical services are available in Libreville, but they may not be dependable. These services are nonexistent outside of the city. Service stations are available along main roads, but vehicle repair facilities are not always available. Bus service exists in Libreville, but buses are infrequent and routes are not generally convenient, so most people use taxis to get around the city. Use of taxis is generally safe, but does pose added risks. You should use a hotel taxi when possible. Before entering a taxi, check that the taxi has seatbelts and negotiate the rate for your trip. Rail services remain available, but infrequent, and travelers should expect lengthy delays.
Talking or texting on a cell phone while driving in Gabon is against the law.