What makes Libya a unique country to travel to?
Libya witnessed a popular uprising against the regime of Colonel Muammar Qadhafi that lasted from February to October 2011 and included fighting throughout the country. Libyans cast ballots July 7, 2012 in elections deemed to be free and fair according to election observers. Libya’s General National Congress replaced the Transitional National Council in August 2012 and will lead the country until elections are held on the basis of a new constitution. Islamic ideals and beliefs provide the conservative foundation of the country's customs, laws, and practices. On September 11-12, 2012, armed extremists attacked the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, killing four U.S. government personnel, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
Due to the current security situation, the ability of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli to provide consular services to U.S. citizens in Libya is extremely limited, especially outside of Tripoli.
Crime levels in Libya are rising. There have been increased reports of armed robbery, carjacking, burglary, and crimes involving weapons. The Libyan police and internal security institutions have not fully reconstituted themselves since the revolution. Thousands of criminals who were released from prisons by the former regime or who escaped following the revolution remain at large. Hundreds of thousands of small arms looted from government storage facilities are now in the hands of the local population, contributing to the rise in violent crime.
While you are traveling in Libya, you are subject to Libyan laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be very different from our own. You may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. It is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings, especially military and government facilities. Driving under the influence can result in immediate detention. There are also some things that might be legal in Libya, 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 Libya, 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 before you go.
Persons violating Libyan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Libya are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Alcohol is also prohibited in Libya, and possessing, using, or trafficking in alcohol can carry severe penalties. Libyan customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning the introduction into Libya or removal from Libya of firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, and currency. The importation and consumption of alcohol, pornography, and pork products are illegal in Libya. Please see our Customs information.
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 U.S. embassy as soon as you are arrested or detained.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
While some health care providers have been trained in the United States or Europe, basic modern medical care and/or medicines may not be available in Libya. Many Libyan citizens prefer to be treated outside Libya for serious medical conditions.
Safety and Security
The security situation in Libya remains unpredictable. U.S. citizens traveling to or remaining in Libya should use caution and limit nonessential travel. While in Libya, make contingency emergency plans and maintain security awareness at all times.
Recent worldwide terrorism alerts, including the Department of State’s Worldwide Caution, have stated that extremist groups continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in the Middle East region, including Libya. Any U.S. citizen who travels to Libya should maintain a strong security posture by being aware of surroundings, avoiding crowds and demonstrations, keeping a low profile, and varying times and routes for all required travel.
Terrorist incidents have occurred recently in Libya. On September 11, 2012, a group attacked the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi resulting in the deaths of four U.S. government personnel, including the Ambassador. There have been several recent attacks on diplomatic embassies, offices and vehicles, as well as against Libyan government officials and private Libyan citizens, though many of these attacks have also been the result of criminality and lawlessness. Since the February 2011 revolution, thousands of anti-aircraft missiles are still unaccounted for in Libya and extremist groups may use them against aircraft, including commercial flights.
Various militias have supplanted the police in maintaining internal security. Militia members operate checkpoints within and between major cities. Libyan militia members are poorly trained and may be unaffiliated with the interim government, which has not yet fully reconstituted the national army and police. The Embassy receives frequent reports of clashes between rival militias and occasional reports of killings and vigilante revenge killings. Militia groups sometimes detain travelers for arbitrary or unclear reasons, without access to a lawyer or legal process. Carry proof of citizenship and valid immigration status at all times. The Embassy has extremely limited capacity to assist U.S. citizens who are detained by militia groups.
Public demonstrations occur frequently in Libya in the central squares of cities, such as Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli and Freedom Square in Benghazi. Exercise caution in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations, as even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. Avoid all demonstrations and take cover if you hear celebratory gunfire.
If travel in desert and border regions of Libya is critically necessary, exercise caution and comply with local regulations. Terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, continue to threaten the region. Recent terrorist attacks have occurred in the border region, and extremists have kidnapped Westerners in the border regions.
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. The information below concerning Libya is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving in Libya can be hazardous, and there is a high accident rate. Enforcement of traffic laws is rare. As a result, it is often difficult to anticipate the actions of other drivers on Libyan streets and highways. Wind-blown sand can reduce visibility without warning. Road conditions are poor, and limited public transportation is poor. Taxis are available, but many taxi drivers are reckless and untrained. English-speaking drivers areextremely rare. The sidewalks in urban areas are often in bad condition and cluttered, but pedestrians are able to use them.
Paved roads in rural areas are satisfactory; however, many rural roads are unpaved. Major highways along the seacoast and leading south merge into single-lane highways once they are outside major cities. These roads are heavily trafficked and can be precarious to navigate, especially at night and during the winter rainy season. The presence of sand deposits, as well as domestic and wild animals that frequently cross these highways and rural roads, makes them even more hazardous.
The availability of roadside assistance is extremely limited and offered only in Arabic. In urban areas and near the outskirts of major cities there is a greater possibility of assistance by police and emergency ambulance services, although emergency care providers are usually ill-equipped to deal with serious injuries or accidents. Very few streets are marked or have signage, and highway signs are normally available only in Arabic.