What makes Niger a unique country to travel to?
Niger is a developing, landlocked African nation whose northern expanse includes the Sahara Desert. Tourist facilities are minimal, particularly outside the capital city, Niamey, and the ancient caravan city of Agadez. Visitors should be aware of the ongoing terrorist threat in Niger and the presence of landmines in the region of Agadez. Conditions of insecurity persist in the northern and western portions of Niger, particularly along the porous border between Niger and Mali, as well as eastern parts of Niger along the border of Nigeria around Diffa. French is the official language; English is not widely used.
The crime rate, primarily for thefts, robberies, and residential break-ins, is high. Foreigners are vulnerable to bribery attempts and extortion by law enforcement authorities. Thefts and petty crimes are common day or night. Armed attacks can be committed at any time of day, generallyby groups of two to four persons, with one assailant confronting the victim with a weapon while the others provide surveillance or a show of force. There has also been an increase of daytime purse snatchings by thieves traveling in pairs on motorcycles. Tourists should not walk alone around the Gaweye Hotel, the National Museum, and on or near the Kennedy Bridge at any time, or the Petit Marche area after dark. These areas are especially prone to muggings – avoid them. Walking at night is not recommended as streetlights are scarce and criminals have the protection of darkness to commit their crimes. Recent criminal incidents in Niger have included carjacking, sexual assaults, home invasions, and muggings. Travelers should keep electronics out of sight, and always keep vehicle doors locked and windows rolled up when stopped at stoplights. Use caution and common sense at all times to avoid thieves and pickpockets.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. You will find these products being sold on the streets, local shops, and in market places. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, carrying them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
While you are traveling in Niger, 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. In some places, you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places, driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These 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, 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 a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Niger, 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.
Persons violating Niger's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Niger are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries, and customary international law, if you are arrested in Niger, 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
Health facilities are extremely limited in Niamey, and completely inadequate outside the capital. Although physicians are generally well trained, almost all hospitals in Niamey suffer from inadequate facilities, antiquated equipment, and shortages of supplies, particularly medicines. Emergency assistance is also extremely limited. Travelers must carry their own properly labeled supply of prescription drugs and preventative medicines.
Malaria is prevalent in Niger. Plasmodium falciparum malaria, the serious and sometimes fatal strain found in Niger, is resistant to the anti-malarial drug chloroquine. Because travelers to Niger are at high risk for contracting malaria, the CDC advises that travelers should take one of the following anti-malarial drugs: mefloquine (Lariam™), doxycycline, or atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone™). The CDC has determined that a traveler who is on an appropriate anti-malarial drug has a greatly reduced chance of contracting the disease. Other personal protective measures, such as the use of insect repellents, also help to reduce malaria risk. Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area, and up to one year after returning home, should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and what anti-malarial drugs they have been taking.
Don’t drink tap water. It is unsafe to drink throughout Niger. Bottled water and beverages are safe, although visitors should be aware that many restaurants and hotels serve tap water. Ice made from tap water is also unsafe to consume.
Safety and Security
The border region with Mali continues to be of specific concern since the Malian government's loss of control over its northern region in early 2012 and the ongoing military intervention that began in early 2013. The border is porous, and there are frequent reports of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other terrorist or rebel groups crossing into Niger. The Government of Niger has increased its security forces in the border area, but the situation remains unstable and travel there is not advised. Conditions of insecurity persist in the northern and western areas of Niger, as well as the southeast border with Nigeria near Diffa. You are warned of the risks of travel to Niger, and urged to exercise extreme caution due to increased kidnapping threats against Westerners. Because of security threats, the U.S. Embassy continues to restrict the travel of U.S. government employees and official visitors in the areas north of Niamey. Travel of U.S. government employees and official visitors to areas south and east of Niamey, including the cities of Maradi, Zinder, and Diffa, requires coordination with the Regional Security Office and final approval by the Ambassador. Travelers should exercise caution in the border area between Niger and Nigeria. Terrorist groups in Nigeria have grown increasingly bold and have conducted kidnappings outside of national borders. These groups have conducted large-scale, military-style attacks on civilian and government targets in northern Nigeria, to include fortified targets such as police stations. A French family of seven was kidnapped while entering a national park in Cameroon in February 2013. The U.S. Embassy continues to evaluate proposed travel and official and personal activities for employees on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with Nigerien security authorities.
As noted in the Department of State’s Worldwide Caution, both the United States and the European Union have designated the Islamic extremist group al-Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) as a terrorist organization. AQIM has declared its intention to attack Western targets throughout the Sahel (including Mali, Mauritania, and Niger), and has claimed responsibility for the following recent kidnappings/attempted kidnappings and other violent events:
2012 and 2013: Ongoing armed conflict in northern Mali.
December 2012: Assassination attempt on a Malian ex-army officer in Niamey; the assailant had terrorist ties. While the target was not a U.S. citizen, the attack demonstrated that acts of terrorism can occur throughout Niger.
October 2012: Unidentified gunmen kidnapped six people in Dakoro. While none of the hostages were U.S. citizens, the attackers appeared to be seeking to capture Westerners.
January 2011: Two French nationals were kidnapped in Niamey. They were found dead less than 24 hours later following a rescue attempt by French and Nigerien military forces.
September 2010: Seven people, including five French nationals, a citizen of Togo, and a citizen of Madagascar, were kidnapped by AQIM from the northern mining town of Arlit. Four of the French citizens are still being held hostage by AQIM.
April 2010: A French citizen and his Algerian driver were kidnapped. The Algerian was freed. AQIM claimed the French citizen was killed in retaliation for the July attempted rescue operation conducted by Mauritanian and French military forces, but the remains have not been recovered.
For travel in any remote area of the country, the Department of State urges you to use registered guides and to travel with a minimum of two vehicles equipped with global positioning systems (GPS) and satellite phones (if possible). Travelers are advised to avoid restricted military areas and to consult local police authorities regarding your itinerary and security arrangements.
Avoid street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times. Large and small street demonstrations occur regularly in Niger, often near government buildings, university campuses, or other gathering places such as public parks. Although demonstrations can occur spontaneously, large student demonstrations typically begin in January – February and continue through May. Be particularly vigilant at these times and avoid travel around the city if you hear reports of demonstrations. During previous student demonstrations, rock-throwing demonstrators have targeted non-governmental organization (NGO) and diplomatic vehicles bearing “IT” or “CD” plates. Many past demonstrations have involved rock throwing and tire burning, especially at key intersections in the city of Niamey.
Due to the spontaneous nature of street demonstrations, it is not possible for the Embassy to notify U.S. citizens each time a demonstration occurs. Maintain security awareness at all times and avoid large public gatherings and street demonstrations. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational without advance warning. While the Embassy endeavors to inform U.S. citizens of demonstrations through the warden system when possible, local radio and television stations are good sources for information as well.
NOTE TO NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATION WORKERS: Following the murder of a French tourist in the region of Agadez in 2005, the Government of Niger began requiring that NGOs not only be registered and officially recognized, but also that they inform the Nigerien government of each mission they plan to undertake in Niger. To avoid detention and/or expulsion by Nigerien authorities, the U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that NGO workers:
Make sure that your NGO has registered and received official recognition from the Government of Niger. For details on how to do this, please visit the Managing Office of Decentralized Cooperation and Non-Governmental Organizations (Direction De La Cooperation Decentralisée et Des Organisations Non Governementales) in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation (Ministre des Affaires Etrangères et de la Cooperation).
Carry with you a copy of the official recognition (Arrêté) of the right of your NGO to operate in Niger.
If your international NGO sponsor is without a permanent presence in Niger, verify that the NGO group has informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation at least two weeks prior to the start of a mission in Niger. This notice should be in writing and should include the purpose of the mission, the dates of the mission, where the mission will take place, and the types and license plate numbers of the vehicles involved in the mission. The Ministry of the Interior should be copied on this notice of mission.
If your NGO is a national NGO, i.e., its headquarters is in Niger, verify that the group has informed the Ministry of Planning, Land Management, and Community Development (Ministre du Plan, de l’Aménagement du Territoire et du Developpement Communautaire) at least two weeks prior to the start of a mission in Niger. This notice should be in writing and should include the purpose of the mission, the names of the individuals who will be working for the NGO on the mission, the dates of the mission, where the mission will take place, and the types and license plate numbers of the vehicles involved in the mission. The Ministry of the Interior should be copied on this notice of mission.
NGOs should ask for a receipt of the notification provided to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Ministry of the Interior, and Ministry of Planning, Land Management, and Community Development.
The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that NGO workers present themselves at the regional governor’s office prior to beginning their mission in a particular region of Niger in addition to the requirements listed above. Again, NGO workers should ask for a receipt of their presentation to the regional governor. It would also be wise to provide the regional governor with the same written notification that was provided to the ministries listed above.
Although the U.S. government places the highest priority on the safe recovery of kidnapped U.S. citizens, it is U.S. policy not to make concessions to kidnappers. Consequently, the type of assistance that the U.S. government can provide to kidnap victims is limited.
Because of safety and security concerns, Peace Corps temporarily suspended its operations in Niger in January 2011.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Niger, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Niger is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Road safety throughout Niger is a concern, and visitors are strongly urged to avoid driving at night outside of major cities. The public transportation system, urban and rural road conditions, and the availability of roadside assistance are all poor. The main causes of accidents are driver carelessness, excessive speed, poorly maintained vehicles, and poor to non-existent road surfaces. Other factors include the hazardous mix of bicycles, mopeds, unwary pedestrians, donkey carts, animals (cattle, goats, camels), and buses on roads that are generally unpaved and poorly lit. Overloaded tractor-trailers, “bush taxis,” and disabled vehicles are additional dangers on rural roads, where speeds are generally higher. Travel outside Niamey and other cities often requires four-wheel-drive vehicles, which creates an additional security risk, since these vehicles, especially Toyota Land Cruisers, are high-theft items. Driving at night is always hazardous and should be avoided. Banditry is a continuing problem in northern and eastern Niger, as well as along the border with Mali. There have been occasional car-jackings and highway robberies throughout the country.
While taxis are available at a fixed fare in Niamey, most are in poor condition, and do not meet basic U.S. road safety standards. Inter-city “bush-taxis” are available at negotiable fares, but these vehicles (minibuses, station wagons, and sedans) are generally older, unsafe models that are overloaded, poorly maintained, and driven by reckless operators seeking to save time and money. A national bus company (SNTV) operates coaches on inter-city routes and, since being reorganized in 2001, has provided reliable service and experienced no major accidents. Air Transport, Rimbo, and Garba Messagé are private bus companies operating in Niger. There is some concern regarding the youth of drivers and the speed with which the private bus companies travel the Nigerien roads. The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends against traveling outside Niamey at night as most roads and vehicles do not meet U.S. safety standards and unlit vehicles, livestock, and pedestrians are common on roads.