What makes Pakistan a unique country to travel to?
Pakistan is a parliamentary federal republic in South Asia, with a population of over 170 million people. Pakistan held successful elections in February 2008 and has a coalition government. Pakistan is a developing country with some tourist facilities in major cities but limited in outlying areas. The infrastructure in parts of Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) regions was devastated by an October 8, 2005, earthquake and have not yet been fully rebuilt. Massive flooding in 2010 destroyed infrastructure throughout the Indus River valley. Many parts of the country are also affected by militancy and violent extremism.
Crime is a serious concern for foreigners throughout Pakistan. Carjacking, armed robberies, house invasions, and other violent crimes occur in many major urban areas. These crimes have also occurred infrequently in other areas. Petty crime, especially theft of personal property, is common. U.S. citizen travelers to Pakistan are strongly advised to avoid traveling by taxi and other forms of public transportation, and have members of their host organizations or families meet them at the airport. In the past, several U.S. citizen travelers arriving at the international airport in Lahore, who were met by their families, were robbed outside the airport of cash and jewelry, after being stopped by a car with fake government license plates. Such schemes are common. Travel outside urban centers should only be undertaken during daylight hours. The U.S. Embassy and Consulates have seen a large increase in the number of U.S. citizens alleging the loss of property or financial investment due to the unfair business practices of their Pakistani partners.
Don’t buy counterfeit or pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, you may be breaking local law too.
Forced Marriage: The U.S. government considers the issue of forced marriage to be a violation of basic human rights and in the case of minors, a form of child abuse. Forced marriage is defined as one in which one or both parties have not consented to the marriage; it differs from arranged marriage. Often, victims of forced marriage are subjected to non-consensual sex, physical and emotional abuse, isolation, and threats of violence. International law and conventions also support an individual's right to self-determination, minimum marriage ages, and the rejection of abuse of women and honor-based violence.
While you are traveling in Pakistan, 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, but the law on this subject is vague and applied indiscriminately. In some places, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs 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. 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 Pakistan, your U.S. passport will not 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 Pakistani laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Pakistan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Arrest notifications in host country: 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. Please note that a consular officer might not be able to visit you for 15 working days or longer after your arrest in Pakistan.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Adequate basic non-emergency medical care is available in major Pakistani cities but is limited in rural areas. Facilities in the cities vary in level and range of services, resources, and cleanliness, and U.S. citizens may find them below U.S. standards; facilities in rural areas are consistently below U.S. standards. Medical facilities require prepayment and most do not accept credit cards.
Water is not potable anywhere in Pakistan and sanitation in many restaurants is inadequate. Stomach illnesses are common.
Effective emergency response to personal injury and illness is virtually non-existent in Pakistan. Ambulances are few and are not necessarily staffed by medical personnel. Any emergency case should be transported immediately to a recommended emergency receiving room. Many U.S.-brand medications are not widely available, but generic brands from well-known pharmaceuticals usually are. The quality of the locally produced medications is uneven.
Safety and Security
Despite improvements in the security situation, terrorist attacks remain frequent in Pakistan. Extremist groups within Pakistan continue to seek opportunities to attack locations where U.S. citizens and Westerners are known to congregate or visit, including government facilities and public locations, such as schools and universities, shopping malls, markets, hotels, clubs and restaurants, places of worship, transportation hubs/stations, minority neighborhoods, and outdoor recreation areas. Terrorists also target Pakistani officials, government facilities, religious minorities and facilities including sufi shrines, and they regularly resort to kidnapping for ransom. Attacks have included armed assaults on heavily guarded sites, including Pakistani military installations and airports. Other actions include but are not limited to suicide operations, bombings (including vehicle-borne explosives and improvised explosive devices), assassinations, carjackings, and assaults. The Government of Pakistan maintains heightened security measures, particularly in major cities, and these measures can vary from day to day. The U.S. Embassy and consulates regularly assess security situations and restrict the movements of official personnel.
Demonstrations, political rallies, or large religious gatherings intended to be peaceful can become confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. We advise U.S. citizens to avoid areas where large crowds of any kind gather. U.S Embassy and Consulate personnel are routinely instructed to avoid areas of any demonstration. During demonstrations or periods of civil unrest, the Pakistani government has in the past disabled cellular telephone and internet service, making it difficult for individuals to contact each other or the U.S. Embassy or Consulates.
Celebratory gunfire may occur at any time but is most likely to occur during wedding celebrations, which are frequent from October to May, and on holidays. Although the likelihood of being struck is remote, falling rounds can cause injury or death.
We recommend you limit the frequency of travel and minimize the duration of trips to public markets, restaurants, and other public locations. We advise against the use of public transportation in Pakistan. The U.S. Embassy and Consulate prohibit personnel from using public transportation or taxi services. You are strongly urged to avoid hotels that do not apply stringent security measures. Official visitors are not authorized to stay overnight in local hotels anywhere in the country, except in exceptional circumstances. Depending on ongoing security assessments, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates sometimes place areas such as tourist attractions, hotels, markets, shopping malls, and restaurants off-limits to official personnel.
Threats to civil aviation in Pakistan are not limited to attacks in which militants target airports. The U.S. government is aware of narcotics smuggled onto flights from Pakistan, which may indicate broader security vulnerabilities at Pakistani airports.
We recommend you follow media coverage of local events and maintain good situational awareness and operational security wherever you travel in Pakistan. If you feel that your life is in danger in Pakistan, we advise you to report the threat to local police authorities and consider immediately changing locations or departing Pakistan.
Crime: Men and women are advised to dress conservatively, with arms and legs covered, and to avoid walking alone. We recommend against travel on the streets late at night. Urban crime can be organized or opportunistic and conducted by individuals or groups. It can include fraud, theft, robbery, carjacking, rape, assault, and burglary. Incidents of crime and levels of violence are higher in low-income residential and congested commercial areas but are seen in wealthier areas as well. Pick-pocketing, theft, and larceny are common on buses and trains at all hours of the day.
Take precautions to avoid crime, including:
locking home and vehicle doors
hiring a 24-hour guard
varying routes and schedules
keeping bags or valuables under your legs away from passing vehicle traffic and ensuring that bag straps are not visible
traveling in groups
being accompanied by a native Urdu speaker if you travel outside urban areas
carrying your mobile phone
If you are assaulted, flee to a safe area and report the situation to local authorities by going directly to a police station or dialing 15.
See the Department of State and the FBI pages for information on scams.
Victims of Crime: U.S. citizen victims of crime should first report the offense to local police by dialing 15 and then contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Police responsiveness varies widely, and crimes often go unsolved or unprosecuted.
Dual U.S-Pakistani nationals may not be recognized as U.S. citizens by local authorities.
We often receive reports of U.S. citizens subjected to domestic violence, sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and forced marriage in Pakistan. There are also cases of individuals having their own and their children’s passports confiscated by spouses, parents, or other family members and having their freedom of movement severely restricted. Local police are not consistently responsive to reports of such cases. Nonetheless, if you find yourself in a life-threatening situation, you are encouraged to call the police immediately and follow up with a call to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. We can sometimes connect you with a Pakistani non-governmental organization that may be able to provide assistance.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Pakistan, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Pakistan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Traffic in Pakistan moves on the left, opposite of U.S. traffic In addition to this source of potential confusion, overland travel in Pakistan has a variety of other risks. Roads are crowded, drivers are often aggressive and poorly trained, and many vehicles, particularly large trucks and buses, are badly maintained. Donkeys, cattle, horse carts, and even the occasional camel can pose roadside hazards in some areas. Roads, including most major highways, also suffer from poor maintenance and often have numerous potholes, sharp drop-offs and barriers that are not sign-posted. Drivers should exercise extreme caution when traveling at night by road, as many vehicles do not have proper illumination or dimmers nor are most roads properly illuminated or signed. Driving without experienced local drivers or guides is not recommended.
It is best to avoid public transportation. For security reasons, U.S. Mission personnel are prohibited from using taxis or buses.