What makes Sao Tome and Principe a unique country to travel to?
São Tomé and Príncipe is a developing nation, comprised of the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, located off the western coast of central Africa. Portuguese is the official language; few São Toméans speak English. Facilities for tourism exist on both islands and are adequate.
Crimes such as burglary, pick-pocketing, and armed home invasions do occur on the islands, particularly around the winter holidays. Pick-pocketing can occur anywhere but is more prevalent in public places, such as in markets, on the streets, or near hotels. Do not display large amounts of cash in public. Store valuables and extra cash in your hotel safe while sightseeing or visiting the beach. When dining in restaurants or visiting markets, 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 in Libreville. Police response time to reports of crime can be slow.
While scams and confidence schemes are not common, travelers should exercise caution. For general information on scams, see the Department of State’s Financial Scams web page.
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 São Tomé and Príncipe, 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, 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 São Tomé and Príncipe, 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.
Persons violating the laws of São Tomé and Príncipe, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in São Tomé and Príncipe are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
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 São Tomé and Príncipe are extremely limited. There is one hospital in the country on the island of São Tomé, Hospital Central Ayres de Menezes, phone number 239 2-221-222. A few clinics also exist, but the service provided is very basic. For all but minor medical needs, it is necessary to travel to Libreville (Gabon), Lisbon (Portugal), or elsewhere. You should carry an ample supply of properly-labeled prescription drugs and other medications with you; an adequate supply of prescription or over-the-counter drugs in local stores or pharmacies is generally not available.
Cerebral malaria is endemic in all areas of São Tomé and Príncipe. 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 São Tomé and Príncipe. Schistosomiasisis a parasite that can penetrate intact skin of those swimming or bathing in fresh water from lakes, rivers and streams. It is recommended to avoid contact with untreated fresh water to prevent schistosomiasis infection.
Tuberculosis (TB) is an increasingly serious health concern in São Tomé and Príncipe.
Safety and Security
You should maintain security awareness at all times. There have been isolated incidents of civil unrest in the capital city. There were minor demonstrations during the presidential election on July 16, 2011. You should avoid large gatherings or any other events where crowds have congregated to demonstrate or protest.
In the event of a fire, dial 112.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in São Tomé and Príncipe, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Streets in the city of São Tomé are paved, but large potholes are common. Major roads outside of town are also paved. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and animals on the roads can be a major hazard. Outside of the city of São Tomé, there are no sidewalks or shoulders along the sides of roads. In rural areas outside of the capital city, drivers are expected to honk the car’s horn periodically as a warning signal of their approach. There is no street lighting outside of the capital. Some roads may be impassable without a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Only a few miles of improved roads exist on the island of Príncipe; the conditions are similar to those found on São Tomé.
Although taking taxis is fairly safe, it is advisable to rent a car instead. If you must take a taxi, make sure that the taxi has seat-belts and negotiate the rate before entering the taxi.