What makes Senegal a unique country to travel to?
The Republic of Senegal is a developing West African country. The capital is Dakar. Facilities for tourists are widely available but vary in quality. The official language is French; English is not widely used.
Minor street crime is very common in Senegal, particularly in cities. Most reported incidents involve pickpockets and purse-snatchers, who are especially active in large crowds and around tourists. Aggressive vendors, panhandlers and street children may attempt to divert the victim’s attention while an accomplice carries out the crime. To avoid theft, U.S. citizens should avoid walking alone in isolated areas or on beaches, particularly at night, lock their doors and close their windows when driving, and avoid public transportation. U.S. citizens should not walk on dark streets at night, even in groups. To minimize inconvenience in the event of theft, U.S. citizens should carry copies, rather than originals, of their passports and other identification documents. U.S. citizens should carry a credit card only if it will be used soon, rather than carrying it as a routine practice. There is traditionally an increase in crime before major religious holidays.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to use common sense and situational awareness to ensure personal safety and to reduce the risk of becoming a crime victim. Always be aware of the surroundings, especially in large cities and crowded places such as markets and taxi parks. Keep a low profile, remain vigilant, and avoid potential conflict situations. Do not wear flashy clothing or jewelry, and be cautious about displaying any amount of currency in public. Use common sense when faced with something out of the ordinary or if someone is following you.
Violent crimes and crimes involving the use of weapons are increasing. There have been incidents in the past year of U.S. citizens in groups of two or three being robbed at knife-point. Such robberies occur with some frequency along the Corniche d’Ouest, an area heavily frequented by tourists and westerners. Walking on the Corniche D’Ouest during hours of darkness should be avoided. If confronted by criminals, remember that cash and valuables can be replaced, but life and health cannot. U.S. citizens are encouraged to walk away from a criminal confrontation no matter the material cost. Break-ins at residential houses occur frequently. Persons who plan to reside in Senegal on a long-term basis are advised to take measures to protect your dwellings by installating window grilles (fire safety issues should be considered), solid core doors with well-functioning locks, and an alarm system. In the past year a number of U.S. citizen residences have experienced burglaries. No violence or personal injuries have been reported in these cases, in which the burglars appear to have been exclusively seeking financial gain.
Fraud is prevalent in Senegal and U.S. citizens are often the target of scams that may cause both financial loss and physical harm. Typically, business scam operations begin with an unsolicited communication (usually by e-mail) from an unknown individual who describes a situation that promises quick financial gain, often by the transfer of a large sum of money or valuables out of West Africa. The perpetrators of these scams often claim to be victims of various western African conflicts (notably refugees from Sierra Leone) or relatives of present or former political leaders.
There are many variations of these business scams. In some cases, a series of “advance fees” must be paid in order to conclude the transaction, such as fees to open a bank account, or to pay certain taxes. In fact, the final payoff does not exist since the purpose of the scam is simply to collect the advance fees. Another common variation consists of a request for the U.S. citizen's bank account information, purportedly to transfer money into the account. Once the perpetrator obtains this information, however, he or she then simply transfers all money out of the victim's account. Other scams extend an apparent job offer, but request upfront payment for “administrative” or visa processing.
Visa scams take advantage of people who wish to travel to the United States. One variant is to “guarantee” a U.S. visa for participants who pay a large sum of money to register for a conference or attend an event in the United States. In other instances, the perpetrator uses links or apparent links to U.S. government websites or email addresses in order to solicit money, purportedly in the name of the U.S. government. Please refer to the State Department’s Travel Information or the U.S. Embassy in Dakar for authoritative information about the visa process and the costs involved.
In addition to business and visa scams, personal and dating scams are also prevalent. U.S. citizens should be wary of persons claiming to live in Senegal who profess friendship or romantic interest over the Internet. The anonymity of the Internet means that the U.S. citizen cannot be sure of the real name, age, marital status, nationality, or even gender of the correspondent. In some cases, the correspondent is a fictitious persona created only to lure the U.S. citizen into sending money.
Don’t wire money to purchase plane tickets. U.S. citizens may prepay a plane ticket directly with an airline rather than wiring money for transportation to the traveler. U.S. citizens may also research the legitimate immigration process online with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud, business scam, or visa scam is to use common sense: If an offer seems too good to be true, it is probably a scam. You should carefully research any unsolicited business proposal originating in Senegal before you commit funds, provide goods or services, or undertake travel.
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.
Credit card fraud is prevelant in Senegal, particularly in Dakar. Avoid using credit cards if possible. There have been numerous incidents of credit card fraud, mostly believed to related to “skimming” during the past year. Incidents have occurred at major hotels and stores. If use is necessary, careful monitoring of accounts is highly recommended.
While you are traveling in Senegal, 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 Senegal specifically, it is forbidden to photograph Embassies, military installations and police stations. For other buildings, such as government ministries, it is best to ask the security personnel guarding the building first before taking any pictures. 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 Senegal, 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.
If you are arrested in Senegal, you have the right to request authorities alert the U.S. Embassy of your arrest. The U.S. Embassy does not always receive timely notification by Senegalese authorities of the arrest of U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available. If arrested, U.S. citizens should always ask to be allowed to contact the U.S. Embassy.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Several hospitals and clinics in the capital, Dakar, can treat major and minor injuries and illnesses; however, medical facilities outside Dakar are extremely limited. These facilities are not prepared to handle major injuries. There is inadequate inpatient psychiatric care and limited office-based psychiatric treatment in Dakar.
French medications are far more readily available than U.S. pharmaceuticals, and drugs in stock are often listed under the French trade name. Medications may be obtained at pharmacies throughout Dakar and in other areas frequented by tourists, and are usually less expensive than in the United States – although more expensive than U.S. generics. Travelers should carry a supply of any needed prescription medicines, along with copies of the prescriptions, including the generic name for the drugs, and a supply of preferred over-the-counter medications.
Malaria is a serious risk to travelers in Senegal. Travelers should consult their physician to discuss the benefits and risks of taking anti-malarial medication. 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 medications they have been taking. For additional information on malaria, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, visit the CDC Travelers' Health online.
Water supplies in Senegal are not consistently free of disease-causing microorganisms. For this reason, the U.S. Embassy recommends drinking filtered or boiled water, particularly for babies under one year of age. Raw vegetables and fruits should be washed in a bleach solution before eating.
You can find good information on vaccinations and other health precautions, on the CDC website. Yellow fever vaccination is required for travelers coming from countries with a risk of yellow fever transmission, and recommended for all travelers over 9 months of age. Rabies vaccine is recommended for prolonged stays, with priority for young children.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Senegal.
Safety and Security
Public demonstrations, political gatherings, and student protests are relatively common in Senegal, both in Dakar and in outlying regions, particularly on Friday afternoons. In the past, these events have sometimes turned violent. Due to the potential for violence, U.S. citizens should avoid political gatherings and street demonstrations, and maintain security awareness at all times.
The threat of terrorism in Senegal has increased due to the conflict in Mali. It should be noted that Senegal shares porous borders in the north and east with both Mauritania and Mali. Terrorist attacks involving members of Al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have occurred in Mauritania and Mali in recent years. In February 2013, AQIM made a public statement indicating that it regards Senegal as a hostile country for contributing to the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA). Thus far, Senegal has been spared any direct terrorist attacks, but does remain vulnerable due to porous borders, increased regional instability, and the increased terror activities of AQIM. In December 2010, two members of AQIM were confronted along the border with Senegal as they were attempting to flee Mauritania and one member detonated his suicide vest prior to capture. U.S. citizens planning to visit the border regions of Senegal are encouraged to exercise additional caution and to maintain situational awareness at all times. Travelers planning overland trips to Mauritania or Mali should register with the respective Embassies and monitor the current security developments to appropriately assess the risks of the regional travel.
Lac Rose (Pink Lake) is a popular tourist destination in Senegal. The Lac Rose area has a large number of tourists and isolated beach areas, but lacks multiple exit and entry points. The U.S. Embassy recommends that all visitors to Lac Rose and its surrounding beaches be particularly vigilant and do not travel alone.
Banditry occurs with some regularity on the main highways after dark, particularly in the central and eastern area of Senegal, including around Tambacounda and Matam. Bandits often target RN2 (National Road) between Ndioum and Kidira and occasionally target RN1 between Kidira and Tambacounda.
The U.S. Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens avoid non-essential travel to the Casamance region west of the city of Kolda, except direct air or sea travel to the Cap Skirring resort area or to the city of Ziguinchor. If travel is deemed essential, the U.S. Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens carefully monitor the security situation before traveling. If travel by road is essential, the U.S. Embassy recommends that it be done during daylight hours only and, if possible, in convoy.
Violent clashes in the region between government forces and alleged members of the Movement of the Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC) diminished following Presidential elections in March 2012, and the government and MFDC are in talks to bring a peaceful end to the Casamance conflict. In the past, MFDC rebels targeted military installations, convoys, and personnel in an attempt to destabilize the region. Civilians living and traveling in the Casamance are often targets of opportunity for the rebels and bandits that support the group. The indiscriminate violence serves to perpetuate fear within the region.
Landmine explosions continue to plague inhabitants of the Casamance. Several civilians and soldiers have been killed or injured by landmines during the past twelve months. Since 1990, more than 1,000 people have been killed by land mines in the Casamance. The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that U.S. citizens remain on well-traveled routes at all times.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in a foreign country, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Senegal is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving in Senegal is very different from driving in the United States. Many U.S. citizens find the traffic in Senegal chaotic, particularly in Dakar. Drivers tend to exceed speed limits, follow other vehicles closely, ignore lane markings, and attempt to pass even when facing oncoming traffic. Many vehicles are not well-maintained; headlights may be either extremely dim or not used at all. Roadways are poorly lit and poorly marked, and many sections have deteriorated surfaces. Some roads have sidewalks or sufficient space for pedestrian traffic; others do not, and pedestrians are forced to walk in or along the roadway. Due to limited street lighting, pedestrians are difficult to see at night. Drivers in both rural and urban areas may frequently expect to encounter and share the road with motorcycles, bicyclists, pedestrians, livestock, and animal carts. Caution and defensive driving techniques are strongly recommended.
While most main roads in Senegal are in relatively good condition for daytime driving, smaller roads are poor by U.S. standards. During the rainy season, many roads are passable only with four-wheel drive vehicles. Travelers may be stopped at police roadblocks throughout the country, where their vehicles and luggage may be searched. Service stations are available along main roads. Due to poor road conditions and the risk of crime, driving outside major cities at night is not recommended. Due to language barriers (outside Dakar, relatively few Senegalese speak French) and the lack of roadside assistance, receiving help may be difficult in the event of distress.
For safety reasons, the U.S. Embassy recommends against the use of motorbikes, van taxis ("cars rapides"), and public transportation. They can be dangerous due to overloading, careless driving, inadequate maintenance, and the lack of basic safety equipment such as seat belts. Regulated orange-striped sedan auto taxis are safer, but make sure to agree on a fare before beginning the trip.
In Senegal, one drives on the right-hand side. Vehicles give priority to traffic coming from the right, except at traffic circles, where vehicles already in the circle have the right of way. All drivers are expected to carry the following documents in their vehicles and present them at any time at the request of the police: (1) valid driver's license; (2) valid insurance papers; (3) vehicle registration/matriculation card ("carte grise"); (4) "vignette" tax disc for the current year; and (5) valid identification. If U.S. citizens opt to carry a copy of their U.S. passport rather than the actual book, the copy must be clear enough to identify the driver of the vehicle.
Third-party insurance is required and will cover any damages if you are involved in an accident resulting in injuries, and found not to have been at fault. If you are found to have caused an accident, the penalty ranges from five months to two years in prison, with a possible fine. If you cause an accident which results in a death, the penalty can be as high as five years in prison.
For guidance on what to do if you are in an automobile accident in Senegal, please see Citizen Services page of the U.S. Embassy Dakar web site. Senegalese law prohibits the use of cell phones while driving, unless the driver is using “hands-free” equipment. Protective helmets are mandatory for all bicycle, moped, scooter and motorcycle drivers/riders and passengers.
When police officers stop a vehicle for a traffic violation, the police officer will generally confiscate the driver’s license or ID card until the fine is paid. We encourage you to comply with the request. Sometimes, police officers try to solicit bribes instead of or in addition to the fine. The U.S. Embassy does not encourage paying bribes.