Travel Alert Status
Level 4: Do Not Travel
Safety and Security:
Violent crime in Venezuela is pervasive, both in the capital, Caracas, and in the interior. The country’s overall per capita murder rate is cited as one of the top five in the world. According to the non-governmental organization, Venezuelan Violence Observatory (VVO), there were 21,692 homicides in 2012, a rate of 73 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, among the highest in the region. This number is up from VVO’s reported rate of 67 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011. In Caracas, the rates were even higher, with VVO reporting a rate of 122 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in the Capital District.
According to the Venezuelan National Counter Kidnapping Commission official statistics have shown alarming increases in reported kidnappings throughout the country since the commission's founding in 2006. According to Venezuelan government statistics, 583 kidnappings were officially reported to officials. Police sources indicate that as many as 80% of kidnappings go unreported, meaning that the official figure of 583 kidnappings in 2012 is likely much lower than actual numbers.
Armed robberies take place throughout Caracas and other cities, including in areas generally presumed safe and frequented by tourists. Well-armed criminal gangs operate widely, often setting up fake police checkpoints. Only a very small percentage of crimes results in trials and convictions. VVO estimates that less than 10% of homicides result in prosecutions. It names impunity as one of the major factors for the increase in crime.
Maiquetía International Airport: Travel to and from Maiquetía Airport, the international airport serving Caracas, can be dangerous. Both arriving and departing travelers, including foreigners, have been victims of personal property theft and muggings in the airport. The Embassy has received multiple, credible reports that individuals wearing what appear to be official uniforms or other credentials are involved in facilitating or perpetrating these crimes. For this reason, U.S. citizen travelers should be wary of all strangers, even those in official uniform or carrying official identification, and should not pack valuable items or documents in checked luggage. Valuable documents and personal items should be kept in carry-on luggage; numerous travelers have reported valuable gifts and other items being stolen from their checked luggage, especially around the holiday season. The Embassy has also received several, credible reports of victims of “express kidnappings” occurring at the door of the airport, in which individuals are kidnapped and taken to make purchases or to withdraw as much money as possible from ATMs, often at gunpoint. Furthermore, there are known drug trafficking groups working from the airport. Travelers should not accept packages from anyone and should keep their luggage with them at all times.
The Embassy also has received reports of uniformed airport officials attempting to extort money from travelers, including U.S. citizens, as they go through the normal check-in and boarding process for departing flights. Other information provided by U.S. citizens and U.S. government officials indicates that uniformed individuals have approached travelers immediately upon entering the terminal when exiting Venezuela through Maiquetía Airport. These uniformed individuals reportedly may ask travelers where they are traveling and then escort them to a separate area to inspect their bags for illegal drugs or money. In certain cases U.S. citizens have reported that they were forced to sign documents in Spanish that they did not understand. Travelers should not sign documents that they do not understand, but if they feel they must, they should sign “I do not understand this document” or “I cannot read the above statement” as part of their signature.
The road between Maiquetía Airport and Caracas is particularly dangerous. Visitors traveling this route at night have been kidnapped and held captive for ransom in roadside huts that line the highway. Because of the frequency of robberies at gunpoint, travelers are encouraged to arrive and depart only during daylight hours. If not possible, travelers should use extra care both within and outside the airport. The Embassy strongly advises that all arriving passengers make advance plans for transportation from the airport to their place of lodging. If possible, travelers should arrange to be picked up at the airport by someone who is known to them or at least try to caravan in known groups en route to Caracas. Travelers should be aware of chokepoints inside tunnels and avoid obstacles in the road.As a note to travelers, all U.S. direct-hire personnel and their family membersassigned to U.S. Embassy Caracas are required to take an armored vehicle when traveling to/from Maiquetía airport.
The Embassy has received frequent reports of armed robberies in taxicabs and “express kidnappings” going to and from the airport at Maiquetía. There is no foolproof method of knowing whether a taxi driver at the airport is reliable. The fact that a taxi driver presents a credential or drives an automobile with official taxi license plates marked “libre” is not an indication of reliability. Incidents of taxi drivers in Caracas overcharging, robbing, and injuring passengers are common. Travelers should try to use radio-dispatched taxis or those from reputable hotels. Travelers should call a 24-hour radio-dispatched taxi service from a public phone lobby or ask hotel, restaurant, or airline representatives to contact a licensed cab company for them. Ask the hotel concierge or other responsible individual to write down the license plate numbers of the cab that you entered. Avoid “libre” taxis or any taxis hailed on the street.
When traveling by bus, visitors should travel only during daylight hours and only by first-class conveyance. There have been several reports of bus hijackings & armed robberies of entire busloads of passengers.
The Embassy recommends avoiding the use of the metro (subway). Metro robberies are frequent in Caracas, especially during crowded rush hours. If riding the metro or the city bus system, travelers should take extreme care with valuables and belongings.
While visiting Venezuela, U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry as little U.S. currency as possible and to avoid wearing expensive or flashy watches and jewelry. Due to the poor security situation, the Embassy does not recommend changing money at the international airport. Visitors should bring a major credit card, but should be aware of widespread pilfering of credit card data to make unauthorized transactions. Travelers’ checks are not recommended as they are honored in only a few locations. It is possible to exchange U.S. currency at approved exchange offices near major hotel chains in Caracas (personal checks are not accepted) and at commercial banks with some restrictions. Due to currency regulations, hotels cannot provide currency exchange. There are ATMs throughout Venezuela. Malfunctions are common, however, and travelers should be careful to use only those in well-lit public places. ATM data has also been hacked and used to make unauthorized withdrawals from user’s accounts. ATMs are also targeted by street gangs in order to rob people making withdrawals.
Popular tourist attractions, such as the Avila National Park, are increasingly associated with violent crime. U.S. citizens planning to participate in outdoor activities in potentially isolated areas are strongly urged to travel in groups of five or more and to provide family or friends with their itineraries prior to departure.
Colombian Border: Cross-border violence, kidnapping, drug trafficking, smuggling, and cattle-rustling occur frequently in areas along the 1,000-mile long border between Venezuela and Colombia. Some kidnap victims have been released after ransom payments, while others have been murdered. In many cases, Colombian terrorists are believed to be the perpetrators. Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are active in kidnapping for ransom and have been known to operate with near impunity inside Venezuela. Common criminals are also increasingly involved in kidnappings, either dealing with victim's families directly or selling the victim to terrorist groups. In-country travel by U.S. Embassy employees, both official and private, within a 50-mile area along the entire Venezuela/Colombia border, is strongly discouraged. The State Department warns U.S. citizens not to travel within a 50-mile area along the entire Venezuela/Colombia border. U.S. citizens who elect to visit areas along the border region with Colombia despite this warning could encounter Venezuelan military-controlled areas and may be subject to search and arrest, in addition to encountering danger from the Colombian terrorist threat. The U.S. Embassy must approve in advance the official travel to Venezuela of all U.S. government personnel. Private travel by U.S. military personnel to Venezuela requires advance approval by the U.S. Embassy’s Defense Attaché Office. Please consult the Department of Defense Foreign Clearance Guide for further information. Non-military employees of the U.S. government do not need Embassy approval for private travel.
Political marches and demonstrations are frequent in Caracas and elsewhere in Venezuela. Travelers should be aware that violence, including exchanges of gunfire and tear gas, has occurred at political demonstrations in the past. Demonstrations tend to occur at or near university campuses, business centers, and gathering places such as public squares and plazas. Marches generally occur on busy thoroughfares, significantly affecting traffic. Most major tourist destinations, including coastal beach resorts and Margarita Island, have not in the past been generally affected by protest actions. The city of Merida, however, a major tourist destination in the Andes Mountains, has been the scene of demonstrations, some of them violent, including the use of firearms and tear gas.
Travelers should stay informed of local developments by following the local press, radio and television. Visitors should also consult their local hosts, including U.S. and Venezuelan business contacts, hotels, tour guides, and travel organizers. As circumstances warrant, the Embassy sends out messages to U.S. citizens who have registered online. These messages and demonstration notices are also posted on the U.S. Embassy’s web site. U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Venezuela are advised to take common-sense precautions and avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, no matter where or for what reason they occur.
Harassment of U.S. citizens by pro-government groups, Venezuelan airport authorities, and some segments of the police is uncommon, despite the fact that Venezuela’s most senior leaders regularly express strong anti-U.S. government sentiment.
Venezuela is an earthquake-prone country and is occasionally subject to torrential rains, which can cause landslides, such as those that occurred in early 2011. Travelers who intend to rent or purchase long-term housing in Venezuela should choose structures designed for earthquake resistance. Such individuals may wish to seek professional assistance from an architect or civil/structural engineer, as does the Embassy, when renting or purchasing a house or apartment in Venezuela. U.S. citizens already housed in such premises are also encouraged to seek a professional structural assessment of their housing.