What makes Yemen a unique country to travel to?
The Republic of Yemen was established in 1990 following unification of the former Yemen Arab Republic (North) and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South). Islamic and traditional ideals, beliefs, and practices provide the foundation of the country's customs and laws. Yemen is a developing country and modern tourist facilities are available only in major cities.
Yemen is considered a medium to high threat environment for crime. Common petty or street crime exists in cities, particularly when valuables and cash are left in plain view. Burglaries and home invasions are not common, but violence against expatriates has risen in recent years in large part due to increased AQAP activity, civil unrest,and current economic conditions. There has also been an increase in reports of carjackings and assassinations, including within the expatriate community. The Yemeni justice system is slow and inefficient. Government ineffectiveness also led to a rise in crimes such as forgeries of land deeds and vehicle documents and corrupt business transactions. Local police forces are largely unaccountable, and frequently make arrests (including of U.S. citizens) on the request of influential families and tribes. Yemeni authorities rarely inform the U.S. Embassy when a U.S. citizen is arrested.
The ongoing political transition is expected to result in improvements tothe functioning of Yemen’s judicial system and other government agencies; however, the process will be slow, and travelers should not rely on significant assistance from the Yemeni government in the near term.
Americans are advised not to buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. The bootlegs are illegal in the United States.
While traveling in Yemenor another country, all travelers are subject to its laws even if they are U.S. citizens. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. In Yemen, foreign travelers may be taken in for questioning if they don’t have their passport with them. It is also illegal to take pictures of military installations or troops. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs can land the driver immediately in jail. The criminal penalties in Yemen may be very different from what U.S. citizens are accustomed to in the United States.
There are also some things that might be legal in a foreign country, but still illegal in the United States, and travelers can still be prosecuted under U.S. law. 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 a U.S. citizen breaks local laws in Yemen, his/her U.S. passport won’t prevent arrest or prosecution. When traveling, it’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not in the foreign country.
Persons violating Yemeni laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Yemen are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. The use of the mild stimulant "qat” or “khat" is legal and common in Yemen, but it is considered an illegal substance in many other countries, including the United States. Do not attempt to bring qat back to the United States; the penalties for trafficking qat include heavy fines and possible imprisonment.
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, the U.S. Embassy is rarely informed when U.S. citizens are arrested in Yemen.To ensure that the United States is aware of the arrest or detention, it is important to request that the police and prison officials notify the U.S. Embassy as soon as possible.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Outside Sana’a and Aden, modern medical facilities are not readily available and emergency ambulance services are limited and often have attendants with little to no medical training. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. It is important to bring an adequate supply of prescription medications for the duration of the traveler’s time outside the United States.While many prescription drugs are available in Yemen, quality control is uneven, and the particular drug a traveler needs may not be available.
Travelers can find detailed information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Tuberculosis is a serious health concern in Yemen.
Safety and Security
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens not to travel to Yemen. U.S. citizens currently in Yemen should depart. The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high due to terrorist activities and civil unrest. While political violence in Sana’ahas calmed in recent months, political protests can escalate quickly without notice. Terrorist organizations continue to plan attacks against private U.S. citizens and U.S. government interests throughout Yemen.
The U.S. government considers the potential threat to U.S. government personnel in Yemen to be serious enough to require them to live and work under strict security guidelines. All U.S. government employees under the authority of the U.S. Chief of Mission must follow strict safety and security procedures when traveling outside the Embassy. The U.S. Embassy in Sana’a remains a restricted staffing post. As staff levels at the Embassy are restricted, our ability to offer routine consular services and to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency remains limited.
Terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), continue to be active throughout Yemen. The U.S. government remains highlyconcerned about possible attacks against U.S. citizens, facilities, businesses, and perceived U.S. and Western interests. Terrorists often do not distinguish between U.S. government personnel and private U.S. citizens. Terrorists may target areas frequented by Westerners, such as tourist sites, hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, and other frequently visited areas. U.S. citizens are urged to maintain a high level of vigilance and be aware of their surroundings.
AQAP remains an active threat and continues to plan attacks against U.S. personnel and interests in Yemen. AQAP publicly claimed responsibility for the attempted attack aboard Northwest Airlines flight 253 on December 25, 2009. In the same statement, the group also made threats against Westerners working in embassies and elsewhere. A U.S. citizen was attacked and killed in Taiz on March 18, 2012, and AQAP later claimed responsibility. On May 8, 2012, international media reported an AQAP plot to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner using a refined improvised explosive device. AQAP also claimed responsibility for a May 21, 2012 suicide bombing in Sana’a which killed over 90 Yemeni soldiers. A Yemeni employee of the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a was assassinated by AQAP gunmen on October 11, 2012.
There have been numerous other terrorist incidents in Sana’a. On July 11, 2012, at least nine people were killed when a suicide bomber targeted cadets at the Sana’a Police Academy as they were leaving class. On November 28, a Saudi diplomat and his bodyguard were shot and killed in an ambush in the Hadda district of Sana’a, which is home to many Westerners.
U.S. citizens remain vulnerable to kidnappings and terrorist attacks, especially when in transit to and from residences or workplaces. All U.S. citizens are reminded to vary their routes and times, remain vigilant, report suspicious incidents to the Embassy, lock car windows and doors, and carry a cell phone. Throughout the country, U.S. citizens are urged to exercise particular caution at locations where large groups of expatriates have gathered. On December 21, 2012, AQAP militants kidnapped three Westerners in the governmental and commercial center of Sana’a. As of April 2013, their whereabouts remain unknown. A Norwegian national working for the United Nations was abducted on January 15, 2012 in the Hadda neighborhood of Sana'a. Tribesmen also released six U.N. aid workers in Yemen in early February 2012, two days after they were kidnapped, to secure the release of a prisoner.
U.S. citizens in Yemen should exercise caution and take prudent security measures in all areas, especially those areas frequented by Westerners, including maintaining a high level of vigilance, avoiding crowds and demonstrations, keeping a low profile, varying times and routes for all travel, and making contingency emergency plans such as ensuring travel documents are current.
Travel is particularly dangerous in the tribal areas, where kidnappings have frequently occurred. On May 24, 2010, armed Yemeni tribesmen kidnapped two U.S. citizen tourists and their Yemeni driver and translator near Sana’a. In May of 2011 three French aid workers based in Sayun, Hadramaut were kidnapped by AQAP members. They were eventually released in November 2011.
There is ongoing civil unrest throughout Yemen, related to the ongoing political transition following a year of protests against the regime of longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Demonstrations continue to take place in various parts of the country and are common in cities across Yemen including, but not limited to, Sana’a, Taiz, Hudaidah, and Aden. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. U.S. citizens should avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations. The U.S. Embassy in Sana’a closed for several days in September 2012 after hundreds of violent protesters stormed the Embassy compound and looted and vandalized property, causing millions of dollars in damage.
Throughout 2011 and 2012, there was ongoing unrest in Aden and surrounding areas in the south of the country. Anti-government protests, demonstrations by a secessionist movement, and increased terrorist activity by AQAP and associated groups have raised tensions in the city and have resulted in serious injury and loss of life. In February 2013, several individuals, including a U.S. citizen, were injured by gunfire during anti-government demonstrations in Aden. On July 20, 2011, a UK citizen working as a maritime security contractor was killed when his car exploded in a residential neighborhood in Aden. AQAP is suspected in the attack, and in a series of other attacks against Yemeni security and government personnel throughout 2011 and 2012.
The Yemeni government fought a prolonged war against Houthi rebels in the north of the country between 2004 and 2010. The government declared a ceasefire, but the fighting, which originated in the Sa’ada governorate, continues between the Houthis and their tribal adversaries in northern Yemen, and has spread to the neighboring governorates of Al-Jawf, Amran, and Hajja. In late 2011 and early 2012, hundreds of Houthi militants and other armed irregular forces were killed in Sa’ada and Hajja governorates. The fighting is ongoing, extremely violent,and unpredictable. Anti-American sentiment is also higher in the north than in other parts of Yemen, and U.S. citizens are cautioned against travelling in the region.
The Iranian government continues to support the Houthi rebel movement, and the Houthis publicly espouse an anti-American agenda. As reported in local and international media, in late January 2013, Yemeni security forces seized an Iranian boat bound for Yemen containing weapons, explosives, and money for the rebels.
In addition, U.S. citizens are urged to avoid contact with any suspicious, unfamiliar objects, and to report the presence of such objects to local authorities. Vehicles should not be left unattended and should be locked at all times. U.S. citizens in Yemen are urged to register and remain in contact with the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a for updated security information (see the section on Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)/Embassy Location above). From time to time, the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a may temporarily close or suspend public services to review its security posture.
Travel on roads between cities throughout Yemen is dangerous. Armed carjacking, especially of four-wheel-drive vehicles, occurs in many parts of the country, including the capital. Yemeni security officials advise against travel to rural areas. The U.S. Embassy restricts the travel of its own personnel within Yemen, and the Government of Yemen may also place restrictions on U.S. citizens traveling outside Sana’a. Based on previous abductions of foreigners in Yemen, the Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens in Yemen avoid traveling between cities by car or bus. If travel to anyof these areas is unavoidable, travelers may reduce the risk to personal security if such travel is undertaken by air. For additional information on travel by road in Yemen, see the Traffic Safety and Road Conditions section below.
Piracy in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Indian Ocean is also a security threat to maritime activities in the region. Boats and ships traveling through the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aden, including near the island of Socotra, are at risk of pirate attacks. In the last several years, there were hundreds of documented pirate attacks in Yemeni territorial waters in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. Many of these crew members are currently being held for ransom. The threat of piracy extends into the Indian Ocean off the Horn of Africa as well. For further information, see the Department of State’s International Maritime Piracy Fact Sheet and the United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) advisory on vessels transiting high risk waters.
MARAD has also advised that elevated regional tensions have increased the risk of maritime attacks being conducted by extremists to vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Bab el Mandeb regions.
MARAD recommends vessels at anchor, operating in restricted maneuvering environments, or at slow speeds should be especially vigilant, and report suspicious activity. U.S. flag vessels that observe suspicious activity in the area are advised to report such suspicious activity or any hostile or potentially hostile action to COMUSNAVCENT battlewatch captain at phone number 011-973-1785-3879. All suspicious activities and events are also to be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center at the following toll free telephone: 1-800-424-8802, direct telephone 202-267-2675, or TDD 202-267-4477. The advisories are available on the MARAD website.
Other potential hazards to travelers include land mines and unexploded ordnance from the 1994 civil war and other conflicts. This is of particular concern in the six southern provinces and in the northern highlands. Most minefields have been identified and cordoned off, but there are still undetected and unidentified minefields in Yemen.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
The security situation throughout Yemen remains dangerous, and travel to urban and rural areas is restricted for U.S. government personnel. All U.S. government employees are required to travel in armored vehicles when traveling outside secure facilities.
Yemeni security officials advise against travel to rural areas, and the Government of Yemen sometimes places restrictions on U.S. citizens travelling outside Sana’a. Please check with local security officials for the latest restrictions.
Road conditions in Yemen differ significantly from those in the United States.Travel by road in Yemen should be considered risky. Within cities, although minivans and small buses maintain somewhat regular routes, they pick up and drop off passengers with little notice or regard for other vehicles. Taxis and public transportation are widely available,but the vehicles may lack safety standards and equipment.Western women have reported incidents of sexual harassment by taxi drivers, especially at night.
Despite the presence of traffic lights and traffic policemen, drivers are urged to exercise extreme caution, especially at intersections. While traffic laws exist, they are rarely enforced and not adhered to by motorists. Drivers sometimes drive on the left side of the road, although right-hand driving is specified by Yemeni law. No laws mandate the use of seat belts or car seats for children. The maximum speed for private cars is 100 kilometers per hour (62.5 miles per hour), but speed limits are rarely enforced. A large number of underage and unlicensed drivers are on the roads. Many vehicles are in poor repair and lack basic parts such as headlights, taillights, functional turn signals, or doors.
Pedestrians, especially children, on the roads constitute a hazard in both rural and urban areas. Pedestrians frequently cross the street without regard for oncoming traffic. Animals may cross the road without warning in both cities and rural areas. Beyond the main intra-city roads, which are usually paved and in fair condition, rural roads generally require four-wheel-drive vehicles or vehicles with high clearance. Many rural roads are in poor condition, and mountainous roads often are not equipped with safety railings. Drivers should take special caution in the spring and fall, when rainstorms can cause flash flooding on roads in both urban and rural areas.
Travelers should be aware of the existence of minefields that remain from Yemen's civil wars. Traveling off well-used tracks without an experienced guide is extremely hazardous, particularly in parts of the south and the central highlands.
There are strict penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Additionally, reckless driving that causes an accident resulting in injury could result in a fine and/or prison sentence. If the accident results in death, the driver faces a maximum of three years in prison and/or a fine. Under traditional Yemeni practice, victims' families negotiate monetary compensation from the driver proportionate to the extent of the injuries -- a larger amount if the victim dies.Westerners involved in traffic accidents -- including minor fender benders -- face increased risk of extortion.