What makes Zimbabwe a unique country to travel to?
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in southern Africa, bordered by the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. The official language is English; however, the majority of the population speaks Shona. Zimbabwe has a fragile political environment, and the Zimbabwean economy is underdeveloped due to decades of economic mismanagement and political uncertainty. Although Zimbabwe offers popular tourist attractions in Victoria Falls, Great Zimbabwe, and selected game parks, much of the country's infrastructure is in disrepair and emergency medical care is limited.
Crime is a serious problem in Zimbabwe, driven by the country's depressed economy. U.S. citizens and other foreigners are perceived to be wealthy and are frequently targeted by criminals who operate in the vicinity of hotels, restaurants, and shopping areas of major cities and tourist areas such as Victoria Falls. Although the majority of crimes in Zimbabwe are non-violent, perpetrators are generally armed with weapons, which can include firearms. The downtown sectors of Harare, and its high density residential suburbs, are particularly high-crime areas and a number of U.S. citizen visitors have been assaulted or robbed.
Travelers should always secure their luggage, particularly in public areas such as airports and bus stops. Purse-snatchers will often work in teams of two, with one person acting as a diversion. A typical mugging involves a group of young males who surround and overwhelm their victim in a public area. Avoid displaying or carrying unnecessary valuables, such as expensive jewelry, and do not carry large sums of money. Cell phones are of particular interest to local thieves. Always secure items such as passports, money, jewelry, and credit cards in hotel safety deposit boxes or safes when not being used.
Avoid driving at night. You should be alert for “smash and grabs,” where thieves break the windows of cars stopped at intersections and take visible items from inside the car. Car doors should always be locked and the windows rolled up. Handbags, wallets, and other items should be placed out of sight under car seats or in the trunk of the car. While stopped in traffic, always be aware and look around to identify potential trouble. Drivers should always leave sufficient maneuver room between their vehicle and the one in front so they can drive away from danger. If you suspect your vehicle is being followed you should drive to the nearest police station or other protected public area for assistance. Reducing even the shortest amount of idle times at traffic lights at night by slowing in advance to anticipate the changing of the light is an effective deterrent. Be cautious of people using ploys to lure you out of your car. In one ploy, an assailant will puncture a tire, follow the car, and then offer to help with the flat, particularly on the road to Harare International Airport. (NOTE: “Smash and grabs” are also very common on the Airport Road in Harare) Beware of drivers in vehicles without license plates who stop to render aid or who cause minor accidents. Always drive to a well-lit and populated area before making repairs or exchanging information.
Travelers are encouraged to make two photocopies of the biographic/identification page and visa stamped page of their passport. Leave one copy at home with friends or relatives and carry the second copy with you for identification purposes.
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 in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States.
Although Zimbabwean authorities are required to notify the nearest U.S. embassy when a U.S. citizen has been arrested, the U.S. Embassy in Harare does not always receive notification from Zimbabwean police. Further, the Government of Zimbabwe does not always grant immediate or repeated visits to detained or incarcerated U.S. citizens by Embassy consular officers. Individuals may be detained for up to 48 hours without due process, and detainees accused or suspected of political offenses have been repeatedly remanded in 14-day increments. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times to be able to provide proof of identity and citizenship if questioned by local officials. U.S. citizens arrested or detained in Zimbabwe are advised to demand immediate contact with a U.S. consular official from the U.S. Embassy in Harare.
English is the official language of the republic and is spoken by most educated people. In rural areas English is less commonly spoken. Ndebele and Shona and are commonly spoken. People often speak more than one language and many mix parts of several languages in daily speech.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
The public medical infrastructure is subpar and medical facilities are limited. Most serious illnesses or accidents require medical evacuation to South Africa. All travelers are strongly urged to obtain medical evacuation insurance coverage prior to arriving in Zimbabwe. Doctors, hospitals and air ambulance medical evacuation services often expect immediate, upfront cash payment for health services. We urge you to bring a sufficient supply of your medications with required prescriptions for your entire trip, as many common medications are unavailable in Zimbabwe. Provincial hospitals in rural areas have rudimentary staffing, equipment, and supplies, and are not equipped to care for victims of serious accidents. The fuel shortage further diminishes emergency response capabilities. Emergency patients often must arrange their own transportation to medical facilities.
Diseases from food and water are the leading cause of illness in travelers.
Malaria is also prevalent throughout Zimbabwe, except in Harare, due to the capital’s high altitude. The CDC strongly recommends that malaria prophylaxis and preventive measures be taken when traveling outside of Harare.
Due to Schistosomiasis, travelers are advised to avoid fresh water exposure.
Safety and Security
The political, social, economic, and security situations in Zimbabwe are unpredictable and could deteriorate quickly without warning. While the country has been relatively stable since the establishment of the current unity government in early 2009, demonstrations and intimidation of civil society groups and other civilians may become more common leading up to and the period immediately following any elections. Political rallies in Zimbabwe may result in clashes between opposing parties or may be violently dispersed by security forces. U.S. citizens traveling to Zimbabwe should avoid all crowds, public demonstrations, and protests.
You should carefully evaluate travel around Zimbabwe by road, particularly at night (please see the “ Traffic Safety and Road Conditions” section below). If traveling by road, you should make sure you have working communication devices, evidence of your citizenship, and a valid visa. Such evidence should include photocopies of the face page of your passport and your Zimbabwe visa approval stamp. You should also notify a trusted friend or family member of your itinerary, including expected departure and arrival times.
Communications infrastructure in Zimbabwe is unreliable. Telephone and cell phone outages are common and cell phone service coverage is patchy and predominantly restricted to urban areas.
Resident and visiting U.S. citizens have been arrested, detained, and threatened with expulsion for activities that would not be considered crimes in the United States, including the administration of humanitarian aid and the expression of opinions regarding the current political regime in Zimbabwe. Criticism of the president is a crime in Zimbabwe. The streets around State House, the official residence of the president, and the Botanical Gardens are particularly sensitive,and drivers and pedestrians in that area should exercise caution. President Mugabe and other senior government officials travel around Harare accompanied by large and aggressive motorcades that have been known to run motorists off the road. Security personnel occasionally beat and harass drivers who fail to pull out of the way quickly enough. U.S. citizens are advised to be aware of police vehicles and police motorcycles flashing lights and sirens, and should move quickly off the road if overtaken by a motorcade.
U.S. citizen visitors have been detained under suspicion of operating as journalists without accreditation for photographing cultural sites and areas that may not immediately appear to be sensitive. Tourists may also be subject to harassment or arrest for photographing police, roadblocks, occupied commercial farms, and government buildings or military installations, official residences or embassies, including the president’s palace. Get prior written permission from the appropriate government office before taking such photographs. It is not always immediately apparent what the police deem sensitive. Police have detained U.S. citizens for photographing any subject they view as sensitive no matter how innocuous it may seem to the photographer. You should be very aware of your surroundings and seriously consider the risks of taking any pictures outside game parks and known tourist areas.
The government frequently uses marked and unmarked (ad hoc) road blocks to enforce order and collect fines, particularly in urban centers and on major roads. Even though these road blocks are manned by uniformed police officers, be cautious when approaching them, particularly at night. When instructed by police or other security officials to stop at a roadblock, comply with these instructions. If possible, carry a mobile phone or other means of communication. Other ongoing security conditions that could affect the safety of tourists in Zimbabwe include crime (see below) and the occupation of commercial farms.
We urge you to take responsibility for your own personal security while traveling overseas. While in Zimbabwe, you should closely monitor the current situation, keep your travel documents up to date, and make your own contingency plans in the event of disturbances. You should make or update complete inventories of your household/personal effects and maintain an adequate supply of food, water and necessary medications with you.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Zimbabwe is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving in Zimbabwe is extremely hazardous, particularly at night. Zimbabweans drive on the left side of the road and many people drive over the speed limit. Although the main roads throughout Zimbabwe are generally in fair but deteriorating condition, most lack passing lanes, shoulders, breakdown lanes, lighting, reflectors, and similar safety features. Driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) enforcement does not generally exist, resulting in high rates of impaired drivers, especially at night.
Avoid driving at night. Pedestrians (in dark clothing) and animals are often walking along and on the roads, and the majority of roads in Zimbabwe are poorly lit. Motor vehicles often have no headlights or taillights and are difficult to see at night. Passing lanes are not always clearly marked, and road visibility at times can be restricted. In urban areas, lane markers are often faded, with non-working streetlights and traffic lights. Potholes are also numerous on most roads. The Traffic Safety Council reports there are 40-50 vehicle accidents in Harare alone each night. Also note, as mentioned above, local police frequently use marked and unmarked (ad hoc) road blocks to enforce order and collect fines, particularly in urban centers and on major roads. Even though these road blocks are manned by uniformed police officers, be cautious when approaching them, particularly at night. When instructed by police or other security officials to stop at a roadblock, comply with these instructions.
The U.S. Embassy’s Regional Security Office prohibits its U.S. staff from using “kombis” – the frequently seen minibuses which service main routes, due to safety concerns.
Service stations often lack fuel or spare parts. Inter-city commuter bus travel, except by “luxury coaches,” is dangerous due to overcrowding, inadequate maintenance, and unsafe drivers. Public bus drivers are often fatigued, fail to adhere to local speed limits, and often fail to obey traffic rules or regulations.
It is illegal to operate a cellular telephone while driving in Zimbabwe. Drivers are required to wear seat belts or helmets if driving motorcycles. Car seats are not legally required for small children. Travelers should pack several pairs of latex gloves in the event of a road accident involving serious injuries or bleeding, as Zimbabwe has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS infection in southern Africa.
The availability of fuel severely restricts the response capability of police and other emergency services. The Ministry of Transport, Communication and Infrastructural Development is the government authority responsible for road safety in Zimbabwe. There is no national established network of roadside emergency service. However, the Automobile Association of Zimbabwe, similar to the American Automobile Association, is willing to provide roadside emergency service to nonmembers for a fee. Travelers interested in contacting the service during their stay in Zimbabwe may contact AA Zimbabwe at 263-4-752-779. AA Zimbabwe’s 24-hour emergency roadside helpline is 263-4-707-959