What makes Cote d’Ivoire a unique country to travel to?
Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) is a developing country on the western coast of Africa. The official capital is Yamoussoukro, but Abidjan is the largest city, the main commercial center, and the location of the Ivoirian government and the U.S. Embassy. The official language is French; English is not widely used. Côte d’Ivoire is a republic whose constitution provides for separate branches of government under a strong president.
Under the direction of President Allasane Ouattara since his inauguration in May 2011, the Government of Côte d’Ivoire continues to move forward with a broad range of programs that have increased the country’s security and improved the economic climate. Over a decade of political unrest and violence began in 1999, culminating in the 2010-11 post-electoral crisis that was precipitated by former President Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to accept the outcome of the 2010 election. Since the Ouattara administration assumed office, the country has largely returned to stability. The U.S. Embassy is a fully accompanied post, allowing minor dependents of U.S. government employees to reside at post. Similarly, the United Nations allows its employees to have their families in Abidjan. The African Development Bank is in the process of returning to Abidjan from its temporary headquarters in Tunis. Schools, businesses, the airport, and seaport operate normally. however the government in Côte d’Ivoire has limited capacity to provide basic services to the Ivoirian population, particularly those related to safety and security issues. Police and gendarmes are not always able to fulfill their public security mandates due to inadequate training and an acute lack of resources, such as weapons, transportation, and communications equipment. Despite numerous positive developments across virtually all sectors, anti-government elements continue to pose a threat, and attacked government installations several times in 2012.
Tourist facilities in and near Abidjan, the commercial capital, are good; accommodations in many other locations are limited in quality and availability.
Crime continues to be a major public security concern in Côte d’Ivoire. Armed carjackings, robberies of businesses, and home invasions occur regularly, targeting residents, including expatriates, who are perceived as wealthy. U.S. citizens, either visiting or residing in Côte d’Ivoire, are strongly encouraged to remain alert and aware of their surroundings to prevent becoming a victim of crime. The general guidance for travel to Côte d’Ivoire is exercise the same prudence and caution that you would in any metropolitan area in the United States. Common sense steps include refraining from displaying jewelry and other valuables and carrying limited amounts of cash and only photocopies of key documents. In addition, home and car doors should be locked at all times. When moving about the city, stay in well-lit areas and walk confidently at a steady pace on the side of the street facing traffic close to the curb. Avoid crowds, mass transit, alleys, and sparsely populated areas. Take caution when walking past concealed areas such as doorways and bushes. Whenever possible, travel in pairs or small groups. If you go out at night and need transportation, orange taxis are metered, although no safer than any other taxis. There have been reports of muggings and robbery scams even in metered taxis. Always carry identification and be discreet about your transactions, especially on the street. Normal spending habits of Westerners may appear extravagant to Ivoirians. U.S. citizens have been economic targets. There have been few reported cases of sexual assault against foreigners, but there are no available statistics or other reliable reporting on this issue.
Be particularly alert when visiting Abidjan’s Treichville, Marcory, Koumassi, Yopougon, and Abobo districts. Popular neighborhoods for nighttime entertainment, such as Zone 4, Treichville, and Plateau, often attract crime. When traveling outside of Abidjan, you should avoid traveling after dark and be aware that rogue police, security forces, and criminals often use vehicular checkpoints to extort money from drivers and passengers. If you must travel after dark, use extreme caution.
U.S. citizens who are stopped by police/security forces are urged to be polite and cooperate. If you are ticketed, you should ask the officer for a receipt for any items confiscated by the police, such as a driver’s license or other identification. Drivers issued a ticket should note, however, that it is legal to pay the police officer money by the side of the road, but the amount paid should not exceed the amount printed on the ticket itself. The fees generally range from 500 CFA to 2,000 CFA (approximately one to four U.S. dollars).
U.S. citizens detained by the police should ask that the U.S. Embassy be notified immediately at 225 2249-4000/4450.
Contact information for local authorities includes:
Abidjan Police Prefecture /Emergency Number: 225- 20-22-16-33/16-87 and 225- 20-21-00-70
Ministry of Interior and Security: 225-20-25-20-03
Credit card use in Côte d’Ivoire is limited, particularly outside Abidjan, and credit card fraud is an increasing problem. Business fraud is common and the perpetrators often target foreigners. Schemes previously associated with Nigeria are now prevalent in Côte d’Ivoire, and pose a risk of grave financial loss. Typically these scams begin with unsolicited communication (usually by e-mail) from strangers who promise quick financial gain, often by transferring large sums of money or valuables out of the country, but then require a series of "advance fees" to be paid, such as fees for legal documents or taxes. A common variation is the scammer’s claim to be a refugee or émigré of a prominent West African family, who needs assistance transferring large sums of cash. Another common scam involves alleged victims of a serious accident or injury in need of money for life-saving medical care. Still other variations appear to be legitimate business deals that require advance payments on contracts or large purchases of merchandise using fraudulent credit cards. Sometimes victims are convinced to provide bank account and credit card information, and authorize financial transactions that drain their accounts, causing them to incur large debts.
The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense, if a proposition looks too good to be true it probably is a scam, particularly if you have never met the correspondent. You should carefully check and research any unsolicited business proposal before committing funds, providing goods or services, or undertaking travel. A good clue to a scam is the phone number given to the victim; legitimate businesses and offices provide fixed line numbers, while scams typically use only cellular (cell) phones. In Côte d’Ivoire, most cell phone numbers start with 44, 45, 46, 48, 58, 60, 66, or 67. It is virtually impossible to recover money lost through these scams. For additional information, please consult the Department of State's brochure on international financial scams.
Do not 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 traveling in Côte d'Ivoire, 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. It is illegal to take pictures of certain sensitive installations, including military sites, government buildings such as radio and television stations, the Presidency building, the airport, and the DeGaulle and Houphouet-Boigny bridges in Abidjan. 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. For example, if you buy pirated goods you can 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 you break local laws in Côte d'Ivoire, your U.S. citizenship will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. Persons violating Ivoirian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Côte d'Ivoire are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, if you are arrested in Côte d'Ivoire, you may request that police, prison officials, and other authorities alert the U.S. embassy of your arrest. You may also ask that they forward communications to the U.S. embassy on your behalf.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Abidjan has privately-run medical and dental facilities that are adequate, but do not fully meet U.S. standards. Good physician specialists can be found, although few speak English. While pharmacies are well-stocked with medications produced in Europe, newer drugs may not be available. If you plan a lengthy trip to Côte d’Ivoire, you should bring enough medication to last the entire stay, not just a prescription, in your carry-on luggage. Medical care outside of Abidjan is extremely limited.
Malaria is a serious health problem in Côte d’Ivoire. All of the following antimalarial drugs are effective options for preventing malaria in Côte d'Ivoire: Atovaquone-proguanil, doxycycline, or mefloquine. Note: Chloroquine is NOT an effective antimalarial drug in Côte d'Ivoire and should not be taken to prevent malaria in this region. Remember to start malaria prophylaxis treatment prior to arriving in country. Bring enough medications with you for the duration of your stay since you might not readily find the medications locally. For more information on malaria, including protective measures, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) web site.
Dengue, filariasis, leishmaniasis, onchocerciasis (river blindness), and African trypanosomiasis (African sleeping sickness) are other diseases carried by insects that also occur in Côte d’Ivoire. Protecting yourself against insect bites will help to prevent these diseases. There are yearly cholera outbreaks. The risk of contracting acute watery diarrhea or cholera can be significantly reduced by drinking purified water, bleaching produce, and eating meat and seafood that are thoroughly cooked and hot.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Côte d’Ivoire. For further information, please consult the CDC's information on TB.
Safety and Security
Since President Ouattara fully assumed office in May 2011, , incidents of political violence have gradually decreased, but some political tensions still persist with Gbagbo supporters launching violent attacks near the Liberian border in early 2013. Côte d’Ivoire has taken a lead in the military intervention in Mali against Islamist extremists and there is concern that Côte d’Ivoire could become a target itself. In March a cell of ten Egyptians believed to be planning attacks on French interests in Côte d’Ivoire was disrupted in a joint French-Ivoirian security operation in Abidjan.. Côte d’Ivoire is initiating security sector reform and as such, its national police and gendarmerie are in a transitional period. The military often performs traditional civilian law enforcement functions for which is it not properly trained. Military, gendarme, and police forces were killed in attacks by both anti-government and criminal elements in 2012 and 2013.
The Embassy’s ability to provide consular services outside of the Abidjan area, including emergency assistance, is limited. Many areas of Côte d’Ivoire are difficult to access, and travel in these areas is hazardous. Outside the major cities, infrastructure is poor, medical care is limited, and there are few facilities for tourists.
The U.S. Embassy in Abidjan and the Department of State continue to monitor the security situation in Côte d’Ivoire closely. U.S. citizens are reminded that even demonstrations and/or political events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations or political events. U.S. citizens in Côte d’Ivoire are advised to stay abreast of media coverage of local events and to remain aware of their surroundings at all times.
U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, be aware of their surroundings, and use common sense to avoid situations and locations that could be dangerous. Swimming in coastal waters is dangerous and strongly discouraged, even for excellent swimmers. The ocean currents along the coast are powerful and treacherous, and several people drown each year.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Côte d'Ivoire, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Côte d’Ivoire is provided for general reference only. Serious traffic accidents, one of the greatest threats to U.S. citizens in Côte d’Ivoire, occur regularly in Abidjan and throughout the country. Unsafe road conditions, unskilled drivers, and poorly maintained and overloaded vehicles create hazardous driving conditions. Speed limits, lane markings, and signals are not respected, and drivers do not yield for pedestrians or bicyclists. Drive defensively, watch out for public transportation vehicles that stop and start without warning, and be especially cautious at intersections because traffic lights often malfunction. If you drive at night, beware of vehicles without headlights or taillights, and pedestrians and bicycles along the roadside. In case of an accident, do not move your vehicle until a police officer tells you to do so. However, if there is no other vehicle to take the injured to a hospital, or if you believe your life is in danger from others at the site of the accident, go to the nearest hospital or police station.
Abidjan has a poor public transportation system; if you choose to travel by bus despite the risks, the “Express” line is believed to be the safest and most reliable. In Abidjan, taxis are readily available, inexpensive (metered), but poorly maintained and notorious for not respecting the rules of the road. There have been reports of robberies in metered or orange taxis, though widely thought to be the most secure form of public transportation. Communal taxis (“woro-woros”), used only within the limits of each commune, are not metered and are dangerous. Do not use local vans ("Gbaka") because they are frequently involved in accidents.
While carjacking incidents are not as frequent as in other high-crime cities, they do occur, including vehicles with diplomatic plates. The Embassy recommends that motorists drive with doors locked and windows closed at all times. While stopped in traffic, allow enough room between your car and the one in front to maneuver out if needed. Before getting into your car, look around to see if there is anyone paying unusual attention and, if someone appears to be watching do not go to your vehicle, get assistance instead. If confronted, remain courteous and calm and, if threatened, do not resist. Please report any incident to the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan.
Emergency services such as ambulance service (SAMU) exist in Abidjan and larger towns, but such service is unreliable. Call 185 or 2244-5553. In smaller towns there is usually no ambulance service available, but ambulances may be dispatched from larger towns.