Government Advice: Tips for Travelers to the Middle East and North Africa
Government Advice: Tips for Travelers to the Middle East and North Africa
Government Advice: Tips for Travelers to The Middle East and North Africa
Editor's note: The information below was issued in October 1989 and revised in August 2001 by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs. All data contained herein is subject to verification; the most current information is available by calling the U.S. State Department's Emergency Center at 202-647-5225.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR A SAFE TRIP
U.S. PASSPORT INFORMATION
VISA AND OTHER ENTRY REQUIREMENTS
CURRENCY AND CUSTOMS REGULATIONS
SHOPPING - BE WARY OF ANTIQUES
DRESS AND LOCAL CUSTOMS
FOREIGN EMBASSIES IN THE UNITED STATES
U.S. EMBASSIES AND CONSULATES ABROAD
Travel to the Middle East and North Africa can be a rich and rewarding adventure. Whether you are a novice or an experienced world traveler, we think that this guide will be of assistance to you as you plan a safe and enjoyable trip.
Remember: If you encounter serious difficulties in your travels, American consuls at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad are there to help you. If you are planning to stay for a long period of time, or are visiting an area that is experiencing political unrest or other problems, please register at the Consular Section of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
The policies of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa toward foreign visitors vary greatly from country to country. Some countries encourage tourism and put very few restrictions on visitors.
Other countries do not allow tourism and carefully regulate business travel. Some areas in the region have experienced military conflict over an extended period.
A little planning and knowledge will go a long way toward making your trip to the Middle East and North Africa go smoothly. If you learn about the countries you will visit and obey the laws and respect the customs of those places, you can make your stay as pleasant and incident-free as possible.
Consular Information Sheets, Public Announcements & Travel Warnings
The State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs is responsible for providing assistance and information to U.S. citizens traveling abroad. Consular Affairs issues
Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and Public Announcements. Consular Information Sheets are issued for every country in the world. They include such information as the location of the U.S. embassy or consulate in the subject country, health conditions, political disturbances, unusual currency and entry regulations, crime and security information, and drug penalties.
The State Department also issues Travel Warnings and Public Announcements. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department decides to recommend that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Countries where avoidance of travel is recommended will have Travel Warnings as well as Consular Information Sheets. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers.
How to Access Consular Informatio Sheets, Public Announcements & Travel Warnings
By Internet: The most convenient source of information about travel and consular services is the Consular Affairs home page on the Internet's World Wide Web. The website address is http://travel.state.gov . If you do not have access to the Internet at home, work or school, your local library may provide access to the Internet.
By Telephone: Consular Information Sheets and Travel Warnings may be heard any time by dialing the office of American Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225 from a touch-tone phone.
By Fax: From your fax machine, dial (202) 647-3000 , using the handset as you would a regular telephone. The system will instruct you on how to proceed.
By Mail: Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be obtained by sending a self-addressed, stamped business-size envelope to: Office of American Citizens Services, Room 4811,
Department of State, Washington, DC 20520-4818 . On the outside envelope, write the name of the country or countries needed in the lower left corner.
As you travel, keep abreast of local news coverage. If you plan more than a short stay in one place, or if you are in an area experiencing civil unrest or a natural disaster, you are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Remember to leave a detailed itinerary with a friend or relative in the United States in case of an emergency.
Make a record or photocopy of the data from your passport's identification page and from your visas. Also, make a copy of the addresses and telephone numbers of the U.S. embassy and consulates in the countries you will visit. Put this information along with two passport photos in a place separate from your passport to be available in case of loss or theft of your passport.
To obtain a U.S. passport for a minor under age 14, both parents' signatures are now required on the passport application form, or, if only one parent is applying, a signed statement from the non-applying parent, or evidence proving sole custody of the minor. For more information, please refer to the Bureau of Consular Affairs' Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/passport_services.html or contact the Passport Information Center; telephone 1-900-225-5674 (there is a fee of $0.35 per minute for this service) or 1-888-362-8668 (credit card users can pay a flat fee of $4.95).
A U.S. passport is required for travel to all countries in the region. U.S. citizens are not required to have visas for short-term tourist or business travel to Israel, Morocco, or Tunisia, but may need to supply proof of sufficient funds for the trip and proof of onward or round trip travel arrangements. All other countries in the Middle East and North Africa require U.S. citizens to have visas.
If you plan to travel extensively in the region, entry and exit stamps could quickly fill the pages of your passport. Before you go, you may wish to ask the nearest passport agency to add extra pages to your passport, or, if applying for a new passport, you can request one with 48 pages instead of the usual 24.
Each country has its own set of entry requirements. For authoritative visa information, contact the embassy or consulate of the country you plan to visit. (See address and telephone list under Foreign Embassies in the United States at the end of this publication.)
When you make inquiries, ask about the following:
- Visa price, length of validity, number of entries allowed.
- Financial requirements - proof of sufficient funds and proof of onward/return ticket.
- Immunization requirements - yellow fever immunization is often required if arriving from a yellow-fever-infected area.
- Import and export restrictions and limitations. (Several countries prohibit the import and consumption of alcoholic beverages and pork products. Some countries prohibit the import of non-Islamic religious materials and items deemed pornographic.)
- Departure tax. (Be sure to keep enough local currency to be able to depart as planned.)
Some Arab countries will not allow travelers to enter if their passports show any evidence of previous or expected travel to Israel. Other Arab countries apply the ban inconsistently, sometimes refusing and at other times allowing entry when a passport shows evidence of travel to Israel. If passport restrictions imposed by other countries may be a problem for you, contact the nearest U.S. passport agency, embassy, or consulate for guidance.
Several Arab countries ask visa applicants to state their religious affiliation. The U.S. government is opposed to the use of this information to discriminate against visa applicants, and has made its views known to the governments concerned. In turn, the United States has received assurances that visa applications are not denied based on religious affiliation.
Countries that require visitors to be sponsored usually also require them to obtain exit permits from their sponsors. U.S. citizens can have difficulty obtaining exit permits if they are involved in business disputes. A U.S. citizen who is the wife or child of the local sponsor needs the sponsor's permission to leave the country. Do not accept sponsorship to visit a country unless you are certain you will also be able to obtain an exit permit.
In many Islamic countries, even those that give tourist visas and do not require sponsorship, a woman needs the permission of her husband, and children need the permission of their father, to leave the country. If you travel or allow your children to travel, be aware of the laws of the country you plan to visit. Once overseas, you are subject to the laws of the country where you are; U.S. law cannot protect you.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.
For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to the Consular Affairs Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone (202) 736-7000.
Some countries in the Middle East and North Africa do not recognize acquisition of U.S. citizenship by their nationals. Unless the naturalized U.S. citizen renounces his or her original nationality at an embassy or consulate of the country of origin, he or she may still be considered a citizen of that country. A person born in the United States with a parent who was a citizen of another country may also be considered a citizen of that country. The laws of some countries provide for automatic acquisition of citizenship when a person marries a national of that country.
If arrested, a dual national may be denied the right to communicate with the U.S. embassy or consulate. Another consequence could be having to serve in the military of one's former country. If you are a naturalized U.S. citizen, a dual national, or have any reason to believe another country may claim you as their national, check with the embassy of that country as to your citizenship status and any obligations you may have while visiting. Dual nationals who have not researched their citizenship status before traveling have sometimes, to their surprise, encountered difficulties, such as not being allowed to depart.
Even countries that recognize acquired U.S. citizenship may consider their former citizens as having resumed original citizenship if they take up residence in their country of origin. This can happen even if the embassy of the country of origin stamps a visa in the U.S. passport of its former citizen.
Some countries in the region have no restrictions on currency imports or exports. Some prohibit Israeli currency. Most countries in the Middle East and North Africa, however, have detailed currency regulations, including a requirement to declare all currency, including travelers' checks, upon entry. In those countries, the export of foreign currency is limited to the amount that was imported and declared. Be sure to make the required currency declaration, have it validated, and retain it for use at departure. Buy local currency only at banks or other authorized exchange places and retain your receipts for use at departure. Currency not accounted for may be confiscated.
Several countries prohibit the import and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Most countries restrict the entry of products containing pork, as well as any literature, videotapes, and cassette tapes deemed pornographic. Also, some countries will not permit the import of books or other goods from Israel.
Americans have been arrested in some countries in the region for the unauthorized purchase of antiques or other important cultural artifacts. If you purchase such items, always insist that the seller provide a receipt and the official museum export certificate required by law. Travelers have also been detained at customs for possessing reproductions of antiques. The safest policy is to purchase copies of antiques from reputable stores and have them documented as such. Obtain receipts for all such purchases.
Under the International Health Regulations adopted by the World Health Organization, a country may require International Certificates of Vaccination against yellow fever. A cholera immunization may be required if you are traveling from an infected area. Check with health care providers or your records to ensure other immunizations (e.g. tetanus and polio) are up-to-date. Prophylactic medication for malaria and certain other preventive measures are advisable for travel to some countries. No immunizations are required to return to the United States. Detailed health information may be obtained from your local health department or physician or by contacting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, telephone 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747), toll-free autofax: 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or Internet: www.cdc.gov.
An increasing number of countries have established regulations regarding AIDS testing, particularly for long-term residents and students. Check with the embassy or consulate of the country that you plan to visit for the latest information. (See address and telephone list under ForeignEmbassies in the United States at the end of this publication.)
Health Insurance Policy
If your health insurance does not provide coverage overseas, you should buy temporary insurance that does. In addition, obtain insurance to cover the exorbitant cost of medical evacuation in the event of an illness or for the return of remains in case of death. Insurance companies and some credit card and travelers check companies offer short-term health and emergency assistance policies designed for travelers. The Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs provides information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs in its brochure Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page http://travel.state.gov or autofax: (202) 647-3000.
Medical facilities vary in the region; in some countries they are similar to U.S. standards. U.S. embassies or consulates can furnish you with a list of local hospitals and English-speaking physicians. (See address list under U.S. Embassies and Consulates Abroad at the end of this publication.)
In the hot and dry climates that prevail in the Middle East and North Africa, it is important to avoid water depletion and heat stroke. Safe tap water is available in many areas. In some places, however, it is highly saline and should be avoided by persons on sodium-restricted diets. In many rural and some urban areas, tap water is not potable, and travelers should drink only boiled or chemically treated water or bottled carbonated drinks. In these areas, avoid fresh vegetables and fruits unless they are washed in a purifying solution and peeled. Diarrhea is potentially serious. If it persists, seek medical attention.
Schistosomiasis (or bilharzia) is present in the area of the Nile and in several other areas in North Africa and the Middle East. These parasites are best avoided by not swimming or wading in fresh water in endemic areas. For more information, contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, telephone 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747), toll-free autofax: 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or Internet: www.cdc.gov.
Drug enforcement policies in the region are strict. Possession of even small amounts of narcotics, including substances such as heroin, LSD, marijuana, ecstasy or amphetamines, can lead to arrest. If found guilty, drug offenders are subject to lengthy prison sentences. Because what is considered "narcotics" varies from country to country, learn and obey the laws in the places that you will visit. Keep all prescription drugs in their original containers clearly labeled with the doctor's name, pharmacy and contents. In addition, if you take an unusual prescription drug, carry a letter from your doctor explaining your need for the drug and a copy of the prescription.
Conservative Western street clothing (except for shorts) is appropriate in most areas. In more traditional societies, however, attire for women should be more conservative, garments should have sleeves, and dress length should be below the knee. On the other hand, in some areas of the region visited by many tourists - for example, the beaches of Israel and Morocco - attire similar to that worn in the United States is acceptable.
Islam is the preeminent influence on local laws and customs in much of the Middle East and North Africa. The extent of this influence varies. Some Arab countries have secular governments, but in certain other countries, particularly those in the Arabian Peninsula, Islam dictates a total way of life. It prescribes the behavior for individuals and society, codifying law, family relations, business etiquette, dress, food, personal hygiene, and much more. Among the important values is a family-centered way of life, including a protected role for women and clear limits on their participation in public life. In traditional societies, Muslims believe open social relations between the sexes result in the breakdown of family life. Contact between men and women, therefore, is rigidly controlled in traditional societies.
Travel during Ramadan, the holiest time in the Islamic year, can prove to be very difficult. Business is rarely conducted during this time and not observing the Ramadan tradition of fasting during daylight hours can carry penalties in some countries.
In the traditional societies of the region, it is considered rude to face the soles of one's feet toward other people. At traditional meals, the left hand is not used for eating.
In many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, the weekend is either Thursday/Friday or Friday/Saturday. Workweek information is included in the list of U.S. embassies at the end of this document.
(Note: Before you travel, please check the Consular Affairs Internet site at http://travel.state.gov to see if any Travel Warnings or Public Announcements have been issued for the country(ies) you plan to visit.)
Algeria is a republic with a developing economy. Facilities for travelers are widely available, but sometimes limited in quality. English is not widely spoken in Algeria.
Entering Algeria: A valid passport and visa are required. Obtain visa before arrival. For tourist visas, an itinerary from an airline and a hotel reservation are also needed. A letter from your company is required for a business visa. Applicants must enter Algeria within 45 days of issuance.
Terrorism/Security: Travelers to Algeria should evaluate carefully the implications for their security and safety before deciding to travel to Algeria. Although terrorist attacks have fallen considerably recently, unpredictable attacks still occur in rural villages, on roadsides and public transport, and at night. Most recent terrorist activity has occurred in rural areas in northern Algeria.
The crime rate in Algeria is moderately high, and is increasing. Serious crimes have been reported in which armed men posing as police officers have entered homes of occupants, held them at gun point, and robbed them. Armed carjacking is also a serious problem.
Customs Regulations: Algerian currency and customs regulations are strictly enforced. All currency must be declared upon entering the country, and completely accounted for when departing. Nonresidents are required to change the equivalent of approximately $200 into Algerian dinars at the official exchange rate while in Algeria. You will need to present evidence of this currency exchange before you are allowed to depart the country. All hotel bills must be paid in hard currency such as U.S. dollars. Paid hotel receipts may be used as evidence of currency exchange.
Family Issues: Algerian fathers of minor children (under 18 years of age for boys, 19 years for girls) may legally prevent their children from leaving Algeria.
Entering/Exiting Bahrain: A valid passport and visa are required. Two-week visas may be obtained for a fee upon arrival at the airport. Prior to travel, visitors may obtain from Bahraini embassies overseas five-year multiple entry visas valid for stays as long as one month. Visitors who fail to depart the country at the end of their authorized stay are fined. An AIDS test is required for individuals employed in jobs involving food handling, and patient or child care. U.S. test results are not accepted.
An exit tax is charged all travelers upon departure. Residents of Bahrain who intend to return must obtain a reentry permit before departing.
Dual Nationality: The Bahrain government does not recognize dual nationality. Bahrain authorities have confiscated the U.S. passports of dual Bahrain/U.S. nationals when they applied for a Bahrain passport. This does not constitute loss of U.S. citizenship, but should be reported to the U.S. Embassy in Manama.
Special Circumstances: Water is drinkable though often highly saline. Conservative dress is recommended. Bahrain prohibits the import of pornography, firearms, ammunition, or of items such as knives, swords, or daggers that are capable of being used as weapons. Videotapes may be screened by customs in Bahrain and either confiscated or held until the traveler departs the country.
Consumption of alcohol is allowed in most bars and restaurants, except during the month of Ramadan. If there is any indication that a driver has consumed alcohol, authorities will regard that as evidence of driving under the influence of alcohol. The penalty for drunken driving may be incarceration or a fine of 500 Bahraini dinars, the equivalent of $1,300. This fine can be increased to up to double that amount, depending on the circumstances of the case and the judge's decision. Under Bahraini law, convicted drug traffickers may receive the death penalty.
Entering Egypt: A valid passport and visa are required. Travelers can obtain a renewable 30-day tourist visa at any port of entry, except at Taba and Rafah, for a $15 fee, payable in U.S. dollars. Visitors arriving overland from Israel and/or those previously experiencing difficulty with their visa status in Egypt, must obtain a visa prior to arrival. Military personnel arriving on commercial flights are not exempt from passport and visa requirements. Proof of cholera, yellow fever and meningitis immunization is required if arriving from an infected area. Proof of an AIDS test is required for anyone planning to apply for a study or work permit.
Foreigners are required to register with the police within 7 days of arrival. Hotels usually take care of this.
All travelers to Egypt should be aware that Egyptian authorities strictly enforce drug laws. The death penalty may be imposed on anyone convicted of smuggling or selling marijuana, hashish, opium, or other narcotics.
Customs Regulations: The maximum amount of Egyptian currency that can be brought in or taken out of Egypt is 1,000 Egyptian pounds. Personal use items such as jewelry, laptop computers and electronic equipment are exempt from customs fees. However, Egyptian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Egypt of items such as computer peripherals, including printers and modems, which are subject to customs fees. For tourists, electronic equipment is annotated in their passport, and the person is required to show the same items upon exiting Egypt. For residents, a deposit, refunded upon departure, may be made in lieu of customs fees. Commercial merchandise and samples require an import/export license issued by the Egyptian Ministry of Trade and Supply in Egypt prior to travel and should be declared upon arrival. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Egypt in Washington or one of Egypt's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Dual Nationality: If a dual national resides in Egypt for extended periods, proof of Egyptian citizenship, such as a family ID. card, is required. Male dual nationals of military age, who have not completed military service, are not generally required to enlist in the armed forces. However, before they can leave Egypt, they must obtain an exemption certificate through the Ministry of Defense Draft Office. Individuals who may be affected can inquire at an Egyptian consular office in the U.S. (see address and telephone list under Foreign Embassies in the United States at the end of this publication) before traveling to Egypt. Dual Egyptian-American nationals may enter and leave Egypt on their U.S. passports. Persons with dual nationality who travel to Egypt on their Egyptian passports are normally treated as Egyptian citizens by the local government. The ability to provide U.S. consular assistance to such persons, therefore, is extremely limited.
Family Issues: The Government of Egypt considers all children born to Egyptian fathers to be Egyptian citizens. Even if the children bear American passports, immigration officials may require proof that the father approves their departure before the children will be allowed to leave Egypt. Americans married to Egyptians do not need their spouse's permission to depart Egypt as long as they have a valid Egyptian visa. To renew a visa, or to leave the country after a visa has expired, an American woman married to an Egyptian must present proof of the husband's consent.
In 1999, President Khatami called for a "dialogue of civilizations" and an increase of private exchanges between Iranians and Americans; some limited exchanges have taken place. There is, however, evidence that hostility to the United States remains in some segments of the Iranian population and some elements of the Iranian government. In July 1999, violent anti-government demonstrations took place in Tehran and other cities around the country. There were accusations that the U.S. was behind these demonstrations. Prior to and since that time, some groups of American travelers have encountered harassment by vigilante groups.
The U.S. government does not currently have diplomatic or consular relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran and therefore cannot provide protection or routine consular services to American citizens in Iran. The Swiss government, acting through its embassy in Tehran, serves as protecting power for U.S. interests in Iran.
Entering/Exiting Iran: A valid passport and visa are required. U.S. passports are valid for travel to Iran. However, the authorities have often confiscated the U.S. passports of U.S.-Iranian dual nationals upon arrival. U.S.-Iranian dual nationals have been denied permission to depart Iran documented as U.S. citizens. Despite the fact that these individuals possess U.S. citizenship, they must enter and exit Iran bearing an Iranian passport. To prevent the confiscation of U.S. passports, the Department of State suggests that dual nationals leave their U.S. passports at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate overseas for safekeeping before entering Iran, and to use their Iranian passports to enter the country. To facilitate their travel if their U.S. passports are confiscated, dual nationals may, prior to entering Iran, obtain in their Iranian passports the necessary visas for the country which they will transit on their return to the U.S., and where they may apply for a new U.S. passport. Exit visas are required for dual nationals to depart Iran.
Dual Nationality: U.S. citizens who were born in Iran, who have become naturalized citizens of Iran, or who were at one time citizens of Iran, and the children of such persons, are considered Iranian nationals by Iranian authorities. U.S.-Iranian dual nationals are subject to Iranian laws that impose special obligations upon Iranian nationals, such as military service or taxes. Exit permits for departure from Iran may be denied until such obligations are met.
U.S. citizens of Iranian origin who are considered by Iran to be Iranian citizens have been detained and harassed by Iranian authorities. Former Muslims who have converted to other religions, as well as persons who encourage Muslims to convert, are subject to arrest and possible execution. The Iranian government reportedly has the names of all individuals who filed claims against Iran, and who received awards, at the Iran-U.S. claims tribunal at The Hague pursuant to the 1981 Algerian Accords. There are restrictions on both the import and the export of goods between Iran and the United States. Neither U.S. passports nor visas to the United States are issued in Tehran.
Economic Sanctions: On May 6, 1995, President Clinton signed Executive Order 12959, 60 Federal Register 24757 (May 9, 1995), which prohibits exporting goods or services to Iran, re-exporting certain goods to Iran, making new investments in Iran and dealing in property owned or controlled by the government of Iran. The importation of Iranian-origin goods or services into the United States has been prohibited since October 19, 1987. The Office of Foreign Assets Control, Department of Treasury, provides guidance to the public on the interpretation of the order. For additional information, consult the Licensing Division, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), U.S. Department of Treasury at the OFAC home page on the Internet at http://www.treas.gov/ofac/.
Customs Regulations: All luggage is searched upon traveling into and departing from Iran. Tourists can bring in and take out the following non-commercial goods, if they are recorded on the tourist's goods slip upon arrival at customs: personal jewelry, one camera, an amateur video camera, one pair of binoculars, a portable tape recorder, a personal portable computer, first aid box, and a camping tent with its equipment. Iranian authorities allow the departing passenger to take an unlimited amount of Iranian goods and foreign goods up to $160 (US), and their personal non-commercial equipment. Air passengers may also take one carpet up to six square meters. However, the U.S. government only allows the importation of up to $100 worth of Iranian-origin goods. Iranian authorities prohibit the export of antique carpets and carpets portraying women not wearing the proper Islamic covering, antiques, original works of art, calligraphic pieces, miniature paintings, different kinds of coins, and precious stones. They likewise prohibit the export and import of alcoholic beverages, weapons, ammunitions, swords and sheaths, military devices, drugs and illegal goods.
Special Circumstances: In addition to the U.S. government economic sanctions on trade and investment restrictions, travelers should be aware that most hotels and restaurants do not accept credit cards. Cash-dollars (not traveler checks) are accepted as payment. In general, hotel rooms have to be paid with cash-dollars. ATM machines are not available. Foreign currency has to be declared at Customs upon entry into the country, and the amount is entered in the passport. This amount can then be changed at the bank.
Family Issues: Children of Iranian citizens, under the age of 18, must have the father's permission to depart Iran, even if the mother has been granted full custody by an Iranian court. Even the non-Iranian wife of an Iranian citizen (who obtains Iranian nationality through marriage and must convert to Islam) requires the consent of her husband to leave Iran. In case of marital problems, women in Iran are often subject to strict family controls. Because of Islamic law, compounded by the lack of diplomatic relationships between the United States and Iran, the U.S. Interests Section in Tehran can provide very limited assistance if an American woman encounters difficulty in leaving Iran.
The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Iraq, and there is no U.S. Embassy in Iraq. While our interests in Iraq are represented by the Embassy of Poland in Baghdad, that embassy's ability to obtain consular access to detained U.S. citizens and to perform other emergency services is severely constrained by Iraq's unwillingness to cooperate. In addition, the United States as well as the United Nations imposed sanctions which severely restrict financial and economic activities with Iraq, including travel-related transactions.
Entering Iraq: A valid passport and visa are required. On February 8, 1991, U.S. passports ceased to be valid for travel to, in, or through Iraq unless a special validation has been obtained. An automatic exemption to the restriction is granted to Americans residing in Iraq as of February 8, 1991, and to professional journalists on assignment. The categories of individuals eligible for consideration for special passport validation are representatives of the American or International Red Cross, persons with compelling humanitarian considerations, or applicants whose travel is determined to be in the national interest. Exceptions will be scrutinized carefully on a case-by-case basis. Requests for exceptions should be forwarded in writing to: Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services, Office of Passport Policy and Advisory Services, U.S. Department of State, 2401 E Street, N.W., 9th Floor, Washington, DC 20522, telephone 202-663-2662, Fax 202-663-2654.
The request must be accompanied by substantiating documentation according to the category under which an exception is sought. It must also include the prospective travel er's name, date and place of birth, and passport number.
In addition, the Department of the Treasury prohibits all travel-related transactions by U.S. persons intending to visit Iraq, unless specifically licensed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control. The only exceptions are for persons engaged in journalism or in official U.S. government or UN business. The Office of Foreign Assets Control, Department of Treasury, provides guidance to the public on the interpretation of the order. For additional information, consult the Licensing Division, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), U.S. Department of Treasury at the OFAC home page on the Internet at http://www.treas.gov/ofac.
Travelers granted exceptions to travel to Iraq should be aware that normal protection by U.S. diplomatic and consular representatives cannot be provided. The government of Poland represents U.S. interests in Iraq and can provide only limited emergency services to U.S. citizens.
All travelers to Iraq will have to submit to an AIDS test upon arrival.
Israel, West Bank and Gaza
The State of Israel is a parliamentary democracy with a modern economy. Tourist facilities are widely available. Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem as a result of the 1967 War. Pursuant to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, an elected Palestinian Authority now exercises jurisdiction in parts of Gaza and the West Bank. Palestinian Authority police are responsible for keeping order in those areas and the Palestinian Authority exercises a range of civil functions. The division of responsibilities and jurisdiction in the West Bank and Gaza between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is complex. Definitive information on entry, customs requirements, arrests, and other matters in the West Bank and Gaza is subject to change without prior notice or may not be available.
Western dress is appropriate in Israel. At religious sites and in certain religious neighborhoods, attire should be modest. Religious holidays in Israel and Jerusalem are determined according to the Hebrew calendar and fall on different dates each year. It is likely that religious holidays in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank will be determined by the Moslem calendar, and also will fall on different dates each year. Because hotels are usually heavily booked before and during religious holidays, tourists should check holiday schedules with their travel agent or with the Embassy of Israel in Washington, DC. (See address and telephone list under "U.S. Embassies and Consulates" at the end of this publication.) Travelers should make reservations for holiday periods well in advance.
Entering/Exiting Israel: A valid passport is required. U.S. visitors to Israel, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip can obtain a tourist visa that is renewable and valid for 3 months at no cost upon arrival in Israel. However, anyone who has been refused entry to Israel or experienced difficulties with their visa status during a previous visit, or who has overstayed a visa, should contact the nearest Israeli embassy or consulate before attempting to return to Israel. Permission must be obtained from Israel for anyone attempting to claim the status of a returning resident. At ports of entry, Israeli officials determine a U.S. citizen's eligibility to enter Israel. Applicants may be questioned in detail and/or required to post a departure bond. American citizens have, on occasion, had their U.S. passports taken as a guarantee of their departure. If this should happen to you, contact a U.S. consular officer and report the seizure of your passport.
The Allenby Bridge crossing from the West Bank into Jordan, and the Rafah crossing from Gaza into Egypt are under the jurisdiction of the Israeli Government, which also controls entry and exit via the Gaza International Airport. This may have special ramifications for Palestinian Americans and other Arab Americans.
Palestinian Americans : American citizens of Palestinian origin who were born on the West Bank or Gaza or resided there for more than three months, may be considered by Israeli authorities to be residents, especially if they or their parents were issued a Palestinian ID number. Any American citizen whom Israel considers to be a resident is required by Israel to hold a valid Palestinian passport to enter or leave the West Bank or Gaza via Israel, the Gaza International Airport, or the Rafah or Allenby Bridge border crossing. American citizens in this category who arrive without a Palestinian passport will generally be granted permission to travel to the West Bank or Gaza to obtain one, but may only be allowed to depart via Israel on a Palestinian passport rather than on their U.S. passport. The Government of Israel does not require travel on a Palestinian passport for visits of less than 90 days, but may instead require a transit permit for travel to the West Bank or Gaza.
During periods of heightened security restrictions, Palestinian Americans with residency status in the West Bank or Gaza may not be allowed to enter or exit Gaza or the West Bank, even if using their American passports. Specific questions may be addressed to the nearest Israeli Embassy or Consulate.
Israel-Jordan Crossings: International crossing points between Israel and Jordan are the Arava crossing (Wadial-'Arabah) in the south, near Eilat, and the Jordan River crossing (Sheikh Hussein Bridge) in the north, near Beit Shean. American citizens using these two crossing points to enter either Israel or Jordan need not obtain prior visas, but will have to pay a fee at the bridge. Visas should be obtained in advance for those wanting to cross the Allenby Bridge between Jordan and the occupied West Bank. (Note: The Government of Israel requires that Palestinian Americans with residency status in the West Bank or Gaza only enter Jordan by land by means of the Allenby Bridge.) Procedures for all crossings into Jordan are subject to frequent changes.
Persons leaving Israel by air are subjected to lengthy and detailed security questioning. Travelers should arrive at the airport several hours before flight time. There is no departure tax when leaving Israel.
Customs Requirements: Video cameras, among other items, must be declared upon entry to Israel and travelers carrying these items must go through the red zone at customs. Definitive information on customs requirements for the Palestinian Authority is not available.
Security Measures: Israel has strict security measures that may affect visitors. Prolonged questioning and detailed searches may take place at the time of entry and/or departure at all points of entry to Israel, including entry from any of the areas under Palestinian jurisdiction. During searches and questioning, American citizens may be denied access to U.S. consular officers, lawyers, or family members.
Terrorism/Security: In light of several terrorist bombings in Israel and continuing violence in Gaza and the West Bank, American citizens should exercise extreme caution and avoid shopping areas, malls, public buses and bus stops as well as crowded areas and demonstrations. U.S. Embassy and Consulate employees and their families have been prohibited from using public buses. American citizens should maintain a low profile and take appropriate steps to reduce their vulnerability.
Because of violent clashes and confrontations that have taken place throughout the West Bank and Gaza, U.S. Embassy and Consulate employees have been prohibited from traveling to the West Bank, Gaza, commercial districts of East Jerusalem, and the Old City of Jerusalem, except for mission essential business. Private American citizens should avoid travel to these areas.
From time to time, the Embassy or Consulate General will temporarily suspend public services as necessary to review its security posture.
Areas of Instability
Jerusalem: In Jerusalem, travelers should exercise caution at religious sites on holy days, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Dress appropriately when visiting the Old City and ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. Most roads into ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods are blocked off on Friday nights and Saturdays. Assaults on secular visitors, either for being in cars or for being "immodestly dressed," have occurred in these neighborhoods. Isolated street protests and demonstrations can occur in the commercial districts of East Jerusalem (Salah Eddin Street and Damascus Gate areas) during periods of unrest. U.S. Government employees have been prohibited from traveling to the commercial areas of East Jerusalem, including the Old City, except for mission essential business. Private American citizens should avoid travel to these areas at this time.
West Bank and Gaza:: The U.S. Government currently prohibits U.S. Government employees, officials, and dependents from traveling to the West Bank and Gaza, except for mission essential business. Private American citizens should avoid travel to these areas at this time. Embassy staff have also been prohibited from using Rt. 443 (the Modi'in Road) in Israel to travel to Jerusalem.
During periods of unrest, access to the West Bank and Gaza are sometimes closed off by the Israeli government. Travel restrictions may be imposed with little or no warning. Strict measures have frequently been imposed following terrorist actions and the movement of Palestinian Americans with residency status in the West Bank or Gaza and foreign passport holders have been severely impaired
Golan Heights: In the Golan Heights, there are live land mines in many areas and visitors should walk only on established roads or trails. Near the northern border of Israel, rocket attacks from Lebanese territory can occur without warning.
Dual Nationality: Israeli citizens naturalized in the United States retain their Israeli citizenship, and their children usually become Israeli citizens. In addition, children born in the United States to Israeli parents usually acquire both U.S. and Israeli nationality at birth. Israeli citizens, including dual nationals, are subject to Israeli laws requiring service in Israel's armed forces. U.S.-Israeli dual nationals of military age who do not wish to serve in the Israeli armed forces should contact the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC to learn more about an exemption or deferment from Israeli military service before going to Israel. Without this document, they may not be able to leave Israel without completing military service or may be subject to criminal penalties for failure to serve. Israeli citizens, including dual nationals, must enter and depart Israel on their Israeli passports.
Palestinian Americans whom the Government of Israel considers residents of the West Bank or Gaza may face certain travel restrictions (see Entering/Exiting Israel page 18). These individuals are subject to restrictions on movement between Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and within the West Bank and Gaza imposed by the Israeli Government on all Palestinians for security reasons. During periods of heightened security concerns these restrictions can be burdensome. Palestinian-American residents of Jerusalem are normally required to use laissez-passers (documents issued by the Israeli Government) which contain reentry permits approved by the Israeli Ministry of Interior.
All U.S. citizens with dual nationality must enter and depart the U.S. on their U.S. passports
While Jordan is modern and Western-oriented, Islamic ideals and beliefs provide the conservative foundation of the country's customs, laws and practices.
Entering/Exiting Jordan: A passport and a visa are required. Visitors may obtain a visa for Jordan at international ports of entry, not including the King Hussein (Allenby) Bridge, upon arrival, for a fee. Foreigners who wish to stay fourteen days or more in Jordan must register at a Jordanian police station by their fourteenth day in the country. Failure to do so subjects the traveler to a fine of one Jordanian dinar per day overstay. This fine is usually assessed at departure. An AIDS test is required for persons planning to stay longer than 3 months. U.S. test results are not accepted.
Travel Between Jordan and Israel: International crossing points between Israel and Jordan are the Arava crossing (Wadial-'Arabah) in the south, near Eilat, and the Jordan River crossing (Sheikh Hussein Bridge) in the north, near Beit Shean. American citizens using these two crossing points to enter either Israel or Jordan need not obtain prior visas, but will have to pay a fee at the bridge. Visas should be obtained in advance for those wanting to cross the Allenby Bridge between Jordan and the occupied West Bank. (Note: The Government of Israel requires that Palestinian Americans with residency status in the West Bank or Gaza only enter Jordan by land by means of the Allenby Bridge.) Procedures for all crossings into Jordan are subject to frequent changes. Check Jordan's website for current entry regulations. (See address and telephone list under "Foreign Embassies in the United States" at the end of this publication)
Special Circumstances: Caution and sensitivity should be exercised at religious sites on holy days and Friday Sabbath. Modest attire should be worn at all holy sites.
There have been isolated incidents of sexual harassment, assault and unwelcome advances of a sexual nature against Western women, both visiting and residing in Jordan. These incidents, while troubling, are not pervasive. However, women are advised to use common sense and to take reasonable precautions; they should dress conservatively and not travel alone.
Proselytizing: Islam is the state religion of Jordan. The Jordanian Government does not interfere with public worship by the country's Christian minority. However, while Christians are allowed to practice freely, some activities, such as proselytizing or encouraging conversion to the Christian faith—both considered legally incompatible with Islam—are prohibited. It is illegal for a Muslim to convert to Christianity.
Terrorism/Security: U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Jordan are urged to continue to review their security practices, to remain alert to changing situations, and to exercise prudence. U.S. citizens should generally avoid crowds and gatherings, keep a low profile, and vary routes and times of travel.
Crime is generally not a serious problem for travelers in Jordan, but petty crime is prevalent in the downtown Amman Hashimi yah Square area and near the Roman Theater. In the narrow streets of the Old City, crowded conditions invite pickpockets and other petty criminals. It is safer to travel in groups when visiting the center of Amman.
Family Issues: Husbands/fathers may deny permission to travel to their wives and children, regardless of the wives' religion or nationality.
Day-to-day life has returned to normal after the 1991 Gulf War, and facilities for travelers are widely available. However, travel to and near the Iraq-Kuwait border is very hazardous and unexploded bombs, mines, booby traps, and other items remain in open areas and beaches throughout Kuwait.
Entering Kuwait: A valid passport and visa are required for U.S. citizens traveling to Kuwait. An AIDS test is required for anyone seeking a residency permit. U.S. test results are not accepted.
Special Circumstances: Visitors to Kuwait should be aware of the danger of unexploded land mines, bombs, and shells throughout the country. Stay on main roads, do not travel on unpaved roads, and avoid open areas and beaches.
The crime rate in Kuwait has increased from prewar levels and women have been objects of increased harassment. Women should take precautions as they would in any large city, remaining alert to the possibility of being followed, whether they are walking or driving. They should not respond to any approach from strangers and should avoid travel alone in unfamiliar or isolated parts of the city, especially at night. Conservative dress is recommended for both men and women. Garments should fit loosely and cover elbows and knees.
No alcohol, pork products, or pornographic materials may be imported into or used in Kuwait. If customs officials discover prohibited items in a traveler's effects, he or she may be arrested and prosecuted.
U.S. citizens should not go near the border with Iraq, and should be very careful when traveling north or west of Kuwait City. In recent years, a number of foreigners traveling near the border have been taken into custody by Iraqi officials and some have received lengthy prison sentences. Anyone who must travel or work near the demilitarized zone is strongly advised to contact the U.S. Embassy for further advice before his or her travel begins.
The Republic of Lebanon is a parliamentary republic. The country is emerging from a long period of civil war, which has damaged the economy and the social fabric. The population is composed of both Christians and Muslims from a variety of sects. Although the government of Lebanon has made efforts to extend its control, limited areas of the country remain outside of effective government control.
Entering Lebanon: A valid passport and visa are required. Travelers holding passports which contain visas or entry/exit stamps for Israel may be refused entry into Lebanon. Travelers whose passports contain Israeli stamps or visas and who also hold an "Arab Nationality" according to Lebanese law may be subject to arrest and imprisonment.
Travelers who enter Lebanon on work visas under the sponsorship of a Lebanese company or individual may face problems and be unable to leave the country before the completion of their contract without the agreement of their employer. In cases of a business dispute, if jurisdiction falls under local law, the Lebanese party to a contract may obtain an injunction to prevent the departure of a foreign party from the country until the dispute is settled.
Lebanese males 18 to 30 years old are subject to mandatory military service of one year. Dual nationals who visit Lebanon are not exempt, except as allowed by Lebanese law. Even Americans who have never visited or resided in Lebanon may be considered Lebanese and required to complete military service if their fathers were Lebanese. Dual nationals should contact the Military Office of the Embassy of Lebanon for details prior to traveling to Lebanon. Because of the prevalence of Syrian troops in Lebanon, Syrian-American males of draft age who are planning to visit Lebanon are strongly urged to check with the Syrian Embassy prior to travel. Even Americans who have never visited or resided in Syria may be considered Syrian and required to complete military service if their fathers were Syrian. Possession of a U.S. passport does not absolve the bearer of this obligation.
An AIDS test is required for anyone planning to obtain a work or residency permit. U.S. test results are not accepted.
Terrorism/Security: The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Lebanon and recommends that Americans exercise caution while traveling there. During Lebanon's civil conflict from 1975 to 1990, Americans were the targets of numerous terrorist attacks in Lebanon. While there have been very few such incidents in recent years, the perpetrators of these attacks are still present in Lebanon and retain the ability to act.
The U.S. government considers the potential threat to U.S. personnel sufficiently serious to require that U.S. citizen employees of the American Embassy live and work under a strict security regime. Hizballah, an anti-West and anti-Israel terrorist organization that was formed in Lebanon, has not been disarmed, and it maintains a presence in several areas of the country, including training camps in the Biqaa' Valley. There are thousands of Syrian troops in the country. Palestinian groups hostile to both the Lebanese government and the U.S. operate largely autonomously inside refugee camps in different areas of the country.
Visitors should also be aware that the U.S. Embassy in Beirut operates under tight security conditions, which limit the Embassy's ability to assist Americans.
Customs Regulations: Lebanese customs authorities prohibit the import or export of firearms and antiquities, except with special permission.
Special Circumstances: Local telephone service is unreliable, and it is extremely difficult to contact the U.S. Embassy or place a local call from most of the country.
Family Issues: Lebanese fathers of minor children (under 18 years of age) may legally prevent their children from leaving or being taken from Lebanon. Likewise, a Lebanese husband may take legal action to prevent his wife from leaving the country, regardless of her nationality. Once such legal orders are in place, the U.S. Embassy cannot assist American citizens to leave Lebanon.
Entering Libya: Passports and visas are required. On December 11, 1981, U.S. passports ceased to be valid for travel to, in, or through Libya and may not be used for that purpose without a special validation. The request must be accompanied by supporting documentation according to the category under which validation is sought. (See information under "Entering Iraq" for details). Visa application and inquiries must be made through a Libyan Embassy in a third country. The land border with Egypt is subject to periodic closures even to travelers having valid Libyan visas. Short-term closures of other land borders occur with little notice.
All financial and commercial transactions with Libya are prohibited, unless licensed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, U.S. Treasury Department. For the addresses to which applications can be made to overcome both the U.S. passport and the U.S. Treasury restrictions, see the section on Iraq under "Entering Iraq" for details.
Those persons granted exceptions to travel to Libya should be aware that there is no U.S. mission in Libya and U.S. interests are represented by the government of Belgium which can provide only limited protection for U.S. citizens.
An AIDS test is required for persons seeking residency permits. U.S. test results are accepted.
Family Issues: Children under 18 whose fathers are Libyan must have the father's permission to depart Libya, even if the mother has been granted full custody by a Libyan court. Women in Libya are often subjected to strict family controls; on occasion families of Libyan-American women visiting Libya have attempted to prevent them from leaving the country. Young single women are most likely to be vulnerable in these circumstances. Finally, a Libyan husband is permitted to take legal action to prevent his wife from leaving the country, regardless of her nationality.
Morocco has a mixed economy based largely on agriculture, fishing, light industry, phosphate mining, tourism, and remittances from citizens working abroad. Modern tourist facilities and means of transportation are widely available, but they may vary in quality depending on price and location. The workweek in Morocco is Monday through Friday.
Entering Morocco: A valid passport is required. Visas are not required for American tourists traveling in Morocco for less than 90 days. For visits of more than 90 days, Americans are required to obtain a residence permit and return visa should they wish to return to Morocco for extended periods. A residence permit and return visa may be requested and obtained from immigration (Service d'Etranger) at the central police station of the district of residence.
Crime Information: Morocco has a high crime rate in urban areas. Criminals have targeted tourists for robberies, assaults, muggings, thefts, pickpocketing, and scams of all types. Commonly reported crimes include falsifying credit-card vouchers, and shipping inferior rugs as a substitute for the rugs purchased by the traveler, and thefts occurring in the vicinity of ATM machines. Some travelers have been befriended by persons of various nationalities who have offered them food, drink, or cigarettes that are drugged. Harassment of tourists by unemployed Moroccans posing as "guides" is a common problem. Travelers should hire only official tour guides through hotels and travel agencies. Aggressive panhandling is common. Traveling alone in the Rif Mountain area is risky, as tourists have fallen victim to schemes involving the purchase and/or trafficking of hashish. Unescorted women in any area of Morocco may experience verbal abuse.
Family Issues: The government of Morocco considers all children born to Moroccan fathers to be Moroccan citizens. Even if the children bear American passports, immigration officials may require proof that the father approves their departure before the children will be allowed to leave Morocco. Although women are normally granted custody of their children in divorces, regardless of nationality, the children's departure from Morocco must be approved by their father. Women must obtain permission to move the children more than 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) from their last residence before the divorce.
Entering Oman: A valid passport and visa are required. Omani embassies and consulates issue two-year, multiple-entry tourist and/or business visas to qualified American citizens. "No-objection certificates" for entry into Oman may also be arranged through an Omani sponsor. Evidence of yellow fever immunization is required if the traveler enters from an infected area. An AIDS test is required for persons newly-employed by private sector companies and anyone applying for renewal of a work permit. U.S. test results are not accepted.
Customs Regulations: Travelers entering Oman may not carry with them or in accompanied baggage any firearms, ammunition, or pornography; all are subject to seizure if found. No more than one bottle of liquor is permitted per non-Muslim adult. Books, videotapes, and audiotapes may be reviewed prior to being released to the owner.
Special Circumstances: Omani employers often ask that expatriate employees deposit their passports with the company as a condition of employment. Although customary, this practice is not required by Omani law. The U.S. Embassy advises Americans to exercise caution in agreeing to employer confiscation of passports, since this operates as a restraint on travel and could give undue leverage to the employer in any dispute.
Family Issues: Children of Omani fathers automatically acquire Omani citizenship at birth and must enter and leave the country on Omani passports, whether or not they are dual nationals. Child custody decisions in Oman are based on Islamic law. It is difficult for an American woman, even a Muslim, to obtain custody of her children through the Omani courts. Minor children of Omani fathers must have their father's permission to depart the country, even if they are U.S. citizens.
Qatar is a traditional Muslim country. Conservative dress and behavior are strongly recommended for all visitors. Travelers to Qatar may not bring in narcotics, weapons, items deemed pornographic, or pork products. Luggage is subject to careful inspection by customs officials.
Although Arabic is the official language, English is widely spoken.
Entering Qatar: A valid passport and visa are required. To receive a visa, an applicant must be sponsored by a resident of Qatar, a local business, or by the hotel at which he or she will be staying. After obtaining a sponsor, travelers may apply for visas at a Qatari embassy or consulate. An AIDS test is required for persons seeking residency or work permits and anyone staying longer than one month. U.S. test results are not accepted.
Dual Nationality: Qatari law does not recognize dual nationality. Persons who possess Qatari citizenship in addition to U.S. citizenship are considered Qatari citizens by the State of Qatar and are subject to Qatar's laws.
Family Issues: Qatari citizenship imposes special obligations, particularly with regard to child custody and exiting or entering the country. Qatar is not a party to any international or bilateral treaty regarding international child abduction, adoption or child support enforcement issues
Islam dominates all aspects of life in Saudi Arabia — government policy, cultural norms, and social behavior. Islam is the only official religion of the country, and public observance of any other religion is forbidden. The Saudi government considers it a sacred duty to safeguard two of the greatest shrines of Islam, the holy mosques located in the cities of Mecca and Medina. Travel to Mecca and Medina is forbidden to non-Muslims. Muslims throughout the world turn to Mecca five times a day for prayer. Restaurants, stores, and other public places close for approximately a half-hour upon hearing the call to prayer, and Muslims stop their activities to pray during that time. Government and business activities are noticeably curtailed during the month of Ramadan, during the celebrations at the end of Ramadan, and during the time of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj. Travel facilities into, out of, and within Saudi Arabia are crowded during these periods.
Although Westerners have some leeway in dress and social contacts within company residential compounds, both men and women should dress conservatively in public. Women's clothing should be loose fitting and concealing, with high necks, skirts worn well below the knee, and sleeves below the elbow. It is recommended that women not wear pants.
Females are prohibited from driving vehicles or riding bicycles on public roads, or in places where they might be observed. Males and females beyond childhood are not free to congregate together in most public places, and a man may be arrested for being seen with, walking with, traveling with, or driving a woman other than his wife or immediate relative. In Saudi Arabia, playing of music or dancing in public, mixed bathing, public showing of movies, and consumption of alcoholic beverages are forbidden.
Saudi religious police, known as mutawwa, have been empowered to enforce the conservative interpretation of Islamic codes of dress and behavior for women, and may rebuke or harass women who do not cover their heads or whose clothing is insufficiently concealing. In addition, in more conservative areas, there have been incidents of private Saudi citizens stoning, accosting, or pursuing foreigners, including U.S. citizens, for perceived dress code or other infractions. While most such incidents have resulted in little more than inconvenience or embarrassment for the individual targeted, there have been incidents where Westerners were physically harmed.
U.S. citizens in Saudi Arabia should be aware of Saudi social practices, and that any infractions may be dealt with aggressively. If you are accosted by Saudi authorities, cooperate fully in accordance with local customs and regulations. U.S. citizens who are harassed by private Saudi citizens or Saudi authorities should report the incidents immediately to the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh or the U.S. Consulate General either in Dhahran or in Jeddah. (See address and telephone list under Foreign Embassies in the United States at the end of this publication.)
Entering/Exiting Saudi Arabia: A valid passport and visa are required. Visas are issued for business and work, to visit close relatives, and for transit and religious visits. Visas for tourism are issued only for approved tour groups following organized itineraries. Airport and seaport visas are not available. All visas require a sponsor, can take several months to process, and must be obtained prior to arrival. Women visitors and residents are required to be met by their sponsor upon arrival. Women traveling alone, who are not met by sponsors, have experienced delays before being allowed to enter the country or to continue on to other flights.
Visitors to Saudi Arabia generally obtain a meningitis vaccination prior to arrival. A medical report or physical examination is required to obtain work and residence permits. An AIDS test is required for persons planning to seek a residency or work permit. U.S. test results are sometimes accepted.
Health: Malaria is endemic to the low-lying coastal plains of southwest Saudi Arabia, primarily in the Jizan region extending up the coast to the rural area surrounding Jeddah. Visitors to the region are advised to take precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. As a further precaution, all persons intending to travel to this region should seek medical advice regarding recommendations for prophylactic anti-malarial medications. Cases of meningococcal disease or meningitis in Americans traveling to Saudi Arabia are rare. However, during the Hajj season when there is an increased incidence of this disease among those traveling in the vicinity of Mecca and Medina, the Saudi Ministry of Health may require proof of immunization against meningitis. Visitors should check with the Centers for Disease Control, their travel agent, and a Saudi consulate or embassy regarding recommended or required shots.
Employment/Commercial and Business Disputes: Residents working in Saudi Arabia generally must surrender their passports while in the Kingdom. The sponsor (normally the employer) obtains work and residence permits for the employee and for any family members. Family members of those working are not required by law to surrender their passports, though they often do. Residents carry a Saudi residence permit (Iqama) for identification in place of their passports.
The written, Arabic text of a contract governs employment and business arrangements under Saudi law. Before signing a contract, American companies should obtain an independent translation to ensure a full understanding of the contract's terms, limits, and agreements. Verbal assurances or side letters are not binding under Saudi law. In the event of any contract dispute, the Saudi authorities refer to the contract.
Since the Saudi sponsor holds the employee's passport and controls the issuance of exit permits, Americans cannot simply leave Saudi Arabia in the event of a labor or business dispute. An American who wishes to break an employment or business contract may have to pay substantial penalties before being allowed to leave Saudi Arabia. To change employers in Saudi Arabia requires the permission of the previous employer, which is discretionary. Saudi courts take seriously their responsibility to adjudicate disputes. This process, which is performed in accordance with Saudi law and customs, may require the hiring of legal counsel, should not be entered into without an Arabic translator, and can take several months. The U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulates General cannot adjudicate labor or business disputes.
The Hajj: All travel plans should be made through a travel agent in order to book accommodations in advance. Hajj visas are required and are valid only for travel to the two holy cities. Onward travel to Riyadh or other cities in Saudi Arabia is not permitted.
Foreign Muslim residents of the Kingdom may perform the Hajj once every five years. Advance approval must be obtained from an immigration office with the approval of the Saudi sponsor.
During the Hajj, about two million pilgrims from all over the world are concentrated in a relatively small space for a short period of time. The scale of this event, and the very basic living conditions it entails may be overwhelming to some. Housing, food, and sanitation are very basic.
Family Issues: A married woman residing with her Saudi husband should be aware that she must have her husband's permission to depart or have their children depart from Saudi Arabia. This is true even if the woman or children are U.S. citizens. The husband is the sponsor of his foreign wife and of his children, and is, as such, the only individual who can request an exit visa for the wife or children.
In Saudi Arabia, child custody decisions are based on Islamic law. Saudi Arabia is not party with the U.S. to any extradition, judicial assistance or child abduction treaties. Saudi law does not recognize U.S. court orders, including child custody and divorce decrees, which are consequently unenforceable in Saudi Arabia. It is quite difficult for an American parent to resolve to his/her satisfaction a child custody dispute involving Saudi-American children. The role of U.S. officials in a child custody dispute is to determine the welfare and whereabouts of the disputed child, try to open lines of communication between the parties and assist the left-behind parent to find local counsel. Even when visitation is granted by a Saudi court, American mothers have, in some cases, experienced difficulties obtaining a Saudi visitor's visa enabling them to visit their Saudi-American children. Females and children need the permission of the eldest/closest male relative in their family to depart Saudi Arabia. A child born anywhere to a Saudi father is generally held to be a Saudi citizen, Muslim, and eligible for a Saudi passport.
Customs Regulations: Saudi customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning importation into Saudi Arabia of such banned items as alcohol products, weapons and any item that is held to be contrary to the tenets of Islam. This includes non-Islamic religious materials, pork products, and pornography. Saudi customs and postal officials broadly define what is contrary to Islam, and therefore prohibited. Christmas decorations, fashion magazines, and "suggestive" videos may be confiscated and the owner subjected to penalties and fines. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Saudi Arabia or one of Saudi Arabia's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.
The private ownership of weapons is prohibited. Imported and domestic audiovisual media and reading matter are censored.
Items considered pornographic by Saudi standards, including magazines and videocassettes, are strictly forbidden. It is also illegal to import firearms of any type, ammunition, related items such as gun sights and gun magazines, food items, and banned books.
Personal religious items such as a Bible or a rosary are usually permitted, but travelers should be aware that on occasion, these items have been seized at entry and not returned to the traveler.
Special Circumstances and Criminal Penalties: Visitors should not photograph mosques, people who are praying, military or government installations, and key industrial, communications, or transportation facilities. If you have any doubts about what you may photograph, request permission first.
Homosexual activity is considered to be a criminal offense and those convicted may be sentenced to lashing and/or a prison sentence, or death.
Penalties for the import, manufacture, possession, and consumption of alcohol or illegal drugs are severe. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences, fines, public flogging, and/or deportation. The penalty for drug trafficking in Saudi Arabia is death.
Conservative dress is recommended for Syria. Travelers should exercise caution when photographing historic sites. Photographs may be taken of regular tourist attractions, such as ancient ruins and temples, but warnings are issued against photographing government buildings, government property, and anything other than tourist sites.
Entering Syria: A passport and a visa are required. Visas must be obtained prior to arrival in Syria. Entry to Syria is not granted to persons with passports bearing an Israeli visa or entry/exit stamps, or to persons born in the Gaza region or of Gazan descent. Entry into Syria via the land border with Israel is not possible. Foreigners who wish to stay 15 days or more in Syria must register with Syrian Immigration by their 15th day in Syria. Americans between the ages of 18 and 45 who are of Syrian birth or recent descent are subject to the Syrian compulsory military service requirement, unless they receive an exemption from the Syrian Embassy in the United States prior to their entry into Syria. An AIDS test is required for persons between the ages of 15 and 60 years who are planning to stay longer than 15 days. U.S. test results are sometimes accepted.
Customs Regulations: Syrian pounds cannot be taken out of Syria. Travelers cannot convert Syrian pounds back into convertible currency, and should therefore not purchase more of the currency than they expect to spend in Syria. There are no foreign banks and no ATMs in Syria, and it is impossible to wire or otherwise transfer money from the United States to Syria.
Syrian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Syria of items such as weapons, narcotics, alcohol, tobacco, cheese, fruits, pharmaceuticals, modems, cosmetics, and some electrical appliances. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Syria in Washington, DC. for specific information regarding customs requirements
Dual Nationality/Family Issues: U.S.-Syrian dual nationals may be subject to laws that impose special obligations on Syrian citizens. Under Syrian law, children of Syrian fathers, even those who have never been to Syria and do not speak Arabic, are Syrian. American men over the age of 18 who have never resided in or visited Syria, but whose fathers are/were Syrian, are required to complete military service or pay to be exempted. Possession of a U.S. passport does not absolve the bearer of this obligation.
Syrian-American and Palestinian-American men who have never served in the Syrian military and who are planning to visit Syria are strongly urged to check with the Syrian Embassy in Washington, DC prior to traveling, concerning their requirement for compulsory military service.
Entering Tunisia: A valid passport is required. A visa is not required for a stay of up to four months. For longer visits, Americans are required to obtain a residence permit. A residence permit may be requested and obtained from the central police station of the district of residence. Americans born in the Middle East or with Arabic names have experienced delays in clearing immigration at airports upon arrival. American citizens of Tunisian origin are expected to enter Tunisia, on their Tunisian passports. If a Tunisian-American succeeds in entering on an American passport, there is a high probability that a Tunisian passport will be required before exiting the country.
Customs Regulations: Travelers' checks and credit cards are accepted at some establishments in Tunisia, mainly in urban or tourist areas. The Tunisian dinar is not yet a fully convertible currency. Tunisian law prohibits the export or import of Tunisian bank notes or coins. Tunisian law permits the export of foreign currency declared when entering Tunisia. Tourists are expected to make foreign exchange transactions at authorized banks or dealers and to retain receipts for dinars obtained. Under foreign currency regulations, a tourist can reconvert to foreign currency 30 percent of what has been exchanged into dinars, up to a maximum of 100 dollars. Declaring foreign currency on entering Tunisia and obtaining a receipt for dinars purchased thereafter will facilitate reconverting dinars to U.S. dollars. Keep all receipts of monetary transactions for presentation when leaving the country.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven independent emirates, each with its own ruler. The federal government exists as a constitutional republic, headed by a president and council of ministers. Islamic ideals and beliefs provide the conservative foundation of the country's customs, laws and practices.
Entering the UAE: A valid passport and visa are required. In addition, an AIDS test is required of persons seeking a residency or work permit; testing must be performed upon arrival in the UAE. A U.S. AIDS test is not accepted.
Dual Nationality: The UAE government does not recognize dual nationality. Children of UAE fathers automatically acquire UAE citizenship at birth and must enter the UAE on UAE passports. UAE authorities have in the past confiscated U.S. passports of dual (UAE/U.S.) nationals. This does not constitute loss of U.S. citizenship, but should be reported to the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi or the U.S. Consulate General in Dubai. Dual nationals may be subject to UAE laws that impose special obligations.
Customs Regulations: UAE customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from the UAE of items such as firearms (including fireworks), pornographic materials, medications, religious materials and communication equipment. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of the UAE in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements.
UAE customs authorities also impose additional requirements for the importation of pets into the country. Prior permission in the form of a permit from the UAE Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries must be secured before the pet's travel. To obtain the permit, please contact the UAE Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries at the following address: P.O. Box 213, Abu Dhabi, UAE, telephone 971-2-662-781 or 971-2-485-438.
Special Circumstances: Visitors may apply for a temporary UAE driver's license upon presentation of a valid U.S. license. There are strict penalties for persons involved in traffic accidents while under the influence of alcohol, including lashings for Muslims.
Family Issues: Women residing in the UAE do not require their husband's permission to travel abroad, but a husband may block his wife's departure by submitting her name to immigration authorities. The UAE does not recognize dual nationality, and UAE citizenship is transmitted through the father regardless of the child's place of birth. Dual national children generally must enter and depart the UAE using their UAE passports.
Conditions in Yemen remain unsettled due to the recent end of Yemen's civil war. Ordnance such as mines, left over from the war, may pose a hazard to travelers. U.S. citizens should exercise caution in Yemen and avoid travel in remote areas. Local tribal disputes have occasionally led to violence. Westerners, including U.S. citizens, have been kidnapped as a result of such local disputes, and vehicles have been hijacked. Sixteen Western tourists, including two Americans, were abducted in Southern Yemen on December 28, 1998, by an anti-Western terrorist group. Four of the tourists died in a subsequent clash between the terrorists and Yemeni government forces. Anti-Western terrorists are still at large in Yemen. Urban violence and crime is a growing problem in Yemen, including within the capital, Sanaa.
Photography of military installations, including airports, equipment, or troops, is forbidden. In the past, such photography has led to the arrest of U.S. citizens. Military sites are not always obvious. If in doubt, it is wise to ask specific permission from Yemeni authorities.
Entering Yemen. A valid passport and visa are required. A yellow fever vaccination is recommended. Americans who consider studying in Yemen should make this fact clear to a Yemeni consular official in the U.S. and apply for the appropriate visa. Some Americans studying in Yemen without official permission have been deported. An AIDS test is required for persons seeking residency, study or work permits and anyone staying longer than 1 month, and foreign spouses of Yemeni nationals. U.S. test results are not accepted.
Dual Nationality. The Government of Yemen may not recognize the U.S. citizenship of persons who are citizens of both Yemen and the United States. This may hinder the ability of U.S. consular officials to assist persons who do not enter Yemen on a U.S. passport. Dual nationals may also be subject to national obligations, such as taxes or military service. Travelers can contact an embassy or consulate of Yemen for further information on Yemeni policy.
Embassy of ALGERIA
2137 Wyoming Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20008
Embassy of BAHRAIN
3502 International Dr., NW
Washington, DC 20008
Embassy of EGYPT
3521 International Court
Washington DC 20008
(202) 966-6342 (Consular Section)
IRANIAN Interests Section
Embassy of PAKISTAN
2209 Wisconsin Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20007
IRAQI Interests Section
Embassy of ALGERIA
1801 P Street NW
Washington, DC 20036
Embassy of ISRAEL
3514 International Dr., NW
Washington, DC 20008
Embassy of JORDAN
3504 International Dr., NW
Washington, DC 20008
Embassy of KUWAIT
2940 Tilden Street, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Embassy of LEBANON
2560 28th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Embassy of MOROCCO
1601 21st Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
Embassy of OMAN
2535 Belmont Rd., NW
Washington, DC 20008
Embassy of QATAR
4200 Wisconsin Ave., Ste. 200
Washington, DC 20016
Embassy of SAUDI ARABIA
601 New Hampshire Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20037
Embassy of SYRIA
2215 Wyoming Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Embassy of TUNISIA
1515 Massachusetts Ave.,NW Washington, DC 20005
Embassy of the UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Washington, DC 20037
3522 International Court, NW
Washington DC 20008
Embassy of YEMEN
2600 Virginia Ave.
Washington, DC 20037
Note: workweek is Monday-Friday except where noted.
4 Chemin Cheikh Bachir
16000 Algiers, ALGERIA
Tel. (213-21) 69-12-55
Bldg. 979, Road No. 3119
Block 321; Zinj District
(Next to Al Ahli Sports Club)
Tel. (973) 273-300; after-hours 275-126
(North Gate) 8
Kamal El-Din Salah St.
Garden City Cairo, EGYPT
Tel. (20-2) 795-7371
U.S. Interests Section
Embassy of SWITZERLAND
West Farzan St. No. 59
Tel. (98-21) 878-2964 and 879-2364
U.S. Interests Section
Embassy of POLAND
(located opposite the Foreign Ministry Club, Masbah Quarter)
P.O. Box 2447, Alwiyah
Tel. (964-1) 718-9267 and 885-2286
7l Hayarkon Street
Tel Aviv, ISRAEL
Tel. (972-3) 519-7575; after-hours 519-7551
U.S. Consular Agency
(limited services only)
12 Jerusalem Street
Haifa 33132, ISRAEL
Tel. (972) (4) 670-615
American Consulate General
27 Nablus Rd.
Tel. (972) (2) 622-7000; after-hours 622-7250
Tel. (962-6) 592-0120
Al Masjeed Al Aqsa St.
Plot 14, Block 14
36302 Kuwait, KUWAIT
Tel. (965) 539-5307/8; after-hours 538-2097/8
Beirut Antelias, LEBANON
Tel. (961-4) 543-600
2 Avenue de Marrakech
American Consulate General
8 Boulevard Moulay Youssef
Tel. (968) 698-989; after hours 699-049
149 Ahmed Bin Ali Street
Farig Bin Omran, QATAR
Tel. (974) 488-4101
Dhahr Himyar Zone
Sheraton Hotel District
Tel. (967)(1) 238-844 thru 238-852