Government Advice: Tips for Travelers to South Asia

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Government Advice: Tips for Travelers to South Asia

Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka

Editor’s note: The information below was issued in June 1995 by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. All data contained herein is subject to verification. As of April 2007, the Bureau was working on an update to this article. The most current information is available by calling the U.S. State Department’s American Services and Crisis Management Center at 202-647-5225.

GENERAL INFORMATION

CONSULAR INFORMATION PROGRAM

WEATHER

HEALTH

VISAS AND OTHER ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

CURRENCY AND CUSTOMS REGULATIONS

COUNTRY INFORMATION

FOREIGN EMBASSIES IN THE UNITED STATES

U.S. EMBASSIES AND CONSULATES ABROAD

GENERAL INFORMATION

Your trip to South Asia can be a rich and rewarding experience. There are ancient cultures and artistic traditions to appreciate and a wealth of natural wonders to see—all coexisting with modern societies. However, the customs and local conditions can be as distant from home as the miles, and travelers should plan their trips carefully.

CONSULAR INFORMATION PROGRAM

For travel information on any country, see the Department of State’s Consular Information Sheet* for the country. Consular Information Sheets cover such matters as health conditions, unusual currency and entry regulations, crime and security conditions, drug penalties, and areas of instability. In addition, the State Department issues Travel Warnings* when we recommend Americans defer travel to a country because of unsafe conditions. Regulations may also prohibit the use of U.S. passports to visit certain countries. This prohibition will be included in the Travel Warnings issued for affected countries. Travel Warnings are under continuous review by the Department of State. Before you depart for a country that has a Travel Warning, make certain that you have the most recent revision of the Warning. The Department of State also issues Public Announcements. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term and/or trans-national conditions which would pose significant risks to the security of American travelers.

*The publications mentioned above may be contained in this Year-book, see CONTENTS for location.

Travelers to areas where conditions are unsettled or communication is poor are encouraged to register at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (see list at end of this section). All travelers are encouraged to leave a detailed itinerary and their passport numbers at home in case of an emergency.

There are several ways to access Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements. You can listen to them 24-hours a day by calling 202-647-5225 from a touchtone phone. You can receive copies of them by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Overseas Citizens Services, Room 4800, Department of State, Washington, DC 20520-4818. (Write the name of the requested country or countries on the outside of the envelope.) You can also find Consular Information Sheets and Travel Warnings at the 13 regional passport agencies and at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. They can also be accessed through an airline or travel agent’s computer reservation system, the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ 24-hour automated fax system at 202/647-3000, or through many computer bulletin boards, including the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). You may call the CABB on modem number 202-647-9225. Set your communications software to: no parity, 8 bits, one stop bit (N-8-1).

WEATHER

If you have a choice, winter is the best time to visit most areas of South Asia. South of the Himalayas, South Asian weather is warm to very hot. Hot, humid regions like Bangladesh and central, eastern, and southern India are somewhat more comfortable in December through February. Hot, dry regions like Pakistan and northern India have pleasant weather from October to March, with the winter months cool enough for light woolens. The worst weather in the dry regions, when heat and dust can make sight-seeing or other outdoor activity a chore, is during the pre-monsoon period from approximately April through mid-July.

HEALTH

In the United States, local health departments, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), private doctors, and travel clinics can provide information on health precautions for travelers to South Asia. Depending on your destination, immunization is recommended against cholera, diphtheria/tetanus, hepatitis, Japanese B encephalitis, meningitis, polio, and typhoid. Drug prophylaxis against malaria may also be necessary. General guidance may also be found in the booklet, Health Information for International Travel, which is available for $7 from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, or from local, or state health departments. The CDC has an international travelers hotline that can be reached at 404-332-4559.

Travelers should be careful to drink only boiled water (bottled water is not always safe) or bottled drinks, to avoid ice cubes in beverages and unpeeled fruits and vegetables, to take precautions against mosquitoes, and to guard against overexertion at high altitudes. Trekkers and mountain climbers, in particular, should take precautions to avoid frostbite, hypothermia, and altitude sickness. The latter two can be fatal if not detected in time. Modern health facilities are not always available, particularly in rural areas. Prospective travelers should review their health insurance policies to see if they provide coverage while overseas, including medical evacuation service.

VISAS AND OTHER ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

A U.S. passport is required for travel to all countries in the region. Most South Asian countries also require entry visas. Travel to certain areas of many South Asian countries is restricted and special permits may be required for these areas in addition to the entry visa. Prospective travelers should contact the embassy or consulate of the country they plan to visit for specific information (see list of foreign embassies at end of book).

All South Asian countries require travelers who have been in yellow-fever infected areas within the last six days to show valid yellow-fever immunization certificates. Yellow fever is found in some African and some Latin American countries. If you plan to travel from Africa or Latin America directly to South Asia, check with the embassy of the South Asian country where you are going to see if a yellow-fever certificate is required. If the certificate is required and you do not have it, you will be refused entry unless you are inoculated and kept in quarantine for up to six days.

CURRENCY AND CUSTOMS REGULATIONS

Most South Asian countries require that foreign currency and valuables be declared upon entry as a means of enforcing restrictions on the importation of items such as gold, electronic equipment, firearms, and prescription drugs. Failure to make an accurate declaration or other violations of these restrictions can lead to high fines and/or imprisonment.

Shopping for Antiques

Most South Asian countries have strict regulations against the unlicensed export of antiquities. Items that are antique, or even appear to be, may be confiscated by customs officials unless the traveler has proof of authorization from the appropriate government office to export the antique, or proof that the item is not an antique.

U.S. Wildlife Regulations

The United States prohibits importation of Asian ivory because Asian elephants are an endangered species. Most lizardskin and many snakeskin products cannot be brought into the United States. The penalty for importing products derived from endangered species is seizure of the product and a substantial fine.

COUNTRY INFORMATION

Afghanistan

The Department of State warns all U.S. citizens against travel to Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a developing, Islamic country presently in the midst of a civil war. Fighting and indiscriminate rocket attacks, aerial bombardments, and other violence can occur without warning. Land mines are prevalent throughout the countryside. All U.S. personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul were evacuated on January 31, 1989, and no other diplomatic mission represents U.S. interest or provides consular services. The nearest U.S. Embassy is in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Because of safety and security concerns arising from the civil war in Afghanistan, all U.S. airlines and aircraft operators are prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration from overflying Afghanistan.

Bangladesh

No visa is required for a tourist stay of up to two weeks if you have an onward ticket; all business travelers must have visas, however. Bangladesh is an Islamic country, and visitors should dress modestly—shorts are considered inappropriate.

Crime is a serious problem in Dhaka. Foreigners have not been especially targeted, but are often the victims of crime. Travelers should also be wary of and give a wide berth to politically-based street agitation, protests, and general strikes. These can flare into random violence without warning and result in attacks on nearby persons and property.

Travelers should pay special attention to preventive health measures because medical facilities, especially in rural areas, are not always available. River ferries are necessary for travel throughout much of Bangladesh, but travelers should exercise caution when using them.

Accidents frequently occur from overcrowding and from hazardous navigation during poor weather. Trekkers may not go to the Chittagong Hill Tracts, which are off-limits to foreigners.

Bhutan

While Bhutan and the United States do not have formal diplomatic relations, informal contact is maintained through the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India. Restrictions on tourism to Bhutan have been relaxed recently. Tourists are no longer limited to traveling in organized groups; however independent travelers must book through a travel agency. Visas must be requested in advance and are stamped on arrival in Bhutan. Entry must be via Bangladesh, India or Nepal. The border with China is closed. For information, contact Bhutan Travel Inc., 120 East 56th Street, Suite 1130, New York, NY 10022 (tel. 212-838-6382).

India

India is the South Asian country most frequently visited by U.S. citizens. Visas must be obtained before arrival. Persons arriving without visas must leave on the next plane. If you plan to travel from India to Nepal or another country and return to India, be sure to request a multiple entry visa. Tourist visas are issued for a maximum of 90 days. Once in India, visitors who wish to extend their stay must apply to a Foreigners Regional Registration Office. Extensions, if granted, may not bring the total visit to more than six months. Customs regulations prohibiting the importation of gold or Indian currency, and regulating importation of electronics, foreign currency, and firearms are strictly enforced. Offenders of these regulations may be jailed, fined and/or charged duty at rates exceeding 300 percent of the item’s value. Laws against drug smuggling carry heavy penalties, including a ten-year prison term.

Political or communal and inter-caste violence occurs intermittently in many parts of the country. Major civil disturbances can pose risks to a traveler’s personal safety and can disrupt transportation systems and city services. In response to communal violence, Indian authorities may occasionally impose curfews. Foreigners have rarely been the targets of communal or political violence in India, and are principally at risk of becoming inadvertent victims only if they stray into demonstrations. Whether dangerous or not, many areas of India have been declared off-limits to foreigners by the Indian authorities. Permits are required for: Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Assam, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, parts of Kulu District and Spiti District of Himachal Pradesh, border areas of Jammu and Kashmir, certain areas of Uttar Pradesh, the area west of National Highway No. 5 running from Ganganagar to Sanchar in Rajasthan, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Union Territory of the Laccadive Islands.

Persons of Indian origin can usually obtain permits to visit relatives in restricted areas. Other visitors may have to wait a long time for a permit or be unable to obtain one.

Consult the latest Department of State Consular Information Sheet on which areas are restricted. Once in India, consult the U.S. Embassy or the nearest U.S. consulate for information on restricted areas and advice on obtaining permits to visit them. None of the popular tourist sites in India are in restricted areas.

Maldives

The islands of the Maldives have long been popular vacation sites. Diplomatic relations are maintained and consular services are provided through the U.S. Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka. In emergencies, there is a U.S. consular agent on the capital island of Male (for address, ask at a resort or hotel) who can help travelers communicate with the U.S. Embassy in Colombo. A no-fee visa for a tourist visit of up to 30 days is issued upon arrival at the airport. Foreign currency may be taken in or out of the Maldives without restriction. Pork foodstuffs and alcohol may not be imported.

Nepal

Nepal is a popular adventure tourism destination; over 20,000 Americans visit Nepal each year. A tourist visa valid for up to 60 days is issued at ports of entry upon arrival. Visas can be routinely extended in Kathmandu and Pokhara for stays of up to four months; a fifth month requires special approval. Penalties for overstaying a visa may include fines and imprisonment. Nepalese customs laws, particularly those forbidding smuggling of drugs, gold, and foreign currency, are strictly enforced. The penalty for smuggling is a stiff fine and/or a prison sentence. Travelers should take adequate funds in the form of travelers checks. It is difficult to obtain additional funds through bank transfers and, except at major Kathmandu hotels, credit cards are rarely accepted.

Trekking is very popular in Nepal. Tourists are cautioned to obtain a trekking permit from the Central Immigration Office, to avoid trekking alone, to be alert for signs of altitude sickness, and to obtain a meningococcal meningitis vaccination if trekking outside the Kathmandu Valley. Those wishing to climb the high peaks should write for permission to the Ministry of Tourism to the attention of the mountaineering division, well in advance of planned expeditions. Travelers should note that there are no forms of international communication in rural areas. In the event of an emergency, the U.S. Embassy may assist Americans in contacting family or friends.

Americans planning to travel from Nepal to Tibet should be aware that Chinese authorities strictly regulate such trips. Additional information is contained in the Consular Information Sheet on China and in Tips for Travelers to the People’s Republic of China. Travelers can also contact the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu for current information on the status of the border crossing points.

Pakistan

In March 1995, a shuttle carrying employees of the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi was attacked by unknown assailants. Two American employees were killed. At the time of publication, the State Department had no knowledge of any specific credible threats to U.S. citizens. However, all travelers are urged to exercise prudent security precautions. Sectarian and factional violence has increased in Pakistan. Karachi remains the center of politically-motivated killings. During the Islamic religious observances of Ramadan and Moharram (the exact date for each holiday varies each year), sectarian rivalry and violence often increase.

A visa must be obtained before arrival; travelers should specifically request multiple-entry visas, and must obtain an exit permit if they stay more than 30 days. Pakistan is an Islamic country, and visitors must respect Islamic standards of behavior. Travelers (especially women) should dress modestly, i.e., wear clothes with high necks and long sleeves and not wear shorts. Woman are advised not to travel alone in rural areas. The import, manufacture, and consumption of alcohol or drugs are strictly forbidden. Major hotels have special rooms where non-Islamic foreigners may buy and drink alcoholic beverages. In March 1994, legislation was passed which made drug trafficking punishable by death.

A special permit is required for travel to the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, including the Khyber Pass, and to Azad Kashmir. Persons traveling to restricted areas without a permit are subject to arrest. Onward overland travel to India is difficult because of border crossing restrictions (see Consular Information Sheet for India).

Major cities in Pakistan are safe for tourists, but travel to remote rural areas, especially in Balochistan, Sindh and the Northwest Frontier Province is not recommended. Security conditions vary; some areas are only considered safe for daytime travel in groups. Because the security situation can change with little warning, visitors should check at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad or the nearest U.S. consulate for up-to-date travel information.

Sri Lanka

The insurgency of Tamil separatists against the government in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) has caused tension and violence within the country. For this reason, the Sri Lankan defense regulations restrict travel to much of the island’s northern areas. Areas such as Wilpattu and Galoya National Parks are considered especially unsafe. There have been isolated incidents of violence in other parts of Sri Lanka, including Colombo. Because public transportation has often been targeted by terrorists, travel on trains and public buses should be avoided. Travel to the major tourist sites in the southern and western parts of the island has usually been safe. However, security conditions throughout the country can change quickly, and travelers should get current information from the latest travel advisory or from the U.S. Embassy in Colombo. No visa is required for a tourist stay of up to 90 days. Medical facilities in Sri Lanka are limited. Malaria is prevalent in many areas outside of Colombo.

FOREIGN EMBASSIES IN THE UNITED STATES

Embassy of Afghanistan
2341 Wyoming Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20008
(202) 234-3770

Embassy of Bangladesh
2201 Wisconsin Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 342-8373

Bhutan Mission to the United Nations
New York, NY 10017
(212) 826-1919

Embassy of India
2536 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20008
(202) 939-9839

Republic of Maldives Mission
to the United Nations
820 Second Avenue, Suite 800C
New York, NY 10017
(212) 599-6195

Embassy of Nepal
2131 Leroy Place, N.W.
Washington, DC 20008
(202) 657-4550

Embassy of Pakistan
2315 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20008
(202) 939-6200

Embassy of Sri Lanka
2148 Wyoming Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20008
(202) 483-4025

U.S. EMBASSIES AND CONSULATES ABROAD

AFGHANISTAN: (see Pakistan)

BANGLADESH (workweek: Sunday-Thursday)
American Embassy
Diplomatic Enclave

Madani Ave., Baridhara
GPO Box 323, Dhaka 1212
Dhaka, Bangladesh
Tel: (880-2) 884700-22
Fax: (880-2) 883-744

INDIA
U.S. Embassy
Shanti Path
Chanakyapuri 110021
New Delhi, India
Tel: (91-11) 600651
Fax: (91-11) 687-2028

American Consulate General
Lincoln House
78 Bhulabhai Desai Rd. 400026
Bombay, India
Tel: (91-22) 363-3611
Fax: (91-22) 363-0350

American Consulate General
5/1 Ho Chi Minh Sarani 700071
Calcutta, India
Tel: (91-33) 242-3611 thru 15
Fax: (91-33) 242-2335

American Consulate General
Mount Rd., 600006
Madras, India
Tel: (91-44) 826-3040 or 827-7542
Fax: (91-44) 826-3407

MALDIVES (See Sri Lanka)

NEPAL
American Embassy
Pani Pokhari
Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: (977-1) 411179, 412718, 410531 or 413836
Fax: (977-1) 419963

PAKISTAN (workweek: Sunday-Thursday)
American Embassy
Diplomatic Enclave
Ramna 5
Islamabad, Pakistan
Tel: (92-51) 826-161 thru 79
Fax: (92-51) 214-222

American Consulate General
8 Abdullah Haroon Rd.
Karachi, Pakistan
Tel: (92-21) 568-5170 (after hours 568-1606)
Fax: (92-21) 568-3089

American Consulate General
50 Sharah-E-Bib Badees (50 Empress Rd.)
Simal Hills Lahore K
Lahore, Pakistan
Tel: (92-42) 636-5530 thru 39
Fax: (92-42) 636-5177

American Consulate
11 Hospital Road
Peshawar Cantonment
Peshawar, Pakistan
Tel: (92-521) 279-801 or 803
Fax: (92-521) 276-712

SRI LANKA
American Embassy
210 Galle Rd. (P.O. Box 106)
Colombo 3
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Tel: (94-1) 448007
Fax: (94-1) 437345

Note: Workweek is Monday-Friday except where noted.