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Updated US State Department Travel Warning for Democratic Republic of Congo

Updated US State Department Travel Warning for Democratic Republic of Congo Featured Image

If you are traveling to the DRC, then please contact Insurance Services of America first for your international health, life and travel insurance options.

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) (DRC), and recommends against non-essential travel to eastern and northeastern DRC. This replaces the Travel Warning dated January 12, 2012, to update information on security and air travel safety in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Armed groups, bandits, and elements of the Congolese military remain security concerns in eastern and northeastern DRC. These armed groups, primarily located in the North Kivu, South Kivu, and Orientale provinces, as well as the northern part of Katanga province, and the eastern part of Maniema province, are known to pillage, steal vehicles, kidnap, rape, kill, and carry out military or paramilitary operations in which civilians are indiscriminately targeted. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is present near the border with Uganda, Central African Republic, and the Republic of South Sudan. The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) continues to assist the Congolese government with the protection of civilians and efforts to combat armed groups.

The region has been the scene of violent clashes that have resulted in the displacement of more than 1.9 million civilians since the start of the Rwandan conflict in 1994. In April 2012, members of a rebel group that previously had been integrated into the Congolese military mutinied and heavy fighting has been reported in Massisi and Ruthshuru territories as well as in Virunga National Park. In July 2012, members of this group captured several towns north of Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu province. As a result, over 200 people have been killed and the number of internally displaced persons has risen to 1.7 million. Moreover, renewed violence amongst foreign and Congolese rebel groups present in the northern part of North Kivu and former Rwandan militants in the southern part of the province and throughout South Kivu pose a serious and significant risk to travelers in the region. This fighting underscores the persistent insecurity arising from activities of rebel and other armed groups operating in the Kivus, which contribute to the overall high risks and dangers associated with travel to eastern Congo. The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa has strictly limited travel by official personnel to North Kivu. Travel to that region for Embassy personnel is permitted only under exceptional circumstances.

Travelers are frequently detained and questioned by poorly disciplined security forces at numerous official and unofficial roadblocks and border crossings throughout the country. Requests for bribes in such instances are extremely common, and security forces have occasionally injured or killed people who refuse to pay. In the past year, several U.S. citizens were illegally detained by government forces. Very poor infrastructure (road and air) makes the provision of consular services difficult outside of Kinshasa.

Kinshasa has a critical crime threat level, and U.S. citizens continue to be the victims of serious crimes, including armed robbery by groups posing as law enforcement officials in both urban and rural areas, especially after nightfall. Avoid walking alone and displaying cash and other personal property of value. Avoid taking photos in public, especially of government buildings and the airport (which are viewed as places of national security), police stations, the presidential palace, border crossings, and along the river, since doing so may lead to arrest.

Lock vehicle doors and keep windows closed when driving. You should not stop at the scene of an accident or at intersections where people have gathered, as mobs can develop quickly. In areas where the roads are in poor condition and the speed limit is minimal, be wary of gangs of street children who may approach your car, open your door, and steal your belongings. Roadblocks are often found throughout the country, especially near government buildings and installations in Kinshasa, and should be avoided when possible. If stopped at a roadblock, keep doors locked and crack the window in order to communicate.

Official Congolese motorcades pose hazards to motorists and pedestrians. Drivers should pull over to the far side of the road when sirens or security forces announce their presence. You should not take photographs of motorcades. Proceed only when security forces permit you to do so.

There is no reliable public transportation system in the DRC. Overcrowded vans and taxis, which often do not meet western safety standards, serve as public transportation in Kinshasa. Few independent taxis are available, operating largely out of the big hotels, and most do not meet safety standards. You should avoid all travel by public transportation, and hire private transport from a reliable source.

The DRC has few viable roads or railways, but does have several major waterways. Boat transport is widely used; however, the vessels are often overloaded or badly maintained, and accidents are commonplace. There were multiple accidents in 2011 on both rivers and lakes resulting in hundreds of fatalities.

Public health concerns pose a hazard to U.S. citizen travelers due to outbreaks of deadly viruses and other diseases, which can occur without warning and often without swift reporting by local health authorities. Information on personal protection for international travelers, including children, can be found on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website. Travelers are required to carry evidence of yellow fever vaccination in order to enter the DRC. Health officials at entry points, such as the airport in Kinshasa, will check for proof of vaccination. If you do not have evidence of a yellow fever vaccination, you may be denied entry or required to pay a fine. Malaria is common throughout the DRC and prophylaxis is recommended.

Due to the recent outbreak of Wild Polio Virus and measles in the DRC, you should update your polio and measles vaccinations, if necessary, and refer to the CDC for additional guidance. Due to the high levels of air borne irritants (i.e., dust, burning trash, debris, etc.) individuals with respiratory illnesses should carry all their necessary medications and equipment with adapters.

There is a high risk of traveler’s diarrhea and cholera throughout the country. This can be prevented by using good judgment when choosing what food to eat and water to drink. When in restaurants, it is best to ask for bottled water and avoid ice.

Due to the immense size of the country, the density of the Congo River rainforest, the terrible state of the roads, and the poor security situation, the only way to get around the country quickly is by plane. Domestic air travel on Congolese or other local airlines in the DRC is not recommended. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has assessed the government of the DRC as not being compliant with international standards for aviation safety oversight. There have been several recent incidents causing deaths and injuries, including one on August 25, 2010, that killed all but one passenger. In April 2011, a United Nations operated flight crashed while landing in Kinshasa, killing 32 passengers and crew. In July 2011, a Boeing 737 crashed in Kisangani, killing more than 70 passengers. Crashes of private aircraft are even more common. The U.S. Embassy has prohibited official travel by U.S. government employees and certain contractors on most airlines flying domestic routes in the DRC due to safety and maintenance concerns. International flights on foreign-owned-and-operated carriers are not affected by this prohibition.

You should avoid all public demonstrations and areas where crowds have gathered because even peaceful events can become violent, and even deadly. You should exercise caution at all times, and closely monitor local and international news from reliable sources. Radio Okapi broadcasts in French on 103.5 FM at 0700, 0800, 1200, and 1800, and provides updates throughout the day. English-language news can be found on BBC at 92.6 FM. In emergencies, the Belgian Embassy operates a French-language radio broadcast system at FM 98.8. Changes in security conditions may occasionally restrict the travel of U.S. Mission personnel.

The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa strongly encourages U.S. citizens who travel to or remain in the DRC despite this Travel Warning to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so you can receive the most up-to-date security information. You should remember to keep all of your information in STEP current. It is important to include your current phone number and email address where you can be reached in case of an emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located at 310 Avenue des Aviateurs; the Consular Section entrance is located on Avenue Dumi, opposite Saint Anne’s church. The Embassy’s telephone number, including for after-hours emergencies, is 243-81-556-0151; callers within the DRC should dial 081-556-0151. All telephone lines in the DRC, cellular as well as landlines, are unreliable. Click here to visit the Embassy website.

U.S. citizens should also consult the Department of State’s Country Specific Information Sheet for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Worldwide Caution. Up-to-date information on safety and security is available toll-free at 1-888-407-4747 from within the United States and Canada, or at regular toll rates at 1-202-501-4444 for callers from other countries, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Stay up to date by bookmarking our Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which also contains the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as theWorldwide Caution. Follow us on Twitter and become a fan of the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well.

Copyright © 2012, U.S. Department of State