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SafetyTravel Safety: Africa: Djibouti

Djibouti: Republic of Djibouti
Capital: Djibouti
Population: 472,810
Currency: Djiboutian franc (DJF)
Languages: French (official), Arabic (official), Somali, Afar
Religions: Muslim 94%, Christian 6%
Borders: Eritrea 109 km, Ethiopia 349 km, Somalia 58 km

Djibouti is a developing African country located on the shore of the Red Sea. Approximately two-thirds of its population of 650,000 reside in the capital, also called Djibouti (or Djibouti City ). Modern tourist facilities and communications links are limited in Djibouti and are virtually non-existent outside the capital. Although there is no formal dress code, travelers should dress modestly in deference to local custom and culture, especially when visiting remote areas.

Djibouti enjoys a stable political climate, thanks in part to the large French military presence based in country. However, Djibouti 's international borders are very porous and lightly patrolled. In particular, Somalia, Djibouti 's neighbor to the south, is believed to be a haven for terrorists and other insurgent elements. Continuing instability in Somalia and Yemen present the potential for internal unrest in Djibouti, which has large ethnic Somali and Yemeni populations. In addition, neighboring Ethiopia and Eritrea recently concluded a settlement to a long-running border dispute, and nearby Yemen is pursuing a struggle against potential terrorists. Civil unrest or armed conflict in neighboring countries could disrupt air travel to and from Djibouti or otherwise negatively affect its security situation.

Terrorism continues to pose a threat in East Africa. U.S. citizens should be aware of the risk of indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets in public places, including tourist sites and other sites where Westerners are known to congregate.

Travelers should exercise caution when traveling to any remote area of the country, including the borders with Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Djiboutian security forces do not have a widespread presence in those regions. Recently, there were several attacks on the Djibouti-Ethiopia railway. Although Americans did not appear to be targeted in these attacks, U.S. citizens should exercise caution nonetheless.

U.S. citizens are advised to keep themselves informed of regional developments and to register with the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti upon arrival. Although large public demonstrations are uncommon, U.S. citizens should avoid large crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.

Several hundred U.S. military personnel are stationed in Djibouti. The presence of U.S. armed forces may increase the likelihood of threats or attacks against American civilians.

Petty crime and pick pocketing is on the rise in the capital and elsewhere in the country.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating the laws of Djibouti, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for use, possession, or trafficking in illegal drugs are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and fines. Although the mild stimulant khat is legal and widely used in Djibouti, it is considered an illegal substance in many countries, including the United States.

Medical facilities are limited and medicines are often unavailable. Medicines that are available are extremely expensive. Medical services in outlying areas may be completely nonexistent.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Djibouti is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor 
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor 
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor 
Availability of Roadside/Ambulance Assistance: None

The Djiboutian Ministry of Defense and the national police force share responsibility for road safety in Djibouti. Landmines are known to be present in the northern districts of Tadjoureh and Obock. In addition, there are reports that there may be mines in the Ali Sabieh district in the south. Travelers should stay on paved roads and should check with local authorities before using unpaved roads.

The two main international routes to Djibouti City via Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, and Yoboki, Djibouti, are in poor condition due to heavy truck traffic on both roads. The presence of many heavy trucks on those routes demands that drivers remain vigilant. Major roads outside the capital are paved but lack guardrails in some areas, and railroad crossings are not clearly marked.

Roads in Djibouti City and elsewhere in the country are narrow, poorly maintained, and poorly lit. Drivers and pedestrians should exercise extreme caution. Excessive speed, unpredictable local driving habits, pedestrians and livestock in the roadway, and the lack of basic safety equipment on many vehicles are daily hazards. Speed limits are posted occasionally but are not enforced. The stimulant drug khat is widely used, particularly in the afternoons, creating another traffic hazard. Travelers should be aware that police set up wire coils as roadblocks on some of the major roads, and these may be difficult to see at night.

The only two means of public inter-city travel are by bus and by ferry operating between Djibouti City and the towns of Tadjoureh and Obock. Buses are poorly maintained and their operators often drive erratically with little regard for passenger safety.

For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at For specific information concerning Djibouti driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, contact the Djibouti Embassy in Washington, DC.

As there is no direct commercial service at present between the United States and Djibouti, nor economic authority to operate such service, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Djibouti's civil aviation authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Djibouti's air carrier operations.

For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA International website at The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at 618-229-4801.

Please also refer to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

March 5, 2004

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