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SafetyTravel Safety: Africa: The Gambia

The Gambia: Republic of The Gambia
Capital: Banjul
Population: 1,455,842
Currency: dalasi (GMD)
Languages: English (official), Mandinka, Wolof, Fula, other indigenous vernaculars
Religions: Muslim 90%, Christian 9%, indigenous beliefs 1%
Borders: Senegal 740 km

The Gambia is a developing country in western Africa. The capital is Banjul. The official language is English. Facilities for tourism in the Banjul area are good. However, outside the capital, tourist facilities are limited in availability and quality.

The Gambia 's most recent elections were deemed free and fair by international observers, but the presidential campaign period was marked by high tension and one fatal shooting. U.S. citizens should therefore avoid political gatherings and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.

Travelers driving a vehicle in The Gambia should stop at all roadblocks or road checkpoints and proceed only when instructed by security personnel. Drivers should not reverse direction to avoid a road checkpoint or make any movements that may be viewed as suspicious or provocative by security personnel. Drivers should not proceed through a road checkpoint when signaled to stop.

Petty street crime is a problem in The Gambia. Travelers should be careful of pickpockets in the crowded market areas and on ferries. Packages or luggage should never be left unattended, especially in taxis. Travelers should also be cautious of individuals who persistently offer unsolicited help.

Visitors and resident U.S. citizens have reported residential and automobile burglaries. All U.S. citizens in The Gambia should be careful not to leave valuables or identity documents unsecured in hotel rooms or cars. Although violent crime and armed robbery are not prevalent in The Gambia, long-term residents should consider hiring a security guard for their home to prevent burglary and theft.

"Confidence" scams long seen in other parts of western Africa are now on the rise in The Gambia. Con artists lure foreigners into business transactions for the purpose of obtaining their bank routing information, credit card number, or other personal data. They then use that information to impersonate the victims or obtain funds in their name.

U.S. citizens should treat with suspicion any unsolicited offers to participate in lucrative business opportunities, especially if they require financial data, money transfers, large up-front investments, or promises of confidentiality.

There are known cases of foreigners' credit card numbers being sent abroad and their accounts accessed without their knowledge. U.S. citizens have also reported their credit and ATM card numbers stolen after purchases at local stores or withdrawals from ATM machines in The Gambia.

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 Gambian law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in The Gambia are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens to exploit children sexually via pornography, the Internet or other means or to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a person under the age of 18 in a foreign country, regardless of whether there was intent.

Medical facilities are very limited, and some medical treatments are unavailable. Travelers should carry their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines.

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 The Gambia is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:

Safety of public transportation: Fair 
Urban road conditions/maintenance: Poor 
Rural road conditions/maintenance: Poor 
Availability of roadside assistance: Poor

Travel in The Gambia is difficult because of road conditions, particularly during the rainy season, June through October. Although a few main roads are paved in the greater Banjul area, most are poorly maintained and poorly lit; drivers and pedestrians should exercise extreme caution to avoid accidents. Most roads outside the capital are unpaved. The U.S. Embassy urges visitors driving outside the capital to travel with a recognized travel guide. Travelers should be cautious of individuals who persistently offer unsolicited help.

For additional information on road travel in the The Gambia, see The Gambia Tourism Authority's web site, For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, please see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Gambia's civil aviation authority as Category 2 -- not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for the oversight of Gambian air carrier operations. There is no service to the U.S. by Gambian-registered carriers, but air carriers from countries meeting international safety standards are allowed to conduct direct flights from The Gambia to the U.S.

For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at tel. 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet web site at

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. In addition, DOD does not permit its personnel to use air carriers from Category 2 countries for official business except for flights originating from or terminating in the U.S. Local exceptions may apply. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

Currently, the only air carrier offering direct flights from The Gambia to the U.S. is Ghana Airways. Service provided by a number of western African regional air carriers, including Ghana Airways, is reported to be unreliable. The airlines are known to alter scheduled stops, cancel or postpone flights on short notice, and regularly overbook flights. Newer regional airlines occasionally book seats on flights before they have the aircraft to fly them. Travelers may experience unexpected delays even after checking in, and should be prepared to handle alternate ticketing and/or increased food and lodging expenses.

U.S. citizens are advised that water transportation in western Africa can be unpredictable and may involve safety risks. Ferries rarely keep to their stated schedule. They are often overcrowded and rarely carry life preservers for all passengers. In particular, the wooden dugout "pirogues" that cross the Gambia River often leave shore overloaded and occasionally sink in the middle of the river. U.S. citizens who must travel to the north bank of the Gambia River are advised to use the Banjul-Barra or Yelitenda-Farafenni ferries, which are slower but safer than the privately operated "pirogues."

Travelers should not photograph airports or military installations.

Please also refer to the separate Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

June 18, 2004

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