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SafetyTravel Safety: Africa: Madagascar

Madagascar: Republic of Madagascar
Capital: Antananarivo
Population: 16,473,477
Currency: Malagasy franc (MGF)
Languages: French (official), Malagasy (official)
Religions: indigenous beliefs 52%, Christian 41%, Muslim 7%
Borders: 0 km

Madagascar is a developing island nation off the east coast of Africa. The primary languages are French and Malagasy. French is not generally spoken outside of major cities. Antananarivo, the capital, enjoys a temperate climate, but the island has a wide range of microclimates ranging from rain forests in the northeast to desert in the southwest. Facilities for tourism are available, but vary in quality.

There are random police vehicle checkpoints throughout Madagascar, so all visitors should carry photo identification (i.e. passport) in the event of police questioning. These check points are routine in nature, and should not result in vehicle and/or person searches as long as valid identification is shown.

In late June and early July 2004, several grenade attacks occurred at residences and property owned by political figures. A grenade also exploded during a demonstration in Antananarivo. These attacks do not appear to be directed at Americans or foreigners. Travelers should maintain security awareness at all times and should avoid political gatherings and street demonstrations.

Taking photographs of airports or military installations is prohibited.

The major concerns for visitors to Antananarivo are crimes of opportunity such as pick-pocketing and purse snatching, and theft from residences and vehicles. Although these are generally non-violent, incidents involving violence by assailants, particularly when the victim resists, do take place especially, when the victim is confronted by multiple persons. To reduce the risk of being victimized, travel in groups and avoid wearing expensive jewelry in public. Valuable items should never be left in an unattended vehicle. Walking at night, whether alone or in a group, is not considered safe in urban areas, including in the vicinity of Western-standard hotels. Organized gangs of bandits are known to patrol areas where foreigners who are perceived to be wealthy congregate. Although crimes such as burglary do occur in areas outside the capital, the threat of confrontational crime is less common in rural areas.

In May 1999, there was a series of robberies at Libanona Beach and Peak Saint Louis, in the Fort Dauphin area, perpetrated by a person representing himself as a guide. U.S. citizens should hire only an authorized guide and be cautious when visiting Libanona Beach, Peak Saint Louis, or other isolated areas.

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 Malagasy law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Madagascar 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 a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

There are foreign physicians in Antananarivo representing a broad range of specialties. The hospitals in Antananarivo vary greatly in standards of care. None of the facilities evaluated meet U.S. standards; most are seriously substandard. Medical care outside of Antananarivo has not been evaluated, and caution and good judgment should be exercised when seeking hospital and medical services. A Seventh Day Adventist dental clinic offers emergency procedures, a laboratory and x-ray facilities.

Some medications, generally of French origin, are readily available in Antananarivo. If one needs to refill a prescription from home, it is important to carry a prescription from your personal doctor listing the medicine�s generic name. Outside of Antananarivo, medications may not be available. Travelers should have a supply of any needed medication before arriving in Madagascar. Americans who will be carrying medications with them to Madagascar should contact the Malagasy Embassy in Washington, DC regarding any restrictions on imports.

Madagascar is prone to tropical storms. Storm season is generally December through the end of February. Storms primarily affect the coasts, although large storms may reach the capital, Antananarivo. Storms that affect the shipping ports may limit fuel and food supplies elsewhere in the country. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at

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 Madagascar 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: Fair
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor to Fair
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

In Madagascar, one drives on the right side of the road, yielding the right of way to vehicles coming in from the left. Most major intersections and traffic circles have police directing traffic. If a policeman has his back to you at an intersection, you are required to stop. Seat belts, child safety seats, and motorcycle helmets are not required in Madagascar. If you are caught driving under the influence of alcohol your car will be impounded for a few days and you will have to pay a fine. If you are involved in an accident involving injuries and/or deaths, there is a mandatory court case. The losing party of the court case must then pay all costs.

Except for Antananarivo 's main streets and a few well-maintained routes to outlying cities, most roads are in disrepair. Night travel by private or public transportation outside Antananarivo is discouraged due to poor lighting and road conditions. Roads tend to be narrow and winding with many one-lane bridges and blind curves. Most vehicles tend to drive in the center of the road unless another vehicle is present. Local practice is to blow the horn before going around a curve, to let others know of one�s presence. Few pedestrian crosswalks or working traffic signals exist.

Travel within Antananarivo can be difficult with poor road signage and an abundance of one-way streets. Taxis are plentiful and are generally reasonably priced. Expect to bargain for the fare prior to getting into the vehicle. Most accidents are pedestrian-related, due to narrow roads and lack of sidewalks on many streets.

Rental cars generally come with a driver who is responsible for maintaining the vehicle and sometimes acts as a tour guide. Public transportation is unreliable and vehicles are poorly maintained. Rail services are very limited and unreliable. Arrangements can be made for a private train to travel to certain destinations.

The Ministry of Public Works, telephone [261](20)22-318-02 is Madagascar �s authority responsible for road safety. During an emergency, visitors to Antananarivo can contact local police by telephoning 17, by dialing 22-227-35, or by dialing 030-23-801-40 (cellular). American citizens can also call the U.S. Embassy at 22-212-57/58/59 if assistance is needed in communicating with law enforcement officials. Ambulance services are available in Antananarivo with Espace Medical at 22-625-66 or 22-219-72; with Clinique Ampasanimalo at 22-235-55 or 030-23-801-45 (cellular); or with Polyclinique Ilafy at 22-425-66/69.

As there is no direct commercial air service between the U.S. and Madagascar by local carriers at present, nor economic authority to operate such service, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Madagascar �s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or FAA�s Internet 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 DOD at (618) 229-4801.

Domestic and international air services operate regularly but are subject to delays and occasional breakdowns. Air Madagascar often changes in-country flight schedules, based on how full the flight is, with little or no prior warning to passengers. Overbooking is also common.

Please also refer to the separate Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

August 11, 2004

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