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SafetyTravel Safety: Africa: Namibia

Namibia: Republic of Namibia
Capital: Windhoek
Population: 1,820,916
Currency: Namibian dollar (NAD); South African rand (ZAR)
Languages: English 7% (official), Afrikaans common language of most of the population and about 60% of the white population, German 32%, indigenous languages: Oshivambo, Herero, Nama
Religions: Christian 80% to 90% (Lutheran 50% at least), indigenous beliefs 10% to 20%
Borders: Angola 1,376 km, Botswana 1,360 km, South Africa 967 km, Zambia 233 km

Namibia is a southern African country with a moderately developed economy. Facilities for tourism are good and generally increasing in quality. The capital is Windhoek.

The recent peace in Angola has led to an improvement in the security situation along the Namibia-Angola border. However, because of the continuing presence of landmines in the border area from Katwitwi (a village on the Okavango river in western Kavango Region) to Kongola town (Caprivi Region), the U.S. Embassy in Windhoek strongly recommends that American citizens avoid leaving the main road between these two points. The Embassy strongly recommends that American citizens avoid traveling at night, exercise caution, and maintain a high level of security awareness at all times.

American citizens wishing to cross into Angola from Namibia should do so only at official border crossing areas and should consult the State Department's Consular Information Sheet for Angola.

American citizens should avoid street demonstrations. However, such events are rare in Namibia. American citizens traveling in Namibia are urged to contact the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Windhoek for the latest safety and security information.

Windhoek is rated as critical for crime, reflecting a steady increase in criminal activity, both violent and petty. Incidents of violent crime directed specifically against Americans or other foreigners are not as rare as in the past. The most common criminal offenses committed in the capital are non-violent crimes of opportunity. Reports of street crimes such as pickpocketing, muggings, purse snatchings, vehicle theft and theft from parked vehicles have increased significantly. Common sense measures such as ensuring that valuables are not displayed in parked cars, keeping car doors locked and windows up while driving, safeguarding purses, keeping wallets in front pockets, carrying only as much cash as is required for a day�s business, and being alert to one�s surroundings at all times are the best deterrents against becoming a victim of criminal activity.

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 Namibia's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Namibia are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Americans should avoid purchasing diamonds and other protected resources outside of licensed retail establishments. The sentence for illegal dealing in diamonds in Namibia is stiff -- up to U.S. $20,000 in fines or five years in prison -- and the courts generally impose the maximum sentence. The purchase and exportation of other protected resources, such as elephant ivory, may also be prohibited by Namibian, international, and/or U.S. law.

Windhoek has a small number of private hospitals and clinics capable of providing emergency care and performing many routine procedures. Doctors, both general practitioners and specialists, as well as dentists, generally have training and facilities that match U.S. standards. Facilities outside the capital vary widely. Several large towns have well-equipped facilities similar to those available in Windhoek, while smaller towns generally do not.

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 Namibia 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: Excellent 
Rural road conditions/maintenance: Fair
Availability of roadside assistance: Fair

In Namibia, driving is done on the left-hand side of the road. Many of Namibia�s rural roads are gravel. Although these roads are generally well maintained, controlling a vehicle on gravel is significantly more difficult than on pavement. Drivers should not drive in excess of 80km per hour (45 mph) on gravel roads, should reduce speed significantly for curves or turns, and should heed all warning signs. Hitting a sand patch or driving around a curve too fast can easily result in a rollover or spinout. Many accidents on gravel roads occur when tourists exceed safe speeds on corners or in areas recently damaged by rains.

Turning on a red traffic light is not permitted in Namibia. Seat belts are required for all vehicle occupants. Motorcyclists are required by law to wear protective helmets. While child car seats are not required, they are recommended.

In order to drive legally while in Namibia, visitors staying more than a few weeks need an international driving permit. International driving permits must be obtained prior to leaving the U.S. and are available from either the American Automobile Association or the American Automobile Touring Alliance. Short-term visitors do not need an international driving permit; a valid U.S. driver�s license is sufficient.

Roads in Namibia are generally well maintained. However, few have shoulders or breakdown lanes. Wildlife wandering on roads is a special driving hazard in Namibia, especially at night. An encounter at high speeds with antelope or cattle can be fatal. The salt-surfaced roads at the coast can also be deceptively dangerous, especially when they have been made slick by morning or evening mist.

Most major roads are undivided with one lane in each direction. Drivers should remain alert for passing vehicles and exercise caution when passing slow moving vehicles. Accidents involving drunk drivers are an increasing problem on major roads where there are high speed limits. Driving under the influence is illegal in Namibia. A charge of culpable homicide can be made against a driver involved in an accident resulting in death.

Roadside assistance and emergency medical services outside of Windhoek may be unreliable or non-existent. Assistance on main roads that link Namibia's larger towns, however, is generally good due to quality cellphone networks. Emergency services contact numbers vary from town to town. The Namibian telephone directory has a list of emergency contact numbers at the beginning of each town listing. It is recommended that Americans maintain a list of contact numbers for the area in which they plan to drive. Telephone numbers may change, and 24-hour availability of these numbers is not guaranteed.

Public transportation is not widely available outside of the capital. Taxis and municipal buses are the only forms of public transportation in Windhoek. Schedules and routes are limited. Car rentals or radio taxis are generally the best means of transport but may be relatively expensive.

Flashing of high beams and similar signals could mean anything from a friendly greeting to a warning. When encountering a motorcade, motorists are encouraged to make way immediately and follow promptly any instructions given by the officials present.

Because of the possibility of intoxicated and/or reckless drivers, the poor mechanical condition of some motor vehicles, and the high incidence of single-vehicle rollover accidents, Americans are urged to avoid hitchhiking in Namibia.

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 Namibian driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, contact the Namibia Tourism Board via the Internet at

As there is no direct commercial air service at present, or economic authority to operate such service between the U.S. and Namibia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Namibia�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 visit the 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 the DOD at (618) 229-4801.

Travelers are advised that, even in the most serene settings, animals are wild and can pose a threat to life and safety. Travelers are cautioned to observe all local or park regulations and heed all instructions given by tour guides. In addition, tourists are advised that potentially dangerous areas sometimes lack fences and warning signs. Appropriate caution should be used in all unfamiliar surroundings.

Please also refer to the separate Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

April 6, 2004

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