COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Djibouti is a developing country located at the juncture of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean that gained independence from France in 1977. It is a multi-party democracy with a legal system based on French civil law, though modified by traditional practices and Islamic (Sharia) law. Although exact numbers are unavailable, unemployment is estimated to be 60 percent of the working-age population. Over two-thirds of the country’s estimated 850,000 residents live in the capital, also called Djibouti. Modern tourist facilities and communications infrastructure exist in the city of Djibouti but are limited outside the capital. Read the Department of State Fact Sheet on Djibouti for additional information on U.S. – Djibouti relations.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in, or visit Djibouti, please take the time to tell our Embassy about your trip. If you enroll, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency. Here is the link to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: A passport, visa, and evidence of yellow fever vaccination are required for entry. Those travelling by air can obtain three-day
visas at Ambouli International Airport for 10,000 Djiboutian francs ($60) or three-month visas can be obtained for 15,000
Djiboutian Francs ($120). It is, however, advisable to obtain visas prior to travel to Djibouti whenever possible. If visas
are obtained prior to travel, one year, multiple entry visas are issued. Travelers may obtain the latest information on entry
requirements from the Embassy of the Republic of Djibouti, 1156 15th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005, telephone (202) 331-0270,
or at the Djibouti Mission to the United Nations, 866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 4011, New York, NY 10017, telephone (212)
753-3163. Overseas, inquiries may be made at the nearest Djiboutian embassy or consulate. In countries where there is no Djiboutian
diplomatic representation, travelers may sometimes obtain visas at the French Embassy. The validity of the Djiboutian visa
is also the amount of time one may stay in the country without a residency permit. If one overstays his/her visa validity,
an exit tax of 10,000 Djiboutian francs ($60) may be required. Djiboutian airport taxes of $60 are typically added into the
cost of an airline ticket by travel agents. Tickets purchased online, however, sometimes fail to account for this charge and
it may be requested at check-in. Any airport/visa/customs fees must be paid in cash.
U.S. citizen journalists or any U.S. citizen connected with the media must contact the U.S. Embassy’s Public Affairs section prior to travel to facilitate entry into Djibouti. If you are unclear whether this applies to you, please contact the U.S. Embassy for more information.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a photocopy of their U.S. passports with them at all times for ready proof of identity and U.S. citizenship if questioned by local officials. Police occasionally stop travelers on the main roads leading out of the capital to check identity documents.
HIV/AIDS Restrictions: The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Djibouti.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: National elections have at times brought small-scale protests and other disturbances to historically stable Djibouti. In 2011 following a Presidential election and in February 2013 following parliamentary elections, sporadic protests at times marked by rock-throwing and tire-burning disrupted some travel around the city. If you see a demonstration, do not try to walk or drive through it. Remember the importance of maintaining a low profile. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. You should avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations.
Djibouti’s international borders are porous. Terrorism poses a threat in east Africa and al-Shabaab (which merged with al-Qaeda in February 2012) poses a threat to U.S. citizens in Djibouti. After Djibouti announced it would join the AMISOM peacekeeping mission to Somalia, al Shabaab threatened to retaliate by launching attacks inside Djibouti. In July 2010, al-Shabaab launched simultaneous suicide attacks at two popular venues in Kampala, Uganda where people had gathered to watch the World Cup. Dozens of people were killed and injured, including U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens traveling in east Africa should be aware of the potential for indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets in public places, including hotels, and tourist sites where Westerners are known to congregate. Kidnapping of Westerners for ransom is a growing concern in the region. Read our Worldwide Caution for more information on terrorism in Africa.
Tensions exist between neighboring Ethiopia and Eritrea due to their long-running border dispute. Relations were further aggravated in January 2012 when ethnic Afar gunmen attacked a Western tourist convoy travelling in Ethiopia's northwestern region that borders Djibouti. In March and May 2012, Ethiopia staged raids across the Eritrean border - bringing tensions to their highest point since the 1998-2000 war between the two countries.
Since April 2008, there has been tension on Djibouti’s border with Eritrea after an incursion by Eritreans in that area. U.S. citizens in Djibouti should not attempt to cross the land border with Eritrea nor travel north of the town of Obock. Civil unrest or armed conflict in nearby countries could disrupt air travel to and from Djibouti. Travelers should exercise caution when traveling outside urban areas in Djibouti, especially near the borders with Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia.
Seaborne travel near Djibouti is extremely dangerous. There have been hundreds of incidents of armed attacks and robberies at sea by pirate groups on ships transiting around the Horn of Africa. In February 2011, pirates hijacked a yacht in the Gulf of Aden carrying four U.S. citizens, who were subsequently killed. Additionally, after the April 2009 hijacking of a U.S. cargo vessel and subsequent rescue of the vessel’s captain by U.S. forces, Somali pirates threatened to retaliate against U.S. citizens transiting the region. See our International Maritime Piracy Fact Sheet. Also, please see the Somalia Travel Warning and the Country Specific Information Sheet for Yemen for recent information on maritime conditions in Yemen’s waters.
In the event that seaborne travel is unavoidable, vessels should convoy in groups and maintain good communications contact at all times. Marine channels 12, 13 and 16 VHF-FM are international call-up and emergency channels and are commonly monitored by ships at sea. 2182 MHz is the HF international call-up and emergency channel. In the Gulf of Aden, use of transit routes farther offshore appears to reduce, but does not eliminate, the risk of contact with assailants. Wherever possible, travel in trafficked sea-lanes. Avoid loitering in or transiting isolated or remote areas. In the event of an attack, activate the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. Due to distances involved, there may be a considerable delay before assistance arrives. Vessels may also contact the Yemeni Coast Guard 24-hour Operations Center at 967-1-562-402. Operations Center staff members speak English.
The United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) has advised that elevated regional tensions have increased the risk of maritime attacks being conducted by extremist to vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Bab el Mandeb regions.
MARAD recommends vessels at anchor, operating in restricted maneuvering environments, or at slow speeds should be especially vigilant, and report suspicious activity. U.S. flag vessels that observe suspicious activity in the area are advised to report such suspicious activity or any hostile or potentially hostile action to Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (COMUSNAVCENT) battlewatch captain at phone number 011-973-1785-3879. All suspicious activities and events are also to be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center at the following toll free telephone: 1-800-424-8802, direct telephone 202-267-2675, or TDD 202-267-4477. The complete advisory is available on the MARAD website at www.MARAD.DOT.gov.
A complete list of Embassy Messages to U.S. Citizens is available on the Embassy’s website.
Stay up to date by:
CRIME: Accurate crime statistics are not available, but the majority of crimes are petty thefts and crimes of opportunity. There has been anecdotal evidence of an increasing trend in the frequency of violent crimes against Djiboutian citizens and burglaries of residences in established neighborhoods. Violent crimes against foreigners are a rarity in Djibouti. However, foreigners are frequent victims of snatch and grab type robberies and price gouging by unscrupulous taxi drivers.
Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. We can:
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Djibouti is 18.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Djibouti, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States. For example, you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Djibouti, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what is legal and what is not wherever you go.
If you are arrested in Djibouti, you have the right to request authorities alert the U.S. Embassy of your arrest. The U.S.
does not have an agreement with Djibouti requiring notification of the U.S. Embassy upon your arrest. If you are arrested
in Djibouti you should use whatever means of communication available to alert the U.S. Embassy of your situation.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Although the narcotic khat is legal and widely chewed in Djibouti, it is illegal in many countries, including the United
States. Driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol could result in legal penalties.
Djiboutians are generally conservative in dress and manner, especially in rural areas. Photography of public infrastructure (including, but not limited to, public buildings, seaports, the airport, bridges, military facilities or personnel) is not allowed in Djibouti. Use extreme caution when photographing anyone or anything near prohibited areas. Photographic equipment will be confiscated, and the photographer may be arrested. It is generally a good idea to ask permission before taking pictures of people as they may object to having their photo taken.
Djibouti uses the Djiboutian Franc (DJF) which is pegged at 177 DJF to the dollar. Djibouti is a cash-based economy and credit cards are not widely accepted. Automated teller machines (ATMs) are limited. Changing money on the street is legal, but be aware of possible scams as well as personal safety considerations if people observe you carrying large amounts of cash. The exchange rate on the street will be similar to that at a bank or hotel. It is important that the U.S. banknotes that you carry have a date of 2003 or newer because many currency exchanges will not accept U.S. paper money older than 2003.
Djiboutian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation and exportation of firearms. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Djibouti in Washington, DC, for specific information regarding customs requirements.
ACCESSIBILITY: While in Djibouti individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodations very different from what you find in the United States. The government does not mandate accessibility to buildings or government services for persons with disabilities, thus accessibility is limited. The constitution does not prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities; however, the labor code prohibits discrimination in employment against such persons. Such persons have access to education and public health services.
Concerns for LGBT Travelers: The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct; however, the government has not taken any action against persons under the law, and there are no reported incidents of societal violence or discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Societal norms do not allow for the public discussion of homosexuality, and persons generally do not openly acknowledge being gay. There are no known organizations for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender travelers should read our LGBT Travel Information page.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Adequate medical facilities in the capital of Djibouti are limited, and medicines are often unavailable. Medicines that are available are extremely expensive. Medical services in some outlying areas may be completely nonexistent. Motorists should be especially aware that, in case of an accident outside the capital, emergency medical treatment would depend almost exclusively on passersby. In addition, cell phone coverage in outlying areas is often unavailable, making it impossible to summon help.
Malaria and dengue fever are prevalent in Djibouti. Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and even up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention, tell the physician their travel history, and let health care providers know what anti-malarial drugs they have been taking.
In 2005, polio was found in all of Djibouti’s neighbors (Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Yemen), and health professionals strongly suspect it is present in Djibouti. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that all infants and children in the United States should receive four doses of inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) at 2, 4, 6–18 months and 4–6 years of age. Adults traveling to polio-endemic and epidemic areas and who have received a primary series with either IPV or oral polio vaccine should receive another dose of IPV. For adults, available data does not indicate the need for more than a single lifetime booster dose with IPV.
Tuberculosis is a serious health concern in Djibouti, including multi-drug resistant strains. For further information, please consult the CDC's information on TB.
In May 2006, avian influenza was confirmed in three chickens and one human in Djibouti. For more information about this illness, see the Department of State’s Avian Flu Fact Sheet.
In an effort to combat H1N1, immigration authorities at Ambouli International Airport take travelers’ temperature before admittance to the country. If a visitor is found to have a fever or otherwise appears to be sick, she or he may be detained or denied entrance.
You can find detailed information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You cannot assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It is very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctor and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy does not cover you when you travel, it is a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: 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.
The only means of public inter-city travel is by bus. Buses are poorly maintained and their operators often drive erratically with little regard for passenger safety. Taxis should be avoided at all costs.
Driving on Djiboutian roads can be hazardous. Since most roads do not have shoulders or sidewalks, pedestrians and livestock use the roadways both day and night. Driving at night is extremely dangerous and strongly discouraged on all roads outside Djibouti City. While some main roads in Djibouti are well maintained, roads are often narrow, poorly lit, or rutted. Many secondary roads are in poor repair. Drivers and pedestrians should exercise extreme caution. Minibuses and cars often break down; when breakdowns occur, local drivers usually place branches or rocks behind the vehicle to indicate trouble, but these warning signals are barely visible and hazardous in and of themselves. 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 leafy narcotic – khat, is widely used, particularly in the afternoons, creating other traffic hazards. The Djiboutian Gendarmerie and the National Police Force share responsibility for road safety in Djibouti. In March 2012, a “Road Police” was created, though its role has yet to be clearly defined. Djiboutian authorities recently erected traffic lights to help regulate the flow of traffic. Be very cautious approaching these lights, as many other drivers continue to disregard them. It is illegal to turn right on a red-light. Travelers should be aware that police use large obstacles as roadblocks on some of the major roads, and these may be difficult to see at night.
There are two main international highways to the capital city, via Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, and Obock, Djibouti, and both demand that drivers remain vigilant. The route towards Dire Dawa is in very poor condition. Both have a high volume of Ethiopian trucks transporting large cargo. Railroad crossings are not clearly marked. Drivers who do not have a four-wheel drive vehicle will encounter problems driving on rural roads. While the quality of roads is improving, drivers should make sure their vehicle is in good mechanical condition and carries at least one extra tire before leaving major population centers. Once a driver has left Djibouti city there are limited services to aid broken-down vehicles. The Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens travel in two-vehicle caravans outside the city. In addition gasoline is not readily available outside of Djibouti City so drivers utilizing a gasoline powered vehicle should plan accordingly. Diesel fuel is available in other areas of Djibouti.
There are no emergency services in Djibouti. It will be difficult to coordinate medical assistance in the event of an accident. It is always advisable to carry a cell phone or satellite phone when undertaking a trip outside of the capital; however, many parts of the country do not have cell phone coverage.
While Djibouti has been declared a “mine-safe” country, this indicates that landmines have been identified and marked, not that they have been removed. Landmines are known to be present in northern Tadjourah and Obock districts. In addition, there may be mines in the Ali Sabieh area of the south. In March 2012, a 12-year-old boy was seriously injured by a land mine in the vicinity of Lac Assal and Ghoubet, two popular tourist destinations. The incident occurred in the area known as Dabaleh Gahar, east of where National Route 10 splits off from National Route 9. This location is approximately 20 km southeast of where most people visit Lac Assal; about one kilometer from the paved road. This area was home to a Djiboutian military encampment during the civil war (1991-1994) and the mine likely remained in place after that conflict. Travelers should stay on paved roads and should check with local authorities before using unpaved roads.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Djibouti, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Djibouti’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Djibouti dated September 18, 2012 to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Threats to Safety and Security, Special Circumstances, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.