COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The U.S. Liaison Office in Bissau suspended its operations on April 4, 2013, and therefore cannot provide consular services to U.S. citizens in Guinea-Bissau. Guinea-Bissau currently falls under the consular jurisdiction of the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal.
The Republic of Guinea-Bissau, a small country in western Africa, is one of the world’s poorest nations. The capital is Bissau
and the official language is Portuguese. Many people outside of Bissau speak only an indigenous language or Creole. English
is not widely used. The country’s 1998-99 civil war devastated the economy. Tourist facilities and infrastructure in general
are very limited and not up to U.S. standards. Please read the Department of State’s Fact Sheet on Guinea-Bissau for additional information.
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SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in or visit Guinea-Bissau, please take the time to tell our Embassy in Dakar, Senegal about your trip by enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). If you enroll, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. You should remember to keep all of your information in STEP up to date. It is important during enrollment or when you update your information to include your current phone number and email address where you can be reached in case of an emergency.
U.S. citizens travelling or residing in Guinea-Bissau are strongly encouraged to enroll with the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal. Other nearby U.S. embassies are located in Banjul, The Gambia, and Conakry, Guinea. Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.
U.S. Embassy Dakar
Route des Almadies – B.P. 49
Telephone: 221 33-879-4000
Emergency after-hours telephone: 221 33-879-4444
Regional Security Office: 221 33-879-4420
Facsimile: 221 33-879-4050
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ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport, visa, and proof of onward/return ticket are required. The Bissau-Guinean Embassy in Washington, DC, suspended operations in January 2007. The Embassy of Guinea-Bissau does not have a website. Due to Guinea-Bissau’s lack of consular representation in the United States, it can be difficult for you to obtain the required visa for entry into Guinea-Bissau. Since most flights destined for Guinea-Bissau must pass through Dakar, Senegal, or Lisbon, Portugal, most travelers are able to apply for visas at the Bissau-Guinean embassies in those countries. Although it is possible to obtain a visa upon arrival in Bissau if arrangements are made in advance, there are no clear instructions for how to make those arrangements.
Guinea-Bissau remains an unstable threat environment for which additional security precautions are required. The U.S. State Department rates Guinea-Bissau as a high threat country for political violence and crime. All official U.S. government travelers (including personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Dakar), must have Regional Security Office (RSO) approval and are required to receive an RSO country-specific security briefing prior to travel.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Guinea-Bissau.
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: Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest countries in West Africa and lacks sufficient resources and infrastructure to insure a stable security environment. Since Guinea-Bissau gained independence from Portugal in 1974, the country has been plagued by coups, political assassinations, and a civil war. The country’s fragile political system and weak governance allows for widespread corruption directly influenced by illicit activity. Criminals, corrupt officials, and drug cartels continue to undermine the rule of law and utilize the country for criminal activity, including using Guinea-Bissau as a major transit-point for cocaine and light-arms trafficking, and for illegal immigration. Guinea-Bissau’s unprotected coastline and archipelago, with over 90 islands, many un-policed, and remote airstrips, is a haven for narcotics trafficking and other criminal activity. Due to the current political, economic, and security instability in Guinea-Bissau, all U.S. citizens and organizations should exercise heightened personal security awareness.
Guinea-Bissau continues to experience periodic political disruptions and instability; all travelers to the country should closely monitor the political situation. In January 2012, Bissau-Guinean President Malam Bacai Sanhá died from natural causes. A transitional government is in place following a coup d’état on April 12, 2012, that interrupted elections to replace him. The government plans to hold presidential and legislative elections in 2013.
Visitors should avoid political gatherings and street demonstrations. Demonstrations typically begin or end in front of the former Presidential Palace in “Praca dos Herois Nacionais.” While most demonstrations in Bissau are non-violent, the imbalance of power in the country can lead to violent demonstrations.
Unexploded military ordnance and landmines remain scattered throughout the country. Although the capital city of Bissau was declared “mine-free” in June 2006 by the national de-mining center (CAAMI), there have been occasional findings or unintentional mine explosions. Two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been active in successfully removing mines. Avoid driving in rural areas at night and remain on well-traveled roads at all times to minimize the risks posed by landmines.
The U.S. Embassy in Bissau suspended operations on June 14, 1998, at the outbreak of a violent civil war. There is currently no permanent U.S. diplomatic or consular presence in Guinea-Bissau. The U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal, is accredited for all diplomatic and security concerns to the Government of Guinea-Bissau. In 2007, the U.S. government opened a U.S. Liaison Office in Bissau (BLO), staffed by locally employed personnel who provided limited services to U.S. citizens in the event of an emergency. The Bissau Liaison Office suspended operations on April 4, 2013. All security and consular services should be coordinated through the American Citizens Services Section and the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal.
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CRIME: Guinea-Bissau is rated high for crime due to the frequency of crimes committed and lack of law enforcement resources and capabilities. Foreigners are primarily the targets of crimes of opportunity to include, petty-theft, pick-pocketing, theft of valuables from vehicles, and minor assaults. In particular, low-level criminal activity occurs in crowded areas such as the Bandim Market and port in central Bissau. Criminals take advantage of foreigners attempting to navigate through the crowded markets. Exercise good personal security practices to reduce the risk of being victimized. Keep a low profile, remain vigilant, and avoid potential conflict situations. Do not wear flashy clothing or jewelry, and be cautious about displaying any amount of currency in public.
To avoid theft do not walk alone in isolated areas, particularly at night, and lock all doors and close all windows when driving. Do not walk on dark streets at night, even in groups. To minimize inconvenience in the event of theft, carry copies, rather than originals, of your passport and other identification documents. While some of the larger hotels may accept credit cards, Bissau is largely a cash based economy and it is therefore recommended that travelers plan for and bring appropriate amounts of currency. Valuables should be stored in hotel safes.
In conjunction with the high crime rate, the poor infrastructure and lack of lighting at night also present a more opportune environment for criminals to exploit. It is recommended to arrange for transportation and limit walking around Bissau at night to reduce the risk of being a victim of a crime. In addition, banditry also occurs with some regularity on the main highways throughout the country after dark. The U.S. Embassy recommends that travel be completed during daylight hours only and, if possible, in convoy.
The unstable security environment and high rates of unemployment strongly influence criminals to go to extreme measures to achieve their goals. While most criminals in Guinea-Bissau seek crimes of opportunity with low risk of confrontation, they are not afraid to exert violence. In many cases, criminal elements in Bissau operate in small, loosely affiliated groups to perpetrate a crime. Criminals use one or two individuals to cause a distraction or remain on lookout, while the others commit the crime.
While violent crime towards foreigners are not common in Guinea-Bissau, the increase in narcotics trafficking has contributed to an increase in criminal activity and aggressive assaults among the local population in more rural areas of Guinea-Bissau.
The Bandim market and other vendors in Bissau offer a wide variety of illicit and counterfeit goods. While the items are widely available, all travelers are urged to not purchase any illicit items to prevent breaking local laws and U.S. laws if brought back to the United States.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: Police and emergency personnel in Guinea-Bissau lack the basic resources necessary to effectively respond to crime and emergency situations. Due to the deficiency in resources, responses to emergency situations may not be timely or may be non-existent.
If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and U.S. Embassy Dakar. We can:
There is no local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Guinea-Bissau.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Guinea-Bissau, 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 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, and 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 Guinea-Bissau, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not wherever you go.
Persons violating Bissau-Guinean laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Guinea-Bissau are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Drug trafficking is endemic in Guinea-Bissau.
The United States does not have an agreement with Guinea-Bissau requiring notification of the U.S. Embassy of your arrest. If you are arrested in Guinea-Bissau, you should use whatever means of communication available to alert the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Guinea-Bissau's customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning the temporary import or export of items such as firearms, antiquities, medications, and business equipment.
Currency: International banking and finance is problematic due to a limited formal banking sector. ATMs are not available, credit cards are not accepted, currency exchange exists at banks and hotels and is available on the street. Wire transfer possibilities, while limited, are available and repatriation of funds is problematic. Purchases of goods and services are possible only in cash and in the local currency, the Franc of the West African Economic and Monetary Zone (CFA). It is recommended that travelers secure more than adequate sums of CFA before arriving in Guinea-Bissau.
Consular Notification: As there is currently no U.S. Embassy in Guinea-Bissau, and no consular notification agreement between Guinea-Bissau and the United States, U.S. consular officials may not be properly notified when a U.S. citizen is arrested or detained in Guinea-Bissau. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a notarized copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times to have proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available if questioned by local officials.
Accessibility: While in Guinea-Bissau, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what you find in the United States.
Special Issues for LGBT Travelers: In December 2008, Guinea-Bissau became one of 66 nations to sign the "United Nations Statement on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity," which supports decriminalization of homosexuality and transgender identity. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender travelers should read our LGBT Travel Information page.
Please see our Customs Information sheet.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Modern medical facilities are virtually nonexistent in Guinea-Bissau, and travelers should not rely on them. More acceptable levels of medical care are available in Dakar, Senegal; however, as of this writing, there are extremely limited air travel options available between Dakar and Bissau. In addition, malaria, a serious and sometimes fatal disease, is a risk for travelers to Guinea-Bissau. Guinea-Bissau has a high HIV/AIDS infection rate.
You can find good information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of 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 can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover treatment overseas. You will 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 doctors’ and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to purchase travelers' medical insurance. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in Guinea-Bissau, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Guinea-Bissau is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
The public transportation system, urban and rural road conditions, and availability of roadside assistance are all poor. There is no consistent public electricity in the capital, and the lack of lighting at night makes careful driving essential. Since there are landmines left in place from the civil war and the war of independence, travelers should not leave designated roads and pathways. The landmines are scattered in several areas throughout Guinea-Bissau, including the Bafata, Oio, Biombo, Quinara, and Tombali regions. While there has been significant progress in locating and removing landmines, a substantial number remain. Speak with local authorities first and use caution if leaving a main road or highway to enter a trail network or to make other types of cross-country movement.
Passengers should also exercise caution if choosing to use a taxi for transportation because many are in sub-standard condition. If a taxi is used, it is important for passengers to inform taxi drivers that they do not want additional patrons to be picked up along the route. Taxis in Bissau serve as a bus service, in which each passenger pays for a seat. Furthermore, the Embassy does not recommend that visitors use the unconventional bus system in Bissau, the “Bus Rapides” or “Toca-Tocas.”
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 Guinea-Bissau, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Guinea-Bissau’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.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Guinea-Bissau dated September 13, 2012, with updates to the sections on Country Description, Smart Traveler Enrollment Program/Embassy Location, Threats to Safety and Security, and Special Circumstances.