The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Botswana at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Embassy in Gaborone does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
Review OSAC’s Botswana-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.
There is considerable risk from crime in Gaborone. Criminal incidents, particularly crimes of opportunity (e.g. purse snatchings, smash-and-grabs from parked cars and in traffic, residential burglaries), can occur regardless of location. Theft of mobile phones, laptop computers, and other mobile devices are common.
Criminals can be confrontational. Criminals often armed themselves with knives or blunt objects (e.g. tools, shovels, bats). Botswana has strict gun-control laws; however, criminals reportedly smuggle firearms from neighboring countries where weapons are inexpensive and readily available. A public awareness campaign highlights this issue and requests reporting of illegal firearms to the police.
Reporting indicates incidents of both non-violent residential burglaries and violent home invasions. Incidents affect the local population, expatriates, and visitors alike. Robberies and burglaries tend to spike during the holiday seasons. Those living in Botswana, especially in major cities, should upgrade security at their residences to reduce vulnerability to home invasion. Intrusion alarms, electric fences, perimeter lighting, telephone/camera intercom systems, and window/door grilles are key components of a comprehensive, robust residential security program.
Use caution when logging onto public Wi-Fi. Avoid conducting personal or financial matters online using public servers. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Cybersecurity Basics.
Other Areas of Concern
Exercise caution near the Gaborone Dam and Kgale Hill areas during times when there are few hikers. Avoid Kgale Hill before sunrise and after sunset, peak times for criminal activity.
For more information, review OSAC’s report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Botswana is a left-side drive country. Authorities require a valid international driver’s license, along with vehicle registration documents, to drive in Botswana. Report traffic accidents to the Botswana Police Service.
Major roads are paved and in good condition, but some lack a substantial shoulder for emergency pull-offs. Most secondary roads are gravel or hard-packed earth. Vegetation can grow up to/over the edges of roads, particularly during the rainy season (November – March), causing a lack of visibility and concealing hazards at the side of the road. Intoxicated drivers and large numbers of pedestrians and hitchhikers in the roadways make fatal accidents a frequent occurrence, especially on weekends and end-of-month Friday paydays.
Driving can be challenging and sometimes dangerous. There are a high number of traffic accidents often due to poor driving habits, long stretches of two-lane highways (often without shoulders), excessive speeds, poor/non-existent street lighting, non-functioning traffic signals, and animals (e.g. cows, donkeys, goats) often found feeding alongside, crossing, or standing in the road. On some stretches of highway, drivers may also encounter elephants and other wildlife. Calves, foals, and young goats present a particular danger, as they are skittish and may suddenly rush onto the road. Approach traffic lights with caution, as opposing traffic frequently continues well after a red light.
Alcohol and excessive speed are significant contributing factors in many accidents. The maximum speed limit outside of cities/towns is 120 kph (75 mph).
Drive defensively, and keep your car doors locked and windows up. Thieves have repeatedly snatched valuables, including mobile phones in use, through open car windows. Carry a mobile phone and have emergency numbers pre-programmed. Talking and texting on a mobile phone while driving is illegal in Botswana. If you carry valuables in your car, keep them out of sight. Do not get out of your car if someone is trying to coax you out of your vehicle; leave the area. Be suspicious of anyone who tries to get your attention while you are in or near your car.
Due to road conditions and poor visibility, do not drive after dark outside of major cities. Use a GPS navigation system outfitted with the locations of police stations, hospitals, shops, and gas stations. However, when traveling long distances or to remote locations, always have an area map and consider bringing a satellite phone. Plan a trip so that you leave and arrive during daylight hours. Dusk and dawn are hazardous due to a low-setting sun and the contrast between a dark road/landscape and a bright sky. Livestock are particularly hard to spot at these times.
For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s reports, Driving Overseas: Best Practices and Best Practices for Road Safety in Africa.
Public Transportation Conditions
Buses, minivans, and taxis are popular means of transportation, as they are relatively inexpensive and plentiful. However, take care if you board a bus or minivan (combi). Many combis are overloaded and may not be roadworthy. Incidents of pickpocketing of foreigners in taxis have been reported, as has overcharging by taxi drivers. Make sure you have appropriate change ahead of time. If there is no meter, negotiate the fare ahead of time. All combis and licensed taxis should have a blue license plate.
Scheduled coach bus service is available between Botswana and South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia and is generally a safe mode of transport. Internal bus services, typically used by local citizens, link many towns and villages across Botswana.
Travelers arriving in Botswana via South Africa should be aware of serious and continuing baggage pilferage problems at OR Tambo (Johannesburg, JHB) and Cape Town International Airports (CPT). Never place any high-value items or medicines in your checked baggage. Bring a small bag or backpack to transfer items if ground staff determines your carry-on suitcase is too large. There have been several incidents of items going missing after being gate-checked. Traditional suitcase locks are easily defeated. If you must place valuable items in checked baggage, have luggage plastic-wrapped.
Other Travel Conditions
Ensure you have appropriate travel documents, to include a driver’s license, if renting a car. Carry medical evacuation (medevac) insurance and certified copies of unabridged birth certificates for children if traveling to/from South Africa. Authorities require additional certified forms for children traveling with only one parent; failure to have required forms can cause long delays or even denial of transit.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
There is minimal risk from terrorism in Gaborone. Indigenous terrorism is not a known issue in the country. However, terrorist threats know no boundaries. The Department of State remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations, and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
There is minimal risk from civil unrest in Gaborone.
The central and southern portions of Botswana are in a desert or semi-arid environment. Drought conditions have on occasion caused water and power outages.
Power outages can leave areas without electricity for several hours, and may affect home security systems, garage doors and gates, and kitchen equipment. Power surges may harm computers, televisions, or other electrical appliances. In times of drought, the Water Utilities Corporation may ration water.
If you do not have roaming capability, it is worth unblocking your mobile phone so that you can buy a local SIM card. They are inexpensive, and network coverage is good on major routes and in most towns. Use a local number; rates are cheaper, and your number will display on the cell phone of the person you are calling, allowing them to reply. Satellite phones are useful when visiting remote areas beyond the range of normal mobile phones. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?
Personal Identity Concerns
The law does not explicitly criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts, but it includes language criminalizing some aspects of same-sex sexual activity. What the law describes as “unnatural acts” is illegal, with penalties up to seven years’ imprisonment. There are no reports of police targeting persons suspected of same-sex sexual activity. There is stigma and discrimination against LGBTI persons particularly in villages and rural areas outside the capital. LGBTI travelers should exercise caution with regard public displays of affection.
The government mandates access to public buildings and transportation for persons with disabilities, but civil society sources report access for persons with disabilities is limited. Many privately owned buildings and business, and older government buildings remain inaccessible. The law does not specifically include air travel with other modes of transportation but in general, persons with disabilities receive access to air transportation.
Kidnapping is of minimal concern in Botswana.
The police are well intentioned and active in their efforts to prevent and combat crime. However, personnel and resource shortages limit operational effectiveness. Vehicle and foot patrols in residential and commercial areas are infrequent. Mobile response capability is limited.
In response to shortfalls, there are community-policing programs in many neighborhoods. These have been effective at deterring criminals when they have the active support of private citizens.
Keep some form of official identification on you in the event law enforcement officials stop or question you. Be respectful and courteous in your interaction.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
If police cite you for a traffic violation, ensure they provide you with an official government receipt.
Crime Victim Assistance
Report crimes to local police at 999 and to the U.S. Embassy.
U.S. Embassy Switchboard: +267-395-3982 (Business Hours)
U.S. Embassy Marine Post One: +267-373-2222; 267-395-7111 (After Hours) 71-609-955 (cellular)
U.S. Embassy Duty Officer: +267-71-754-585 (24/7)
The Botswana Police Service is responsible for providing law enforcement service. The Botswana Police College outside of Gaborone hosts the U.S.-led International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA), a focal point for education and development for law enforcement agencies across Africa.
Adequately equipped private medical facilities, emergency rooms, and trained physicians are available in Gaborone for simple medical problems but services are rudimentary elsewhere. Gaborone has a number of large pharmacies that carry prescription medications. For more information, refer to OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medications.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
- Bokamoso Private Hospital: +267-369-4000
- Gaborone Private Hospital: +267-368-5600
- Princess Marina Hospital: +267-362-1400
- Maun Hospital: +267-687-9000
- Nyangabwe Hospital: +267-241-1000
Available Air Ambulance Services
Professional private emergency rescue services operate air and ground ambulances throughout the country, but render care only after establishing a patient's ability to pay. You must join Okavango Air Rescue (Maun-based). The yearly membership fee is US$17. Applications are available online. Tel: 995; +267 6861616
Medical Rescue International (MRI): 992; +267-390-1601
Rescue One: 993; +267-392-3249; 71-282-634
Emergency 991: 991; +267-74-692-400
Medevac to South Africa is expensive, and is often the only option for serious medical emergencies. For more information, refer to OSAC’s report, Medical Evacuation: A Primer.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
Avoid drinking tap water and ice made from tap water. Many restaurants and hotels serve tap water unless you specifically request bottled water. Bottled water and beverages are generally safe to drink. For more information, refer to OSAC’s report, I’m Drinking What in My Water?
Malaria is prevalent in the north, particularly around the Chobe and Okavango National Parks.
Tuberculosis is endemic. Individuals planning to be in Botswana for extended periods should obtain a tuberculosis skin test prior to arrival and upon departure.
Approximately one-quarter of the population is infected with HIV. Exercise precautions if engaging in sexual activity or if exposed to a blood source other than that supplied by a hospital for transfusion purposes.
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Botswana.
OSAC Country Council Information
The Country Council in Gaborone meets on a quarterly basis. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address, Hours of Operation, and Contact Numbers
Embassy Drive, Government Enclave, Gaborone, Botswana
Hours of Operation: 0800-1700 Monday-Thursday; 0800-1330 Friday
MSG Post One: +267-395-7111 267-373-2222 or 71-609-955 (cellular)
U.S. Embassy Duty Officer: +267-71-754-585
U.S. citizens traveling to Botswana should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.
Additional Resource: Botswana Country Information Sheet