is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office
at the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou. OSAC encourages travelers to use
this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Benin. For
more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Benin country page for
original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of
which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC
The current U.S. Department of State Travel
Advisory at the date of this report’s publication
assesses Benin at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal
precautions. Some areas have increased risk. Reconsider travel to Park
Pendjari, Park W and adjacent hunting zones, and other areas near Benin's
northern border with Burkina Faso, due to terrorism and kidnapping. Exercise
increased caution in urban areas due to crime. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding
the Consular Travel Advisory System.
Overall Crime and
U.S. Department of State has assessed Cotonou as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting
official U.S. government interests. A broad spectrum of criminal activity
occurs in Cotonou. Most crimes affecting U.S. citizens are crimes of
opportunity (e.g. pickpocketing, purse snatching, theft of valuables from
vehicles, assaults, residential burglaries). In particular, low-level criminal
activity occurs in areas of congregation, particularly in the Dantokpa Market
and on Cotonou’s beaches. Criminals may take advantage of foreigners attempting
to navigate the crowded markets or leaving their belongings unattended.
Travelers should avoid the Dantokpa market between dusk and dawn, and the
beaches fronting Cotonou’s city center at all hours.
and muggings occur along the Boulevard de la Marina (the main thoroughfare
fronting the U.S. Embassy), on the beaches near hotels international visitors frequent,
within the Haie Vive and Les Cocotiers neighborhoods (near popular bars and
restaurants), and elsewhere throughout the city. Most reported incidents
involve the threat or use of force by armed persons, with injuries rarely
occurring when victims comply with aggressor demands. Criminals targeted U.S.
Embassy and other diplomatic personnel living and working in the safest
neighborhoods of Cotonou throughout 2019. The most recent event of note was the
robbery of four western visitors on a beach directly in front of their hotel; suspects
armed with knives stole several thousand dollars in an incident that happened
less than 500 meters from the U.S. Embassy. Review OSAC’s report, All
That You Should Leave Behind.
Embassy is aware of several armed robberies in 2019 involving assault rifles. Criminals
have also used pistols, knives, and machetes during the commission of armed
robberies. Most attacks end without violence if the victim cooperates, and
often occur late at night or in the early morning hours. Locals report that the
mornings are not safe until around 0630. Robberies are generally crimes of
opportunity, with the perpetrators targeting vulnerable victims and seeking
cash/valuables. The typical modus operandi consists of two to four perpetrators
traveling on motorcycles/scooters and targeting victims walking alone in poorly
illuminated areas. One or two perpetrators usually jump off the motorcycle with
a knife/machete and rob the victim. Robbery victims should comply with the
demands of perpetrators, as resisting may cause the situation to escalate
assaults do occur and are usually associated with alcohol-related incidents.
Some victims have reported that perpetrators used date-rape drugs to assault
them. In 2019, the Regional Security Office received information regarding
multiple sexual assaults and robberies involving the possible use of drugs.
have been numerous carjackings and robberies on roads after dark, some of which
of which resulted in murder when the driver refused to comply with assailant
demands. Carjacking is especially prevalent in rural areas, and many cases
involve armed bandits placing barricades in the roadway to slow or halt
vehicles. This tactic occurs frequently at the conclusion of the rainy season
when vegetation is lush, providing adequate concealment. In 2019, armed
assailants stopped a motorcade belonging to an expatriate NGO on the road between
Cotonou and Parakou. The assailants fired on the vehicles to ensure compliance.
The assailants took the occupants out of the vehicles, stripped them of all
their belongings, and left them by the side of the road as they fled in the NGO
more common, and primarily affecting the local population, are motojackings. Using
similar tactics as carjackers or moto-riding bandits, criminals will surround a
moto rider and threaten them with a weapon as they forcibly take their moto. Attempted
and successful motojackings affected several U.S. Embassy local contract guards
and household staff members in 2019.
burglaries are also very common in Cotonou, and throughout Benin. Significant
investment in residential security measures (e.g. perimeter walls, concertina
wire, window/door grilles, alarms), including 24-hour contract guards often
mitigate the dangers of burglaries and force criminals to look for less secure
targets. Still, many burglaries occur in neighborhood containing U.S. Embassy
residences. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels:
The Inns and Outs and Considerations
for Hotel Security.
OSAC’s reports, The
Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking
is a concern. The Embassy frequently receives reports from U.S. citizens
residing in the U.S. who have become victims of online financial scams
originating (or claiming to originate) in Benin. These scams typically involve
a con artist attempting to convince a victim to send money. These schemes can
include lotteries, online dating services, inheritance notices, work
permits/job offers, bank overpayments, or requests of assistance from a “new
friend in trouble.” The Embassy strongly urges U.S. citizens not to send any
money; any funds you send are likely unrecoverable. Victims should halt contact
with scammers immediately. Do not attempt to recover funds in person. Report
the matter immediately to The Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership
among the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National White Collar
Crime Center (NW3C), and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BIA). Refer to the fraud
warning on the Embassy’s website for more information. Review OSAC’s reports,
Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling
with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite
Phones: Critical or Contraband?
Road Safety and Road Conditions
conditions can be treacherous throughout Benin – including in Cotonou and even
during the day. Avoid driving at night outside of urban areas. It is not
unusual to see pedestrian traffic on major motorways and side roads at all
hours. Motorcyclists often do not use turn signals or headlights after dark,
and often drive against the flow of traffic on divided roads. Overall, vehicle
maintenance and upkeep of large trucks and buses are poor. Large trucks break
down or overturn frequently due to lack of maintenance and poor road
conditions. Many road accidents result in death. Medical care, especially emergency
trauma support, is substandard or nonexistent nationwide.
conditions deteriorate noticeably outside of Cotonou. Even the trunk road
linking Cotonou to Malanville on Benin’s border with Niger has severely
deteriorated sections. Roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are
often impassable during the rainy season, especially if they are unpaved. The
Government of Benin is undertaking large roadbuilding projects in Cotonou and
across the country. Use four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and
emergency equipment. Travel in a convoy of two or more vehicles outside of
urban areas. Private vehicles must carry certain road emergency/safety items or
risk a substantial fine.
U.S. Embassy prohibits travel by diplomatic personnel outside of metropolitan
areas after dusk, and urges all U.S. citizens to avoid night driving. Rural
roads double as sidewalks, congregation areas, and locations to move livestock
more easily. The chances of road collisions with a human being or animal at
night are extremely high.
smuggled from Nigeria is widely available in glass bottles at informal roadside
stands throughout much of the country. This gasoline is of unreliable quality,
often containing water or other contaminants that can damage or disable a
vehicle. Purchase fuel only from official service stations. There are periodic
gas shortages, especially in the north of the country where there are few
service stations; travelers to these areas should bring additional fuel with
OSAC’s reports, Road
Safety Abroad, Driving
Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive
Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving
and road safety abroad.
Public Transportation Conditions
public transportation. Benin’s limited public transportation system is poor,
even in major metropolitan areas. Most buses and taxis lack proper maintenance,
though several new taxi companies have appeared in Cotonou since 2017. The most
common form of transport is licensed motorcycle taxis (zemijahns); however, many are unlicensed, and Embassy personnel may
not use them. Zemijahns are the vehicles most frequently struck or otherwise
involved in accidents on Benin’s roads. Travelers using zemijahns,
particularly at night, are much more vulnerable to mugging, assault, or robbery.
Buses and bush taxis offer service in the interior. Review OSAC’s report, Security
In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
Bernadin Gantin Airport (COO, aka Cadjehoun Airport) in Cotonou’s Cadjehoun neighborhood
is an old, two-terminal facility with limited capacity. The airport lacks many
amenities and can get crowded. There are no facilities to purchase food or
beverages once one passes through the security checkpoint leading to the
passenger waiting area. There have been instances of airport security personnel
trying to extort money from passengers.
U.S. Department of State has assessed Cotonou as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official
U.S. government interests. In 2019, this assessment changed from its previous LOW-threat rating. This change reflects
the increasing risk from terrorist groups operating across Benin’s northern
borders with Burkina Faso and Niger.
are no known indigenous terrorist organizations in Benin. Due to porous borders
and northern Benin’s close proximity to terrorist strongholds in eastern
Burkina Faso and southwestern Niger, many suspect that terrorists could be
entering Benin to safe haven, fundraise, ship supplies, or plot attacks.
there have not been any terrorist attacks in Benin, terrorist activity and
spillover from neighboring countries remains a major concern for the Government
of Benin and the international community. Since January 2019, the security
situation in eastern Burkina Faso on the northern side of the border with Benin
has deteriorated significantly. Terrorist groups have used improvised explosive
devices (IEDs) and complex attacks with combined arms attacks to target Government
of Burkina Faso (GoBF) law enforcement and security personnel. Dozens have died
or received injuries. Terrorist actors, including AQIM and ISGS, have also
turned their attention to local populations. Robberies, kidnapping, carjacking,
and murder of ordinary citizens in eastern Burkina Faso has increased
dramatically, as have stories of violent extremists coming into villages and
demanding populations abide by fundamentalist ideologies. Southwestern Niger
has seen an incredible upsurge in attacks against its military forces by violent
extremist groups since December 2019. Nearly 200 Nigerien troops died in two
attack alone. Incidents have not spared expatriates either; attacks, kidnapping
attempts and murder targeting U.S., Canadian, and Czech nationals occurred in
December 2018 and January 2019 in eastern Burkina Faso. Many of these attacks
occurred within just a few kilometers from the Benin border.
for ransom has long been a major fundraising activity for Sahel-based
international violent extremist organizations. In May 2019, Benin recorded its
first kidnapping of westerners when kidnappers took two French citizens from northern
Benin and killed their guide. Once in custody, kidnappers immediately moved them
to unknown locations outside of Benin. Media reported that violent extremist
organizations were responsible for the kidnapping. The event occurred in Pendjari
National Park, Benin’s most heavily guarded park. A military intervention
rescued the kidnap victims several days later.
Nigeria-based terrorist groups, Boko Haram and ISIS-WA operate in Lake Chad
Basin countries that neighbor Benin. Boko Haram militants have used armed
assaults, kidnappings, IEDs, and suicide vehicle-borne IEDs (SVBIED) to target
churches, government installations, educational institutions, entertainment
venues, markets, and refugee camps. ISIS-WA has predominantly targeted local
and regional security forces, but has recently engaged in kidnapping. The group
has also been slowly moving outside of the Lake Chad Basin to expand its
influence. Benin contributes more than 400 troops and police to the UN
peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA). In 2017, Benin joined the multinational
joint task force (MNJTF) to combat terrorism in the Lake Chad region, leading
to concerns about possible retaliation from terrorist groups based in Mali or
the Lake Chad Basin.
Religious, and Ethnic Violence
U.S. Department of State has assessed Cotonou as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting
official U.S. government interests.
with the low overall risk, a number of protests related to April 2019
legislative elections turned violent. On several occasions, protests shut the
main highway between northern and southern Benin, on one occasion for nearly 60
hours. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving
were no inter-religious violence events in 2019.
are concerns of potential intercommunal violence related to land and grazing
rights between nomadic herding people and subsistence farmers; this violence
often takes on a religious and ethnic dimension, as herders are predominantly
Fulani and Muslim, while farmers are typically members of other ethnic groups
and are Christian/animist. Violent clashes have at times broken out with lives
lost. The Government of Benin recently decided to restrict drastically the
entry and grazing of Fulani cattle herders other than those who normally reside
in Benin. It is unclear what kind of impact this will have on annual Fulani
migration through Benin, or what enforcement will look like.
Beninese population generally holds U.S. nationals and other westerners in high
regard, though some groups decry what they view as France’s “neo-colonial”
conditions along Benin’s coastline are dangerous due to strong tides, waves,
and rip currents; several people drown each year.
are common during the rainy season (mid-March through June). Significant
flooding can occur in northern areas, affecting transit between Niger and
Benin. Due to lack of infrastructure and drainage capabilities, severe
rainstorms quickly inundate roadways and villages, making major routes
impassable and impeding transportation within Cotonou and across Benin. Heavy
flooding occurred in the Mono Department, washing away bridges, leaving many
major roads impassable in late summer and early fall 2019, and displacing tens
of thousands of people for several months.
Critical Infrastructure Concerns
working conditions are unsafe due to poor structural integrity, electrical
problems, and imprecise oversight. Utility outages and wiring-related
residential fires are common.
Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Theft
espionage is rare, though counterfeit goods, to include counterfeit and
fraudulent medicines, are a problem in local markets. The fraudulent medicine
market is large in Benin. The Government of Benin has recognized this problem
and is taking steps to stamp out fake medicine sales and import.
August 2019, the Benin/Nigeria border has closed to all formal trade. This was
a unilateral decision on the part of Nigeria to stop the trade of goods (mostly
rice) from import/re-import into Nigeria through Benin. Although there is very
little data to show how the effect to Benin, a huge percentage of Beninese
trade is with Nigeria. Public reaction has been muted.
Personal Identity Concerns
laws on sexual morality provide latitude for authorities to prosecute a range
of sexual activity, even though its penal code does not mention or criminalize
same-sex sexual relations. In general, however, Beninese authorities do not act
against those in same-sex relationships. Benin is less socially progressive
than most Western cultures. Local social norms favor discretion in sexual
relations and are not uniformly accepting of same-sex relationships. Review the
State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+
the State Department’s webpage on security for female
OSAC’s report, Freedom
to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based
buildings, businesses, government offices, and medical facilities do not
provide special features accommodation for persons with mobility issues. Public
transportation catering to those with mobility issues is almost non-existent.
Many roads are unpaved and lack usable sidewalks. Review the State Department’s
webpage on security for travelers
to its port, Cotonou is a major trans-shipment point for illegal drugs. Traffickers
also use Benin’s air transport routes to ship illicit drugs to Europe and the
United States. However, while illegal drugs are present, organized crime and
associated armed violence is not as prevalent in Benin as in other countries. Late
2019 and early 2020 saw a dramatic increase in illicit drugs seizures within or
en route to Benin.
See the section on terrorism, above. Review
OSAC’s report, Kidnapping:
locals do not like having their pictures taken. Photographing certain religious
objects/sites is not welcome. Review OSAC’s report, Picture
This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.
visitors arriving in Benin should obtain a visa in advance. There is no visa
upon arrival. Benin has recently instituted a very intuitive and easy-to-navigate
e-visa system. After online payment, a
visa confirmation usually arrives in 24-48 hours. Print the confirmation page
and use to show airlines staff and present to immigration upon arrival at a
Beninese port of entry.
with a sponsoring organization to ensure you have the correct documentation in
place or risk penalties (e.g. detention, fines, deportation).
the State Department’s webpage on customs
and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out
of other countries.
emergency line in Benin is 166 for the police
the fire and ambulance service. Police responsiveness and ability to
investigate reported crimes is limited due to insufficient resources, lack of
equipment, and inadequate training. However, local police are generally well
intentioned and will respond eventually.
aware of the nearest police station relative to your location, and should go in
person if you are the victim of a crime. Since French is the official language
of Benin, have a French speaker on hand to report a crime. Download the State
Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.
were no known incidents of harassment or unfair detention of U.S. citizens by
Beninese police in 2019. U.S. citizens should contact the U.S. Embassy (+229
2136-7500) to report any incidents of police detention or harassment, but
understand that the U.S. Embassy cannot assist people who have been detained
beyond providing general information.
prisons are poorly operated, unsafe, and overcrowded. However, Benin’s prison
system is undergoing structural change for the better.
does not meet Western standards. Find contact information for available medical
services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy
website. Most hospitals and medical facilities do not have adequate
supplies or drugs for treatment of major illnesses/injuries. Bring sufficient
amounts of medication for your stay, as many prescription medications are not
available or may be counterfeit or expired. Only purchase medicines from
routine U.S. immunizations should also be up to date prior to arrival; these
diseases are more common in Benin than in the U.S.
swimming in any lakes, rivers, or still bodies of water, as most bodies of
water contain parasites. Schistosomiasis comes from a parasitic worm spread by
freshwater snails. Avoid wading, swimming, bathing, washing in, or drinking
from bodies of fresh water such as canals, lakes, rivers, streams, or springs.
many areas, tap water is not potable. Bottled water and beverages are generally
safe, although many restaurants and hotels serve tap water unless you specifically
request bottled water. Ice for drinks may consist of tap water.
illness is very common among travelers, even in large cities and luxury
accommodations. Diminish diarrhea risk through scrupulous hand washing and use
of hand sanitizers, especially before food preparation and eating. The greatest
risk of traveler’s diarrhea is from contaminated food.
in urban areas, dogs may have rabies. Immediately clean bites/scratches from
dogs, bats, or other mammals with soap and water, and seek medical evaluation
to determine if additional rabies immunization is warranted.
U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health
insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments webpage
following diseases and illnesses are prevalent: Yellow Fever; Malaria (all
travelers should use prophylactic medication); Dengue; Chikungunya; and
HIV/AIDS. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance
OSAC’s reports, The
Healthy Way, Traveling
with Medication, I’m
Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken:
The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare
for Travel, and Fire
OSAC Country Council
Cotonou Country Council meets quarterly. Contact OSAC’s Africa team for more information or to join.
U.S. Embassy Contact
Blvd de la Marina, 01 BP 2012,
Hours: American citizen
emergencies 24/7; standard American citizen services, Thurs 1400-1600.
Embassy Operator: +229 21 36 75 00
Consular Duty Officer: +229 97 97
you travel, consider the following resources: