The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Eswatini at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Embassy in Mbabane 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 Eswatini-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 serious risk from crime in Mbabane. Although criminals consider Mbabane and Manzini prime grounds for operation due to the number of people, businesses, and affluent areas, the rate of crime reported in small towns and rural areas continues to increase. Urban areas are particularly dangerous at night; do not interpret the presence of pedestrians as an indication of a secure/safe environment.
Residential burglary and petty theft are the most commonly reported crimes, occurring at all locations regardless of time. Criminals are generally interested in electronic devices and cash.
Most break-ins occur at homes without security guards and/or centrally monitored home alarm systems. Perimeter walls, security guards, window grilles, and centrally monitored alarm systems supported by security response teams are essential to ensure the safety of residents and homes. Although residential guard dogs commonly serve as a deterrent, they should not be a residence’s only line of defense. The general modus operandi of robbers is to target residences or businesses that have little/no security measures in place.
Criminals usually brandish edged weapons (e.g. knives or machetes), but the use of firearms has steadily increased in the past few years. While criminals generally rely on the threat of force to commit crimes, they will resort to physical, to include deadly, force if victims resist. While the murder rate remains lower than some African countries, Eswatini experiences violent deaths on a frequent basis; some have been particularly gruesome. Victims have been decapitated, with body parts mutilated or removed.
Rapes occur frequently and tend to occur on isolated/desolate urban and rural areas or roads; however, in at least one known case in 2017, criminals threatened rape during a home invasion.
Eswatini’s internet service continues to improve, with a number of home and business internet service providers now available. SIM cards and mobile phone plans are available through MTN or Eswatini Mobile at reasonable prices. Sophisticated internet scams or crimes have not been widely reported.
Other Areas of Concern
Avoid parks and other poorly illuminated venues at night, and only visit them as part of a group during the day. The few parks in Mbabane are often the rallying point for marches and demonstrations.
For more information, review OSAC’s report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Traffic moves on the left, which may require some adjustment for certain drivers. Due to numerous hazards, use special care when driving, especially at night and in rural areas. Major highways are generally maintained, paved, and marked adequately. Most major thoroughfares in cities are paved, though in various states of repair.
Traffic accidents are one of the greatest dangers in Eswatini. Exercise caution on the road, as drivers are prone to excessive speeding and reckless behavior. Other road hazards include poor lighting, poorly maintained city roads with large potholes, failure to obey traffic signals, presence of pedestrians and livestock/animals on roadways, slower moving vehicles, large trucks delivering heavy cargo frequently flipping over (usually caused by brake failure), drunk drivers, vehicles parked on the roadside without using emergency flashers/warning signs, drivers texting/talking on cell phones (which is illegal), and extreme weather (e.g. heavy fog, rain, hail). Avoid driving outside of urban areas during darkness because of poor visibility and stray livestock.
Eswatini’s weather can change rapidly. Heavy rain, severe lightning, and dense fog are all common occurrences that can make driving extremely hazardous, particularly in higher elevations.
Do not roll down your window if someone approaches your vehicle. Ignore persons outside your vehicle. Car thieves have the technical capability to block a vehicle’s remote locking mechanism signal, leaving the vehicle unlocked after you remotely lock it. Manually double check that your vehicle door(s) are locked if you use a remote locking device.
Do not stop your vehicle if you encounter barriers (e.g. rocks, logs) in the road. This is a criminal technique to force vehicles to stop. Either drive around the barriers or turn around. Report the situation to the police.
Swati traffic police use marked police vehicles and are always in uniform. If uncertain of the legitimacy of a police vehicle, signal to them that you are aware of their presence by turning on your hazard lights, travel at a safe speed, and pull off into an illuminated public area or proceed to the nearest police station. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s reports, Driving Overseas: Best Practices and Road Safety in Africa.
Public Transportation Conditions
Local ground transportation are minibuses (known locally as kombis) that transport passengers around cities and from town to town. Routinely, there are serious, fatal accidents involving kombis. Many kombis are overcrowded and lack proper safety equipment (e.g. seat belts, headlights). Kombi drivers can be reckless, make frequent unauthorized stops to pick up passengers, and often drive at excessive speeds. Never hail a taxi that already has passenger(s) inside the vehicle. If you take a taxi, ensure it is reputable.
There is minimal risk from terrorism in Mbabane. Eswatini’s border with South Africa is porous; individuals or groups connected to terrorism could move easily back and forth between the two countries.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
There is minimal risk from political violence in Mbabane. Civil unrest is common and has involved demonstrations and strikes by civil servants. These demonstrations, advertised widely in local media, are usually in response to labor/political disputes, and do not typically involve anti-U.S. sentiment.
The Royal Eswatini Police Service (REPS) monitors all announced demonstrations. Avoid demonstrations, as the police have used non-lethal force to control and disperse protestors. Tear gas and rubber bullets are the most common tools available to the REPS. Police have also fired warning shots in the air to disperse protestors. The possibility of becoming a collateral casualty should be of concern to anyone in proximity to a demonstration.
During the summer (November-March), torrential downpours can cause severe damage to homes and infrastructure. Thunderstorms produce winds strong enough to rip roofs off buildings.
Personal Identity Concerns
Same-sex sexual activity among men is technically illegal, although the law is not enforced. Societal discrimination exists, and there are no laws protecting discrimination based on sexual orientation. Eswatini held its first Pride parade in 2018 with high-level attendance and no major negative community reaction.
Drugs, especially dagga (marijuana), are prevalent. Farmers grow Dagga throughout Eswatini primarily as a cash crop; authorities routinely capture smugglers at the border areas with South Africa. Occasionally, authorities announce arrests of those attempting to smuggle other drugs (e.g. heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines) through Eswatini’s porous borders.
Police response time to incidents is slow when compared to the U.S., unless the police are in the general area where the incident occurred. Police consider a 30-minute response time adequate, even in urban areas. Police are generally willing to assist, but often lack transportation and resources for proper response or investigation.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
U.S. citizens should call ACS at the U.S. Embassy at +268-2417-9000 during normal working hours, and the Embassy Duty Officer at +268-7602-8414 after hours and on weekends.
Crime Victim Assistance
Victims of any crime should report the incident to local authorities. Without proper documentation of an incident, the chances of recovering stolen items or arresting the suspects are minimal. Lack of a police report will hamper the U.S. Embassy’s ability to work with the police on your behalf.
Emergency: 999 and 9999 (Response time is usually long; callers may be redirected to other police offices for assistance.)
Hhohho District: +268-2404-3022/7996/3023
Lubombo District: +268-2343-4422
Manzini District: +268-2505-2504/2861/2591
Shiselweni District: +268-2207-8226/7
Emergency Domestic Violence: 975
Medical facilities are limited, and emergency medical response capabilities (including ambulance transport) are almost non-existent.
Most prescription drugs are available locally or from South Africa, but travelers should bring sufficient quantities of their own required medication. A doctor’s note describing the medication may be helpful to answer any questions of authorities. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medications.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.
Available Air Ambulance Services
Trauma Link: Tel: +268-7606-0911/0912
For advanced care, travelers often choose to go to South Africa, where better facilities and specialists exist. Serious illnesses/injuries often require medical evacuation (medevac) to a location where adequate medical attention is available. Medevac services are very expensive, and generally available only to travelers who either have travel insurance that specifically covers medevac or are able to pay for the service in advance. The cost for medical evacuation may range from US$40,000-$200,000. For more information, refer to OSAC’s report, Medical Evacuation: A Primer.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The HIV prevalence among adults 15 years and older in Eswatini is the highest in the world, at 27%. The tuberculosis rate of new infections (per capita) is among the top ten countries in the world. Malaria is present in eastern areas bordering Mozambique and South Africa, including all of Lubombo region and the eastern half of Hhohho, Manzini, and Shiselweni regions.
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Eswatini.
OSAC Country Council Information
There is no Country Council in Mbabane. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
Corner of MR103 and Cultural Center Drive, Ezulwini
Business hours: Monday-Thursday 0730-1700; Friday 0730-1230
Embassy Contact Numbers
U.S. Embassy Operator (during business hours): +268-2417-9000
Duty officer after hours (emergencies only): +268-7602-8414
Travelers to South Africa should have several unstamped visa pages in their passports upon each entry into the country. South Africa requires two unstamped visa pages, excluding amendment pages, to enter the country. Visitors who do not have enough blank visa pages in their passport risk denial of entry and return to the U.S. at their own expense. South Africa requires substantial documentation for children traveling to/from/through the country. Travelers are strongly encouraged to review these travel requirements. Travelers who are transiting South Africa should also note that if they are transiting a country with yellow fever (e.g. U.S.-Johannesburg flights that transit Senegal), potentially even when passengers remain on the plane, they must have proof of yellow fever vaccination.
U.S. citizens traveling to Eswatini should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.
Additional Resource: Eswatini Country Information Sheet