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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Somalia 2019 Crime & Safety Report

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Somalia at Level 4, indicating travelers should not travel to the country due to crime, terrorism, and piracy.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Mission to Somalia does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Somalia-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.

The U.S. government recommends U.S. citizens avoid travel to Somalia. Terrorist and criminal elements continue to target foreigners and locals in Somalia.

Crime Threats

There is serious risk from crime in Mogadishu. Violent crime, including assassinations, murder, kidnapping, and armed robbery, is common throughout Somalia, including in Mogadishu.

Other Areas of Concern

A strong familiarity with Somalia and/or extensive prior travel to the region does not reduce travel risk. Those considering travel to Somalia, including Somaliland and Puntland, should obtain kidnap and recovery insurance, as well as medical evacuation insurance, prior to travel. Inter-clan, inter-factional, and criminal feuding can flare up with little/no warning. 

After several years of quiet, pirates attacked several ships in 2017 and 2018. Avoid sailing near the Somalia coastline, as previous attacks have occurred as far as 1,000 nautical miles off the coast. Merchant vessels, fishing boats, and recreational craft all risk seizure by pirates and having their crews held for ransom in the waters off the Horn of Africa, especially in the international waters near Somalia. If transit around the Horn of Africa is necessary, vessels should travel in convoys, maintain good communications contact, and follow the guidance provided by the Maritime Security Center – Horn of Africa (MSC-HOA). Consult the Maritime Administration’s Horn of Africa Piracy page for information on maritime advisories, self-protection measures, and naval forces in the region.

While Somaliland has experienced a level of stability not present in other parts of Somalia, the Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens against all travel to Somalia, including the self-proclaimed “Independent Republic of Somaliland.” Travelers who visit Somaliland despite this warning should check conditions in Somaliland before embarking on their journey. Terrorist attacks have occurred against international relief workers, including Westerners, throughout Somalia, including in Puntland and Somaliland. No area in Somalia is immune from violence; the potential exists throughout the country for hostile acts, either targeted or random, against foreign nationals at any time.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road conditions in Somalia differ significantly from those in the United States. Road conditions and road safety standards do not meet U.S. or EU standards.  Traffic lights/signs are a rarity, and roads are not well maintained, causing poor conditions and making driving hazardous. Additionally, little street lighting exists; therefore, night driving can be dangerous. Vehicle accidents are common, as are accidents involving pedestrians.  Traffic enforcement is minimal.

Illegal roadblocks, banditry, and other violent incidents, including the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and threats to U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals are common throughout Somalia.

For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s reports, Driving Overseas: Best Practices and Road Safety in Africa.

Public Transportation Conditions

There are few, if any, formal travel services or organizations that provide services in Somalia.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The United States continues to be concerned about the risks to U.S. civil aviation operating in the territory and airspace of Somalia due to the hazards associated with terrorist and militant activity. As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Somalia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Somalia’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. Additionally, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has prohibited U.S. civil aviation from flying below flight level (FL) 260 in the territory and airspace of Somalia. For additional background information regarding FAA flight prohibitions and advisories for U.S. civil aviation, consult the Federal Aviation Administration’s Prohibitions, Restrictions and Notices.

In February 2016, an al-Shabaab operative using an IED targeted an airplane departing from Mogadishu’s Aden Adde International Airport (MGQ). The mid-air detonation damaged the airplane and resulted in one fatality (the bomber) and two injuries. The airplane returned and landed safely at MGQ. 

For more information, review OSAC’s report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is serious risk from terrorism in Mogadishu. The security situation in Somalia remains unstable and dangerous. Terrorist operatives and armed groups in Somalia continue to attack Somali authorities, forces associated with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and non-military targets. Kidnapping, bombings, murder, illegal roadblocks, banditry, use of indirect fire, and other violent incidents to foreign nationals can occur in any region of Somalia. In addition, foreigners should avoid places where large crowds gather and government officials frequent, including hotels, restaurants, shopping areas, and public buildings.

Portions of Somalia are under Federal Government of Somalia control with the military support of AMISOM. However, al-Shabaab, an al-Qa’ida affiliate, has demonstrated the capability to carry out attacks in government-controlled territory with particular emphasis on targeting hotels frequented by government officials; government facilities; foreign delegation facilities and movements; and restaurants, coffee shops, and other commercial establishments frequented by government officials, foreign nationals, merchants, and the Somali diaspora.

Insurgents conducted a number of high profile attacks in 2017 and 2018, many of which targeted government officials and candidates. These attacks consisted of complex assaults, IED detonations, and suicide bombings. Insurgents targeted hotels where candidates stay and various Federal Government of Somalia facilities in Mogadishu and Mogadishu’s MGQ airport, which houses a majority of international aid workers and diplomatic facilities.

Al-Shabaab-planned assassinations, suicide bombings, and indiscriminate armed attacks in civilian populated areas occur regularly in Somalia. Significant attacks in the past year include:

  • January 18, 2019: A complex attack consisting of an ambush on an AMISOM convoy, followed by several IEDs targeting the responding AMISOM force, killed dozens and injured many more.
  • January 1, 2019: Seven mortar rounds struck the UN compound at Mogadishu International Airport, injuring three.
  • December 22, 2018: A suicide bomber rammed a checkpoint at Hoyoyinka junction in the Wardhighley district of Mogadishu, killing 20 and injuring 30.
  • November 9, 2018: A complex attack, consisting of three VBIEDs and follow-on attackers targeting the Sahafi Hotel in Mogadishu, killed 25 and injured 106.
  • July 7, 2018: A complex attack, consisting of two VBIEDs and four follow-on attackers at the Ministry of Internal Security killed 16 and injured 25.
  • May 9, 2018: A suicide bomber detonated an IED in the Aargada Market in Wanlaweyne, Lower Shabelle, killing 14 and injuring 18.
  • March 22, 2018: A VBIED detonated outside of Hotel Wehliye in Mogadishu, killing 17 and injuring 15.
  • February 23, 2018: Two vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs) exploded near Villa Somalia and the Dorbin Hotel in Mogadishu, killing 32 and injuring dozens more.


Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

There is a particular threat to foreigners in Somalia in locations where large crowds gather or where foreigners routinely spend time, including airports, government buildings, hotels, restaurants, and shopping areas.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest 

There is serious risk from political violence in Mogadishu. Demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience are not uncommon, and often become violent. In December 2018, there were three days of large-scale protests in Baidoa following the arrest of a former al-Shabaab leader and presidential candidate of South West State, which resulted in an unknown number of civilian casualties.

Post-specific Concerns

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnapping remains a constant threat in Somalia – to include Somaliland and Puntland – in addition to assaults, assassinations, and grenade attacks. Beyond these high-profile attacks, al-Shabaab continues to target foreigners; it has also claimed responsibility for other regional terrorist attacks, including a January 2019 attack on an office and hotel complex in Nairobi, Kenya. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Police Response

Somali police forces are understaffed, ill-equipped, do not receive training commensurate with U.S. or EU standards, and struggle to provide consistent basic law enforcement services. Enforcement of criminal laws is haphazard to nonexistent. Authorities may detain foreigners for questioning if they fail to present a passport or if they take pictures of restricted locations. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography. The consistency of enforcement and subsequent criminal penalties vary dramatically.

Authorities may expel, arrest, or imprison those violating Somalia’s laws, even unknowingly. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Somalia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Police/Security Agencies

Broadly, the Somali Police Force (SPF) service is responsible for dealing with crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of Federal Government of Somalia, including any activities in violation of the draft constitution that may endanger constitutional order, public order, hooliganism, terrorism, trafficking in persons and transferring of drugs.

Medical Emergencies

Medical facilities in Somali cities are extremely limited, and nonexistent in rural areas. Travelers should carry personal supplies of medications with them, as many of the health clinics lack a doctor or a nurse and carry substandard supplies and many pharmacies stock ineffective counterfeit medications. For more information, refer to OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medications.

Available Air Ambulance Services

For medical emergencies in most parts of Somalia, the closest air ambulance company is located in Nairobi, Kenya, with an average flight time of two to four hours, depending on location.

AMREF “Flying Doctors,” Wilson Airport, Langatta Road, P.O. 18617-00500, Nairobi, Kenya 

Tel: +254 (20) 699-2000; 699-2299; +254 733-639-088; +254 722-314-239

Insurance Guidance

Providers do not accept credit cards for medical care; cash (typically in U.S. dollars) is required.

Serious illnesses or injuries often require medical evacuation (medevac) to locations where adequate medical attention is available. Medevac services are very expensive, and are generally available only to travelers who either have travel insurance that covers the services or who are able to pay for the service in advance. The average cost for medical evacuation is $40,000 to $200,000. For more information, refer to OSAC’s report, Medical Evacuation: A Primer.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

All routinely recommended immunizations for the United States should be up to date. Measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, pertussis, and chicken pox are much more common in Somalia than in the United States, especially among children. Additionally, all travelers should receive immunizations for hepatitis A, typhoid, and rabies.

Diarrheal illness is very common among travelers, even in cities and higher-end accommodations. Diminish diarrhea risk through scrupulous washing of hands and use of hand sanitizers, especially before food preparation and eating. The greatest risk for getting diarrhea is from contaminated food. For more information, refer to OSAC’s Report, “I’m Drinking What in My Water?

Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease that is highly prevalent throughout Somalia, in all seasons, in both rural and urban areas. All travelers should use anti-malarial medications, ensuring they bring an adequate supply, as medications are usually unavailable in Somalia. If you become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in Somalia, or for up to one year after returning home, seek immediate medical attention, and tell the physician about your travel history and what antimalarial medication you had been taking. 

Yellow fever is very rare in Somalia, and even rarer among travelers. There is some risk in the area ranging from the Galguduud to the southwest along the Kenya border. Highly risk-averse travelers and long-stay travelers should receive yellow fever vaccinations.

Dengue fever causes fever, chills, severe headache and body aches. There is no vaccine or treatment for dengue; the illness is occasionally severe or fatal.

According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Somalia is no longer poliovirus-infected but at high risk of outbreaks. Somalia is one of the countries in the “wild poliovirus importation belt” – a band of countries stretching from West Africa to central Africa and the Horn of Africa, which are recurrently re-infected with imported poliovirus. The priority is to maintain high levels of immunity and strong disease surveillance to minimize the risk and consequences associated with a potential re-infection or re-emergence of poliovirus. Individuals living in Somalia should have completed a full course of vaccination against polio, preferably with OPV, before traveling abroad. Travelers should receive an additional dose of OPV 1-12 months before each international journey; recorded any inoculations on the WHO international certificate of vaccination.

Use insect repellents. Treating clothing and tents with permethrin and sleeping in screened or air-conditioned rooms under insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets will help diminish bites from mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, chiggers, and other insects, some of which carry infections. For more information, review the CDC guidance on Malaria for Travelers.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Somalia.

OSAC Country Council Information

The OSAC Country Council in Mogadishu meets quarterly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions.

U.S. Mission Location and Contact Information

Mission Address and Hours of Operation

The U.S. Mission to Somalia is located at Mogadishu International Airport.

The U.S. Government is limited in its ability to provide services to U.S. citizens in Somalia. Regular Consular services are available at U.S. Embassies in Nairobi, Addis Ababa, and Djibouti.

Mission Guidance

If you are going to reside in or visit Somalia, please take the time to stay connected. Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. Bookmark the State Department's travel website, which contains the current Travel Advisories and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution and Somalia Specific Information. In the event of an emergency, contact us at 1 888-407-4747 toll-free within the United States and Canada, or via a regular toll line, 1 202-501-4444, from other countries.

A passport is required for travel to Somalia, including to Somaliland and Puntland. Both Somaliland and Puntland regions require a visa and issue their own visas at their respective ports of entry. For travel to other parts of Somalia, including Mogadishu, a passport and visa are required. Certain Somali embassies issued visas, including those in Washington, D.C.; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and Nairobi, Kenya. Single-entry seven-day validity visas are available for U.S. citizens on arrival at Mogadishu for $60. Air and seaports are under the control of local authorities that make varying determinations of what is required of travelers who attempt to use these ports of entry. Travelers may obtain the latest information on visas as well as any additional details regarding entry requirements from the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Somalia, 1705 DeSales St NW, Ste 300, Washington DC 20036-4421, telephone: 1 202-296-0570, 202-833-1523 or email: info@somaliembassydc.net. Persons outside the United States may contact the nearest Somali Embassy or Consulate.

Additional Resources

Somalia Country Information Sheet

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