Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Embassy Kathmandu does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED KATHMANDU AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Please review OSAC’s Nepal-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.
Much of the criminal activity is non-violent. Street crimes (bag snatching, pickpocketing) are common, particularly in the tourist areas of Thamel, Pokhara, and the Annapurna region. In the fall of 2016, authorities in Kathmandu uncovered a ring of criminals skimming ATM card data in the tourist areas of Kathmandu.
Generally speaking, expatriates are potential targets due to their perceived wealth, and possible lack of area expertise and security awareness. The welcoming and kind nature of Nepalis can often give people a false sense of security, which can be exploited by those with ulterior and unscrupulous motives.
While most crime is minor, burglaries and more violent crimes (assaults, murders) occasionally occur.
- In 2015, an American tourist was murdered in Pokhara.
- In 2014, an assault left a trekker in the Annapurna region seriously injured.
It is not believed that either individual was targeted because of their nationality. Armed criminal groups reportedly engage in murder, kidnapping, extortion, and threats of violence.
- In September 2016, eight schools in Kathmandu were targeted with incendiary devices for supposedly failing to contribute to a political party. These groups may claim to support a political cause or claim affiliation with a political party but are often considered to be criminal organizations. Their activities are usually targeted against citizens and residents of Nepal.
The use of IEDs is routinely connected to a political ideology, but their use is often more closely associated with criminal activity, as political parties will use them to extort or intimidate citizens or institutions.
Other Areas of Concern
Trekking provides its own security and safety challenges due to the isolation and lack of emergency response. Trekkers have been robbed by small groups of young men, even on popular trails. The safest option for trekkers is to join an organized group and/or use a reliable company that provides an experienced guide/porters who can communicate in Nepali and English. Visitors are advised never to trek alone.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Traveling Nepal’s roads remains one of the greatest risks to the safety of Americans. Many roads outside Kathmandu are narrow, unpaved mountain lanes. During monsoon season, sections of road are often washed away by rain and mudslides. To compound the risks, roads can be congested with heavy truck/bus traffic and drivers with little regard for safety. Serious accidents happen frequently on rural roads due to hazardous conditions, poor mechanical conditions of vehicles, and a lack of adherence by drivers to traffic rules. When accidents occur, they can be catastrophic due to overcrowding of buses and the high roadways.
Driving in Kathmandu can be dangerous. Motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, and animals, all traveling at different speeds, congest narrow roads. Traffic is poorly regulated, and the volume of vehicles on the roads has increased significantly in recent years. Traffic lights, signs, and regulations are often ignored even in the most congested sections of downtown Kathmandu. Many drivers are not properly licensed or trained, and aged vehicles can be poorly maintained. Sidewalks and pedestrian crossings are nonexistent in some areas, resulting in pedestrians walking in the roadways. Demolished walls and building facades litter many roadways, forcing pedestrians further into the street and into the flow of traffic. Pedestrians account for over 40 percent of all traffic fatalities in Nepal. Poor lighting can make nighttime driving particularly dangerous. In general, drivers do not yield the right-of-way to pedestrians. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”
Public Transportation Conditions
Public transportation vehicles have questionable safety measures, are often over-crowded, and are operated carelessly. Visitors are encouraged to avoid public buses and microbuses. Taxis are safe to use, but passengers should insist on the use of a meter or negotiate a fare in advance.
Domestic flights can often be delayed due to weather, particularly in mountainous areas. Airport security and screening at some of the domestic terminals can be rudimentary at best.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED KATHMANDU AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
There are no reports of transnational terrorist organizations resident in Nepal. However, due to the open border policy with India and few immigrations controls, Nepal could, and has been, used as a transit point for terrorists.
Indigenous groups have been responsible for a number of terrorist acts, many of which have relied on placements of improvised explosive devices (IED). In 2016, there were 37 reported IED incidents and 38 in 2015. Not all incidents involved functional devices, and some failed to detonate. Government facilities outside the Kathmandu Valley were common targets, although some devices were used against schools in Kathmandu in September 2016. Devices were sometimes detonated during the night or off-hours when injuries were unlikely, but some did result in serious harm to passersby.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED KATHMANDU AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Per the constitution, local, provincial, and national-level elections all need to be held prior to January 21, 2018, and are expected to occur in 2017.
In September 2015, Nepal promulgated a new constitution. The promulgation process initiated sporadic violence by various groups and political parties in the Terai region. Localized bandhs (general strikes) occurred to protest the newly-adopted constitution, and these often resulted in clashes with security services. This political unrest contributed to the blockage of goods and commodities passing from India into Nepal. This significantly affected the availability of fuel and other supplies. The blockade was eased in early 2016. A proposed constitutional amendment in late 2016 spurred localized bandhs, particularly in the Terai.
While bandhs will often be called in advanced, protests, demonstrations, and disruptions can occur without notice. These events have blocked major roads or intersections, and demonstrators have been known to attack vehicles passing nearby. Effective bandhs will force the closure of businesses and schools and disrupt vehicular traffic, often from sunrise to approximately sunset. Some groups enforce the observance of bandhs through violence and intimidation. Vehicular travel through effective bandhs is not recommended.
Nepal is located in a seismically-active area.
- In April 25, April 26, and May 12, 2015, major earthquakes struck the greater Kathmandu Valley and surrounding regions, resulting in over 8,000 people killed and 20,000 injured.
Another large-scale earthquake could further destroy infrastructure and buildings throughout the country. Current emergency services are inadequate to deal with a crisis of this magnitude.
During the annual monsoon season (May-September), heavy rains can cause flooding. In recent years, the Koshi River has been prone to flooding, resulting in a substantial loss of life and property.
Because Nepal relies on run-of-the-river hydroelectric facilities, load shedding of electricity causes rolling power outages throughout the country during the dry season (November-April). Electricity in Kathmandu has become more reliable as of late 2016, but power outages still occur daily. Outages outside the Kathmandu Valley can last 14-16 hours/day during the peak season.
Local markets are flooded with counterfeit goods, and vendors will often claim certain items are made of high-end materials when they are not.
Personal Identity Concerns
Nepalis are generally accepting of others, and hate crimes are rare.
Harassment of female travelers has occasionally been reported.
Despite strong legal provisions prohibiting consumption, possession, and transport, drugs are openly sold in Kathmandu, especially in areas frequented by tourists. Although Nepal is neither a significant producer of nor a major transit route for narcotic drugs, domestically produced cannabis, hashish, and heroin are trafficked through Nepal every year. Visitors are advised not to carry or store any packages from a stranger. Packages have concealed contraband material/drugs, and foreigner who have accepted packages have been arrested by police for possessing illegal substances.
Security and law enforcement agencies are hindered by a lack of resources/training and varying levels of professionalism. Response to a crime may take an extended period of time or may not occur at all.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, and customary international law, if an American is arrested in Nepal, s/he has the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the U.S. Embassy and to have communications forwarded to the U.S. Embassy. In the event an American is harassed or detained by local police, it is recommended that the individual contact the U.S. Embassy's Consular Section/American Citizen Services at 977-1-423-4068 or 977-1-423-4120 (business hours). Assistance can be reached after hours at 977-1-423-7266 or 977-1-423-7269.
Crime Victim Assistance
In the event that an American is a victim of a crime and needs immediate police assistance, s/he can dial 100. The Nepal Police, Tourist Division, can be reached at 977-1-424-7041 or the Nepal Tourism Board at 977-1-423-1631/422-5740. The Nepal Police Operation Center 24-hour line is 977-1-441-1549/441-2780. It is also recommended the individual report the incident to the U.S. Embassy's Consular Section/American Citizen Services.
The Nepal Police (NP) and the Armed Police Force (APF) and the primary police agencies:
- The NP wear blue marked uniforms and can routinely be seen directing traffic and patrolling streets. They are the primary criminal investigative agency for law enforcement.
- The APF are usually adorned in blue camouflage and are often seen providing security for government or critical infrastructure facilities. The APF would often be the responding agency for emergency situations.
Medical care is limited and generally not up to Western standards, and medical facilities are often overwhelmed because of insufficient resources. Local medications are of varying quality, and supply is not always sufficient. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”
Some routine medical complaints can be addressed by clinics and basic emergency surgeries can be performed in Kathmandu. Emergency medical services, especially in public hospitals, are of poor quality compared to that available in the U.S.
Ambulances are available but consist of a van with stretcher and driver; they do not generally have any medical equipment or personnel onboard.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
Information on medical providers and other important information for American citizens can be found at the following link: Nepal Medical Assistance Providers
Available Air Ambulance Services
For domestic air medevacs, CIWEC Travel Medicine Hospital or Grande International Hospital will coordinate a helicopter rescue from the hills to Kathmandu.
For air ambulance out of Nepal, there are many providers.
Before any travel to Nepal, the Embassy strongly recommends Americans purchase emergency evacuation insurance, especially before any extended trek or adventure activity in Nepal’s remote areas, and/or to confirm that their policy applies overseas and will cover emergency expenses. If the patient has medevac insurance, the insurance company will coordinate the air ambulance. For someone without medevac insurance, the treating hospital in Kathmandu can help coordinate, but the patient will have to pay cash before the ambulance will head to Kathmandu, and the cost varies from $50,000 to $100,000. Both domestic and international air medevacs only happen during daylight hours.
Serious illnesses/injuries suffered while hiking in remote areas may require evacuation by helicopter to Kathmandu. Illnesses and injuries suffered while trekking often require a helicopter rescue. The cost for a helicopter rescue from remote areas to Kathmandu is typically $3,000 to $10,000. Some clinics and hospitals in Kathmandu accept credit card payment, but others accept only cash. Travelers should be prepared to pay their bills in full before treatment or before discharge from an in-patient facility.
Serious illness or injury may require evacuation to the nearest adequate medical facility (Singapore, Bangkok, New Delhi) or to the U.S. Medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost in excess of $50,000.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
Geography/sanitation concerns make tourists and residents susceptible to many ailments.
South Asia, with a quarter of world’s population and half of the world’s poor, suffers from some of the world’s worst air pollution. According to Yale’s 2016 Environmental Performance Index, air pollution in Nepal ranks 177 worst out of 180 countries surveyed. Kathmandu Valley sees some of the worst pollution in Nepal, but pollution can be a health factor throughout Nepal.
Altitude sickness in the Himalayas can affect even the most seasoned climbers and trekkers. Flying to Lukla or Lhasa (in Tibet) brings travelers to high altitudes with no time for their bodies to adjust. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report “Traveling in High Altitude.”
Diarrhea and other gastro-intestinal ailments are the most common problems for travelers, especially during the summer monsoon. Diarrhea is rarely life-threatening. However, if symptoms persist or if you have special health concerns, you should contact a medical professional. Following the below tips should help prevent gastro-intestinal problems:
- Avoid buying consumables from street vendors or other unhygienic establishments.
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat/seafood.
- Avoid eating raw fruits/vegetables, unless they have a thick peel and you have peeled them yourself.
- Drink bottled, carbonated beverages or water that you are sure has been boiled or treated with iodine/chlorine. Make sure the seal on the bottle is intact before you open it. Bottles in remote locations are sometimes refilled with tap or stream water. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “I’m Drinking What in My Water?.”
OSAC Country Council Information
Nepal’s OSAC Country Council meets on an irregular basis and has approximately 20 members. Please contact OSAC’s South and Central Asia team with any questions or to join.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
Embassy of the United States of America
Maharajgunj, Kathmandu, Nepal
Hours of Operation: 0800-1700
Embassy Contact Numbers
Embassy Operator: 977-1-423-4500
Regional Security Office: 977-1-423-4330
Consular Section: 977-1-423-4068 or 4120
24/7 Marine Security Guard Post One: 977-1-423-7266 or 7269
Nepal Country Information Sheet