According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Nepal has been assessed as Level 2: Exercise increased caution due to the potential for isolated political violence.
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 American Citizens’ Services (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 MEDIUM-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Please review OSAC’s Nepal-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.
Much of the criminal activity affecting Nepal is street crime, such as bag snatching and pickpocketing, particularly in the tourist areas of Thamel, Pokhara, and the Annapurna region.
In the fall of 2016, authorities uncovered a ring of criminals skimming card data at ATMs in 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. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.”
Burglaries and more violent crimes (assaults, murders) occasionally occur throughout the country.
In 2014, an assault left a trekker in the Annapurna region seriously injured, and in 2015, an American tourist was murdered in Pokhara. It is not believed that either individual was targeted because of their nationality.
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.
There appears to have been an increase in traditional criminal activities, such as smuggling and even some targeted assassinations of business or labor leaders, by organized criminal gangs. These activities are usually targeted against citizens and residents of Nepal.
Other Areas of Concern
Trekking has security and safety challenges due to the isolation and lack of emergency response. Trekkers have been robbed by 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 and porters who can communicate in Nepali and English. Visitors are advised never to trek alone.
For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”
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. Roads can also be congested with heavy truck and 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 frequently walking in the roadways. Poor lighting can make nighttime driving particularly dangerous. In general, drivers do not yield the right-of-way to pedestrians. Demolished walls and building facades litter many roadways, forcing pedestrians further into the street and into the flow of traffic. 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, including in Kathmandu, are encouraged to avoid public buses and microbuses. Taxis are safe to use, but passengers should select those that appear in good working condition. Taxis are required to use metered fares, but most drivers will prefer to negotiate fares in advance. Either 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 small-scale explosives. In 2017, there were approximately 300 reported explosive incidents. Not all incidents involved functional devices, and some failed to detonate. The majority of incidents were related to elections, either targeting polling stations to discourage turnout or targeting candidates. Devices were sometimes detonated during the night or off-hours when injuries were unlikely, but some attacked candidate vehicles directly and incurred casualties. While the use of explosives is routinely connected to a political competition, they are also associated with criminal activity, including workplace disputes and extortion.
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.
Provincial and federal elections were held in November and December 2017. These elections saw limited, sporadic violence by groups opposing the process generally or candidates/outcomes specifically, including seizure of polling places, calling of bandhs, and the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). The government is expected to form in the first quarter of 2018.
In September 2015, Nepal promulgated a new constitution. The promulgation process initiated sporadic violence by various groups and political parties in the Terai region along the southern border with India. 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 in Nepal. 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 advance, protests, demonstrations, and disruptions can occur without notice, including the Kathmandu Valley. 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/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 bandhs is not recommended.
Nepal is located in a seismically-active area.
On 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. 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 in southeast Nepal has been prone to flooding, resulting in a substantial loss of life and property. Approximately 140 deaths due to flooding were reported in this area in August 2017. Travel by road during the monsoon season can be hazardous, as many roads in Nepal are unpaved and can wash away.
Pollution is a serious health concern, particularly in cities, with the Kathmandu Valley seeing some of the worst pollution in Nepal. Information on air quality in Kathmandu can be found at www.airnow.gov by clicking on the U.S. Embassies and Consulates link.
Because Nepal relies on run-of-the-river hydroelectric facilities, load shedding of electricity may occur during the dry season (November-April), resulting in rolling power outages. Electricity in Kathmandu has become more reliable of late, but power outages still occur on a daily basis. Outages outside the Kathmandu Valley can last 14-16 hours per 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. Buyers should be alert to the authenticity of the goods they purchase.
Personal Identity Concerns
Harassment of female travelers has occasionally been reported.
Despite strong legal provisions prohibiting drug 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. There have been instances in which packages concealed contraband material or drugs, and the foreigner who accepted the package was arrested by police for possessing the illegal substance.
Security and law enforcement agencies are hindered by a lack of resources and training and varying levels of professionalism. Response to a crime may take an extended period or may not occur at all.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
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. Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, and customary international law, if an American is arrested, 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.
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 equivalent of 911 in the U.S.).
The Nepal Police’s 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’s 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) are 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 can often be 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. Some routine medical complaints can be addressed and basic emergency surgeries can be performed by clinics 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 often consist of a van with stretcher and driver and do not generally have any medical equipment or personnel onboard.
Serious illnesses often require evacuation to the nearest adequate medical facility in a neighboring country. Serious illnesses and injuries suffered while hiking in remote areas may require evacuation by helicopter to Kathmandu.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.
Available Air Ambulance Services
For domestic necessity, CIWEC, or Grande International Hospital will coordinate a helicopter rescue from the hills to Kathmandu.
For air ambulance out of Nepal, there are many providers.
Both domestic and international air medevacs only happen during daylight hours.
Serious illness or injury may require evacuation to the nearest adequate medical facility (Singapore, Bangkok, or New Delhi) or to the U.S. 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-$10,000. Medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost in excess of $50,000. If a 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. The Embassy strongly recommends that U.S. citizens purchase emergency evacuation insurance before any travel to Nepal.
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. The Embassy strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling to Nepal to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and will cover emergency expenses.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
Nepal’s geography and sanitation concerns make tourists and residents alike susceptible to many ailments.
Altitude sickness in the Himalayas can affect even the most seasoned climbers and trekkers. In its most severe forms, it is a life-threatening illness and must be treated immediately by descending to a lower altitude. Flying to Lukla or Lhasa (in Tibet) brings travelers to high altitudes with no time for their bodies to adjust. Physical training or fitness has no impact on altitude sickness susceptibility. Anyone displaying symptoms should immediately descend to a lower altitude and seek medical assistance. 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 months. 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 food/beverages from street vendors or other unhygienic establishments.
Avoid eating raw/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/treated with iodine/chlorine. Be aware that water bottles in remote locations are sometimes refilled with tap/stream water. Make sure the seal on the bottle is intact before you open it. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “I’m Drinking What in My Water?.”
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Nepal.
OSAC Country Council Information
Nepal’s OSAC Country Council meets on an irregular basis. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s South and Central Asia team with any questions.
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
24/7 Marine Security Guard Post One: 977-1-423-7266 or 7269
The U.S. Department of State encourages U.S. citizen travelers to Nepal to enroll in the U.S. Department of State’s “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program” (STEP) prior to their travel. Doing so provides the U.S. Embassy with emergency contact information, and allows travelers to receive emergency and security messages sent to U.S. citizens in Nepal.
Nepal Country Information Sheet