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Zambia 2018 Crime & Safety Report

Africa > Zambia


According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Zambia has been assessed as Level 1 – Exercise normal precautions. 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Lusaka 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.

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Lusaka as being a HIGH-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Please review OSAC’s Zambia-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.

Crime Threats

Criminality continues to affect ordinary citizens, diplomats, and visitors alike. The use of firearms and edged weapons during the commission of many crimes is common, and visitors are advised not to resist if confronted.

The most commonly reported crimes against Westerners in Lusaka are non-violent confrontations characterized as crimes of opportunity (theft of unattended possessions in public places or hotel rooms, confidence scams). Pickpockets operate in crowded markets and on public transportation, and visitors have reported snatch attacks of bags and smartphones on busy city streets as well as smash-and-grabs of valuables from idle vehicles in traffic and from parked cars. Other crimes, including thefts, violent attacks, including home invasions/robberies, and sexual assaults have occurred on many occasions in 2017. Victims are often followed from banks, nightclubs, and ATMs and robbed at gunpoint, on the street, or upon arrival at their residence. Walking alone is not advisable in the downtown areas, lower socio-economic/informal settlement areas, public parks, and other poorly-illuminated areas—especially at night.

In Lusaka’s poorer neighborhoods (Chalala, Bauleni, Kalingalinga, Chibolya, Chainda), groups of criminals commit crimes that go uninvestigated due to a lack of police resources. These criminal gangs often go on to victimize residents, including foreigners, in wealthier neighborhoods. While Zambian citizens are more often the victims of residential crimes, burglary and theft also occur in the more affluent neighborhoods where Americans reside—despite countermeasures. Americans and other foreigners are viewed as especially lucrative targets to thieves, often for no other reason than their perceived wealth.

Crime is not confined to late night hours. Robberies involving the use of firearms occurred in Lusaka during daylight hours and in populated areas in 2017; including a fatal knife attack in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy. Carjackings are uncommon.

In 2017, two Americans reported theft of money and property from locked hotel rooms. It was determined that these crimes were inside jobs perpetrated by hotel employees and house-keeping staff. No hotel -- even upscale establishments -- in Zambia is immune. Even the small safes provided by the hotel are vulnerable and should not be trusted for high value items.

The occurrence of credit card theft and fraud is low in comparison to the U.S. and South Africa. Zambia is generally a cash economy; however, credit card terminals exist in major shops, hotels, most supermarkets, and some restaurants. Travelers are reminded to enable PIN codes for all transactions and check credit card statements shortly after the transaction occurs. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.”

Money laundering is present to facilitate other criminal activities throughout Zambia.

Cybersecurity Issues

Cybercrime is not yet a major problem in Zambia. This is likely due to a relatively low rate of personal computer ownership and internet penetration. The latter is estimated at 30%.

Advance-fee fraud schemes are prevalent throughout Africa, including in Zambia, and pose a danger of grave financial loss. These scams begin with unsolicited communication (usually e-mails) from strangers who promise quick financial gain, often by transferring large sums of money or valuables out of the country, but then require a series of "advance fees," such as fees for legal documents or taxes, to be paid. The final payoff does not exist; the purpose of the scam is simply to collect the advance fees.

A common variation is the scammer’s claim to be a refugee or émigré of a prominent family or a relative of a present or former political leader who needs assistance in transferring large sums of cash.

Still other variations appear to be legitimate business deals that require advance payments on contracts. Sometimes victims are convinced to provide bank account and credit card information and financial authorization that is used to drain their accounts, incur large debts against their credit, and take their life savings.

Another common scam in Zambia is the “black money” or “wash wash” scam in which con artists attempt to fraudulently obtain money from a victim by persuading him/her that piles of banknote-sized paper in a trunk or a safe are actually U.S. currency notes that have been dyed to avoid detection by authorities. The victim is persuaded to pay fees and purchase chemicals to remove the dye, with the promise of a share in the proceeds.

The best way to avoid becoming a victim of any scheme is common sense. Any unsolicited business proposal should be thoroughly researched before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel. It is virtually impossible to recover money lost through these scams.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road safety is an even more significant threat to persons residing in or visiting Zambia than crime. Vehicle travel is extremely hazardous under normal conditions but particularly at night and during inclement weather. Zambia has an average of 50 fatalities per 100,000 residents (by comparison, the highest metropolitan rate in the U.S. is 17.8 fatalities per 100,000 residents). In 2017, approximately 1,400 traffic deaths were recorded by the Zambia Police Service. However, evidence collected by the WHO suggests that Zambia’s road deaths are underreported by almost 200%. If true, this puts the highway death toll at more than 6,000. Approximately 55% of fatal accidents occur during hours of darkness, according to the Zambia Road Transport and Safety Agency.

Defensive driving is a must. Local drivers often exhibit little regard for pedestrians, other motorists’ right-of-way, bicycle traffic, speed limits, or general safe driving practices. Traffic laws are routinely ignored by many local drivers, who often possess poor driving skills and/or training. Pedestrian deaths are a major problem, given that virtually all streets and roads lack sidewalks or overhead lighting. Traffic moves on the left side, so it is essential to look right before crossing the street on foot or pulling on to a road in a vehicle. Often, stop signs are stolen by individuals seeking to recycle the materials for profit, so approach intersections with caution. Drunk drivers are a major concern. There are no emergency services for stranded or injured drivers, and auto accident victims are vulnerable to theft by those pretending to be helpful. Road conditions are even worse in outlying or rural areas. This is especially true during the rainy season (December-April) when roads deteriorate at a rapid rate, causing extensive potholes and other road hazards.

Impromptu roadblocks set up by local security forces are commonplace and may or may not be officially sanctioned. Drivers stopped at these roadblocks may be subjected to a road permit, insurance, and/or safety inspection of their vehicles. Police may check for required road safety equipment (reflective triangles, fire extinguisher, and first aid kit) and test the vehicle’s lights and brakes. Those who do not have the required equipment or otherwise fail the inspection may be fined.

A visitor must have a valid driver’s license and be in Zambia for less than 90 days. Rental car companies are becoming common, and most vehicle rates include a driver. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

Public Transportation Conditions

Operators of many small passenger vans drive aggressively, dangerously passing on road shoulders or in opposing traffic lanes. Public mini-buses should be avoided, as they are normally overcrowded and poorly maintained. Many vehicles are in poor mechanical condition with worn tires and broken/missing tail, brake, and head lights. Official taxi cabs are generally considered safe but some lack seat belts. Cabs found at the major hotels tend to be more reliable. To avoid confrontation or fleecing, rates should be negotiated with the driver prior to embarkation. Do not share taxis with strangers. If you are going to be in Zambia for a few days, it is possible to work out an arrangement with most taxi drivers for daily transportation for the duration of your visit. Ensure that you obtain the driver’s name, telephone number, national registration card number, and license plate.

Terrorism Threat

 The U.S. Department of State has assessed Lusaka as being a LOW-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

The government of the Republic of Zambia (GRZ) is sensitive to the threat of terrorism and is engaged with international partners to combat this issue. However, visitors should carefully consider attendance of any large public gatherings that could become attractive targets for terrorists. The GRZ is not a state sponsor of terrorist activities and does not permit foreign fighters to transit the country. However, transnational terrorism is a concern throughout Africa, as increased law enforcement and anti-terrorism activities in the Horn of Africa have the potential to force terrorist organizations to seek targets in areas outside their traditional sphere of operations.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Lusaka as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Zambia held a general election in August 2016, in which President Edgar Lungu won re-election to a five-year term by garnering more than 50% of votes, narrowly defeating rival Hakainde Hichilema by just under 3%. Although the results were deemed credible, media coverage, police actions, and legal restrictions heavily favored the ruling party and prevented the election from being genuinely fair. The pre-election and post-election periods were marred by limits on press freedom and political party intolerance resulting in sporadic violence across the country. In the campaign period preceding the election, police officers frequently harassed opposition supporters and denied free assembly. Police regularly arrested opposition candidate supporters indiscriminately and dispersed public gatherings with lethal force; however, they allowed ruling party gatherings to proceed in general or failed to interdict PF supporters aiming to disrupt opposition rallies. Tensions between the ruling and main opposition party remain, amid efforts by international actors to bring about dialogue and necessary reforms.

Civil Unrest

Spontaneous demonstrations take place throughout the country. Police often exacerbate tense situations. Police have continued the trend of supporting ruling party events and attempting to thwart opposition or civil society events critical of the government. Visitors are cautioned to avoid any large crowds, demonstrations, or political activities. Visitors should also stay current with local events, and be aware of their surroundings when traveling in Zambia.

Post-specific Concerns

Critical Infrastructure  

Only 31% of the country is connected to the national power grid.

Water resource mismanagement and deteriorating infrastructure have had negative impacts on Zambia’s hydro power-dependent generation capacity causing blackouts.

Zambia’s telecommunications and internet infrastructure is substandard and of limited availability outside of urban areas and large towns. Approximately 75% of the Zambian population has access to cell phones but less than 1% has landlines. This makes telephonic communication difficult, dependent upon coverage areas, and prone to cell tower or system overloading. 

Personal Identity Concerns

Zambia presents a challenging environment for individuals with physical disabilities.

Although there have been no incidents with LGBTQI members of the U.S. citizen community, police have attempted to arrest openly gay citizens, including foreigners. Traditional cultural norms and conservative tendencies permeate Zambian society and, as a result, there is often LGBTQI intolerance.

Gender-based violence also continues to be a significant problem in Zambia.

Drug-related Crimes

Possession of more than 0.5 grams of an illegal substance can constitute drug trafficking in Zambia.

The Zambian Drug Enforcement Commission has detained a number of U.S. citizens for possession of antihistamines and other over-the-counter medications, which contained small quantities of diphenhydramine, an ingredient that is on Zambia’s list of controlled substances. U.S. citizens have been charged with drug-trafficking offenses, had their passports confiscated, and have been fined or jailed. While government officials have told the Embassy that carrying certain over-the-counter medications with a doctor’s prescription is permitted, U.S. citizens visiting Zambia should consider leaving such medications behind. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”

Police Response

 The majority of Zambia’s police units do not compare to a U.S. police force in terms of capability, responsiveness, discipline, or professionalism. The Zambia Police Service is almost solely a reactive force and demonstrates rather poor proactive law enforcement techniques or initiative to deter or investigate crime. Police often lack equipment, resources, training, and personnel to respond to calls for assistance or other emergencies. Police response times can be long, if at all. Lack of adequate transportation is often cited as an excuse for slow response.

Most crimes go unreported and/or are not investigated at all. The police have a poor record of solving serious crimes, and few are ever brought to trial. Inadequate legislation results in the lack of prosecution or large numbers of acquittals. Corruption occurs at all levels, resulting in an ineffective legal and justice system. Vigilantism is present, as the critically under-funded and ill-equipped police have a poor rate of investigative closure and prosecution for crimes.

Low pay and morale create an environment in which bribes of even a few dollars can make allegations disappear. Attempt to cooperate and follow the instructions of police at checkpoints to avoid problems. It is not recommended to pay bribes, comply with requests for a “gift,” or pay on-the-spot fines. If an officer persists, comply with instructions, identify yourself as a U.S. citizen, obtain the officer’s name and badge number, and politely ask to speak with a supervisor and/or request to be taken to police headquarters for further processing. An official receipt will be issued for all legitimate fines associated with traffic law violations.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Zambian police officers are required to notify the U.S. Embassy when an American citizen has been arrested; however, they consistently fail to do so. If arrested, be certain to assert this right and demand to speak with a representative from the U.S. Embassy by calling +260 (0) 211-357-000, or if after normal business hours +260 (0) 966-864-030. 

Crime Victim Assistance

Zambia Police Service: 991 or 112 on local phones

Police/Security Agencies 

The major law enforcement agencies are the Zambia Police Service (a nationwide police force responsible for traditional policing and investigations), Immigration, Customs, the Drug Enforcement Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission, and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife.

There is no dedicated “Border Patrol.” Border security is performed by whichever law enforcement agency may have a presence at the border at any given time.

Medical Emergencies

Medical facilities fall critically short of U.S. standards in terms of cleanliness and quality of treatment. Many lack adequate equipment or properly trained staff and possess limited to non-existent screening and testing capabilities. Trauma care is extremely limited, and local hospitals should only be used in the event of an extreme medical emergency. Misdiagnosis, unreliable treatment, and improper use of drugs are often reported.

Many medications are in short supply, of inferior quality, or are fraudulent. When traveling with prescription medications, U.S. citizens should carry a doctor’s prescription and ensure that the medication is in its original bottle. Visitors should bring their own supply of medications as the quality of medications in Zambia is inconsistent, and counterfeit drugs are a problem. In the event medications are needed, such as over-the-counter medication, antibiotics, allergy remedies, or malaria prophylaxis, travelers may contact the U.S. Embassy's American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit to receive general information about reliable pharmacies.

Visitors with serious health concerns or who are on blood thinners (with the exception of aspirin) are discouraged from traveling to Zambia.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services 

For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Insurance Guidance

Most health care facilities require patients to pay before being admitted or provided treatment and require them to settle the bill in full with cash prior to being discharged. A majority of medical facilities accept debit/credit cards, but some only accept cash. Foreigners are commonly charged a higher rate than local residents for most medical services.

All travelers to Zambia are advised to purchase insurance to cover medical evacuation in case of a serious accident, injury, or illness. Medical evacuation can cost thousands of dollars, depending on the severity of the situation, so all travelers should ensure their policies provide sufficient coverage.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Travelers are advised to see a physician prior to travelling to ensure that appropriate immunizations and precautions are taken, including medications for malaria prophylaxis. All visitors traveling to Zambia should have current vaccinations prior to arrival. Be sure to take properly prescribed anti-malarial medication when traveling outside of Lusaka and remember that Zambia’s HIV rate is among the world’s highest. Visitors should begin taking malaria prophylaxis prior to arrival and hand-carry enough medication for the duration of their visit. Gastrointestinal diseases, tuberculosis, dengue fever, malaria, rabies, and yellow fever pose serious risk to travelers.

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

OSAC Country Council Information

The Country Council in Lusaka is active, meeting on an ad-hoc basis. 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

The U.S. Embassy is located at the eastern end of Kabulonga Road, on Ibex Hill. 

Normal business hours: Mon-Thurs, 0730-1700, Fri, 0730-1200.

Embassy Contact Numbers

The main telephone number is +260 (0) 211-357-000. 

Duty Officer: +260 (0) 966-864-030

Post One: +260 (0) 211-357-000 x7221

Embassy Guidance

All Americans should enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program when traveling to Zambia.  This can be done on-line ( prior to travelling. 

Additional Resources

Zambia Country Specific Information