Report   DETAILS


Ghana 2018 Crime & Safety Report

Africa > Ghana

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Ghana has been assessed as a “Level 1: Exercise normal precautions” country. However, some areas of the country, including parts of Accra, have increased risk due to crime.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Accra does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen 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 Accra as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Please review OSAC’s Ghana-specific page for original analytic reports, consular alerts, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

The Republic of Ghana is a developing country in West Africa. It comprises 10 regions, and the capital is Accra. Tourism can be found in most of the regions, but infrastructure is lacking. Despite a short era of economic growth between 2000 and 2009, the country remains vulnerable to external economic pressures.

Crime Threats

Street crime is a serious problem throughout the country and is especially acute in Accra and other larger cities. Pickpocketing, purse snatching, and various scams are the most common forms of crime encountered by visitors. U.S. travelers have experienced these crimes in crowded areas.

Victims of opportunistic and violent crime are more likely to be targeted based on perceived affluence and/or perceived vulnerability. Walking alone is not advisable, especially after dark and in poorly illuminated or isolated areas, as this may increase risk of being targeted by criminals.

Theft of belongings has occurred in hotels. Perpetrators of these crimes may range from opportunistic thieves to career criminals who monitor the behavioral patterns of guests. Consider changing rooms for long-term stays. While valuables and cash should be stored in hotel safety deposit boxes or room safes, hotel safes can be accessed by hotel personnel even when locked.

Opportunistic crimes targeting motorists and passengers in vehicles are common. Criminals may exploit unlocked car doors or rolled down windows to steal belongings from vehicles in traffic. Do not open your doors/windows to give money to beggars or street vendors.

Thieves and armed robbers have targeted motorists using ruses in order to extort money; such incidents have increasingly occurred in parts of Accra and commonly occur in congested urban areas. In some cases, robbers have intentionally caused fender benders or pretended to be hit in order to get vehicles to stop. Others have attempted to “warn” drivers of a mechanical problem or flat tire. Drivers should maintain sufficient distance between their vehicle and the one ahead of them while stopped in traffic to enable evasive action and to avoid being boxed in by criminals.

Property crimes against foreigners remain a concern, especially residential burglaries and vehicle theft. There have been burglary attempts against expatriate residences, but perpetrators generally lack the sophistication required to overcome home alarm systems and static security guards. Robbers may wait outside houses to ambush residents as they enter or exit the property. Vehicle theft is a major concern, as well as stolen vehicles being shipped from overseas into Ghana for resale. Thefts of items from vehicles are prevalent.

Incidences of violent crime are on the rise, including reports of armed robberies in expatriate residential areas. Most cases occur at night, although some have happened during the daytime. Victims of robbery should comply with perpetrators’ demands, as resistance may cause the situation to escalate to violence.

Travel to tourist and historic areas of the country is popular and generally safe; however, armed robbery does occur and is especially common on rural roads; some cases have been accompanied by violence. The potential for carjacking exists, but there have been no reported occurrences in 2017.

Rape and gender-based remains a serious problem. Even though rape is a crime punishable by 5- 25 years in prison, cases of rape remain significantly underreported. While domestic violence is a crime punishable by up to two years in prison and/or a fine, police rarely respond to reports of domestic violence. Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) remains a serious problem, particularly in the north of the country, even though it has been outlawed.

There are occasional reports of clashes between government forces and criminal groups; however, foreigners are normally not affected. Travelers should check with local authorities before venturing off main roads in outlying areas.  

Credit/debit card fraud and related scams are common. Skimming is the primary means of credit fraud and is undetectable until fraudulent charges appear on statements. It is very common for credit card terminals to be tampered with. Many Ghanaians, as well as foreigners, fall victim to this type of fraud. Use of credit cards should be avoided if possible, as a growing number of travelers have been victims of credit card fraud. If travelers choose to use a credit card anywhere in Ghana, they should monitor their credit card activity closely. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.”

Piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea continue to trend upward with more incidents occurring in 2016 than in the previous four years. These incidents have continued into 2017.

Cybersecurity Issues

U.S. citizens frequently consult the Embassy regarding questionable business offers originating or claiming to originate from Ghana. Perpetrators of business fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. Such fraud schemes are now prevalent throughout West Africa. Business scams typically begin with an unsolicited communication (usually by e-mail) from an unknown individual who pitches a business opportunity promising quick financial gain. These “opportunities” usually involve the transfer of a large sum of money or valuables out of the country and the payment of a series of “advance fees,” such as fees to open a bank account or to pay certain taxes, to conclude the transaction; however, the final payoff does not exist. The purpose of the scams is to collect money from the victim through these fees. The Embassy has received reports of fraudulent charities soliciting contributions via the internet or direct mail. If you receive business offers or charity requests, particularly unsolicited ones, carefully check out the requesting entity before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel.

U.S. citizens are also frequently targeted through email spear-phishing campaigns originating or claiming to originate from Ghana. Spear-phishers make contact under the guise of a business contact or possible future business associate and attempt to pass contact information via emails that contain questionable links. Unwitting recipients click on these links, compromising their email accounts and making victims’ personally identifiable information (PII) readily available to cyber criminals. Another common ploy is for a perpetrator to claim he is a member of the Special Forces on a secret mission in Accra whose government has abandoned him. The perpetrator will ask for a laptop, expensive cellphone, and/or some other pricey “necessity.” Many of these operations link to internet cafes in Accra, with some cafes developing reputations for certain types of fraud based on trends in schemes originating from their location. 

There are multiple variations of internet romance or friendship scams perpetrated by English-speaking Ghanaians targeting Westerners through various dating and social networking websites. Scam artists use fake social media profiles, steal photos and identities from other social media accounts, and swindle victims out of thousands of dollars. Some perpetrators may claim to have a U.S. visa; oftentimes these are fake, even when images are provided. The perpetrators, once in a virtual relationship, typically ask for money for hospital expenses, travel expenses, visa costs, or expensive gifts. Do not travel to meet internet romantic partners or friends who have requested large sums of money; doing so may increase risk of kidnapping for ransom.

In recent years, U.S. citizens have reported substantial financial losses from questionable transactions allegedly involving the purchase of gold and other precious metals. The Government of Ghana maintains strict regulations on the sale of these natural resources; all agents must be licensed and all transactions must be certified.

For additional information on scams, see the Department of State's publication, International Financial Scams and the U.S. Embassy in Accra’s website.

Other Areas of Concern

Travelers should exercise increased caution in certain precincts of Accra and certain areas of Upper West, Upper East, Northern, Volta, Westner, Brong Ahafo, and Ashanti due to crime. Violent crime, such as armed robbery, is common in the following areas:

Precincts of Accra: Avenor, Sowutuom, Sukura, Agbogbloshie, Ashaiman, Nima

Upper West:  Lawra and Wa Central

Upper East:  Bawku

Northern:  Bimbila, Bunkprugu, Tolon, Sagnarigu, and Yendi

Volta:  Nkwanta South, Hohoe, Ho Central, Adaklu, and Ketu South

Western:  Jomoro and Bia West

Brong Ahafo:  Techiman South, Tain, Berekum West, and Berekum East

Ashanti:  Bantama, Asokwa, Nhyiaeso, Manhyia North, Manhyia South, Suame, Oforikrom, and Asawase

These area have been labelled as “flashpoints” by the Ghana Police Service (GPS) because of the large amount of crime, the lack of police presence, and factors in the area that make it dangerous for everyone, including the police. Travelers should exercise caution in these flashpoint areas and in other crowded areas, especially in the Jamestown area of Accra, a large area of historical importance where the police have lost control and must dedicate extra resources to stop spontaneous flare-ups of violence. The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in these areas, as U.S. government employees are prohibited from travel at night outside of major cities and are encouraged to avoid these areas outside of Accra.

Transportation-Safety Situation

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

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Travelers may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the U.S. Primary roads are generally paved and well-maintained; however, side roads within major cities and many roads outside of urban areas are in poor condition. Poor road conditions may cause delays, making travel times variable.

Although travel during daylight hours is generally considered safe, nighttime travel outside the major cities is extremely dangerous due to carjacking and armed banditry, hazards posed by disabled vehicles, street lighting that is nonexistent outside of urban areas, inadequate road markings, and the unpredictable behavior of farm animals and pedestrians in the roadway. 

Local drivers do not abide by the “rules of the road,” and traffic laws are unevenly enforced, even in major cities. Excessive speeding, unpredictable driving behavior, and lack of adherence to basic safety standards for local vehicles are widespread. Many vehicles are unlicensed, and most drivers lack basic driver training or insurance. Motorists should use defensive driving techniques. Drivers should be able to see the rear tires of the vehicle ahead of them in order to maintain safe operating distances to mitigate risk of vehicular accident. 

Due to poor driving conditions, unsafe driving behaviors, and the poor mechanical state of many vehicles, vehicle accidents are common and often result in serious injury and/or death. There have been increased reports of vehicular fatalities over the past few years. Emergency services are limited or nonexistent in many parts of the country in case of vehicular accident or breakdown. Drivers should carry emergency medical supplies, spare tires, fuel, and tools on long trips, as emergency medical response may be delayed, and there is no roadside assistance. If possible, travelers should use convoys in case of breakdowns.

If travelers are involved in a vehicular accident, a large crowd may gather and could become hostile and aggressive against those perceived to be at fault. If you fear for your safety, go to the nearest police station. Normal investigative procedures require the police to conduct an on-scene investigation, after which all involved parties go to the Traffic Department for a vehicle inspection and provide details about the accident for a final report. If possible, obtain the names and contact information of all persons involved in the accident and make a note of the extent of any injuries and damage; make a note of any registration information (tag number) of other vehicle(s) involved; and obtain the other driver’s permit data, and give similar information or registration/permit data to the other driver and to the police upon request.

Travelers are routinely stopped at police checkpoints, and vehicles and passengers may be searched. Foreign nationals should carry identification and documentation of their immigration status. Drivers must possess an international driver’s license (available from AAA and the American Automobile Touring Alliance). For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

Public Transportation Conditions

Public transport is unregulated and unsafe; if travelers do use public transport, they should use taxis, not tro-tros (small private buses). Tro-tros do not meet Western safety standards and often transport more passengers than is considered safe. Communal and shared taxis should be avoided due to greater risk of robbery. Travelers are encouraged to factor public transportation safety into their travel plans and to make arrangements with trusted transportation service providers in advance when possible.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Arriving and departing from Kotoka International Airport in Accra can be chaotic and intimidating. Newly-made renovations have made luggage retrieval from the baggage claim a more streamlined process. Although the arrival area has also been renovated, travelers can experience long lines at immigration and delays in getting luggage, as there is a shortage of personnel. Delays are often exacerbated by multiple flights landing at the same time. 

Theft of luggage and pickpocketing occurs at the airport. Security in the baggage claim area is randomly enforced and is sometime limited to customs inspections. Do not leave luggage unattended and ensure that identification documents, wallets, and portable electronics (cellphones, laptops, etc.) are secure. Imposters posing as airport porters and strangers offering assistance with luggage have stolen travelers’ belongings. Remain wary of unsolicited help unless offered from uniformed airport staff with visible ID cards bearing their name and photo. RSO recommends travelers pre-arrange with their hotel or company for transportation services from the airport and to confirm the identity of drivers before entering vehicles, as travelers have been robbed by criminals posing as drivers. In addition, taxi drivers have a reputation for taking newly-arrived passengers on circuitous routes and charging excessive fares.  

Armed robbers have targeted travelers leaving the airport. A common tactic is to deliberately cause a minor accident to stop a car and then rob the occupants. If your car is hit by another car, it is best to drive to the nearest police station and report the incident.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Accra 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 have been no terrorist acts specifically targeting American interests or U.S. citizens in Ghana. However, terrorist groups are active in several parts of West Africa. There is evidence that ISIS elements are recruiting in Ghana and likely have aspirational intentions to conduct an attack.  

Mali-based terrorist groups, particularly al-Qa’ida affiliates, have demonstrated their desire and ability to carry out active shooter-style attacks on soft targets frequented by foreigners in West African capital cities. Hard targets and areas of congregation  could also be targeted.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

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

Ghana is a stable democracy that has held six elections since 1992 and three peaceful transitions of power between political parties. The most recent election took place in 2016. While there was some sporadic election-related violence, particularly between grassroots supporters of the two major parties, Ghanaian politics generally takes place in a peaceful context. Defeated candidates have stated that any grievances they have regarding the legitimacy of the election will be handled in the courts. 

Civil Unrest 

Protests remain common; however, most are peaceful, and there has been little serious or widespread civil unrest in the past few years. Still, isolated cases of protest-related violence have occurred, particularly clashes among rival ethnic groups in northern Ghana. Travelers should avoid demonstration areas, as even peaceful protests can escalate to confrontation and violence.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Ghana has numerous chieftaincy disputes every year that generally involve competition over limited resources. Some of these disputes have prompted episodes of localized violence. Tension between and within certain ethnic groups, particularly in northern regions of the country, have escalated abruptly into violence. Nonetheless, government authorities are working to reduce tensions in these areas. Travelers to rural areas, especially in northern regions of Ghana, should remain aware of the potential for episodes of unrest.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Swimming in Ghana’s coastal waters, especially along its southern beaches, is dangerous and strongly discouraged, even for excellent swimmers. The ocean currents along the coast are powerful and treacherous, and several people drown each year.

Economic Concerns

Counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available in Ghana. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the U.S may result in forfeitures and/or fines.

Personal Identity Concerns

Ghana’s criminal code outlaws “unnatural carnal knowledge,” which is frequently interpreted by local authorities as consensual same-sex sexual relations. This is criminalized as a misdemeanor in Ghana. The U.S. Embassy is aware of arrests and related extortion attempts for such activities but has not received reports of prosecutions.

Drug-related Crimes

Ghana has become a significant trans-shipment point for illegal drugs, particularly cocaine from South America and heroin from Afghanistan. Ghana has taken limited steps to combat illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Trafficking has also fueled increasing domestic drug consumption. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has an office in the Embassy and works closely with the Narcotics Control Board (NACOB), which coordinates government counter-narcotics efforts. These activities include enforcement and control, education, treatment, rehabilitation, and reintegration. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Ghana are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.  The use of illegal drugs procured in Ghana may have life-threatening consequences. There have been several deaths of U.S. citizens resulting from the use of narcotics procured locally. 

Police Response

The Ghana Police Service (GPS) is almost solely a reactive force and demonstrates only moderate proactive techniques and ability to deter crime. Police often lack the equipment, resources, training, and personnel to respond to calls for assistance or other emergencies. The police have a poor record of investigating and solving serious crimes. Local police may lack the resources to respond to serious crime throughout the country, including areas of Accra. There is a visible police presence in Accra, and the Embassy receives good support from the GPS and the Special Police Units that protect U.S. government facilities in Accra. 

Persons violating Ghanaian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.

Public smoking is illegal in Ghana. The U.S. Embassy is aware of arrests for cigarette smoking in public places but has not received reports of prosecutions.

Wearing military clothing or camouflage is prohibited.

Photography of sensitive installations, including military sites, government buildings, bridges and Accra's international airport, is prohibited. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.”

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment                   

If you are arrested or detained, ask police or prison officials to notify the U.S. Embassy immediately.

Crime Victim Assistance

The Central Police Headquarters telephone number is +233-0302-773-906. 

The Police Information Room can be reached at +233 0302 787-373 or via cell phone at 0244 313 820. 

The local emergency line is 191. 

U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Ghana who are the victim(s) of a crime, including loss or theft of a U.S. passport, should contact the local police and the U.S. Embassy. The U.S. Embassy can provide a number of services to victims of crime. Embassy staff can provide a list of local doctors, contact family members or friends and explain how funds may be transferred. Consular officers can help victims of crime understand the local criminal justice process and provide a list of local attorneys, if needed.

If a visitor is involved in a traffic accident while in Accra and settlement cannot be reached at the scene, the accident must be reported immediately to the traffic police, who will respond and conduct an investigation.

Police/Security Agencies

Ghana maintains a specialized Domestic Violence Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) within the Ghana Police Service to assist victims of domestic violence, especially women and children. In addition to its law enforcement responsibilities, the Unit can refer victims to medical providers and counselors, as well as to community support services.

Although there are a number of security and private guard companies throughout Ghana, it is advisable to research any prospective security company for quality and reliability when considering hiring their services.

Medical Emergencies

Medical facilities are limited, particularly outside Accra. Travelers should carry adequate supplies of any needed prescription medicines, along with copies of their prescriptions, the generic name of the drugs, and a supply of preferred over-the-counter medications. If traveling with prescription medication, check with the Government of Ghana to ensure the medication is legal. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

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

Available Air Ambulance Services

The West Africa Rescue Association (WARA) operates a local ambulance service as well as an air ambulance service. WARA is associated with International SOS Clinics.

For air ambulance service (recommended for severe injuries or illnesses best treated in the U.S.), AEA International (International SOS) at 800-752-4195.

Insurance Guidance

Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation can cost thousands of dollars or more; they often require travelers to be medically evacuated where adequate medical attention is available. Such “medevac” services are very expensive and are generally available only to travelers who either have travel insurance that covers medevac services or who are able to pay for the service in advance. The cost for medical evacuation may range from US$40,000 to $200,000.

For international treatment and medical insurance: AEA International (International SOS), +27 (0) 11 541-1300.

Country-Specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Before coming to Ghana, you should consult with your physician regarding malaria prophylaxis and obtaining vaccinations.

Mosquito-borne illnesses (malaria, yellow fever, dengue) are a significant problem, and prevention of bites and proper yellow fever immunization are important for all areas.

Meningitis is a concern as the northern parts of the country are within Africa’s “meningitis belt.”

Diarrheal illnesses, including typhoid fever and cholera, also remain a concern.

Sexually-transmitted diseases—including HIV—are health concerns that have been reported by U.S. citizens.

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

OSAC Country Council Information

The Country Council in Accra is active, meeting every other month, beginning in January, or every odd numbered month. 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 in the Cantonments neighborhood at #24 Fourth Circular Road, Cantonments, Accra. 

Business hours: Mon-Thurs, 0730-1700; Fri 0730-1230 

Embassy Contact Numbers

Switchboard: +233 0302 741-000

US Marine Security Guard Post 1: +233 0302 741-775 (Emergencies only)

After business hours and on weekends and holidays, the U.S. Embassy Marine Security Guard can assist American travelers in contacting the Embassy’s Duty Officer for assistance. The Marine Security Guard is there to assist in emergency situations only.

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to Ghana should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

Travelers should check with their sponsoring organization to ensure they have the correct documentation in place or risk penalties, including detention, fines, and deportation. To avoid confusion or delays, travelers are strongly advised to obtain a valid Ghanaian visa at the Ghanaian Embassy prior to arrival. 

Additional Resources

Ghana Country Information Sheet