According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Benin is assessed as a Level 1: “Exercise Normal Precautions” country. However, travelers should exercise increased caution in urban areas due to crime.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Embassy Cotonou 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 Cotonou as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Please review OSAC’s Benin-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular alerts, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.
A broad spectrum of criminal activity occurs in Cotonou. The majority of crimes affecting U.S. citizens are crimes of opportunity (pickpocketing, purse snatching, theft of valuables from vehicles, assaults, residential burglaries). In particular, low-level criminal activity occurs in areas of congregation, particularly in the Dantokpa Market. Criminals may take advantage of foreigners attempting to navigate the crowded markets. Travelers should avoid the Dantokpa market between dusk and dawn.
Robbery and muggings occur along the Boulevard de France (the beach road by the Marina and Novotel Hotels), on the beaches near hotels frequented by international visitors, within the Haie Vive and Les Cocotiers neighborhoods (where popular bars and restaurants are located), and elsewhere. Most reported incidents involve the use of force by armed persons with minor injury to the victim.
The Embassy is aware of several armed robberies in 2017 involving assault rifles. Pistols, knives, and machetes have been used during the commission of armed robberies. Most attacks end violently and occur late at night or in the early morning hours. Locals report that the mornings are not safe until around 0630 hrs. Robberies are generally crimes of opportunity, with the perpetrators targeting vulnerable victims and seeking cash/valuables. The typical modus operandi consists of two to four perpetrators traveling on motorcycles/scooters and targeting victims walking alone in poorly illuminated areas. One or two perpetrators usually jump off the motorcycle with a knife/machete and rob the victim. Robbery victims should comply with the demands of perpetrators, as resisting may cause the situation to escalate to violence.
Sexual assaults do occur and are usually associated with alcohol-related incidents. Some victims have reported that perpetrators used date-rape drugs to assault them. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.”
There have been numerous carjackings and robberies on roads after dark, several of which resulted in murder when the driver refused to comply with the assailants' demands. Carjacking is especially prevalent in rural areas, and many cases involve armed bandits placing barricades in the roadway to slow or halt vehicles.
Cybercrime is a concern. The Embassy frequently receives reports from U.S. citizens residing in the U.S. who have become victims of online financial scams originating (or claiming to originate) in Benin. These scams typically involve a con artist attempting to convince a victim to send money. These schemes can include lotteries, online dating services, inheritance notices, work permits/job offers, bank overpayments, or requests of assistance from a “new friend in trouble.” The Embassy strongly urges U.S. citizens not to send any money; any funds sent are likely unrecoverable. Victims should halt contact with scammers immediately. Do not attempt to recover funds in person. Report the matter immediately to The Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership among the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BIA). Please refer to the fraud warning on the Embassy’s website for more information.
For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Traffic conditions can be treacherous throughout Benin – including in Cotonou – during the day and are unsafe at night. It is not unusual to see pedestrian traffic on all motorways at all hours. Motorcyclists often do not use turn signals or headlights after dark and often drive against the flow of traffic on divided roads. With the exception of the most popular restaurant areas in Cotonou (Haie Vive, Cocotier, Littoral neighborhoods), driving at night is discouraged. Overall, vehicle maintenance and upkeep of large trucks and buses are poor. Large trucks break down or overturn frequently due to lack of maintenance and poor road conditions. Many road accidents result in death. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices” or “Road Safety in Africa.”
Road conditions deteriorate noticeably outside of Cotonou. With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season, especially if they are unpaved. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended.
The U.S. Embassy prohibits travel by diplomatic personnel outside of metropolitan areas after dusk and urges all U.S. citizens to avoid night driving.
Gasoline smuggled from Nigeria is widely available in glass bottles at informal roadside stands throughout much of the country. This gasoline is of unreliable quality, often containing water or other contaminants that can damage or disable a vehicle. Drivers should purchase fuel only from official service stations. There are periodic gas shortages, especially in the north of the country where there are few service stations; travelers to these areas should bring additional fuel with them.
Public Transportation Conditions
Public transportation is not recommended. Benin’s public transportation system is poor, even in major metropolitan areas. Most buses and taxis are not well-maintained, though several new taxi companies have appeared in Cotonou in 2016 and 2017. The most common form of transport is licensed motorcycle taxis (zemijahns); however, many are unlicensed, and Embassy personnel are prohibited from using them.
Cotonou Cadjehoun Airport is an old, two-terminal airport with limited capacity. The airport lacks many amenities and can get crowded. There have been reported instances of airport security personnel trying to extort money from passengers.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Cotonou 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 known indigenous terrorist organizations. Due to porous borders, there are concerns about terrorists entering Benin to fundraise, ship supplies, or plot attacks.
Although there have not been any terrorist attacks in Benin, terrorist activity and spillover from neighboring countries remains a concern. Two Nigeria-based terrorist groups, Boko Haram and ISIS-WA operate in many Lake Chad Basin countries that neighbor Benin. Boko Haram militants have used armed assaults, kidnappings, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), and Suicide Vehicle-borne IEDs (SVBIED) to target churches, government installations, educational institutions, entertainment venues, markets, and refugee camps. ISIS-WA has predominantly targeted local and regional security forces but has recently engaged in kidnapping. In 2017, Benin joined the multinational force to combat terrorism in the Lake Chad region, leading to concerns about potential retaliation from Chad Basin-based terrorist groups.
Growing instability in the Sahel and terrorist activity emanating from Mali are also a concern. Mali-based terrorist groups, which include regional affiliates of al-Qa’ida and ISIS, have carried out attacks in Burkina Faso and Niger. In addition, these groups have launched several attacks targeting locations frequented by foreigners in major West African cities since 2015. Many of these groups have attacked capital cities and/or local, regional, and international security forces of countries that participate in stabilization and/or counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel. Benin contributes more than 400 troops and police to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) that prompted concerns about possible retaliation from Mali-based terrorist groups.
There can be some harder feelings toward France, which colonized Benin.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Cotonou as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Public demonstrations, political gatherings, student protests, and strikes are common throughout Benin, particularly on Friday afternoons. Public discontent over economic/social conditions and local politics may precipitate these activities. The government recognizes freedom of assembly and association and authorizes public demonstrations. Demonstrations typically begin/end in front of government facilities in Cotonou. While most demonstrations are non-violent, violence and clashes with police may occur. It is recommended that travelers avoid all public demonstrations.
There has been only one instance of religious/ethnic violence, despite the diversity of ethnicities and religions in country. There is a religious group loosely derived from Catholicism whose leader claims divinity and, in recent years, has asked her people to destroy voodoo sites and objects in the weeks leading up to an annual voodoo festival in early January.
There are concerns of potential intercommunal violence related to land and grazing rights between nomadic herding people and subsistence farmers; this violence often takes on a religious and ethnic dimension, as herders are predominantly Fulani and Muslim, while farmers are typically members of other ethnic groups and are Christian/animist. Violent clashes between herders and farmers have escalated in Lake Chad Basin countries since late 2016, with Nigeria being particularly affected. Given Benin’s shared border with Nigeria, spillover from intercommunal clashes could exacerbate intercommunal tensions in Benin.
Swimming conditions along Benin’s coastline are dangerous due to strong tides, waves, and rip currents; several people drown each year.
Floods are common during the rainy season (mid-March-June). Significant flooding can occur in northern areas, affecting transit between Niger and Benin. Due to lack of infrastructure and drainage capabilities, severe rainstorms quickly inundate roadways and villages, making major routes impassable and impeding transportation within Cotonou.
Most working conditions are unsafe due to poor structural integrity, electrical problems, and imprecise oversight. Utility outages and wiring-related residential fires are common. For more information on fire safety in hotels, please review OSAC’s Report, “Fire Safety Abroad.”
Economic espionage is rare, though counterfeit goods, to include counterfeit and fraudulent medicines, are a problem in local markets.
Many locals do not like having their pictures taken, and photographing certain religious objects/sites is not welcome. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.
Personal Identity Concerns
Benin’s laws on sexual morality provide latitude for authorities to prosecute a range of sexual activity, even though its penal code does not mention or criminalize same-sex sexual relations. In general, Beninese authorities do not act against those in same-sex relationships. Local social norms favor discretion in sexual relations and are not uniformly accepting of same-sex relationships. Although Benin is less socially progressive than most Western cultures, Beninese do not make many disparaging remarks regarding same-sex relationships.
Due to its port, Cotonou is considered a major trans-shipment point for illegal drugs. However, while illegal drugs are present, organized crime and associated armed violence is not as prevalent in Benin as in other countries.
Police responsiveness and ability to investigate reported crimes is limited due to insufficient resources, lack of equipment, and inadequate training. However, local police are generally well-intentioned.
Travelers should be aware of the nearest police/gendarme station relative to their location.
Benin’s prisons are poorly operated, unsafe, and overcrowded.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
There are no known incidents of U.S. citizens being harassed or unfairly detained by Beninese police, but U.S. citizens are advised to contact the U.S. Embassy (Tel: (229) 21-300650) to report any incidents of police detention or harassment. The RSO maintains a strong working relationship with law enforcement authorities and is often immediately contacted following any known incident involving an American.
Crime Victim Assistance
Emergency Police: 117
Fire Department/Ambulance: 118
If foreigners are the victim of a crime, they should go in person to the nearest police station. Since French is the official language of Benin, it is advisable to have a French speaker on hand to report a crime. U.S. citizens are advised to contact the US Embassy’s American Citizens Section for assistance.
Healthcare does not meet Western standards. Most hospitals and medical facilities do not have adequate supplies or drugs for treatment of major illnesses/injuries. Travelers are advised to bring sufficient amounts of medication for their stay, as many prescription medications are not available or may be counterfeit or expired. Medicines should only be purchased from reputable pharmacies. 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
SkyLink Aviation, Inc.: www.skylinkaviation.com
Most medical facilities require cash payment for service, often in advance.
Serious illnesses/injuries often require travelers to be medically evacuated to another location where adequate medical care 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; it may range from US$40,000-$200,000.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
All routine U.S. immunizations should also be up to date prior to arrival; these diseases are more common in Benin than in the U.S.
Travelers should avoid swimming in any lakes, rivers, or still bodies of water, as most bodies of water have been found to contain parasites. Schistosomiasis is caused by a parasitic worm that is spread by fresh water snails. Avoid wading, swimming, bathing, washing in, or drinking from bodies of fresh water such as canals, lakes, rivers, streams, or springs.
Benin has had confirmed meningitis outbreaks.
Diarrheal illness is very common among travelers even in large cities and luxury accommodations. Travelers can diminish diarrhea risk through scrupulous washing of hands and use of hand sanitizers, especially before food preparation and eating. The greatest risk of traveler’s diarrhea is from contaminated food. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “I’m Drinking What in My Water?”
Even in urban areas, dogs may have rabies, and bites/scratches from dogs, bats, or other mammals should be immediately cleaned with soap and water and medical evaluation sought to determine if additional rabies immunization is warranted. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “When Wildlife Attacks.”
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Benin.
OSAC Country Council Information
The Cotonou Country Council meets quarterly. Interested parties should contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
U.S. Embassy Cotonou, Rue Caporal Anani 01 BP 2012, Cotonou Benin
Hours: ACS emergencies 24/7; standard ACS Tue, 1030-1230; Thurs, 1400-16:00.
Embassy Contact Numbers
Embassy Operator: (229) 21 30 06 50
Consular Duty Officer: (229) 97 97 47 28
If you are going to reside in or visit Benin, please take the time to tell our Embassy about your presence in-country. If you enroll, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency. To enroll your stay or visit, click the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
Travelers should check with their sponsoring organization to ensure they have the correct documentation in place or risk penalties (detention, fines, deportation).
Benin Country Information Sheet