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 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 webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.
The full spectrum of criminal activity can be found in Cotonou. Official Americans, businesspersons, and visitors are victimized primarily by crimes of opportunity (pickpocketing, purse snatching, theft of valuables from vehicles, assaults, residential burglaries). In particular, low-level criminal activity occurs in crowded areas (Dantokpa Market in central Cotonou). Criminals take advantage of foreigners attempting to navigate the crowded markets.
The Embassy is aware of several armed robberies in 2016 involving assault rifles; pistols, knives, and machetes have also been used. 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 when the streets are occupied. Robberies are generally crimes of opportunity, with the perpetrators seeking cash/valuables. The typical modus operandi consists of 2-4 perpetrators traveling on motorcycles/scooters, targeting victims walking alone in poorly illuminated areas. One or two perpetrators usually jump off the motorcycle with a knife/machete and rob the unsuspecting victim.
There has been a spike in residential break-ins in areas where expatriates typically reside.
Sexual assaults do occur and are usually associated with alcohol-related incidents. Some victims have reported that perpetrators used date-rape drugs to assault the victims. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.”
Cybercrime is a concern. The Embassy frequently receives reports from Americans residing in the U.S. who have become victims of online financial scams originating (or claiming to originate) in Benin. These typically involve a con artist attempting to convince a victim to send money. These fraudulent schemes can include lotteries, online dating services, inheritance notices, work permits/job offers, bank overpayments, or even helping a new friend in trouble. Please refer to the fraud warning on the Embassy’s website.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Road conditions deteriorate noticeably outside of Cotonou. Traffic conditions can be treacherous during the day and are unsafe at night. It is not unusual to see pedestrian traffic on all motorways at all hours of the day. 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 (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 poor maintenance and 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.”
Carjacking is a major problem in rural areas, with armed bandits placing barricades in the roadway to slow or halt vehicles.
Public Transportation Conditions
Public transportation is not recommended. The 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. The most common form of transport are licensed motorcycle taxis (zemijahns), though many are unlicensed, and Embassy personnel are prohibited from using them.
Cotonou Cadjehoun Airport is an old, two-terminal airport. 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.
Boko Haram affects Benin’s neighboring countries, using small assault tactics, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), and Suicide Vehicle-borne IEDs (SVBIED) to target churches, government installations, educational institutions, and entertainment venues. Benin has agreed to join the multinational force to combat Boko Haram, leading to concerns of potential retaliatory backlash. Events in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Cote d’Ivoire have raised concerns about possible terrorist activities, though there have not been any terror incidents in Benin.
American citizens and Westerners are generally well-received. There is little anti-American sentiment, though 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 dissension over economic/social conditions and local politics do occur. 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 official Americans, businesspersons, visitors, and other bystanders avoid all public demonstrations.
There has been only one example 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 issues between nomadic herding people and subsistence farmers.
Ocean currents can be deadly, and locals often drown.
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 overwhelm roadways and villages, making major routes impassable and affecting 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.
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
Although Benin is less 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 as in other countries.
Police responsiveness to reported crimes is limited due to lack of equipment and training. The police response and investigative capabilities are severely limited, though the local police are generally well-intentioned.
Americans should be aware of the nearest police/gendarme station relative to their location.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
There are no known incidents of Americans being harassed or unfairly detained by the police, but American 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 citizen. The prisons are poorly operated, unsafe, and overcrowded.
Crime Victim Assistance
Emergency Police: 117
Fire Department/Ambulance: 118
If a foreigner is the victim of a crime, s/he 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. Americans are advised to contact the US Embassy’s American Citizens Section for assistance.
While the National Police have primary jurisdiction in most major cities, the National Gendarmerie patrols most of the rural areas and government facilities. The government is integrating the two under the Ministry of the Interior.
Healthcare is well below Western standards. Most hospitals and medical facilities do not have the supplies/necessary drugs for treatment of major illnesses/injuries. Travelers are advised to bring sufficient amounts of medication, as many prescription medications are not available or when available, 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.” Most facilities require cash payment for service.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
Polyclinique Les Cocotiers B.P. 1227 Cadjehoun intersection across from Cadjehoun post office number: 30-14-31, 30-14-20 Dr. Assani.
Available Air Ambulance Services
SkyLink Aviation, Inc.
Serious illnesses/injuries often require travelers to be medically evacuated to 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
Travelers are advised to update their shot records prior to travel. All routine U.S. immunizations (measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, Hepatitis A, and tetanus) should also be up to date prior to arrival; these 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 may also have 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.
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Benin.
OSAC Country Council Information
The Cotonou Country Council currently meets quarterly and has approximately 10 members. Please contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions or to join.
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