|Still current at: 07 January 2011
Updated: 30 November 2010
There is an underlying threat from terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers. In February 2008, there were four small explosions at various locations in the Caracas. These incidents are believed to be related to the internal and regional political situation. You should exercise vigilance and be wary of suspect packages and parcels.
For more general information see our Terrorism Abroad page.
We advise against all travel to within 80 kms (50 miles) of the Colombian border in the states of Zulia, Tachire and Apure. We advise against all but essential travel to the remainder of Tachira state. Travellers should take care in the rest of Apure state and we advise those visiting the area, including the tourist area of Los Llanos, to do so as part of an organised tour. Drug Traffickers and illegal armed groups are active in these states and kidnappings are common. In addition, travellers should take particular care if attempting to cross in to Colombia from any state since border crossings can attract criminal activity. Travellers should only use official crossing points.
There is a high risk of street crime (often armed) throughout Venezuela, especially in the major cities and on beaches. We do not consider Sabana Grande a safe area in which to stay in Caracas; cheap hotels can be found in safer areas such as Chacao, La Castellana and Altamira - although these book up early. It is not advisable to visit ‘barrios’ (heavily populated slums), as many of these are unsafe. British nationals walking in the Avila National Park have been robbed at gunpoint.
The risk of crime is higher after dark. Try not to go out alone. It is inadvisable to camp on or visit beaches after dark. People carrying large amounts of money, wearing valuable watches or jewellery or using mobile phones in the street are especially vulnerable.
Car-jacking is also a problem by day and night. Car-jackers tend to target expensive-looking vehicles, especially 4x4s. We are also aware of reports of armed gangs that ram their intended victim’s vehicles from behind, or attempt to flag them down in order to rob them. Resistance to robbery has resulted in victims being shot dead. Robberies occur frequently on buses.
Do not accept pamphlets in the street or major shopping centres, as there have been incidents of these having been impregnated with potent and disorienting drugs which permeate the skin. Tourists’ drinks have also been spiked – do not accept food or drink from strangers who may befriend you in bars or restaurants.
“Express kidnappings” – short-term, opportunistic abductions, aimed at extracting cash from the victim – occur in Venezuela. Victims can be targeted or selected at random and held while criminals empty their bank accounts with stolen cash cards. Once the ransom is paid the victim is usually released. Tourists and business visitors alike have been targeted.
There is growing concern at the prevalence of all the above types of crime on the island of Margarita. Travellers are advised to exercise particular caution there. There have also been reports of companies offering residency permits for Margarita Island. You should only obtain residency permits from the Venezuelan immigration authority - SAIME. See the Entry Requirements – Visas section of this advice for more details.
For more general information see our Victims of Crime Abroad page.
Political opinion in Venezuela is polarised and demonstrations are a regular occurrence. They may take place with little warning and can turn violent. You should exercise caution in Caracas and other major urban centres and avoid large public gatherings. Larger demonstrations are announced in advance in the local media, however they could also happen anywhere and at any time. Please be aware that many Venezuelans carry guns and the police and Guardia Nacional are heavily armed when involved in crowd control situations. Travellers are advised to avoid all public areas where demonstrations are being held or are planned to take place.
Heavy rains in Venezuela
Venezuela has been suffering exceptionally heavy rains which have affected wide areas of the country. Travel has been severely affected in many areas, including at the international airport in Caracas. Many flights have been delayed, and or diverted to alternative airports. If you have any queries about your flight, please contact your tour operator or airline.
The government of Venezuela has announced States of Emergencies in many states of Venezuela. There have been landslides in many areas of the country, which have particularly affected shanty towns built on hillsides. Road conditions are treacherous and the rains have resulted in many reported deaths. We advise against unnecessary journeys, particularly those which might pass through rain affected areas. Travellers should monitor local media, and refer to this travel advice regularly for updates.
Travelling to and from Maiquetia Airport (Caracas)
We recommend that you avoid travelling on the road between Caracas and Maiquetia airport during the hours of darkness, particularly between 2300 and 0400hrs. There are fewer cars on the road during this time and the risk of crime is much higher. We advise that you stay in one of the hotels close to the airport if your flight is arriving late at night, or leaving early in the morning. Journey times between the city and the airport can be long and unpredictable and you are advised to allow plenty of time for your journey.
Since October 2008, the National Guard have increased random drug and security checks at Maiquetia Airport. Passengers are being asked by genuine officials to open their luggage for inspection or to accompany an officer to a local hospital for an x-ray. This is a routine security procedure but it has led to some passengers missing their flights. If you are travelling on an international flight you are advised to arrive at the airport at least three hours prior to departure in order to allow time for security procedures.
There have been cases of passengers being robbed at gunpoint by bogus taxi-drivers at the airport and being 'express kidnapped' (see the Crime section of this Travel Advice). You are advised not to board a taxi if there are other passengers already inside the car. Do not accept offers of transport in the arrivals hall. If you have no alternative but to take a taxi, ensure it is one of those parked at the official taxi rank outside the arrivals hall. If possible, you should arrange to be met by friends, business contacts, or tour operators. Only licensed taxis bearing a clearly identifiable number should be used.
The airport itself can be a dangerous place. Be on your guard for bogus officials luring you into a quiet corner on the pretence of carrying out extra security checks. If approached by an officer purporting to be an airport official, even if they are in uniform and/or present credentials, you should try to ensure that you remain in a busy area of the airport and, if possible, check with other airport or airline staff that the official is genuine. Casually dressed travellers are been targeted more frequently at the airport. We advise that British Nationals wear smarter attire as this may lower your risk of being harassed. If you are coming to Venezuela to work, we advise that you bring with you a letter from your employer and your local contact organisation details (including a Spanish translation), as there have been occasions when passengers have been hassled for bribes.
There have been several instances of travellers being overcharged when paying airport tax for both international flights and domestic flights within Venezuela. You are advised always to check the amount printed on the receipt issued for the tax (normally a sticker affixed to the back of your ticket) before handing over any money. Currently the domestic airport tax, including journeys from Caracas to Margarita Island, is BsF 32.50. International passengers must pay two taxes to exit the country. The international departure tax increased in August 2010 to BsF 195 (from BsF 162.50) but it is usually, although not always, included in the cost of the airfare ticket. If you purchased your flight tickets before August, you may be asked to pay the difference by the airline when you check in, which should be BsF 32.50. There is also an airport tax of BsF 162.50 that must be paid in cash (Bolivares) after check in at the airport (at one of the tax payment booths). Check with your airline before agreeing to pay anything extra.
Travellers are approached at the airport by individuals offering to exchange foreign currency and those who have done so have in some cases been left with forged local currency. You are advised to exchange currency at official currency exchange booths.
Do not handle illicit drugs. Drug trafficking is a serious problem in Venezuela. Detection methods are sophisticated and drug traffickers should expect to be arrested. Conviction leads to severe penalties, including up to two years being held on remand prior to sentencing. Drug traffickers receive lengthy prison sentences (usually eight to ten years). Conditions in Venezuelan jails are harsh and dangerous, and among the worst in the region. There are no secure areas for visitors to meet with prisoners and all visits take place amongst the general prison population. Many prisoners carry firearms and violence is common. Due to realistic concerns over staff safety, prison visits by consular staff in Venezuela have been limited to specific pressing issues e.g. first visit, emergency visits including for medical purposes and the signing of Prisoner Transfer Agreements. It is an offence to photograph military or strategic installations (eg. military airports, and the Presidential Palace). Innocent pastimes such as plane spotting are not recognised as such in Venezuela and should be avoided.
For more general information for different types of travellers see our Your Trip page.
If you are arriving by air, you can enter for up to 90 days on a tourist card issued on arrival. You should also have a valid return ticket. If you are arriving overland, or by sea, you need to obtain a visa in advance from your nearest Venezuelan Embassy or Consulate. You must not overstay the 90 days or you may be arrested and fined when departing. Extensions of up to 60 days can be arranged at any DIEX (Department for Foreigners of Ministry of Interior) office on payment of a fee plus presentation of passport, tourist card, photograph and return ticket.
If you are resident in Venezuela, the only location where you can apply for or extend your residency permit is the main SAIME Office in Caracas. There have been reports of other ways of obtaining a residency permit, including at least one company offering residency permits for the island of Margarita, but these permits may be of dubious legality and should be avoided.
Your passport should have at least six months’ validity on arrival.
Yellow Fever vaccination certificate
A Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is not a requirement to enter Venezuela, but there have been cases where officials have illegitimately fined travellers who have been unable to produce such a certificate. Some airlines travelling to Venezuela will insist you have a Yellow Fever vaccination before boarding the plane unless you can produce your vaccination certificate. You are advised to check with your airline before travelling to Venezuela.
The Venezuelan Nationality and Citizenship Law requires any dual national Venezuelan to use their Venezuelan identity documents to enter, reside in and leave the country. Dual British/Venezuelan nationals entering, leaving or residing in Venezuela should ensure that they are in compliance with these Venezuelan Government requirements.
Travelling with children
Adults travelling alone with children should be aware that Venezuelan authorities usually require documentary evidence of parental responsibility before permitting the children to leave the country.
Medical facilities in Venezuela vary widely in quality. In large cities, private clinics provide good quality care for routine treatments. More complex treatments may require evacuation to Miami so you should ensure that your insurance covers this. Public health facilities are poor, with frequent shortages of medicines and funding. This is a problem reflected nationwide, and exacerbated outside major cities by the great distances involved in reaching them.
Dengue Fever is endemic to Latin America and the Caribbean and can occur throughout the year. There has been a marked increase in the number of reported cases of Dengue Fever across the region in recent years and in Venezuela's western and south western states in particular. From 1 January to 5 June 2010, , there have been 41,573 reported cases of Dengue nationwide, more than double compared to the whole of 2009. A dengue epidemic has been declared in all the Venezuelan states. Travellers are advised to take precautions against being bitten and use insect repellent.
In May 2010, the Venezuelan Health Ministry announced a rise of Chagas (Trypanosomiasis) disease cases in central Caracas (Libertador Municipality). Further information on Chagas disease can be found on the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.
There have also been cases of Yellow Fever in a number of different states of Venezuela. Many countries in the region, such as Brazil, require those arriving from Venezuela to have proof of a Yellow Fever vaccination. You should check with the relevant embassy before you travel.
There have been reports of rabies in bats, in particular in the Amazonas region of Venezuela. If you are travelling to this area and are planning on sleeping or camping outside, it would be advisable to ensure you have the necessary vaccinations before travelling.
Tap water is considered unsafe to drink. You should drink or use only boiled or bottled water and avoid ice in drinks. If you suffer from diarrhoea during a visit to Venezuela you should seek immediate medical attention.
You should exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS. For more general information on how to do this see our HIV and AIDS page.
You should seek medical advice before travelling to Venezuela and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date. For further information on vaccination requirements, health outbreaks and general disease protection and prevention you should visit the websites of the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) and NHS Scotland’s Fit for Travel or call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.
Further guidance on precautions you can take to protect yourself can be found on the Health Protection Agency website and on the “Travel Health” and “Swine Flu” pages.
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from 1 June to 30 November, and can affect portions of northern Venezuela. Venezuela is not prone to tropical cyclones, but can occasionally be hit, impacting on coastal regions particularly, with torrential rain, powerful winds, high waves and storm surges. Caracas would likely experience heavy rains, but be largely sheltered from any cyclone as it is protected by the Avila mountain range; cyclones also lose their strength as they move over land.
There are a number of things you can do to prepare yourself if you live in, or are planning to travel to, this region including:
Visitors should be aware that the waters of the Caribbean can be deceptive. There are strong currents and undertows in some areas that can make swimming hazardous. Lifeguards and warnings are not always in place. Caution is necessary.
Strict currency controls are in place in Venezuela. Bureaux de change, including at the airport, will exchange US dollars for Bolivars.. US dollars and US dollar travellers' cheques (American Express) are accepted at most Italcambios (bureau de change) offices throughout Venezuela.
You are advised to exchange currency at official currency exchange booths only and not to use the black market. Travellers are approached at the airport by individuals offering to exchange foreign currency and those who have done so have in some cases been left with forged local currency. There is no facility for changing Bolivars to US dollars, or any other currency, when leaving Venezuela; travellers should consider only changing the required amount to avoid having leftover Bolivars.
In most towns and all major cities, international credit cards (visa and mastercard) are accepted. However, it can be difficult to withdraw cash from ATMs with UK bank cards. Branches of Banco Mercantil and Banesco have worked for some travellers. Sometimes the ATM will ask you for a 2 digit identification number, after you have selected the amount to withdraw. If you are asked for this, input 00, and it should work. (This is a security measure as all Venezuelan bank cards are linked to an identity document, which UK-bank cards are not). Travellers should be aware there is also a serious problem with credit card fraud and cards being "cloned." You are advised to exercise caution whenever you are using your credit or debit cards.
There are branches of Grupo Zoom (affiliated to Western Union) throughout Venezuela. If you run out of money and discover that your bank cards do not work, you can arrange with friends and family overseas to deposit funds into any Western Union, and pick up the deposited funds at any Grupo Zoom branch.