Originally: Consular Information Sheet

Consular Information Sheet

28 août 2003

U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs Washington, DC 20520

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION : Haiti is one of the least developed and more dangerous countries in the Western Hemisphere. The availability of consumer goods and services is adequate in the capital, Port-au-Prince, but other parts of the country experience chronic shortages. Most consumer products are imported and expensive. Some tourism facilities in Port-au-Prince, Jacmel and Cap Haitien are satisfactory, but most are rudimentary at best in other Haitian cities, and virtually non-existent elsewhere in Haiti.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS : Haitian law requires U.S. citizens to have a passport to enter Haiti. In the past, officials have sometimes waived this requirement if travelers have a certified copy of their U.S. birth certificate. Due to fraud concerns, however, airlines will not board passengers for return to the United States unless they are in possession of a valid passport. The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that U.S. citizens obtain passports before travel to Haiti. Once in Haiti, they can experience delays of several weeks for the issuance of a passport, as it is often more difficult to establish identity and citizenship overseas than in the United States. The Haitian government requires foreigners to pay a fee prior to departure. In 2002, the Haitian government was also considering requiring foreign visitors to obtain visas in order to enter Haiti. U.S. citizens are encouraged to contact the Embassy of the Republic of Haiti for more details on this possibility, as well as for other information regarding entry, departure and customs requirements for Haiti. The Embassy of the Republic of Haiti is located at 2311 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20008, the telephone number is (202) 332-4090. There are likewise Haitian consulates in Florida, Massachusetts, New York, Illinois and Puerto Rico.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child’s travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian if not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.

DUAL NATIONALITY : In addition to being subject to all Haiti’s laws affecting U.S. citizens, individuals who also possess Haitian nationality may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on citizens of that country. For additional information, see the Consular Affairs home page on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov for our Dual Nationality flyer.

SAFETY AND SECURITY : U.S. citizens who feel they must visit Haiti should exercise extreme caution and are strongly encouraged to register at the Consular Annex of the U.S. Embassy immediately upon their arrival.

In recent years, Haiti has experienced an alarming rise in civil and political unrest. Protests and demonstrations occur frequently throughout the country, and can become violent with little or no warning. Private organizations and businesses may be targets of demonstrations or take-over attempts related to business disputes or extortion demands. Rural areas have also become more dangerous.

Local and national elections held in May 2000 remain publicly disputed, and tension between the government and the opposition colored the political climate in 2002 as it did in 2001. An attack on the National Palace on December 17, 2001 further stirred Haiti’s volatile mix of political and social unrest. Frequently during 2002, activists established unofficial, temporary roadblocks throughout the country, cutting off major thoroughfares and the airport. U.S. Government buildings have sometimes been the focal points of these actions. During 2002, protesters periodically succeeded in paralyzing Port-au-Prince and other major cities including Gonaïves, Miragoane, Petit Goave, Cap Haitien and Leogane using flaming barricades, bonfires and firearms. Recent incidents have included politically motivated violence perpetrated against political leaders as well as the press. The rhetoric of some activists and popular organizations has been anti-foreign, and the Haitian government has neither contained nor condemned certain violent and dangerous situations.

During 2002, the Embassy issued approximately one security-related message per month warning U.S. citizens in Haiti of violent or unstable conditions. On occasion, the U.S. mission in Haiti may have to suspend service to the public or close because of security concerns. These concerns may also temporarily prevent Embassy personnel from traveling to or through some areas. In those situations, the Embassy will continue to be available by telephone to offer emergency services to U.S. citizens.

U.S. citizens in Haiti should avoid all large gatherings, as crowd behavior can be unpredictable. Visitors encountering roadblocks, demonstrations, or large crowds should remain calm and depart the area quickly and without confrontation. Assistance from Haitian officials, such as the police, is often unavailable. Overseas visitors must be particularly cautious on the days of planned political activities. U.S. citizens are urged to take common-sense precautions and avoid any event where crowds may congregate. Current information on safety and security is always available from the U.S. Embassy at the telephone numbers listed below.

CRIME : There are no “safe areas” in Haiti. Crime, already a problem, has mushroomed in recent years. Up to 15% of the cocaine entering the United States now passes through Haiti. The state of law and order has steadily deteriorated as a result. Reports of death threats, murders, drug-related shootouts, kidnappings, armed robberies, break-ins or carjackings occur almost daily. U.S. citizens and other foreigners have likewise reported the theft of yachts and sailboats along the Haitian coast. Of particular concern is the doubling of the number of U.S. citizens murdered in Haiti during 2002 – up from four reported murders in 2001 to eight by November 2002. Kidnappings, including kidnappings of resident U.S. citizens, have also increased ; ransoms of up to hundreds of thousands of dollars have been demanded.

U.S. citizens who must travel to Haiti should exercise extreme caution throughout the country. Travelers should keep valuables well hidden, ensure possessions are not left in parked vehicles, use private transportation, alternate travel routes, avoid nighttime travel, and keep doors and windows in homes and vehicles closed and locked. They should be alert for suspicious onlookers when entering and exiting banks, as criminals often watch and subsequently attack bank customers. Withdrawals of large amounts of cash should be avoided. If an armed individual demands the surrender of a vehicle or other valuables, the U.S. Embassy recommends compliance without resistance. Criminals have shot individuals who resisted. Visitors to Haiti should exercise caution at all times and review basic personal security procedures frequently.

U.S. citizens in Haiti must be particularly alert when leaving the Port-au-Prince airport, as criminals have often targeted arriving passengers for later assaults and robberies. Some recent incidents have resulted in death. The use of public transportation, including “tap-taps” (private transportation used for commercial purposes), is not recommended ; it is suggested that visitors to Haiti arrange for someone known to them to meet them at the airport.

U.S. citizens should decline all requests to carry items for others to or from Haiti. Traffickers of illegal drugs have duped unsuspecting travelers into helping transport narcotics aboard commercial airlines. As of November 2002, there were nine U.S. citizens in Haitian prisons awaiting trial on drug smuggling charges.

Certain high-crime zones in the Port-au-Prince area should be avoided, including Carrefour, the port road (Boulevard La Saline), urban route Nationale #1, the airport road (Boulevard Haile Selassie) and its adjoining connectors to the New (“American”) Road via Route Nationale #1. This latter area in particular has been the scene of numerous robberies, carjackings, and murders. Embassy employees are prohibited from entering Cite Soleil and La Saline and their surrounding environs due to significant criminal activity, and are strongly urged to avoid Delmas 105 between Delmas 95 and Rue Jacob. Neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince once considered relatively safe, such as the Delmas road area and Petionville, have been the scenes of an increasing number of violent crimes.

Cameras and video cameras should only be used with the permission of the subjects ; violent incidents have followed unwelcome photography. Their use should be avoided altogether in high-crime areas.

Holiday periods, especially Christmas and Carnival, often bring a significant increase in violent crime. Haiti’s Carnival season is marked by street celebrations in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday. In recent years, Carnival has been accompanied by civil disturbances, altercations and severe traffic disruptions. People attending Carnival events or simply caught in the resulting celebrations have been injured and killed. Random stabbings during Carnival season are frequent. Roving musical bands called “raras” operate during the period from New Year’s Day through Carnival. Being caught in a rara event may begin as an enjoyable experience, but the potential for injury and the destruction of property is high. A “mob mentality” can develop unexpectedly leaving people and cars engulfed and at risk. During Carnival, raras continuously form without warning ; some raras have identified themselves with political entities, lending further potential for violence.

The Haitian police are poorly equipped and unable to respond to most calls for assistance. Police complicity, if not involvement, in violent crime in Haiti as well as in the illegal drug trade is regularly alleged. During 2002, some U.S. citizens residing in Haiti lost their homes and other property to gangs of armed thugs, with no response from the Haitian police. The unsatisfactory response and enforcement capabilities of the Haitian national police and the weakness of the judiciary frustrate many victims of crime in Haiti. U.S. citizens involved in business and property disputes in Haiti have occasionally been arrested and detained without charge, and have been released only after intervention at high levels of the Haitian Government.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State’s pamphlet, “A Safe Trip Abroad,” for ways to promote a trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

MEDICAL FACILITIES : Medical facilities in Haiti are scarce and for the most part sub-standard ; outside the capital standards are even lower. Medical care in Port-au-Prince is limited, and the level of community sanitation is extremely low. Life-threatening emergencies may require evacuation by air ambulance at the patient’s expense. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

MEDICAL INSURANCE : The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and if it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations.

When making a decision regarding health insurance, U.S. citizens should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or if you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, “Medical Information for U.S. Citizens Traveling Abroad,” available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax : (202) 647-3000.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION : Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) ; fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC’s Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/iht.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS : While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Haiti is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation : n/a

Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance : poor

Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance : poor

Availability of Roadside Assistance : poor

Driving in Haiti must be undertaken with extreme caution. The situation on the roads can be described as chaotic at best, and it is advisable for those with no knowledge of Haitian roads and traffic customs to hire a driver through a local hotel. Roads are generally unmarked, and detailed and accurate maps are not widely available. Lanes are not marked and signs indicating the direction of traffic flow seldom exist. This lack of organization, along with huge potholes that occur without warning, may cause drivers to execute unpredictable and dangerous maneuvers in heavy traffic. The Haitian government lacks adequate resources to assist drivers in distress or to clear the road of accidents or broken-down vehicles blocking the flow of traffic. Drinking and driving is illegal in Haiti, but people frequently drive after drinking, especially at night.

Public transportation as it is usually defined does not exist in Haiti. While Haitians use buses, “taptaps” and taxis, which may observe regular routes much like public transportation, none of these should be considered reliable. The Embassy strongly discourages their use.

Those who do drive in Haiti should do so defensively and conservatively, avoid confrontations such as jockeying for position, and remain aware of the vehicles around them. Drivers should carry the phone numbers of people to call for assistance in an emergency, as Haitian authorities are unlikely to respond to requests for assistance. When traveling outside of Port-au-Prince, drivers should caravan with other vehicles to avoid being stranded in the event of an accident or breakdown.

As neither written nor driving tests are required to qualify for driver’s licenses, road laws are not generally known or applied. Signaling imminent actions is not widely practiced, and not all drivers use turn indicators or international hand signals properly. For instance, many drivers use their left blinker for all actions, including turning right and stopping in the road, and others flap their left arm out the window to indicate that they will be taking an unspecified action. Drivers do not always verify that the road is clear before switching lanes, turning, or merging.

Speed limits are seldom posted and are generally ignored. Speeding is the cause of many of the fatal traffic accidents in Haiti, as are overloaded vehicles on winding, mountainous roads and vehicles without brakes. Poor maintenance and mechanical failures often cause accidents as well. Drivers should be particularly cautious at night, as unlighted vehicles can appear without warning.

Right of way is not widely observed in Haiti, and there are few operational traffic lights or traffic signs. It is advisable at most intersections to stop and verify that there is no oncoming traffic even if it appears that you have the right of way. Drivers can be quite aggressive and will seldom yield. Walls built to the edge of roads frequently make it impossible to see around corners, forcing drivers to edge their cars into the road at intersections to check for oncoming traffic.

Traffic is extremely congested in urban areas, and hours-long traffic jams develop throughout the country. Cars are supposed to be driven on the right side of the road in Haiti, but few roads have lane indicators and drivers use whatever part of the road is open to them, even if it is not the correct side of the road.

In addition to vehicles, a variety of other objects may appear on the road in Haiti, such as wooden carts dragged by people, small ice cream carts, animals, mechanics with vehicles, and even vendors and their wares. Vehicles are often abandoned in the road or by the side of the road. There are few marked crosswalks and sidewalks, and pedestrians often wend their way through traffic in urban areas.

For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html. For specific information concerning Haitian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Haitian Ministry of Tourism by email at info@haititourisme.org or via the Internet at www.haititourisme.org.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT : The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Haiti’s civil aviation authority as Category 2 — not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for the oversight of Haiti’s air carrier operations. This assessment does not apply to U.S., Canadian or European carriers servicing Haiti. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA’s Internet website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa.

Because of serious concerns about the operation of the Haitian air carrier Tropical Airways, particularly regarding its maintenance oversight, U.S. Embassy staff and official visitors to Haiti are instructed to avoid flying aboard either the domestic or the international flights of Tropical Airways. Americans considering travel on Tropical Airways may wish to defer their travel or pursue other means of transportation.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. In addition, DOD does not permit its personnel to use air carriers from Category 2 countries for official business except for flights originating from or terminating in the United States. Local exceptions may apply. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

CUSTOMS REGULATIONS : Haitian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or exportation from Haiti of some items. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Haiti in Washington or one of Haiti’s consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES : While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens are subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Haitian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. The judicial process in Haiti can be extremely long ; progress is often dependent on considerations not related to the specific case. Detainees may wait months or years for their cases to be heard before a judge or to have legal decisions acted upon by the authorities. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Haiti are strict. Those accused of drug-related crimes can expect lengthy legal proceedings, irregular application of Haitian law, and delayed due process. If convicted, offenders may face long jail sentences and substantial fines.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES : The official currency of Haiti is the gourde, which has a variable exchange rate (as of November 2002, there were around 35 gourdes to one U.S. dollar.) Visitors will notice that many establishments in Haiti price items in a fictitious currency known as the “Haitian dollar.” (One Haitian dollar is equivalent to five gourdes.) Others give prices in gourdes or even, at times, in U.S. dollars. It is always a good idea to clarify with vendors which currency — the gourde, Haitian dollar, or U.S. dollar — is being used in a given transaction, as price tags often bear a number without indicating currency. The currency itself shows a value in gourdes.

Travelers’ checks are often difficult to change in Haiti, but credit cards are widely accepted and some establishments accept or cash personal checks. At least one local bank chain has ATMs around Port-au-Prince that are compatible with some U.S. ATM cards. These ATMS are frequently out-of-order, and there have been reports of over-charging accounts.