Location: South Asia
Time zone: GMT/UTC plus 4.5 hours
Daylight savings time: no
Current time: 15:20
Dialling code: +93
Internet suffix: .af
With cultural diversity and a rich history, Afghanistan is a fascinating destination. However, endemic instability, a lack of development and major security risks make it a very challenging place to live, work and visit.
Overall security situation: high levels of insecurity
Crime rate: high
Murder rate: moderately high
Gun ownership levels: average
Kidnapping hotspot: yes
Maritime piracy hotspot: no
Do landmines/unexploded munitions pose a significant risk in parts of the country: yes
Afghanistan is plagued by security issues, including ongoing, widespread conflict between different sides, including the weak government and the Taliban. For many people, much of the country should be considered off-limits. For those intent on visiting and working here, strong risk mitigation measures should be in place.
Demonstrations occur sporadically in urban areas. There are frequent terrorist attacks, many areas are lawless, crime and banditry are rife, kidnap for ransom is common and several parts of the country contain unexploded ordnance such as landmines. Social development levels are low while poverty and illiteracy rates are high, reducing optimism for future improvements in the country’s situation.
Aviation safety levels: grounds for concern
Annual road fatality rates: high
Vehicles drive on the: right
Infrastructure quality: major deficit
Urban ATM availability: very limited
Electricity supply: 220V 50Hz
Electricity supply reliability: very poor
Plug types: C and F
Plug type C (2 round pins, not grounded/earthed)
Plug type F (2 round pins, grounded/earthed, socket compatible with plug types C and E)
Is tap water drinkable: no
Healthcare quality: very poor
Infectious disease prevalence: high
Travellers should consult a medical practitioner prior to their trip but the following vaccines may be considered before travelling to the country, depending on factors such as specific destination, planned activities, intended time and length of stay as well as personal medical conditions (in some cases no additional vaccines may be required at all):
- Cholera (usually only recommended for aid workers or those spending time in at-risk areas)
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B (not always needed)
- Rabies (usually only for long-term stays, or for those spending time in isolated areas or coming into contact with animals)
- Standard vaccinations (ie those commonly used in the developed world such as diphtheria, measles, mumps, polio, rubella, tuberculosis and tetanus).
Malaria risk: high
Yellow fever presence: no
Dengue fever prevalence: sporadic cases
Rabies prevalence: high risk
HIV prevalence in society: low
Hepatitis A prevalence: high
Hepatitis B prevalence: intermediate
Hepatitis E prevalence: highly endemic
Cholera status: periodic outbreaks in some areas
Chikungunya virus presence: not present
Zika virus presence: not recently reported
Japanese encephalitis presence: no
Cutaneous leishmaniasis presence: endemic and problematic
Visceral leishmaniasis presence: endemic
Onchocerciasis presence: non-endemic
Schistosomiasis presence: none
Tick-borne encephalitis status: possible risk
Chagas disease presence: none
Typhoid fever presence: strongly endemic
African trypanosomiasis presence: none
Plague status: not thought to be present
Rift Valley fever status: not present
Lassa fever status: not present
Polio status: endemic
Ebola outbreaks: no
Meningococcal meningitis hotspot: no
Climate: arid to semiarid; cold winters and hot summers
Terrain: mostly rugged mountains; plains in north and southwest
Natural disaster risk: very high
Natural hazards: damaging earthquakes occur in Hindu Kush mountains; landslides; extreme temperatures; flooding; droughts
Tropical storms: few/none
Volcanic activity: low/none
Previous earthquake(s) with over 1,000 fatalities: yes
Government type: Islamic republic
Socio-economic development score: 3/10 (low levels of socio-economic development)
Adult literacy rate: 38.2%
Unemployment rate: extremely high
Civil liberties: restricted
Investment rating: not rated
Corruption levels: extremely high
Same-sex sexual activity: illegal
Death penalty: in use
Languages: Dari (official) 50%, Pashto (official) 35%, Turkic languages (primarily Uzbek and Turkmen) 11%, 30 minor languages (primarily Balochi and Pashai) 4%, much bilingualism, but Dari functions as the lingua franca. Note: the Turkic languages Uzbek and Turkmen, as well as Balochi, Pashai, Nuristani, and Pamiri are the third official languages in areas where the majority speaks them
Ethnic groups: Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, other (includes smaller numbers of Baloch, Turkmen, Nuristani, Pamiri, Arab, Gujar, Brahui, Qizilbash, Aimaq, Pashai, and Kyrghyz)
Beliefs: Muslim 99.7% (Sunni 84.7 – 89.7%, Shia 10 – 15%), other 0.3%
- The following advice has been compiled by travel safety specialists and ex-special forces personnel.
- However, please note that it is of a general nature only and may not reflect the reality of your circumstances.
- Ensure you have proper insurance cover in place.
- Select good quality accommodation and properly prepare for any tasks, excursions or other activities you have to undertake.
- Be mindful of local laws and cultural norms, bearing in mind that they might be different to what you are accustomed to.
- Consider conducting or obtaining a risk assessment specific to you, your profile and your trip, task or operation.
- This should take into account the likelihood of potential risks affecting you, as well as the likely impact they will have, and will help you decide, depending on your risk appetite and implementable risk mitigation measures, whether or not you should proceed.
- Civil unrest can lead to road closures and even curfews, which can affect your travel plans.
- Be prepared for delays and route alterations.
- Avoid demonstrations as they can turn violent.
- Large gatherings of people can be difficult to predict or control and can lead to issues such as mob violence, arson, assault and looting.
- The security forces may use excessive force to control events in some circumstances, posing an indiscriminate risk to anyone in the area.
- Even without any particular violence, large demonstrations can be at risk of poor crowd control, which can lead to crushes and stampedes.
- If demonstrations take place on a frequent basis, research the trends which tend to accompany them.
- Where do they tend to take place? Do they tend to turn violent? Do attendees target specific types of building or representative interests associated with a specific nationality, industry, political group (such as party-political offices, state buildings or foreign-owned businesses)?
- Once you have identified the sorts of risks, trends and areas of higher risk to be avoided you can start planning to minimise your exposure.
- If civil unrest appears to be particularly volatile, or set to last for an extended period, try to stock up with essential items (including food, water and medicine) in case you are stuck in your accommodation or work place or other location for an extended period of time.
- Be prepared to alter your plans at short notice and even to leave the area or even the whole country if conditions escalate. deteriorate.
- Identify evacuation routes and safe havens in case you need to get out of harms way at short notice.
- It is also advisable to identify the evacuation routes and fire safety procedures at your accommodation and/or work place in case you need to leave in a hurry.
- Beware of photography at sensitive sites or during civil disturbance.
- Research and familiarise yourself with your destination in advance of travel.
- Find out what the local criminal trends are and identify any potential hotspots, such as certain neighbourhoods.
- Note than crime levels can often be higher around public transport, shopping areas and crowded places.
- In higher risk areas exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings.
- Try not to overtly display your belongings or anything that could make you appear wealthy.
- Ask yourself if you need to show off your jewellery, watch, mobile phone or other items or equipment.
- Try to keep your wallet or cash hidden.
- It also helps to avoid appearing vulnerable in at-risk areas so try to display confidence and purpose as you move around.
- Avoid consulting a map in public as this will mark you out as both unfamiliar with the environment as well as being potentially vulnerable.
- Familiarise yourself with local maps and directions before wandering around.
- Identify routes to your accommodation and other safe havens (such as police stations, embassies, commercial areas with a police presence or quieter, safer neighbourhoods for example).
- Familiarise yourself with landmarks so you can orientate yourself and find your way out of trouble spots if you need to.
- Note that crime trends can change, and the level of risk can become higher, after dark.
- It might be advisable to avoid wandering around at night.
- Avoid dark alleys in urban areas.
- It is might also be advisable to travel in pairs or in a group.
- It may also be preferable to drive or be driven around certain areas rather than walking around in the street, even for going relatively short distances.
- In general, use your gut instincts and be prepared to avoid situations, places or people that seem suspicious, odd or wrong in some way.
- Make sure that your organisation and loved ones are ready to respond in the event that you are taken.
- Consider appropriate insurance arrangements.
- Otherwise, in at-risk areas keep knowledge of your plans and movements to a small circle of trusted individuals.
- Take family photos with you as this can help humanise you in the eyes of your captors, which could elicit sympathy and potentially encourage them to treat you better.
- Keep a low profile, but also consider travelling in pairs or in a group in order to appear less vulnerable, depending on the circumstances.
- Vary routes and routines so as to make it harder for any potential abductor to plan an attack against you.
- Consider undertaking hostile environment training in advance of travel.
- Consider undertaking close protection services if the local security environment requires it.
Foreign government warnings
- Pay attention to the advice issued by your government and/or other countries (such as the US or UK).
- For most travellers, it will be very much advisable to avoid any areas deemed to be high-risk by official government bodies.
- For those who need to travel to these locations for work, personal or other essential reasons should consider the risks likely to be present and take appropriate measures.
- Insurance may not be valid for travel undertaken to these areas, so it is advisable to check with your provider before travel.
- Note that areas of official high-risk might change at short notice.
- Bear in mind that conditions could deteriorate in the future.
- Monitor the news closely and pay attention to official advice issued by foreign governments (such as the British Foreign Office or US State Department).
- Stay in communication with other people working and/or travelling with you, as well as your colleagues, employers and/or loved ones out of the country.
- If such a deterioration takes place, note that the process could be gradual, or it could be very sudden.
- Have contingency plans in place, including evacuation routes, safe havens and alternatives if these areas suddenly become unsafe or unreachable.
- During a crisis, roads might be blocked or congested, airports could be chaotic, and borders may be sealed so it helps to have a range of potential options.
- In times of heightened tension, be prepared to leave at short notice.
- Alternatively, if the situation on the ground is hazardous, it might be preferable to stay in a ‘hold fast’ position in secure accommodation and await conditions to stabilise.
- Have adequate stocks of fuel, food, water and medication to either stay in the hold fast position, or to take with you on your journey, in case it involves lengthy delays.
- Have your valuables and other essential items close at hand and ready to take with you at short notice (for example in a ‘grab bag’).
- Ensure that you have adequate insurance in place to cover you for an evacuation if one is required.
- Monitor and assess the trends and tactics of any relevant terrorist organisations with the potential for targeting your location and identify potential targets.
- For particularly at-risk areas, the most effective risk mitigation advice is simply to avoid them.
- Use your judgement on the frequency of incidents taking place and decide whether or not your journey to an at-risk location is needed.
- Be vigilant in and around higher-risk areas, which could include crowded places, symbolic or sensitive political sites, or busy restaurant, nightlife or tourist spots.
- Depending on the situation and circumstances (including your own work, nationality, lifestyle and other profile aspects) you might need to enact security measures for protection in higher-risk areas.
- Be aware of your surroundings and be prepared to react at short notice in the event of an incident.
- In the event of an incident, get out of the area quickly if it is safe to do so.
- Alternatively hide and try to keep out of harm’s way.
- In most cases you should only try to help other people if it is safe for you to do so.
- Keep quiet and notify the relevant authorities, colleagues or loved ones only when you are out of danger.
- Find out where the at-risk areas are in a country and consider avoiding them, particularly if any minefields are poorly demarcated.
- If you have to go to an at-risk area, consider undergoing minefield awareness training first.
- Seek local knowledge on the whereabouts of potential unexploded ordnance as residents will often have the most up-to-date information.
- Stick to well used roads, routes and paths.
- Don’t touch or approach suspicious items.
- If in doubt when travelling, especially on foot, turn back and retrace your steps.
- If driving in an at-risk area, avoid leaving the vehicle as far as possible.
- Take particular care after heavy rainfall as flooding can wash away warning signs or even displace unexploded ordnance and move it into new areas.
- Try to use reputable airlines.
- Check the safety records of any companies you use to charter flights.
- Check the weather forecast in advance of travel – particularly for domestic flights.
- Consider delaying your trip or using an alternative means of transport rather than taking a risky flight.
Road traffic accident
- Be aware of local driving conditions and hazards.
- Drive defensively and adhere to speed limits to minimise the risk of being caught up in an accident, or request that your driver(s) do the same.
- If using a taxi or local driver, ensure that they are qualified and competent and that their vehicle appears well maintained.
- Ensure that vehicles are in good working order before travel.
- Perform regular checks on your vehicles for oil, fuel, tyres and seatbelts.
- Consider taking additional equipment such as a jack, spare tyres, water, blankets, torches and a first aid kit, especially if travelling to more rural or isolated areas.
- Consider using four-wheel drive vehicles for particularly poor road conditions.
- Car users should know how to perform emergency repairs.
- Be prepared for potentially poor-quality roads and other forms of transportation.
- This can make it difficult to get around.
- Consider obtaining a high-quality vehicle that can handle difficult terrain if you intend to travel anywhere with particularly bad-quality roads.
- Bear in mind that traffic safety conditions may be poor.
- Try to ensure that any accommodation or workplace is located in a good quality building.
- Bear in mind that in the event of an accident or emergency, the emergency response services may have very limited resources available.
- Consider obtaining specific insurance that covers the loss or theft of the amount of cash you are likely going to have to carry around with you.
- Consider the logistics of storing and carrying large amounts of cash with you.
- Try to use a reliable safe or other secure storage place for the cash, such as in your accommodation (although note that safes in accommodation might not be secure either).
- When carrying large amounts of cash be as discreet as possible.
- Avoid making it clear to other people how much cash you have on you.
- Bear in mind that healthcare facilities and services may be significantly less extensive than more developed countries.
- There may be very limited facilities, staff, techniques and medications available, especially in more isolated or underdeveloped areas.
- There may not be adequate reliable blood supplies in local hospitals.
- Pharmacists and other sources of even basic medical products may be difficult to find.
- Aim to be as medically self-sufficient as possible, taking basic medical supplies.
- Research whether or not certain medications are legal in your destination(s).
- Take extra supplies of any routinely-taken medicines.
- It may also be advisable to have them accompanied by a note from your doctor.
- Avoid carrying medication for other travellers.
- In the event of serious illness or injury it may be necessary for a patient to be evacuated out of the country.
- Ensure that there is sufficient medical insurance in place to cover such an event.
- Find out whether or not there are any specific diseases in the location(s) you intend to travel to.
- Research the specific measures you should take to lower the risk of infection.
- It might be useful to seek medical advice prior to your trip.
- If possible, do this several weeks in advance of your travel, in case you need to obtain specific vaccinations, some of which can take time to be administered properly.
- It is usually better to over-vaccinate than under-vaccinate.
- Be careful with any cuts and grazes which might be more susceptible to infection in your travel destination than at home.
- Hygiene will be very important, but it can be more challenging to maintain good standards of hygiene in some parts of the world.
- Try to avoid venues which appear unsanitary.
- Be very aware of any medical symptoms which might arise, both when you are travelling and for up to a month after you return home.
- Seek medical assistance if you have any concerns.
- Be prepared to respond at short notice to any seismic activity.
- Create an emergency plan to follow in the event of an incident that involves a communications breakdown, so you can meet colleagues at a designated meeting point if you are separated and cannot get in contact with one another.
- Practise drills such as “drop, seek cover and hold on” procedure so that you can take shelter as soon as an incident occurs.
- Know the location of your nearest medical kit and medically trained personnel.
- Knowledge of basic first aid will also be very useful.
- Get away from glass or anything that could fall if shaking starts.
- Consider carrying a whistle that can be used to alert first responders in the event that you are trapped after an earthquake – although bear in mind that in some circumstances and/or locations there may not be much in the way of first response capabilities, particularly following a damaging earthquake.
- In the event of an incident, avoid damaged buildings that might still be at risk of collapse.
- Be prepared for aftershocks.
- Note that earthquakes can trigger tsunamis and landslides so be prepared to move out of harm’s way once the shaking has stopped.
- You may need to move very quickly and with limited time.
- If rainfall, flooding, extreme temperatures or other types of severe weather are a concern, check the local weather patterns to find out if there are times of the year where the risk is much higher.
- Consider avoiding travel to at-risk destinations during these times.
- Try to stay in good quality accommodation.
- Take appropriate clothing and footwear.
- Take appropriate protection for any sensitive equipment you wish to bring.
- Note that storms, flooding and other types of harsh weather can overload infrastructure, lead to traffic jams and power cuts.
- Flooding and heavy rainfall can also raise the risk of landslides, as well as insect- and water-borne diseases in some parts of the world.
- As such, be prepared to delay, alter or even cancel travel plans to affected or high-risk areas.
Religious or conservative attitudes
- Exercise sensitivity in societies which place a high value on perceived morality, even if it goes against personal beliefs and values.
- Research what local cultural practises, attitudes, values and laws you will need to be mindful of before travelling.
- Note that some behaviours, interactions and attire may also attract unwanted attention, cause offence or trigger a hostile response.
- Note that some subjects may be taboo so avoid discussing them with people if you think it might cause offence.