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Updated Country Information Sheet for Yemen (02-21-10)

Country Description: The Republic of Yemen was established in 1990 following unification of the former Yemen Arab Republic (North) and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South). Islamic and traditional ideals, beliefs, and practices provide the foundation of the country's customs and laws. Yemen is a developing country and modern tourist facilities are widely available only in major cities. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Yemen for additional information.

Registration/Embassy Location: U.S. citizens living or traveling in Yemen are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate at the Department of State’s travel registration page in order to obtain updated information on local travel and security.  U.S. citizens without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.  Registration is important; it allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency. 

Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.

U.S. Embassy Sana’a
Dhahr Himyar Zone, Sheraton Hotel District, PO Box 22347
Telephone: (967) (1) 755-2000, extension 2153 or 2266
(Emergency after-hours telephone: (967) (1) 755-2000 (press 0 for extension) or (967) 733-213-509

Entry/Exit Requirements: Passports and visas are required for travel to Yemen. Visas may be obtained at Yemeni Embassies abroad.  As of February 5, 2010 all visitors to Yemen are required to obtain a visa prior to travel; airport visas will no longer be issued upon arrival. Foreigners who have overstayed the validity date of their visa are being arrested/detained by the Immigration and Passport Authority.  The U.S. Embassy is notified several days after the detention of an American citizen and then must work to obtain release of the individual who has overstayed.  Upon release, the individual must still pay the $1.50 per day in overstay fines, and usually needs to make new flight arrangements to depart Yemen.

Travelers to Yemen are no longer required to have an affiliation with and arrange their travel through a Yemeni-based individual or organization to enter Yemen. However, individuals may be asked for supporting evidence of their character, purpose of visit and length of stay.

Yemeni law requires that all foreigners traveling in Yemen obtain exit visas before leaving the country. In cases of travelers with valid tourist visas and without any special circumstances (like those listed below), this exit visa is obtained automatically at the port of exit as long as the traveler has not overstayed the terms of the visa.

In certain situations, however, foreigners are required to obtain exit visas from the Immigration and Passport Authority headquarters in Sana’a. These cases may include, but are not limited to, foreigners who have overstayed the validity date of their visa; U.S.-citizen children with Yemeni or Yemeni-American parents who are not exiting Yemen with them; foreigners who have lost the passport containing their entry visa; foreign residents whose residence visas are based on their employment or study in Yemen, marriage to a Yemeni citizen, or relationship to a Yemeni parent; or foreign residents who have pending legal action (including court-based "holds" on family members' travel). The loss of a passport can result in considerable delay to a traveler because Yemeni law requires that the traveler attempt to recover the passport by placing an advertisement in a newspaper and waiting three days for a response. All minor/underage U.S. citizens should be accompanied by their legal guardian(s) and/or provide a notarized letter in Arabic of parental consent when obtaining exit visas to depart Yemen. In all of these more complex cases, obtaining an exit visa requires the permission of the employing company, the sponsoring Yemeni family member, the sponsoring school or the court in which the legal action is pending. Without this permission, foreigners -- including U.S. Citizens -- may not be allowed to leave Yemen.

American women who also hold Yemeni nationality and/or are married to Yemeni or Yemeni-American men often must obtain permission from their husbands for exit visas. They also may not take their children out of Yemen without the permission of the father, regardless of who has custody (see Special Circumstances section below).

For more details, travelers can contact the Embassy of the Republic of Yemen, Suite 705, 2600 Virginia Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20037, telephone 202-965-4760; or the Yemeni Mission to the U.N., 866 United Nations Plaza, Room 435, New York, NY 10017, telephone (212) 355-1730. Visit the Yemeni Embassy web page for more visa information.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Yemen.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website.  For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.

Safety and Security: The Department of State is concerned that al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is actively engaged in extremist-related activities in Yemen and the other Gulf countries. The Department remains concerned about possible attacks by extremist individuals or groups against U.S. citizens, facilities, businesses and perceived interests.

The security threat level remains high due to terrorist activities in Yemen.  The U.S. Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen closed on January 3 and 4, 2010 in response to ongoing threats by AQAP to attack American interests in Yemen. AQAP publicly claimed responsibility for the attempted attack aboard Northwest Airlines flight 253 on December 25, 2009, and stated that it was in response to American interference in Yemen. In the same statement, the group made threats against Westerners working in embassies and elsewhere, characterizing them as “unbelievers” and “crusaders.” 

On September 17, 2008, a terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sana'a resulted in the deaths of one American citizen awaiting access to the Embassy, an Embassy security guard, and several Yemeni security personnel.  On March 18, 2008, three mortar rounds landed in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a. Yemeni students at a nearby school and Yemeni government security personnel posted outside the embassy were injured in the attack. On April 6, 2008, an expatriate residential compound in the Hadda neighborhood of southwestern Sana’a was attacked by mortar fire, and on April 30, 2008, suspected extremists fired two mortar rounds that exploded near the Yemen Customs Authority and the Italian Embassy. No injuries were reported in either incident. A group calling itself al-Qaeda in Yemen may be responsible for all the attacks. Following the attacks against the Embassy and the residential compound, the Department of State ordered the departure of all American non-emergency embassy staff and family members on April 7, 2008.  Ordered Departure status was lifted on August 11, 2008.

On January 18, 2008, suspected al-Qaeda operatives ambushed a tourist convoy in the eastern Hadramout Governorate, killing two Belgians. On July 2, 2007, suspected al-Qaeda operatives carried out a vehicle-borne explosive device attack on tourists at the Belquis Temple in Marib, which resulted in the deaths of eight Spanish tourists and two Yemenis. The targeting of tourist sites by al- al-Qaeda may represent an escalation in terror tactics in Yemen. On February 3, 2006, 23 convicts, including known affiliates of al-Qaeda,escaped from a high-security prison in the capital city, Sanaa. Among the al-Qaeda associates were individuals imprisoned for their roles in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole and the 2002 attack on the French oil tanker Limburg. In the weeks following the escape, some prisoners voluntarily turned themselves in to authorities; to date, however, some escapees remain at large. Two of the escapees were killed in vehicle-based suicide attacks on oil facilities near Mukalla and Marib on September 15, 2006. Those attacks were followed by the arrest the next day in Sanaa of four suspected al-Qaeda operatives, who had stockpiled explosives and weapons. On December 5, 2006, a lone gunman opened small arms fire outside of the Embassy compound during the early morning hours. The assailant, wounded by Yemeni security personnel and subsequently arrested, was the sole casualty.
Americans should avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place. A 2005 demonstration against an increase in the fuel price led to two days of widespread demonstrations and rioting throughout Sanaa and other cities. Those demonstrations resulted in a large amount of property damage, looting, and several roadblocks.

Beginning in late 2007 and continuing through 2010, an increasing number of sometimes violent anti-government demonstrations have taken place across Yemen’s southern governorates, including the major cities of Aden, Taiz, Ibb, and Mukalla. Some of these demonstrations have drawn tens of thousands of participants and have resulted in hundreds of injuries and deaths among demonstrators and government security forces.  Americans should be aware of the likelihood of encountering such demonstrations when traveling to the southern governorates.  In November 2008, demonstrations in Sana’a demanding electoral reform led to injuries among demonstrators and policemen.

Throughout the country, U.S. citizens are urged to exercise particular caution at locations where large groups of expatriates have gathered. From time to time, the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a may temporarily close or suspend public services as necessary to review its security posture and ensure its adequacy.

In addition, U.S. citizens are urged to avoid contact with any suspicious, unfamiliar objects, and to report the presence of such objects to local authorities. Vehicles should not be left unattended and should be kept locked at all times. Americans in Yemen are urged to register and remain in contact with the American Embassy in Sana’a for updated security information (see section on Registration/Embassy location above).

Yemeni government security organizations have arrested and expelled foreign Muslims, including Americans, who have associated with local Muslim organizations considered to be extremist by security organs of the Yemeni government. Americans risk arrest if they engage in either political or other activities that violate the terms of their admission to Yemen.

Travel on roads between cities throughout Yemen can be dangerous. Armed carjacking, especially of four-wheel-drive vehicles, occurs in many parts of the country, including the capital. Yemeni security officials advise against casual travel to rural areas. The U.S. Embassy sometimes restricts the travel of its own personnel to rural areas, while the Government of Yemen also sometimes places restrictions on Americans traveling outside Sana’a. Please check with the Embassy for the latest restrictions.

Travel is particularly dangerous in the tribal areas north and east of Sana’a. Armed tribesmen in those areas have kidnapped a number of foreigners in attempts to resolve disputes with the Yemeni government. On December 15, 2008, three German citizens were abducted in the Bait Bous area in the suburbs of Sana'a. Hostilities between tribesmen and government security forces in the Sa’ada governorate north of Sana’a have flared up on several occasions since 2005. On June 12, 2009, seven Germans, one Briton, and one South Korean were kidnapped in Sa’ada, resulting in three confirmed deaths. The whereabouts of the other kidnapping victims remain unknown as of February 2010.

The government has been fighting an ongoing war against Houthi rebels in the north of the country since 2004.  The fighting, which originated in Sa’ada governorate, spread to the neighboring governorates of al-Jawf, Amran and Hajja during this most recent round.  The government has used airstrikes to target the rebels, killing civilians on several occasions in 2009 and 2010.  Serious fighting occurred in the city of Beni Husaish, just north of the Sana’a airport, from late May through early June 2008. A tentative cease fire was declared on February 12, 2010.  Americans are urged to avoid any travel to this region. 

Travel by boat through the Red Sea or near the Socotra Islands in the Gulf of Aden presents the risk of pirate attacks. [updated to match new travel warning] In 2009, over 70 vessels reportedly had been attacked.  Since the beginning of 2010, 4 vessels reportedly have been seized in the area, with one released in February.  As of February 2010, 11 vessels were believed to be held for ransom, including the yacht of a British couple. Following the April 2009 hijacking of a U.S. cargo vessel and the subsequent rescue of the vessel’s captain, resulting in the deaths of three pirates, Somali pirates threatened to retaliate against American citizens transiting the region.  The threat of piracy extends into the Indian Ocean off the coast of the Horn of Africa. See our International Maritime Piracy Fact Sheet.  If travel to any of these areas is unavoidable, travelers may reduce the risk to personal security if such travel is undertaken by air or with an armed escort provided by a local tour company. 

Other potential hazards to travelers include land mines and unexploded ordnance from the 1994 civil war. This is of particular concern in areas where fighting took place in the six southern provinces. However, most minefields have been identified and cordoned off.

Americans are most vulnerable to terrorist attacks when they are in transit to and from their residences or workplaces, or visiting locations where large groups of expatriates have gathered. All Americans are reminded to vary their routes and times, remain vigilant, report suspicious incidents to the Embassy, avoid  areas where large groups of expatriates have gathered, lock car windows and doors, and carry a cell phone.

Based on previous abductions of foreigners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, the Embassy recommends that Americans with doubts about the identity of security or police personnel on the roads remain in their vehicles, roll up their windows, and contact the Embassy. For additional information on travel by road in Yemen, see the Traffic Safety and Road Conditions section below.

For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs' website, which contains current the Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the U.S. and Canada, or by calling a regular toll line, 1-202-501-4444, from other countries. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.  For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s extensive tips and advice on traveling safely abroad.

Crime: The most serious crime problem affecting travelers to Yemen is carjacking. Travelers have rarely been victims of petty street crime.

Information for Victims of Crime: If you are the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (see top of this sheet or see the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates).  This includes the loss or theft of a U.S. passport.  The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds may be transferred.  Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are 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.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Yemen is 199, but operators do not speak English.

Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is 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.  Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Persons violating Yemeni laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession or use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Yemen are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. The use of the mild stimulant "qat” or “khat" is legal and common in Yemen, but it is considered an illegal substance in many other countries, including the United States.

Special Circumstances: Photography of military installations, including airports, equipment, or troops is forbidden. In the past, such photography has led to the arrest of U.S. citizens. Military sites are not always obvious. If in doubt, it is wise to ask specific permission from Yemeni authorities.

Travelers should be aware that automated teller machines (ATMs) are being introduced in major cities but are still not widely available in Yemen. Credit cards are not widely accepted. The Government of Yemen may not recognize the U.S. citizenship of persons who are citizens of both Yemen and the United States. This may hinder the ability of U.S. consular officials to assist persons who do not enter Yemen on a U.S. passport. Dual nationals may also be subject to national obligations, such as taxes or military service. For further information, travelers can contact the nearest embassy or consulate of Yemen.

American citizens who travel to Yemen are subject to the jurisdiction of Yemeni courts, as well as to the country's laws, customs, and regulations. This holds true for all legal matters including child custody. Women in custody disputes in Yemen may not enjoy the same rights that they do in the U.S., as Yemeni law often does not work in favor of the mother. Parents planning to travel to Yemen with their children should bear this in mind. Parents should also note that American custody orders might not be enforced in Yemen.

American women who also hold Yemeni nationality, and/or are married to Yemeni or Yemeni-American men, are advised that if they bring their children to Yemen they may not enjoy freedom of travel should they decide they want to leave Yemen. Such women often must obtain permission from their husbands for exit visas. They also may not take their children out of Yemen without the permission of the father, regardless of who has custody (See Entry/Exit Requirements section above).

American students and workers in Yemen sometimes report that the sponsors of their residence permits seize their U.S. passports as a means of controlling their domestic and international travel. While the sponsors say they seize the passports on behalf of local security services, there is no law or instruction from Yemeni passport or security offices requiring that passports be seized.

Please see our Customs Information.

Medical Facilities and Health Information: Lack of modern medical facilities outside of Sanaa and Aden and a shortage of emergency ambulance services throughout the country may cause concern to some visitors. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. An adequate supply of prescription medications for the duration of the trip is important. While many prescription drugs are available in Yemen, a particular drug needed by a visitor may not be available.

The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa strongly advises all American citizens residing in or traveling to Yemen to ensure that they have received all recommended immunizations (see below).

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 (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC website.  For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website.  The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to determine whether the policy applies overseas and whether it covers emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.  For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: Based on previous abductions of foreigners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, the Embassy recommends that Americans with doubts about the identity of security or police personnel on the roads remain in their vehicles, roll up their windows, and contact the Embassy. For additional information addressing security concerns for Americans in Yemen, please see the Safety and Security section above.

Travel by road in Yemen should be considered risky. Within cities, minivans and small buses ply somewhat regular routes, picking up and dropping off passengers with little notice or regard for other vehicles. Taxis and public transportation are widely available but the vehicles may lack safety standards and equipment. Embassy personnel are advised to avoid public buses for safety reasons. Despite the presence of traffic lights and traffic policemen, drivers are urged to exercise extreme caution, especially at intersections. While traffic laws exist, they are often not enforced, and/or not adhered to by motorists. Drivers sometimes drive on the left side of the road, although right-hand driving is specified by Yemeni law. No laws mandate the use of seat belts or car seats for children. The maximum speed for private cars is 100 kilometers per hour (62.5 miles per hour), but speed limits are rarely enforced. A large number of under-age drivers are on the roads. Many vehicles are in poor repair and lack basic parts such as functional turn signals, headlights and taillights. Pedestrians, especially children, and animals on the roads constitute a hazard in both rural and urban areas. Beyond the main inter-city roads, which are usually paved and in fair condition, the rural roads in general require four-wheel-drive vehicles or vehicles with high clearance.

Yemeni security officials advise against casual travel to rural areas. The U.S. Embassy sometimes restricts the travel of its own personnel to rural areas, while the Government of Yemen also sometimes places restrictions on Americans traveling outside Sanaa. Please check with the Embassy for the latest restrictions.

Travelers should take precautions to avoid minefields left over from Yemen's civil wars. Traveling off well-used tracks without an experienced guide could be extremely hazardous, particularly in parts of the south and the central highlands.

Penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and reckless driving which causes an accident resulting in injury, are a fine and/or prison sentence. If the accident results in death, the driver is subject to a maximum of three years in prison and/or a fine. Under traditional practice, victims' families negotiate a monetary compensation from the driver proportionate to the extent of the injuries -- higher if it is a fatality.

Please refer to our Road Safety page and the website of  Yemen's national tourism office

Aviation Safety Oversight:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Yemen, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Yemen’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.  Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.

A June 29, 2009 Yemenia Airways flight crashed en route to the Comoros Islands with only one survivor. 

Children's Issues: Please see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Yemen dated April 22, 2009, to update sections on Entry/Exit requirements, Threats to Safety and Security, Criminal Penalties, and Aviation Safety Oversight.