US STATE DEPARTMENT - Consular Information Sheet (as of January 27, 2003 --- Note: Link will always show the most current update)
"U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Consular Affairs
Washington, DC 20520
Consular Information Sheet
This information is current as of today, Sun Feb 2 15:36:15 2003.
January 27, 2003
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Venezuela is a middle-income country with a well-developed transportation infrastructure. Scheduled air service and good all-weather roads, although sometimes poorly marked and congested around urban centers, connect major cities and all regions of the country. Venezuela's tourism infrastructure varies in quality according to location and price.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport and a visa or tourist card are required. Tourist cards are issued on flights from the U.S. to Venezuela for persons staying less than ninety days. Venezuelan immigration authorities have been requiring that U.S. passports have at least 6 months validity remaining from the date of arrival in Venezuela. Some U.S. citizens have been turned back to the United States for having less than 6 months validity. Passports should also be in good condition, as some U.S. citizens have been detained overnight for having otherwise valid passports in poor condition. For current information concerning entry, tax, and customs requirements for Venezuela, travelers may contact the Venezuelan Embassy at 1099 30th St. N.W., Washington D.C. 20007, tel: (202) 342-2214, Internet: http://www.embavenez-us.org.
Travelers may also contact the Venezuelan consulates in New York, Miami, Chicago, New Orleans, Boston, Houston, San Francisco or San Juan.
ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS FOR MINORS: In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments, including Venezuela's, have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of the relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand is now required by Venezuelan law.
Venezuela's legal code mandates that minors (under 18) who are residents of Venezuela (regardless of nationality) and who are traveling alone, with one parent or with a third party, must present a copy of their birth certificate and written authorization from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian, specifically granting permission to travel alone, with one parent or with a third party. When a parent is deceased, a notarized copy of the death certificate is required in lieu of the written authorization. If documents are prepared in the United States, the authorization and the birth certificate must be translated into Spanish, notarized, and authenticated by the Venezuela Embassy or a Venezuelan consulate within the United States. If documents are prepared in Venezuela, only notarization by a Venezuelan notary is required. A permission letter prepared outside of Venezuela is valid for 90 days. A permission letter prepared in Venezuela is valid for 60 days.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Cross-border violence, kidnapping, smuggling and drug trafficking occur frequently in areas along the 1,000-mile border between Venezuela and Colombia. Some kidnap victims were released after ransom payments, while others were murdered. In many cases Colombian terrorists were suspected. The Colombian terrorist group FARC recently stated that they were stepping up kidnapping operations and specifically targeting American citizens for ransom-related kidnapping. The State Department warns American citizens not to travel within a 50-mile area along the entire Venezuela/Colombia border. U.S. citizens who elect to visit areas along the border region with Colombia against this warning, apart from the Colombian terrorist threat, could encounter Venezuelan military-controlled areas and may be subject to search and arrest.
"Express kidnappings," in which victims are seized in an attempt to get quick cash in exchange for their release, are increasing in Venezuela's capital, Caracas. Kidnapping of US citizens and other foreign nationals, from homes, hotels, unauthorized taxis and the airport terminal is occurring on a regular basis. U.S. citizens should continue to be alert to their surroundings and take necessary precautions.
Additionally, U.S. citizens should also be aware of a recent increase in acts of piracy off the coast of Venezuela. There have been five cases of confirmed incidents of piracy in the past few months, two involving U.S. citizens. In all five cases, a group of five armed men boarded yachts, bound the crew and robbed them of their possessions. Although there have been no reported fatalities, these incidents have involved an unusual degree of violence, including the beatings and shootings of several of the victims. U.S. citizen yachters should exercise a heightened level of caution when selecting a place to moor their boats, and should not attempt to resist these robbers.
Political demonstrations occur regularly throughout Venezuela due to the current fluid political situation. Increased violence, including exchanges of gunfire, has occurred at more recent demonstrations. Demonstrations tend to occur at or near university campuses, business centers, and gathering places such as public squares and plazas.
Most major tourist destinations, including coastal beach resorts and Margarita Island, are not generally affected by protest actions. However, the city of Merida, a major tourist destination in the Andes, is the scene of frequent student demonstrations. Venezuela suffered two general strikes earlier in the year, and the potential for further strikes exists. Disruptions in public transportation services may occur as a result of strikes or work stoppages and may delay visitors' travel to the international airport at Maiquetia, block public roads, and interfere with ferry schedules to and from Margarita Island. In addition, due to the Government of Venezuela's difficulties in meeting some public payrolls, teachers, medical doctors, and other groups often threaten work stoppages, which may disrupt health services and cause temporary closure of businesses.
Harassment and intimidation of US citizens by pro-government groups, Venezuelan airport authorities and by some segments of the police have increased dramatically. Additionally, anti-American sentiment, expressed in graffiti, harsh political rhetoric, newspaper advertisements and rally pamphlets, has also risen noticeably.
The risk of encountering explosive devices in Venezuela, particularly in Caracas, appears to be on the increase. These appear to be associated with recent political unrest. Travelers who encounter a strange parcel or abandoned bag should not attempt to identify or move it, but should immediately notify authorities and stay clear of the area.
Travelers should keep informed of local developments by following the local press, radio and television. Visitors should also consult their local hosts, including U.S. and Venezuelan business contacts, hotels, tour guides, and travel organizers. U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Venezuela are advised to take common-sense precautions and avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, no matter where they occur. Additional advice about demonstrations may also be obtained from the U.S. Embassy at the telephone numbers listed below.
CRIME: Pickpockets concentrate in and around crowded bus and subway stations in downtown Caracas. The "barrios" or "ranchitos" (the poor neighborhoods of tin-roofed brick homes that cover the hills around Caracas) and isolated urban parks can be very dangerous.
There have been incidents of rock throwing from highway overpasses bordering the slum neighborhoods in an attempt to force cars to stop and assess damages. Once stopped, the passengers are robbed by waiting accomplices. In some cases this has led to injuries and death. Most criminals are armed with guns or knives and will use force. Theft from hotel rooms and safe deposit boxes is increasing, and theft of unattended valuables on the beach and from rental cars parked near isolated areas or on city streets is a common occurrence. A guarded garage or locked trunk is not always a guarantee against theft. Subway escalators are a favored site for "bump and rob" petty thefts by roving bands of young criminals, many of whom are well dressed to allay suspicion and to blend in with crowds of workers using the subways during rush hour. Armed robberies are common in urban and tourist areas, particularly in Caracas and Maracaibo. Criminal violence is on the rise. American citizens have been harassed, severely beaten or murdered during robberies. Travelers should exercise caution in displaying money and valuables. Numerous four-wheel drive vehicles have been targeted for carjacking in the Caracas and Maracaibo metropolitan areas, including vehicles driven by Embassy employees.
Incidents of unlicensed cabs ("piratas") overcharging, robbing and injuring passengers are rampant. Travelers should take care to use radio-dispatched taxis or those from reputable hotels. Travelers arriving late at night at the domestic terminal of the international airport should be aware that "pirata" cabs are known to prey on tourists arriving on delayed flights after licensed cabs have left for the evening. Travelers should call a 24-hour radio-dispatched taxi service from a public phone in the airport lobby or ask the airline representatives to contact a licensed cab company.
Visitors should note that public phones in Venezuela do not accept coins and that they will need to purchase a phone card from newsstands or kiosks. Drivers of licensed cabs permitted to carry passengers at the airport will have laminated identity cards, in addition to license plates reading "libre."
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. U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, "A Safe Trip Abroad," for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 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 care in Caracas is good at private hospitals and clinics. Cash payment is usually demanded. Most hospitals and clinics, however, accept credit cards. In rural areas outside of Caracas, physicians and medical supplies may be scarce.
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 whether 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 whether 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 Americans Traveling Abroad," available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax:
HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions 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 CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.
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 Venezuela is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Safety of Public Transportation: good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: fair to good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: poor
Traffic jams are common within Caracas during most of the day. Driving regulations are similar to those in the U.S. although many drivers do not obey them. Defensive driving is a necessity. Child car seats and seatbelts are not required and are seldom available in rental cars and taxis. Outside the major cities, night driving can be dangerous because of unmarked road damage or repairs in progress, unlighted vehicles and livestock. Even in urban areas, road damage is often marked by a pile of rocks or sticks left by passersby near or in the pothole or crevice, without flares or other devices to highlight the danger. Stops at National Guard and local police checkpoints (alcabalas) are mandatory. Drivers should follow all National Guard instructions and be prepared to show vehicle and insurance papers and passports. Vehicles may be searched. Economical bus service is available to most destinations throughout the country. Peak holiday travel occurs during summer and winter school breaks and major civil and religious holidays, including Carnival, Easter, Christmas and New Years holidays. Lengthy delays due to road congestion are common during these peak periods.
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 information concerning Venezuelan driving permits, road taxes, vehicle inspection or insurance requirements, contact the Embassy of Venezuela at (202) 342-2214, or visit their website at: http://www.embavenez-us.org.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Venezuela's civil aviation authority as Category 2 -- not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for the oversight of Venezuela's air carrier operations. While consultations to correct the deficiencies are ongoing, Venezuelan air carriers currently flying to the U.S. will be subject to heightened FAA surveillance. No additional flights or new service to the U.S. by Venezuelan air carriers will be permitted unless they arrange to have the flights conducted by an air carrier from a country meeting international safety standards. 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.
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.
AIRPORT SECURITY: As a result of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, airport security around the world has tightened significantly. Travelers flying out of Caracas on international flights should be prepared to arrive at the airport at least three hours ahead of their scheduled departure time. Travelers on Venezuelan domestic flights should arrive at the airport at least one hour ahead of departure. Travelers may also notice increased law enforcement presence throughout airport terminals. Please note that in most airports only ticketed passengers are permitted beyond security checkpoints and in the departure lounges.
CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: Venezuelan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Venezuela of items such as plant and animal products, firearms, medications, archaeological or "cultural heritage" items, and pirated copies of copyrighted articles. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Venezuela in Washington or one of Venezuela's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.
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. Persons violating Venezuela's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Venezuela are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Prison conditions are extremely harsh, as numerous foreigners (including U.S. citizens) arrested for possession or trafficking of drugs can attest. The minimum prison sentence for trafficking (with no differentiation for category or quantity of drugs) is ten years.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: U.S. citizens who do not have Venezuelan "cedulas" (national identity cards) must carry their passports with them at all times. Photocopies of passports, which should be safeguarded in a separate location, prove valuable in facilitating their replacement should they be lost or stolen.
CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS: Foreign exchange transactions must take place through commercial banks or exchange houses at the official rate. Hotels and banks often restrict transactions to their clients only. Money exchange by tourists is most easily arranged at "casas de cambio" (exchange houses). Credit cards are accepted at most upscale tourist establishments. Visa, MasterCard and American Express have representatives in Venezuela.
CREDIT/DEBIT CARD FRAUD: Because of a recent wave of fraud in Venezuela involving credit cards and debit cards, sometimes known as cloning, visitors should be cautious about the use of credit or debit card at Venezuelan commercial establishments. Credit and debit card numbers and other information are lifted by employees at the commercial establishments, or are taken from receipts found in garbage bins. If you choose to use a credit card or debit card to pay for a purchase, be sure to keep the credit card in sight during the entire transaction. Also, take and destroy any carbons that may have been used in the transaction. Finally, if you use your credit card to guarantee a hotel room or other rental, and later settle the bill in cash, be sure to obtain and destroy the imprint taken at time of check-in. You should also check subsequent credit or bank statement to ensure that no unauthorized purchases have been made on your account. Outside the major cities, a good supply of Venezuelan currency is necessary, as it may be difficult to find exchange houses. Most major cities have ATMs with 24-hour service where users may withdraw up to the equivalent of 100 U.S. dollars in local currency daily. The ATMs are linked to many global networks.
DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Venezuela is an earthquake-prone country and is occasionally subject to torrential rains, which can cause major disasters such as the one in Vargas State in 1999. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children
's issues.html or telephone (202) 736-7000.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION: U.S. citizens living in or visiting Venezuela are strongly encouraged to register at the consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas or the Consular Agency in Maracaibo and obtain updated information on travel and security within Venezuela. The U.S. Embassy is located at Calle Suapure and Calle F, Colinas de Valle Arriba, Caracas. The Embassy is open from 8 am to 5 pm, Monday-Friday, telephone (011)(58)(212) 975-6411. In case of an after-hours emergency, callers should dial (011)(58)(212) 975-9821.
Direct consular office phone lines are as follows:
(011)(58)(212) 975-6411 ext. 2208 for information on applications for U.S. passports, or 975-9234 (preferably mornings) for information on Reports of Birth or other U.S. citizen services. The American Citizens Services fax number is (011)(58)(212) 975-8991. Additional information is also available at the Embassy's Internet website at: http://embajadausa.org.ve.
A part-time consular agent in Maracaibo provides services for U.S. citizens in western Venezuela. The agent is available to the public every Monday from 8:15 am to 12:15 pm, at the Centro Venezolano Americano del Zulia (CEVAZ), Calle 63 No. 3E-60, Maracaibo; telephone (011)(58)(0261) 791-1436 or 791-1980.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated September 5, 2002, to update the section on Crime.
Return to Consular Information Sheets and Travel Warnings Page"
Well, hoss, looks like we might have us a commie country ta liberate after Iraq!