VENEZUELA

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Country Description: Venezuela is a middle-income country with a well-developed transportation infrastructure. Scheduled air service and good all-weather roads, some poorly marked and congested around urban centers, connect major cities and all regions of the country. Its tourism infrastructure varies in quality according to location and price.

Passport and/or Visa 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 current information concerning entry, tax, and customs requirements for Venezuela, contact the Venezuelan Embassy at 1099 30th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007; tel.: (202) 342-2214, or a Venezuelan consulate in New York, Miami, Chicago, New Orleans, Boston, Houston, San Francisco, or San Juan.

Travel Warnings, Advisories and Areas of Instability: Cross-border violence occurs frequently in remote areas along the Colombian border in Zulia, Tachira, Apure and Amazonas states. U.S. citizens should consult the U.S. Embassy if they plan to visit these areas. On February 16, 1997, two vacationers, one of them a U.S. citizen, were kidnapped from Venezuela in southwestern Apure State, near the border with Colombia. Colombian guerrillas, who frequently operate on both sides of the border, were suspected in the kidnapping. Kidnapping, smuggling, and drug trafficking are common along the border between Venezuela and Colombia.

Health and 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 Caracas, physicians and medical supplies may be minimal. U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. Medicare/Medicaid do not provide payment of medical services outside the United States. In some cases, medical insurance with specific overseas and medical evacuation coverage has proven useful. For additional health information, travelers can contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's international travelers hotline at (404) 332-4559; Internet: http://www.cdc.gov/.

Travel Warnings, Advisories and Areas of Instability: Most crime is economically motivated. Pickpockets concentrate in and around crowded bus and subway stations, along with the area around "Parque Simon Bolivar" near the "Capitolio" area in downtown Caracas. There have been cases of theft from hotel rooms and safe deposit boxes. The "barrios" (the poor neighborhoods that cover the hills around Caracas) and isolated urban parks, such as "El Calvario" in the "El Silencio" area of Caracas, can be very dangerous. Most criminals are armed with guns or knives, and will use force. Theft of unattended valuables on the beach and from rental cars parked in isolated areas or on city streets is common. A guarded garage is not always a guarantee against theft. Travelers are advised not to leave valuables or belongings in open view even in locked vehicles. There have been incidents on Margarita Island where tourists have been targeted for robbery and theft.

Armed robberies are common in urban and tourist areas and travelers should exercise caution in displaying money and valuables. Also, four-wheel drive vehicles have been targeted in several recent carjackings. In the last 12 months, seven carjackings have been directed at U.S. Embassy employees and/or spouses, four of which involved four-wheel drive vehicles.

Useful information on personal security and guarding valuables while traveling abroad is provided in the Department of State pamphlet "A Safe Trip Abroad," available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. Available from the same address is the State Department publication "Tips for Travelers to Central and South America."

Highway Travel: Outside the major cities, night driving can be dangerous because of unmarked road damage or repairs in progress, unlighted vehicles, and livestock. 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 locations.

Currency Restrictions: In July 1994, currency restrictions were imposed. Foreign exchange transactions must take place through commercial banks and exchange houses at the official rate. Credit cards are accepted at most upscale tourist establishments. Outside the major cities, a good supply of Venezuelan currency is necessary.

Drug Penalties: U.S. citizens are subject to the laws of the country in which they are traveling. Penalties for possession, use and trafficking in illegal drugs in Venezuela are strict, and convicted offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences and fines. Prison conditions are extremely harsh.

Other Information: Sporadic political demonstrations occur in urban centers. These tend to focus primarily on or near university campuses or secondary schools, and sometimes turn violent. Most tourist destinations, however, remain unaffected. The number and intensity of demonstrations have fluctuated widely. Merida, a major tourist destination in the Andes, is the scene of frequent student demonstrations.

Travelers may keep informed of local developments by following the local press (including "The Daily Journal," an English-language newspaper), radio and TV, and by consulting their local hosts, including U.S. and Venezuelan business contacts, hotels, tour guides, and travel organizers for current information on demonstrations, the purpose and location of which are often announced in advance.

U.S. citizens visiting certain areas along the border with Colombia may be subject to search and seizure. For further information regarding travel to these areas, contact the U.S. Embassy in Caracas.

A number of U.S. citizens have reported that Venezuelan officials at airports, immigration offices, and police stations have demanded bribes. U.S. citizens should report immediately to the U.S. Embassy any such demand.

U.S. citizens who do not have Venezuelan cedulas (national identity cards) must carry their passports with them at all times. Photocopies of passports prove valuable in facilitating their replacement if lost or stolen.

Civil Aviation Oversight: As a result of an assessment conducted by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in May 1995, the FAA has found the government of Venezuela's Civil Aviation Authority not to be in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Venezuelan air carrier operations. While consultations to correct the deficiencies are ongoing, Venezuelan air carriers are permitted to conduct operations to the U.S. subject to heightened FAA surveillance. Based on the FAA's determination, the Department of Defense does not permit U.S. military personnel to use carriers from Venezuela for official business except for flights originating from or terminating in the U.S. or in extenuating circumstances. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation at 1-800-322-7873.

Registration/Embassy Location: U.S. citizens are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, and to 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, tel. (011-58) (2) 977-2011.

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