Afghanistan travel guide
An essential stop on the hippie trail in the 1960s, beautiful Afghanistan has been devastated by years of war. Renowned for its epic countryside and rugged mountains, travellers came to interact with local communities, breathe clear mountain air and explore ancient sites such as the giant Buddha statues of Bamiyan. They were happy times.
Sadly, those days are gone. The Taliban destroyed most of the country’s monuments, while the US and its allies ruined what was left of Afghanistan’s creaking infrastructure. With thousands of peacekeeping troops still operating in the country and pockets of fighting continuing, it will be some time before Afghanistan is restored to its former glory.
Consequently, travellers are advised against visiting Afghanistan. Nevertheless, some adventurous tour companies are offering trips to the country, and there have been reports in some quarters of increased bookings and interest. Afghan authorities put tourist numbers at less than 20,000, though they claim it is slowly increasing.
Tending to take in the historic but war-ravaged city of Kabul, mountain villages, ancient fortifications and some surviving Buddhist sites, tours are generally conducted in small groups and tend to be expensive.
Guides make the point that for many ordinary Afghans, life has continued much the same as it has for centuries. Indeed of the few travellers that do make it to the country, they tell of the surprising normality of Kabul, with little signs of the instability reported by international media. The country also remains a fascinating melting pot of ethnic and tribal groups.
Despite hopes that tourism could return to this historic country, almost every area of Afghanistan remains dangerous as insurgents continue to threaten the fragile democracy. If you do decide to travel to Afghanistan, personal security is recommended, as is a reputable tour company and full travel insurance. Always check foreign office advice before travelling.
652,225 sq km (251,773 sq miles).
33,369,945 (UN estimate 2016).
49.9 per sq km.
President Ashraf Ghani since 2014.
President Ashraf Ghani since 2014.
Last updated: 22 November 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to all districts in the following provinces of Afghanistan:
Kapisa; Kunar; Nangahar; Laghman; Nuristan; Ghazni; Khost; Paktika; Paktiya; Logar Wardak;Kandahar; Uruzgan; Zabul; Helmand; Nimroz; Badghis; Farah; Faryab; Jowzjan; Badakhshan; Baghlan; Kunduz and Takhar.
The FCO advise against all travel to the following specific districts of Afghanistan:
Kabul (Surobi district); Parwan (Charikar City, Bagram, Ghorband/Siaghird, Jabal Saraj, Kohi Saraj, Salang, Sayed Khel and Shinwari districts); Daikundi (Gizab and Kajran districts); Ghor (Dolina/ Du Layna and Pasaband districts); Herat (Shindand district); Balkh (Chaharbolak, Chamtal/Chimtal, Daulat Abad/Dawalatabad, Hairatan Port, Kaldar and Shortipa/Shur Tapa/Shor Tepah districts); Sar-e-Pul (Sar-e-Pul City and Sayad districts).
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to all other provinces and districts of Afghanistan.
The level of consular assistance the British Embassy can provide to travellers in Afghanistan is extremely limited. The British Embassy is not able to accept registrations from British nationals travelling in Afghanistan or monitor their safety when they are in country. Staff from the British Embassy may be unable to travel to certain parts of the country due to the security situation; this may severely limit the consular assistance that can be offered.
Hotels and guesthouses used by foreign nationals and the government of Afghanistan are subject to regular threats. The British Embassy doesn’t allow official visitors to stay in hotels overnight and has placed restaurants and other venues off limits to staff. Make sure your accommodation is secure and review your security measures regularly.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Afghanistan. Specific methods of attack are evolving and increasing in sophistication. On 31 October 2017 a suicide bomber successfully detonated close to the British Embassy killing a number of civilians. There is a high threat of kidnapping throughout the country. Travel by road throughout the country, but particularly outside the capital Kabul, is extremely dangerous. Seek professional security advice for all travel and consider using armoured vehicles.
Afghanistan is in a major earthquake zone and remains at risk from powerful earthquakes, aftershocks, landslides and flooding. The British Embassy can provide limited consular assistance in Afghanistan, particularly outside the capital Kabul.
You can contact the emergency services by calling 119 (police and ambulance) and 112 (fire).
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Safety and security
Afghanistan is undergoing a major transition in terms of politics, economy and security. Avoid large public gatherings and follow the local media for information on the security situation. It is difficult to categorise the country as a whole due to its diverse geography, ethnic, tribal and religious differences, and the ongoing insurgency. Large parts of the east, south east and south of the country are affected by conflict. Other areas have seen steady improvements in security, but are still prone to terrorist attacks and a high crime rate.
Road travel is highly dangerous. Insurgents have set up false vehicle checkpoints from which violent attacks have been launched. In addition to the threat from terrorism and kidnapping, there is also a continuing criminal threat from car-jacking and robbery.
Public transport is dangerous. Taxis and long distance buses are often poorly maintained, uninsured and driven by unqualified drivers. Privately hired transport is often driven by uninsured, unqualified drivers. You should carry out long distance journeys by air where possible.
If you travel by road you should only travel in secure transport with close protection, using reputable local drivers and guides. Make sure doors are locked and windows closed. You should consider strongly the use of armoured vehicles. Most road surfaces are in a very poor condition. The overall standard of driving is poor and most local drivers are uninsured. Accidents may lead to confrontation and threatening behaviour.
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)
There have been a number of serious attacks on both western and Afghan NGOs and vehicles belonging to them, in which people have been killed or injured. NGO workers have been kidnapped near their places of work. Most attacks continue to occur in the east and south of Afghanistan with a recent increase in activity in the central areas. The International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO) www.ngosafety.org issues regular security updates for NGOs.
There have been recent reports of sexual assault against females from EU countries working for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Kabul.
All airlines from Afghanistan have been refused permission to operate services to the EU because Afghanistan is unable to ensure that its airlines meet international safety standards. FCO staff are advised to use carriers which aren’t subject to the EU operating ban.
A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network. The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s unsafe.
Flying to Dubai and then transferring is the most common route into Afghanistan. It’s illegal to transit the United Arab Emirates carrying unlicensed personal protection equipment. This includes, but is not limited to, body armour (including ballistic vests), weapon holsters and handcuffs. Other specialist technical equipment such as satellite phones, listening and recording devices, powerful cameras and binoculars, while freely available in the UK, may also require licences. Persons found carrying any such items without a licence may be subject to conviction resulting in imprisonment and substantial monetary fines in accordance with Emirati law.
Crime is a serious concern, particularly in rural areas. Foreigners have been the victims of violent attacks, including armed robbery and rape. Don’t display any obvious signs of wealth, or carry large sums of money. Don’t travel alone, especially on foot. Take particular care after dark.
If you’re travelling around Afghanistan, including Kabul, you should seek professional security advice and continually reassess your personal security. The British Embassy in Kabul operates under strict security protocols and always uses armoured vehicles; staff receive regular security briefings to enable them to carry out their work in as safe an environment as possible.
Hotels and guesthouses used by foreign nationals and the government of Afghanistan are subject to regular threats. The British Embassy doesn’t allow official visitors to stay in a hotel overnight and has placed restaurants and other venues off limits to staff. Make sure your accommodation is secure and review your security measures regularly.
Only travel with reputable local guides and to fully protected workplaces. Take the greatest possible care and vary your routines. Don’t publicise your travel, including on social media. If possible, maintain radio or telephone communications to report your movements. Avoid any protests, demonstrations or large gatherings.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all or all but essential travel to different parts of the country according to provincial region:
the FCO advise against all travel to the Surobi district of Kabul province
the FCO advise against all but essential travel to the city of Kabul and the other remaining districts of Kabul province
If you’re travelling in Kabul, take particular care on Airport road, Jalalabad road and Darulaman road. Avoid travelling on Jalalabad and Darulaman roads during commuter or other busy times (around 6am to 8am, 9am to 11am and 3pm to 4pm local time), when traffic can be heaviest and the risk of an attack against government and western people or interests is most likely. Avoid travel between cities at night time. Avoid travelling along Airport road except for essential movements as attacks are likely throughout the day.
There’s an ongoing threat from high-profile, large-scale attacks in Kabul. In recent months there have been a number of significant attacks in the capital, including:
27 September 2017 – around 45 rounds of mortar and rocket fire struck Hamid Karzai International Airport causing the temporary closure of airspace.
31 May 2017 – at least 80 people were killed and several hundred injured in a large car bomb attack in an area of the city close to many foreign embassies
8 March 2017 – around 50 people were killed after an attack on the Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan military hospital in Kabul. The local Daesh affiliate, ISKP, claimed responsibility for the attack.
1 March 2017 – a complex attack involving a number of attackers resulted in the death of 5 civilians and 5 insurgents.
7 February 2017 - a suicide bombing at the Afghan Supreme Court compound killed around 20, with over 45 injured.
10 January 2017 – 2 explosions took place near the Parliament buildings in Kabul. The first was believed to be a body-borne suicide attack, followed shortly by a car bomb. The attacks took place at rush-hour killing about 50 and injuring more than 100.
28 December 2016 - an explosive device targeted a vehicle used by Bamyan MP Fakoori Behashti resulting in injuries to 3 people including the MP and the death of another passenger
21 December 2016 - a complex attack involving a number of attackers against the residence of Helmand MP, Mualim Mirwali Khan in Kabul; the death toll was 10, including 3 attackers; the Taliban claimed responsibility
27 November 2016 - an attack on the Shia Baqir-Ul-Olum Mosque in Kabul killing 27 civilians and injuring over 30 was claimed by Daesh
16 November 2016 - a suicide bomber attacked a National Defence Secretariat (NDS) bus carrying staff
Between July and November 2016, four foreign nationals were kidnapped in Kabul.
11 October 2016 - a Kabul Shia Shrine was attacked by Daesh during the Ashura commemorations; 13 civilians were killed and more were injured alongside Afghan police; in another part of Kabul 2 suicide bombers were killed by Afghan forces at the Azrat Mosque where Shia civilians had been gathering; the group responsible for the second attack is unknown
5 to 6 September 2016 – a complex attack which began with a vehicle borne explosive in the centre of Kabul and a subsequent 11-hour siege of a building used by an international NGO before security forces cleared the building
the FCO advise against all travel to the provinces of Faryab, Jowzjan, Baghlan, Takhar, Kunduz, Badakhshan, the Sayad district and Sar-e-pul city in Sar-e-pul province and the following districts of Balkh province: Chaharbolak, Chamtal, Daulat Abad/Dawalatabad, Hairatan Port, Kaldar and Shortipa/Shur Tapa/Shor Tepah
the FCO advise against all but essential travel to Samangan province and the remainder of Balkh and Sar-e-Pul provinces
On 8 February 2017, six Afghan staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were shot and killed in Jowzjan Province, Afghanistan. Two further staff members travelling in the same convoy are so far unaccounted for.
On 10 November 2016 there was an attack on the German Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif in Balkh province. At least 4 civilians were killed and 120 injured. The Taliban were reported to have claimed responsibility for the attack.
There have been a number of attacks against aid workers and military vehicles resulting in deaths and injuries, and there are ongoing military operations throughout the north. The FCO advice against all travel to Badakhshan includes travel to or climbing and trekking within the Wakhan Corridor.
the FCO advise against all travel to Ghazni, Kapisa, Khost, Kunar, Laghman, Logar, Nangarhar, Nuristan, Paktika, Wardak and Paktya provinces and most districts of Parwan province
the FCO advise against all but essential travel to Bamiyan, Panjshir and the Shekh Ali and Surkhi Parsa districts of Parwan province
The eastern region has been extremely volatile for some time, with almost daily suicide and roadside bomb attacks, shootings and rocket attacks. The region close to the Pakistani border is extremely dangerous with a high number of insurgents operating freely.
There are regular, large military operations in this region. There have been numerous daily attacks against the Security Forces and US-led coalition forces. There are also daily incidents of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), suicide and rocket attacks, and direct fire attacks on security forces patrols, checkpoints and bases as well as on the local population.
- the FCO advise against all travel to Helmand, Kandahar, Nimroz, Uruzgan and Zabul provinces
On 10 January 2017, an explosion took place in the Provincial Governor’s compound in Kandahar. The attack left eleven people dead, including the Deputy Provincial Governor, five Emirati diplomats, an Afghan MP and an Afghan official. An attacker also detonated a suicide vest in a guest house in Lashkar Gah used by the provincial National Security Directorate (NDS). Eight people were reportedly killed, including four members of the NDS.
the FCO advise against all travel to Badghis province, Farah province, the Shindand district of Herat province,the Du Layna/Dolina and Pasaband districts of Ghor province and the Gizab/Gesab and Kajran districts of Daikundi province
the FCO advise against all but essential travel to Dai Kundi, Ghor and the remaining districts of Herat and Daikundi provinces
The security situation throughout Afghanistan remains uncertain, and could change rapidly. You should monitor media reporting and make sure you have robust contingency plans in place. Be vigilant at all times, keep others informed of your travel plans and vary your routines.
On 4 August 2016 there was an attack on a convoy of vehicles carrying tourists (including 8 British nationals) in Herat. The group were on a tour organised by a company based in the UK. The Taliban claimed the attack on the vehicle, which involved small arms fire and an explosive device. The convoy was being escorted by the Afghan military. Five tourists and the driver were injured in the attack.
There have been roadside bombs, suicide attacks, rocket attacks and criminal kidnappings throughout the western provinces and increased lawlessness in Western Ghor. There is little security infrastructure in Dai Kundi and westerners have been kidnapped there.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Afghanistan. Multiple threats are issued daily. Terrorists and insurgents conduct frequent and widespread lethal attacks against Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF), domestic and international political and civilian targets, and those working in the humanitarian and reconstruction fields. There is a threat from high-profile, large-scale attacks in Kabul. On 27 September 2017, a significant indirect fire (IDF) attack on Hamid Karzai international airport caused its closure for a short while.
Afghanistan-focused insurgents seek the full withdrawal of foreign forces in Afghanistan and the fall of the elected Afghan government. Other groups involved in the insurgency include the Haqqani Network, an Islamist insurgent group whose main goal is to re-establish sharia law in Afghanistan, and are allied with the Taliban. Separate to this, an affiliate of Daesh (formerly known as ISIL) has been active in Afghanistan. The group has conducted several attacks, mainly in the east of Afghanistan. The group also claimed responsibility for a high profile attack in Kabul in July 2016 and for the attack against the military hospital in Kabul in March 2017.
The insurgency has a strong anti-Western focus; this could make any UK interest or person a target. Attacks include bombs (roadside and other), suicide bombs (either on foot or by vehicle), indirect fire (rockets and mortars), direct fire (shootings and rocket propelled grenades), kidnappings and violent crime. Daesh is also fiercely hostile to the UK and other western countries.
There are large amounts of unexploded bombs and land mines (both anti-tank and anti-personnel) throughout the country.
You should be particularly vigilant in and around landmark locations and places where large public crowds can gather. Hotels used by the government of Afghanistan and western nationals, ministries, military establishments and religious sites have been attacked and further attacks are possible. Avoid regular visits to public places frequented by foreigners, including hotels, restaurants, shops and market places, especially at times of day when they are particularly busy and congested. The British Embassy does not allow official visitors to stay in any hotel overnight, and has placed restaurants off limits to staff.
The risk of being kidnapped throughout Afghanistan remains a very high and constant threat. At least four foreign nationals have been kidnapped in Kabul since July 2016, some of whom remain in captivity:
- 6 November 2016 – a foreign national was kidnapped in Kabul
- 8 August 2016 – two foreign nationals were kidnapped in Kabul
- 21 July 2016 – a foreign national was kidnapped in Kabul
Over 100 westerners have been kidnapped in Afghanistan since 2001, a number of them have been British nationals. The motivation and desire to undertake kidnapping in Afghanistan is likely to continue. You should take the utmost care, vary routines and avoid setting regular patterns of movement. You should take professional security advice while in the country.
The long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage-takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners increases the risk of further hostage taking.
There’s considered to be a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Afghanistan is an Islamic country. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times. Be particularly careful during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas.
Homosexuality is illegal.
It is forbidden to seek to convert Muslims to other faiths.
You are not allowed to use, or bring into the country narcotics, alcohol and pork products.
Photographing government buildings, military installations and palaces is not allowed. Avoid photographing local people without their agreement.
It’s illegal to buy or export historical antiquities without a receipt from an authorised supplier or dealer. When you leave Afghanistan you may be asked for proof of purchase. If you don’t have a receipt, you could be detained and you may face a fine or prison sentence.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
British nationals must get a visa before travelling to Afghanistan. You can’t get a visa on arrival. If you are intending to work in Afghanistan and do not hold a Diplomatic or Official passport you will need a work permit which in turn requires a medical certificate. For further information contact the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in London.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Afghanistan.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are not valid for entry into Afghanistan. However, ETDs are accepted for exit from Afghanistan.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
Travelling with children
If you are travelling alone with a child you may need to produce documentary evidence of parental responsibility. The FCO does not allow staff based in Afghanistan to travel with their partners or children. For further information on exactly what is required at immigration contact the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in London.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
Only very limited medical facilities are available in Afghanistan. Make sure you have all the prescription medication you need during your visit. Supplies are unlikely to be available locally. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
Diarrhoeal diseases and other gastrointestinal infections are common causes of ill health, becoming worse in the hotter months.
The dry dusty conditions in summer and winter can cause irritation to the eyes, throat, nose and skin.
Respiratory tuberculosis is common in the Afghan population.
Malaria is present except in the high mountainous regions of the country and in winter.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 112 or 020 112 from mobile (in Kabul only) and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Afghanistan is in an active earthquake zone. You should familiarise yourself with safety procedures in the event of an earthquake. More information about your risks in the event of an earthquake, especially around buildings, can be found at International Rescue Corps. Consider signing up to the US Geological Survey (USGS) 24/7 global monitoring agency. USGS provide a newsfeed or @USGSted twitter feed that distributes alerts for earthquakes with magnitudes over 5.5 or of significant impact.
During heavy rains and winter periods, significant flooding can occur, particularly outside the capital. During winter and spring, heavy snowfall often leads to avalanches in mountainous regions. Afghanistan lacks the infrastructure to respond comprehensively to these events so you should be prepared for every eventuality.
If a natural disaster occurs you should follow the advice of local authorities.
Carry sufficient cash in US Dollars for your visit. Credit cards are not accepted. Some ATMs in Kabul dispense dollars as well as the local currency, Afghanis. Banks are closed on Fridays, but there are ATMs in various locations in Wazir Akbar Khan and elsewhere. ATMs are located at military camps, but unless you have an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) pass you will not be able to enter. Travellers’ cheques are not widely accepted and it can take a fortnight for them to clear.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.