Iraq travel guide
Iraq may be synonymous with strife, a land of dusty, dubious conflicts, but what you don’t see in the mainstream media are the country’s many attributes: its fantastic birdlife, shimmering oases, turquoise rivers, fertile valleys, UNESCO World Heritage Sites and stunning cityscapes. Some of the world’s oldest societies came out of this ancient land and many refer to the region as the ‘cradle of civilisation.’
But despite its glorious past, the country has little to celebrate at present. Most of Iraq’s political, social, physical and economic infrastructures were destroyed by the US-led invasion in 2003. Successful elections and the withdrawal of troops in 2009 seemed to herald Iraq’s road to recovery and there were reasons to be optimistic: despite continuing violence, tourism had climbed back up to an impressive two million people a year by 2013 and plans were afoot to increase that number threefold.
The government even announced that it would restore the Arch of Ctesiphon, the world’s biggest arch made of bricks, and what remains of the ancient Persian capital of the same name. Also revealed were plans to repair the damage done to the southern marshes, which Sadam Hussein drained, and use its status as a bird haven to create a centre for eco-tourism.
Since 2013, though, the security situation has rapidly deteriorated, culminating with the Islamic militant group ISIS seizing large swathes of territory in the north in 2014. The Iraqi government has since pushed back against the insurgency, but the situation remains highly volatile with no end in sight.
Despite government warnings to avoid travelling to the country, a few adventure tour companies are still taking small groups to Iraq, albeit not the north. If and when the country finally stabilises, there’s little doubt that tourists will return in greater numbers to the ‘cradle of civilisation’. But until then, travel to Iraq is strongly advised against.
438,317 sq km (169,235 sq miles).
37,547,686 (UN estimate 2016).
89 per km2
President Fuad Masum since 2014.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi since 2014.
Last updated: 19 January 2018
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:
- Anbar province
- Ninewah province
- Salah-Al-Din province
- Diyala province
- Tam’mim (Kirkuk) province
- in Erbil province, south of Road 80, and within 10km of the border with Ninewah province between Road 80 and Road 2
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the rest of Iraq, including the remainder of the Kurdistan region.
There may be protests and demonstrations in some Middle Eastern and North African countries following a major US announcement on the status of Jerusalem. You should avoid any demonstrations and follow the instructions of the local police authorities.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held a referendum on independence from Iraq on Monday 25 September 2017. This is leading to tension with Iraq and in the region. You should remain alert, monitor media reports and this travel advice.
There have been reports of significant movements of military vehicles and personnel in Kirkuk and Ninewa provinces since 12 October, which have included localised exchanges of fire. The situation remains fluid. You should remain alert and monitor this travel advice.
The Federal Government of Iraq has suspended international flights to and from Erbil and Sulaymaniyah airports as of 29 September 2017. You’ll need to transit through other airports to leave Iraq. According to Iraqi law you must have a visa before you travel, even if you’re intending to travel to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
On 6 February 2017, the US Embassy issued a travel advice warning of a threat to Western hotels in Baghdad. You should remain vigilant and follow the advice of the local authorities.
You should avoid political gatherings and large crowds, and minimise your movement around banks, restaurants and shopping malls. Observe instructions given by the local security authorities.
On 30 April 2016 protestors gained access to the international zone in Baghdad and demonstrations occurred at the parliament and cabinet office. The protestors left the zone on 1 May but regular demonstrations take place on Fridays in and around Tahrir Square. These can move across the city at short notice. You should monitor local media.
Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL) and other armed groups control parts of Iraq, particularly in Anbar, Ninewah, Salah-Al-Din and Diyala provinces. The front line between Daesh and Iraqi and Kurdish Security Forces is changeable. There’s an increased risk within 10km of the front line.
Coalition forces, including the UK, continue to carry out targeted airstrikes against Daesh in northern and western Iraq. Areas recently liberated from Daesh are likely to contain remnants of war and improvised explosive devices.
The security situation throughout Iraq remains uncertain, and could deteriorate quickly. You should monitor media reporting and make sure you have robust contingency plans in place.
In October 2016 the US Embassy issued a security message about reported attempts to kidnap staff working for non-governmental organisations on vehicle convoys to provide aid to Mosul.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Iraq. There’s also a high kidnap threat. While attacks can take place at any time, there’s a heightened threat during religious or public holidays.
If you travel to Iraq to fight, and your activities amount to offences against UK terrorism legislation, you could be prosecuted on return to the UK.
Iraqi Airways’ permission to operate to and from points in the EU has been suspended.
The government of Iraq has begun to take measures to improve the structural integrity of the Mosul Dam as there is a risk the dam could fail. It is currently impossible to accurately predict if or when this might occur. As there’s likely to be little warning of a failure, it will be logistically impossible for the British Government to evacuate you. Make sure you have contingency plans in place and monitor media reporting and this travel advice.
British Embassy in Baghdad and the British Consulate-General in Erbil are able to offer limited consular assistance only.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
According to Iraqi law you must get a visa before you travel. You can apply for a visa at Iraqi missions overseas.
Safety and security
British government officials serving in Iraq live and work under strict security rules. All British officials live in secure, guarded accommodation and travel with close protection teams at all times. Depending on the threat level, they may be prevented from travelling to certain areas of Iraq.
Hotels and guesthouses used by foreign nationals and the government of Iraq are subject to regular threats. The British embassy does not allow official visitors to stay in a hotel overnight outside the Kurdistan Region, however attendance to meetings in hotels are assessed on case by case basis.
If you travel to areas of Iraq to which the FCO advise against all but essential travel, you should take appropriate security precautions before travelling. Outside of the Kurdistan Region you are strongly advised to employ a private security company, make arrangements for secure accommodation and transport and consider pre-deployment training.
Avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings of people; if you become aware of any nearby violence, leave the area immediately.
As part of Arba’een religious observations, processions and events will take place throughout Iraq, especially in Karbala and Najaf, during November. Religious gatherings have previously been targeted by terrorists.
The government of Iraq has begun to take measures to improve the structural integrity of the Mosul Dam as there is a risk the dam could fail. It’s currently impossible to accurately predict if or when this might occur. A failure could lead to major flooding in the Tigris river valley, from Mosul to Baghdad. As there’s likely to be little warning of a failure, it will be logistically impossible for the British Government to evacuate you. The British Embassy has contingency plans to ensure staff are safe in the event of failure. You should make sure you have contingency plans in place and monitor media reporting and this travel advice.
British nationals in Baghdad should have robust contingency plans in place and continue to monitor media reporting. You should stay in close contact with your private security companies and monitor our travel advice pages. Routes in and out of Baghdad may become blocked and airports closed or inaccessible at little or no notice. You should plan and check your routes in advance of travelling.
In recent months Turkey has conducted a number of airstrikes in the far north of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). On 8 September 2015 Turkish troops crossed the border into the KRI in pursuit of alleged militants and on 29 November 2015 Turkey shelled militants in villages bordering Turkey and Iraq. Take extra care in mountainous areas, particularly near the border with Turkey. Crossing points along the Iraq-Turkey border may also be affected.
The Kurdistan Region is administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) which has considerable autonomy within Iraq. The KRG held a referendum on independence from Iraq on 25 September 2017. This has led to tensions in the region and in neighbouring areas, including Kirkuk Province. You should remain alert, monitor media reports and this travel advice.
While the Kurdistan Region has a different security environment to the rest of Iraq, Daesh controls territory nearby. The security situation in the Kurdistan Region could deteriorate quickly.
Following fighting in Ninewah province, large numbers of internally displaced people have travelled to Dohuk province in the Kurdistan Region, joining others already taking refuge there.
Foreign nationals crossing the border from Syria into the KRI have been arrested for immigration offences in recent months. If prosecuted offenders could face a prison sentence of up to 5 years.
There are no country-wide curfews at present, but curfews and vehicle bans can be enforced at short notice, particularly around religious holidays, pilgrimages and key political dates like elections.
Border crossing points with countries neighbouring Iraq may close with little or no notice. There are reports that a number of Iraqi border crossings with Syria are now under Daesh control and have been closed. Three Saudi Arabian border guards were killed at the Arar crossing between Iraq and Saudi Arabia on 5 January 2015. Check whether border crossings will be open before travelling through these areas.
Baghdad, Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Basra International Airports are generally considered secure, but Baghdad International Airport has been the target of attacks in the past. You should take care within the terminals. Don’t leave Baghdad or Basra International Airports without taking adequate security precautions.
Iraqi Airways’ permission to operate to/from points in the EU has been suspended. This is because Iraqi Airways has been unable to satisfy the European Aviation Safety Agency that the airline meets the requirements for non-EU airlines operating to/from the EU.
On 26 January 2015, a Fly Dubai aircraft was struck by gunfire on approach to Baghdad International Airport. No injuries were reported but some carriers temporarily suspended flights. On 15 March 2015, several rockets landed on the outskirts of Erbil, to the west of the city. No injuries were reported but some carriers temporarily suspended flights to and from Erbil airport.
Flight schedules may change without notice. Contact your airline or travel company for the latest information before travelling.
Maritime facilities are under a high risk of attack. Maritime and sailing craft should take great care in the northern Persian Gulf. Vessels transiting the Gulf of Oman, Northern Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Bab El Mandeb regions may be at increased risk of attack. You should consider any regional tensions that may affect your route.
Road travel within Iraq remains highly dangerous and there continue to be fatal roadside bombings and attacks on military and civilian vehicles. False vehicle checkpoints have been used to launch attacks. There is also a risk of carjacking and robbery.
Road traffic accidents are frequent and often result in fatalities.
The British Embassy in Baghdad and the British Consulate-General in Erbil operate a limited consular service by appointment only. It is highly unlikely that the Embassy in Baghdad will be able to intervene in any Iraqi visa-related matters on entry into Iraq, travel to unsecure areas of Baghdad outside the International Zone, or make a visit to a police station in the International Zone within Baghdad or any Iraqi prison (consular staff will, however, try to make contact by telephone).
Advice to business
A number of UK companies visit and operate successfully in Iraq. However, movement is restricted and companies nearly always travel with close protection security teams. Specific guidance for companies seeking to do business in Iraq can be found on the UK Trade & Investment website (UKTI). UKTI are also able to put you in touch with companies operating in Iraq who offer security services. For more information see Operating in high-risk environments: Advice for business
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Iraq. Extremist groups like Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL) are responsible for the majority of attacks. Following Parliament’s support on 26 September 2014 for UK airstrikes against Daesh in Iraq, there is a heightened threat of attacks against western interests in Iraq.
Following Daesh’s expansion into the country in 2014, there have been numerous and frequent terrorist attacks, and levels of violence remain high. The UN has reported that at least 7,515 civilians were killed by terrorism and violence during 2015. This trend has continued in 2016.
Attacks are more frequent in areas where Daesh has a strong presence and capability, such as Anbar, Baghdad, Ninewah, Salah-Al-Din, Diyala and Tam’mim (Kirkuk) provinces, but can and do occur throughout the entire country.
Terrorist attacks are common in Baghdad city, where Daesh frequently targets the Iraqi government, security forces and Shia civilians. Attacks have also occurred in the Kurdistan Region with a small number in Erbil and its surrounds in 2015.
Targets for terrorist attacks have included: residential compounds, military establishments, oil facilities, public transport, commercial venues, including markets and stores, maritime facilities, land border crossings, government buildings, hotels, restaurants, large crowds, police stations, party political offices/events, sports venues/stadiums and religious sites/ceremonies. While attacks can take place at any time, there’s a heightened threat during religious or public holidays.
Methods of attack have included shootings, large-scale co-ordinated bombings designed to cause mass casualties, suicide bombs, vehicle bombs, rockets and mortars. In the early months of 2014 and in October 2014 there were several reports of indirect fire on the International Zone in Baghdad and Baghdad International Airport.
Foreign nationals, including those of non-western appearance, are high value targets for terrorists, insurgents and criminals. Indiscriminate attacks against public places and Iraqi civilians also occur.
On 3 July 2016, a truck bomb killed at least 200 civilians and injured several others in a busy shopping district of central Baghdad. Daesh claimed responsibility. A second explosion in another part of the city killed five civilians.
On 17 April 2015, a car bomb detonated outside the US Consulate General in the district of Ainkawa in Erbil. At least 3 civilians were killed and more than 8 injured in the attack. Daesh subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack.
There’s 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.
There’s a high threat of kidnapping in Iraq from both Daesh and other terrorist and militant groups. Kidnappings can be for purely ideological reasons as well as financial or political gain, and can be motivated by criminality or terrorism. British nationals have previously been targeted. Individuals have been kidnapped from homes, workplaces and while travelling. Some hostages have died.
You should regularly reassess your security arrangements and consider carefully any travel around the country, especially when moving outside the International Zone in Baghdad. Close security protection is important but doesn’t remove the threat; a number of previous kidnap victims had security arrangements in place.
During a major Daesh offensive which began in June 2014, there was an increase in reported kidnappings by Daesh. The threat of kidnap is highest in areas where Daesh have a strong presence, but they are not the only group who may seek to take hostages. Western nationals who come into contact with Daesh are likely to be seized and held as hostages.
International and local journalists have previously been detained in Iraq due to allegations of inadequate paperwork. Journalists should exercise extreme caution and take adequate security measures.
Daesh and other terrorist groups view those engaged in humanitarian aid work or journalism as legitimate targets. If you’re kidnapped, the reason for your presence is unlikely to serve as a protection or secure your safe release.
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.
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
Local laws reflect that Iraq is a predominantly Islamic country. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religious customs at all times, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or when visiting places of religious significance.
In 2018, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 15 May and finish on 14 June.
Although homosexuality is not illegal under Iraqi law, the LGBT community generally keeps a low profile, making it difficult to assess its size or relative freedoms. Local attitudes towards LGBT people may be hostile. There have also been reports of individuals being targeted by extremists. You’re advised to exercise discretion. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
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.
According to Iraqi law you must get a visa before you travel, even if you’re intending to travel to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. You can apply for a visa at the Iraqi Embassy in London or the Iraqi Consulate in Manchester.
On 29 September 2017 the Federal Government of Iraq suspended international flights to and from Erbil and Sulaymaniyah airports in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. If you’re currently in the region and wish to leave the country, you’ll need to transit through Baghdad International Airport. The Iraqi Interior Minister told reporters on 3 October that all foreign nationals who are in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq without an Iraqi visa, but with a valid Kurdistan Region of Iraq visa or residency permit, will be permitted to leave the country via Baghdad International Airport. The Government of Iraq has yet to publish formal guidance. However, the UK government’s understanding is that you’re likely to be able to leave the country without incurring a fine if you haven’t overstayed your Kurdistan Region of Iraq entry stamp or residency permit. If you’ve overstayed, you’re likely to incur a fine of approximately 500,000 Iraqi dinars.
Make sure you have the right documents when you arrive in Iraq, including Weapon Authority Cards (WAC) if you are carrying weapons.
Foreign nationals have been arrested for failing to provide the correct documentation when requested. For more information contact the Iraqi Embassy in London.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Iraq.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are not valid for entry into Iraq. However, ETDs are accepted for airside transit and exit from Iraq. If you’re using an ETD to leave the country, you’ll need to get an exit stamp from the Baghdad or Erbil Residency Office.
If you remain in the country for more than 10 days without extending your visa, you’ll need to get an exit stamp to leave the country.
Your sponsor (for example the company you work for) must apply for the exit visa to the Residency and Immigration Office, which is part of the Ministry of Interior. Your sponsor will need to submit letters to the Immigration Office stating the start and end date of employment.
All visitors to Iraq, with the exception of those travelling on a tourist visa, must have a blood test for HIV and hepatitis within 10 days of arrival. The test must then be repeated every 90 days while you’re in Iraq. Guidance on where to go for the blood test is available at the airport when you arrive. In the Kurdistan Region, you only need to have this blood test if you’re staying for more than 15 days.
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.
Medical facilities are limited. In the event of serious accident or illness, an evacuation by air ambulance may be required. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
In September 2015, the World Health Organisation reported a cholera outbreak in Iraq. See the TravelHealthPro website for more information.
The temperature in summer months can exceed 50 ºC (122ºF), which can result in dehydration and serious health problems.
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.