Benin travel guide
In many ways Benin is the perfect introduction to Africa. A land of pristine beaches, bountiful wildlife and hospitable inhabitants, travelling around the country is a doddle thanks to its small size and advanced infrastructure.
The birthplace of voodoo and one of the major departure points for the more than eight million people forced to leave the continent as slaves, the country also has a complex and compelling history that filters down into everyday life to create a jumble of the familiar and the strange.
Stay in the south to experience Benin’s major cities, the slightly chaotic yet vibrant commercial hub of Cotonou and the laidback capital Porto Novo. Take some time out from the capital’s lagoon-side location and palm-fringed Atlantic beaches to request an audience with the tribal princes of Ajase, Porto Novo’s ancestral name, while visiting the palace museum.
Head along the coast to experience the unique lives of the Tofinu people at Ganvié, a bamboo stilt village often referred to as the “Venice of Africa.” Or take advantage of Benin’s small size and good roads to explore the country’s spectacular countryside, which harbours remote towns and exquisite national parks. Home to lions, hippos and elephants, not to mention myriad bird species, Benin’s flagship national park is Pendjari, which serves up spectacular fauna without the crowds.
A thriving arts scene across the country has given rise to stunning public sculptures and fantastic architecture, which complement the elegance of the wooden Afro-Brazilian mansions of Porto Novo and Ouidah. The latter is the beating heart of Benin’s voodoo practitioners and an important stop for those interested in the history of the Atlantic slave trade.
Small in size but not in stature, Benin has something to suit every interest, be it the wild landscapes of the north, the bustling metropolises of the south, or the shared religion and history that bind this country and its people together.
112,622 sq km (43,484 sq miles).
11,166,658 (UN estimate 2016).
92.8 per sq km.
President Patrice Talon since 2016.
Last updated: 23 January 2019
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 the Parc du W and the contiguous hunting zones of Meêkrou and Djona. The Parc is tri-national and shares an open border with Burkina Faso and Niger. There is a risk of terrorist attacks throughout the Parc.
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the area between the Interstate Highway (RNIE) 2 (Tchaourou to Malanville) and the Nigerian border, due to increasing criminality in that area.
Terrorist attacks in Benin can’t be ruled out. Attacks could be indiscriminate. You should be vigilant, especially in places visited by foreigners.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. Consular support is limited in Benin. The Honorary Consular Agent in Benin can offer limited consular assistance. British nationals should contact the British High Commission Accra in Ghana who can provide consular support.
Safety and security
Street crime such as robbery and mugging is a problem in Cotonou. You should avoid travelling alone and maintain a high level of vigilance, especially at night and in isolated areas, including beaches. Don’t walk on the beach alone, at any time of day.
Pick-pocketing occurs in areas visited by international travellers (hotels, ports, railways, beaches, bars and restaurants). Avoid Dantokpa market after dark. Be alert to the risk of car-jacking both in Cotonou and on roads outside towns and cities. When you’re driving, lock vehicle windows and doors.
In general it’s better not to resist armed attack. The national police emergency number is 117 and fire is 118. You should get a police report if you report a crime.
Voodoo day is an annual public holiday celebrated by the majority of Benin’s population in early January. Make sure you’ve arranged suitable travel and accommodation as options are limited during the festival and watch out for pickpockets.
British nationals are increasingly being targeted by scam artists operating in West Africa. The scams come in many forms: romance and friendship, business ventures, work and employment opportunities and can pose great financial risk to victims. You should treat with considerable caution any requests for funds, a job offer, a business venture or a face to face meeting from someone you have been in correspondence with over the internet who lives in West Africa.
Driving standards and road conditions in Benin are poor. Avoid driving outside towns and cities at night as roads are poorly lit. During rainy seasons minor, unpaved roads may become impassable. Fuel shortages are common in rural areas of northern Benin. Police sometimes carry out vehicle checks at temporary road blocks in an effort to improve road safety and reduce the number of car-jackings.
There’s no reliable public transport in Benin. Take care when using public transport; driving standards and vehicle maintenance are poor. Avoid taxis and long distance buses as they’re poorly maintained and often overloaded.
There have been incidents of piracy and armed robbery against large vessels in waters off Benin and neighbouring countries. Mariners should take appropriate precautions.
Avoid swimming in the sea as ocean currents are very strong along the coast. Many drownings occur each year.
You can find a list of recent incidents and accidents 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 lists of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices – IATA Operational Safety Audit and IATA Standard Safety Assessment. These lists aren’t exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s unsafe.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation has carried out an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Benin.
While the overall political situation is stable, you should follow news reports and be alert to any developments, which might trigger public protests or unrest. You should avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings of people. If you become aware of any nearby violence you should leave the area immediately, the security situation may deteriorate. You should remain vigilant.
Attacks in Benin can’t be ruled out. Benin contributes to both the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) to combat Boko Haram and the UN peacekeeping initiative in Mali (MINUSMA) and may therefore be considered a legitimate target by terrorist groups in the wider region including IS West Africa (ISWA), Boko Haram and Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQ-M).
As seen in Mali, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, terrorist groups continue to mount attacks on beach resorts, hotels, cafés and restaurants visited by foreigners. Be especially vigilant in these locations.
There’s also a possibility that terrorist groups from neighbouring Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria may enter the border areas of northern Benin. Terrorist activity is increasing in south-eastern Burkina Faso, including confirmed attacks in the Burkina Faso part of the Parc du W. The Parc is tri-national and shares and an open border with Benin and Niger. There is a risk of terrorist attacks throughout the Parc.
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.
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
Benin is one of the main centres of voodoo practices and that culture remains prevalent. You should research and respect religious and social traditions to avoid offending local sensitivities.
Possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs is a serious offence and can result in lengthy prison sentences and heavy fines.
Photography near sensitive or government sites, like military installations or the airport, is strictly prohibited.
Homosexuality is legal in Benin, but homosexual relationships are not universally accepted. You should be discreet. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
You should politely and firmly decline requests for ‘gifts’ from officials to facilitate administrative matters.
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 passport holders need a visa to enter Benin. You can either get a visa before travel at the Honorary Consulate of Benin in London:
Mr Lawrence Landau
Near Staples Corner
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 8830 8612
Fax: +44 (0) 20 7435 0665
The Honorary Consulate is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only, from 10:30am to 4:30pm.
Alternatively, since April 2018 it’s now possible to get a short stay single or multiple entry e-visa by applying and paying online. The visa will then be issued on arrival at the airport in Cotonou.
The nearest Embassy of Benin is in Paris:
Embassy of the Republic of Benin
87 Avenue Victor Hugo
Telephone: +331 145 009882, +33 142 223191
Fax: +33 145 -018202.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of your exit from Benin.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry, and exit from Benin.
Visas for Nigeria, Ghana and Togo
Non-resident British nationals in Benin who wish to travel to Nigeria and Ghana can’t obtain entry visas in Benin. You should apply for these before travelling to Benin. You can get a visa for Togo at the Togolese Embassy in Cotonou or at the Togo/Benin border.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
Reports of a cholera outbreak continue, including fatalities. Cotonou is currently the most affected area. You should take the necessary precautions and seek urgent medical attention if you become unwell.
Medical facilities are poor, particularly in rural areas. Emergency facilities are extremely limited. For serious medical treatment, medical evacuation would be necessary. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation. Contact your insurance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Water-borne diseases (including cholera), tuberculosis, meningitis and malaria are common.
The 2014 UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic estimated that around 78,000 adults aged 15 or over in Benin were living with HIV. The prevalence percentage was estimated at around 1.1% of the adult population compared to the prevalence percentage in adults in the UK of around 0.25%. You should exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS.
Benin is a cash-based society and credit cards are not widely accepted. There are some ATMs, dispensing local currency (West African CFA). Take care when using your credit card or an ATM.
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.