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Benin travel guide

About Benin

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.

Key facts

Area:

112,622 sq km (43,484 sq miles).

Population:

11,166,658 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density:

92.8 per sq km.

Capital:

Porto-Novo.

Government:

Republic.

Head of state:

President Patrice Talon since 2016.

Head of government:

Vacant.

Travel Advice

Coronavirus travel health

Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for Benin on the TravelHealthPro website

See the TravelHealthPro website for further advice on travel abroad and reducing spread of respiratory viruses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

International travel

Commercial flights are operating to and from Benin. Check with your travel company for the latest information.

Entry and borders

See Entry requirements to find out what you will need to do when you arrive in Benin.

Returning to the UK

When you return, you must follow the rules for entering the UK.

You are responsible for organising your own COVID-19 test, in line with UK government testing requirements. You should contact local authorities for information on testing facilities (available in French only).

Be prepared for your plans to change

No travel is risk-free during COVID. Countries may further restrict travel or bring in new rules at short notice, for example due to a new COVID-19 variant. Check with your travel company or airline for any transport changes which may delay your journey home.

If you test positive for COVID-19, you may need to stay where you are until you test negative. You may also need to seek treatment there.

Plan ahead and make sure you:

  • can access money
  • understand what your insurance will cover
  • can make arrangements to extend your stay and be away for longer than planned

Travel in Benin

Travel within the country should be limited to essential travel only. Capacity on public transport is limited to 50%.

Public places and services

Gatherings of over 50 people are prohibited. Restrictions on bars, restaurants and entertainment spots have been lifted.

Visits to public institutions, including government buildings, have been limited. Additional measures include the requirement to wear face masks in public spaces and a systematic sanctioning of those people found to have breached restriction and confinement measures imposed on them.

Schools and other educational establishments have been reopened.

Healthcare in Benin

Unlike in the UK, you will need to go to a pharmacy to obtain most over-the-counter medicines. Pharmacies are widely available and are usually identified by a green cross. They will accept prescriptions from the UK although the specific prescribed brand will most probably be replaced by a generic or other brand equivalent. Benin has not yet forced a total lockdown and in the event that this occurs, pharmacies will remain open.

Your emotional and mental wellbeing is important. Read guidance on how to look after your mental wellbeing and mental health

View Health for further details on healthcare in Benin.

See also the guidance on healthcare if you’re waiting to return to the UK.

Testing positive for COVID-19 in Benin

COVID-19 test results are sent via an SMS text message. It can take up to 72 hours to receive the result from the day the test was taken.

Those who test positive must isolate at a government hospital if the condition is serious. Alternatively, those who test positive with mild symptoms or no symptoms are required to self-isolate at a location of their choice. Isolation is required until you receive a negative test result.

COVID-19 vaccines if you live in Benin

We will update this page when the Government of Benin announces new information on the national vaccination programme. You can sign up to get email notifications when this page is updated.

The Benin national vaccine programme started in March 2021 and is using the AstraZeneca and Coronavac vaccines. The Government of Benin has stated that British nationals resident in Benin are eligible for vaccination if they choose to join the programme. Further information on the vaccination programme is available on the Government of Benin Ministry of Health website.

Find out more, including about vaccines that are authorised in the UK or approved by the World Health Organisation, on the COVID-19 vaccines if you live abroad.

If you’re a British national living in Benin, you should seek medical advice from your local healthcare provider. Information about COVID-19 vaccines used in the national programme where you live, including regulatory status, should be available from local authorities.

Finance

For information on financial support you can access whilst abroad, visit our financial assistance guidance.

Further information

The Benin authorities are encouraging those with any information or concerns about coronavirus to call these numbers: +229 95 36 11 07, +229 51 02 00 00 or +229 51 04 00 00. This includes reporting those who are not respecting the preventative measures imposed by the authorities.

If you need urgent consular assistance, contact your nearest British embassy, high commission or consulate. All telephone numbers are available 24/7.

You can find information, in French, on the Benin government’s coronavirus website.

Political situation

Demonstrations took place in Cotonou, Porto Novo, Parakou, Manigri and Tchaourouahead of the presidential election in April 2021. You should exercise caution and avoid all demonstrations, large crowds, political gatherings and rallies. In the event of unrest, monitor local media and follow instructions and announcements from the local authorities. You should comply with any additional checks or security measures introduced by the authorities, which may be introduced at short notice. There were violent protests and at least two deaths related to the legislative elections which took place in April 2019.

Crime

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. Do not 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.

Scams

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.

Voodoo day

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.

Local travel

Northern border regions

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advise against all travel to:

  • the Parc du W National Park 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 area between the Parc du W and the border with Niger
  • the Pendjari National Park and adjacent hunting grounds
  • all other areas within 5km of the border with Burkina Faso

There is a threat of kidnapping by groups operating in the region. There is a heightened risk of kidnap in Benin’s northern border region. On 1 May 2019, 2 French tourists and their Beninese guide were kidnapped from Pendjari National Park. Local authorities confirmed that a body found on 4 May 2019 was that of the guide. On 11 May 2019 the hostages were rescued in Burkina Faso.

You should be aware of the risk of kidnapping and should ensure you have carefully considered the threat.

You should remain alert to the risk of changes in the security situation. In the early hours of 9 February 2020, a police outpost at the edge of the W Park and Mekrou river was attacked and set alight by a group armed with machetes and firearms. Remain vigilant and follow the advice of local security authorities.

Road travel

You can drive in Benin with an International Driving Permit (IDP). You can only get IDPs over the counter from 2,500 UK Post Offices. You will not be able to buy an IDP outside the UK, so get one before you travel. Conversion to a local Benin driving licence is not required, although it is possible.

Driving standards and road conditions in Benin are poor. Avoid driving outside towns and cities at night as roads are poorly lit. During the rainy season (April to mid-July and mid-September to October in the South, and from June to September in the North) there are potential rain bouts which cause flooding, particularly in rural areas. 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.

Sea travel

There have been incidents of piracy and armed robbery against large vessels in waters off Benin and neighbouring countries. Mariners should take appropriate precautions.

Swimming

Avoid swimming in the sea as ocean currents are very strong along the coast. Many drownings occur each year.

Air travel

You can find a list of recent incidents and accidents on the website of the Aviation Safety network.

The FCDO cannot 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.

Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Benin.

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out more about the global threat from terrorism.

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.

Kidnapping

There is a threat of kidnapping by groups originating in the Sahel. This includes Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), who may travel across the region’s porous borders. There is a heightened risk of kidnap in areas bordering the Sahel, this includes Northern Benin.

Terrorist groups have kidnapped foreigners, government officials and civilians in the region. Further kidnaps are likely. On 1 May 2019, two French tourists and their Beninese guide were kidnapped from Pendjari National Park. On 4 May 2019, local authorities confirmed that the guide had been found dead. On 11 May 2019, the hostages were rescued in Burkina Faso.

British nationals are viewed as legitimate targets, including those engaged in tourism, humanitarian aid work, journalism or business sectors. 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 builds the capability of terrorist groups and finances their activities. This can, in turn, increase the risk of further hostage-taking. The Terrorism Act (2000) makes payments to terrorists illegal.

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.

This page reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British Citizen’ passport, for the most common types of travel.

The authorities in Benin set and enforce entry rules. For further information 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.

Entry rules in response to coronavirus (COVID-19)

Entry to Benin

Entry and exit at border crossings is limited to “extreme necessity” and authorised in liaison with bordering countries.

The land border with Togo is closed.

Testing/screening on arrival and departure

All travellers arriving from Cotonou Cadjehoun International Airport must undergo mandatory COVID-19 testing. Tests cost 25,000 FCFA (normal service) or 50,000 FCFA (premium service) payable by bank card or mobile money. Testing for children under five years old is free of charge.

Departing passengers must undergo testing at Cotonou Cadjehoun International Airport or Palais des Congres. Fees are 25,000 FCFA (normal service) or 50,000 FCFA (premium service). The sample must be taken less than 72 hours before departure. There is an online guidance page (in French) which explains the steps for arriving and departing passengers and test results can be obtained within 24 to 48 hours.

All passengers must complete a health form online.

Quarantine requirements

Those who test positive for COVID-19 will be subject to government-mandated isolation measures and will receive treatment free of charge.

Regular entry requirements

Visas

British passport holders need a visa to enter Benin. You should get a short stay 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
752116
Paris
Telephone: +33 145 009882, +33 142 223191
Fax: +33 145 018202

For further information on entry requirements, contact the Embassy of Benin in Paris.

Visas for Nigeria, Ghana and Togo

Non-resident British nationals in Benin who wish to travel to Nigeria and Ghana cannot get 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.

Passport validity

Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. You do not need any additional period of validity on your passport beyond this.

UK Emergency Travel Documents

UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry, and exit from Benin.

Yellow fever certificate requirements

Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for Benin on the TravelHealthPro website

See the healthcare information in the Coronavirus section for information on what to do if you think you have coronavirus while in Benin.

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.

While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).

Health risks

There has been a recent increase in the number of cases of dengue reported in Cotonou and Calavi. For information and advice about the risks associated with dengue, visit the TravelHealthPro website

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.

Water-borne diseases (including cholera), tuberculosis, lassa fever, 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.

Medical treatment

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’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

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.

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, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in London on 020 7008 5000 (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.

Travel safety

The FCDO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we cannot 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 FCDO 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 cannot 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 FCDO travel advice

If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCDO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. Versions prior to 2 September 2020 will be archived as FCO travel advice. If you cannot find the page you’re looking for there, send the Travel Advice Team a request.

Further help

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.

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