Gambia travel guide
The Gambia may be mainland Africa's smallest nation, but it punches way above its weight in terms of attractions. With its glorious long sandy beaches, bustling architecturally-stunning towns and wealth of wildlife, it's perhaps the most striking of all West African countries. What's more, its people are kind and welcoming, giving The Gambia the reputation of being the 'The Smiling Coast'.
Virtually enveloped by its much larger neighbour Senegal, The Gambia's narrow landmass still retains its own clear identity, despite the colonial carve up of Africa. Although this accessible Anglophone country's more obvious draw is perhaps the joy of winter sun at good-value rates, its rich history and fascinating mix of cultures make it hard to pigeonhole. If you escape the sun loungers, you will uncover another side of the country, rich in eco-tourism opportunities, wilderness, wildlife and bird watching.
Inextricably linked to the Gambia River, one of Africa's great waterways, The Gambia comprises a varied landscape, featuring lush tropical forests, swamps, marshes and large areas of wooded savannah. Alongside this are Gambia's parks, reserves and riverbanks including Kiang West National Park and River Gambia National Park, where you’ll see all kinds of wildlife, including monkeys, crocodiles, a small population of hippos and well over 500 bird species.
Of course, one of the main attractions is the coast. There are only 80 kilometres of shoreline, but the beaches are some of the most stunning in the region. Relatively uncrowded and shaded by multitudes of swaying palm trees, you'll be forgiven for thinking you've stumbled on paradise. Tanji and Bakau are both working beaches, featuring arrays of colourful pirogues and little fishing boats, perfect for experiencing traditional activities. For awe-inspiring sunsets, pick a spot on Batokunku Beach and stretch out on the unspoilt sand.
Visitors keen to experience West African music and rural culture may head off the beaten track and up-country to simple, traditional villages. All year round you'll find vibrant festivals, events full of traditional drumming, energetic dancing as well as customary wrestling matches. But for many, it is The Gambia's idyllic cocktail of sunny days, warm welcomes and relaxing Atlantic beach resorts that lures them time and again to this little slice of African heaven.
11,295 sq km (4,361 sq miles).
2,280,102 (World Bank estimate 2018)
202 per sq km.
President Adama Barrow since January 2017.
President Adama Barrow since January 2017.
Before you travel, check the ‘Entry requirements’ section for The Gambia’s current entry restrictions and requirements. These may change with little warning. Monitor this advice for the latest updates and stay in contact with your travel provider.
If you plan to pass through another country to return to the UK, check the travel advice for the country you’re transiting.
It is more important than ever to get travel insurance and check it provides sufficient cover. See the FCDO’s guidance on foreign travel insurance.
You should avoid large gatherings and protests in public areas, monitor local media for up-to-date information and follow the advice of local authorities. See Political situation
There are a number of checkpoints operating in and around the capital Banjul. Expect your vehicle to be searched if you’re stopped by security forces.
Terrorist attacks in The Gambia can’t be ruled out. Attacks could be indiscriminate. You should be vigilant, especially in places visited by foreigners. See Terrorism
Take care when swimming in the sea. Tides, waves and under currents can all be very strong.
Most visits to The Gambia are trouble-free, although independent travellers are at increased risk due to the lack of local support in an emergency. If you’re travelling independently, make sure next of kin in the UK have details of your itinerary and keep in regular touch. Take out travel and medical insurance before you travel.
Coronavirus travel health
Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for The Gambia 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.
Entry and borders
See Entry requirements to find out what you will need to do when you arrive in The Gambia.
Be prepared for your plans to change
No travel is risk-free during COVID-19. 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 and are asymptomatic you will be expected to self-isolate. Self-isolating at your hotel will be at your own cost. If you develop symptoms you should call 1025. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may be asked to attend a medical facility.
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
Public places and services
COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted in The Gambia.
Healthcare in The Gambia
The government of the Gambia has set up a help line “1025” for anyone with information or concerns about coronavirus.
For contact details for English speaking doctors, visit our list of healthcare providers.
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 The Gambia.
For information on financial support you can access whilst abroad, visit our financial assistance guidance.
In January 2017, The Gambia experienced a peaceful handover of power to President Adama Barrow and his coalition government. In December 2021, President Adama Barrow secured victory in presidential elections.
You should avoid large gatherings and protests in public areas, and follow the advice of local authorities.
Attacks on tourists can occur, particularly the theft of passports and other valuables from hotel rooms. Don’t take valuables or large sums of money to the beach, or display them in public. Take particular care when visiting isolated beaches and markets and crowded events and venues outside the main tourist areas, especially at night time.
Both male and female visitors should be particularly cautious of young men locally known as ‘bumsters’ who approach tourists, particularly on beaches, offering help or to act as local guides. Be polite but firm in refusing unwanted help or attempts at conversation. Visitors should also be wary of offers, usually from ‘bumsters’, to take them on tours into Senegal. It is unlikely that the correct immigration procedures, which might include getting a visa for Senegal will be followed. This could result in detention by immigration authorities.
Don’t leave valuables in unattended vehicles. Take particular care in unlit areas or in places away from the Tourist Development Area.
Corruption is endemic at all levels.
Travel in The Gambia is reasonably safe as long as you take sensible precautions to safeguard your personal possessions.
There are a number of checkpoints operating in and around the capital Banjul. Expect your vehicle to be searched if you’re stopped by security forces.
You can drive using a UK driving licence for up to 3 months upon your first entry into the Gambia. After 3 months you can apply for a Gambian driving licence using your UK driving licence as proof of driving competence. You should apply to the Gambia Police Force Licensing Department. The documents required for the application include proof of residency in the Gambia, your valid UK driving licence and a copy of your passport.
If you’re a diplomat then you can channel your application through the Gambia Ministry of Foreign Affairs and they will advise you on what you need to provide to facilitate this process. They will process your application on your behalf. The same procedure is also applicable for International Non-Governmental Organizations, United Nations Agencies, and other diplomatic missions in the Gambia.
Driving standards are bad and roads severely potholed. Driving after dark carries added hazards because of poor road and vehicle lighting. In the event of an accident, emergency medical facilities are very limited. Security checkpoints are common on all major routes in The Gambia. They are not always well sign-posted and you should take care when approaching them.
Rainfall occurs in The Gambia between June-October. Heavy rainfall can create localised flooding. Take care if you’re going up-country or travelling on non-paved roads during this period.
Some local taxis are not roadworthy.
The ferry which crosses from Banjul to Barra is often crowded and overloaded. Safety measures and maintenance are not up to international standards and lack life-saving equipment and rescue services. Consider using the alternative route across the Senegambia Bridge near Farafenni. There have been several instances of the ferry becoming stranded on sandbanks. If using the ferry get out of your vehicle quickly after parking to avoid becoming trapped inside your vehicle for the duration of the journey.
Pirogues (wooden dug-out canoes) operate in The Gambia. These can be overloaded and safety measures are not up to international standards. They are not recommended for long journeys and you should make sure they have life jackets.
Terrorist attacks in The Gambia can’t be ruled out.
As seen in Mali, Côte 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 places.
There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. You should remain vigilant at all times.
Local laws reflect the fact that The Gambia is an Islamic country. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend other cultures or religious beliefs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas.
In 2023, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 22 March and finish on 21 April. See Travelling during Ramadan
You must carry ID with you at all times. Carry a photocopy of your passport and keep the original locked away.
It hasn’t always been possible for the British High Commission to gain early access to detained British nationals in The Gambia.
Although the law stipulates that detainees can’t be held for longer than 72 hours without charge, this is regularly exceeded.
The death penalty applies for a number of crimes including arson, murder and treason. The Gambia resumed executions in 2012. In February 2018, a moratorium on the death penalty was announced.
There is a zero tolerance towards illegal drugs. The Gambian authorities will take strong action against anyone importing, exporting or found in possession of drugs. Don’t accept packages on behalf of anyone without knowing the contents.
Sentences for those found in possession of drugs can be up to £200,000 or 15 years in prison. Westerners carrying a minimal amount of cannabis have been sentenced to ten years in prison. Cases of entrapment by Gambian authorities are not uncommon.
Recent amendments to the Gambian criminal code have criminalised a range of behaviour including causing a public nuisance, which can carry a 5-year prison term and/or a fine of 250,000 Dalasi.
There are heavy penalties for any form of sexual offence against a child. There are reports of increased child sex tourism. Report any incidences to police officials.
There is a zero tolerance towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in The Gambia. The Gambian criminal code states that any person who has or attempts to have ‘carnal knowledge’ of any person ‘against the order of nature’ is guilty of a crime and could face 14 years’ imprisonment. The criminal code was amended in October 2014 to include Section (144A) entitled Aggravated Homosexuality which sets out 7 specific categories, including being “a serial offender”, where a person is “liable on conviction to imprisonment for life”. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
Gambian law criminalises the act of men dressing as women with a 5-year jail term.
In the years before the new government took office in 2017, some foreign nationals were detained by the police in relation to homosexuality. Although homosexuality remains illegal, the new government has taken a softer stance on many issues, including homosexuality.
This page has information on travelling to The Gambia.
This page reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British Citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.
The authorities in The Gambia set and enforce entry rules. If you’re unsure how The Gambia’s entry requirements apply to you, contact its UK embassy, high commission or consulate.
Airport Development and Security Fee
A compulsory Airport Security Fee must be paid upon entering and exiting the country. The fee is 20 dollars, or equivalent in euros, sterling or local currency. This will be collected via marked kiosks in Banjul International Airport. Visa credit card is accepted. Children below 2 years of age and passengers in transit are exempt.
From 13 December 2022, all COVID-19 travel restrictions for travellers to The Gambia have been lifted. The rules that previously applied to travellers coming to The Gambia no longer apply:
- you are no longer required to show proof of being fully vaccinated
- you are no longer required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
Check your passport and travel documents before you travel
If you are visiting The Gambia, your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay.
For visits of less than a month, you don’t need to get a visa before you travel. British nationals are given a 28 day stamp in their passports on arrival. You can get further 28 day extensions from the Immigration Office in Banjul or the Tourist Police Stations in the Tourism Development Area.
If you’re planning to enter The Gambia for a period longer than 3 months, check entry requirements with the Gambian High Commission in London.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
If you have a health condition, or you are pregnant, you may need specialist healthcare abroad. Check whether your destination country can provide the healthcare you may need and ensure you have appropriate travel insurance for unexpected medical evacuation or local treatment.
See the Coronavirus travel health and Healthcare sections in the Coronavirus page for COVID-19 health information.
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 are 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. If you intend to bring prescription medication into The Gambia, you should bring a copy of your prescription and keep items in the original packaging. Some prescription and over-the-counter medicines like those containing codeine or diazepam are banned under The Gambia’s drugs laws. If you’re in any doubt about customs procedures or need more information on the legal status of a specific medicine, check with the Gambian Embassy before you travel.
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).
In The Gambia you will need to go to a pharmacy to obtain most over-the-counter medicines. Only a very limited selection are available at supermarkets or other stores. Not all medicines available in the UK will be available in The Gambia. Travellers that require specialist medication should check availability before travel or make arrangements to bring their medicines with them. The widely used symbols are a green cross or a green ‘Bowl of Hygieia’ (a chalice or cup with a snake twined around it). UK prescriptions are accepted.
You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Medical facilities in The Gambia are very limited and the cost of medical evacuation can be very high. Private clinics will only treat fee-paying patients.
Other health risks
Malaria is present in all areas of The Gambia throughout the year.
In the 2010 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic the UNAIDS/WHO Working Group estimated that around 17,000 adults aged 15 or over in Gambia were living with HIV; the prevalence percentage was estimated at around 2% of the adult population compared to the prevalence percentage in adults in the UK of around 0.2%. You should exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS.
Localised flooding can occur during summer months (June to October).
The Gambia remains primarily a cash-based economy. Not all hotels will accept travellers cheques. Check with your tour operator or hotel before travelling. An increasing number of hotels and restaurants will accept Visa debit cards but very few will accept credit cards. Mastercard is generally not accepted. There are several ATMs in the tourist area of Senegambia and in other locations, but ATMs can be unreliable.
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.
The FCDO 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 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 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 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 can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send the Travel Advice Team a request.
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, or contact us on Twitter or Facebook. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.