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Somalia travel guide

About Somalia

Think Somalia and what springs to mind? Pirates, Civil War, Islamic militants? Suffice to say it’s not your average holiday destination. Until 2012 the country had been without a government for two lawless decades and, although the fractured nation has witnessed a period of relative stability recently, it remains highly dangerous.

Travel is possible in the northern districts of the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland, a quasi-independent state that has broken away from the rest of Somalia. Travellers, however, should avoid visiting other areas.

And that's a shame, because behind the turmoil lies a destination of considerable beauty. Somalia has a varied landscape of mountains, deserts, tropical rainforests, undiscovered beaches and coral reefs. Sadly, much of it is under threat from unregulated logging, drought and the ongoing civil war.

Modern day Somalia developed from a string of Arab sultanates, which were scattered along the northeast coast of Africa. As Arab influence waned during the late 19th century, the British, French and Italians designated these territories as protectorates. These were the subjects of various treaties, forged amid frequent clashes between the colonial powers and the neighbouring Ethiopians, and between the European powers themselves.

The problems Somalia experiences today were sown in 1960, when the British and Italian Somalilands were merged. Inherited tribal rivalries and territorial disputes have dominated the country's history since.

Years of fighting between rival warlords and an inability to deal with famine and disease have led to the deaths of up to one million people. The area is still extremely volatile, with attacks taking place, especially in the capital of Mogadishu.

Those keen on travelling to the region would be well advised to visit neighbouring Ethiopia or Djibouti instead. But if you are set on Somalia, there are a handful of attractions to see including the Laas Geel cave complex, which offers exquisite Neolithic art and stunning rock formations

Gorgeous beaches and beautiful coral reefs can also be found along the coast, but you’d have to be one dedicated beach bum to seek them out.

Key facts

Area:

637,657 sq km (246,201 sq miles).

Population:

11,079,013 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density:

16.6 per sq km.

Capital:

Mogadishu.

Government:

Federal republic. At the Arta Peace Conference in 2000, an interim parliament was established. The northern part of the country considers itself independent as the Republic of Somaliland with Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud as president since 2010, although it has not achieved international recognition.

Head of state:

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed since 2017.

Head of government:

Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble since 2020.

Travel Advice

Coronavirus travel health

Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for Somalia 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 operate to Somalia, including Somaliland. 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 Somalia, including Somaliland.

Returning to the UK

When you return, you must follow the rules for entering the UK including quarantine and testing requirements.

Check what you must do to travel abroad and return to England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

If your return journey to the UK transits another country, you should check whether it is subject to a travel ban or any other additional requirements. If so, contact your travel provider.

You are responsible for organising your own COVID-19 test, in line with UK government testing requirements. You should contact the Somali Ministry of Health and the Immigration and Naturalisation Directorate of Somalia for information on testing facilities.

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

Public places and services

The Somali authorities at national and local level (excluding Somaliland) have put in place a range of measures to control the spread of COVID-19. In Mogadishu, these include a night-time curfew, as well as measures relating to public gatherings, schools and mosques.

The Somaliland authorities issued measures to control the spread of COVID-19 on 22 March 2021. The measures include:

  • Wearing of facemasks in all public and private spaces, including at mosques and public gatherings.
  • Social distancing of 2 metres (1.5 metres in mosques)
  • Installation and use of hand washing and sanitising equipment
  • Avoidance of public gatherings. Where public gatherings do take place they must be well ventilated and attendees must wear masks, socially distance and wash hands.
  • Closure of sports centres, gyms and playgrounds.
  • Additional measures at mosques

Healthcare in Somalia

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 Somalia.

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

COVID-19 vaccines if you live in Somalia

If you’re a British national living in Somalia, 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

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.

Finance

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

Further information

For further UK government guidance on support you can access whilst abroad, visit our waiting to return guidance. This includes guidance on finance, health, and staying connected.

Consular support is severely limited in Somalia. The British Embassy in Mogadishu does not provide consular services. If you’re in Somalia (excluding Somaliland) and need urgent help from the UK government, contact the British High Commission in Nairobi. If you’re in Somaliland, you should contact the British Embassy in Addis Ababa. If you’re in the UK and are concerned about a British national in Somalia (including Somaliland), call the FCDO on 020 7008 5000.

Crime

There is a dangerous level of criminal activity by armed militia throughout Somalia. There have been murders, armed robbery and a number of incidents of kidnapping. There is ongoing serious violence between opposing factions in many parts of the country. Civilians of all ages have been killed in fighting, which often involves heavy weapons.

Local travel

British government officials serving in Somalia live and work under strict security rules. All British officials live in secure, guarded accommodation and travel with close protection teams at all times.

Humanitarian needs are great in Somalia, with over 5.4 million people in need of assistance. Displaced people living in settlements and other vulnerable groups will remain ‘food insecure’.

The displacement and overpopulated refugee camps may lead to a significant increase in disease, increased risk of crime over food security and a heightened security threat to foreigners.

Border areas

Land borders with countries neighbouring Somalia may close at short notice. You should check with local authorities before travelling to the border. You should also monitor Travel Advice for Ethiopia, Kenya or Djibouti. You should not cross the border without the correct documents. You may face a large fine or detention for illegally crossing borders and you may be prevented from onward travel.

Sea travel

There is a high threat of maritime crime in the territorial waters and international waters off Somalia. Recent attacks off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden highlight that the threat of piracy related activity and armed robbery in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean remains significant. Reports of attacks on local fishing dhows in the area around the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa continue.

The combined threat assessment of the international Naval Counter Piracy Forces remains that all sailing yachts under their own passage should remain out of the designated High Risk Area or face the risk of being hijacked and held hostage for ransom. For more information and advice, see our Piracy and armed robbery at sea page.

Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Somalia, including kidnapping.

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.

There’s a high threat to Western, including British, interests in Somalia, including Somaliland. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in crowded places, high-profile events, events involving government officials and in places visited by foreigners, such as hotels and restaurants.

Terrorist attacks targeting civilians are commonplace. Notable attacks include:

On 15 April 2021 there was a bomb attack on a minibus travelling between Mogadishu and Jowhar. It was reported that at least 17 people were killed and more were injured.

On 16 August 2020 there was an attack on the Elite Hotel in central Mogadishu. It was reported that 15 people were killed and at least 15 injured. The hotel is popular with foreigners.

On 13 July 2019 there was an attack on the Asasey hotel in the city of Kismaayo, southern Somalia. It was reported that at least 26 people were killed and over 50 injured.

On 14 October 2017 a large truck bomb exploded in central Mogadishu (Hodan District). This was Somalia’s deadliest ever terror attack with over 300 killed and hundreds more injured.

Al Shabaab, a terrorist group proscribed in the UK, and other groups opposed to the Somali government continue to carry out frequent attacks in and around Mogadishu. Terrorist groups operating in Somalia have made threats against Westerners and those working for Western organisations in Somalia, including Somaliland. Methods of attack have included armed assaults, suicide bombings, car bombings, explosions, gun attacks, mortar attacks, improvised explosive devices and the bombing of a commercial aircraft. Attacks have previously been targeted at government officials and institutions, local and international security forces, hotels, restaurants and public transport including the international airport. Further attacks could occur at any time.

There have been no major terrorist attacks in Somaliland since 2008. While attacks occur less frequently in Somaliland, terrorists are still very likely to try to carry out attacks.

Kidnaps

There is a threat of kidnapping throughout Somalia, including in regions bordering Kenya and Ethiopia, and in Somaliland. Both terrorists and criminal groups, including piracy groups, are involved in hostage-taking. A number of Western nationals, including British nationals, have been kidnapped in Somalia over the last 10 years and some have been killed. Those engaged in humanitarian aid work, journalism or business sectors are viewed as legitimate targets. If you’re kidnapped, the reason for your presence is unlikely to serve as a protection or secure your safe release.

If you’re working or travelling in Somalia, including in Somaliland, you should be aware of the risk of kidnapping. You should maintain a high level of vigilance at all times, including when travelling, in crowded public places, camps for displaced people, religious gatherings and places of worship, markets, shopping malls, hotels, bars, restaurants and transport hubs. You should make sure you have carefully considered the threat and have reasonable, proportionate mitigation measures in place.

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. The Terrorism Act (2000) also makes payments to terrorists illegal.

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.

The Federal Government of Somalia has adopted Shari’a law but is yet to implement it throughout the country. Al-Shabaab and other insurgent groups often have an extreme view on the implementation of Shari’a law.

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 Somalia 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)

Screening on arrival – Somalia (excluding Somaliland)

A negative COVID-19 negative test, taken no more than 72 hours before travel, is required for entry into Somalia.

Screening on departure – Somalia (excluding Somaliland)

A negative COVID-19 test, taken no more than 72 hours before travel, is required for exit from Somalia.

Screening on arrival - Somaliland

A negative COVID-19 test, taken no more than 96 hours before travel, is required for entry into Somaliland. If you do not have this evidence on arrival, then you may have to spend 14 days in quarantine at your own expense in a government approved facility.

Egal International Airport has put in place additional measures to screen passengers arriving into Hargeisa by air, including temperature checks.

Those people displaying symptoms linked to the virus may be transferred to a nearby isolation facility while further tests are carried out.

Land borders

Restrictions remain in place in neighbouring countries, including land border closures and quarantine measures. You should check before travelling to the borders of Ethiopia, Djibouti or Kenya. You should not cross the border without the correct documents. You may face a large fine or detention for illegally crossing borders and you may be prevented from onward travel.

Regular entry requirements

Visas

You will need a visa for all travel to Somalia, including Somaliland. If you arrive at Mogadishu International Airport, you can get a single entry visa, valid for one month, for US$60 in cash. You may also be required to provide a letter of invitation on arrival in Somalia outlining the purpose of your travel. You can usually get this from your place of work (a hotel booking may also suffice). Without this letter, you could be denied entry.

You can also get a single entry visa, valid for one month, on arrival in Somaliland for US$60 in cash.

Passport validity

Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months from your date of entry into Somalia, including Somaliland.

UK Emergency Travel Documents

UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are valid for entry to and exit from Somalia, including Somaliland.

Yellow fever certificate requirements

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

Dual nationality

The Government of Somalia and the authorities in Somaliland will consider anyone of Somali or Somaliland descent to be a dual British and Somali/Somaliland national. The British Government is limited in the consular support it can offer in such circumstances.

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for Somalia 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 Somalia.

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).

There are basic hospital facilities in Hargeisa. Elsewhere medical facilities are extremely limited or non-existent. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad, evacuation by air ambulance and repatriation.

There have been confirmed cases of acute watery diarrheal syndrome in the Lower Shebelle Region of Somalia and Cholera in Banaadir Region.

The World Health Organisation has issued temporary recommendations about polio vaccination. For more information and advice visit the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre and contact your GP before you travel.

Credit cards are not accepted in Somalia and it is not possible to obtain currency advances against a credit card. You should take hard currency, normally US dollars.

In Hargeisa however, it is now possible to withdraw US dollars from ATMs using international credit and debit cards.

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 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 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.

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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