Somalia travel guide
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.
637,657 sq km (246,201 sq miles).
11,079,013 (UN estimate 2016).
16.6 per sq km.
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.
President Muse Bihi Abdi since 2017.
Prime Minister Hassan Ali Kheyre since 2017.
Last updated: 22 October 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 Somalia, including Somaliland except for the cities of Hargeisa and Berbera to which the FCO advise against all but essential travel. Any British nationals in areas of Somalia to which the FCO advise against all travel should leave. Any British nationals in Hargeisa or Berbera who are not on essential travel should leave.
If you visit Hargeisa or Berbera, exercise a heightened level of vigilance and take care in public places where people gather. Monitor local and international media to avoid any demonstration or disturbance taking place. Leave any area of unrest quickly and don’t attempt to watch or photograph it.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Somalia. There is a high threat of kidnap throughout Somalia. Terrorist groups have made threats against westerners and those working for western organisations. There is a constant threat of terrorist attack in Mogadishu and terrorists continue to plan attacks against westerners in the rest of Somalia including Somaliland.
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. Attacks continue to occur in Mogadishu and elsewhere in Somalia. 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. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility.
Terrorist attacks could be indiscriminate, including in crowded places, high-profile events, events involving government officials and in places visited by foreigners. Due to their use by government officials, hotels are considered legitimate targets by terrorist groups.
There is a high threat of maritime crime in the territorial and international waters off Somalia and attack remains a significant threat in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.
All areas across Somalia are suffering food shortages resulting in the displacement of thousands of Somali people including those caused by Tropical Storm Sagar in the north and flooding in the south.
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 (eg if you’ve been arrested or you’re concerned about forced marriage), 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 FCO on 020 7008 1500.
Safety and security
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility.
Al Shabaab, a proscribed terrorist group, and other groups opposed to the Somali government continue to carry out attacks in and around Mogadishu on an almost daily basis. 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, 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.
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.
Local laws and customs
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.
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.
A visa is required 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. This letter can usually be obtained from your place of work (a hotel booking may also suffice). Without this letter, you could be denied entry.
British nationals are also able to obtain a single entry visa, valid for one month, on arrival in Somaliland for US$60 in cash.
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 are valid for entry and exit to/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.
Please note that the Government of Somalia and the authorities in Somaliland will consider anyone of Somali or Somaliland descent to hold dual-British and Somali or Somaliland nationality. The British Government is limited in the consular support it can offer in such circumstances.
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.
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.
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