Afghanistan travel guide
An essential stop on the hippie trail in the 1960s, beautiful Afghanistan has been devastated by years of war. Renowned for its epic countryside and rugged mountains, travellers came to interact with local communities, breathe clear mountain air and explore ancient sites such as the giant Buddha statues of Bamiyan. They were happy times.
Sadly, those days are gone. The Taliban destroyed most of the country’s monuments, while the US and its allies ruined what was left of Afghanistan’s creaking infrastructure. With thousands of peacekeeping troops still operating in the country and pockets of fighting continuing, it will be some time before Afghanistan is restored to its former glory.
Consequently, travellers are advised against visiting Afghanistan. Nevertheless, some adventurous tour companies are offering trips to the country, and there have been reports in some quarters of increased bookings and interest. Afghan authorities put tourist numbers at less than 20,000, though they claim it is slowly increasing.
Tending to take in the historic but war-ravaged city of Kabul, mountain villages, ancient fortifications and some surviving Buddhist sites, tours are generally conducted in small groups and tend to be expensive.
Guides make the point that for many ordinary Afghans, life has continued much the same as it has for centuries. Indeed of the few travellers that do make it to the country, they tell of the surprising normality of Kabul, with little signs of the instability reported by international media. The country also remains a fascinating melting pot of ethnic and tribal groups.
Despite hopes that tourism could return to this historic country, almost every area of Afghanistan remains dangerous as insurgents continue to threaten the fragile democracy. If you do decide to travel to Afghanistan, personal security is recommended, as is a reputable tour company and full travel insurance. Always check foreign office advice before travelling.
652,225 sq km (251,773 sq miles).
33,369,945 (UN estimate 2016).
49.9 per sq km.
President Ashraf Ghani since 2014.
President Ashraf Ghani since 2014.
Last updated: 21 November 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 but essential travel to:
- the Enhanced Security Zone in Kabul
- Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul
- Panjshir province
- the city of Bamian in Bamian province
The FCO advise against all travel to all other areas of Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan.
Consular support is not available in parts of Afghanistan where the FCO advise against all travel and severely limited where the FCO advise against all but essential travel. The level of consular assistance the British Embassy can provide to travellers in Afghanistan is extremely limited. There are limits to the assistance the FCO can provide in a crisis, depending on the security and transport situation. You should not assume that the FCO will be able to provide assistance to leave the country in the event of serious unrest.
The British Embassy is not able to accept registrations from British nationals travelling in Afghanistan or monitor their safety when they are in country. Staff from the British Embassy may be unable to travel to certain parts of the country due to the security situation; this may severely limit the consular assistance that can be offered. Travel by road throughout the country, but particularly outside the capital Kabul, is extremely dangerous. Seek professional security advice for all travel and consider using armoured vehicles.
Hotels and guesthouses used by foreign nationals and the government of Afghanistan are subject to regular threats. The British Embassy doesn’t allow official visitors to stay in hotels overnight and has placed restaurants and other venues off limits to staff. Make sure your accommodation is secure and review your security measures regularly.
The presidential election took place on 28 September 2019. Political events, rallies and polling stations were the target of violent attacks before and on election day. The results process is ongoing and the potential for further elections-related violence remains high. You should avoid all political demonstrations and public gatherings. Keep up to date with developments in the security situation, including through monitoring local media.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Afghanistan. Specific methods of attack are evolving and increasing in sophistication. You should note an overall increased threat to Western interests in Kabul. Follow the instructions of local authorities. There is a high threat of kidnapping throughout the country.
Afghanistan is in a major earthquake zone and remains at risk from powerful earthquakes, aftershocks, landslides and flooding. The British Embassy can provide limited consular assistance in Afghanistan, particularly outside the capital Kabul.
You can contact the emergency services by calling 119 (police and ambulance) and 112 (fire). They are unlikely to speak English.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Safety and security
The security situation throughout Afghanistan remains uncertain, and could change rapidly. You should monitor media reporting and make sure you have robust contingency plans in place. Be vigilant at all times, keep others informed of your travel plans and vary your routes and routines.
Afghanistan is undergoing a major transition in terms of politics, economy and security.
The Presidential election took place on 28 September 2019. Political events, rallies and polling stations were the target of violent attacks before and on election day. The results are still being processed and the potential for further elections-related violence remains high. You should avoid all political demonstrations and public gatherings. Keep up to date with developments in the security situation, including through monitoring local media.
Road travel is highly dangerous. Insurgents have set up false vehicle checkpoints from which violent attacks have been launched, and there continue to be fatal roadside bombings and attacks on military and civilian vehicles. In addition to the threat from terrorism and kidnapping, there is also a continuing criminal threat from carjacking and robbery. Avoid travelling between cities at night.
Public transport is dangerous. Taxis and long distance buses are often poorly maintained, uninsured and driven by unqualified drivers. Privately hired transport is often driven by uninsured, unqualified drivers. You should carry out long distance journeys by air where possible.
If you travel by road you should only travel in secure transport with close protection, using reputable local drivers and guides. Make sure doors are locked and windows closed. You should consider strongly the use of armoured vehicles. Most road surfaces are in a very poor condition. The overall standard of driving is poor and most local drivers are uninsured. Accidents may lead to confrontation and threatening behaviour.
You can drive in Afghanistan with a valid driving licence for up to one year. If you’re staying longer in Afghanistan you will need to get a local licence.
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)
There have been a number of serious attacks on both western and Afghan NGOs and vehicles belonging to them, in which people have been killed or injured. NGO workers have been kidnapped near their places of work. Most attacks continue to occur in the east and south of Afghanistan with a recent increase in activity in the central areas. The International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO) issues regular security updates for NGOs.
All airlines from Afghanistan have been refused permission to operate services to the EU because Afghanistan is unable to ensure that its airlines meet international safety standards. FCO staff are advised to use carriers which aren’t subject to the EU operating ban.
A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found 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 a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s unsafe.
Flying to Dubai and then transferring is the most common route into Afghanistan. If you’re travelling via this route, you should also check travel advice for the United Arab Emirates.
It’s illegal to transit the United Arab Emirates carrying unlicensed personal protection equipment. This includes, but is not limited to, body armour (including ballistic vests), weapon holsters and handcuffs. Other specialist technical equipment such as satellite phones, listening and recording devices, powerful cameras and binoculars, while freely available in the UK, may also require licences. Persons found carrying any such items without a licence may be subject to conviction resulting in imprisonment and substantial monetary fines in accordance with Emirati law.
Crime is a serious concern, particularly in rural areas. Foreigners have been the victims of violent attacks, including armed robbery and rape. Don’t display any obvious signs of wealth, or carry large sums of money. Don’t travel alone, especially on foot. Take particular care after dark.
Harassment of foreign women is not unusual including uninvited physical contact and unwanted attention.
Advice to business
Specific guidance for companies seeking to do business in Afghanistan can be found on the Department for International Trade (DIT) website. DIT are also able to put you in touch with companies operating in Afghanistan who offer security services. For more information see Operating in High Risk Environments: advice for business.
If you’re travelling around Afghanistan, including Kabul, you should seek professional security advice and continually reassess your personal security. The British Embassy in Kabul operates under strict security protocols and always uses armoured vehicles; staff receive regular security briefings to enable them to carry out their work in as safe an environment as possible.
Only travel with reputable local guides and to fully protected workplaces. Take the greatest possible care and vary your routines. Don’t publicise your travel, including on social media. If possible, maintain radio or telephone communications to report your movements. Avoid any protests, demonstrations or large gatherings.
There are large amounts of unexploded bombs and land mines (both anti-tank and anti-personnel) throughout the country.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Afghanistan.
Multiple threats are issued daily. Terrorists and insurgents conduct frequent and widespread lethal attacks against Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF), domestic and international political and civilian targets including within the city gates, and those working in the security, humanitarian and reconstruction fields. You should note an overall increased threat to Western interests in Kabul, including from high-profile, large-scale attacks.
Recent incidents include:
- on 18 October 2019, a suicide bomber targetted a mosque in Deh Bala, Nagarhar, killing 69 and wounding 36
- on 18 August 2019, a suicide bomber struck at a Shia wedding ceremony in the west of Kabul, killing 63 people and wounding more than 180 others
- on 7 August 2019, a suicide vehicle based device struck a police location in Kabul city, killing 14 and injuring 145, 92 of whom were civilians
- on 28 July 2019, a complex attack targeted a political gathering in Kabul city, killing 20 and injuring 50
- on 25 July 2019, an explosion in Kabul city targeting an international convoy caused the death of 8 civilians and injured 10 others
- on 15 July 2019, a roadside bomb targeted a bus carrying civilians in Kandahar, killing 11 and injuring 35.
The insurgency has a strong anti-Western focus; this could make any UK interest or person a target. Attacks include bombs (roadside and other), suicide bombs (either on foot or by vehicle), indirect fire (rockets and mortars), direct fire (shootings and rocket propelled grenades), kidnappings and violent crime. Daesh is also fiercely hostile to the UK and other western countries.
If you decide to travel to Afghanistan, you should read this section in conjunction with the Safety and Security section.
You should be particularly vigilant on public or religious holidays, in and around landmark locations and places where large public crowds can gather. Hotels used by the government of Afghanistan and western nationals, ministries, military establishments, airports (including Kabul International) and religious sites have been attacked and further attacks are possible. Installations and life support facilities have been subject to attacks in recent years, specifically for their link to Western countries. Avoid regular visits to public places frequented by foreigners, including hotels, restaurants, shops and market places, especially at times of day when they are particularly busy and congested.
The British Embassy does not allow official visitors to stay in any hotel overnight, and has placed restaurants off limits to staff. Make sure your accommodation is secure, and review your security measures regularly.
The risk of being kidnapped throughout Afghanistan remains a very high and constant threat. At least four foreign nationals have been kidnapped in Kabul since July 2016, some of whom remain in captivity:
- on 2 August 2018, 3 international workers were killed shortly after kidnap in Kabul
- on 20 May 2017, a foreign aid worker was kidnapped in Kabul. The incident led to the death of a German national during the kidnap and subsequent release of the kidnapped Finnish national.
Over 100 westerners have been kidnapped in Afghanistan since 2001, a number of them have been British nationals. The motivation and desire to undertake kidnapping in Afghanistan is likely to continue. You should take the utmost care, vary routines and avoid setting regular patterns of movement. You should take professional security advice while in the country.
Those engaged in tourism, humanitarian aid and some other development 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.
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.
There’s considered to be 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.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all or all but essential travel to different parts of the country according to provincial region:
- The FCO advise against all but essential travel to Kabul’s Enhanced Security Zone and Hamid Karzai International Airport, and against all travel to all other areas within the city of Kabul.
You should note an overall increased threat to Western interests in the capital. There’s an ongoing threat from high-profile, large-scale attacks.
If you’re travelling in Kabul, take particular care on Airport road, Jalalabad road and Darulaman road. Avoid travelling on Jalalabad and Darulaman roads during commuter or other busy times (around 6am to 8am, 9am to 11am and 3pm to 4pm local time), when traffic can be heaviest and the risk of an attack against government and western people or interests is most likely. Avoid travelling along Airport road except for essential movements as attacks are likely throughout the day.
- The FCO advise against all travel to Faryab, Jowzjan, Baghlan, Takhar, Kunduz, Badakhshan, Sar-e-pul, Balkh and Samangan provinces.
There have been a number of attacks against aid workers and military vehicles resulting in deaths and injuries, and there are ongoing military operations throughout the north. The FCO advice against all travel to Badakhshan includes travel to or climbing and trekking within the Wakhan Corridor.
On 8 February 2017, six Afghan staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were shot and killed in Jowzjan Province, Afghanistan. Two further staff members travelling in the same convoy are so far unaccounted for.
The FCO advise against all travel to Ghazni, Kapisa, Khost, Kunar, Laghman, Logar, Nangarhar, Nuristan, Paktika, Wardak, Paktya and Parvan provinces, and Bamian province (except the capital, Bamian city).
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the city of Bamian and the province of Panjshir.
The eastern region has been extremely volatile for some time, with almost daily suicide and roadside bomb attacks, shootings and rocket attacks. The region close to the Pakistani border is extremely dangerous with a high number of insurgents operating freely. On 27 July 2019, a Vehicle Borne Explosive Device (VBED) struck a police headquarters in Ghazni province, killing 4 and injuring 30. Insurgents continue to fight each other in Nangarhar province while maintaining a steady stream of attacks against governmental and security forces, often causing civilian casualties.
On 7 July 2019 a VBED targeted the headquarters of the Afghan National Security Directorate in Ghazni city, killing 12 and injuring 179, mainly schoolchildren.
There are regular, large military operations in this region. There have been numerous daily attacks against Afghan and non-Afghan forces. There are also daily incidents of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), suicide and rocket attacks, and direct fire attacks on security forces patrols, checkpoints and bases as well as on the local population.
On 21 January 2019, insurgents attacked a military compound in Maidan Shar, with an estimated death toll of over 100.
• the FCO advise against all travel to Helmand, Kandahar, Nimroz, Uruzgan and Zabul provinces
On 18 July 2019, a truck filled with explosives detonated at the Afghan Police Headquarters in Kandahar city before attackers entered the compound. Two further vehicle borne devices increased the total number of casualties to 20 dead and 88 injured.
On 23 March 2019, 4 civilians were killed and a further 33 wounded when twin blsts detonated at a gathering celebrating farmers at Helmand province’s capitol, Lashkar Gah.
- The FCO advise against all travel to Badghis, Farah, Herat, Ghowre and Daykondi provinces.
There have been roadside bombs, suicide attacks, rocket attacks and criminal kidnappings throughout the western provinces and increased lawlessness in Western Ghowr. There is little security infrastructure in Daykondi and westerners have been kidnapped there.
On 11 January 2019, insurgents stormed the police headquarters in Herat city, killing 5 and wounding 4. On 19 May, an explosive device hit Iranian civil engineers and their protection detail working on a railway project, killing 2 and injuring 7. On 31 July, an explosion on a bus in Farah Province killed at least 27 people and wounded 17.
Local laws and customs
Afghanistan is an Islamic country. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times. Be particularly careful during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas. See our guidance on travelling during Ramadan.
Homosexuality is illegal. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
It is forbidden to seek to convert Muslims to other faiths.
You are not allowed to use, or bring into the country narcotics, alcohol or pork products.
Photographing government buildings, military installations and palaces is not allowed. Avoid photographing local people without their agreement.
It’s illegal to buy or export historical antiquities without a receipt from an authorised supplier or dealer. When you leave Afghanistan you may be asked for proof of purchase. If you don’t have a receipt, you could be detained and you may face a fine or prison sentence.
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 nationals must get a visa before travelling to Afghanistan. You can’t get a visa on arrival. If you are intending to work in Afghanistan and do not hold a Diplomatic or Official passport you will need a work permit which in turn requires a medical certificate. For further information contact the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in London.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Afghanistan.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are not valid for entry into Afghanistan. However, ETDs are accepted for exit from Afghanistan.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
Travelling with children
If you are travelling alone with a child you may need to produce documentary evidence of parental responsibility. The FCO does not allow staff based in Afghanistan to travel with their partners or children. For further information on exactly what is required at immigration contact the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in London.
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.
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).
Only very limited medical facilities are available in Afghanistan. Make sure you have all the prescription medication you need during your visit. Supplies are unlikely to be available locally. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
Diarrhoeal diseases and other gastrointestinal infections are common causes of ill health, becoming worse in the hotter months.
The dry dusty conditions in summer and winter can cause irritation to the eyes, throat, nose and skin.
Respiratory tuberculosis is common in the Afghan population.
Malaria is present except in the high mountainous regions of the country and in winter.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 112 or 020 112 from mobile (in Kabul only) and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Afghanistan is in an active earthquake zone. You should familiarise yourself with safety procedures in the event of an earthquake. More information about your risks in the event of an earthquake, especially around buildings, can be found at International Rescue Corps. Consider signing up to the US Geological Survey (USGS) 24/7 global monitoring agency. USGS provide a newsfeed or @USGSted twitter feed that distributes alerts for earthquakes with magnitudes over 5.5 or of significant impact.
During heavy rains and winter periods, significant flooding can occur, particularly outside the capital. During winter and spring, heavy snowfall often leads to avalanches in mountainous regions. Afghanistan lacks the infrastructure to respond comprehensively to these events so you should be prepared for every eventuality.
If a natural disaster occurs you should follow the advice of local authorities.
Carry sufficient cash in US Dollars for your visit. Credit cards are not accepted. Some ATMs in Kabul dispense dollars as well as the local currency, Afghanis. Banks are closed on Fridays, but there are ATMs in various locations in Wazir Akbar Khan and elsewhere. Travellers’ cheques are not widely accepted and it can take a fortnight for them to clear.
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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