Syrian Arab Republic travel guide
About Syrian Arab Republic
Until the recent civil war, Syria was a diverse destination that revelled in its antiquity. Inhabited for tens of thousands of years, the country accumulated all the cultural riches afforded by such a long history and was rightly considered one of the Middle East’s top destinations. Sadly, the war-ravaged nation is now struggling to preserve its ancient relics, which document the rise and fall of myriad civilisations.
Like its history, Syria’s landscapes are varied. Vast steppes cover much of the country, but mountains soar in the west, deserts stretch in the east and volcanic fields spread across the south. Meandering through this dusty land is the great Euphrates River, which also flows through neighbouring Iraq.
Syria was once regarded as a frontier region, bordered to the east by Persians and west by the Arabs. The country fell to the Persians in the sixth century and though it retained Christian and Jewish populations, Syria was from then on a Muslim nation.
The country’s story is littered with dramatic episodes. Syria was subsumed by empires from Babylon to Canaan, Assyria to Phoenicia; it was conquered by the Ottomans, endured a campaign by Napoleon and was invaded by the Egyptians. During the height of pan-Arabism in the 1950s, the country briefly joined with Egypt in the United Arab Republic, but seceded to form the Syrian Arab Republic in 1961.
The battles and territorial scrambles of the past have translated into a catalogue of staggering cities, such as Damascus and Aleppo, which are chock-full of stunning monuments and ancient mosques.
The uprising against the ruling Baath Party in 2011 gave way to a civil war, which continues to rage and is further complicated by the formidable presence of the jihadist militant group Islamic State. Travel to Syria is ill-advised (it is probably the most dangerous country on the planet right now) and the future remains uncertain.
185,180 sq km (71,498 sq miles).
18,563,595 (UN estimate 2016).
92.2 per sq km.
President Bashar al-Assad since 2000.
Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi since 2012.
Last updated: 26 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 travel to Syria. British nationals in Syria should leave by any practical means. Consular support is not available from the British government from within Syria, as all services of the British Embassy in Damascus are suspended and all diplomatic and consular staff have been withdrawn. If you need to speak to a consular officer in the UK, call the FCO in London on +44 (0)20 7008 1500.
The situation remains volatile and dangerous.The Syrian regime does not exercise control of significant parts of Syria, notably in the north west and north east of the country. The regime is conducting a military offensive in north west Syria which has displaced large numbers of civilians and caused significant civilian casualties. Though Daesh, formerly known as ISIL, no longer holds territory in Syria, the group continues to operate as an insurgency and conducts regular attacks, especially in north east Syria. Throughout Syria, local security situations are fragile and can deteriorate into fighting and clashes without warning. A number of chemical weapons attacks have taken place, and the UN estimates that over 400,000 people have been killed in the Syria conflict.
Fighting has at various times caused the temporary suspension of commercial flights, closed roads, impeded access to land border crossing points and led to the closure of some border crossings.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Syria. Continued attacks across Syria including in major cities, have left large numbers of people dead or injured.
There is a very high threat of kidnapping throughout Syria. There have been a number of kidnappings, including of British nationals and other Westerners, including by Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL).
If you choose to travel to Syria against FCO advice, you should make sure you and any dependents have valid exit stamps on your travel documents if you need one and take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance.
Safety and security
Civil unrest/political tension
The situation remains volatile and dangerous. The Syrian regime does not exercise control of significant parts of Syria, notably in the north west and north east of the country. On 6 May 2019, the regime launched an ongoing military offensive against opposition-held territory in north west Syria. Opposition and regime forces are engaged in active conflict involving the use of small arms, tanks, artillery and aircraft. The offensive has displaced large numbers of civilians, caused significant civilian casualties, and severely damaged civilian infrastructure including health facilities.
Though Daesh, formerly referred to as ISIL, no longer holds territory in Syria, Daesh fighters continue to operate as an insurgency and conduct regular attacks, especially in north east Syria. Civil unrest and violent clashes between armed groups remain common throughout Syria, including in areas of north west Syria under Turkish control, and areas of south Syria brought back under regime control in summer 2018. A number of foreign journalists have been killed. All foreign journalists entering Syria require special permission from the Syrian authorities. Those journalists and other foreigners in opposition-held areas are vulnerable to mistreatment by armed groups as well as to explosive remnants of war, improvised explosive devices, and the bombardment of these areas. Others have been detained by the Syrian security forces or other armed groups during the crisis. The security forces have confiscated phones, cameras and video cameras.
There are severe restrictions on political activity in regime-held areas. Thousands of people have been detained, and in many cases tortured and executed, because of actual or perceived involvement in opposition activity. Foreigners engaging in unlicensed political activity are at risk of detention.
The Syrian authorities have detained and deported several British nationals for unauthorised activity. Activity in opposition-held areas will also attract attention. If you are deported by the local authorities, you will not be able to return to Syria.
Humanitarian needs in Syria have increased significantly since the beginning of the crisis with over 11.7 million people in need of humanitarian aid. The ongoing conflict has seriously affected public infrastructure and services. This widespread destruction has led to high unemployment, scarcity/prohibitive cost of food, lack of water, sanitation, health services and fuel.
The escalating conflict has led to a rise in crime in most areas, including extortion at checkpoints, violent robbery, carjacking and kidnapping.
There is a reduced number of commercial flights due to the implementation of sanctions, the security situation and the high level of violence. Fighting near airports has sometimes caused the temporary suspension of flights. Road networks may be blocked without warning. There are security force checkpoints on major road routes.
Fighting and road closures have affected access to some land border crossing points. Some border crossings are in the hands of non-state armed groups, vulnerable to attack, and/or closed.
Road travel remains very dangerous in many parts of the country due to fighting, the fragile security situation and unexploded ordnance. Driving standards and traffic systems are poor, and the accident rate is high. Driving at night is particularly dangerous. When there is a car accident with a pedestrian, the car driver is always legally responsible.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Syria.
There have been many terrorist attacks across Syria including in major cities, resulting in large numbers of casualties. There are a number of terrorist groups that operate in Syria, including Daesh and Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (formerly known as Jabhat Fatah al Sham / Al Nusrah Front).
These groups target a wide range of places, including official installations, airports, border crossings, public transport and civilian spaces like public squares, hospitals, places of worship and learning institutions.
Methods of attack have included shootings, bombings, suicide bombs and vehicle bombs. Terrorist groups have also claimed responsibility for kidnappings in Syria.
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.
If you travel to Syria to fight, and your activities amount to offences against UK terrorism legislation, you could be prosecuted on return to the UK.
There is a very high threat of kidnapping throughout Syria. Kidnappings can be for financial or political gain, and can be motivated by criminality or terrorism. There have been a number of kidnappings, including of British nationals and other westerners. Some hostages have been killed.
Terrorist groups operating in Syria routinely use kidnapping as a tactic. Westerners continue to be targeted and any western presence in Syria would be at high risk. 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.
Local laws and customs
Syria is a multi-faith country. Alongside the majority Sunni population, there are large practicing Shia, Christian, Druze and Alawite communities, as well as other smaller sects and religions. As the conflict continues, divisions along sectarian lines have increased, communities have been displaced and levels of religious tolerance can vary considerably. There are restrictions on unlicensed political and religious activity, particularly political Islam.
The punishment for possession of drugs is life imprisonment. For drug trafficking, the death penalty applies.
The FCO advise against all travel to Syria. 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.
In June 2013, the Syrian regime issued a new law stating that individuals who enter Syrian territories illegally will be punished by a prison sentence of 5 to 10 years and/or a fine of 5 to 10 million Syrian pounds.
If you choose to travel to Syria against FCO advice carry a photocopy of your passport (the information page and the page displaying your visa and entry stamp) as proof of identity at all times.
If you choose to travel to Syria against FCO advice, you will need to get a visa before you travel.
If you choose to travel to Syria against FCO advice, your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 3 months from the date of entry into Syria.
Previous travel to Israel
If you have an Israeli stamp in your passport or Emergency Travel Document it is highly likely that you will be refused entry into Syria, regardless of your nationality.
If you choose to travel to Syria against FCO advice, 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).
The quality of health care has deteriorated significantly during the conflict with many hospitals no longer operating and shortages of even the most basic medicines and medical supplies. The destruction of infrastructure means there are regular outbreaks of infectious diseases across the country.
As a result of the ongoing conflict there have been a number of restrictions placed on financial transactions in Syria. Some of these restrictions are the decision of the Syrian regime, while others are the result of international businesses and banks being unwilling to invest or trade with Syria in the current environment. Since 2011, Syria has been subject to financial sanctions put in place by the European Union (EU) and, therefore, imposed by the UK as a member of the EU. For more information, please visit the website of the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation, HM Treasury.
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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