Yemen travel guide
If it were an authentic taste of Arabia that you're craving, Yemen was long the answer. An antidote to Arabian Gulf bling, this was long the peninsula's most fascinating destination.
The largest city in Yemen, Sana'a is where most visits start. The Old City is UNESCO listed, its multi-storey tower houses and ancient Souk Al Milh lending an overwhelming medieval atmosphere. Being woken pre-dawn by competing muezzins from the city's fortyish mosques is a truly remarkable, unforgettable experience.
Outside the capital, explore fortified cliff-top villages overseeing cultivated plains or hike the foothills of the Haraz Mountains. To the east, walk the shady streets of Shibam, Freya Stark's 'Manhattan of the Desert', where nine-floor mud towers stand testament to Yemeni building skills. On the coast, visit the bustling fishing ports of Al Mukalla or Al Huydaydah. Most remote is Yemen's 'Arabian Galapagos', the Socotra archipelago. Cast adrift at the mouth of the Gulf of Aden, Socotra is two hours by air from Sana'a; 37% of plant species, 90% of reptiles and an estimated 90% of invertebrates here are found nowhere else on earth.
Once characterised as Arabia Felix (Fortunate Arabia) by the Romans and known as the land of milk and honey by Noah's sons, these days an uncertain security profile deters all but the hardiest travellers from visiting Yemen. In 2011, Arab Spring protests led to a revolution aimed at improving economic conditions and ending corruption. Unfortunately, the aftermath of the protests has been ever-increasing violence between different rebel factions and jihadists.
When Yemen eventually recovers from this civil war, tourists will surely be drawn back to the land that the Queen of Sheba called home, and where Gilgamesh came in search of the key to eternal life. A country with such a rich history and culture, Yemen certainly deserves more than the present-day tragedy inflicted upon it.
527,968 sq km (203,850 sq miles).
27,477,600 (UN estimate 2016).
50.6 per sq km.
President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi since 2012.
Prime Minister Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr since 2016.
Last updated: 19 February 2018
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 Yemen. This includes the mainland and all islands. If you’re in Yemen, you should leave immediately.
The British government can’t provide any form of assisted departure to British nationals in Yemen. There are no evacuation procedures in place, in line with the FCO’s longstanding policy on assistance in Yemen. The FCO has been consistently advising against all travel to Yemen and for UK nationals to leave Yemen since March 2011.
Due to increased security risk, on 11 February 2015 the operations of the British Embassy in Sana’a were temporarily suspended and diplomatic staff withdrawn. If you need consular assistance, you can contact the FCO in London at any time by calling +44 (0) 20 7008 1500.
The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of travelling to any potential evacuation point. You should therefore consider carefully whether you want to pursue any options that become available. You should use your own judgement to move towards an evacuation point only if and when you judge it is safe to do so.
The UK government’s ability to facilitate onward travel from countries in the region is limited and you’ll be expected to cover the cost of visas, accommodation, insurance and onward travel yourself. Any travel options you pursue are taken at your own risk.
Yemen remains very tense and unstable and the security situation throughout the country is dangerous and in some areas it is unclear which faction has control. In addition to ongoing fighting, there’s a threat of terrorist attacks, kidnap and unlawful detention against foreigners from terrorist groups, local militia, armed tribesmen and criminal groups that have the intent and capability to carry out such acts.
If you do choose to remain in Yemen you should minimise movement around the country and within cities and towns and follow other precautions in this travel advice.
Since 25 March 2015, Saudi Arabia has been leading coalition airstrikes against Houthi and pro-Saleh targets in Yemen in response to a request for support from President Hadi. Fighting continues across the country, which has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis and damaged key infrastructure. Access to food, clean water, fuel and medical supplies is difficult throughout Yemen. There is a high risk of being caught in indiscriminate gunfire or shelling.
There have been a number of clashes along the Yemen-Saudi border, which have resulted in casualties. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against all travel to areas of Saudi Arabia within 10 km of the border with Yemen, and against all but essential travel between 10km and 80km of this border. If you choose to ignore this advice and travel by land to Saudi Arabia you should expect to wait around 24 hours, though possibly up to several days at the border in order to enter the Kingdom, and in areas where food and water are reported extremely scarce, and accommodation severely limited. Estimates of the number of people waiting to cross the border vary, with some travellers assessing figures as high as several thousand. There are reports that several bus companies are delaying trips to the border due to the overcrowding.
If you’ve previously submitted an application in Yemen for a British passport, you will be contacted by Her Majesty’s Passport Office.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Yemen. Specific methods of attack are evolving and increasing in sophistication. Terrorist attacks take place on a frequent basis, and terrorists continue to threaten further attacks. There is a very high threat of kidnap and unlawful detention from militia groups, armed tribes, criminals and terrorists. In 2014 and 2015, a number of foreign nationals were kidnapped and unlawfully detained, and groups actively continue to target westerners.
There’s ongoing fighting between competing factions across the country. The situation is very changeable and it’s unclear in some areas which faction has control. This fighting includes armed groups like Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Daesh’s official Branch in Yemen, IS-Y.
Tropical cyclones sometimes affect parts of the country. You should monitor local and international weather updates. for advice about what to do if you’re caught up in a storm.
Piracy remains a significant threat in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.
Safety and security
If you travel to Yemen against FCO advice, you should regularly reassess your security arrangements and carefully plan your movements. Avoid routine, vary your travel routes, and keep a low profile at all times. You should take security advice from the host government, local authorities and/or competent security experts before any travel within the country. Routes in and out of Sana’a and the other major cities may become blocked and airports closed or inaccessible at little or no notice. There were violent clashes in Aden from 28 to 30 January 2018. Further fighting in Aden remains possible. The FCO continues to receive reports of this type of incident. You should check your routes in advance of travelling. Don’t advertise your travel or other plans through social media.
There’s an ongoing threat against foreigners and you are strongly advised to avoid places frequented by foreign nationals and to avoid travelling in an insecure and visible way.
Given the current political and security situation, there’s limited government control over parts of the country with Houthi or Al-Qaeda dominance in some areas.
The political situation is uncertain and the threat of a further escalation of violence and disorder remains.
The instability throughout Yemen has led to those in the south who support secession to call for southern independence and to draw attention to southern grievances.
Weapons are readily available. Incidents may not be solely criminal in nature, and may be linked to terrorism or other insecurity. Tribal disputes over land are common, including in major cities, and may involve the use of weapons. The Houthis are running extra-judicial detention centres. Take care at all times.
You can drive in Yemen using an International Driving Permit. Access routes in and out of major cities may be closed or blocked. Check that the road is open before starting your journey. Driving standards are poor and mountain roads hazardous. There is a severe shortage of fuel in Yemen. You should avoid all road travel outside the main cities at night. Take care to avoid minefields left over from civil wars and landmines used in the current conflict. Travelling off well-used tracks without an experienced guide could be extremely dangerous.
Due to the security situation, diplomatic staff were withdrawn and the operations of the British Embassy in Sana’a temporarily suspended in February 2015. If you need consular assistance, you can contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London at any time by calling +44 (0) 20 7008 1500.
The situation remains very tense and changeable. Clashes and airstrikes have caused temporary suspension or closure of airports across the country. Check with your airline or travel company before travelling to any airport in the country.
Yemeni air space is currently controlled by Saudi-led coalition forces. The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen have declared that starting from 15 August 2016, Sana’a International Airport will be opened for United Nations and other international humanitarian organisations’ flights. Humanitarian organisations must send a notice to the coalition in advance of each flight, and permission will be issued based on the status of military operations. Due to an outbreak of cholera, Yemeni passengers flying to Amman through UN Humanitarian Air Service flights or through commercial flights have been advised to provide a “disease-free certificate” certified by accredited sources before travel to Jordan.
Yemenia Airways flights from Sana’a airport are suspended until further notice. Yemenia Airways occasionally operate flights from Aden airport which reopened in May 2016, however Yemenia’s schedule is subject to last minute alterations or cancellation. If you’re looking to leave the country, contact Yemenia Airways for full details of their schedule, and how to apply for tickets, which can take several weeks to obtain and incur additional administrative fees.
There are no direct cargo or passenger flights between Yemen and the EU. Previous aviation incidents have included a failed attempt to bomb an aircraft destined for the USA, and two explosive devices identified in air cargo originating from Yemen.
The FCO cannot offer advice on the safety of other 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 does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
The conflict also extends to Yemeni territorial waters off the Red Sea and the Bab-Al-Mandeb strait. Houthi forces continue to present a credible threat to Saudi-led Coalition vessels (including to merchant vessels flagged to Coalition states) operating off the western coast of Yemen. There is an enduring risk to neutral shipping in the Southern Red Sea due to the potential for misidentification and miscalculation by Houthi forces.
British flagged commercial shipping is updated on International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code Security Levels from the Department for Transport.
As part of the coalition response to the Houthi aggression, maritime restrictions are currently in place resulting in variable port and vessel accessibility. Further details are available on the UNVIM website.
Recent piracy 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.
President Hadi escaped Houthi-imposed house arrest on 20 February 2015 and has now established a government-in-exile in Riyadh. On 25 March 2015 a coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, began air strikes in Yemen following the request for support from President Hadi to deter continued Houthi aggression. The UN is facilitating peace talks between the Yemeni parties to the conflict.
Air strikes and ground fighting have continued throughout the country to the present day.
Further reports of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances raise concerns, as Houthis have carried out a wave of arrests of their opponents, and the list of abductees includes politicians, journalists, academics and activists. The political and security situation remains uncertain and volatile.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Yemen. The threat is heightened where AQAP have strong tribal connections and in more isolated governorates like Hadramawt and Shabwah.
Western and Houthi interests in Yemen remain a feature in AQAP propaganda, and are viewed by AQAP as legitimate targets for attacks. Future attacks could be indiscriminate, including - but not limited to - places visited by foreigners like hotels and supermarkets, transport, oil and gas infrastructure, government buildings and Houthi gatherings. Since October 2014, there have been a number of large-scale attacks against the Houthis. Maritime and aviation terrorism also can’t be ruled out.
Attacks targeting or affecting British nationals of Yemeni origin also can’t be ruled out. Attacks against Yemeni security forces and Houthis throughout the country continue to rise and are expected to continue as a result of their ongoing Yemeni operations against AQAP.
Methods of attack have included complex attacks by militants, firearm assassinations, kidnappings, car bombs, and improvised explosive devices (IEDS) left in locations like buildings and roadways.
Daesh’s official branch in Yemen, (Daesh-Yemen), launched it’s terrorist campaign in March 2015, carrying out co-ordinated suicide attacks against Shia mosques and targets in the cities of Sadah and Sana’a. Since March 2015, the group has conducted dozens of terrorist attacks across the country as part of their campaign. Attacks have taken place in locations including Aden, Sana’a, Ibb, Hodeida and al-Bayda. Methods of attack have included car bombings and suicide bomb attacks. The group have so far focused on Houthi, security forces and Yemeni government targets, but western interests are highly likely to be regarded as a legitimate target too.
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. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
There is a very high and constant threat of kidnap across Yemen. Hundreds of people have been kidnapped in Yemen in the last 15 years. In 2014, a number of foreign nationals were kidnapped. In February 2014, 2 British nationals were kidnapped in Yemen. One was released in July 2014, the other in August 2015. An American national was murdered by his hostage takers during a failed rescue attempt in December 2014.
If you choose to travel to Yemen against FCO advice, you should pay careful attention to your safety and security. Security precautions do not remove the threat and our advice remains against all travel to the country.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) propaganda has called for continued kidnapping of westerners. However, armed tribes and criminal groups have also carried out kidnaps in the past. There is a high risk that such groups would sell any hostages on to AQAP. AQAP have murdered a number of hostages.
Any international presence (including UN, NGOs, oil and gas workers, journalists, teachers, students, tourists, long-term residents, and westerners of Yemeni origin) might be targeted if an opportunity arose. Kidnaps have occurred at various times of day and in a wide variety of locations, including public places in the capital, cars while travelling, and the victims’ accommodation. Kidnapping attempts often involve the use of force and have ended in the death of several victims.
The long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to terrorist hostage takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners increases the risk of further hostage-taking.
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.
You will need a visa to enter Yemen. You must get a visa from the Yemeni Embassy in London. If you’re staying for more than 14 days you’ll need to register your passport after arrival in country with the Yemen immigration authorities.
Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. No additional period of validity beyond this is required.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
The operations of the British Embassy in Sana’a have been temporarily suspended and diplomatic staff have been withdrawn. No consular assistance is therefore available in Yemen. You can contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at any time by calling +44 (0) 20 7008 1500.
Local laws and customs
Local laws reflect the fact that Yemen 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 2017, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 27 May and finish on 25 June.
Don’t drink alcohol in public. You should dress modestly. Take care when using cameras anywhere near military or religious sites. Don’t take pictures of people without their consent.
You must get permission from the General Authority for Antiquities before exporting or removing antiques from Yemen. Illegal movement or sale of Yemeni antiques is a serious offence under local law which can carry a custodial sentence.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
Medical facilities, particularly away from the main towns, are poor. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
The emergency medical assistance telephone number in Yemen is 191. The speed and effectiveness of the emergency services due to the ongoing security situation is unclear. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
ATMs are very scarce outside Sana’a. US dollars in cash is the most easily convertible currency.
Due to the security situation in Yemen the UK government is currently unable to process some State Pension payments through the Yemeni banking system. If you’re affected you should contact the International Pension Centre.
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.