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Country Reports

French Guiana Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

French Guiana, France's largest department (population 262,500), is located in South America, some 7000 km (4350 mi) from the mainland. Potential travelers should take into account certain local factors while preparing their trip, notably high sociopolitical tensions.

CRIME

Violent and non-violent crime rates in French Guiana, while lower than those of its Latin American neighbors, are high by French standards (French Guiana has been classified as the country's "deadliest" department), with the cities of Cayenne, Kourou, Matoury, and Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni particularly affected by high crime rates. In Cayenne, it is advisable to avoid beaches and the Crique neighborhood at night.

Murder rates, while relatively low, have been rising steadily since 2012; 42 homicides were committed in 2016 (i.e. 16 per 100,000 inhabitants), an increase from the 38 recorded in 2015. Prosecutors believe that difficulties in investigating crimes committed in isolated areas have contributed to a rise in violence. The number of muggings has also steadily increased, from 1694 in 2014 to 2338 in 2016.

The department, along with the French departments Martinique and Guadeloupe, has become a major transit point for South American drugs heading to Europe. The number of arrests targeting cocaine traffickers has more than doubled in two years from 183 in 2014 to 371 in 2016.

NATURAL RISKS

The rainy season lasts from December to July. Floods, which can disrupt ground transportation, often occur during this time.

The Northern Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30. While hurricanes and tropical storms rarely hit French Guiana directly, storm systems can bring torrential rains, winds, and associated flooding and material damage to the region.

POLITICS

Residents of French Guiana vote in the French national elections.

SOCIAL UNREST

Protests and strikes are relatively common and there is sentiment among much of the local population that French Guiana is largely neglected by the government in Paris. GDP per capita in the department is 50 percent lower than on the mainland, with costs of living higher due to the fact that the region relies heavily on imports. Unemployment rates are high, affecting around 20 percent of the working population (twice the national average). Crime rates are also higher than on the mainland (see CRIME section), sparking protests by the "500 Frères" (500 Brothers) movement and other social action groups.

A series of protests beginning in mid-March 2017 led to an indefinite general strike launched on March 27 to demand the French government allocate resources to the department to deal with various economic, health, education, and security related issues. The strike resulted in fuel shortages, business and school closures, the near-paralysis of Cayenne's Félix Eboué International Airport (CAY), roadblocks in cities, on highways, and on routes leading to neighboring Suriname and Brazil, and mass protests in Cayenne, Kourou, and Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni. 

The unrest coincided with the campaign period ahead of the 2017 presidential elections.

OTHER

As a French department, French Guiana forms part of the European Union. The official language is French and the local currency is the euro.

The same entry requirements (visas, etc.) for France apply to French Guiana, with the exception that visitors over one year of age may be required to present proof of yellow fever vaccination upon entry. 

HEALTH

All non-French travelers should take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance prior to departure.

The quality of running water varies by area. While water is potable in larger cities and in coastal zones, only bottled or decontaminated water should be consumed in smaller inland communes and remote areas. No particularly precautions are necessary for other foodstuffs.

A number of mosquito-borne diseases are present and case rates tend to rise during and following the rainy season (December to July) as standing water provides breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

  • Malaria may be present year round in municipalities bordering Brazil and Suriname. In the rest of the department, the risk is low or negligible. There is no risk in Cayenne or on Île du Diable (Devil's Island).
  • There is a high risk of contracting the Zika virus, which was detected in French Guiana for the first time in December 2015. While the virus is usually relatively benign (and asymptomatic in 80 percent of cases), links between the Zika virus and severe birth defects have been established. The disease is also transmittable via sexual intercourse.
  • Dengue fever is present; some 500 probable or confirmed cases were reported in 2016.
  • Chikungunya is also present; hundreds of cases were reported in 2016.  
  • As of April 2017, yellow fever is not present in French Guiana; however, there are fears the disease could spread from neighboring Brazil, where a major outbreak is ongoing.

Rabies is present in the country. The main line of defense against rabies is to avoid contact with both domestic and wild mammals (bites, scratches, licks). If you are scratched or bitten, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Finally, it should also be noted that French Guiana is the most heavily affected French department by HIV-AIDS, with nearly 1 percent of the population HIV-positive.

Climate

The rainy season lasts from January until June, with a peak of rain in May and a relative respite in March. Temperatures are higher in the forest than along the coastline; however, nights there are much cooler. Humidity levels are generally high along the coast where temperatures remain steady (28°C).

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +594 Police: 112 Fire Dept.: 112 Ambulance: 112

Electricity

Voltage: 220 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

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