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Country Reports

Venezuela Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

Potential travelers to Venezuela (916,000 km²; population 30.9 million) should be aware of numerous issues affecting the country. Venezuela has been devastated by a long series of progressively worsening crises affecting the restive country in recent months and years, including a breakdown of the democratic system, major shortages of gasoline, medications, food, and other basic necessities, an alarming spike in rates of violent crime, massive inflation and economic recession, and a resurgence of disease.

SOCIOPOLITICAL UNREST

The political climate - plagued by social unrest, tensions, and confrontations - is prone to explosive changes. Large-scale demonstrations are common occurrences in the streets of Caracas (and elsewhere), particularly during periods of unrest and economic hardship. All protests should be systematically avoided due to the potential for violence perpetrated by demonstrators, security forces, and armed militia groups. Roadblocks ("guarimbas") are a common tactic used by protesters and can result in major traffic disruptions as well as violent confrontations. Security forces or armed paramilitary groups loyal to the government may attempt to break up demonstrations held by opposition protesters, leading to sometimes deadly clashes. 

As mentioned above, an ongoing wave of protests have taken place in the capital Caracas and in cities throughout the country since early April 2017. The social unrest has virtually paralyzed daily life in the capital, with roads regularly blocked by protests and/or security forces, the city's subway system regularly shut down by the government, and stores and businesses closed due to fears of violence. Numerous and often deadly clashes have taken place, resulting in dozens dead and thousands arrested. The protests have largely been organized by the political opposition, in large part to denounce the increasing authoritarianism of President Nicolás Maduro's government - e.g. the indefinite postponement of regional elections and the effective castration of the National Assembly, controlled by the opposition coalition MUD (Mesa de la Unidad Democrática).

The next presidential election is currently expected to take place before May 2018. However, given the political turmoil affecting the country, this schedule is subject to change.

CRIME

Venezuela suffers from extremely high rates of violent crime, and security conditions have deteriorated in recent years. In 2016, the country suffered the highest homicide rates recorded since its independence in 1823, for the second consecutive year. The Venezuelan Violence Observatory (Observatorio Venezolano de la Violencia; OVV) estimated the annual homicide rate at 91.8 murders per every 100,000 inhabitants- the highest rate in the world for countries not at war. Violent crime in Caracas takes place at all hours and are generally attributed to organized crime groups and mobile street gangs. Affluent neighborhoods in the capital are not exempt from the risk of crime (kidnapping, home invasion, armed robbery, carjacking, petty theft).

Consequently, all those present throughout the country, particularly in urban areas, are advised to be vigilant and maintain a low profile at all times as criminals may target foreigners due to their perceived affluence. Criminals may be armed; to reduce the risk of the situation escalating, it is imperative to not resist if confronted and to not look attacker(s) directly in the eye.

Private security services, including the use of armored cars, are increasingly becoming the standard for business and official visitors as well as residents. The use of armored vehicles is particularly common in Caracas, especially after dark and for transportation to and from the airport.

Travelers should note that the road to Caracas's Maiquetia-Simón Bolívar International Airport (CCS) is considered particularly dangerous. Additionally, assaults have taken place at the airport itself, both inside and outside of terminals. Criminals work inside the airport to spot passengers who appear to be wealthy and then inform carjackers and muggers waiting on the roads outside the airport.  Some passengers have been followed from the airport and assaulted on the way to or upon arrival at their destinations in Caracas.

In Caracas, reasonably priced hotels can be found in safer areas like Chacao. The Sabana Grande area and the city's barrios (densely populated slums) experience particularly high crime rates and should be avoided.

KIDNAPPING

The number of for-profit express kidnappings has exploded over the past several years to become one of the most common crimes in this violence-ridden country. Rates increased by 300 percent between 2009 and 2015 and continued to increase in 2016.

Express kidnapping victims are usually held for up to 24 hours by perpetrators; during this time, a ransom is demanded, and/or the victim is transported to various ATMs and forced to withdraw as much cash as possible, and/or to his or her own home, which is then robbed (money, electronics, automobile, etc.). If assaulted, remain calm, do not offer any resistance, and obey all demands issued by your aggressor(s).

ECONOMIC CRISIS

Venezuela is currently suffering from severe shortages of various essential goods (food stuffs, household goods, medications, fuel, etc.), water, and electricity, a situation characterized by some observers as a humanitarian crisis. According to the Venezuelan government, these shortages - which have led to numerous instances of looting, hours-long lines at stores, and increased socioeconomic tensions - are due in part to smugglers and "unpatriotic capitalists." A less biased view places the blame for the country's economic turmoil on poor management of the planned national economy, coupled with a sharp drop in government revenue due to historically low prices of oil, one of Venezuela's main exports.

The country is also dealing with various other economic issues, including high rates of unemployment, an economy in its worst recession in 70 years, hyperinflation, and widespread poverty that affects 12 million people (more than one-third of the population). The IMF predicts the Venezuelan economy will contract for the fourth consecutive year in 2017, by an estimated 7.4 percent.

TRANSPORTATION

Various international airlines have suspended or reduced flights to and from Venezuela in recent months due to currency exchange issues, security concerns, and/or low demand.

It is also worth mentioning that Caracas is often brought to a virtual standstill by traffic jams.

Due to security concerns (high risk of carjacking), it is common practice to ignore red traffic lights, especially after dark, which leads to an increase in traffic accidents.

Checkpoints are common, especially on inter-city routes. They are generally operated either by local police or by the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB). Stopping at checkpoints is mandatory and drivers should be prepared to show vehicle registration paperwork, proof of insurance, and an ID ("cedula" or passport). Police or guardsmen may search vehicles stopped at checkpoints.

NATURAL RISKS

Venezuela is also vulnerable to natural disasters. The rainy season (normally) lasts from May until December and torrential downpours and landslides are frequent during these months.

From June until the end of November, the northern Caribbean coast is regularly affected by tropical storms. While instances of hurricanes and tropical storms hitting Venezuela directly are relatively rare, storm systems can bring torrential rains, winds, and associated flooding and material damage to the country.

The hilly coastal areas, e.g. the north-central region of the country where Caracas is located, are at risk for earthquakes, although major damage or loss of life is rare.

COLOMBIAN BORDER

Land border crossings with neighboring Venezuela were ordered closed by President Maduro in August 2015, ostensibly to combat crime and smuggling in the border region, where drug traffickers and other armed groups are present (e.g. states of Zulia, Táchira, and Apure). The border was partially reopened beginning in mid-August 2016; currently, only pedestrians are allowed to cross, and only at five places: the Simon Bolívar Bridge and the La Unión Bridge (connecting the Colombian department of Norte de Santander and Venezuelan state of Táchira), the Jose Antonio Paez Bridge (connecting Arauca and Apure), the Paraguachon crossing (La Guajira and Zulia), and the Puerto Carreño crossing (connecting Vichada, Colombia, with the Venezuelan states of Apure and Amazonas). These border crossings are open daily, from 06:00 to 21:00 (local time). No agreement regarding a full reopening of the border has been reached for the moment.

LEGAL

Taking photographs of military or strategic installations, including military airports and the Presidential Palace, is prohibited by law.

Although a yellow fever vaccination certificate is not a requirement to enter Venezuela, there have been cases where officials have illegally fined travelers unable to produce one. Some airlines serving Venezuela will insist you have a proof of immunization prior to travel.

Strict currency controls are in place in Venezuela. There are currently two official exchange rates (as well as a black-market rate).

HEALTH

Travelers should be aware that the quality of care offered at medical facilities in many tourist areas is below European/North American standards and major shortages of medications and other medical supplies have had a severe impact on the country's healthcare system in recent months. Travelers to Venezuela are advised to bring with them any medications or other essential items they might need during their stay. All travelers are advised to take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance covering emergency evacuation prior to departure.

Due to ongoing political, financial, and social crises in the country, as well as years of government secrecy, reliable statistics regarding disease outbreaks are limited. Meanwhile, it should be noted that the scarcity of clean water and personal hygiene products has caused an increase in cases of scabies, diarrhea, and amoebiasis in Venezuela in recent years.

Even during periods of relative calm, tap water is unsafe to drink in Venezuela. Typhoid fever, cholera, and hepatitis A - diseases transmitted by contaminated food or water - are present. In order to minimize risks, wash hands regularly, drink only bottled beverages, and avoid eating raw or undercooked foods and any foods that cannot be disinfected (berries, ice cream, etc.).

It should also be noted that a number of mosquito-borne diseases are endemic in the country. These diseases are present outside of high-elevation areas. Case rates tend to increase during and following the rainy season.

  • Venezuela is currently in the midst of a major malaria epidemic. Approximately 240,000 cases of malaria were reported in 2016, the vast majority of which - approximately 75 percent - in the eastern state of Bolívar. The disease has also been present in at least 17 other Venezuelan states, including Amazonas, Sucre, Delta Amacuro, Monagas, Zulia, Apure, Mérida, Portuguesa, Sucre, and Táchira.
  • Yellow fever may be present in the following states: Aragua, Carabobo, Miranda, Vargas, and Yaracuy, as well as in the capital region. However, no cases have been reported thus far in 2017 and none were reported in 2015-2016. A vaccine is available, which must be administered at least ten days prior to travel to a yellow fever-affected zone in order to be fully effective.
  • The country is also in the midst of an outbreak of the Zika virus. According to some estimates, hundreds of thousands of people have been infected in the country. While the virus is usually relatively benign, links between the Zika virus and severe birth defects as well as the potentially fatal neurological disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome, have been established.
  • Dengue fever is also present. Nearly 30,000 cases were officially reported in 2016, but the real case rate could be much higher.

Visitors are advised to take the necessary measures to protect themselves against insect bites (use insect repellent, mosquito netting, avoid stagnant bodies of water, wear loose-fitting long sleeves and pants, etc.).

Due to the risk of schistosomiasis and other parasitic infestations, travelers are advised against bathing in bodies of fresh water (lakes, rivers) and walking barefoot outdoors.

Climate

Venezuela has a tropical climate with a temperate zone along the coast. In mountainous regions, temperatures are cooler. Temperatures generally remain relatively constant throughout the year. The dry season extends from December until April, and the rainy season the rest of the year. Rain becomes more frequent the further south you travel: the coast is relatively arid while Los Llanos (a vast tropical plain) and the Guyanese massif receive a lot of rain; the Amazonian region receives abundant levels rain throughout the year.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +58 Police: 171 Fire Dept.: 171 Ambulance: 171

Electricity

Voltage: 120 V ~ 60 Hz

Outlets:

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