Foreign Travel Advice – Syria

Map of Syria
Map of Syria

Still current at: 7 January 2016
Updated: 21 December 2015
Latest update: Summary – update on air strikes in Syria

http://www.gov.uk for up to date information:

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Syria. British nationals in Syria should leave now by any practical means. The FCO is not able to provide consular services, and won’t be able to help your evacuation from the country.

The situation remains extremely volatile and dangerous. There is widespread fighting throughout Syria, including in Damascus and its suburbs. Full scale military operations involving the use of small arms, tanks, artillery and aircraft are ongoing. The Syrian government no longer exercises control of large parts of Syria, notably the north, south and east of the country. Areas of eastern Syria are under the effective control of the Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL), which is fiercely hostile to the United Kingdom. Beginning on 30 September, Russia has also embarked on a wave of air strikes in Syria backing an offensive launched by troops loyal to the Assad regime. From 3 December, UK has extended British military action against Daesh into Syria.

In Aleppo and elsewhere, the regime has been undertaking an indiscriminate campaign of aerial bombardment since mid-December 2013, using so called ‘barrel’ bombs – huge containers packed with explosives and shards of metal dropped by helicopter – against largely civilian targets. A number of chemical weapons attacks have taken place across Syria, most notably on 21 August 2013, where a major attack took place in the suburbs of Damascus. Latest estimates are of over 250,000 dead, including well over 10,000 children.

Fighting has 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.

There is a high threat from terrorism. There are continued attacks across Syria including in major cities, leaving 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 your family have valid exit stamps on your travel documents if you need one and take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance.

As a result of the ongoing political and security instability and the implementation of sanctions against some Syrian institutions, financial transactions have become significantly more difficult. See Money.

Safety and Security:

Civil Unrest/Political Tension

The situation remains extremely volatile and dangerous. There is widespread fighting throughout Syria, including in Damascus and its suburbs. Full scale military operations involving the use of small arms, tanks, artillery and aircraft are ongoing. The Syrian government no longer exercises control of large parts of Syria, notably in the north, south and east of the country. Areas of eastern Syria are under effective control of the Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL), which is fiercely hostile to the United Kingdom. Russia has also embarked on a wave of air strikes in Syria backing an offensive launched by troops loyal to the Assad regime. From 3 December, UK has extended British military action against Daesh into Syria.

There is a reduced number commercial flights due to the implementation of sanctions, the security situation and the high level of violence. This severely limits options for air travel and seat availability. Fighting in the vicinity of airports has caused the temporary suspension of flights. Road networks have been blocked without warning. Several major highways including Tartous-Latakia, Tartous-Homs, Latakia-Aleppo, Homs-Hama, Homs-Damascus and Damascus-Jordan continue to be intermittently closed. 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 opposition groups, vulnerable to attack, and/or closed. You should check the status of all routes before travelling. Don’t attempt to enter Iraq via the Syrian border, which is subject to restrictions on both sides.

Be particularly vigilant in public places and keep a low profile. Don’t film or take photographs of public gatherings, military activity or any other sensitive matter.

All foreign journalists entering Syria need special permission from the Syrian authorities. Those journalists and other foreigners in opposition-held areas are vulnerable to mistreatment by the armed groups there. A number of foreign journalists have been killed. 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 unlicensed political and religious activity in Syria. 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.

Crime

The escalating conflict has led to a rise in crime in some areas, including violent robbery, carjacking and kidnapping.

Road travel

Road travel remains very dangerous in many parts of the country due to fighting. Driving standards and traffic systems are poor, and the accident rate is high. When there is a car accident with a pedestrian, the car driver is always legally responsible. You should avoid driving at night.

Humanitarian crisis

Humanitarian needs in Syria have increased significantly since the beginning of the crisis with over 13.5 million people in dire need of humanitarian aid and 4.9 million refugees in the region. 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.

There is a high threat from terrorism. There are daily attacks across Syria including in major cities, leaving large numbers of people dead or injured.

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. Areas visited by foreigners are at high risk of being deliberately targeted.

Methods of attack have included shootings, bombings, suicide bombs and vehicle bombs. Terrorist groups have also claimed responsibility for kidnappings in Syria.

There is 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.

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.

Kidnapping

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. Many terrorists in Syria view those engaged in humanitarian aid work or journalism as legitimate targets. If you’re detained by a terrorist group, there’s no guarantee that explaining the reason for your presence in Syria will serve as protection or secure your safe release. In 2014, there was a marked increase in the number of reported kidnaps involving both NGO workers and journalists.

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.

Local Law 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.

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.

Entry and Requirements:

In June 2013, the Syrian government 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.

Visas

If you choose to travel to Syria against FCO advice, you will need to get a visa before you travel. If you intend staying for more than 15 days you must have your visa extended at the immigration office, otherwise you may face difficulties when trying to leave the country.

Passport validity

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.

Yellow fever

Yellow Fever vaccination is required for travellers who are arriving from, or have transited through, countries with risk of yellow fever transmission.

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.

Health:

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.

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.

Money:

As a result of the ongoing political and security instability, there have been a number of restrictions placed on financial transactions in Syria. Some of these restrictions are the decision of the Syrian Government, while others are the result of international businesses and banks being unwilling to invest or trade with Syria in the current environment.

The situation is unclear, but the information below may help you to manage your own finances more effectively.

it is no longer possible to use internationally issued credit and debit cards to withdraw money from cash machines or to pay for goods and services in Syria: some card issuers have stated that they will still process transactions in high end hotels and restaurants, but this is subject to change and some service providers, including a 5-star hotel, have already refused to accept payment by international credit card
it has become very difficult to obtain US dollars or Euros in Syria: it may be possible to make cash withdrawals at a bank in Syrian pounds and you may be able to make euro withdrawals depending on the availability of currency on the day
most international banks are now refusing to transfer funds direct to banks located in Syria, however, it may be possible to route funding through Dubai or Jordan: you should speak to your bank to check their individual policy
some international banks are closing down personal accounts held by individuals resident in Syria: in most cases it is not possible to change your place of residence to an address outside Syria because of anti-fraud and audit requirements, however, you may be able to close your account and open a new one using an address outside Syria: you should contact your bank to check their latest advice
Currency exchange bureaux are no longer able to exchange dollars or receive transactions on your behalf, but exchange offices and money transfer offices like Western Union (telephone: +963 11 334 5555 may be able to help depending on the circumstances.

Travellers’ cheques are not accepted at most banks in Syria. In the rare cases where they are accepted, the handling process is complicated and time-consuming.

It is illegal to change money on the street. Only change money in recognised exchange shops, banks and hotels.

Contact FCO Travel Advice Team:

This email service only offers information and advice for British nationals planning to travel abroad.

If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the consular assistance team on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).

If you’re abroad and need emergency help, please contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.

If you have a question about this travel advice, you can email us at TravelAdvicePublicEnquiries@fco.gov.uk

Before you send an email, make sure you have read the travel advice for the country you’re travelling to, and the guidance on how the FCO puts travel advice together.

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