Safety and security
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to within 80km (50 miles) of the Colombian border in the states of Zulia, Tachira, Barinas, Apure and Bolívar; within 80 km (50 miles) of the Colombian border in Amazonas state as far south as 100 km (62 miles) south of Puerto Ayacucho; and within 40km (25 miles) of the rest of the Colombian border. Drug traffickers and illegal armed groups are active in these states and there is a risk of kidnapping.
The FCO advises against all but essential travel to the remaining areas of Venezuela.
In recent months, there have been major unpredictable outbursts of violence in several cities, including Caracas, Barquisimeto, Valencia, Maracay and Ciudad Guayana. Law enforcement presence in these cities is considerably reduced and incidents of violent crime are on the rise.
Drug traffickers and illegal armed groups are active along the border with Colombia and kidnappings are common. There’s a high threat from violent crime and kidnapping throughout Venezuela, which has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Armed robbery, mugging, carjacking, and burglary are all common and are often accompanied by violence. These crimes can occur at any time and in a wide range of places. This includes on the street or the beach, in supermarket queues or when travelling in private vehicles or public transport, or indoors.
Private security services, including the use of armoured cars, are increasingly becoming the standard for business and official visitors and residents. Use of armoured vehicles is now common in Caracas, especially after dark and for transport to/from the airport.
In response to the high level of crime, the Venezuelan government regularly carries out security operations. Avoid getting caught up in these operations.
Due to the high level of crime, you should take care at all times, including when first arriving at the airport in Venezuela. Always be alert. Avoid using your mobile phone or displaying other electronic equipment or valuables on the street or in a vehicle.
The risk of crime is higher after dark, although many incidents also occur during daylight. Try not to go out alone if you are not familiar with your surroundings. Don’t camp on or visit beaches after dark. If you can, ask your tour operator, friends or work contacts to help you make safe transport and accommodation arrangements.
If you’re the victim of a crime, don’t resist. Resistance has frequently resulted in victims being shot dead.
In Caracas, Sabana Grande is not a safe area in which to stay; reasonably priced hotels can be found in safer areas like Chacao. Don’t visit ‘barrios’ (heavily populated slums), as these are unsafe. Avoid queues for supermarkets, pharmacies and other shops as they can turn violent.
British nationals walking in the Avila National Park have been robbed at gunpoint. If you want to visit the Avila, stick to popular trails and times and where possible go in a group.
Only use pre-booked taxis rather than hailing them in the street. Hotels will normally book a taxi from a reputable company or supply their own limousine service.
Avoid public transport. A number of robberies at gunpoint have recently been reported on the Caracas metro. There are regular reports of passengers being robbed on public buses.
Frequent protests have taken place over the past year in Caracas and other towns and cities across the country. Some have been in response to economic issues like electricity, water and food shortages, others have been political protests.
Some protests have resulted in injuries or deaths. There have also been several reports of looting in response to shortages of goods, and crowds lynching suspected criminals. The police and National Guard are heavily armed and protests can take place or turn violent with little warning. The authorities often use tear gas and buckshot/plastic pellets to disperse protests, and they sometimes arrest large numbers of people. You should avoid large public gatherings and you should not cross police lines or civilian-run barricades. Remain alert at all times.
Heavy rains and lack of maintenance can affect road conditions. Seek local advice about your route before you set out, leave plenty of time for your journey and stick to the main roads. Where possible avoid travelling after dark.
There are regular reports of intermittent petrol shortages throughout Venezuela, including in Caracas. Often, only low-grade (91-octane) petrol is available.
You can drive in Venezuela using a British driving licence for up to 1 year. After that you will need to get a Venezuelan driving licence. Make sure you have copies of insurance documents, driving licence and passport with you at all times. Failure to produce documents can result in your vehicle being seized by the police.
There are regular police and National Guard checkpoints throughout the country. Drive slowly through these and stop if asked to do so. There have been reports of attempts by the police and National Guard to extract bribes. Ask for a written record giving details of the offence and the officer’s details.
All vehicles must carry a spare tyre, wheel block, jack and reflector triangle. Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal but common, especially during weekends. Many vehicles are in poor condition and drivers routinely ignore red lights. In the event of an accident, both vehicles must remain in the position of the accident until a traffic police officer arrives. Insurance companies won’t pay claims on vehicles that have been moved without a police accident report.
Hitchhiking and cycling are both extremely high risk, you should avoid both in Venezuela.
A high number of violent incidents have been reported in Caucagua east of Caracas. You should avoid stopping in this area.
The normal check-in time for domestic and international flights in Venezuela is 2 to 3 hours in advance. For some airlines it is longer. You won’t be able to check in or drop bags if you arrive after your airline’s deadline, so you should check cut-off times with the airline in advance. Online check-in doesn’t exempt passengers from going through the airline’s check-in desk in person (though some airlines have a separate queue for those who have checked in online). There are also often lengthy police checks, so avoid arriving late at the airport.
Departure taxes are normally included in the price of a ticket, except at Puerto Ordaz airport. If the tax has increased since you bought your ticket you may need to pay the difference before entering the security baggage check area for departures. Check with your airline before agreeing to pay anything extra.
There have been reports of travellers being asked to pay bribes to enter and leave the country at Maiquetia airport. Don’t make any non-official payments and ask for a receipt for any customs duty payments you make. If you bring into the country any personal items or merchandise with a total value of over US$1,000 that are considered to be ‘new’, you’ll need to pay import duty. Further details on import duty taxes can be found on the Venezuelan customs authority (SENIAT) website (in Spanish). If you’re asked for a bribe or not given a receipt for a payment, please inform the British Embassy in Caracas.
Tourist travel can often involve flying in light aircraft. There have been several accidents in recent years on the main tourist routes, including Los Roques, Canaima and Merida - some with fatalities. A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation carried out its most recent audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Venezuela in 2013.
Safety concerns have been raised about INSEL Air. The US and Netherlands authorities have prohibited their staff from using the airline while safety checks are being carried out. UK government officials have been told to do the same as a precaution.
Travelling to and from Maiquetia Airport (Caracas)
Criminal groups operate in the Maiquetia airport area. Members of these groups work inside the airport to spot passengers who appear to be wealthy and then inform car hijackers and muggers waiting on the roads outside the airport. Some passengers have been followed from the airport and assaulted on the way to or on arrival at their destination in Caracas. Avoid displaying expensive jewellery, electronic items or other valuables; don’t bring large amounts of cash to Venezuela; and be alert at all times. Passengers have also been robbed when returning to their cars at the airport car park.
Avoid travelling on the road between Caracas and Maiquetia airport during the hours of darkness. There are fewer cars on the road during this time and the risk of crime is much higher. Don’t stay at an airport hotel unless you can make safe transport arrangements between the hotel and the airport.
There have been armed robberies on buses travelling to Maiquetia Airport, and along Avenida Libertador in Caracas. Ideally, arrange to be met at the airport by friends, business contacts, or your tour operator. If that isn’t possible, consider travelling by licensed taxi. If you have to take a taxi, use a licensed taxi from the official taxi rank outside the arrivals hall.
Beware of bogus taxi-drivers at the airport. Don’t accept offers of transport in the arrivals hall and do not board a taxi if there are other passengers already inside the car.
If you’re coming to Venezuela to work, bring a letter from your employer and your local contact organisation details (including a Spanish translation). There have been occasions when passengers have been asked for bribes at the airport. Exchange currency at official exchange booths only.
The National Guard carries out random drug and security checks at Maiquetia Airport, particularly on departure. Departing passengers are sometimes asked to accompany an officer to a local hospital for an x-ray. Beware of bogus security officials; if you’re in any doubt ask other airline or airport staff.
There have been incidents of piracy and armed robbery against boats in and around Venezuela’s waters, especially east of Puerto La Cruz and in waters between Venezuela and Trinidad. Take suitable precautions and avoid these areas if possible.
The waters of the Caribbean can be deceptive. There are strong currents and undertows in some areas that can make swimming hazardous. Lifeguards and warnings are not always in place.
Security incidents are common on beaches at any time of day.
Electricity and water
You may find yourself without water or electricity from short to extended periods of time.
Power cuts are common and there is water supply rationing ongoing through the country.