Safety and security
There is a moderate level of crime. People travelling alone may be more vulnerable. Mugging, pick pocketing and jewellery theft are common in city centres, especially after dark. Street lighting can be poor. Remain vigilant at Harare International Airport and when leaving banks and cash points. Don’t carry or display large amounts of cash in public places.
There have been occasional armed robberies targeting foreign residents. Make sure your accommodation is secure at all times.
There have been thefts and smash-and-grab robberies from vehicles, including at the main intersections along the route to Harare International Airport and on the Masvingo-Beitbridge road. You should be particularly vigilant when using these routes. Keep vehicle doors locked and windows closed. Be careful at night and at filling stations. Don’t leave your vehicle unattended in unguarded areas in towns.
Carry your Zimbabwean residents’ ID or a photocopy of your passport at all times. If you lose your British passport, you will need to get a police report and contact the British Embassy in Harare for a replacement travel document.
Zimbabwe has many safari lodges and game reserves. Safety standards vary and you should check whether operators are trained and licensed. There have been a number of incidents in which animals have attacked visitors, resulting in injuries and, in some cases, death. Some activities, such as walking or canoe safaris, could pose risks to personal safety. You should treat wild animals with caution and respect and keep a safe distance from them at all times.
Flash flooding during the rainy season (November to April) can make some roads impassable.
There are sometimes power cuts as well as occasional fuel and water shortages. The Zimbabwean mobile phone network and land lines are unreliable.
Since 2000 most of Zimbabwe’s commercial farms have been occupied or taken over by members of the National War Veterans’ Association and others. Farm invasions continue, sometimes accompanied by violence and threats. Take care when visiting farming areas that you are not familiar with.
The diamond mining area in Marange is a restricted area. If you are stopped and told that you may not access a particular area, you should turn back.
You can drive in Zimbabwe using a full UK driving licence. If you’re a resident in Zimbabwe you may wish to get a Zimbabwean licence to minimise the potential for problems at road blocks. Make sure you have your personal documents such as your passport and visa at all times. You’ll also require a police vehicle clearance certificate (temporary import permit) if you’re bringing in a non-Zimbabwe registered vehicle.
You must obey police signals, stop at roadblocks and toll-gates and produce identification if asked to do so. Roadblocks are frequent and some tourists find them intimidating. You should insist on a receipt for any fine you’re asked to pay.
It’s an offence to continue driving when the President’s motorcade goes past, no matter which side of the road you’re on. If you see the motorcade, pull off the road or onto the side of the road if this isn’t possible. There have been a number of incidents where people have been assaulted by the security forces for stopping in the wrong place or for not stopping soon enough.
Traffic accidents are a common cause of death and injury in Zimbabwe. There are often deep potholes in the roads. Traffic lights are often out of action. You should avoid driving outside the main towns at night. Vehicles and roads are often poorly lit and roads badly marked. Abandoned unlit heavy goods vehicles, cyclists without lights, pedestrians and stray livestock are particular hazards. Emergency services may provide very limited help in the event of an accident and ambulances are often delayed.
Travel carefully on inter-city roads, always wear seatbelts, lock car doors and carry a comprehensive medical kit. Be careful about stopping at lay-bys, particularly in the Beitbridge area, as there have been incidents of cars being robbed and occupants attacked.
Plan carefully before setting out on long distance journeys. Availability of fuel is sporadic, so either carry extra fuel or top up your tank whenever possible. Seek up-to-date local advice about any places that you plan to visit.
Public transport and services are unreliable. Commuter omnibuses or “combis” are often overcrowded, inadequately maintained, uninsured and recklessly driven. You should avoid them if possible. Larger intercity buses may also be poorly driven. There have been a number of serious road accidents involving long distance buses travelling at night.
Major hotels usually have their own taxis which can be used safely for local city travel. Taxis recommended by hotels are usually reliable and in good condition.
The rail system is underdeveloped and very poorly maintained. Level crossings are poorly marked, resulting in numerous accidents.
Air Zimbabwe has been refused permission to operate flights to the EU because the airline has been unable to demonstrate that it complies with international air safety standards. British government employees travelling to and within Zimbabwe have been advised to use carriers that aren’t subject to the EU operating ban.
A full list of airlines banned from operating within the EU is available on the European Commission website. Refusal of permission to operate is often based on inspections of aircraft at EU airports. The fact that an airline isn’t included in the list doesn’t automatically mean that it meets the applicable safety standards.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation last audited Zimbabwe’s Civil Aviation Authority in 2010. The report found that the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Zimbabwe was close to the global average.
You can find a list of recent incidents and accidents on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes lists of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices – IATA Operational Safety Audit and IATA Standard Safety Assessment. These lists aren’t exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s unsafe.
You should avoid political activity, or activities which could be construed as such, including political discussions in public places. You should avoid all demonstrations and rallies. These can be unpredictable and may turn violent. The authorities have in the past used force to suppress demonstrations. It is an offence to make derogatory or insulting comments about the President or to carry material considered to be offensive to the President’s office.