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XYZ Consular Info: Venezuela

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XYZ Consular Info: Venezuela

Venezuela Consular Information Sheet
U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Consular Affairs
Washington, DC 20520
April 11, 2002
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Venezuela is a middle-income country with a well-developed transportation infrastructure. Scheduled air service and good all-weather roads, although sometimes poorly marked and congested around urban centers, connect major cities and all regions of the country. Venezuela's tourism infrastructure varies in quality according to location and price. The capital city is Caracas.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport and a visa or tourist card are required. Tourist cards are issued on flights from the U.S. to Venezuela for persons staying less than ninety days. For current information concerning entry, tax, and customs requirements for Venezuela, travelers may contact the Venezuelan Embassy at 1099 30th St. N.W., Washington D.C. 20007, tel: (202) 342-2214, Internet: http://www.embavenez-us.org. Travelers may also contact the Venezuelan consulates in New York, Miami, Chicago, New Orleans, Boston, Houston, San Francisco or San Juan.
ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS FOR MINORS: In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments, including Venezuela's, have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of the relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand is now required by Venezuelan law.
Venezuela's legal code mandates that minors (under 18) who are residents of Venezuela (regardless of nationality) and who are traveling alone, with one parent or with a third party, must present a copy of their birth certificate and written authorization from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian, specifically granting permission to travel alone, with one parent or with a third party. When a parent is deceased, a notarized copy of the death certificate is required in lieu of the written authorization. If documents are prepared in the United States, the authorization and the birth certificate must be translated into Spanish, notarized, and authenticated by the Venezuela Embassy or a Venezuelan consulate within the United States. If documents are prepared in Venezuela, only notarization by a Venezuelan notary is required. A permission letter prepared outside of Venezuela is valid for 90 days. A permission letter prepared in Venezuela is valid for 60 days.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Cross-border violence, kidnapping, smuggling and drug trafficking occur frequently in remote areas along the 1,000-mile border between Venezuela and Colombia, specifically in Venezuela's Zulia, Tachira, Barinas, Apure and Amazonas states. In February 1997, two vacationers, one of them a U.S. citizen, were kidnapped from Venezuela in southwestern Apure State near the border with Colombia. Colombian guerrillas, who frequently operate on both sides of the border, were suspected in the kidnapping. The victims were released after payment of a ransom. In March 1999, three U.S. citizens were abducted in Colombia and taken across the border to neighboring Apure State in Venezuela, where they were murdered. Colombian guerrillas later admitted publicly to killing the three U.S. citizens.
In September 2000, Venezuelan government officials noted increased activity by members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) along the tributaries of the Orinoco River in northwest Amazonas State. U.S. citizens planning to visit border areas or isolated regions of the country should exercise caution and consult the U.S. Embassy for the latest security information.
"Express kidnappings," in which victims are seized in an attempt to get quick cash in exchange for their release, are on the rise in Venezuela's capital, Caracas. In September 2000, four U.S. citizens were kidnapped from their home in the capital city. The incident lasted only a few hours until the victims obtained money from a local bank to pay the demanded ransom. While not identified as specific targets of such "express kidnappings," foreigners may be viewed as more likely to have access to large sums of money. Therefore, U.S. citizens should be alert to their surroundings and take necessary precautions.
Political demonstrations, which may include violence, occur mainly in urban centers, but they may occur at any place, at any time, given the current fluid political situation in Venezuela. The number and intensity of demonstrations fluctuate, but they tend to occur at or near university campuses, business centers, and gathering places such as public squares and plazas. Most major tourist destinations, including coastal beach resorts and Margarita Island, are not generally affected by protest actions. However, the city of Merida, a major tourist destination in the Andes, is the scene of frequent student demonstrations. Within the past five months, Venezuela has suffered two general strikes. These may continue throughout 2002. Disruptions in public transportation services, which may occur as a result of strikes or work stoppages, may delay visitors' travel to the international airport at Maiquetia, block public roads, and interfere with ferry schedules to and from Margarita Island. In addition, due to the Government of Venezuela's difficulties in meeting some public payrolls, teachers, medical doctors, and other groups often threaten work stoppages which may disrupt health services and cause temporary closure of businesses.
The risk of encountering explosive devices in Venezuela, particularly in Caracas, appears to be on the increase. There have been numerous bomb threats and actual detonations in and around Caracas. In January 2002, an explosive device detonated in a trash container in the Las Mercedes neighborhood of Caracas, injuring two sanitation workers. Another device exploded a few days later outside a newspaper building in El Silencio. Travelers who encounter a strange parcel or abandoned bag should not attempt to identify or move it, but should immediately notify authorities and stay clear of the area.
Travelers should keep informed of local developments by following the local press, radio and television. Visitors should also consult their local hosts, including U.S. and Venezuelan business contacts, hotels, tour guides, and travel organizers. U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Venezuela are advised to take common-sense precautions and avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, no matter where they occur. Additional advice about demonstrations may also be obtained from the U.S. Embassy at the telephone numbers listed below.
CRIME: Most crime is economically motivated. Pickpockets concentrate in and around crowded bus and subway stations, especially the area around "Parque Simon Bolivar," near the "Capitolio" area in downtown Caracas. The "barrios" or "ranchitos" (the poor neighborhoods of tin-roofed brick homes that cover the hills around Caracas) and isolated urban parks can be very dangerous. These include the "El Calvario" section of the El Silencio area in Caracas, the "23 de Enero" slum area in the Catia area of Caracas, and most areas within the sprawling neighborhood known as Petare in eastern Caracas.
There have been incidents of rock throwing from highway overpasses bordering the slum neighborhoods in an attempt to force cars to stop and assess damages. Once stopped, the passengers are robbed by waiting accomplices. In a 1999 incident, a U.S. Embassy family member was killed by a rock that shattered the car's windshield.
Most criminals are armed with guns or knives and will use force. There have been cases of theft from hotel rooms and safe deposit boxes, and theft of unattended valuables on the beach and from rental cars parked near isolated areas or on city streets. A guarded garage or locked trunk is not always a guarantee against theft. Subway escalators are a favored site for "bump and rob" petty thefts by roving bands of young criminals, many of whom are well dressed to allay suspicion and to blend in with crowds of workers using the subways during rush hour. Armed robberies are common in urban and tourist areas, particularly in Caracas and Maracaibo. Travelers should exercise caution in displaying money and valuables. Numerous four-wheel drive vehicles have been targeted for carjacking in the Caracas and Maracaibo metropolitan areas, including vehicles driven by Embassy employees and/or spouses.
There have been incidents of unlicensed cabs ("piratas") overcharging, robbing and injuring passengers. Travelers should take care to use radio-dispatched taxis or check to make sure that the license plate reads "libre," which indicates the cab is licensed. Travelers arriving late at night at the domestic terminal of the international airport should be aware that "pirata" cabs are known to prey on tourists arriving on delayed flights after licensed cabs have left for the evening. Travelers should call a 24-hour radio-dispatched taxi service from a public phone in the airport lobby or ask the airline representatives to contact a licensed cab company. Drivers of licensed cabs permitted to carry passengers at the airport will have laminated identity cards, in addition to license plates reading "libre." Airport authorities have also recently added a fleet of licensed black Ford Explorers that provide transportation from the airport to the city of Caracas. Payment for these taxis is made at the yellow taxi kiosks inside the airport.
A number of U.S. citizens have reported that Venezuelan officials at airports, immigration offices and police stations have demanded bribes. U.S. citizens should report immediately to the U.S. Embassy any such demand and attempt to provide the Embassy with the name and badge numbers of the officials involved.
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, "A Safe Trip Abroad," for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402; via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su docs; or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.
MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical care in Caracas is good at private hospitals and clinics. Cash payment is usually demanded. Most hospitals and clinics, however, accept credit cards. In rural areas outside of Caracas, physicians and medical supplies may be scarce.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations.
When making a decision regarding health insurance, U.S. citizens should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.
Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, "Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad," available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.
SPECIFIC HEALTH RISKS: Two mosquito-borne illnesses are endemic to Venezuela, Dengue fever and malaria. Dengue fever is primarily an urban viral disease, and the incidence of cases in Venezuela has been rising yearly. There is no vaccine or preventive medication, so avoiding mosquito bites is the key to avoiding Dengue fever. Dengue-bearing mosquitoes have black and white bands on their legs and bite mostly during the day. The most effective repellant against these mosquitoes contains DEET (35%).
Malaria is a parasitic infection spread by mosquitoes. The risk for malaria exists in the majority of Venezuela throughout the year, although it is greater during the rainy season in rural areas. These mosquitoes bite primarily at night. Malaria can be prevented through the use of anti-malarial drugs before visiting an area where it is prevalent. Particular precautions should be taken before traveling to the rainforest areas of Bolivar and Sucre states. Caracas is not considered an area of high risk.
Cholera, hepatitis and other exotic and contagious diseases are also present.
Diarrhea caused by contaminated food or water may affect travelers, and it is potentially serious. If it persists, seek medical attention. Tap water in Venezuela is not considered to be potable. Only bottled water or treated (disinfected) water should be used for drinking. All fruits and vegetables that are not to be cooked or peeled should be properly disinfected. Eggs, meat, unpasteurized cheese, and seafood are common sources of the bacteria that can cause traveler's diarrhea, and should be properly prepared or avoided.
OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Venezuela is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Safety of Public Transportation: Good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair to Good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor
Traffic jams are common within Caracas during most of the day. Driving regulations are similar to those in the U.S. although many drivers do not obey them. Defensive driving is a necessity. Child car seats and seatbelts are not required and are seldom available in rental cars and taxis. Outside the major cities, night driving can be dangerous because of unmarked road damage or repairs in progress, unlighted vehicles and livestock. Even in urban areas, road damage is often marked by a pile of rocks or sticks left by passersby near or in the pothole or crevice, without flares or other devices to highlight the danger. Stops at National Guard and local police checkpoints (alcabalas) are mandatory. Drivers should follow all National Guard instructions and be prepared to show vehicle and insurance papers and passports. Vehicles may be searched. Economical bus service is available to most destinations throughout the country. Peak holiday travel occurs during summer and winter school breaks and major civil and religious holidays, including Carnival, Easter, Christmas and New Years holidays. Lengthy delays due to road congestion are common during these peak periods.
For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, please see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html. For information concerning Venezuelan driving permits, road taxes, vehicle inspection or insurance requirements, please contact the Embassy of Venezuela at (202) 342-2214, or visit their web site at: http://www.embavenez-us.org.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Venezuela's civil aviation authority as Category 2 -- not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for the oversight of Venezuela's air carrier operations. While consultations to correct the deficiencies are ongoing, Venezuelan air carriers currently flying to the U.S. will be subject to heightened FAA surveillance. No additional flights or new service to the U.S. by Venezuelan air carriers will be permitted unless they arrange to have the flights conducted by an air carrier from a country meeting international safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the United States at tel. 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. In addition, DOD does not permit its personnel to use air carriers from Category 2 countries for official business except for flights originating from or terminating in the United States. Local exceptions may apply. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at tel. (618) 229-4801.
AIRPORT SECURITY: As a result of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, airport security around the world has tightened significantly. Travelers flying out of Caracas on international flights should be prepared to arrive at the airport at least three hours ahead of their scheduled departure time. Travelers on Venezuelan domestic flights should arrive at the airport at least one hour ahead of departure. Travelers may also notice increased law enforcement presence throughout airport terminals. Please note that in most airports only ticketed passengers are permitted beyond security checkpoints and in the departure lounges.
CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: Venezuelan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Venezuela of items such as plant and animal products, firearms, medications, archaeological or "cultural heritage" items, and pirated copies of copyrighted articles. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Venezuela in Washington, D.C. or one of Venezuela's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Venezuela's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Venezuela are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Prison conditions are extremely harsh, as numerous foreigners (including U.S. citizens) arrested for possession or trafficking of drugs can attest. The minimum prison sentence for trafficking (with no differentiation for category or quantity of drugs) is ten years.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: U.S. citizens visiting areas along the border with Colombia, particularly the military-controlled areas, may be subject to search and seizure. For further information regarding travel to border areas, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Caracas.
U.S. citizens who do not have Venezuelan "cedulas" (national identity cards) must carry their passports with them at all times. Photocopies of passports, which should be safeguarded in a separate location, prove valuable in facilitating their replacement should they be lost or stolen.
CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS: Foreign exchange transactions must take place through commercial banks or exchange houses at the official rate. Hotels and banks often restrict transactions to their clients only. Money exchange by tourists is most easily arranged at "casas de cambio" (exchange houses). Credit cards are accepted at most upscale tourist establishments. Visa, MasterCard and American Express have representatives in Venezuela.
CREDIT/DEBIT CARD FRAUD: Because of a recent wave of fraud in Venezuela involving credit cards and debit cards, sometimes known as cloning, visitors should be cautious about the use of credit or debit card at Venezuelan commercial establishments. Credit and debit card numbers and other information are lifted by employees at the commercial establishments, or are taken from receipts found in garbage bins. If you choose to use a credit card or debit card to pay for a purchase, be sure to keep the credit card in sight during the entire transaction. Also, take and destroy any carbons that may have been used in the transaction. Finally, if you use your credit card to guarantee a hotel room or other rental, and later settle the bill in cash, be sure to obtain and destroy the imprint taken at time of check-in. You should also check the following month's credit or bank statement to ensure that no unauthorized purchases have been made on your account.
Outside the major cities, a good supply of Venezuelan currency is necessary as it may be difficult to find exchange houses. Most major cities have ATMs with 24-hour service where users may withdraw up to the equivalent of 100 U.S. dollars in local currency daily. The ATMs are linked to many global networks.
DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Venezuela is an earthquake-prone country and is occasionally subject to torrential rains, which can cause major disasters such as the one in Vargas State in 1999. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's issues.html or telephone (202) 736-7000.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION: U.S. citizens living in or visiting Venezuela are strongly encouraged to register at the consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas or the Consular Agency in Maracaibo and obtain updated information on travel and security within Venezuela. The U.S. Embassy is located at Calle Suapure and Calle F, Colinas de Valle Arriba, Caracas. The Embassy is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday-Friday, telephone (011)(58)(212) 975-6411. In case of an after-hours emergency, callers should dial (011)(58)(212) 975-9821.
Direct consular office phone lines are as follows: (011)(58)(212) 975-6411 ext. 2208 for information on applications for U.S. passports, or 975-9234 (preferably mornings) for information on Reports of Birth or other U.S. citizen services. The American Citizens Services fax number is (011)(58)(212) 975-8991. Additional information is also available at the Embassy's Internet web site at: http://embajadausa.org.ve.
A part-time consular agent in Maracaibo provides services for U.S. citizens in western Venezuela. The agent is available to the public every Monday from 8:15 am to 12:15 pm, at the Centro Venezolano Americano del Zulia (CEVAZ), Calle 63 No. 3E-60, Maracaibo; telephone (011)(58)(0261) 791-1436 or 791-1980.
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated December 11, 2001 to update sections on Safety and Security, Currency Restrictions, and Registration/Embassy Location.