Lunar like landscapes, Afghanistan
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Lunar like landscapes, Afghanistan

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Afghanistan Travel Guide

Key Facts
Official state name

Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (declared by the Taliban)

Area

652,225 sq km (251,773 sq miles).

Population

33,369,945 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density

49.9 per sq km.

Capital

Kabul.

Government

Emirate.

Head of government

Head of government: Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, since September 2021.

Electricity

220 volts AC, 50Hz. Supplies may be seriously affected and powercuts frequent. European-style plugs with two round pins are most commonly used.

An essential stop on the hippie trail in the 1960s, beautiful Afghanistan has been devastated by years of war. Renowned for its epic countryside and rugged mountains, travellers came to interact with local communities, breathe clear mountain air and explore ancient sites such as the giant Buddha statues of Bamiyan. They were happy times.

Sadly, those days are gone. The Taliban destroyed most of the country’s monuments, while the US and its allies ruined what was left of Afghanistan’s creaking infrastructure. With thousands of peacekeeping troops still operating in the country and pockets of fighting continuing, it will be some time before Afghanistan is restored to its former glory.

Consequently, travellers are advised against visiting Afghanistan. Nevertheless, some adventurous tour companies are offering trips to the country, and there have been reports in some quarters of increased bookings and interest. Afghan authorities put tourist numbers at less than 20,000, though they claim it is slowly increasing.

Tending to take in the historic but war-ravaged city of Kabul, mountain villages, ancient fortifications and some surviving Buddhist sites, tours are generally conducted in small groups and tend to be expensive.

Guides make the point that for many ordinary Afghans, life has continued much the same as it has for centuries. Indeed of the few travellers that do make it to the country, they tell of the surprising normality of Kabul, with little signs of the instability reported by international media. The country also remains a fascinating melting pot of ethnic and tribal groups.

Despite hopes that tourism could return to this historic country, almost every area of Afghanistan remains dangerous as insurgents continue to threaten the fragile democracy. If you do decide to travel to Afghanistan, personal security is recommended, as is a reputable tour company and full travel insurance. Always check foreign office advice before travelling.

Travel Advice

Coronavirus travel health

Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for Afghanistan on the TravelHealthPro website.

See the TravelHealthPro website for further advice on travel abroad and reducing spread of respiratory viruses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

International travel and travel in Afghanistan

See the Safety and security section for information on air and road travel.

Returning to the UK

Travelling from and returning to the UK

Check what you must do to travel abroad and return to England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

If you plan to pass through another country to return to the UK, check the travel advice for the country you’re transiting. If you will pass through a red list country, book your hotel quarantine package before travelling to the UK.

Be prepared for your plans to change.

No travel is risk-free during COVID. Countries may further restrict travel or bring in new rules at short notice.

Healthcare in Afghanistan

There is no guarantee that any local health care will be available in the current security situation.

Healthcare in Afghanistan is very limited. Medical facilities, including those in Kabul, do not have the capacity or capability to effectively deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. The supply of ICU beds and ventilators remains low. There are areas which have no medical facilities with ICU beds and ventilators.

COVID-19 treatment centres in Afghanistan are experiencing severe shortages of commodities and drugs. The vaccination programme only recently resumed and is operating at a very low level.

If you choose to travel to or stay in Afghanistan against FCDO advice, you should monitor media reporting and make sure you have robust contingency plans in place. Be vigilant at all times, keep others informed of your travel plans and vary your routes and routines.

Political situation

The majority of Afghanistan is now under Taliban control. The political situation remains uncertain and could change rapidly.

The risk of violence around political events and rallies remains. You should avoid all political demonstrations and public gatherings. Keep up to date with developments in the security situation, including through monitoring local media.

Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)

There have been a number of serious attacks on both western and Afghan NGOs and vehicles belonging to them, in which people have been killed or injured. NGO workers have been kidnapped near their places of work. Most attacks continue to occur in the east and south of Afghanistan with a recent increase in activity in the central areas. The International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO) issues regular security updates for NGOs.

Road travel

Road travel is highly dangerous. The security situation has significantly increased the risks associated with travel and any road move within the country is highly dangerous.

The situation at border crossings between Afghanistan and its neighbours continues to be impacted by the security situation in Afghanistan. A number of borders remain closed and if opened, can be subject to unannounced closures at short notice. Compliance with neighbouring state rules on coronavirus testing and quarantine measures also applies.

We advise against all travel to and around Afghanistan.

Air travel

Commercial flight operations have restarted at a small number of airports in Afghanistan. We advise UK nationals travelling overseas to take account of any safety notices published by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) when considering whether to use an air carrier.

Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Afghanistan.

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out more about the global threat from terrorism.

Multiple violent groups operate in Afghanistan that hold strong anti-Western views; this could make any UK interest or person a target.

Hotels used by the former government of Afghanistan and western nationals, ministries, military establishments, airports (including Kabul International), hospitals, religious sites and places of worship have been attacked. Further attacks are increasingly likely.

Attacks include bombs (roadside and other), suicide bombs (either on foot or by vehicle), indirect fire (rockets and mortars), direct fire (shootings and rocket propelled grenades), kidnappings and violent crime. Daesh continue to be a serious threat. They are fiercely hostile to the UK, other western countries and some religious minority communities.

Avoid visits to public places frequented by foreigners, including hotels, restaurants, shops and market places, especially at particularly busy and congested times of day. In light of the increased risks you are advised not to stay in hotels, particularly in Kabul (such as the Serena Hotel).

Make sure your accommodation is secure, and review your security measures regularly.

Kidnap

The risk of being kidnapped throughout Afghanistan remains a very high and constant threat. At least 4 foreign nationals have been kidnapped in Kabul since July 2016, some of whom remain in captivity:

  • in January 2020, an international commercial contractor was kidnapped in Kabul or in a nearby province: the victim is still missing

  • on 2 August 2018, 3 international workers were killed shortly after being kidnapped in Kabul

Over 100 westerners have been kidnapped in Afghanistan since 2001; a number of them have been British nationals. The motivation and desire to undertake kidnapping in Afghanistan is likely to continue. You should take the utmost care, vary routines and avoid setting regular patterns of movement. You should take professional security advice while in the country.

Those engaged in tourism, humanitarian aid and some other development work, journalism or business sectors are viewed as legitimate targets. If you are kidnapped, the reason for your presence is unlikely to serve as a protection or secure your safe release.

The long-standing policy of the UK government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The UK government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners builds the capability of terrorist groups and finances their activities. This can, in turn, increase the risk of further hostage-taking. The Terrorism Act (2000) makes payments to terrorists illegal.

Afghanistan is an Islamic country. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times. Be particularly careful during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas. See our guidance on travelling during Ramadan.

Homosexuality is illegal. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.

It is forbidden to seek to convert Muslims to other faiths.

You are not allowed to use, or bring into the country narcotics, alcohol or pork products.

Photographing government buildings, military installations and palaces is not allowed. Avoid photographing local people without their agreement.

It is illegal to buy or export historical antiquities without a receipt from an authorised supplier or dealer. When you leave Afghanistan you may be asked for proof that you bought the item. If you do not have a receipt, you could be detained and you may face a fine or prison sentence.

We advise against all travel to Afghanistan. There are no inbound options to travel to the country. The situation on the ground is very dangerous and changing rapidly.

Other health risks

Diarrhoeal diseases and other gastrointestinal infections are common causes of ill health, becoming worse in the hotter months.  

The dry dusty conditions in summer and winter can cause irritation to the eyes, throat, nose and skin.

Respiratory tuberculosis is common in the Afghan population. 

Malaria is present except in the high mountainous regions of the country and in winter. 

Local medical care

We advise against all travel to Afghanistan and advise all British nationals to leave now. Only very limited medical facilities are available in Afghanistan and access is likely reduced in the deteriorating security situation.

If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 112 or 020 112 from mobile (in Kabul only) and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment. Ambulance services may request payment or evidence of insurance before providing assistance.

Afghanistan is in an active earthquake zone. You should familiarise yourself with safety procedures in the event of an earthquake. Read more information about your risks in the event of an earthquake, especially around buildings, from the International Rescue Corps. Consider signing up to the US Geological Survey (USGS) 24/7 global monitoring agency. USGS provide a newsfeed or @USGSted twitter feed that distributes alerts for earthquakes with magnitudes over 5.5 or of significant impact.

During heavy rains and winter periods, significant flooding can occur, particularly outside the capital. During winter and spring, heavy snowfall often leads to avalanches in mountainous regions. Afghanistan lacks the infrastructure to respond comprehensively to these events so you should be prepared for every eventuality.

On 2 November there was an announcement banning the use of foreign currency in Afghanistan. This stated that payments need to be settled in the Afghan currency (the Afghani – AFN).

There are frequent shortages of local currency. Credit cards are not widely accepted for payment. You should check with the supplier before goods and services are received.

Some ATMs and many banks continue to function, but there are restrictions on the levels of cash withdrawals. Customers should check with local branches. Some ATMs will accept foreign issued bank cards.

Some international money transfer services continue to operate in Afghanistan. However payouts will be made in local currency, even where the payee has requested this in foreign exchange.

Banks are closed on Fridays and queues at other times may be lengthy, with infrequent opening hours.

For information on financial support you can access whilst abroad, visit our financial assistance guidance.

If you need assistance, you should call +44 1908 516 666 (or 01908 516 666 in the UK) and select the option “Consular services for British nationals.”

Foreign travel checklist

Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.

Travel safety

We advise against all travel to Afghanistan and advise all British nationals to leave now.

The FCDO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.

Read more about how the FCDO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.

Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.

Refunds and cancellations

If you wish to cancel or change travel arrangements that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or cannot offer a refund to their customers.

For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel travel arrangements, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Registering your travel details with us

If you are a British national still in Afghanistan, you are strongly encouraged to register your presence with the FCDO using this form. If you register, you will receive important updates on available consular services.

Previous versions of FCDO travel advice

If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCDO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. Versions prior to 2 September 2020 will be archived as FCO travel advice. If you cannot find the page you’re looking for there, send the Travel Advice Team a request.

Further help

If you need assistance, you should call +44 1908 516 666 (or 01908 516 666 in the UK) and select the option “Consular services for British nationals”.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.