COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: In light of the escalating violence and volatility of the current security situation in Syria, the Department of State has issued a Travel Warning advising U.S. citizens against travel to Syria and strongly recommending that U.S. citizens remaining in Syria depart immediately. Those who choose to remain in Syria or to visit despite this advice should be aware that the U.S. Embassy in Damascus suspended operations in February 2012 and therefore cannot provide protection or routine consular services to U.S. citizens in Syria. The Government of the Czech Republic, acting through its Embassy in Damascus, serves as Protecting Power for U.S. interests in Syria. The range of consular services the Czech Republic provides to U.S. citizens is extremely limited, and those services may require significantly more processing time than at U.S. embassies or consulates outside of Syria.
The Syrian Arab Republic is ruled by an authoritarian regime dominated by the Socialist Ba'ath Party. The Ba'ath party espouses a largely secular ideology; however, Islamic traditions and beliefs provide a religious foundation for the country's customs and practices. While the 1963 Emergency Law, which authorized the government to conduct preventive arrests and override constitutional and penal code provisions against arbitrary arrest and detention, was rescinded on April 19, 2011, the practice of arbitrary arrest and detention has not abated.
Since March 2011, the Syrian government has used indiscriminate and deadly force to quell antigovernment protests, including military assaults on several cities. Although peaceful anti-government demonstrations occur on a regular basis, armed opposition to the government’s repression has proliferated. Sporadic clashes between government and armed opposition actors have evolved into continuous combat,with government forces routinely resorting to aerial bombing and shelling of civilian areas. Central government control has eroded in certain parts of the country. No part of Syria should be considered immune from violence, and the potential exists throughout the country for unpredictable and hostile acts, including kidnappings, sniper assaults, large and small-scale bombings, as well as arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture. The conflict has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths with many thousands wounded and over one million displaced persons.
The Syrian government conducts intense physical and electronic surveillance of both Syrian citizens and foreign visitors. U.S. citizens visiting Syria should be aware that any encounter with a Syrian citizen could be subject to scrutiny by the General Intelligence Directorate (GID) or other security services. Sustained interactions with average Syrians – especially if deemed to be of a political nature – may subject that Syrian to harassment and/or detention, and other forms of repressive actions by state security elements. Furthermore, loitering or photographing of facilities or buildings or behavior deemed suspicious may result in U.S. citizens being arrested or detained by security services. Since 1979, the United States has designated Syria a State Sponsor of Terrorism due to its support for organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The combination of terrorist organizations, a porous border with Iraq and long-standing border issues with all of its neighbors (Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Israel) have made Syria a destabilizing factor in the region and a potential target for reprisal. Tourist facilities are available and vary in quality depending on price and location. Many establishments will only accept cash. Read the Department of State’s Human Rights Report, Trafficking in Persons Report, International Religious Freedom Report, and Fact Sheet on Syria for additional information.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM(STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in or visit Syria please take the time to tell the U.S. Department of State about your trip. If you enroll, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency. Here’s the link to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
You can find contact information for U.S. embassies and consulates in neighboring countries at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.
The U.S. Embassy in Damascus suspended operations in February 2012 and therefore cannot provide protection or routine consular services to U.S. citizens in Syria. The Government of the Czech Republic, acting through its Embassy in Damascus, serves as Protecting Power for U.S. interests in Syria. The range of consular services the Czech Republic provides to U.S. citizens is extremely limited, and those services may require significantly more processing time than at U.S. embassies or consulates outside of Syria. U.S. citizens in Syria who seek consular services should contact the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Damascus at USIS_damascus@embassy.mzv.cz.
U.S. citizens in Syria who are in need of emergency assistance in Syria, and are unable to reach the U.S. Interests Section
of the Embassy of the Czech Republic or must make contact outside business hours, should contact the U.S. Embassy in Amman,
Telephone: 962 (6) 590-6950 (Daily 2-3:30 local time)
Emergencies: 962 (6) 590-6500
If you seek information about U.S. citizens’ services in Syria from the Office of Overseas Citizens’ Services in Washington, please e-mail: SyriaEmergencyUSC@state.gov.
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: A passport and a visa are required. Visas must be obtained prior to arrival in Syria from a Syrian diplomatic mission located in the traveler’s country of residence. Visas issued by the Syrian Honorary Consulates generally have a maximum validity of two entries. Travelers planning to remain in Syria for an extended period, however, should submit their visa applications to the Syrian Embassy in Washington, DC, where they may request a multiple-entry visa with a six-month validity. Persons planning to visit neighboring countries while in Syria (even for a short day trip) should apply for a multiple-entry visa from the Syrian Embassy in Washington, DC. Visit the Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic, 2215 Wyoming Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 232-6313 or visit the website of the Syrian Embassy for the most current visa information.
Foreigners who wish to stay 15 days or more in Syria must register with Syrian immigration authorities by their 15th day. Syrian-American men or American men of Syrian origin, even those born in the United States, may be subject to compulsory military service unless they receive a temporary or permanent exemption from a Syrian diplomatic mission abroad prior to their entry into Syria. (Please see the section on Special Circumstances below.)
Syria charges a departure tax at its land and sea borders for all visitors except those on diplomatic passports. As of June 2011, the land/sea departure tax is 550 Syrian Pounds (~$12) for all visitors; however children under the age of 11 are exempt from paying the fee.
The Syrian government rigidly enforces restrictions on prior travel to Israel, and does not allow persons with passports bearing Israeli visas or entry/exit stamps to enter the country. Likewise, the absence of entry stamps from a country adjacent to Israel, which the traveler has just visited, will cause Syrian immigration officials to refuse admittance. Overland entry into Syria directly from Israel is not possible. U.S. citizen travelers suspected of having traveled to Israel have been detained for questioning.
Syrian security officials are also sensitive about travel to Iraq. There have been instances in which U.S. citizens, especially those of Arab descent, believed to have traveled to Iraq were detained for questioning at ports of entry/exit. U.S. citizens seeking to travel to Iraq through Syria have also on occasion been turned around and/or detained. On a number of occasions the border between Iraq and Syria has been closed without notice, stranding U.S. citizens on either side of the border.
A child under the age of eighteen whose father is Syrian or of Syrian descent must have his/her father’s permission to leave Syria, even if the parents are separated or divorced and the mother has been granted full custody by a Syrian court. On occasion, the families of Syrian-American women visiting Syria have attempted to prevent them from leaving the country, generally in order to compel the woman to marry. Although under Syrian law a woman does not need her husband's explicit consent every time she wishes to leave Syria, a Syrian husband may take legal action to prevent his wife from leaving the country, regardless of her nationality. Once such legal orders are in place, the U.S. government cannot help U.S. citizens to leave Syria.
Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors or foreign residents of Syria. There are no special immunizations required for entry to Syria. AIDS tests are mandatory for foreigners from ages 15 to 60 who wish to reside in Syria. The AIDS test must be conducted in Syria at a facility approved by the Syrian Ministry of Health. A residence permit will not be issued until the absence of the HIV virus has been determined. Foreigners wishing to marry Syrian nationals in Syria must also be tested for HIV. Please verify this information with the Embassy of Syria before you travel. Syria usually will not issue visas or residency permits to students wishing to study religion or Arabic in private religious institutions. For authoritative information concerning visas for study at private religious institutions, consult with the Embassy of Syria before you travel.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page or refer to the website of the Syrian Directorate of Customs (in Arabic).
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: The Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens against travel to Syria and strongly recommends that U.S. citizens remaining in Syria depart immediately. The Syrian regime has used deadly force to quell anti-government protests and armed opposition since March 2011, including deploying aerial bombing and shelling against civilian areas. Clashes between government forces and armed opposition groups are continuous, and have dramatically impacted living conditions even in the major cities of Damascus and Aleppo. No part of Syria should be considered immune from violence, and the potential exists throughout the country for unpredictable and hostile acts, including kidnappings, sniper assaults, large and small-scale bombings, as well as arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture. The violence has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and detentions across the country.
A porous border with Iraq and long-standing border issues with Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Israel, have created a complex security environment in Syria, which has been compounded by the protracted violent conflict.. There have been multiple reports of Syrian shelling of neighboring countries’ border areas throughout 2012. On October 3, 2012, Syrian military forces fired artillery shells that hit the town of Akcakale on the Turkish side of the Turkish-Syrian border, killing five people and wounding a number of others. Turkey responded with retaliatory artillery fire and cross-border incidents have continued sporadically since that time.
Syria has been a State Sponsor of Terrorism since 1979 and has given political support to a variety of terrorist groups affecting the stability of the region.The Al-Nusrah Front has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist acts in Syria since December 2011, including four bombings in Aleppo on October 3, 2012 that killed more than 50 people and a October 9, 2012 suicide bomb attack on a Syrian Air Force Intelligence compound in a Damascus suburb that killed and wounded at least 100, including civilians.
Terrorists often do not distinguish between U.S. government personnel and private U.S. citizens. Terrorists may target areas frequented by Westerners, such as tourist sites, hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and other frequently visited areas. U.S. citizens are urged to maintain a high level of vigilance and be aware of their surroundings. It is especially important for travelers to be unpredictable in their movements by varying times and routes and maintaining a low profile.
While most Syrians appear genuinely friendly towards foreigners, underlying tensions can lead to a quick escalation in the potential for violence. Anti-American or anti-Western sentiment may intensify following significant events in the region, particularly those related to U.S.-Syria relations, Israeli-Palestinian issues, the status of Jerusalem, and clashes in Lebanon.
U.S. citizens traveling through the area should remain aware that pre-existing tensions and instabilities continue to exist and U.S. interests and citizens might be targeted. On July 11, 2011, the U.S. Embassy and other embassies in Damascus were violently attacked by people participating in a pro-government demonstration. Similarly, in October 2011, the U.S. Ambassador’s convoy was attacked in a Damascus suburb while he met with an opposition figure. Both indicidents caused significant property damage.
Security personnel frequently place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, internet connections, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in questioning, detention and/or confiscation of the images. Additionally, U.S. citizens should be aware that conversations on the topics of politics, religion and other social issues could lead to arrest. It is also illegal in Syria to possess specific-use electronic devices including GPS, short-wave or handheld radio equipment, or similar devices.
U.S. citizens should increase their vigilance if they travel to the border area with Iraq or Israel, the Golan Heights, or the Al-Jazira region. Movements in these areas are subject to Syrian security surveillance and could lead to questioning or detention.
Additional information about safety and security in Syria can be found in the Overseas Security Advisory Council 2010 Crime and Safety Report for Syria.
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CRIME: While Syria's crime rate is perceived to be low, it is important to note that Syria is not crime-free. The current unrest and significant deterioration of the Syrian economy have also led to perceived increase in criminal activity. You should apply the same personal security awareness practices overseas as you do in U.S. cities.
Women in Syria, particularly those dressed in a style perceived as Western, have reported harassment, stalking, and unwelcome advances of a sexual nature. Many of these incidents have involved taxi drivers. Incidents typically entail verbal sexual harassment, staring, and/or touching. Women should take precautions including dressing conservatively (especially in the Old City), not traveling alone, and avoiding travel to unfamiliar areas at night. Women should not generally sit in the front seat of a taxi. Unnecessary conversation with the taxi driver may be perceived as an invitation for closer personal relations. Both men and women should always carry a cell phone, if possible.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law. Additional information about safety and security in Syria can be found in the Overseas Security Advisory Council 2010 Crime and Safety Report for Syria.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. We can:
The local equivalents to the “911” emergency line in Syria are 110 for ambulance, 113 for fire, and 112 for the police. Syrian operators, however, are not likely to speak English.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Syria, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own.
For example, under the Narcotics Act, article 39, Syria imposes the death penalty for drug trafficking or cultivation. Women who are arrested under suspicion of immoral behavior (e.g. being alone in a room with a man who is not the woman’s husband, or being in a residence where drugs or alcohol are being consumed) may be subjected to a virginity test. Syrian law also criminalizes homosexual conduct under penal code article 520, which states that each sexual act "contrary to nature" is punishable by as long as three years in prison. LGBT travelers should review the LGBT Travel Information page. In addition, the Syrian government monitors the activities of all groups, including religious groups, and discourages proselytizing, which it deems a threat to relations among religious groups. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places, driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Syria, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not wherever you go.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: U.S. citizens should carry a photocopy of their U.S. passport with them at all times so that, if questioned by local officials, they will have proof of identity and U.S. citizenship readily available.
Although Syria is a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, Syrian authorities generally do not notify the U.S. Embassy of the arrest of a U.S. citizen until weeks after the arrest, if at all. When the Embassy learns of U.S. citizen arrests and requests consular access, it generally takes approximately two months for access to be authorized. Moreover, security officials have also in the past not responded to Embassy requests for consular access, especially in the case of persons detained for “security” reasons.
Syrian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Syria of items such as weapons, narcotics, alcohol, tobacco, cheese, fruits, pharmaceuticals, modems, cosmetics, and some electrical appliances. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Syria in Washington, D.C. for specific information regarding customs requirements. Please see our Customs Information or refer to the website of the Syrian Directorate of Customs (in Arabic).
Foreign currencies can be exchanged for Syrian pounds only by licensed moneychangers, the Commercial Bank of Syria (CBS), the Real Estate Bank, and at private banks, some of which maintain offices inside four- and five-star hotels. Four- and five-star hotels and high-end stores in Syria generally accept credit cards, although most restaurants and stores operate strictly in cash. Foreigners visiting Syria are required to pay hotel bills in U.S. dollars, Euros or other non-Syrian hard currency. Traveler’s checks are not accepted for payment in Syria, and banks will not cash them unless the traveler has an account at the bank in question. There are no U.S.-based banks operating in Syria. There are fourteen private banks operating in Syria, with branches and ATMs in most major cities. These ATMs usually honor major debit/credit systems. U.S. banks are restricted by law from transacting business with the largest public bank in Syria, the Commercial Bank of Syria (CBS), so U.S. banks will not process ATM transactions from CBS branches. Funds may be transferred into Syria through Western Union. Wiring of funds through private banks is possible only if the traveler already holds an account with the bank in Syria; transferring funds through the Commercial Bank of Syria is not possible due to U.S. sanctions. Restrictions on wire transfers from Syria to locations abroad and restrictions on withdrawing U.S. dollars have changed several times in 2011 due to the fluctuating political situation; private citizens seeking to transfer funds outside of Syria or to withdraw U.S. dollars from a bank in Syria should check with the relevant financial institution for up-to-date regulations.
Syrian-American and Palestinian-American men who have never served in the Syrian military and who are planning to visit Syria should check with the Syrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. prior to traveling concerning compulsory military service.
Effective June 1, 2011, the period of mandatory military service for men who have completed the fifth grade is 18 months. The period of mandatory military service for men who have not completed the fifth grade is 21 months.
U.S. citizen men over the age of 18, even those who have never resided in or visited Syria, and whose fathers are of Syrian descent, are required to complete military service or pay to be exempted. Possession of a U.S. passport does not absolve the bearer of this obligation. The amount of the exemption fee depends upon a combination of factors:
Contact the Syrian Embassy in Washington, DC, for more information (see Entry/Exit Requirements section above).
Since May 11, 2004, Syria has been subject to an executive order implementing sanctions in accordance with the Syria Accountability Act. These sanctions prohibit the export to Syria of products of the United States other than food or medicine, and prohibit any commercial aircraft owned or controlled by the Syrian government from taking off from or landing in the United States. Under the authority provided in Section 5(b) of the Act, the President has determined that it is in the national security interest of the United States to waive the application of these sanctions in certain cases and for certain products, as specified in the Department of Commerce's General Order No. 2. For additional information about implementation of the Syria Accountability Act, consult the Department of Commerce web site.
The Terrorism List Government Sanctions Regulations prohibit U.S. persons from receiving unlicensed donations from the Syrian government. Additionally, U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in financial transactions which a U.S. person knows or has reasonable cause to believe pose a risk of furthering terrorist acts in the United States. For additional information about the Terrorism List Government Sanctions Regulations, consult the terrorism brochure on the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) home page or via OFAC's info-by-fax service at (202) 622-0077.
Accessibility: While in Syria, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what you find in the United States. Syrian law protects persons with disabilities from discrimination in education, access to health, or provision of other state services; but the government has not effectively enforced these provisions. Sidewalks are generally unevenly paved and often blocked by parked cars. Stairs must be used to access many public buildings, restaurants, cafes and other tourist spots.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Basic medical care and medicines are available in Syria’s principal cities, but not necessarily in outlying areas. Serious illnesses and emergencies may require evacuation to a Western medical facility.
You can find detailed information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctor and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in Syria, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Syria is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving in Syria may be hazardous and requires great caution. Although drivers generally follow traffic signs and signals, they often maneuver aggressively and show little regard for vehicles traveling near them. Lane markings are usually ignored. Vehicles within Syrian traffic circles must give way to entering traffic, unlike in the United States. At night, it is very hard to see pedestrians, who often walk into traffic with little warning. Outside major cities it is common to find pedestrians, animals and vehicles without lights on the roads at night. Pedestrians must also exercise caution. Parked cars, deteriorating pavement, and guard posts obstruct sidewalks, often forcing pedestrians to walk in the street. Vehicles often do not stop for pedestrians, and regularly run red lights or “jump” the green light well before it changes.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: Sanctions resulting from the passage of the Syria Accountability Act prohibit aircraft of any air carrier owned or controlled by the Syrian government to take off from or land in the United States. As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Syria, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Syria’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.
The U.S. Embassy in Damascus previously advised its employees to avoid travel on Syrian Arab Airlines (Syrian Air or SAA) whenever possible due to concerns regarding the airline's ability to maintain its airplanes. SAA has, on its own initiative, grounded individual aircraft with significant maintenance or service issues; however, concerns persist that some planes still being flown may lack certain safety equipment or may have undergone repairs that have not been reviewed by the manufacturer.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Syria dated July 12, 2011, to update the sections on Country Description, Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)/Embassy Location, and Threats to Safety and Security.