Mauritania

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Monday, 26 May 2014.   It has been reviewed and reissued with editorial amendments. We continue to advise Australians to reconsider their need to travel to Mauritania at this time due to the high threat of terrorist attack including kidnapping and the unpredictable security situation. We no longer advise against all travel to the city of Nouadhibou on the border with Western Sahara. We now advise Australians to reconsider their need to travel to Nouadhibou.

Mauritania overall

Border areas with Mali, Algeria and Western Sahara, except the city of Nouadhibou

Summary

  • We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Mauritania at this time due to the high threat of terrorist attack, including kidnapping, and the unpredictable security situation.
  • You should maintain a high level of vigilance at all times when travelling in Mauritania and avoid unnecessary travel in remote areas. Travel beyond Nouakchott should be registered with the local police.
  • There is a high threat of terrorist attack in Mauritania. We continue to receive reports that terrorists are planning attacks against a range of targets, including places frequented by foreigners (see Terrorism section below).
  • There is an ongoing high threat of kidnapping against Westerners in the north and west regions of Africa, including places frequented by foreigners in Nouakchott and Atar. Westerners have previously been kidnapped in remote and desert areas of Mauritania.
  • Australians should pay close attention to personal security at all times, including in homes and vehicles, and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
  • We strongly advise you not to travel to the border areas with Mali, Algeria and Western Sahara, except the city of Nouadhibou, because of the risk of terrorist groups, banditry and the activities of armed smugglers.
  • Australia does not have an Embassy or Consulate in Mauritania. The Australian Embassy in Paris provides consular assistance to Australians in Mauritania.
  • Given the unpredictable security situation in Mauritania, we strongly recommend that you register your travel and contact details with us, so we can contact you in an emergency.
    • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
    • organise comprehensive travel insurance and check what circumstances and activities are not covered by your policy
    • subscribe to this travel advice to receive free email updates each time it's reissued.
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Entry and exit

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Mauritania for the most up to date information.

Mauritania is listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as endemic for yellow fever. Yellow fever is a serious and potentially fatal disease preventable by vaccination. We strongly recommend that all travellers be vaccinated for yellow fever before travelling to Mauritania (see Health section).

For more information about yellow fever, including Australian re-entry requirements, see the Department of Health website.

Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Safety and security

Terrorism

We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Mauritania due to the high threat of terrorist attack, including kidnapping, and the unpredictable security situation.

Terrorist groups in the region have declared their intention to increase attacks and kidnappings targeting Westerners, particularly following the French intervention in Mali in 2013. These attacks could occur at anytime, anywhere in Mauritania.

There is an ongoing high threat of kidnapping against Westerners in the north and west regions of Africa, including Nouakchott and Atar in Mauritania. A number of Westerners have been kidnapped in Mauritania in recent years, predominantly from remote and desert areas, and some kidnap victims have been killed. Past reports indicate that terrorists have planned to kidnap foreigners, including Australians, travelling between Mauritania and Morocco or who may be close to the Mauritania/Mali border. There have also been reports of plans to attack oil facilities in Mauritania.

You should maintain a high level of vigilance at all times when travelling in Mauritania and avoid unnecessary travel in remote areas.

For more information about kidnapping, see our Kidnapping threat travel bulletin.

The Australian Government's longstanding policy is that it does not make payments or concessions to kidnappers. The Australian Government considers that paying a ransom increases the risk of further kidnappings, including of other Australians. If you do decide to travel to an area where there is a particular threat of kidnapping, you should ensure you have personal security measures in place, seek professional security advice and take out kidnapping insurance.

Terrorist attacks could be directed against any locations known to be frequented by foreigners, as well as premises and symbols associated with the Government of Mauritania. In planning your activities, consider the kinds of places known to be terrorist targets and the level of security provided. Possible targets include clubs, restaurants, embassies and high commissions, international schools, international hotels, expatriate housing compounds, churches and other places of worship, shopping centres, outdoor recreation events, tourist areas and transport hubs or identifiably Western interests, including businesses.

Australians should take security precautions in homes and vehicles and watch for any suspicious or unusual activity. In Nouakchott, Australians are advised to avoid sitting in the open terraces of cafes and to regularly change daily routines to avoid predictable behaviour.

Border areas with Mali, Algeria and Western Sahara, except the city of Nouadhibou:

We strongly advise you not to travel to the border areas with Mali, Algeria and Western Sahara, except to the city of Nouadhibou, because of the risk of terrorist attack, banditry and the activities of armed smugglers. There are continuing reports that AQIM, the terrorist group responsible for the kidnapping of foreigners in North Africa, is active throughout this region and poses a significant security threat.

If after reading our advice you still decide to travel to these areas you should ensure you have adequate and continuous close personal protection.

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

Civil unrest/Political tension

We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Mauritania at this time due to the unpredictable security situation. If you do decide to travel to Mauritania, you should exercise extreme caution. If you are in Mauritania, avoid unnecessary local travel and monitor the media and other local information sources for information about possible new safety or security risks.

You should avoid protests and demonstrations as they may turn violent. Protests and demonstrations have turned violent in Mauritania in the past. There have been demonstrations in a number of locations across Mauritania since 2012, including in Nouakchott, and there is a possibility of further demonstrations.

Crime

Bandits are active across Mauritania. Bandit attacks have occurred at night in beach areas of Nouakchott (including the district of Le Cinquieme), and at deserted beach areas during daylight hours. Bandits have attacked vehicles travelling by road between Mali and Mauritania and in the north of Mauritania. Pickpocketing and other theft also occurs. There are increasing reports of carjackings and theft associated with organised people smugglers who are using Mauritania as a transit point for illegal travel by sea to the Canary Islands. When travelling by car, you should keep the doors locked, the windows up and keep valuables out of sight.

Commercial and internet fraud is prevalent and often originates in West African countries. Victims have been defrauded and those who travel to the originating country have had their lives endangered. Some victims have been killed. Criminals have been known to seek details of 'safe' bank accounts overseas in which to transfer large sums of money (as a donation or for a percentage of the amount involved). They may also provide fake cashier cheques for 'urgent' shipments of large quantities of goods, request sizeable fees for a fake government contract and extort money from individuals they have convinced to travel to Africa for a business opportunity. If you are a victim of a financial scam, we advise you to obtain legal advice and not to travel to Africa to seek restitution as there is a risk of physical assault from the perpetrators. Our information on International Financial Scams provides more detail on these types of scams.

Some Australian citizens have also been defrauded or had their lives endangered by bogus internet friendship, dating and marriage schemes operating from West African countries. These scams typically result from connections made through internet dating schemes or chat rooms. Once a virtual relationship develops, the Australian citizen can be asked by their friend or prospective marriage partner to send money to enable travel to Australia. In some cases the relationship is terminated and any chance of recovering the funds is highly unlikely. In other cases, foreigners may be lured to Africa to meet their friend or prospective marriage partner and can become a kidnapping victim.

Money and valuables

The local currency is the ouguiya which cannot be imported or exported. Foreign currency on departure cannot be more than the amount declared on arrival.

Before you go, organise a variety of ways of accessing your money overseas, such as credit cards, and Euros or US dollars cash. Australian currency and travellers' cheques are not accepted in Mauritania. Consult with your bank to find whether your ATM card will work in Mauritania. There are ATMs available in several banks in Nouakchott some of which may accept foreign credit cards.

Credit cards are not widely used and only local currency is accepted payment in most restaurants and stores. Restaurants or firms which cater principally to foreigners may accept Euros.

Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets and visas. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.

While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering and theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe, dry place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

Australians are required to pay an additional fee to have their passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.

Local travel

Travel within Mauritania should be carefully prepared and organised with a competent local company. Any travel beyond Nouakchott should be registered in advance with the local police/gendarmes. Tourist facilities are non-existent outside of Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. All travel outside of Nouakchott should be in a convoy with adequate security.

It is advisable to be met on arrival at the airport in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. and to have confirmed, prearranged transport waiting for you. Some respected local transport companies can assist with airport formalities.

Due to the risk of crime and kidnapping in Mauritania it is strongly recommended that you do not use taxis.

There are reports of unexploded landmines in the area of Mauritania bordering the Western Sahara region. Mines have been known to shift in sandstorms. You should keep to well-travelled roads.

If you decide to travel to the Western Sahara you should be aware that travel from Morocco is restricted by the Moroccan Government and you will need to obtain permission from Moroccan authorities.

Driving can be dangerous. Poor road conditions, apart from the major arterial roads linking Nouakchott with Nouadhibou to the north and with Bamako (Mali) to the west, lack of vehicle maintenance and poor local driving standards increase the risk of accidents. Because of the risk of shifting sand dunes and accidents with other vehicles and animals, you are advised to avoid driving at night. Travel in the desert is dangerous for travellers not familiar with the area and who do not have a roadworthy vehicle and adequate supplies of food, water and fuel. Travellers should check the credentials and references of desert guides.

For further advice on road safety, see our road travel page.

Airline safety

Please refer to our air travel page for information about aviation safety and security.

Laws

When you are in Mauritania, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

Drug penalties are severe and possession of even small amounts of 'soft drugs' can lead to prison sentences.

Penalties for treason and murder include the death sentence.

Homosexual activity between men is illegal in Mauritania and is punishable by prison sentences of up to three years. See our LGBTI travellers page.

Unauthorised photography of military installations, airports, government buildings and religious buildings is prohibited.

Importation of non-Islamic religious materials is prohibited. Non-Islamic preaching is also banned.

Importation of alcohol, firearms and pork products is prohibited. The transportation of any form of alcohol by private citizens is prohibited by law, and alcoholic drinks are not available in restaurants and bars, including in major hotels.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Local customs

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan is expected to begin in mid-June 2015. During Ramadan, Australians travelling to countries with significant Muslim communities should take care to respect religious and cultural sensitivities, rules and customs. In particular, people who are not fasting are advised to avoid eating, drinking and smoking in public and in the presence of people who are fasting. For more information see our Ramadan travel bulletin.

There are conservative standards of dress and behaviour in Mauritania, particularly for women, and you should take care not to offend.

Physical contact between men and women in public should be avoided. Public displays of affection can cause offence, particularly in rural and traditional areas and near mosques, religious shrines and religious educational institutions.

Information for dual nationals

Our Dual nationals page provides further information.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

Medical facilities in Mauritania are limited, particularly outside Nouakchott. As medicines may be difficult to obtain in local pharmacies you should carry all your own medications. Most doctors and private hospitals will require up-front payment regardless of whether you have travel health insurance. In the event of a serious accident or illness, medical evacuation to a destination with appropriate facilities may be necessary. Medical evacuation could cost up to $A50,000 depending on circumstances.

Malaria is a risk throughout the year in most areas except in the northern regions of Dakhlet-Nouadhibou and Tiris-Zemmour. Other mosquito-borne diseases (including dengue fever and rift valley fever) also occur in the region. We encourage you to consider taking prophylaxis against malaria and to take precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes, including using insect repellent at all times, wear long, loose fitting, light coloured clothing and ensuring your accommodation is mosquito proof.

Mauritania is listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as endemic for yellow fever. Yellow fever is a potentially fatal viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, which is preventable by vaccination. We strongly recommend that you are vaccinated against yellow fever before travelling to Mauritania. See the Entry and Exit section for important information about vaccination certificate requirements. For more information about yellow fever, see the Department of Health website.

Water-borne, food-borne, parasitic and other infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, bilharzia, leptospirosis, meningitis, tuberculosis and rabies) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. We advise you to boil all drinking water or drink bottled water and avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Where to get help

Australia does not have an Embassy or Consulate in Mauritania. You can obtain consular assistance from the Australian Embassy in Paris:

Australian Embassy, Paris

4 Rue Jean Rey
75724 Cedex 15
Paris
Telephone +33 1 4059 3300
Facsimile +33 1 4059 3315
Website: www.france.embassy.gov.au

If you are travelling to Mauritania, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

In a consular emergency, if you are unable to contact the Australian Embassy you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

Additional information

For parents

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with Children page.



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.