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Western sahara
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Latest travel advice for Western Sahara including safety and security, entry requirements, travel warnings and health

2017-03-08T12:34:31.526+00:00: Latest update: this advice has been reviewed and re-issued without amendment

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to:

There’s no British diplomatic presence in Western Sahara. If you need consular assistance you should contact the British Embassy in Rabat.

Western Sahara is a disputed territory and the UK regards its status as undetermined. See Political situation

There is a high threat from terrorism in Western Sahara. See Terrorism

The level of road safety is poor. There is a high risk of unexploded mines in remote areas. See Road travel

If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.

Take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.

Safety and security

Local travel

Most of Western Sahara is under the de facto administration of Morocco which closely monitors and controls access to the territory. There have been instances in which people suspected of supporting NGOs who are openly critical of Moroccan policies have been expelled from, or not been allowed to enter the territory. A militarised boundary separates the Moroccan-controlled part of Western Sahara from the rest of the territory, Mauritania and Algeria. It is not possible to cross this boundary.

There’s a 30km militarised zone either side of the Berm containing landmines. There are a number of fatalities in this zone each year. In addition to the presence of unexploded ordnance, the eastern side is sparsely populated with no diplomatic presence from any country.

There is no rail service.

Road travel

You don’t need an International Driving Permit. A UK driving licence is sufficient.

There are thousands of unexploded mines in the Western Sahara, and occasional reports of fatal explosions. Avoid driving off road and take care on main roads especially when driving in more remote areas. The territory has a poor road safety record.

Political situation

The status of the territory of the Western Sahara is disputed between Morocco and the Polisario Front. The UK regards sovereignty as undetermined. There has been a UN-monitored cease-fire since 1991.

Political demonstrations sometimes take place in the territory. In April and May 2014 a series of demonstrations in Laayoune led to clashes between protesters and Moroccan police, with injuries reported on both sides.

Terrorism

There is a high threat from terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.

The Moroccan authorities have warned of a threat linked to the growing number of Moroccans sympathetic or belonging to international terrorist organisations operating in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

There is considered to be a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.

Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.

Local laws and customs

Local laws reflect the fact that the territory is predominantly Muslim. Respect local traditions, customs, laws and religion at all times and be aware of your actions, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas.

In 2017, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 27 May and finish on 25 June. See Travelling during Ramadan

Women, especially those travelling alone, will attract attention. To minimise hassle, dress respectfully and avoid wearing clothes that could be regarded as provocative.

Homosexuality is considered a criminal offence. Sexual relations outside marriage are also punishable by law.

The penalties for possession of even small amounts of drugs are severe; up to ten years’ imprisonment, with no remission for good behaviour, heavy fines and confiscation of your vehicle/vessel.

It is against the law to carry bibles in Arabic, to attempt to distribute any non-Muslim or evangelical literature, or to be involved in any such activity. 

Entry requirements

The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.

The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.

You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.

Visas

Travel is restricted and while organised groups are generally permitted, independent travellers should be aware that they could be turned back at the border.

British nationals visiting as tourists for up to three months do not need a visa. Make sure your passport is stamped when you enter the territory. Some tourists have experienced difficulties leaving the country because their passports had no entry stamp.  

Passport validity

Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay in Western Sahara.

UK Emergency Travel Documents

UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for entry to, airside transit, and exit from, Western Sahara.

Health

Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.

Medical facilities are adequate in the main cities (Laayoune, Dhakla and Smara) all of which have hospitals, clinics and pharmacies. For more sophisticated medical treatment (scans etc) you will need to go to a major centre in Morocco or the Canary Islands. Medical facilities are almost non-existent in desert areas. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 150 and ask for an ambulance. Contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.  

Money

Credit cards are accepted in larger hotels. Banking and ATM facilities beyond the main cities of Laayoune, Dhakla and Smara are very limited. The Moroccan dirham, the local currency, is non-convertible and cannot be exported.

Travel advice help and support

If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).

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

The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t 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.

When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO 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 a holiday 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 can’t offer a refund to their customers.

For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, 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

We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.

Previous versions of FCO travel advice

If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send us a request.

Further help

If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.

See also

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  • British Embassy Rabat

    Title:British Embassy Rabat
    Email:rabat.consular@fco.gov.uk
    Address:

    Address:
    28 Avenue S.A.R. Sidi Mohammed
    Souissi 10105 (BP 45),
    Rabat
    Rabat
    Morocco

    Contact: Telephone:: +212 (0) 537 633 333
    Fax:: +212 (0) 537 758 709
    Visiting:Office hours: Monday to Thursday, 0800-1615; Friday 0800-1300

    Consular public opening hours: Monday to Friday, 0800-1200 – an appointment is required

    Ramadan Opening Hours: Monday to Thursday, 0800-1400; Friday 0800-1300


    Services:Emergency Travel Documents service (Assistance Services)
    Transferring funds for prisoners / for financial assistance service (Assistance Services)
    Registrations of Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Documentary Services)
    Births and Deaths registration service (Documentary Services)
    Service of Process (Documentary Services)
    Notarial services (Documentary Services)
    Issue certificate of no impediment (Documentary Services)
    Citizenship Ceremony service (Documentary Services)
    Legalisation Service (Other Services)
    Overseas Passports Service (Other Services)

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The latest news, travel advice, and information for Western sahara, updated regularly for all British travellers by the UK Foreign Office. Including British consulate and embassy addresses in Western sahara (Laayoune).

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