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Before You Travel to Venezuela, Learn about Its
 Local Laws and Special Circumstances

travel Caracas city, Venezuela.

While you are traveling in Venezuela, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. For example, in Venezuela it is illegal to take pictures of sensitive installations to include the presidential palace, military bases, government buildings, and airports.

Just as in the United States, driving under the influence can land you immediately in jail. Criminal penalties will vary however.

There are also acts that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States. 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.

Drug trafficking is a serious problem in Venezuela and treated as such by Venezuelan authorities. Convicted traffickers receive lengthy prison sentences, usually eight to ten years.

If you do something illegal in Venezuela, your U.S. passport won’t help. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.

Security within Venezuela’s prisons is lax to nonexistent. Prison populations are largely under the control of prison gangs with little or no interference from prison authorities. Drugs and weapons are freely available, and prison authorities generally do not provide even basic protections and amenities, including food, so individual prisoners must deal with gang leaders through payments or other mechanisms just to survive. Additionally, the Embassy has received reports from U.S. citizens incarcerated in Venezuelan prisons claiming to have been beaten as well as having had their medication withheld.

Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries, and customary international law, if you are arrested in Venezuela, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. embassy of your arrest and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. embassy.

Consular Access: Although Venezuela is a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the Venezuelan government sometimes fails to notify the U.S. Embassy when U.S. citizens are arrested, and/or delays or denies consular access to arrestees. Therefore, U.S. citizens cannot assume a consular officer will visit them within 24-72 hours of an arrest.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Significant antagonism exists between supporters of the government, known as “Chavistas,” and the opposition – represented by its umbrella group, the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (Democratic Unity Table). Large political rallies or protests could take place in major cities at any time. U.S. citizens should avoid these large rallies. As outlined above, by enrolling in STEPU.S. Citizens can receive email alerts regarding demonstration notices posted on the U.S. Embassy’s website.

The Venezuelan government maintains a strict regime of currency exchange controls. The official exchange rate of the Venezuelan Bolivar (Bs) to the U.S. dollar ($) is 6.3 Bs/$ (effective February 13, 2013). It is illegal to exchange currency in Venezuela at any exchange rate other than the official rate. Authorized exchange houses (“casas de cambio”) can buy U.S. dollars, or dollar-denominated traveler’s checks and exchange them for bolivars at the official 6.3 Bs/$ rate. Exchange houses cannot, however, buy bolivars and exchange them for U.S. dollars. The Venezuelan Commission for the Administration of Currency Exchange (CADIVI) is the sole legal authority authorized to sell U.S. dollars for bolivars. Authorized exchange houses are located in the international airports and near most major hotels. Some hotels are also authorized to offer exchange services. It may be difficult to find exchange houses outside major cities, so a good supply of Venezuelan currency would be essential for such travel. Visitors can use U.S. debit cards from major issuers to withdraw bolivars from Venezuelan automatic bank machines at the official exchange rate. Visitors can also use most major U.S. credit cards for purchases in Venezuelan shops, restaurants, and other businesses. Independent analysts say credit card fraud is a significant risk, however. Credit card transactions are also at the official exchange rate.The Embassy cannot provide currency exchange services.

Travelers will likely encounter individuals in Venezuela who are willing to exchange Bolivares for U.S. dollars at a rate significantly higher than the official rate of exchange. These "black market" currency exchanges are prohibited under Venezuelan foreign exchange controls. Persons charged with violating foreign exchange controls can face criminal penalties. Travelers charged in such activity may be detained by the Venezuelan authorities. Additionally, in accordance with an October 2005 law, any person who exchanges more than 10,000 U.S. dollars in the course of a year through unofficial means is subject to a fine of double the amount exchanged. If the amount exceeds 20,000 U.S. dollars the penalty is three to seven years imprisonment. Any person who transports more than 10,000 U.S. dollars into or out of Venezuela by any means must declare this amount to customs officials.

Credit cards are generally accepted at most upscale tourist establishments, but foreign exchange controls have made credit card acceptance less common than in the past. Visa, MasterCard, and American Express have representatives in Venezuela. Due to the prevalence of credit card fraud in Venezuela, travelers should exercise caution in using their credit cards and should check statements regularly to ensure that no unauthorized charges have been made. Most major cities have ATMs with 24-hour service where users may withdraw local currency, but many of these ATMs will not accept U.S.-issued debit cards.

Many U.S. citizens residing in Venezuela have experienced difficulties and delays in renewing their residency visas. U.S. citizens are advised to plan accordingly in advance. Venezuelan authorities can and do ask foreigners for proof of their identification and legal status in the country.

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 or one of Venezuela's Consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.


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