Crime and Law in Zambia - Tips for the Traveler

Petty crime and scams occur in Zambia, but there are things you can do to stay one step ahead of the local crims. Here's how to stay safe and within the law while traveling.

Photo © GettyImages/Tom Cockrem

Crime in Zambia

Zambia is one of the safer countries in Africa, however, you should use your common sense when it comes to staying safe.

Bag snatching and theft from parked cars have been reported at restaurants and internet cafes in downtown areas of Lusaka and Livingstone, particularly near transport hubs and in some shopping areas. Always keep your bag or valuables secured and close to you. Never hang your bag off the back of your chair.

When traveling by car, keep the doors locked and the windows up at all times. Valuables should be kept out of sight. Thieves may target luxury 4WD vehicles, travelers at transport hubs, crowded market areas and shopping precincts.

Avoid traveling after dark, aside from the personal safety risk, the road conditions in some parts of Zambia aren't great, not to mention the drunk drivers you may encounter. The Zambian Road and Transport Agency reported that 55% of all road fatalities happen after dark.

Avoid walking alone at night. While most locals are friendly, there are many areas which are poorly lit and a local criminal may see you as easy pickings.

There have been reports of car jackings by Congolese gangs on the Mufulira to Ndola road which runs parallel with the Democratic Republic of the Congo border. Stay alert and don't stop to give lifts to anyone on the roadside. Exercise caution where objects appear to have been placed to block the road.

Police and immigration officials can request to see your passport and immigration stamp/visa at any time. Failure to produce these documents may result in you being arrested and detained. Carry your passport and visa or immigration permit at all times.

Scams in Zambia

Money Changing Scam

Take care when exchanging money, and avoid flashing large amounts around. Try to exchange your money in a bank although travelers have reported getting a good exchange rate from stand-alone money changers on the street. Avoid changing your cash with any group of men who may approach you as they are likely running a scam and you may end up with less than you started with.

Government Fee Scam

Travelers may be targeted for "fees" to be paid to various Zambian officials or groups. If you are asked to pay a fee, make sure you get an official receipt from the Government of Zambia for any fines and duties paid. Anyone who claims not to issue official receipts is likely to be a scammer. Before handing over any money, politely insist that you get a receipt for your money. Usually, this will make the scammer think twice and leave.

Local Laws in Zambia

Drugs

The possession of drugs, including recreational drugs such as marijuana, is illegal in Zambia.

Drug use and trafficking are also offenses and punishments can be severe.

The possession of more than 0.5 gram of an illegal substance can constitute drug trafficking in Zambia. But the Zambian interpretation of an "illegal substance" is very broad and can get even innocent travelers into a lot of trouble.

Pornographic Material

The possession of pornographic material is illegal in Zambia and offenders may be jailed and/or deported. What you think is a legitimate "men's magazine" might be considered pornographic by the Zambian authorities.

Photography

It's illegal to photograph around military zones, military personnel, government buildings, Kariba Dam and transport hubs in Zambia.

Animal Trophies

It's against Zambian law to buy, possess or transport animal products such as:

  • tortoise shells
  • rhino horns
  • elephant ivory
  • tusks of any animal

Many of these items are sold in markets throughout the country, it remains the responsibility of the customer to ensure they aren't purchasing an illegal item.

The Zambian Wildlife Authority has screening at international ports and will prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law with penalties ranging from large fines to five-year jail sentences.

LGBTQ Safety

While it's unlikely that visitors would be arrested, homosexuality is illegal in Zambia and those caught engaging in homosexual acts can be sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. LGBTQ visitors are advised to remain discreet at all times for their safety. 

Women's Safety

Overall, compared to other countries in Africa, Zambia is relatively safe for women travelers. Zambia is a patriarchal and conservative country, so women travelers are advised to dress modestly, particularly if they are traveling in more rural locales where social attitudes can be more conservative than urban centers. If you plan to head out at night for drinks, consider taking a male companion with you. 

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3 Comments

  • Tim said

    I'm heading to zambia for 5 months soon. I've been reading up, but never came across the buying a drink as an invitation to spend the night thing. Probably good to know. Thanks.

  • Richard said

    I have lived in Zambia for some time now. While it is still growing economical-wise, I have never experienced being hassled. I say it is practically safe and if you go with an open mind and heart, no one will hurt you. You are safer there than in the US of A.

    Only caution is be drive carefully on the road, they are small and not maintained.

  • Charles said

    Zambia is no exception to crime, just like any other country on the planet. We do not however have such crime as drug peddling, consumption, extortion, murder including by police on a large scale as in other places. It is certainly not the worst place to be. Simply follow your instincts and your organisation's safety and security tips, and no one will hurt you.

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