Crime in The Gambia: What Travelers Need to Know

Theft, fraud, scams and bumsters in Gambia. Our travel safety expert shares his top tips and advice on staying safe.

Paradise Beach in Sanyang, Gambia Photo © Getty Images/Francisco Goncalves

You have to respect anyone or anything that refers to itself in the third person, and "The Gambia" is a deserving recipient of this respect. As far as an African nation goes, travel here is trouble-free, easy and safe.

 The Gambia has also started to refer to itself as "The Smiling Coast of Africa" – a reflection of its cultural diversity, safety for travelers and established tourism industry.

To be fair, The Gambia is short for The Republic of The Gambia named after The River Gambia, but now referred to as "The Gambia".

Crime in The Gambia

Generally, travel throughout The Gambia is trouble free. However, like anywhere travelers should use common sense, be aware of their surroundings and any potential threats to their safety and security.

The most common threats in The Gambia are petty street crime, such as pickpockets, and theft in crowded market areas, on public transport, in taxis and near isolated beach areas.

Travelers are increasingly targets for thieves so never leave your luggage or valuables unattended; lock your car when not in attendance and do not leave any valuables or documents in unsecured hotel rooms or cars. Pretty basic safety and security stuff really.

The Gambia is a popular beach destination, and as such the main tourist beaches are usually manned by police or hotel security. However, isolated beaches aren't, so you should take care of your valuables in these areas.

What is a Bumster?

By far, the major irritant to travelers in The Gambia is ‘Bumsters' – yes you read that correctly. Bumsters are young men who approach tourists offering help; be it romantic, tourist, social or to act as a guide – basically anything they can do to get some money. The best way to avoid this is to be polite but firm and decline any unwanted help or conversation. Bumsters seem to target women in particular, so women should avoid walking alone, particularly after dark in The Gambia. These guys often use romance in hopes of gaining money or in the hope of departing The Gambia through marriage to a foreigner.

Fraud in The Gambia

In The Gambia, like many African nations, business and internet fraud is becoming more common. While you are there, be suspicious of any unsolicited offers to participate in lucrative business opportunities, especially if they require financial disclosures, money transfers, large up-front investments or promises of confidentiality. Also, do not offer to help anyone you met on the internet.

Scams in The Gambia

A common scam occurs where marijuana is offered to tourists, or you are invited to smoke marijuana in a local's home, only to find police waiting for a hefty bribe before you are set free.

Another petty scam targeting travelers involves having your passport stolen on arrival at Banjul International Airport by people posing as officials or security officers. All authorized security personnel who have the right to ask to see a passport have photographic identification badges, but not all are in uniform. Make sure you ask to see their identification badge if you are asked to hand over your passport at the airport (or anywhere for that matter).

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