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  • Overview

    Before the conflict, Syrian hospitality was refreshingly sincere, even by Middle Eastern standards. Typically, visitors would receive warm greetings begun with the phrase, 'Ahlan wa Sahlan', meaning 'you are welcome.'

    Essentially, ancient history provided a fascinating backdrop to everyday life. Five-hundred-year old were a significant part of this experience. A legacy of ancient trade routes, these bustling markets sold everything from handmade chunks of soap and carpets, to sheep's tongues. On the streets, donkeys, 1960s American car-taxis, bicycles, minibuses and private jeeps vied for priority, while street vendors and shoe-shiners clogged the sidewalks.

    Damascus was of particular interest to travellers. As one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world, the capital brimmed with history. In the north, travellers celebrated the city of Aleppo for its medieval citadel (now in ruins), elaborately decorated (bath houses), and ancient It was also close to the ruins of St Simeon, perhaps one of the world's oldest churches. St Simeon is yet another casualty of the war.

    Syria remains an active war zone.

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    Syria's climate is largely affected by the desert, with hot, sunny summers (June to August) and cold winters (December to February). Winters are milder along the coast, but wet, and humidity is higher in summer. Snowfall is common in winter on the mountains. Summer temperatures can reach in excess of 95°F (35°C) during the day, but evenings are generally cool. Spring and autumn are the best times to travel, with milder temperatures averaging 72°F (22°C) during the day.

    Damascus International Airport
    Location: The airport is situated 18 miles (29km) from the centre of Damascus.
    Time: GMT +2 (GMT +3 from March to October).
    Aleppo International Airport
    Location: The airport is situated seven miles (11km) from Aleppo.
    Time: GMT +2 (GMT +3 from March to October).
    Money:

    The official currency is the Syrian pound (SYP), which is divided into 100 piastres. Before the war, there were a few ATMs in the bigger towns, but not all cards were accepted. Credit cards were not widely used, but American Express and Diners Club were the most readily accepted.

    Language:

    Arabic is the official, and most widely spoken language. English is widely understood by many educated Syrians in the major cities.

    Electricity:

    Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. The country uses round two-pin attachment plugs.

    Entry Requirements:

    US nationals require a valid passport and a visa for travel to Syria. Visitors must hold return/onward tickets, all documents required for their next destination and sufficient funds to cover their stay.

    UK nationals require a valid passport and a visa for travel to Syria. Visitors must hold return/onward tickets, all documents required for their next destination and sufficient funds to cover their stay.

    Canadians require a valid passport and a visa for travel to Syria. Visitors must hold return/onward tickets, all documents required for their next destination and sufficient funds to cover their stay.

    Australians require a valid passport and a visa for travel to Syria. Visitors must hold return/onward tickets, all documents required for their next destination and sufficient funds to cover their stay.

    South Africans require a valid passport and a visa for travel to Syria. Visitors must hold return/onward tickets, all documents required for their next destination and sufficient funds to cover their stay.

    Irish nationals require a valid passport and a visa for travel to Syria. Visitors must hold return/onward tickets, all documents required for their next destination and sufficient funds to cover their stay.

    US nationals require a valid passport and a visa for travel to Syria. Visitors must hold return/onward tickets, all documents required for their next destination and sufficient funds to cover their stay.

    New Zealand nationals require a valid passport and a visa for travel to Syria. Visitors must hold return/onward tickets, all documents required for their next destination and sufficient funds to cover their stay.

    Passport/Visa Note:Visa:

    Visitors should be aware that if their passport (or airline ticket) contains an Israeli stamp, or any evidence of an intended visit to Israel, entry to Syria will be refused even if in possession of a valid visa. Visas can only be issued on arrival to those travelling as part of an organised group if there is no Syrian representation in their home country, but this should be confirmed in advance. Visas are not required for any traveller whose passport states that he or she was born in: Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, or Yemen. All travellers must hold return or onward tickets, all documents required for the next destination and sufficient funds to cover their stay. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

    Travel Health:

    Prior to the war, malaria was not a health risk in the urban areas of Syria. But, travellers to El Hassaka in northern Syria were encouraged to take chloroquine between May and October. A yellow fever certificate was required by travellers arriving from certain countries in Africa or the Americas. Medical treatment was inexpensive, though standards varied. Doctors were generally well qualified, and most medical personnel spoke English or French.

    As things stand, the quality of health care in the country has deteriorated significantly. The conflict has seen many hospitals stop operating, as well as shortages of the most basic medicines and medical supplies. Also, the destruction of infrastructure has meant there are frequent outbreaks of infectious diseases across the country.

    Tipping:

    Tipping is a common way of showing appreciation, but the amount is left to the discretion of the giver. Ten percent is standard in bigger restaurants.

    Safety Information:

    Syria is an active conflict zone. As such, no place is free from the threat terrorism and violence. Foreign visitors have been targeted.

    Local Customs:

    Syria is predominantly a Muslim country and visitors should respect religious sensitivity, particularly in the matter of dress and public conduct. Women, in particular, should wear loose fitting clothes that cover most of the body. Headscarves are unnecessary unless entering mosques. Eating, drinking and smoking in public during the holy month of Ramadan should be avoided, as it is forbidden by the Muslim culture. Homosexuality is illegal. The death penalty is enforced for drug trafficking.

    Business:

    Dress should be formal, and meetings should be arranged in advance. Business cards are usually exchanged at meetings. English and French are widely spoken in business, but translators can be arranged. Business hours are Saturday to Thursday from about 8.30am to 2.30pm, but Christian businesses open on Fridays and close on Sundays.

    Communications:

    The international dialling code for Syria is +963. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the UK). City codes are in use, e.g. (0)11 for Damascus. There is good mobile phone coverage in urban areas, and many networks have international roaming agreements. Internet access is limited, but is available in Damascus.

    Duty Free:

    Travellers are allowed to import 200 cigarettes or 25 cigars or 250g tobacco, 1 pint of spirits, perfume for personal use, and gifts to the value of S¤250 without paying customs duty. Firearms are prohibited. There is no limit on the amount of tobacco or spirits for export.

    Useful Contacts:

    Syria Ministry of Tourism, Damascus: +963 011 221 0122 or www.syriatourism.org

    Syria Embassies:

    Honorary Consulate for Syria in Montreal, Canada: +1 514 992 4432

    Syrian Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa: (+27) 12 342 4701

    Honorary Consulate of the Syrian Arab Republic in Sydney, Australia: +61 2 9787 1504

    Foreign Embassies in Syria :

    U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt (also responsible for Syria): +20 2 2797 2301

    The Embassy of Canada in Beruit, Lebanon (also responsible for Syria): +961 4 726 700

    South African Embassy, Damascus, Syria: +963 11 6135 1520

    The Embassy of Australia in Amman, Jordan (also responsible for Syria): +962 6 568 8660

    Embassy of Ireland in Cairo, Egypt (also responsible for Syria): +202 2728 7100

    Syria Emergency Numbers : Emergencies: 112 (Police); 110 (Ambulance).
    Syria