Travel in developing countries

Travel in low-income countries can pose an added challenge to even the most experienced adventurer.

Infrastructure for transport, electricity, water, communication and money transfer might be deficient, as well as food safety, health care, and toilets.

Poverty might induce begging, scams and crime.



Main article: Money

See money for tips on accessing money overseas. The concern regarding exchange rates and that (hard) cash is the preferred and sometimes only option of payment is especially true for developing countries.

Many poor countries are high-fraud areas; don't be surprised if an attempt to use a payment card, make an Internet telephone call or access a password-protected website which always worked fine in your own country suddenly gets flagged as suspicious by your home providers just because you tried to get access while travelling to somewhere like Nigeria. Countries with widespread poverty, weak enforcement of criminal laws or ongoing corruption attract all manner of fraud. Contact your card issuers and the operators of any service you intend to rely upon while abroad, so that they know that you are travelling and can tell you if certain countries are blocked due to fraud and abuse.

Electric devices

Main article: Electrical systems

Research both the voltage and plug configuration before traveling with plug-in devices; it's rather frustrating to arrive and find that your most expensive item, some piece of electronics, cannot be recharged or used. All-in-1 adapters are handy, but more specific adapters save space and weight. In some countries, the availability of electricity may be restricted to certain times of the day, or even certain days of the week, so check before you go, and if possible, opt for hotels with their own generator or (increasingly) solar panels (usually equipped with some way to store energy for the night as well, but don't count on it). Developing countries also tend to have power failures more often than high income places. While Germany on the one hand has 15 minutes of power outage per year, some less developed places may have at least an hour without electricity per week. Don't count on electricity "just working", bring patience and a flashlight. However, some countries have widely varying standards of electric reliability, with an outage of a few hours in the capital making headline news, whereas more rural dwellers can only laugh about the ridiculously capital-centric newspaper if they even get to read it with electric light.

Vaccines and medications

Ideally, visit a travel clinic at least two months before departure to plan any vaccinations or prescriptions you may need. (See Stay healthy below for more info.) These doctors specialize in travel medicine and can give you advice that is more specific to your travels than a generalist physician, who will likely know little more about local conditions than what's on the CDC's website. That said, any doctor is better than none. Indeed, many countries will deny entry without proof of appropriate vaccinations.

Travel Insurance

Although travel insurance should be purchased regardless of where you travel, it is especially important when travelling to developing countries, especially since the cost of dealing with emergencies can add up quickly, In particular, since medical facilities in developing countries are often not up to the standards of more developed ones, you can likely get a better standard of care by being evacuated home, or at the very least to a more developed country by air. As medical evacuation flights are very costly, you should definitely ensure that your travel insurance policy covers this.

Get in


Main article: Visa

One of the illogical but undeniable truths of traveling is that the poorer, less developed and less visited the country is, the harder it will be to obtain a visa for the country. Some developing countries may also be in different stages of conflict with other countries in the region or developed countries far away, resulting in visa trouble.

The IATA Visa Database, provided by Delta, is an excellent place to check whether you need a visa or not. While IATA provides no guarantees of accuracy, the database is usually fairly up to date. More importantly, if you don't have a visa but their database says you need one, you will not be allowed on the plane!

You can also try checking out Project Visa or Visa Hunter, databases of visa information for each country.

If traveling by land, it is imperative to check that the border crossing you plan to use is open to foreign visitors. If the country provides a visa on arrival, make sure that the border crossing in question can supply it. If at all possible, confirm the answer from multiple sources and, if blithely promised that crossing is no problem, try to get the promise in writing in case the border guards happen to disagree.

There are two schools of thought for getting visas: one says to obtain visas as far in advance if possible, so you can buffer for unexpected delays, while the other says to obtain as close to your destination as possible, where you can get your visa rapidly and with less hassle as it's a more standard procedure. Ideally you can combine both by starting your trip at a "visa hub" city where you can get visas for nearly all neighboring countries. Some examples by region include:

You can also obtain visas for almost any country in the world in Washington D.C., London or Tokyo. You can also mail your visa application and passport to the nearest embassy or consulate (use registered mail). However, applications done this way tend to be time-consuming and expensive.

Mental Preparation

If traveling in a developing country for the first time – or in a new part of the world – don't underestimate the potential culture shock. Many a stable, capable traveler has been overcome by the newness of developing world travel, where many little cultural adjustments can add up quickly. Especially in your initial days, consider splurging on Western-style and -quality hotels, food, and services to help acclimatize.

It may help to think in terms of "rupees" and "whoopies". The terms originated with a two-year-old who could not pronounce the Indian currency, rupees, and called them "whoopies". The parents decided that their travel budget included some of each, and that the distinction was important. When the tourist restaurant has an expensive lunch and you walk down the street to a cafe full of locals and eat basically the same meal for a third the price, you are saving your rupees. Good move. However, when it is hot, noisy and dusty, there are beggars everywhere, and you take refuge in an air-conditioned restaurant that serves bad lamb-burgers for twice the cost of the tourist restaurant's lunch, you are spending whoopies. Enjoy the cool and don't worry much about the cost.

Often a good escape is the buffet breakfast or lunch at a good hotel. Many of these are very good and some superb. These are generally outrageously priced by local standards, but often quite reasonable by Western standards.


Do note that some of the following is also advisable in some high income countries, but is often doubly valid in developing countries.

In many places any obvious tourist or newcomer will be swamped with offers of guides, hotels, and taxi services. It's important to look like you know what you're doing, and not be forced into accepting an offer just because you arrived unprepared.

In many places, it is better to avoid the people yelling "taxi?" inside the airport or train station; they are often touting for or driving unlicensed meter-less taxis. Furthermore, they often make their money by taking you to specific hotels, which give them a referral fee. You are better off taking the airport bus or going outside and looking for a real taxi with a license and often a meter.

One way to avoid the crush, especially in India, is to use a local agent for booking accommodation or internal travel in advance. When you arrive at your destination the local agent will be waiting with your name on a notice and they will have a driver to take you to your hotel. It might cost a little bit more but it beats walking out of an air terminal at midnight after a long flight, into pandemonium.

A good arrival checklist for these situations includes all the tips for Arriving in a new city plus:

Get around

One sad but undeniable fact of travelling in developing countries is that transportation infrastructure is generally not up to the standards of more developed countries. Therefore, those from more developed countries should plan more time to cover the same distance that they would back home. Safety can also be an issue, particularly if air or sea travel is involved, so do some research before you go. Maybe somewhat surprisingly to European travellers rail travel might be entirely unavailable or actually slower than buses due to the network being built in the colonial era and not being maintained or updated much since. Some remote inland locations may only be feasibly reachable by boat or air travel, thus increasing cost, hassle and notably time you spend getting there. While sometimes the government subsidizes transport and even air transport, lack of competition can drive prices significantly. Why is the one hour hop on a Cessna 200 Dollars one way, you ask? Well because the alternative is an old bus that takes at least 24 hours and may or may not break down on the dirt road that gets you there.


See also: Phrasebooks

Try acquiring some knowledge of the local language. Yes, you can probably get by on just English in most of the world, but even the ability to say "hello", "please", "thank you", "excuse me", and so on in the local language goes a long way. "Leave me alone" and "don't touch me" aren't far behind. Numbers, "how much does it cost," and "too expensive" are also quite useful.

In several countries, especially in former British colonies, you can often get by with just English. For example, in India, nearly every educated person speaks some English and many are fluent. Even many of the less educated have some English, at least recognize some simple words and phrases. In such situations, it is possible to travel almost any region using simple English – basic words and phrases. The key is to use just such common words and phrases, and learn to pronounce them in a more local (or locally comprehensible) accent.

For long trips in a region, consider learning a regional language if there is one. For example, Russian is widely used in Central Asia where many countries were once part of the Soviet Union. It is easier to learn a bit of Russian than to tackle all the local languages Tajik, Uzbek, Turkoman, Uighur and may be almost as useful. French plays a similar role for parts of Africa, Spanish and/or Portuguese in Latin America. For very basic communication a pidgin of Spanish and Portuguese is often understood by native speakers of both languages if you speak slow enough and use simple, clearly enunciated sentences. Your chances are better when using Spanish with Portuguese-speakers than the other way round. For English speakers Russian, French or Spanish may be easier to learn than the local languages.

See our talk article for more detailed discussion.


Do not sleep on a mattress or pad on the ground in areas where you do not know the local fauna. If you are going to camp out, bring a camp cot or hammock to keep you away from snakes, scorpions and such. Use mosquito nets around your bed in countries where mosquitoes carry malaria, dengue or yellow fever.

Stay safe

If you are from the developed world, your income is likely enormous in relation to that of many people in some developing countries (though not in others). The UN estimates that over a billion people live on under $1 US a day. If you wander into their territory waving around a camera whose price exceeds local annual income, expect a reaction. Even your backpack, boots, watch and clothes may each cost a few months' local income, sometimes even more than a year's income for the poorer locals. If you insist on using these items, consider altering them to (1) make them look dirty or rusted, and (2) reduce their potential resale value.

Reactions vary, but be prepared to deal with:

Take precautions, but do not get paranoid about it. Of course people want your money, but don't let that spoil a trip.

In parts of Asia and Latin America, aggressive dogs are another concern.

If travelling in a country that is currently experiencing widespread violence, such as a civil war, you need to take many extra precautions, see War zone safety.


One unfortunate fact of life is that police corruption is likely to be more of an issue the less developed a country is. As such, you should not expect much help from the police if you have been a victim of crime, as criminals often bribe police officers to avoid arrest. You should still make a police report as the police report would generally be required for you to claim insurance on the value of any items stolen.

It is also not uncommon for police officers in developing countries to ask for bribes, especially with regards to traffic offenses and the like. Although this may be somewhat unethical, your best option would generally be to try to negotiate with them as best as you can, and eventually pay them the money agreed upon. Unfortunately, refusing to pay them can often bring you more trouble than is worth, especially if the officer involved is one of significant clout. Reporting the incident to higher authorities often proves futile, as in many poorer countries, even the top echelons of the government and police can be more interested in collecting bribes than actually keeping the country safe.

Stay healthy

Developing countries pose health hazards. Many have poor sanitation and/or poor health care and/or a hot climate that allows various diseases practically unknown in temperate Western countries to propagate. See a doctor with experience in travel medicine, or visit a specialist clinic, at least 8 weeks before your planned departure. This gives enough time for the vaccinations.

Contaminated drinking water is one of the leading sources of health problems for travelers. Check country listings for your destination(s) for details of hazards there, and for availability of bottled water or alternatives. Consider carrying a means of purifying water. A good filter takes out everything down to 0.2 micron, all bacteria and many viruses. Boiling or ultraviolet (UV) radiation may be even more effective, depending on what you want to get rid of, but those require equipment. Iodine tablets are widely used. Consult a doctor with knowledge of the area you are going to.

Inorganic water contaminants, such as insecticides or heavy metals, are a different problem and cannot be dealt with by the usual sterilization methods. Check our destination articles and government health warnings to see if these will be a problem.

Malaria existed in Europe until at least World War II, so mosquitoes may carry malaria even in relatively cold climates. Generally the best prevention against the most common mosquito transmitted diseases — malaria (mosquitoes active mostly at night, various types of treatment available), yellow fever (vaccine available) and dengue (day-active mosquitoes, no treatment, experimental vaccine not yet widely available) — is not getting bitten by mosquitoes in the first place. Covered skin will be bitten less often, so wear long trousers and covering t-shirts or pullovers if you can. Mosquito nets are a effective and cheap way to protect yourself at night. Consider using permethrin-treated fabrics for both clothing and gear.

Carry a diarrhea medicine; you are almost certain to need it at some point. For many destinations, sun screen and/or mosquito repellent are also essential. Carrying your own anti-bacterial soap and/or hand wipes can be a useful precaution. For some journeys, a full first aid kit is advisable.

AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are poorly controlled in many developing countries. If there is any chance you will have sex with anyone except a long-term partner, carry condoms.

Your diet will change somewhat to suit unfamiliar foods and you may lose nutrients due to various illnesses. Using one-a-day multivitamin tablets is a sensible precaution. To greatly reduce your risk of food-related problems remember this rule for fruits and vegetables: peel it, wash it, boil it or reject it (though be careful, too, about the safety of any water used to wash a vegetable).

See also Travellers' diarrhea, Tropical diseases, Sunburn and sun protection and Altitude sickness.



For travel in developing countries, you may need to carry things you would not need nearer home:

Budget travellers will also need:

You might also need:

For more suggestions, see Packing list.

See also

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, March 17, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.