Practical info for foreign journalists

This guide has been put together by a small group of local and international journalists currently working principally in Yemen. Its aim is to help provide up-to-date information on how to avoid obstacles to reporting by getting proper permission to travel to Yemen and work as a freelance journalist. The situation in Yemen is fluid, and many of these suggestions and procedures can change at any time. Be flexible and prepared to take other measures as circumstances dictate.

Many large media organisations have recently sent personnel to Yemen and their operations have unfortunately changed the scale and expectations of the media support system. Fixers and authorizing officials often ask for large amounts of money for their help.  The result of this is that fewer journalists - only those who can afford the increased costs - are able to come to provide coverage. Notwithstanding, coverage is needed in Yemen now more than ever. The situation many Yemenis are facing is desperate. It is also a time of extreme uncertainty for all, mixed with an unstable political situation. This, of course, makes it hard for journalists both to receive permission to travel to Yemen and to operate once they have arrived. In fact, some journalists have been forced to leave after just a few weeks of work, despite having visas that authorized work for up to three months. Please also be aware that traditional fixers are no longer welcomed by the local authorities, as they are seen as independent bodies. The Ministry now requires you to apply directly to it for permission to work as a journalist and to make other arrangements. For now using fixers (who often ask for large fees) to apply for press documentation is, in our experience, definitely not recommended. You should apply directly. 

The starting point to enter the country is to apply for a journalist letter of permission from the Yemeni Ministry of Information. Contact at the Ministry of Information: Ahmed Al-Lahaby - Yemen Ministry of Information. Phone: 0967 7771 78943. When you apply for your letter you need to state how long you intend to stay for, where you want to visit exactly, whom you will be working for and where you will stay.  

Documents to send: 

  • Passport, colour copy 
  • Photocopy of your press pass (if you have one) 
  • Letter from a media company stating what you intend to work on whilst in Yemen, your employer and whom you’ve written for 

Once received, the journalist letter confirms that National Security, Political Security and the Ministry of Information have approved you. This is your KEY permission, which will allow you to apply for a journalist visa and travel into the country as a journalist. Be sure that the Ministry sends the approved permission letter to you directly. Keep the journalist permission letter handy; it is the second half of your permission - along with your visa - to enter the country and work as a journalist. In fact make and bring multiple photocopies of the letter; most officials assume they can keep the copy you give them. You should give a copy of this letter to immigration along with your visa when you land. Once you have a printed copy of the journalist letter, you can apply for a visa. Go to the Yemeni embassy in your country with this letter and apply for a journalist visa.  

Important to note - when you apply for a visa, make sure that the embassy gives you a press/journalist visa. This is absolutely required and anything else is wrong; not a visitor visa, not a tourist visa, not an unlabelled visa - it must specifically say journalist. Double-check it, as many embassies have never issued a journalist visa before. It is a new requirement introduced at the start of the conflict. It looks much like a normal visa but will have a stamp and writing in Arabic stating that you are press. If you don’t read Arabic, make sure someone who does confirms before you leave the city where the embassy is located that your visa says journalist. If you do not receive a proper journalist visa you will be deported.  

Concerning travelling, flying to Sana’a was the best option until a couple of months ago, in fact the situation is very fluid and changing on a daily basis. Check with your contacts in Yemen or through the FB Yemen Logistics group site. It is currently not possible to reach Sana'a with a normal flight because of the imposed siege but it’s necessary to ask for a seat on the UN flight, travelling from Djbuti. If you’d like to use civilian flights the best way at the moment is to fly through Amman. Buy a ticket from the Yemenia Airways ticket office when you arrive in Amman airport. You need also to buy a return, It’s $800 cash each way. It’s still possible to fly from Cairo or Khartoum with Yemenia Airways. These flights stop in Saudi Arabia. You also need permission from Saudi Arabia to fly from there to Yemen. Do this by sending copies of all your visa and press documents (colour copy of passport,  copy of visa, copy of Ministry of Information letter of permission) to the director of Yemenia Airways (Hatim. Phone: 00 962 78950 3790), which you should do 24 hours before you fly. Once you have permission you can buy a ticket.  

Information Ministry Minders Upon Arrival - The Ministry and security will require you to use a minder.  The minder will keep close track of you.  It is best to accept this and work with them; they can help resolve many things.  They may on occasion need some persuasion, especially where the reporting situation is tricky. Tell the Ministry what your exact intentions and trip are before you arrive: They will want to help schedule your stay, they will even pick you up from the airport. They are currently asking $50 a day for a minder. The minder is compulsory. Their role will be something between a fixer and a local guide. The minder requirement might change soon, but currently it is being enforced by higher level security. Be nice to your minder.  If relations sour with your minder/Ministry-appointed translator or the Ministry itself, it can be quite difficult to repair these relations and you may be forced to leave. Permissions for travel have been restricted over (perceived) non-compliance with instructions from ministries and assigned minders/translators.  Unfortunately, relations between non-minder fixers and the Ministry are not good at the moment because the Ministry prefers that journalists deal with them directly through their appointed minder. This is true both for applications before you enter Yemen and once you arrive. Remember we are all being watched, so be careful what you say, and use secure Internet communications (such as Tor and its derivatives) whenever online. Remember your actions can affect others.  

Costs for Services: 

Safety - there is no way to estimate costs. Be careful and use good judgment to get around - that’s your call. 

  • Car - taxis are easy to use in the city. 
  • Translations per day - $50 or 12,000 Rial. 
  • Outside the ex-capital Sana'a: Expect to pay twice as much for all these services 

A driver and a good car (4x4 style not taxi) outside the city cost $150 - $200 a day plus fuel at the current rate, which is around $25 for 20 liters (constantly changing). This price is for fuel from an official fuel station, which may involve waiting times. If you do not want to wait days for fuel, or if there is no fuel, you may have to resort to the black market. Current prices are about $50 for 20 liters. Sana’a to Sadaa takes roughly 100 liters for the round trip. Note – be sure your driver has a working spare tire as the roads are covered in metal splinters.  

For Aden the process is separate. Please also be aware it is currently not a good idea to come to Sana’a if you have previously been to Aden. It threatens both your security and may result in your not being able to get into Sana’a. 

To leave the country you will need an Exit Visa from Yemeni immigration, after 15 days of your staying. You need to get this at least one week before you plan to travel. You can ask the Ministry for help in doing this for you. The exit visa is a blue sticker very much like your entry visa. This guide, due to the daily situation, is submitted to updates and significant changes.