Bargaining isn't as much a part of life in Lebanon as in other parts of the Middle East, but in traditional shopping districts, it's still standard practice.
Dangers & Annoyances
Many countries, including the UK, Australia and the USA, have been counselling their citizens to reconsider their need to travel to all or certain parts of Lebanon. Most specifically, foreign offices advised against travel to the southern suburbs of Beirut, Saida, areas south of the Litani River (with the exception of Tyre), the upper Bekaa Valley, all areas bordering Syria and northern Lebanon north of a line from Tripoli to Sir Ed Dinniyeh and Arsal. Some also advised against travel to Baalbek and Tripoli.
- Before travelling to Lebanon, register your travel with your country's foreign affairs department so that you can be sent security updates. When in the country, monitor the Daily Star or L'Orient–Le Jour for up-to-the-minute news and regularly check the websites of foreign embassies for security updates. Be aware that the political and security situation in Syria can impact Lebanon and compromise its stability, and that Israeli missiles are sometimes fired into southern Lebanon. Also be aware that there are currently no safe land exits from the country and that airport access is sometimes blocked at time of strife, making it impossible to leave the country.
- Bekaa Valley is Hezbollah's heartland, but Isis (Islamic State) were still active in the far north. There's also a history of foreigners being kidnapped for ransom here. Before travelling, check the security situation with your embassy and in the Lebanese press.
- At time of research, Tripoli was still regarded as unsafe by some foreign governments, with the risk of being caught up in factional violence and terrorist attacks a real one.
- While central Beirut was seen as safe to visit by most governments, the risk of a terrorist attack on the city remained high.
- Throughout the country, be very aware when taking photographs, as there are numerous guard posts, military installations and sensitive areas.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information:
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.smarttraveller.gov.au)
- British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories)
- France Diplomatie (www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/conseils-aux-voyageurs)
- German Auswärtiges Amt (www.auswaertiges-amt.de)
- US State Department (http://travel.state.gov)
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Lebanon's country code||961|
|International access code||00|
|Ambulance & emergencies||140|
|General security information||1717|
Entry & Exit Formalities
- Travellers can bring in up to 800 cigarettes, 2L of spirits or 4L of beer/wine.
- Removal of archaeological items from Lebanon is strictly prohibited.
- See www.customs.gov.lb for full details of import and export restrictions.
Free one-month single-entry tourist visas renewable for three months are available at Rafic Hariri International Airport for citizens of many countries.
Free one-month single-entry tourist visas can be obtained on arrival by citizens of countries including Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, the UK and the USA. A paid visa-on-arrival system was in place for some other countries. For the most up-to-date information, visit the website of Lebanon’s General Security Office (www.general-security.gov.lb/en).
To extend your one-month visa to a three-month visa, go to the General Directorate of General Security in Beirut a few days before your first month ends; you'll find the office across the road from the National Museum – head to the 2nd floor. Take your passport, two passport photos, and two photocopies of your passport ID page and the page where your entry visa was stamped. Once your application is processed, you'll be given a receipt and told to return in seven days to collect your passport with its extended visa.
Practical Tip: Israeli Passport Stamps
Lebanon denies entry to all travellers with evidence of a visit to Israel in their passport. If asked at a border crossing or at the airport if you’ve ever been to Israel, bear in mind that saying ‘yes’ (if you have) will mean you won’t be allowed into the country.
Multicultural Lebanon is used to different customs and ways of behaving so don't be afraid you're going to offend anybody.
- Greetings Shaking hands when meeting someone is a standard greeting except for with Muslim women.
- Invitations When visiting a Lebanese home, it's polite to take a gift. Don't offer gifts with the left hand alone.
- Coffee Offering coffee is a common Lebanese courtesy and it can be seen as rude to refuse the offer.
Despite some encouraging recent judicial decisions, homosexuality is still illegal in Lebanon. Nevertheless, there’s a thriving – if clandestine – gay scene in Beirut. Gay-friendly cafes, bars and clubs include B 018, Posh and Madame Om.
There have been spells of police harassment of gay men in Beirut, with the arrests of patrons in some hammams and cinemas. There were also reports of invasive body searches being perpetrated on men in police custody. Before attending known gay venues, check the current situation with Helem (www.helem.net), a protection organisation for LGBTIQ people.
Wi-fi is widely available, offered for free in nearly every accommodation choice and commonly in restaurants, cafes and bars.
Mobile phone coverage is good across the country, so buying a local SIM card and data package is the easiest way to get online.
You should carry your passport at all times, as military and police checkpoints are common.
Though Lebanon is a major marijuana producer, and recreational use is widespread, penalties are harsh. Police have a reputation for entrapping users to solicit substantial bribes.
- The Daily Star (www.dailystar.com.lb) provides coverage of local news in English and the daily L'Orient–Le Jour (www.lorientlejour.com) does the same in French.
- The major local TV channels are the government-run broadcaster Tele-Liban and an array of commercial channels, many of which are politically aligned.
ATMs are widely available, and credit cards accepted in most accommodation and higher-end restaurants. US dollars are accepted countrywide.
ATMs are reliable and available, and dispense cash in both Lebanese lira and US dollars. ATM fees vary very widely for withdrawing money with foreign cards, so try a few. At last research, SGBL and Banque Libano-Française worked best.
Lebanon’s currency is the Lebanese lira (LL), also known as the Lebanese pound (LBP). Banknotes are of the following denominations: 1000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000 lira; there are also 25, 50, 100, 250 and 500 lira coins.
US dollars are a second currency here and higher-end establishments rarely quote prices in anything else. You'll often get change in a mixture of the two currencies.
|Israel & the Palestinian Territories||1NIS||LL424|
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Tipping is widespread in Lebanon.
- Hotel porters and parking valets Somewhere around LL4000, depending on the level of service, will be appreciated.
- Waiters Usually tipped around 10% to 15%, but check your bill before doing so: some places automatically add a 15% service charge.
Banks 8.30am to 2pm Monday to Friday, to noon Saturday
Post offices & government offices 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday, to 1.30pm Saturday
Restaurants Nonstandard; roughly 11am to 1am
Shops 10am to 7pm Monday to Friday, to mid-afternoon Saturday
Liban Post (www.libanpost.com) has offices all over the country, including several in Beirut. Check their website for locations.
New Year’s Day 1 January
Orthodox Christmas Day 6 January
Feast of Saint Maroun 9 February – feast of the patron saint of the Maronites
Easter March/April – Good Friday to Easter Monday
Labour Day 1 May
Martyrs’ Day 6 May
Assumption 15 August
All Saints’ Day 1 November
Independence Day 22 November
Christmas Day 25 December
Muslim holidays are also observed.
Though a law restricting smoking indoors exists, it isn't widely enforced.
The Lebanese are enthusiastic smokers, recently ranking third worldwide in consumption per capita. Smoking shisha pipes is a very common social activity in cafes.
Taxes & Refunds
An 11% value-added tax (VAT) applies to most purchases in Lebanon and is nearly always included in the quoted price. You can claim back VAT on purchases in shops of over US$100 either through the shop itself or at the airport on departure.
Buying a local SIM card is the best way to access the local telephone network.
Mobile-phone coverage extends throughout most of the country (bar a few remote, mountainous areas). Check with your mobile provider before leaving home whether you'll have roaming service in Lebanon.
Local SIM cards
Local Touch and Alfa SIM cards are widely available from phone stores, cost around US$35 (including some credit and data), are activated immediately and can be easily recharged.
The country code for Lebanon is 961, followed by the local area code (minus the zero), then the subscriber number. The area code when dialling a mobile phone is 03 or 70. The international access code (to call abroad from Lebanon) is 00.
Lebanon is on Eastern European Time (GMT/UTC plus two hours). From late March to late October, daylight savings is in place, advancing the clocks a further hour.
- Both sit-down and squat toilets are available, but the former predominate.
- Toilet paper shouldn't be flushed.
The Lebanese Ministry of Tourism (www.destinationlebanon.gov.lb) runs several helpful tourist offices across the country. Brochures and maps on various towns and regions are available for download from their website.
Lebanon is a challenging place to travel for those with disabilities. Pavements are uneven and often in disrepair, while public transport has no wheelchair access. At time of research, there was no wheelchair-friendly taxi company in Beirut. Few hotels and very few restaurants and bars have accessible toilets.
That said, the Lebanese are extremely welcoming to disabled travellers and will do their utmost to assist.
The main NGO dealing with accessibility issues for the disabled is the LPHU (www.lphu.com). Though their website is exclusively in Arabic, they will respond to requests for information via the Contact tab.
Travel with Children
Lebanon is a child-friendly destination, and hotels and restaurants are well set-up for families. Baby supplies are widely available at pharmacies and large supermarkets.
Beirut has child-friendly attractions like Planet Discovery and its range of beach clubs. All along the coast, hotels have pool and beach areas that are specifically family-focused and are great places for kids to meet.
Numerous NGOs in Lebanon, working especially with Syrian refugees, accept volunteers. Take heed of government travel advice before travelling to certain areas of the country.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Lebanon uses the metric system.
Lebanon is a relatively easy destination for solo female travellers. Western-style clothes are common in Beirut, and revealing beach wear is acceptable in the beach clubs that line the sands from Saida up to Byblos. However, modest clothing is recommended for areas outside Beirut and the beach. In mosques or religious sites, women should cover their shoulders and heads, and avoid wearing shorts or short skirts. In taxis, it's best to sit in the back seat.
Finding work teaching English is a possibility and you may be able to pick up some summer bar work along the coastal resorts.