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Area, Geography, and Climate Last Updated: 9/15/2003 7:37 AM

Area, Geography, and Climate

Last updated: 7/30/03 6:00 PM

The Syrian Arab Republic is at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea and at the northern end of the Afro-Asian Rift Valley. It abuts Turkey on its northern border; Iraq on its east; Jordan on the south; and Israel, Lebanon, and the Mediterranean on the west. Syria's area, approximately 185,000 square kilometers (71,500 square miles), comprises several distinct climatic conditions. The western coastal plain is a narrow, fertile stretch of land that is the most humid area of the country, with milder winters and summers than the rest of the country. Due east in the Orontes River Valley, the northern extension of the Afro-Asian rift, is a rich agricultural area that continues into the Bekaa Valley to the south. East of the Orontes Valley begins the desert region.

The largest cities of Syria, Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo, are located on the eastern side of the mountain spine created by the rift. Further to the east is the Syrian Desert with its ancient oasis-city, Palmyra. In the northeast, the Anatolian Mountains serve as a natural barrier between Syria and Turkey and between Syria and Iraq. Here is found the Jazira Valley, watered by the Euphrates River, which is the grain belt of Syria. The oil fields of Syria are also in this area.

Damascus, the capital and one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, rests at about 700 meters (2,300 feet) above sea level on the Barada River in the southwestern section of the country. Climatic conditions in Damascus are comparable to those of cities in the southwestern U.S. There are four seasons in the city, with spring, winter, and fall generally lasting 8 to 12 weeks apiece. Summers can be long, dry, and hot. Short winters can be cold and rainy, with occasional snow. Average annual rainfall in Damascus was 81.6 millimeters (3.21 inches) during the years 1997-2001.

Temperatures in the city range from lows 0 °C (32 °F) at night to highs of 20 °C (68 °F during the day in the winter, and in the summer from 16 °C (60 °F) to 38 °C (100 °F). Though snow falls infrequently in Damascus, it does snow in the mountains near the city, and some roads are impassible during these storms. The climatic variation in Syria allows a robust agriculture with year-round availability of fruits and vegetables, most staple grains, and cotton.

Population Last Updated: 9/15/2003 7:39 AM


Last updated: 07/30/03

Syria's population is estimated at 17-18 million, with approximately 60% in the urban centers and the remainder comprising a strong agrarian rural minority. Population in the Damascus metropolitan area is estimated around 4 million; Aleppo, the second largest city has 1.5 million people; and Homs has 400,000. Roughly 90% of the citizens are Arab and 9% Kurds. Other minorities include Armenian Circassians, and Turks. Around 74% of the populace is Sunni Muslim. Alawis account for 12% and Christians 10%. Other religious minorities represented in Syria include the Druze (3%), Sh’ia Muslims, and a dwindling community of Jews.

Arabic is the official language of the country. Many professionals and businesspeople speak English. French is still spoken by many educated Syrians, particularly the older generation. Kurdish, Armenian Syriac, and Circassian are other minority languages in use in Syria.

Public Institutions Last Updated: 9/15/2003 7:41 AM

Public Institutions

Last updated: 07/30/03

Syria has a presidential form of government, with dominant executive power held by the President who, with counsel from his ministers, high-ranking members of the ruling Ba'th Party, and a relatively small circle of security advisers, makes key decisions regarding foreign policy, national security, internal politics, and the economy. All three branches of government are influenced to varying degrees by leaders of the Ba'th Party, which has ruled the country since 1963,and whose primacy in state institutions and the Parliament is mandated by the Constitution. The Parliament, or Syrian People’s Council, is composed of 250 members elected from lists prepared in various governorates but Constitutionally-mandated to represent the population at large. Syria has a judicial system based on the French Napoleonic Code. The highest court of appeal is the Court of Cassation, equivalent to the U.S. Supreme Court. Syria’s armed forces and security services are extremely influential in Syrian political life.

The Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Industry, Syria’s largest commercial organizations, reflect the country’s business and agriculture-based economy. Many governmental and religious social organizations operate orphanages and hospitals in addition to private (for-profit) health care providers.

Arts, Science, and Education Last Updated: 9/15/2003 7:43 AM

Arts, Science, and Education

Last updated: 07/30/03

Damascus maintains a world-class archeological and historical collection, housing samples of its lengthy history from Neolithic times to the arts of today. Entering through the gateway of the Qasr al-Hair al-Gharbi palace, which was transferred to the Museum from from an Omayyad desert palace near Palmyra, one finds Hittite, Assyrian, Phoenician, Greek, Roman, and Islamic antiquities. There is a reconstructed early 2ndcentury underground tomb (hypogeum of Yarhai) from Palmyra, a reconstructed 2nd century synagogue from Dura Europos, and an elaborately detailed salon from an 18th century Damascene house. Next door to the museum are the Suleimaniye Mosque, madrasa (school), and hospice. This classic Ottoman complex was designed and built around 1560 in Syrian fashion with black-and-white striped masonry and contains one of the loveliest gardens in Damascus. The highlight is the architectural jewel of the Mosque, the only mosque in Damascus built by the consummate Turkish architect, Sinan. The complex houses the Military Museum and a handicraft market that displays all the traditional crafts of Syria.

Damascus claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth, and the heart of this history is the Old City. From the Street called Straight (the Roman decumanus maximus) to the Omayyed Mosque (originally a pagan temple, then a church, now a mosque representing the fourth holiest Islamic site) to the houses and palaces sprinkled throughout the Old City, the sense of history is omnipresent and almost palpable.

The Azm Palace, near the Omayyad Mosque (Islam’s first great house of prayer), is in the heart of the Old City. Built in Turkish design in the 18th century, it houses displays of everyday Damascene life, now long gone. Other highlights of the Old City include Khan of Asad Pasha, an 18th century caravanserai, and the Hamam Nur al-Din, a 12th century Turkish bath which is open (for men) on a daily basis. The site where the biblical Paul was converted to Christianity is remembered in the Church of Anania near Bab Sharqi (the Eastern Gate) of the Old City of Damascus.

Museums throughout the country capture the enormous diversity of the cultures and ages of Syria. Archeological sites from the Bronze Age (Ebla) through Graeco-Roman (Palmyra), Nabataen-Roman (Bosra) and Islamic/Crusader (Salahaddin’s Fortress, Krak de Chevalier) are not only sites to visit but also venues for cultural events that occur throughout the year.

Contemporary and modem art galleries are found around Damascus with frequently scheduled exhibitions. Other exhibits take place at the Arab Cultural Centers, the Asad Library, the People's Gallery, and the exhibition hall of the National Museum. There are more than 30 Arab Cultural Centers throughout the country. Several embassies also operate cultural centers in Damascus, including the British, French, German, Russian, Spanish, Italian, and Turkish.

The American Cultural Center, first established in the 1950s, represents the public face of U.S. foreign policy. It houses a library with a small Internet café, a collection of some 5,000 books and magazines, and a growing collection of CD-ROMs and on-line databases. The library is geared to meet the needs of Syrian nationals, particularly those with a knowledge of English and an interest in research topics. The Center also has an energetic schedule of activities ranging from a weekly film night, to lectures, roundtables and art exhibitions. The Center also hosts several U.S. performing groups, speakers, and artists each year.

An arts facility consisting of an opera house, other performance spaces, and conservatories of Music and of Drama have been built opposite the Asad Library at Omayyad Circle. Damascus has one of the few symphonies and opera troupes in the Middle East. In addition, the National Symphony Orchestra plays at the Omayyed Conference Center at the Cham Ebla hotel near the airport. There is a music conservatory in Aleppo (est. 1964) as well. Instructors of voice and instruments are available in Damascus, and instruments are available for purchase or rent.

Cultural activities take place in Damascus all year long, with respites during the month of August and the Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. The Bosra International Festival highlights folklore and performing arts groups from around the world, and is held every other year in September in the restored Roman amphitheater of Bosra, two hours’ drive south of Damascus.

Since independence, Syria’s educational facilities have grown in quality and quantity. The literacy rate has increased from 30% to about 71% (86% male, 56% female). Elementary education is compulsory and bright Syrian students are entitled to free education from elementary through university levels. The government has emphasized education as a major goal by establishing a system of teacher-training colleges. English language teaching now begins at the third grade level, and in two years will begin at the first grade level. Vocational schools are available throughout the country. The Ministry of Education controls the curricula and teaching methods of primary and secondary schools, excluding those with exclusively foreign student populations or operating under a licensed foreign charter.

Damascus University and Syrian higher education date back to 1903, when Turkish rulers founded a school of medicine and pharmacy in Damascus. During the French Mandate, authorities added several more faculties to form the Syrian University, now known as Damascus University. This institution now encompasses nine separate locations in the city and enrolls 87,000 students.

Aleppo University, founded in 1961, was a joint effort by the Syrian Government and UNESCO, supplemented by the Ford Foundation. It is a modem facility with faculties in engineering, agriculture medicine, law, and letters. Enrollment is about 50,000. Tishrin University in Lattakia, founded in 1977, includes the Maritime Institute and enrolls around 32,000. The Bath University of Homs, founded in 1979, is the newest in the Syrian university system. It features an agricultural facility and veterinary facility in Hama and has a 22,000-member student body. A new campus is under construction.

All universities are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Higher Education. Arabic is the language of instruction for all undergraduate work, including the medical schools. Postgraduate work requires a functional knowledge of a foreign language. The system of education reflects French influence in organization, nomenclature of degrees, and method of teaching. Special Arabic classes for foreigners are offered at the Language Institute at Damascus University.

Information on diplomatic/dependent attendance, enrollment requirements, and the quality of education is available from the Community Liaison Office (CLO) at the Embassy.

Commerce and Industry Last Updated: 9/15/2003 7:45 AM

Commerce and Industry

Last updated: 07-30-03

Syria is a middle-income developing country with a diversified economic base in agriculture and industry. Per capita income is officially about $1000 a year but is likely substantially higher as people often engage in unofficial employment outside their day jobs to supplement their income. Syria has fair water resources and still relies heavily on agricultural production. The Euphrates River and its tributaries flow south from Turkey through the northeast of the country, the Orontes waters the fertile Ghab Valley in the inland west, mountain streams feed the coast, and the Yarmuk quenches the volcanic soil of the southwest.

Situated astride the traditional trade routes linking Europe with the Arabian Peninsula and Asia, Syria has always had a large and dynamic merchant class. In the past decade, Syria has also become an important producer of crude oil. From the 1960s until recently, the government pursued nationalization policies to enlarge the industrial base. These included building cement factories, a steel mill, oil refineries, a fertilizer plant, sugar refineries, grain silos, and flour mills that now supply most of the country’s basic needs. Nationalization also affected Syria’s financial, banking, and insurance sectors. Under government management, the competitiveness and efficiency of these enterprises have atrophied, mainly due to monopolistic practices, overemployment, inadequate compensation of employees, and low rates of capital replenishment. In the past few years, some industries have been opened to competition from the private sector and economic reform has become a critical policy focus for the Syrian government. Price controls for many goods, especially fuel and foodstuffs, are still in effect, although the government is gradually lifting many of these.

In the early 1990’s, rising oil production, record harvests, Gulf War-related aid flows, and government incentives to stimulate private investment spurred an annual GDP growth of 7-8%. In recent years, however, diminishing foreign aid, extended drought, fluctuating prices for oil and agricultural commodities, and global recession have hurt the Syrian economy. In addition, continuing regional tensions resulting from the Arab/Israeli conflict, new concerns from the U.S.-led Global War on Terror, and the recent war in Iraq have eroded investor confidence in Syria. Growth rates from 1997 to 1999 were negative, though the economy is believed to have recovered slightly in 2001 (3% growth is reported by Syrian authorities for 2001 but it was likely closer to 0%). 2002 saw growth of around 3% primarily due to increased trade with Iraq. The state media optimistically forecasts a 3.5% - 3.7% growth rate for 2003, although outside economic observers put the figure closer to 0% due to the interruption in trade with Iraq as well as the cut off in the flow of discounted Iraqi crude.

Unlike other socialist governments, Syria never destroyed its merchant class, leaving agricultural production and trade in its hands. The investment incentive law (Law #10), passed in 1991 helped to buoy the private sector investment by encouraging greater foreign investment. Additional ad hoc economic liberalization measures have fostered this regeneration of private sector industry. However, Syria’s inefficient and anachronistic government-run financial sector has severely inhibited Syrians' repatriation of capital invested abroad, as well as foreign investment. As the Syrian Government carries out the next steps of its incremental reform program, the private sector should respond with increased investment and it will take its rightful place at center stage of the Syrian economy. Political will to move in this direction seems to be present but implementation of reforms remains excruciatingly slow. Recent positive signs include the licensing of the first three private banks as well as the scrapping of currency control legislation, which paves the way for a private financial system.

Today Syria exports crude petroleum, cotton, textiles, phosphates, fruit, lamb and basic processed food products to Europe and to other Arab countries. Meanwhile, its main imports are raw materials essential for industry and agriculture, advanced oil field equipment, computer equipment, and heavy machinery used in the construction of infrastructure projects.

The Syrian Pound (SP) has been relatively stable for the past 5 years. The exchange rate for non-commercial transactions (this rate is available at the Commercial Bank of Syria for all expatriates) has recently been liberalized and is very close to the free market rate (the rate one can purchase SP on the local black market or in neighboring countries). Currently, the exchange rate is approximately SP 51.5/USD.


Automobiles Last Updated: 9/15/2003 7:47 AM


Last updated: 07/30/03

Personal vehicles, while not a necessity within the Damascus city limits (5.7 miles across), are useful to have. The most frequented venues are within walking distance of the Embassy or a taxi ride away. International rules of the road apply, and driving is on the right-hand side. Driving can be a challenging experience; rules of the road are flexibly interpreted and executed. Parking can also be difficult; Damascus (like most older major metropolitan areas) was not designed with 20th-century vehicular traffic in mind, and the sidewalks that presently exist are often used for additional parking spaces.

Personal vehicles belonging to diplomatic list personnel (initially, everyone assigned to the Mission) are registered and licensed free of charge.

Anyone planning to drive in Syria needs a Syrian drivers license. Diplomatic personnel are issued Syrian drivers licenses upon application and presentation of a valid U.S. or foreign license and five current photos. The fee is waived for all bearers of diplomatic passports. It takes about 2 weeks to process and obtain the license.

The Syrian Government requires that all vehicles have third-party liability insurance, and special additional coverage if the vehicle is a pickup. These are available from local public sector insurance companies and must be purchased here prior to release of a vehicle from the port. It is a requirement to keep proof of insurance in each vehicle. Annual premiums are calculated locally by taxable horsepower schedules and average about 2,000SL. Comprehensive coverage is available in Syria. The rates are not exorbitant, but the actual terms and coverage are not well defined. Owners of American vehicles that require insurance in the terms of the loan may do best to check with a U.S. provider that does international insuring. Warning: Some insurers do not cover Syria, and there is specific insurance for Syria from those that do. Check the terms and limitations of U.S.-issued insurance for coverage and applicability in Syria.

The Embassy motor pool runs primarily General Motors vehicles with some Ford, Nissan, and Toyota small trucks and cars. U.S. Government personnel assigned to Damascus own a broad selection of personal cars. The most popular are Toyota vehicles. There are some suppliers of original manufactured car parts in Syria, but their stocks are often limited. It is probably wise to bring any replacement parts that may be specific to your automobile. Parts for many models made in the U.S. or Japan may be difficult to find in Syria. Mechanics and service are readily available, though they may not know your specific model. It is useful to bring a comprehensive manual.

Gasoline is universally available throughout the country, provided by Furat, the national oil company. The standard is 92-octane gas. Lead-free fuel is required within Damascus, but outside the capital both unleaded and leaded are sold in varying degrees of availability.

All-weather roads exist between most Syrian cities and to many tourist sites throughout the country. The roads are of reasonable quality, though most are traveled by heavy truck traffic and may be in varying states of repair. Driving is most dangerous at night when parked cars are unlit and unlit moving cars are traveling along the poorly lit highways.

Local Transportation Last Updated: 9/15/2003 7:49 AM

Local Transportation

Last updated: 07/30/03

There is an extensive public transportation system within Damascus that includes buses, taxis, and “service” vans. City bus service is inexpensive but generally crowded, and the system is hard to learn. The “service” system (shared vans that travel specific routes) is both cheap and efficient (vans are available practically every minute or two). It too, however, requires knowledge of the established routes. Taxis, the most popular form of public transport for foreigners, are readily available and inexpensive. Cabs are generally painted yellow and have a taxi emblem or light. They are also distinguishable by their red-lettered license plates. There are even radio-dispatched taxi services in the cities. Fares, usually on a meter, run from 25SL to 100SL (US$.50 to $2) for most in-city travel. The fare to the airport is around 500SL ($10) and may be a fixed amount without the use of the meter. If a taxicab does not have a meter, the fare should be agreed upon before entering the vehicle.

Although there are street names, most Syrians orient themselves by landmarks and well-known sites. If you know the street address of your destination, it is still useful to know a restaurant, hotel, government building, or embassy nearby that the locals use as reference.

Regional Transportation Last Updated: 9/15/2003 7:55 AM

Regional Transportation

Last updated: 07/30/03

It is relatively simple to travel throughout Syria using the public transportation systems. Climatized buses with waiters offering on-board snack service, en-route video presentations, and express destinations are available between major cities. Sample fares from Damascus to Aleppo average 100SL (US$2). Taxis are also available between most cities. One may either rent the whole vehicle or buy a seat. A Damascus-to-Aleppo taxi ride costs 500SL ($10); rental of the vehicle for the same trip is around 3,000SL ($60).

Rental cars with drivers are available and moderately priced. One-way trips to Aleppo and Latakia cost 4,500 to 6,SOOSL ($108 to $155), and round trips are prorated, costing about 35% more than the one-way fare. Trains operate on limited schedules to several cities around the country, but service and conditions are poor. Schedules of times and prices are available from the Ministry of Transportation.


International European carriers serve Damascus from Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Istanbul, London, Paris, Rome, and Vienna. Middle East carriers fly from Bahrain, Cairo, Dubai, Jeddah, Kuwait, Riyadh, Sanaa, Tunis, and other points. Syrian Air serves an expanded list of stops and has reciprocal agreements with smaller regional airlines that include flights to Larnaca and Beirut. These lists change every 6 months subject to economic and political considerations. Contact the Embassy Travel Office for specific information.

Personally Owned Vehicle Transit In and Out of Syria

Persons traveling to or through Syria in their personally owned vehicles should know that the rules of entry and passage are affected by the type of license plate their vehicle bears. Persons assigned to Damascus will have a local registration paper that verifies ownership of vehicle and owner’s assignment. Proof of insurance to cross the borders into Jordan and Turkey is required. The insurance required by Jordan is available in Damascus and must be purchased before the vehicle will be allowed into Jordan. Insurance required for entrance into Turkey should be purchased at the Turkish border.

Embassy policy forbids travel to Lebanon, with or without U.S. passports, by Embassy American personnel and dependents. Travel from Syria to Israel must be done via Jordan. Instructions for crossing the borders should be followed carefully in order to avoid delays in reentering Syria.

Those newly assigned to Damascus and driving to post may enter with a copy of the original title/registration and original license plates and will receive a 2-week (15-day) temporary or tourist permit that will allow use of the car in the country. The vehicle will need to be registered once the owner is placed on the diplomatic list. Registration takes about 4 weeks and requires the completion of customs formalities, inspection of the vehicle, transfer of title papers, etc. The vehicle may be required to be impounded until all the processes are completed. If the vehicle bears transit plates issued by another Arab country or a European country, a transit customs declaration will be issued at the point of entry. The vehicle must then be driven in convoy to the customs bond warehouse in Adra, about 30 kilometers from Damascus, where it will remain impounded until the owner's name is placed on the diplomatic list and the processes described above are completed.

For those planning to transit through Syria to another post, the same rules apply (see above) with the exception that if the vehicle bears transit plates, the owner must drive in convoy from the point of entry to the point of exit. Tourism (in-country unescorted travel) is not permitted with transit plates. If transiting through Syria, you may avoid additional unnecessary delays and confusion at the border if you arrive with a “Carnet de Passage” (a declaration of intent to continue beyond Syria). These declarations are available through the local automobile club, insurance company, or Embassy in the country where the car is registered. Although insurance may be purchased at the borders for crossing into the adjacent countries, the scheduled hours of the providers and the costs are not published. Contact the Embassy Shipping and Customs Office for specific details. Warning: It is not possible to cross through Syria with only an export declaration. These are used only with shipped vehicles.


Telephones and Telecommunications Last Updated: 9/15/2003 7:57 AM

Telephones and telecommunication

Last updated: 07/30/03

Syria’s telephone system is constantly being upgraded. Generally, international service is good and local service is improving throughout the country. All Embassy homes have access to international lines. Telephone costs are a base charge of 400 SL per year plus 0.60 SL per local call (every 6 min.), (Two free local calls per day) Rate: $1.00 = 51.5 SL. Calls to the U.S. cost 75 SL (approximately $1.45) per minute. The national telecommunications utility generates phone bills almost a year late, and discrepancies are difficult to contest and resolve. Access to AT&T, MCI, and Sprint is available from some numbers in Damascus and is recommended. Membership cards to any of these long-distance companies should be obtained prior to arriving at post.

The American Embassy Damascus has E-mail and Internet service through OpenNet Plus. Local Internet service is available for home use and is available at local Internet cafes as well. Fax services are available at the Embassy. ISDN is now available through the PTT at a cost of 2,200 SL (one-time subscription fee) and 200 SL per month. Note: You must purchase an ISDN Terminal box at a cost of 15,000 SL. Any personal equipment you wish to use for communications (computers, cordless phones, etc) should either be 220-240v 50 cycles, or should be plugged into a voltage regulator/transformer with a surge suppressor attachment.

Mail and Pouch Last Updated: 9/15/2003 8:02 AM

Mail and Pouch

Last updated: 07/30/03

There are two outgoing and incoming diplomatic pouches each week that are used for all personal U.S. mail. Mail takes 6 days to arrive from the U.S. and 4 days to go to the U.S. In addition, limited APO service is available to and from Damascus is on a weekly basis. U.S. postage must be affixed to any outgoing mail. U.S. postage stamps are available at post, but are sometimes in short supply. Persons wishing to send mail through the pouch should bring postage stamps or obtain order forms for the Stamps-by-Mail program from their local postmaster. Another option,, offers the printing of stamps to your printer via Internet.

Sending Packages From Post. Packages may be sent out of Damascus via APO (Amman). Any other packages you wish to send from Damascus to the U.S., or elsewhere, can also be sent through international mail. To send packages via international mail, the sender must take the open package to the local post office, where it will be inspected and wrapped in the presence of postal officials.

Receiving Packages at Post. Packages for delivery to post may be sent through the DOS Diplomatic pouch, APO, or via international mail. Packages should be wrapped and taped according to the U.S. Postal Service’s international mail rules. If sent through the DOS diplomatic pouch, several other requirements and limitations must be observed. For example, no package may exceed 45 pounds in weight and more than 30 inches in length along any one side. The total girth (length plus width plus height) of the package may not exceed 65 inches. The package may not contain liquids, aerosols, or glass, among other restrictions. Packages improperly wrapped are also not accepted and will be returned to the sender. Before sending packages to post via DOS Diplomatic pouch, please check with post for a more detailed list of restrictions.

Mail Addresses:

DOS (Use for all letter mail and APO (Only use for packages that do not packages meeting restrictions) meet DOS restrictions)

Name Name 6110 Damascus Pl. AMEMB unit 70200, Box D Dulles, VA 20189-6110 APO AE 09892-0200

The nine-digit ZIP Code helps the APO and State Department expedite mail delivery in the U.S.

There is censorship of international mail into and out of Syria. This includes packages that are also subject to customs, clearing, and storage charges. International mail should be addressed as follows:

Full Name American Embassy PO. Box 29 Damascus, Syria

Rapid mail and commercial courier are available but expensive; these are subject to inspection, customs, etc.

Radio and TV Last Updated: 9/15/2003 8:04 AM

Radio and TV

Last updated: 07/30/03

Electronic media—i.e., radio and television—are government owned and operated in Syria. Radio Damascus, across several AM and FM bands, broadcasts primarily in Arabic, though there are several English and French language programs, including short news presentations. One radio station, operating out of Lebanon, has programming geared towards Syrian audiences and plays popular Western and Arabic music. Syrian TV has two channels. Both channel broadcasts primarily in Arabic. Programming includes Egyptian and Jordanian soap operas and features. Once in a while, they will air an older American movie with Arabic subtitles.

The European PAL and Middle East SECAM TV systems are used in Syria. Local specifications include 220v, 50-cycle power units. U.S. standard (NTSC) television sets will not work when trying to pick up a local station, but will work for US purchased VCRs, DVD systems, tapes and DVDs (Note: stepdown transformer 220/110v must be used) . A multisystem TV set that operates in SECAM and PAL is necessary. Local signals from adjacent countries can be picked up with a sufficiently large roof antenna or Satellite Dish with receiver.

Parabolic dishes (satellite antennas) and converters are available in Syria, and costs begin at around $250 for fixed units. A multisatellite motorized unit begins at $350. These units access most of the European satellites, ArabSat, and other Middle East-based repeaters. Stations available with the parabolic antenna include BBC, CNBC, ISB, MBC, MTV, NBC Superchannel, RTL, and over 60 other international stations. Warning: The position of satellites can change at any time, and loss of some channels can occur.

The AEEA commissary houses a small, but eclectic DVD and VHS library (mostly for use on NTSC. There are several local video shops that have current releases available for sale and rent. (They are not always good-quality reproductions but are very inexpensive.) To take full advantage of these resources and to receive local television broadcasts, you will need a multisystem video recorder/player and a multisystem television set. It is recommended that any systems purchased for use in Syria should be at least three-system (NTSC, PAL, SECAM) to allow the user maximum access to the resources available.

There are a few local cinemas that feature primarily Arabic movies and older American films that have been subtitled. However, most Westerners frequent only one of these cinemas, due to its superior quality of screening and audio technology.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals Last Updated: 9/15/2003 8:06 AM

Newspapers, Magazines, and Journals

Last updated: 07/30/03

There is a limited selection of English, French, and Arabic language newspapers and magazines available in Syria. Publications include the dailies: International Herald Tribune, Middle East News, Syria Times, and several from Cairo, Riyadh, and Amman. Weeklies include The Economist, Newsweek, Paris Match, and Time. There is some government censorship, and papers may arrive at newsstands several days late. Technical journals (e.g., Scientific American) and special interest magazines (e.g., Architectural Digest, Southern Living) are not generally available. Single-copy prices can be considerably higher than you are accustomed to in the U.S. If you have specific publications you like to read, it is best to a subscribe, giving the American Embassy Damascus pouch address. (Any subscriptions sent through international mail are subject to the same censorship regulations that are applied to newsstand sales, and delivery may be additionally delayed.) Internet service is increasingly available, and many of your favorite journals may be available online.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities Last Updated: 9/15/2003 8:08 AM

Medical Facilities

Last updated: 07/30/03

There is a small infirmary at the American Embassy Damascus staffed by a registered nurse. The regional medical officer, based in Amman, Jordan, visits Syria approximately four times a year. The Embassy maintains a list of American- and European-trained doctors in all the major specialties. Private medical care in Damascus is adequate for routine problems and very inexpensive. U.S. prescription drugs and medicines (or their European equivalents) are generally available across the counter in Syria. Though you may not find a specific drug, and there can be shortages, most drugs and medicines can be ordered by the local pharmacists, and the prices are generally lower than they are in the U.S.

Several Damascus hospitals are equipped and competent for emergency cases and routine care. Nursing care, however, is substandard. The regional medical authority recommends medical evacuation for major surgery, pregnancy confinement and delivery, long-term hospitalization, and high-risk care. London is the medevac point for American Embassy Damascus.

The Embassy Health Unit is open from 8 am to 1 pm Sunday through Thursday. The Embassy Nurse is available for all emergencies outside normal working hours including holidays. The nurse provides basic services, inoculations, and referrals.

Community Health Last Updated: 9/15/2003 8:09 AM

Community Health

Last updated: 07/30/03

The city services include provision of potable tap water, trash removal, street sweeping, and periodic spraying for flying insects.

The embassy nurse is responsible for periodic testing of the water provided by the city main. The water is found acceptably free of impurities and drinkable. Nevertheless, there is always a risk in any urban community that purification processes may fail. Water in Damascus need not be boiled, but anywhere else in Syria it is recommended that filtered and boiled or bottled water be consumed.

Trash dumpsters (large green receptacles) are available on most streets in the city. Collections are scheduled daily, and city regulations require that all trash be disposed of in plastic bags. There is not rigid observation of these rules, though the population seems to make considerable effort to keep Damascus a clean city. Street sweepers dressed in orange overalls are apparent in most neighborhoods.

Seasonally, the city management sprays a concentrated mix to control the mosquito population that breeds on and around the Barada River. Flies can also be a problem in the warmer months. Spraying is done by large tank trucks that pass through the neighborhoods in the evening and morning hours. Larger insects (ants, silverfish, and cockroaches) can be problematic in the apartments. The Embassy recommends bringing user-friendly insecticides to use in your home.

Preventive measures to safeguard personal health in Syria include verifying that all persons have necessary inoculations before arriving at post and completing any inoculation programs that may require boosters. Though Syria has a program of childhood immunizations, many childhood diseases exist in the country, including chicken pox, measles, and mumps. There are cases of tuberculosis and cholera reported.

Though Damascus is clean by most urban standards, normal precautions against diseases including amoebic dysentery, typhoid, various errant parasites, and hepatitis should be taken. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be washed and soaked in Clorox or Milton before use and consumption. Dining out requires some conscious decisions about what may or may not be eaten.

Seasonal weather changes that raise dry, dusty air can cause sinus and other upper respiratory infections. These can be aggravated by the smog and strong desert winds. Humidifiers often relieve some of this discomfort and are recommended.

Employment for Spouses and Dependents Last Updated: 9/15/2003 8:11 AM

Employment for Spouses and Dependents

Last updated: 07/30/03

Possible sources for family member employment include the Embassy, the American Language Center, the Damascus Community School, and AmidEast. Since Syria and the United States do not have either a bilateral or a de-facto work agreement, spousal employment other than at the above organizations is not allowed. Potential job prospects in the Mission include the Community Liaison Office (CLO), Consular Assistant and Associate positions, Security Escorts, the AEEA manager and cashier positions, Nursing, and Office Management positions. The American-run Damascus Community School has periodic openings for teachers and either educational or technical specialists. The school also maintains a substitute teacher roster. The above jobs do not require work permit and are conducted primarily in English. Consult the FAMER report on the FLO website for a list of Embassy jobs and current openings.

Persons seeking employment while in Damascus should prepare and bring a resume with references, college transcripts, and any letters of recommendation from previous employers. The Embassy HR office or the CLO can answer specific questions regarding openings and dates of availability.

American Embassy - Damascus

Post City Last Updated: 9/15/2003 8:13 AM

Post City

Last updated: 07/30/03

The origins of Damascus lie under the millennia of sands that have covered its secrets from the time of the Garden of Eden. According to local mythology, Eden sat astride the Barada River and was a fertile land blessed with a mild climate. Its claim to be the oldest continuously inhabited city is reinforced by its central location in relation to ancient civilizations and its acknowledged importance on the earliest trade routes. Damascus has a splendid covered bazaar. The Hamidiyyah Souk (bordered on one side by Mahmat Pasha, the Street called Straight) is mentioned in the Bible as a thriving ancient marketplace.

Damascus is a city of sharp contrasts, with Roman arches shading Ottoman architecture on the same street as modern, concrete office buildings. In the Old City, the narrow streets twist and wind around ancient gates and arches past fascinating homes and mosques. From the open stalls, shouts announcing new products and great prices compete with braying donkeys, passing street vendors, and large crowds of people. With comforting regularity, the prayer calls mark the passing of time.

Business hours and days are based on religion and culture. Friday is the official day of rest for the predominantly Muslim community, Jews observe the Sabbath on Saturday, and Christians take Sunday off. Many shops open around 9 am and close for several hours around lunch (2 pm to 5 pm). The workday may end at 8 pm or later. These hours do not apply before or during the holidays.

The Post and Its Administration Last Updated: 9/15/2003 8:17 AM

The Post and Its Administration

Last updated: 07/30/03

The American Embassy is located on al-Mansour Street (sharia al-Mansour) in Abu Roummaneh, a residential district of Damascus. On the compound are buildings that house the Chancery, Administrative Section, General Services Office (GSO), and Consular Section. The Public Diplomacy section (PD), the Economic Commercial section, the Community Liaison Office, and the Health Unit are in a separate building on Ata-Ayoubi Street, two short blocks from the Embassy.

Embassy business hours are 8 am to 4:30 pm, Sunday through Thursday; the Consulate, hours are 7:30 am to 4 pm on those days. The weekend is Friday and Saturday. Marine Security Guards are on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the Chancery. Embassy telephone numbers are (963)(11) 333-3232 or 333-1342. The Embassy Fax number is (963)(11) 224-7938.

All new personnel arriving by air are met at the airport by a sponsor and an expediter. If you are not met, call the Embassy at the above numbers. Taxi service is available from the airport to downtown Damascus, and some drivers understand either English. Arabic for “American Embassy, please” is “Safara Amerikeya, min fadlak”. The American Embassy Damascus is established along traditional lines, with the Ambassador and DCM comprising the Executive Section. The Embassy includes a Consular Section, a Defense Attaches Office, an Economic/Commercial Section, an Administrative Section, a Public Diplomacy section, and a Political Section.


Temporary Quarters Last Updated: 4/30/1997 6:00 PM

Post makes every effort to ensure that new arrivals are lodged in government quarters. Should quarters be unavailable, the Embassy has an arrangement with the Sheraton Hotel. Rates, in U.S. dollars, are $110 plus 10% tax for a single room and $130 plus 10% tax for a double.

Permanent Housing Last Updated: 9/15/2003 8:20 AM

Permanent Housing

Last updated: 07/30/03

All government personnel are housed in government-leased, -furnished housing, and most are either within a 15-minute walk or 10-minute drive to the Embassy. Damascus is a city of apartment dwellers; detached homes with yards are virtually nonexistent within the city limits. All Embassy housing is apartments. The only exception is the Ambassador’s residence, a U.S. Government-owned house within a 5-minute walk of the Chancery. Located on Zyad bin Abi Sufyan Street, the residence is a pleasant two-story house with spacious gardens and lawns, a swimming pool, and a tennis court.

Less than one block away from the Embassy compound are the Embassy’s Medical Unit, the CLO, and the American Cultural Center.

The DCM lives in a ground-floor apartment in the Mezzeh suburb. This is a designated residence. All other personnel occupy apartments appropriate to their family size and representational responsibilities.

Furnishings Last Updated: 9/15/2003 8:21 AM


Last updated: 07/30/03

Embassy-provided quarters are government furnished with standard sets from contract suppliers including Drexel, Ethan Allen, Pennsylvania House, and Hickory Hill. Each apartment has an adequately furnished living room, dining room, and bedrooms for the occupants. Some apartments may have an additional guest bedroom. Draperies and curtains are supplied, and some carpeting is included.

Typically, apartments have one bedroom set with a queen-sized bed and another with two twin-sized beds (additional sets with twin beds are available; depending on occupancy and usage). Apartments have one dining room set and sufficient sofas, end tables, lamps, etc., for the living room areas. Additional items provided include sufficient lamps or lighting, a folding table and chairs (if necessary), balcony or patio furniture, and wardrobes if closet space is not available or insufficient. Because Damascus is a “furnished” post, personnel of all agencies assigned to Syria receive a limited household effects (HHE) weight allowance on their travel authorizations. You need to include in your shipment sheets, blankets, pillows and covers, towels and shower curtains, cooking utensils, and any other personal furnishings that you use. Consider personalizing your new home by shipping family pictures, paintings, posters, small pieces of personal furniture, lamps, and books. Include in the HHE shipment any devices and equipment necessary for comfort and health such as humidifiers, air purifiers, ionizers, cordless phones, and answering devices.

Two caveats:

1. Storage space in most apartments is limited, and there is no U.S. Government storage available at this post. Damascus is also a consumables post, and you will need to store these consumables in your apartment as well. If you do not intend to use or display your possessions, then it is better to store them outside of Syria.

2. The Middle East has very interesting shopping, and Damascus is a shopper’s paradise for seekers of oriental carpets, Damascene cloth, embroidered tablecloths, inlaid chests and bureaus, furniture, brass and copper pots, baskets, wrought iron pieces, and silver and silver plate (to list a few items). If you use most of your weight allowance bringing things to Damascus and find things in Damascus that you cannot live without, then your outbound overweight HHE shipment could result in steep charges.

Utilities and Equipment Last Updated: 9/15/2003 8:23 AM

Utilities and Equipment

Last updated: 07/30/03

GSO furnishes kitchens with a gas range, microwave oven, freezer, refrigerator, and dishwasher. Apartments are also equipped with an automatic washer and dryer, a vacuum cleaner, a stepladder, fire extinguishers, smoke and fire alarms, and an emergency ladder for all apartments over the first floor. Air-conditioning units are provided for the living and dining areas and for each occupied bedroom. GSO can install fans, as required, in the kitchens and each of the guest bedrooms.

Electric power in Syria is 220v, 50 cycles, and most Embassy-controlled apartments are fused for 20 amps maximum. There are some 110v, 50-cycle outlets on the Embassy compound. You will need transformers for most electrical appliances and devices purchased in the U.S., as they are usually 110v, 60 cycles. Power outages and voltage fluctuations are frequent, and it is best to be prepared. In addition to transformers, you should consider purchasing voltage regulators and surge suppressers to protect more expensive electrical appliances and electronic equipment. GSO provides some transformers for small electrical appliances. For computer equipment and DC-adapted devices, you might consider uninterrupted power supplies. For kitchen appliances, televisions, VCRs, stereos, etc., a transformer with a fused surge suppressor and voltage regulator is recommended. Although expensive, many electrical appliances are available locally. Purchase new appliances, such as televisions or stereos before shipping your HHE.

Embassy-contracted apartments have central heating (normally a water-heated radiator system), hot and cold running water, modern Western-style bathrooms, and one telephone. If you want additional telephone sets, you must supply your own. Phone sets should have a rotary as well as tone dialing function, as some exchanges in Damascus have not yet been converted to digital electronics. A single cordless set with a 100-foot range would be most useful.

Food Last Updated: 9/15/2003 8:26 AM


Last updated: 07/30/03

Excellent fresh fruits and vegetables in season are available in vegetable souks and in small neighborhood shops. Damascenes love their food, and Syrian food is among the best in the Middle East. Prepare to learn to cook with new spices and methods. Spices are available, inexpensive, and fresh, so don’t ship old spices—reward your taste buds with sharp and distinct fresh spice flavors.

There are a few butchers in most neighborhoods, and the quality of meats can be good. There is beef, chicken, goat, lamb, turkey, and veal in the marketplace. For pork products the Embassy relies on the AEEA-sponsored commissary. You will need to learn which cuts you want and may enjoy experimenting with fresh meats. Some shops have begun to carry baked and smoked hams to satisfy the foreign community’s demands. These products are imported and expensive.

Fresh fish is available in limited quantities and varieties. It is useful to know your fish before buying, as most is brought on ice from the coast. The fishmongers will help you choose and will take your orders. Frozen fish appears in the shops from time to time. Smoked salmon is imported by several shops serving the Embassy community. Canned fish (e.g., anchovies, crab, salmon, sardines, smelts, and tuna) can be found imported from the Far East.

Dairy products are abundant. Butter; whipping cream; creme fraiche; soft cheese, and long-life whole, low-fat, and skimmed milk are always available. Yogurts and ice creams come in both the local and imported varieties, and butter is made in Syria, both salt free and lightly salted. Many shops import butter and cheeses from Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, and Spain.

Bread is the staple of most cultures’ diets, and Syria is no exception. People consume flat Arabic bread, French-style baguettes, and white flour and multigrain buns and loaves. The Armenian bakers make a crusty Russian-style wheat loaf Most of these breads contain no preservatives or salt; therefore, they do not keep well.

Syrian sweets are world famous. Bakeries make large varieties of delicious pastries, including baklava, macaroons, meringue, cookies, and cakes, with almonds and pistachios, creams and cheeses, and honey and other sweeteners (rosewater, for example).

Damascus is a consumables post. The weight allowance for shipment of consumables has been established at 2,500 net pounds for a two-year assignment and 3,750 net pounds for a three-year assignment. For more information on rules governing consumables, please see the Overseas Briefing Center’s pamphlet entitled “How To Ship Consumables”.

Storage can be a problem in Damascus. It is best to plan a consumable shipment that will include those things you cannot do without or cannot find at post. For families with babies or small children, baby food, disposable diapers, pull-ups, baby soaps and creams, and laundry and other necessary household products should top your consumables shipment list. Personnel with pets should consider shipping pet food and supplies, cleaning products, etc. that their animals will need. Some of these might be available through the commissary, but you should not expect specific brand names or products for children or pets to be readily available.

Alcoholic beverages (liquor, beer, and wine) are available in the Embassy commissary and through the local duty-free stores. Quite a variety is imported by these organizations. Some group orders are made by Embassy personnel wanting to import specific beverages. Syria and Lebanon produce wines and beers and certain liquors that can be purchased in some corner grocery stores.

The duty-free stores import a variety of cigarettes and cigars. If you are a pipe smoker, you should send tobacco and the necessary paraphernalia. Syrians enjoy smoking the argileh (water pipe) and use either the dark black tobacco made famous in Latakia and throughout Persia or the fruited brown tobacco found in the Gulf States.

Syria produces a large variety of soft drinks under license from Royal Crown and Crush and all the carbonated mixers (tonic, soda, bitter lemon, etc.). Fruit drinks are popular and produced locally. There are tetra-pack boxes of orange, grapefruit, lemon, pineapple, and mango juice in liter and quarter liter sizes, with and without sugar added.

Clothing Last Updated: 9/15/2003 9:06 AM

Damascenes are very social and enjoy dressing up for any occasion. Styles vary from the very conservative to the resplendent. Clothes that are imported from the West can be very expensive and good quality clothing is hard to find. Most Western brands sold on the local market such as Benetton and Stefanel are made in Syria. Most embassy staff order their clothes online, through catalogs, or stock-up while on R&R or while vacationing in the West. Local production is growing, and Syria is a producer of cotton and other cloth products. Although Syria does produce quality clothing, it is all for export and cannot be found on the local market.

Damascus has reasonable dry cleaning services. Shorts are not suitable for street wear (by either men or women), except perhaps in beach cities by men, and will make you much more uncomfortable than the weather will. Buy beach and pool wear in the U.S; variety and sizes are very limited here.

Quality men’s and women’s shoes are available but expensive, sizes may be difficult to find, and styles are not always comparable to those in the U.S. Bring shoes from home or plan on ordering them on line. Remember that Damascus has a range of weather. Also, if you are planning on doing any hiking, bring good boots.

Men Last Updated: 9/15/2003 9:07 AM

Men's clothing

Last updated: 07/30/03

Social life is informal. Black-tie affairs are few and far between, with the Marine Ball in November being the most notable. If you own a tuxedo or dinner jacket, bring it, but there is no need to buy one. Gentlemen wear dark suits for most formal occasions, and coat and tie are the accepted evening wear. Suits and tuxedos can be inexpensively made by local tailors. Quality wool fabric is available.

In the summer season, lightweight suits are desirable for office wear. It does get hot, even with air-conditioning in the workplace. Winter is cold enough to warrant wool or wool blend suits and a wool coat or raincoat.

Women Last Updated: 9/15/2003 9:09 AM

Women's clothing

Last updated: 07/30/03

In Arab culture, one can never go wrong with a more conservative outfit for different occasions. Nevertheless, Damascus is quite cosmopolitan, and women enjoy wearing ornate cocktail dresses for evening and formal events. Several dressy outfits, short or long, should satisfy most needs. The ladies wear dresses or pantsuits for daily wear, and it behooves you to remember the season and weather.

In summer, cotton and linen blends are probably the most comfortable for inside (climatized) and outside. Slacks are acceptable and popular with the younger Syrians for day wear. Short and no-sleeve tops are a common sight outside of the conservative parts of town. However, revealing dress is still rare. Your winter wardrobe should include a wool coat and a raincoat for the rainy season. Sweaters and medium-weight wools are probably the most comfortable attire from November to March. Although all houses have central heating, many floors are tile or marble, and a good pair of house shoes (slippers) will keep you comfortable at home. Syrian women wear furs; if you bring one to Damascus, bring all the necessary supplies for cleaning and storage, as these are difficult to find. American-brand lingerie, pantyhose, and stockings are not imported. European lingerie is expensive, and sizes vary from what you may be used to at home.

Children Last Updated: 9/15/2003 9:10 AM

Children's clothing

Last updated: 07/30/03

All of the above observations apply to children’s clothing. American personnel generally bring a good supply of children’s clothes and supplement their needs by ordering online or from catalogs. Children’s clothes should include durable playwear and tennis shoes (sneakers) for school and home. Students at the Damascus Community School dress very much like the kids they see on TV—a lot like those you find at your local school or mall. Preschoolers find the largest variety to choose from in the market, and infant clothing is reasonably priced. You can keep up with children’s growing spurts by shopping locally. Bring raincoats, boots, overshoes, and swimsuits with you.

Office Attire Last Updated: 9/15/2003 9:18 AM


US Army enlisted personnel should bring two sets of desert camouflage uniforms and their service dress uniforms.

US Army officers should bring two sets of desert camouflage uniforms, Service Dress, Dress Blues (optional), and a Mess Dress uniform.

US Air Force personnel should bring one service dress, one mess dress

Supplies and Services

Supplies Last Updated: 9/16/2003 4:44 AM


Last updated: 07/30/03

American toiletry supplies and cosmetics are expensive, when available, in Syria. The commissary imports a limited variety and amount of the most commonly required toiletry articles. Gentlemen without brand preferences have little difficulty obtaining necessary items in the local markets. American products for women are rarely available, though European substitutes can usually be found. Bring in your HHE or consumables a supply of your favorite products. Include moisturizers, suntan lotions, specific perfumes, etc. The Duty Free shop carries some international cosmetic brands.

Most drugs and medications are available in Damascus, either in the generic lines or in specific European labels, and are almost always less expensive than in the U.S. Nevertheless, if you have specific medical requirements, you should check with your doctor and bring sufficient supplies until you become familiar with the local pharmacies. Contact lens solutions and supplies should be brought with you.

Many basic cleaning products are imported or produced under license in Syria (e.g., Clorox, Windex, 3M carpet cleaners). The AEEA imports laundry soaps, dishwashing liquids, ammonia, floor and bathroom cleaners, and a variety of other household cleaning products.

Paper products, on the local market, are inconsistent in quality, variety, and supply. They can be expensive and may not satisfy your needs. If you want specific products (for birthdays, holidays, or picnics and outdoor activities), you should plan to ship a small quantity of these items.

Holiday readiness means you should include any decorations, specific holiday items (possibly an artificial tree for Christmas), or other items that you want to make your holidays more homelike. The U.N. sells greeting cards for the holidays, and the local printers can make invitation cards and business cards on demand. Cards with Syrian and Arabic motifs are available in great variety; however, invitations and cards for birthdays, Mother’s Day, anniversaries, etc., should be included in your HHE.

Children’s toys are best purchased in the U.S., online, or through catalogs. Western imports are generally more expensive and selection is limited. The CLO keeps a collection of catalogs, including some for children's educational and play toys.

Basic Services Last Updated: 9/16/2003 4:45 AM

Basic Services

Last updated: 07/30/03

Damascus offers a good selection of dressmakers and tailors. Quality and speed of production vary widely, and, as with any service sector, it is best to know your provider. Nevertheless, this enterprise gets generally high marks. Shoe- and boot makers shops and repair shops are also available.

There are plenty of beauty and barber shops that are up on the latest European styles and provide full services including shampoos, cuts, sets, permanents, manicures, pedicures, and massages. The cost of these services is very reasonable. There is a health clubs throughout Damascus, and exercise classes are sometimes organized by the Embassy or school community. The Embassy operates a well stocked gym.

Garages in Damascus receive a lot of business from the scrapes and dents accumulated on Syrian roads. Body repair and painting are specialties and half the cost of the same in the U.S. Most mechanics are capable of doing minor under-the-hood work such as oil changes, brakes, alignments, and periodic maintenance. Pack a supply of replacement car parts in your HHE or consumables shipment (including air, oil, and fuel filters; windshield wipers; extra car keys; etc.), especially if your model of car is older or not one of those imported into Syria. There are original manufacturer service centers and mechanics in Jordan that can be used for work on Ford and GM American cars and on most European and Japanese vehicles.

Domestic Help Last Updated: 9/16/2003 4:46 AM

Domestic Help

Last updated: 07/30/03

There is a growing pool of butlers, gardeners, maids, nannies, and building maintenance people in Damascus with varying amounts of expertise and communication skills. Some people have complained that quality childcare is difficult to find. The CLO keeps a list of active and prospective employees available in the community and has files with salary ranges and references when available. Household workers are primarily Sri Lankans and Filipinos.

Religious Activities Last Updated: 9/16/2003 4:47 AM

Religious Activities

Last updated: 07/30/03

The majority of Syrians are Sunni Muslim, and here are many mosques that serve both the Sunni and the small Shi’a communities. Damascus has many cultures and religious traditions and was a home to the earliest Christian and Islamic communities. There is one Jewish synagogue; several Roman Catholic churches; even more Orthodox (Eastern) churches, including Armenian, Greek, Russian, and Syrian Orthodox; and several Protestant churches, including Anglican (Episcopalian), Baptist Communitarian, and Presbyterian. Mormons maintain a house of prayer and a community center in Amman, Jordan. Most Far Eastern religions are not represented (i.e., have no official presence) in Damascus. Schedules of services and addresses are available in the CLO.


Dependent Education

At Post Last Updated: 9/16/2003 4:52 AM Education at Post

Last updated: 07/30/03

Daycare - There are three English language daycare centers in Damascus that are used by Embassy staff. Spaces are limited, so it is a good idea to reserve spots early. The CLO has descriptions of each program as well as prices.

The Damascus Community School (DCS), founded in 1957, provides English-language-based education from pre-kindergarten through grade 12. The student base (342 pupils in 2002-03) included 38 nationalities drawn from the diplomatic and business communities as well as the local community. Sixty percent of the student body is Syrian. Teachers are primarily U.S.-certified Americans and overseas hires. There are 39 full-time and four part-time teachers. Of those, 35 are hired from overseas and 4 are local hires. The school is accredited by the Middle States Association of Schools & Colleges and Commission on International Trans-Regional Accreditation School transcripts from DCS serve as a basis for enrollment in U.S. schools.

School programs include computer sessions for all grade levels and liberal arts electives including drama, journalism, music, and dance. Pupils can choose either Arabic- or French-language programs for the foreign-language requirement. DCS offers English as a second language for foreign students. Senior students also have the opportunity to take Advanced Placement (AP) courses and examinations.

The campus is located in a pleasant residential area within a 10-minute walk of the Embassy and is centrally located. Some Embassy housing is located within walking-distance of the school. The campus’central courtyard is landscaped and comfortably laid out for social interaction. The playground areas include a soccer field, a basketball court, and a jungle gym areas for the younger students. The school cafeteria provides, for a fee, daily hot lunches and a variety of snacks and drinks.

The school opens in late August and maintains a 180-day schedule equivalent to the standard U.S. public school schedule. For enrollment at DCS, a student is required to furnish a completed application, an immunization record, a health clearance, two current, color, passport photos, a copy of passport or birth certificate, official school records and transcripts. Annual tuition and fee schedules for 2003-2004 are as follows:

Pre-K $4,300

K- grade 5 $12,200

Grades 6 - 8 $13,200

Grades 9 - 12 $14,000

Most of the costs of education incurred by personnel assigned to the American Embassy Damascus are covered by the educational allowance (except for Pre-K). The Embassy provides transportation to and from school for dependents of assigned personnel. Specific questions should be addressed to the school secretary.

Away From Post Last Updated: 9/16/2003 4:49 AM Education away from Post

Last updated: 07/30/03

There are boarding school programs based in Europe, including some DOD-designated schools, which are alternatives to education at post. These are available on a cost-constructive basis. (Caution: Some costs may not be covered.) Direct questions about these programs and their requirements and costs to the Embassy CLO.

Recreation and Social Life

Sports Last Updated: 9/16/2003 4:53 AM


Last updated: 07/30/03

The Ambassador’ residence has a swimming pool and a hard-surface tennis court open to all American Embassy employees and their families during daily scheduled hours. Swim instructors and tennis coaches can be hired to teach kids and adults alike. There is a gym at the Embassy and health clubs throughout the city. Embassy colleagues get together on the weekends for softball, soccer, and ultimate-frisbee, which are played on the school’s field. There is also a weekly Ty-bo class in the school gymnasium.

The Sheraton, Meridien, and Ebla Cham Hotels all offer memberships, for a fee, to their pool and tennis complexes. All have resident trainers and coaches. The Sheraton’s compound has six hard-surface courts, a large pool, a children’s pool, and a children’s playground. The Meridien has four soft-surface (clay) courts, a large pool, and gardens. It is best for tennis players to bring balls, racket strings, and handle wraps, as they are very expensive when available.

There are several riding clubs in the city, generally for more advanced riders. Horses can be purchased and stabled at these clubs for a fee. Riding wear and boots are made in the souk and are not expensive; however, saddles, tack, medicines, and other gear should be shipped from the U.S.

There is a nice Golf course at the Ebla Cham hotel about 25 minutes from Damascus. It costs approximately $60 to play a round of golf. The Cham Palace has a bowling alley that is open to the public, as well as a squash court. Fishing opportunities are very limited, except on the coast. Camping is permitted by the Syrian Government and is popular with many in the diplomatic community. Wonderful, undeveloped areas that campers regularly visit can be found throughout the country.

Runners can look forward to joining the Hash House Harriers based in the British Embassy Club. Running in the city can be difficult due to traffic and air quality. Some runners use the loop around the top of mount Qassioun where there is generally less traffic and the air is clean. The Canadians organize an annual a mini-marathon (the Terry Fox Run).

Bike riding is also difficult due to the traffic and exhaust. Some bikers ride in the countryside outside of Damascus and there is a weekly Dutch group that mountain bikes on trails and dirt roads in the anti-Lebanon. There is no place in the city that it is safe, due to traffic, for children to ride.

Sports equipment of all types, including shoes, is all imported and quite expensive. Sizes and styles are very limited. If you have specific needs or wants, you should anticipate packing these in your HHE.

Touring and Outdoor Activities Last Updated: 9/16/2003 8:08 AM

Touring and outdoor activities

Last update: 07/30/03

Syria, a cradle of civilization and squarely on the crossroads between East and West, has something for every interest.

Aleppo, a 4-hour drive by car from Damascus, is the second largest city in Syria. It played an important role in Islamic defenses during the Crusades and has competed with Damascus for predominance in area politics since the days of the Roman Empire. The citadel, an ancient fortress rising out of the center of town, dominates the view of the city. It casts its shadows on the colorful bazaar that competes only with the souk in Damascus for variety. Tourists use Aleppo as a base for visiting many “dead cities” of northern Syria dating back to Ugarit and Hittite ages. Ebla, an iron age center searched for by archaeologists for centuries and found recently, is just south of the city. Early Christian ascetics, such as Simon Stylites, made their base a few kilometers north of Aleppo. The Aleppo Museum is second only to the National Museum in Damascus for collections in Ugarit, Hittite, early Greek, and Roman artifacts from Syria. T.H. Lawrence and Agatha Christie sat on the balconies of the Baron Hotel, which is still open and popular, and wrote while sipping tea and admiring the sunsets. This train stop, now in the center of a congested part of downtown, is featured in “Murder on the Orient Express.”

Bosra, on the Syrian-Jordanian border and 2 hours south of the city, features possibly the best preserved Roman amphitheater anywhere. A medieval Arab citadel surrounds the theater. Ramparts of this fort have protected the Roman architecture since the 12th century. This site hosts a musical arts festival each September. The area was an important agricultural center to the Romans. A recently discovered Pompeii-like, volcanically covered Roman city has excited the archeological and historical communities with some wonderful finds.

Krak des Chevaliers, described by T. H. Lawrence as the Vatican of the Middle East, is 2 hours north of Damascus overlooking a large valley and the pass from Homs to the coast and is in excellent condition. This Crusader fortress, built on a promontory originally developed by the Emir of Homs in AD. 1031, is a classic example of the siege defenses of the Middle Ages. Well preserved and massive, the castle complex supported a community of over 4,000 knights and retainers and had a rock-hewn stable large enough for 500 horses. Crusader knights occupied it from A.D. 1110 and deeded it to the Hospitaliers, who finally capitulated to the Mameluke Sultan Baibars in 1271. The villages around the Krak are predominantly Catholic to this day.

Kuneitra, up on the Golan Heights, was the site of some of the fiercest fighting between Syria and Israel in both the 1967 and 1973 wars. The village has remained untouched since being placed under U.N. supervision in 1974. Visits to the UN Headquarters and surrounding sites are periodically organized by the Embassy.

Maloula, less than an hour from Damascus, is the site of an early Christian convent dedicated to St. Takla. The Syrian icons and paintings are particularly interesting and are still produced here. Maloula has the distinction of being uniquely bilingual, with Aramaic (the language of Jesus Christ and the New Testament writings) still spoken by a large portion of the population.

Palmyra, an oasis that served the silk and spice trade from Nineveh, Babylon, Persepolis, and points east of the Mediterranean, has the distinction of being mentioned in the Old Testament books of Kings and Song of Solomon. Its biblical name, Tadmor, recalls its importance as an early center of trading and culture. The name appears in the annals of Roman conquests, and the Emperor Valerian was so taken by the city when he visited in the third century A.D. that he granted it free city-state status and renamed it Palmyra Valeriana.

Three hours from Damascus on the road to Baghdad, these ruins are an extraordinary example of the synthesis of Roman, Syrian, and Persian cultures. At its peak, Palmyra boasted a population of over 50,000. Tadmori tycoons controlled trade throughout Anatolia and Syria in the Eastern Empire. Witness to their power and fame lies in the valley of tombs just north of the ruins of Palmyra. Queen Zenobia, who rebelled against Rome and expanded the “Palmyran kingdom” to Egypt and eastern Asia Minor, drew the wrath of the Emperor Aurelian, who destroyed Palmyra in 273 A.D. He returned to Rome with Zenobia in golden chains and paraded her through the city. On the Aurelian Arch in Rome, one can still see the humiliation of Palmyra's queen. The city’s importance waned, and it was bypassed by history after this period. Its extensive oasis provides a walk through history along hard paths beneath the date, fig, and pomegranate trees.

Sednayah, the Santiago de Compostela of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, is a picturesque village built around an old monastery that was a popular pilgrimage point during the Crusades. Christians considered it an essential stop on the way to Jerusalem and accrued plenary indulgences for the visit.

Dura Europos is one of the many interesting sites on the high plains of the Euphrates Valley area. There are also Crusader and Arabic fortresses which dot the coastal plain and which are as impressive and massive as the Krak des Chevaliers. Roman ruins that are a day’s march from each other in the south feature well-preserved mosaics and unusual architectural syntheses. Many more sites, too numerous to mention, make Syria a travelers’ wonderland.

Campers often choose to set up their tents near these sites and use the long weekends to explore little-known and undeveloped areas. Hikers find many areas that provide a feast for their eyes as well as a feat for their feet. In the spring and fall, many walking clubs take advantage of the Ghuta, an agriculturally developed oasis near Damascus, to enjoy the blossoms or the fruits of the lush orchards. Picnic and camping sites are not developed or equipped. You should plan to bring any camping or picnic gear that will make these outings more pleasant.

Outside Syria. Travel by car or plane is reasonably easy and inexpensive. Amman is 3 hours away by car. The Nabatean ruins at Petra, Roman ruins at Jerash, the magnificent desert landscape of Wadi Rum, Jerusalem, and Israel are only a few of the possibilities. Direct, short flights to Rome, Athens, Cairo, Dubai, Istanbul, Larnaca, Sanaa, and Vienna make tourism a relatively affordable hobby from Damascus.

Entertainment Last Updated: 9/16/2003 8:10 AM


Last updated: 07/30/03

Cultural life in Syria is limited. The Syrian Government has built a multifunction arts complex that includes an opera house and a concert hall. The Damascus Symphony performs mainly during special events and there is not a regular concert season. Some diplomatic missions, including the US Embassy, sponsor artists and performers from their respective countries. Once in a while, there are pop concerts featuring well-known Arab singers. The Syrian Government sponsors festivals in Aleppo and in Bosra.

Several formal dances or balls are held throughout the year, the highlight being the Marine Corps Birthday Ball, which is well attended by the community. The oil companies sponsor a Country and Western Night that includes a live band.

Movie theaters in Damascus feature Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian films as well as American, French, and Italian. Most are in the original language and subtitled. Prices are inexpensive. There is a bi-annual International Film Festival in Damascus.

There are several diplomatic missions and business concerns that maintain pubs. Most are open to the foreign diplomatic community and have a variety of offerings. Some feature scheduled activities, including billiards, bridge, darts, hiking. Many have bars and snackbars and import foods and drinks from their native countries. There are also nightclubs offering karaoke, dancing, and floor shows.

Life in Damascus can run late and is often organized around sumptuous meals. Food is a reflection of culture and civilization, and Damascus has had over 7,000 years to develop its extensive and delicious cuisine. Arabic food, especially Lebanese and Syrian, is a gourmet’s delight, with flavor-filled sauces of creams and spices covering vine-ripened eggplant and zucchini stuffed with lamb, onions, and pine nuts. Restaurants of all categories and price ranges abound. Restaurants that offer foreign cuisine are few. There are a few Oriental (Chinese and Japanese) restaurants in the city. Most foreign food is either French or Italian. The hotels compete to provide bountiful buffets and schedule weeks featuring the foods of other countries, such as German week during Oktoberfest and a summer Fiesta Mexicana.

The American Women in Damascus (AWD) holds monthly meetings that feature programs on regional archeology, cultural life in Damascus, etc. This group often sponsors special activities including gourmet cooking presentations, handicrafts, card competitions (such as bridge and helot), exercise classes, old-city tours, and several fundraising events throughout the year.

Official Functions Last Updated: 4/30/1997 6:00 PM

There is a full schedule of National Days and Syrian Government official functions on the diplomatic calendar in Damascus. The Ambassador, DCM, and section and agency chiefs maintain an active agenda with the celebrations for the more than 80 diplomatic missions and U.N. offices in Syria.

Officers should anticipate arriving at post with a small quantity of printed business or calling cards. There are good cards and printers available locally. Printers produce English and Arabic cards that are useful for business contacts. GSO can arrange for business cards on short notice.

Nature of Functions Last Updated: 9/16/2003 8:12 AM

Nature of functions

Last updated: 07/30/03

There is a full schedule of National Days and Syrian Government official functions on the diplomatic calendar in Damascus. The Ambassador, DCM, and section and agency chiefs maintain an active agenda with the celebrations for the more than 80 diplomatic missions and U.N. offices in Syria.

Officers should anticipate arriving at post with a small quantity of printed business or calling cards. There are also good cards and printers available locally. Printers produce English and Arabic cards that are useful for business contacts. GSO can arrange for business cards.

Special Information Last Updated: 9/16/2003 8:13 AM

Post Orientation Program

Last updated: 07/30/03

The post provides periodic formal orientation programs. New arrivals are met and assisted by a designated sponsor and receive personal attention while acclimating to Syria. Schedules and handouts for the orientation program are available from the CLO.

Notes For Travelers

Getting to the Post Last Updated: 9/16/2003 8:14 AM

Getting to Post

Last updated: 07/30/03

The best way to reach Damascus is by air. Transfer points through Europe include Amsterdam, Athens, Frankfurt, London, Paris, and Rome. Alternatively, one can arrive from Amman or Cairo, though these are neither as efficient nor as simple. Be sure to book your travel early as there are two peak travel seasons in Syria corresponding to the spring and fall, and peak travel season through Europe is in the summer. Travel to and through the Middle East is not as simple or efficient as in Europe or the U.S. Make sure that you have all your necessary travel documents. Syria requires a visa. There are no airport visas.

Travel to Syria by car is discussed earlier in this report under the heading Personally Owned Vehicle Transit In and Out of Syria. The correct documentation and paperwork are necessary to enter Syria by car. Most neighboring Middle East countries require valid visas, which must be secured from the respective embassies of the country. If you have any doubts regarding any documentation, we recommend that you ship your car and fly to post.

Airfreight from the U.S. and even from closer points (e.g., Europe, North Africa, the Middle East) can take up to 2 months to reach Damascus and clear the port of entry. Make full use of your excess-baggage allowance and plan wisely for your requirements before the airfreight arrives. Bed linens, dishes, towels, kitchen utensils, irons, radio, television and VCR are part of the Welcome Kit that each family is provided upon arrival for temporary housekeeping. Pack only those things you will need for the first weeks at post. Syrian customs considers all electronic items as household effects. If you include them in unaccompanied baggage or airfreight, it may delay receipt of these shipments.

HHE shipments take an average of 3 months to arrive in Syria and clear the port of entry. Consumables should be shipped separately and in crates that do not exceed 500 kilograms each. For all shipments (automobiles, unaccompanied baggage, airfreight, surface shipments, and consumables), you should have a detailed packing list; (bills of lading; and shipping and freight information, including weights, numbers) of boxes and carrier(s), and dates, with you. Provide a copy of all the above to the Embassy as soon as possible. Each crate or box should be marked and consigned as follows:

American Embassy Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic (Name of owner/recipient)

All surface shipments from the U.S. are routed via the European Logistical Support Office in Antwerp. If shipment is made from somewhere other than the U.S., it is especially important to send documentation to the GSO at the Embassy so that the shipments can be racked or traced. It will simplify arrival and customs clearance if these rules are observed.

Customs, Duties, and Passage

Customs and Duties Last Updated: 9/16/2003 8:19 AM

Customs and duties

Last updated: 07/30/03

Valid Syrian visas are required for entry into the country. There are no border or airport visas in the Syrian Arab Republic. Incoming personnel should apply at the Syrian Embassy in Washington, D.C., or at any Syrian Embassy. All personnel should take and bring extra passport photos to avoid delays in applications for diplomatic ID (white) cards, drivers licenses, etc.

All diplomatic and nondiplomatic personnel are allowed to import one private vehicle duty free. Check with the GSO for any restrictions on the importation of automobiles (e.g., no right-hand drive, no trucks with unusual equipment or large displacement, no cars more than 5 years old). All cars imported under duty-free status must be exported at the end of a person’s assignment, sold to others with duty-free privileges, or, if the car is less than 5 years old, sold to SAYARAT (the foreign trade organization for machinery and equipment).

Diplomatically accredited personnel pay no local taxes, import duties, excises, etc. Syrian law requires that all items imported duty free except for consurnables and used clothing be either exported upon permanent departure from post or disposed of to or through other persons having duty-free privileges. All U.S. Government regulations on disposal of personal property overseas apply in Damascus.

If you have any questions regarding what is allowed or disallowed or regarding your status on the diplomatic list, these should be addressed to the administrative officer at the Embassy. Do not assume anything.

Pets Last Updated: 9/16/2003 8:24 AM


Last updated: 07/30/03

Pets should arrive with all of the proper inoculations, including rabies. A certificate not more than 60 days old from a licensed veterinarian showing current and valid inoculations is a requirement for animals entering the country. No quarantine is required. Nondiplomatic personnel should be prepared to pay duty on imported pets, as they are not considered personal property. The duty is calculated on the shipping charges, not on a declared value. There are veterinarians, though services may not meet U.S. standards. Animal medicines are not readily available and axe more expensive than in the U.S.

Dogs must always be walked on leashes since there is an official government dog-removal program. Excluding the Ambassador’s residence, all housing in Damascus is apartment style. Very few are garden apartments with enclosed outdoor areas. Large animals may be uncomfortable in small, enclosed areas. Despite difficulties, several Embassy staff members have brought dogs and/or cats and, by exercising due care, have not had serious problems.

Firearms and Ammunition Last Updated: 9/16/2003 8:27 AM

Firearms and ammunition

Last updated: 07/30/03

Permits are required for all weapons; they are seldom granted to noncitizens. Syria has strict legislation controlling the availability, ownership, and use of firearms.

Hunting licenses are very difficult to obtain. U.S. Government personnel assigned to Syria may not bring any type of firearms or ammunition into the country.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures Last Updated: 9/16/2003 8:29 AM

Currency, banking, and weights and measures

Last updated: 07/30/03

The Syrian Lira or Pound (SL) is a controlled currency that is not exchanged or exchangeable abroad. When traveling to Syria, any hard currency converted to Syrian Lira cannot be cashed in or converted to any other currency. Because of this limitation, personnel assigned to Syria should maintain their U.S. checking accounts or have an offshore hard currency account. Refer to the section on Commerce and Industry for current US/SL exchange rates. The current official floating rate is 51.50 to the dollar.

There are accommodation facilities for the exchange of hard currency to Syrian Lira throughout the county. Banks keep branches in all of the larger hotels. Credit cards are not generally accepted in Syria except at the larger hotels. Personnel at post can get dollars for travel, tuition, and other needs either from the Financial Management Office (FMO) cashier.

Syria uses the metric system of weights and measures. Local service personnel use metric tools for all manufacturing, repair, and replacement. If you have American equipment (vehicles, etc.) that uses U.S. standard tools and parts, then you should bring a U.S. standard tool kit and replacement parts. It is useful to own a metric tape measure for any work done in your home.

Recommended Reading Last Updated: 9/16/2003 8:31 AM

Recommended reading

Last updated: 07/30/03

These titles a provided as a general indication of material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Ball, Warwick. Syria, A Historical and Architectural Guide. Scorpion Publishing Ltd.: Essex, England, 1994.

Bums, Ross. Monuments of Syria, An Historical al Guide. LB. Tauris & Co.: London,1992.

Davis, Scott C. The Road from Damascus: A Journey through Syria. 2001

Devlin, John R. Syria: Modern State in an Ancient Land. Westview Press: Boulder, Colorado, 1983.

Finlay, Hugh. Jordan and Syria, A Travel Survival Kit. Lonely Planet Publications: Australia, 1993.

Humphreys, Andrew and Simonis, Damien. Lonely Planet Syria (A Travel Survival Kit). 1999

Keenan, Brigid. Damascus: Hidden Treasures of the Old City. 1999

Lindisfarne, Nancy. Dancing in Damscus: Stories. 2000

Maalouf, Amin. The Crusades Through Arab Eyes. London, 1977.

Miller, Carol. Syria. 2002

Petran, Tabitha. Syria. Ernest Benn: London, 1972.

Rough Guide Editors. The Rough Guide to Syria. 2001

Scale, Patrick. Asad, the Struggle for the Middle East. University of California Press: Berkeley, 1988.

South Coleman. Culture Shock! Syria. 2001

Touma, Antoine. The Arts and Crafts of Syria. 1993

Weiss, Harvey, ed. Ebla to Damascus: Art and Archaeology of Ancient Syria. Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service: Washington, D.C., 1985.

Local Holidays Last Updated: 9/16/2003 8:32 AM

Local holidays

Last updated: 07/30/03

Whenever possible, please make travel plans to avoid arriving weekends, American holidays and the following Syrian holidays.

Syrian holidays observed in 2003 are:

New Year’s Day Jan. 1

Eid Al-Adha Feb. 12-13*

Moslem New Year Mar. 5*

Evacuation Day Apr. 17

Catholic Easter Apr. 20

Orthodox Easter Apr. 27

Prophet’s Birthday May 14*

Eid Al-Fitr Nov. 24-26*

Christmas Day Dec. 25

*Days based on the lunar calendar. Exact date confirmed closer to actual occurrence.

Adapted from material published by the U.S. Department of State. While some of the information is specific to U.S. missions abroad, the post report provides a good overview of general living conditions in the host country for diplomats from all nations.
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