Crossing African land borders is a notoriously infamous undertaking. Unfortunately, the truth is the reputation exists for a very good reason; it’s a huge pain in the ass. Its time consuming, hot, intense and exceptionally confusing. There are people in your face pushing (semi-aggressively) to try and ‘help,’ you, intimidating officials who occasionally want bribes and rules and prices, which change depending on the colour of your skin.
Don’t despair though, there is good news! Firstly, in general, it’s not as bad as the stories would suggest, and secondly, we can help. While solutions to the root causes of the issues remain utterly elusive, there are remedies which like modern western medicine, can help alleviate the painful tooth-pulling symptoms experienced in attempting to tow the line. They won’t magically get you from Botswana into Zambia but they may help you reduce frustration, limit how often you get swindled and lighten the awaiting agony. Like all things African, they are inexact and change depending on the situation. They require a touch of finesse and bucket load patience to work, but like black-magic, they work if only you believe.
Some African borders, like the one above where nothing but a tree marks the border between Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara National Parks, require nothing but a decent 4×4. Lucky we had our baby Suzuki Jimny, Badger!
I have to thank my university engineering education for the first tip. While I recall almost nothing from the time I served there ten years ago, the words of my Project Management lecturer fortunately stuck; “The first rule of project management; proper planning prevents piss poor performance.” As it turns out, the first rule of project management is also the first remedy. The day before going to any border we quickly research and write down key information for the coming crossing, it’s the best thing we have done. Knowing what to expect before you reach the border will save you time, money and having to listen to the lies peddled by the sharks at the borders.
Resupplying and checking up on the regulations before we cruise to yet another African nation.
Here’s what you need to find out, make sure you check out the summary table below:
- Visas: Do you need a visa, if so, how much does it cost and how long does it last? Often officials will give you however many days you ask for up to the limit for that country, usually 1 or 3 months. Ideally ask for more days than you need to give yourself flexibility. Make sure you have enough pages in your passport;
- Carnet de Passage: Does your car need a carnet de passage, effectively a car passport, to enter the country? You can check if you need this on the table we have prepared for you below, if required you will need to organise before leaving SA. Carnets are not mandatory for most Southern and Eastern African countries though they can be very helpful for reducing waiting times and other costs. We opted to get one and are thankful for it, our humble suggestion is you should get one for any extended overland trip in Africa;
- Third Party Insurance: Is this mandatory in the country you visiting and roughly how much should it cost? As a rule almost all countries will require this insurance. Cost varies depending on country and how well you bargain, be sure to do so as the vendors will almost definitely try swindle. In most places the smallest period you can buy is a quarter (3 months) but if you are in the country only a couple weeks, you can negotiate the price on this basis. A very useful tip is that in COMESA countries (http://ycmis.comesa.int/) you can buy one 3rd party policy to cover all in the union. Doing this will save you a lot of money and effort in having to get a new policy in each country you visit;
- Other Documents: What other documents or permits do you or your car need to get in to where you are going? Common examples of things you might need include; carbon tax, road user tax and temporary importation permits for your car and yellow fever certificates for yourself;
- Money Matters: What is the real exchange rate in the country you are visiting and how does it relate to your home currency, what currency are the various fees due in? Try to find this out before entering any new country. A tip is to carry USD with you as you can convert it almost anywhere in Africa for the local currency. Banks will often give you better rates than guys on the street. If you can get some currency for the country you are entering before hitting the border.
Important notes with regard to table below: Visas specific for ZA Citizens, Rec. = Recommended, TIP = Temporary Import Permit, IDP = International Driving Permit, ZA sticker, registration papers and affidavit from owner if vehicle financed assumed compulsory for all countries. Source: www.aa.co.za
Words and Photos by Shane Quinnell, Videos by Tarryn Quinnell, Team Tane