Yes, crossing a border in Africa can be a nightmare, but with a bit of planning and preparation, the process can be streamlined. Glyn Demmer explains how to deal with those pesky border officials.
One of the biggest hassles associated with travel in Africa is undoubtedly border crossing. Crossing from one country to another can be an absolute nightmare!
So what is the best way to deal with it? Yes, it can be frustrating, but you can’t allow your emotions to get the better of you. Always remain calm and courteous, and don’t be rude or sarcastic, regardless how big the temptation might be.
Also, be organised. Make sure that all your documents and other essentials are ready for perusal.
Prepare a small bag that contains your passports, driver’s licenses, insurance policies and any other documents that you may need. Also place cell phones and a small digital camera in the bag. If anything bad, happens critical items will be easy to grab. I was once told a story regarding a car that caught fire in Botswana. By the time the driver saw the flames, he was only able to get his wife and kids out the car, and grab his document bag ! Literally a minute thereafter, the car was engulfed in flames. And, yes, he was able to take a few pictures which helped him with his insurance claim as he had a digital camera in the bag. So don’t underestimate the importance of a document bag. It will allow you to keep track of your most valuable possessions in a moment of crisis.
If you have any prescription medicine, or any prescription items in your first aid kit, ensure that your supply exceeds the duration of your stay – sort of an emergency backup in case you are delayed. Also, see that you have a letter from your doctor listing the prescription medications and condition. Without this, they could be confiscated. Or even worse, you may be accused of dealing in prohibited substances. Not the best way to start a holiday!
If travelling in a group, it is worthwhile having a pre-trip briefing where all important administrative issues are discussed, and where border-crossing procedures are explained.
Once you have crossed the border, always remain vigilant. Be cautious when buying things, drawing money from ATMs, etc. A good money belt is essential, and can even hold documents and a passport in a pinch.
See that someone at home has your itinerary and that, if possible, you make contact on a regular basis. Be courteous to all and ask permission to take photographs of locals. In some cases, a bit of cash might have to exhange hands.
It’s always worthwhile to keep certified copies of passports, drivers licenses, IDs, etc. If you have copies, losing a document won’t be quite as big a disaster. Lastly, check that your vehicle and possessions are covered by insurance if you cross the border, and that your vehicle and family will be repatriated in the event of an emergency. Also, check that your medical aid will cover you and repatriate in an extreme situation. If necessary, purchase alternative medical cover.
Yes, dealing with border officials can be irritating, but don’t be too worried about the process. It need not be an infuriating experience. Some officials are very warm and friendly. Not too long ago, while as I was boarding a plane at Vic Falls, a Zimbabwean border offical said that he was very cross with me. My heart sank. I was not in the mood for a fight, since I had already had a very unpleasant run-in with a rude official in Botswana a few days earlier. When I asked him why he was angry with me, however, he said that it was because he saw that I had spent more time in Botswana than Zimbabwe. This was a mistake, he explained, since the people in Zimbabwe are far friendlier.
It just shows you: don’t expect the worst from people. Sometimes even a customs official can put a smile on your face!