I am currently planning our next trip – Voetspore through Africa’s Great Rift Valley. We plan to depart from Mozambique and travel all the way to Jordan, visiting 13 countries. This means contending with 13 border crossings and 26 customs offices – enough to scare off the most hardened traveller
A South African passport holder needs visas for at least eight of the 13 countries we plan to visit on our next Voetspore trip, from Mozambique to Jordan, following Africa’s Great Rift Valley.
Just recently, the Kenyan authorities decided to change entry requirements, making a visa necessary for South Africans. This will set you back R750!
The cost of applying for visas is exorbitant. Applications cost anything between $50 and $100. This means you will pay between R600 and R1200 per application. For the Voetspore team, our visa expenses for one expedition are now approaching R100 000!
The cost of the visa application is one issue. Completing the forms is another. You need the completed form plus two passport photographs, and most countries now insist on a copy of your yellow fever certificate. But it doesn’t end there. Some countries insist on a letter from your employer. Others want recent bank statements. Hotel booking confirmations are often part of the requirements. Then, obviously, there is the itinerary that has to be attached to the application form.
All these requirements really don’t make sense if Africa is serious about developing tourism. In Europe, the days of applying for individual visas for Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Germany etc are long gone. One visa takes care of all the European countries. In Africa, this is sometimes done, but only on a very small scale. An east African tourism visa for Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda is available, but at a fee of R1200 per person.
Until the recent announcement by Kenya, South Africans were not required to have a visa for Rwanda or Kenya. Under the new rules, the combined east African visa becomes a good option as it is marginally cheaper than the combined fee for Kenyan and Ugandan visas (about R1350).
One needs to plan these applications very carefully. Some can take up to six working days to complete. Applying for eight countries may take two months, and only if there are no hassles, which rarely happens. There is usually some issue to deal with.
Then, of course, one should make sure that the visa will still be valid by the time you reach the country. This sounds obvious, but overland travel takes much longer than flying, and if you get held up somewhere you can easily find yourself without a valid visa. We always plan our transcontinental journeys for three months or longer.
Most visas are valid for at least 30 days, and some for longer – up to 90 days. That said, one should take note of all the requirements.
On our last trip we got stuck in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We sat at Kisangani for 18 days. Our Congolese visas were valid for only 30 days. When we applied, we felt sure that would be more than enough time to cross the country. How wrong we were!
By the time we were due to leave Kisangani, we knew that the visas would run out while we were going downstream on the Congo River. At first I thought I would be able to fix things up when we got to the capital, Kinshasa. Luckily an official at the office of the governor of the Province Oriental advised me to tackle the problem in Kisangani. Thankfully, we managed to get a two-month extension to our visas.
After three weeks meandering downstream (by which time the original visas had expired by a week), our boat finally docked at Mbandaka. Even before we had properly moored, the immigration officials were on board. The six foreigners stood out in the crowd, and the first thing they checked was our passports. If the visas had expired we would have been in deep trouble. This is when the issue of bribes comes up – something we try to avoid at all costs.
On a previous journey we travelled through Malawi. South African passport holders do not require a visa for this landlocked country. Yet, upon entry, they ask about the duration of your stay. We all indicated two weeks, but in Francois’ passport, the exit date was indicated as a week earlier. When we were about to leave the country, the official at the Malawi/Mozambique border told Francois he had to pay a fine as he had overstayed his welcome. He should have been out of the country earlier.
The situation became very tense, and I had to threaten them with an international incident before the official stamped Francois’ passport and allowed him to leave Malawi with the rest of us.
Whenever you travel in Africa, check all the stamps in your passport carefully. Make sure the passports are properly stamped, check that the correct dates are filled in and try to anticipate any problems, thereby avoiding uncomfortable situations later.
It will take some time before travel on the African continent becomes easier. Unfortunately, as far as the paperwork is concerned, it seems that things will get worse before they get better.