Researching Visa Requirements for overland journeys in Africa

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An important step in planning an overland journey is researching visa requirements. For many European and North American passports, visas are often not required, or where they are required, are available on arrival. And let’s face it – those of us holding these passports can get accustomed to not having to worry about such annoying details!

However, Noel and I have found that sub-Saharan African countries are increasingly requiring that visas to be arranged before arrival. So it’s really important to know which visas will likely be needed and, importantly for overland travellers with tentative arrival dates, whether they can be obtained at the border or in a neighbouring country along the route.

Of course, some general requirements are universal to all countries – notably, passports must have at least 6 months of validity and two blank pages. Our advice: if planning a longer journey involving several countries, go ahead and renew your passport regardless of how much validity it has left, and splurge on the 52-page book. Applying for a new passport on the journey is possible, but can be a hassle, and can stop your trip in its tracks for weeks or more.

In addition, it’s always a good idea to bring a sheet of passport-sized photos to avoid the hassle of having to find a place to get them at, or before reaching, borders. It’s also a good idea to have a hotel / campsite reservation handy, or at least to know the location of a suitable establishment on the other side of the border – some countries will want to know where you plan to stay on your trip. Technically, sufficient funds are also often required, but in our experience we have rarely been asked for proof or bank account statements.

There are three basic categories of visa requirements – the first two are almost always hassle free, but third is where things can get tricky, especially if you’re like us and aren’t able to apply for visas before leaving our home country!

  • No visa required: this is the best category you can hope for, as it means that entry into the country should be relatively easy and free of charge!
  • Visa available on arrival: this is the second-best category; entry into the country technically requires a visa, but it does not have to be pre-arranged and is often available at the port of entry (air or road) for a fee.
  • Visa required prior to travel: this is definitely the least helpful type of visa requirement. In our experience, some countries that previously offered visas on arrival have changed their rules to require that visas be obtained before you go to the border, which can certainly be a headache for long-haul overland travellers.

Where a country in your itinerary requires a visa prior to arrival, we recommend researching the application requirements, and more importantly, where the visa application may be submitted.

Often times, it is possible to submit a visa application in an embassy or consulate in a neighbouring country. However, in some situations these embassies may restrict applications to those only from residents / nationals of the country in which they are situated.

Trying to enter Ghana, Noel and Reka ran into problems getting a visa from the embassy in Cote d’Ivoire, which informed that they needed to go home and apply for visas in their countries of nationality! This is definitely a situation that a little research and prep may have helped to avoid…

E-visas may also be available for countries that require visas prior to arrival, meaning visa can be arranged online without the need to go to an embassy.

The best place to find the most up-to-date information on visa requirements is, of course, the official government website for the country you’re intending to visit. However, government websites in sub-Saharan Africa aren’t always known for their quality and reliability, so a good substitute are resources such as the US Department of State Passports & International Travel website or the UK Government Foreign Travel Advice website.

But keep in mind that visa requirements and fees can change relatively quickly, or may not be strictly implemented, so it’s a good idea to do internet / travel forum searches to keep on top of any changes. And, of course, nothing beats asking fellow travellers who have recently been to the country…

Knowing the visa requirements – and any fees that are applicable – beforehand and/or applying for e-visas can also help to guard against corruption and scams! Remember to bring exact change wherever possible, and to request a receipt if you’re unsure about any request for payment.

In the spirit of sharing, here are some notes from our visa research for our 2016 trip through southern and eastern Africa. I have a US and UK passport, while Noel just has a UK passport, so our notes are from both countries. Info was as accurate as we could find at the time of writing – and of course follow our blog for updates as we travel!

Country UK Passport US Passport
Botswana No visa required for up to 90 days No visa required for up to 90 days
South Africa No visa required for up to 90 days No visa required for up to 90 days
Namibia No visa required for up to 90 days No visa required for up to 90 days
Lesotho No visa required for up to 30 days No visa required for up to 180 days
Swaziland No visa required for up to 30 days No visa required for up to 30 days
Mozambique Visa required prior to arrival: single-entry (£40) for up to one month. Multiple-entry visas are no longer available, and no e-visa available. Can apply for visa in embassies in countries other than home country, including South Africa and Botswana. May also be available at border crossings in Kruger National Park. Visa required prior to arrival: single-entry (£40) for up to one month. Multiple-entry visas are no longer available, and no e-visa available. Can apply for visa in embassies in countries other than home country, including South Africa and Botswana. May also be available at border crossings in Kruger National Park.
Zimbabwe Visa available on arrival: single entry (£40) for up to 30 days or multiple entry (£ unknown) for up to 60 days. Visas can be pre-arranged and e-visas are available. A special 30-day dual visa is available for travellers to Zimbabwe and Zambia, valid for 30 days, but only available at border posts close to Victoria Falls. Visa available on arrival: single entry ($30) for up to 30 days or multiple entry ($60) for up to 60 days. Visas can be pre-arranged and e-visas are available. A special 30-day dual visa is available for travellers to Zimbabwe and Zambia, valid for 30 days, but only available at border posts close to Victoria Falls.
Zambia Visa available on arrival: single-entry ($50) or double-entry ($80) for 90 days. Three-year, multiple-entry visas ($80) are available in advance from embassy / consulate. A special 30-day dual visa is available for travellers to Zimbabwe and Zambia, valid for 30 days, but only available at border posts close to Victoria Falls. E-visa application is available. Visa available on arrival: single-entry ($50) for 90 days. Three-year, multiple-entry visas ($80) are available in advance from embassy / consulate. A special 30-day dual visa is available for travellers to Zimbabwe and Zambia, valid for 30 days, but only available at border posts close to Victoria Falls. E-visa application is available.
Malawi Visa available on arrival: transit ($50) for 7 days from date of issue, single-entry ($75) for 30 days or multiple-entry for 6 months ($150) to one year ($250). May be possible to apply from embassy in Mozambique or Zambia (unconfirmed), but cheaper to apply at border. Visa available on arrival: transit ($50) for 7 days from date of issue, single-entry ($75) for 30 days or multiple-entry for 6 months ($150) to one year ($250). May be possible to apply from embassy in Mozambique or Zambia (unconfirmed), but cheaper to apply at border.
Tanzania Visa available on arrival: single-entry ($50) or double-entry ($100) for 6 months. Possible to apply in advance. Visa available on arrival: single-12-month, multiple-entry ($100). Possible to apply in advance.
Burundi Visa required prior to arrival: single or multiple entry visa ($50 as of Oct 2015) for 90 days. May be able to apply in Tanzania or Rwanda.  Visa required prior to arrival: single or multiple entry visa ($50 as of Oct 2015) for 90 days. May be able to apply in Tanzania or Rwanda.
Rwanda Visa available on arrival: 30 days (£20). Can apply in Tanzania / Burundi. E-visa also available.  Visa available on arrival: 30 days ($30).Can apply in Tanzania / Burundi. E-visa also available. 
DR Congo Visa required prior to arrival: as of March 2015, all travellers must obtain a visa in home country before travelling. However, it may be possible to apply for a 7-day pass to enter country at border posts in Rwanda or Uganda. Visa required prior to arrival: as of March 2015, all travellers must obtain a visa in home country before travelling. However, it may be possible to apply for a 7-day pass to enter country at border posts in Rwanda or Uganda.
Uganda Visa available on arrival: single entry ($100) for up to 90 days. Recommended to obtain in advance when using land borders. May be able to obtain in Rwanda or Tanzania. Visa available on arrival: single entry ($100) for up to 90 days. Recommended to obtain in advance when using land borders. May be able to obtain in Rwanda or Tanzania.
Kenya Visa required prior to arrival: as of Sept 2015, single entry ($50) or multiple entry ($100) visas must be obtained online prior to entry. However, a visa may still be available on arrival. Visa required prior to arrival: as of Sept 2015, single entry ($50) or multiple entry ($100) visas must be obtained online prior to entry. However, a visa may still be available on arrival.
Ethiopia Visa required prior to arrival: single entry for one month ($50) or three months ($70) from date of issue must be obtained in advance and are not available at land borders (only available on arrival at Bole airport). Visitors are supposed to get a visa from embassy closest to place of legal residence / home country. Visa required prior to arrival: single entry for one month ($50) or three months ($70) from date of issue must be obtained in advance and are not available at land borders (only available on arrival at Bole airport). Visitors are supposed to get a visa from embassy closest to place of legal residence / home country.
Djibouti Visa required prior to arrival: (visa on arrival only available at airports) 3-day (DFJ10,000), 30-day (DFJ15,000) or one year (DFJ20,000). Possible to obtain visa from embassy in Addis Ababa. Visa required prior to arrival: (visa on arrival only available at airports) 3-day (DFJ10,000), 30-day (DFJ15,000) or one year (DFJ20,000). Possible to obtain visa from embassy in Addis Ababa.
Somaliland Visa available on arrival: Somaliland issues own visa on arrival at land border. May also be available at Somaliland embassy in Addis Ababa.   Visa available on arrival: Somaliland issues own visa on arrival at land border. May also be available at Somaliland embassy in Addis Ababa.

Updated 12 March 2016

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