Crossing the border to Tanzania by road from Malawi was no problem at all. A visa on arrival, and some paperwork for the car…

There is only one overland border crossing between Malawi and Tanzania at the Songwe river – at Kasumulu on the Malawian side, and 115km south of Mbeya on the Tanzanian side.

Border crossing requirements

The paperwork and process on the Malawian side was not too painful. We had to show officials the carnet de passage and get it stamped for exit, and also have our passport stamped for exit. Once that was settled, we were cleared for departure and drove over the bridge to Tanzania…

Crossing the border at the Songwe river bridge

First step, avoid the money changers

When crossing over the Songwe bridge, anyone looking like a foriegner will be flagged by one of the many money changers offering their services.

A word to the wise: don’t use them. Use one of the two ATMs at the Tanzania side which allow you to withdraw a max of Tsh400,000 – plenty of cash to pay fees and purchase third party insurance.

We met fellow travellers who were scammed by money changers who count incorrectly, create a distraction, and then skim money.

Bridge where the money changers hang out, Songwe border

Visa on arrival

Once on the Tanzanian side, the first step is to buy a visa on arrival. We were given two options for our UK passport – a 30 day single entry visa for $50 or a 90 day multiple entry visa for $50. We didn’t prepare for this option (previously, we thought the visa fees were $100 for double entry) and so were slightly confused. But we opted for the 90-day multiple entry, and the official took about 15 minutes to process the visa and stamp in our UK passports.

We were also asked, strangely, to produce proof of yellow fever vaccination, even though we had not travelled to an affected country. Not wishing to argue, we just handed them over anyway.

Crossing with a car

For those travelling with a vehicle, the most important thing when entering Tanzania is to buy a temporary import permit for the vehicle, or alternatively to have your carnet de passage stamped. We were not asked to pay any fees for temporary importation for our Botswana-registered vehicle with a carnet, but we were given a temporary permit to show to officials when leaving Tanzania.

We were also asked, strangely, to produce a copy of our passports and driving licenses – which we needed to get at a photocopy shop next door. Then we were taken to an office in the back to pay $25 per month for carbon tax.

Third party insurance is also required, and we purchased a 90 day policy from a company at the border for MWK60,000 ($30). Unfortunately, they did not sell COMESA and we didn’t bother to get it in Zambia.

Insurance can be paid in local currency or USD, but prices are negotiable so bargain hard. There will likely be a number of insurance agents who approach you at the border, and in our experience they will quote an inflated price but can easily be triggered into a bidding competition.

In addition to a carnet, it’s always a good idea to have ownership documents to hand.

Adhere to the speed limit

Once over the border and into Tanzania, the speed changes quickly and sometimes without signposts from 80 kph to 50 kph in towns and villages. In our experience, traffic police are everywhere. One village will have officers hiding, and officers in the next village will hail you down for the alleged infraction.

We talked our way out of a few sticky situations by insisting on receiving a charge sheet (admission of guilt form) and receipt for payment. For all but one of the officers, going to the station to do the paperwork was too much and they let us going without paying the Tsh30,000 (US$15) fine.

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