In our experience, nothing could be simpler than crossing borders from Botswana to South Africa. We have very rarely had mishaps, and officials have almost never given us a hard time about the vehicle.

This proved true again when we recently crossed the border from Botswana (Pioneer Gate) to South Africa, heading to Pretoria in mid-February 2016.

Which border to choose?

There are a number of border posts between the two countries. Which one you choose will largely depend on where you are in Botswana, where you’re headed in South Africa, and what time you want to cross, but over the years we have acquired some ‘favourites’.

When heading from the Gaborone area to Johannesburg / Pretoria or points northeast, you can choose between four borders:

  1. Tlokweng Gate – Kopfontein, 06:00 – 00:00 hours (24°42′23″S 26°05′38″E)
  2. Ramotswa – Swartkoppie,  06:00 – 22:00 hours (24°52′21″S 25°52′57″E)
  3. Pioneer Gate – Skilpadshek,  06:00 – 00:00 hours (25°16′32″S 25°42′50″E)
  4. Ramatlabama 06:00 – 22:00 hours (25°38′31″S 25°34′27″E)

Our favourite of this group is, by far, Ramotswa-Swartkoppie, with Ramatlabama coming in at a close second.

Ramotswa is a smaller and less-travelled border post, which typically means shorter queues and less hassle than the large commercial border posts at Tlokweng and Pioneer Gate.

Crossing requirements

Besides the usual things – including a valid passport, valid driver’s license and proof of third party insurance – not much documentation is required. Most European and North American passport holders don’t need a visa to enter, and little fuss is required when travelling in a vehicle registered in a SADC country.

When we crossed, the officials weren’t even interested in whether we owned Maggie (who is registered in Botswana), although it’s always a good idea to have the ownership documents to hand. If you’re in a rental, make sure you ask the company to write you a letter of permission to bring the vehicle across the border, as there is a possibility that officials will want to see it. And if you have a non-SADC registered vehicle, a carnet de passage is recommended.

When crossing into Botswana from South Africa, you’ll be required to fill out an entry form, and to give an address where you’ll be staying in the country – so make sure you have one to hand, or at least know the name of a hotel or lodge! They also might charge you some temporary importation fees, especially if it’s the first time the car has entered the country.

But in our experience, South Africa doesn’t require you to fill out a form or to give an address and we have never been charged any fees for bringing in a foreign-registered vehicle.

VAT reimbursement

This time crossing, we tried to reclaim VAT for some large items that we had purchased in Botswana, including an Engel fridge for the Landy.

Although the government website claims this is possible, for purchases totalling more than P5,000, we met resistance and hassle at the Pioneer Gate, which included 4 hours of waiting in the hot sun!

And to date, we have not yet been reimbursed.

So our advice to travellers seeking to reclaim VAT from Botswana: don’t bother, buy it in South Africa where it is likely to be cheaper anyway.

And if you really do need to reclaim VAT from Botswana, visit the BURS headquarters in Gaborone first to make sure you’re 100% on top of the rules; likely, you will know more than the BURS officials at the border, who may be reluctant to help you!

What have your experiences been with border crossings? Comment below!

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