Border Post Tips
An Africa border post is a lot like a Stormers backline – you never know you’ll get on the day. Here is important information about all the border posts in Southern Africa to make your overlanding trip easier. Are you ready?
A border post can either frustrate the heck out of you by adding hours to your itinerary or, on another day, you can drift through it in a flash like an All Black centre through a Scottish defence.
It helps if you have all your documents in order and stored safely, and if little Johnny hasn’t drawn crayon pictures for Grandma in your passport. But if the border official got out of bed on the wrong side, there isn’t much (apart from the tips we’re giving here) you can do about it.
Here’s a list of requirements that apply at the border posts of ten Southern African countries. The information was compiled with the help of the AA, the respective countries’ consulates as well as experts and experienced Drive Out contributors. The information and prices were correct at the time of going to press.
Boundless patience and experience
After crossing 59 border posts, Drive Out contributor Matt Covarr can rightfully claim to being an expert. Here are his top tips.
Job’s patience. Patience is king at any African border post. Smile, be polite, co-operate and don’t panic! Don’t appear to be in a hurry. It will only delay procedures. And take off your cap or hat and sunglasses out of respect.
Say you are staying. Always ask for the maximum number of days possible when entering a country, even if you’re just passing through. You never know how long you could be stuck somewhere.
Leave the day before. If your entry stamp expires on 14 July, ensure that you leave on 13 July to avoid opening yourself up to abuse by a “hungry” official.
Play it safe with vaccines. Although hardly ever asked for, ensure that you carry a vaccine certificate for yellow fever and cholera.
Other travellers know best. Try to find out costs for crossing a specific border from travellers travelling in the opposite direction.
Beware money changers. If it’s at all possible, do not change money with sales touts; most border posts have a small bureau de change…somewhere. If you have to change money, start at the smallest amount. Always change money in front of your own witnesses.
Come with kwachas. Try to have R200 worth of local currency for each country you plan to visit en route before arriving. This enables you to clear the border post and change or draw cash at the first town you pass through. It will ensure a better exchange rate.
A helping hand. Don’t always dismiss the help of a “helper”. Select one person from the crowd and be clear that he is the only person helping you. Before doing anything, agree on a rate for his assistance and make it clear that is the rate from start to finish. Do this politely and calmly. A helper will often make the whole process quicker and less confusing. To ensure you don’t lose money, only pay once the work has been done. Sometimes the helper asks for money to take to an “office” and tells you to wait; calmly suggest you will walk along, and pay the official in the presence of the helper.
Be insured. Ensure that you purchase your third-party vehicle insurance before leaving the border post. This is often unclear as insurance sales reps may or may not be present. Insurance is sold by private enterprises and has nothing to do with the government officials present at the border post. If you have time, shop around at the various salesmen for the best price. (Your assistant is most likely connected to a particular insurance salesman; ask him to take you to others should the insurance rate seem high.) Remember that your SA insurance is not necessarily recognised everywhere, even if your agent told you so.
Keep it orderly. A compact folder divided into three sections – personal, vehicle and medical – could keep the mountains of paperwork that one accumulates under control. Always keep it handy for roadblocks.
Play it safe. Should you arrive after the post has closed, ask officials if you could sleep in your vehicle next to their office. Never free-camp in the area around a border post.
Jump the truck line. Most African borders will have long queues of trucks, some backed up for kilometres. Drive past them to the front of the line. The trucks are waiting to clear customs, which can take weeks or months, even years in some cases.
Ask if you don’t know. Passports and personal clearance are often dealt with in one section of the building, while vehicle custom clearance may be in another building. Ask an official for directions.
Double check. Don’t leave the border post until you have the following: correctly stamped passports, stamped vehicle carnet or a temporary import permit and third-party insurance documents. Keep all payment receipts.
General tips for a border post
Passport. Your passport has to be valid for six months after the planned visit to all 10 countries mentioned here. There should also be at least four empty pages for stamps.
Original or copies? Some of the countries require your vehicle’s original registration documents, while others accept a copy (sometimes certified or not). To be safe, always keep the original documents with you, but make some certified copies (at least eight) beforehand. Copies are required at roadblocks, and officials frequently keep it.
“But my boss said it was okay with him…” If the vehicle isn’t registered in your name, e.g. a rented or company vehicle, or if you have vehicle financing and the bank has the original documents, you have to have a certified letter stating you have permission from the owner or agency to use the vehicle.
Keep copies. Always keep certified photostats of your passport and visa at hand and take extra passport photographs along.
No to corruption. Don’t submit to blackmail. Someone will give in earlier or later – and it doesn’t have to be you.
Does that Bic work? Always have your own pen at hand.
Comesa. If you are visiting a number of countries in southern and eastern Africa (not all countries are covered in this section), it will be cheaper to take out Comesa (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) third-party insurance. Individual third-party insurance for each country costs about as much as once-off Comesa insurance. Countries in this article that are Comesa members are Swaziland, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Other member countries are Kenya, Ethiopia and Egypt. Visit www.comesa.int for more information on which countries are affected. NB: If you’re driving from South Africa, you can only buy Comesa insurance once you are in Zambia.
Carnet de Passages en Douane. If your’e visiting Zambia, Malawi or Tanzania, a Carnet de Passages en Douane (CPD) is indispensible. This customs document covers the temporary importing of cars. The AA is the only institution in South Africa who can issue a CPD (visit www.aa.co.za/content/454/carnet-de-passages/). A CPD isn’t required for SADC countries, but it makes the customs process much easier. It is however required for SA vehicles in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, the Sudan, Egypt, Rwanda and Burundi.
Know your border post! Here’s everything you need to know for borde
r posts in Southern Africa:
Originally published in DO #42 Jan-Feb 2011