Peter Gostelow

Adventure Cyclist, Speaker, Photographer, Writer

What about visas?

In the matter of visas and border crossings, the smaller the country the bigger the fuss: like a small policeman directing traffic. (Paul Theroux)

Congolese Visa

Perhaps once or twice a week I receive an email from someone asking questions about the logistics of undertaking a big bicycle trip. Here is an excerpt from one I received today. I was about to reply, but then realised it made a useful topic for a blog post.

"I was planning to travel through Morocco, Mauretania, Senegal and Guinea and finally
Sierra Leone. My question of course is about visas, but since we have two different
nationalities I don't know if you are able to help. How did you get you visa for
the countries mentioned? Could you just head up to a British Embassy, knock on the
door and get a visa? Or did you have to get some beforehand?
Is there advice you could give, concerning the route? I was planning the same route
you travelled; via the west coast".

That’s a nice image; walking up to the British High Commission wherever I might be in the World, knocking on the door and being given a visa for the next country I planned to visit.

First off, my own Embassy usually has nothing to do with me applying for a visa to another country. If I want a visa for Mauritania then I have to find the Mauritanian embassy. In my case that was in Rabat, Morocco.

For those who don’t know, a visa is merely a sticker or stamp placed in your passport, which gives you permission to enter another country. Most of the information you need to know is usually written or printed on the visa. I write this because I recall watching a poor/stupid young girl in Thailand blissfully unaware that her visa had an expiry date. Watching her count out 2000 Baht as a fine I wondered how many other people travel the World without knowing what their visa actually means?

There are different visas and different rules applying to different nationalities of people applying for visas. I cannot reprint all that information here. The situation changes, as do the addresses of the Embassies in foreign cities where one needs to get a visa!

Not every country I have visited requires that I have a visa. Morocco allows British passport holders a 3-month stay for free, as does Senegal. For those countries that do require a visa, it’s usually advisable to obtain that visa in advance, which most often means from the Embassy in the neighbouring country. There are cases where visas can be obtained at border posts, but then this is information you need to know as a certainty in advance. Some border posts issue visas and some don’t.

Some people have the idea that they can collect many visas in their passport before embarking on a big trans-continental trip. Unfortunately most visas are only valid for 3 months, so unless you enter the country before then the visa will have expired.

How do I know all this? The information is usually available on the Internet. In the past I have used forums like Lonely Planet and Horizons Unlimited to ask questions. This is where people should do their planning.

All of the visas I have ever applied for when travelling have been tourist visas or transit visas. The latter are usually valid for a 3, 7 or possibly a 10-day period from the date of entry, which should allow the visa-holder enough time to travel in transit across that country. Of course this is not always the case when travelling by bicycle. Transit visas are sometimes the only visas issued in countries whose governments don’t want foreign tourists staying longer than necessary. For me this has included Turkmenistan and Libya. In other cases it can be a cheaper option to apply for a transit visa rather than a normal tourist visa if you know you will only be in the country for a limited number of days. This has included Togo and Mozambique for me.

Tourist visas differ in the length of time they allow for a stay. A 30-day visa is usually the minimum, which can usually be extended twice for a further 30-days each time within an immigration office. Some countries, India springs to mind, allow foreigners to apply for a 6-month tourist visa.

Depending on the Embassy, some visas can be applied for, paid and collected on the same day. This will often cost most than a two or three day turn around.

Complications with visas arise when certain countries make life harder for people to visit. In Asia I used the services of an online tour-agent to ensure I would be able to get a visa for Iran. It was reported that if I went direct to an Iranian Embassy I stood the likely chance of having my visa application denied. In Central Asia, countries like Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan required that I specify which day I would be arriving in their country. Considering I got my Kyrgyz and Tajik visa several months in advance when I was in India meant I had to plan carefully.

African countries don’t present those same problems, but places like Angola have never been easy to spend a lot of time in, and there are a number of other countries that present restrictions on where you can apply for a visa.

Travelling with a British or other European/western passport is of course a whole lot simpler than if you’re from a country with little diplomatic representation abroad. My friend Elvis, who is from Tanzania, has struggled to work his way north as he cycles through the Americas, and most of the people I’ve met in other countries I’ve cycled through would face an equal struggle.

Having kept notes of where and how I got my visas for the Big Africa Cycle, perhaps this information will help the young man who sent me that email thinking I could knock on the door of the British embassy to get what visas I needed. For anyone reading who would like to update me on the situation of those visas I mention here, or provide details of other countries like Angola and Ethiopia, please do leave a comment.

Morocco: No visa required. 90-day stamp on entry for free.

Mauritania: $50 in Rabat, Morocco. Visa only valid for 30-days from date of issue to date of entry (worth noting for cyclists)

Senegal: No visa required. 90-day stamp on entry for free

The Gambia: As above

Guinea Bissau: $10. Collected in Banjul, The Gambia. Valid for 30 days.

Guinea: $60 for 30-day double-entry visa. Collected in Banjul, The Gambia.

Sierra Leone: $100 for 60-day visa. Collected in Banjul, The Gambia.

Liberia: $75 for 30-day visa. Collected in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Ivory Coast: $75 for 30-day visa. Collected in Monrovia, Liberia.

Ghana: $30 for 30-day visa. Collected in Abidjan,  Ivory Coast.

Togo: $20 for 1 week visa. Collected on border.

Benin: $40 for 1 week. Collected in Accra, Ghana.

Nigeria: $130 for 60-day visa, requiring more paperwork than other countries. Collected in Accra, Ghana.

Cameroon:$95 for 30-day visa. Collected in Abuja, Nigeria.

Central African Republic: $100 for 30-day visa. Collected in Yaounde, Cameroon.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: $200 for 90-day multiple entry visa. Collected in Yaounde, Cameroon.

Rwanda: No Visa required.

Uganda:$50 for 90-day visa. Paid on border

Kenya: $25 for 90-day visa. (now costs $50). Paid on border.

Tanzania: $50 for 90-day visa. Paid on border

Mozambique: $30 for 30-day visa. Collected in Dar es Salaam.

Malawi: No visa required. Free 30-day stay.

Zimbabwe: $50 for 30-day visa. Paid on border.

Botswana: No visa required: Free 90-day stay.

Namibia: As above

South Africa: As above

11 Comments

  1. Hi Peter, a very useful blog – thank you :)

    As for Ethiopia – I agree with the comments above; best place to get it is Khartoum. Ethiopia is better visited heading North to South – getting Visa’s the other way is much harder.

    You can easily get Visas for 1, 2 or 3 months but be warned they are from DATE OF ISSUE – not Date of Entry. I made this mistake and have a Court Appearance to prove it! I actually ended up with 4 Ethiopian Visas in my Passport but that’s another story…

    Burundi is $40 for 3 days or $90 for 1 month if you get it in advance in Kigali.

    Most expensive Visa was Sudan at $100 – I got that very easily in Cairo.

    All East African Visas can be renewed at least once (up to 6 months); after that you’ll need to buy “Chai” to do it.

  2. Hey Peter. Get yourself a RSA passport…. Way cheaper to travel through Africa on. Apparently you can buy them quite easily in parts of Cape Town! Ha!

    Interesting if you take the East Africa route, going south is easier than going north visa wise. You can get Ethiopian visas easily in Egypt and Sudan but can’t get them in Kenya, Uganda, etc (you get told to apply in your home country). For Sudan you can get a visa in Egypt for 30 days or something from entry, but if you get it in Ethiopia they will only give you a two week transit visa which if you are on a bike is somewhat irritating. Shortest visa we got was 3 days for Burundi and it cost $40. We just managed to get through the country in this time.

    • Thanks James. I knew Ethiopia was a problem. East Africa is also cheaper for visas than west Africa.

  3. Hi Peter

    I rather fancy doing a similar trip somewhere down the line as reading about your trip has been amazing.
    So I have what I suppose may be a rather tricky question.
    How much roughly did the whole trip cost like visas, equipment, food , etc.?
    Feel free not to answer it I was just intrigued.

    Thanks Sam

    • Hi Sam, I think that’s going to fill a different blogpost. Africa was more expensive to tour in than Asia. Very approximately speaking I probably spent on average about £10 per day ($15) in Africa, whereas in Asia on my Long Ride Home it was more like £6-7 ($10) per day. Taken within the spectrum of what bicycle tourers spend while touring I would say this falls into the lower budget end. I’ve met some who travel more cheaply, and many who probably travel for a shorter period of time and spend more.

  4. Wikipedia has useful lists for visa requirements for different passports. Here’s a listing:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Visa_requirements_by_nationality

    And here a study on the visa restrictions by country:

    https://www.henleyglobal.com/citizenship/visa-restrictions/

    Looks like Denmark is the best passport for visa-free travel.

  5. The Ghana Visa can, from the 1 January 2011, only be applied for in your HOME country. I was able to talk to the Visa official at the embassy, in Bamako, Mali, and show that i couldn’t have got it in advance as i had been on the road more than 6 months(the longest visa). I got it issued at the Ghana embassy in Mali.
    It seems that more and more countries want you to apply in your home country. Apparently Congo DRC too.

    • Yes, I have heard this is true for the DRC now but wonder if all consulates actually apply this? I can’t understand why an open and mostly progressive country like Ghana would place this restriction on people traveling there.

  6. I was able to get a Mauritanian visa in Rabat with the validity not starting until three weeks later — which gave me enough time to bike through Morocco to get there. My impression was that it depended on who was writing out visas that day as to whether that was possible.

    • That’s good news. I didn’t even realise at first that my Mauritanian visa had started ticking when I actually got the visa. I arrived in Mauritania with only several days left on it, but as I recall, didn’t have a problem with extending it.

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