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12 things you need to know about security, visa, and immigration experiences in Africa
12 min read
Updated on May 29, 2024

Michael Zervos, the man with the most challenging travel schedule, is journeying across the entire continent of Africa in the pursuit of breaking a Guinness World Record. Along the way, he’s gathered invaluable tips, tricks, and border-crossing hacks. Find out why having exact change is essential, which city you will get arrested for taking photos, and which African country you can’t carry a GPS with you.

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Michael shared time with locals in Chad at the beginning of his trip. Source: iVisa

Let’s dive right into the essential immigration information you need to know but didn't know you needed to know about the African countries Michael visited.

If asked for money, you just say, “I don't carry a lot of money. I don't have any money in my pocket for you. Be strong”

Visa and immigration processes: Navigating entry requirements across African countries

Africa consists of 54 countries, and as Michael sets foot in his final African destination, we've compiled a wealth of valuable visa and immigration insights. Here’s a rundown of the countries that stood out during his journey, along with those that require extra attention to detail when entering or exiting.

It's worth noting that Michael holds both US and Greek passports, so these visa and immigration experiences in Africa are based on these two nationalities.

1. Eritrea - Why printing out your docs is essential for smooth travel

“Eritrea has no internet outside of wifi, which you can access with Eastern European VPNs. Everyone does this, but you need to go to a shop in town to purchase it for a dollar. Therefore, having everything you need printed out when arriving is necessary. I would've been in trouble otherwise. You pay the $70 USD visa at a window, get asked the typical questions, and go through a very long customs line if you have a big bag. Leaving is pretty much the same in reverse, minus the visa payment. Everyone is friendly and says they wish you’d come back.”

Most nationalities must apply for a visa before entering Eritrea. For more details on how to apply, you should contact your nearest Eritrean Embassy.

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When you arrive in Eritrea, they stamp your previously authorized visa into your passport. Source: iVisa

2. Burkina Faso - Dont arrive at the airport too early

“It's best to always carry a physical copy of your Yellow Fever vaccine card as well as a digital one for emergencies, as you'll be asked to show this on arrival.”

Since the airport is very small, you won't be allowed to enter more than 2 hours before your flight in order to manage the transit and congestion of passengers.

In a recent Instagram post, Michael gives us his top 5 tips for flying in West Africa. Among those are some valuable tips that can be applied throughout your African trip.

3. Uganda - Prepare for delays on arrival

Michael passed through Uganda in early May, and after having already visited the majority of African countries, he stated, “Uganda’s immigration line has been the slowest I’ve been in for a month. The whole process took 1.5 hours, with a single person taking care of the entire plane, and getting to the city of Kampala from the airport took 1 hour and 15 minutes.”

Michael advises, “Add these delays to your schedule and have patience when arriving at Uganda immigration. I had also been warned about safety here, although I did feel safe; there is a lot of petty crime.”

  • If you need a visa to enter Uganda, we can help you apply for the Uganda Tourist Visa,

  • OR, if you're looking to visit Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya, it's best to apply for the East Africa Visa, which allows you to travel to all three countries as a tourist.

4. Comoros - Always carry the correct change

“They did a very thorough search of my bag at the airport. You definitely need exact change in USD or EUROs to pay the visa-on-arrival fee (between $30-50 USD); otherwise, they may give you a very bad exchange rate for the change. I gave them a $100 USD bill, and they returned the change in their local currency, but a lot less than it should have been. Since I didn't have internet, I couldn't check the exchange rate or verify if I was being scammed, and the language barrier didn't help.”

I actually think having exact change is a good rule for every place you go. I think having a couple of hundreds and everything else in tens, fives, and ones is a lot better.

5. Madagascar - Extensive embarkation process expected

On arrival in Madagascar, Michael was pulled aside because immigration flagged that he had recently visited Tanzania. When looking at his yellow fever and embarkation card, which has a very extensive embarkation process, where he had to name all recent countries he had been to in the last 2 weeks. He wasn't told why they flagged that he had been to Tanzania, but after some discussion and discretion, they let him through.

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Ethiopian Visa and entry stamp. Source: iVisa

6. South Sudan - Photography forbidden in the capital

“I wouldn't recommend going without guidance. It's very difficult without knowing the language, which is a dialect of Arabic. I had an Untamed Borders guide, which was a great experience.”

“Also, don't take pictures in the city of Juba. Cops are waiting to bust you for it. You aren't authorized to take photos unless you have a license and a professional camera.”

South Sudan visa tips

You have to print out the S. Sudan eVisa. Immigration needs to stamp it, and then they give it back to you. However, you have to hold onto it until you leave the country. When you leave, you have to present the stamped visa to immigration.

“I was never handed my visa back on entry, but I was lucky, as they said I could print it out and backdate it with the stamp. Just make sure yours is handed back on arrival to avoid any confusion.”

7. Ethiopia - GPS device crackdown

“Ethiopia doesn't allow travelers to carry GPS systems and I also got searched for one on entering Hergeisa, Somaliland.”

GPS devices are forbidden in Ethiopia primarily due to national security concerns. They are still considered high-tech military equipment, and the government fears that GPS technology could be used for espionage, illegal mapping, or other activities that could compromise the country's security. Additionally, controlling the use of GPS devices helps the government maintain oversight of sensitive areas and prevent unauthorized access or data collection.

“Getting into Ethiopia was difficult as they take USD, but they won't give change back in USD as there is a shortage, and the USD is very valuable here, so it's advisable to have exact change.”

Ethiopian Airlines top tip

If you're flying with Ethiopian Airlines and have a layover in Addis Ababa, take advantage of their stopover program. For layovers between 8-24 hours, they provide a hotel, meals, airport transfers, and even a transit visa.

“The experience with Ethiopian Airlines was terrific. They fulfilled every part of their commitment. Nice hotel, meal, proper transit, and nothing out of your pocket for the layover”.

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The Mali visa. Source: iVisa

8. Mali - Apply for your visa well ahead of time

Mali was among one of the hardest visas for Michael to get as a US citizen, and the confusion didn't stop once he arrived in Mali.

“Immigration thought the expiry on the visa was my passport expiration date, not the visa, because I'd been granted a 5-year visa, and they couldn't believe this; they thought it was fake. I had to show the visa application and evidence to be let through.”

West African flight tips from Michael

“Here’s something to point out about West African flights. They are often delayed, and when they decide to take off, they do it almost without warning, so you have to be at the gate immediately. They will often not update the monitors to show if the gate has changed or if the time has changed.

“I’ve seen this a couple of times now, and today, it nearly cost me my flight to Mali. So my advice is to ask around and make sure you have the most up-to-date information. The announcements are often made only once and in a different language than you might speak.”

9. Nigeria - Bribes and border chaos

We recommend being extra cautious if crossing into Nigeria via any land borders. Where possible, it's better to fly. Michael recounts the following experience:

“I crossed from Nigeria to Togo, and it's not a pleasant experience for anyone. There is a lot of bribery, even for locals. They ask you what blessings you have for them or sometimes straight up ask for money. We stopped around 30 times and had our bags searched and motives questioned repeatedly. Violence is also present. The Togo side is much easier because the police have impunity here.”

Nigeria Business eVisa immigration experience

On arrival in Nigeria, Michael advises us of the following visa experience:

“You take your invitation letter to an office, and they have you sit down and fill out a form about your stay. It's typical disembarkation stuff. They're polite and happy to see you.

“You give it back and wait for them to call your name.

“When they do, they take a picture of the visa and scan your hands, and you sit back down and wait.

“They will call your name again, and you will have your visa. They never asked for my health declaration.”

10. Sierra Leone - Freetown transit tip: Opt for the speedy boat ride over a grueling taxi

“From the capital, Freetown, to the airport, you can take a very long 6-hour taxi or a 30-minute boat ride, and not many people know or expect this. You pay $35-40 USD to catch the boat, and you can get extra for VIP service if you want. They have you wait in a room, put you in a van, and take you to the port.”

“Leaving Monrovia to Freetown, there was a pretty thorough manual bag inspection. The security and immigration process in Sierra Leone was pretty simple. Just go through the line and present the eVisa. They wanted to know where I was staying, and they did ask for my security barcode when I tried to leave too.”

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The payment stub from Michaels' unexpected DRC exit fee. Source: iVisa

11. DRC to ROC - Look out for fixers and bribery

From Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo to Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo (Congo), you can take a ferry in either direction. Michael described the experience as not very pleasant and warned us of a few things to be aware of:

  • Michael states that “on the Congo side, people are friendly and try to help you, be a fixer for you. They take your money and won't even tell you what things cost. I paid a bit of money to lubricate his passage and the man took my passport, I had to run after him to get it back.”

  • “You don't leave until the boat is full.”

“They take your passport and check it, stamp it. Try to get you to pay extra fees for admin and the fixer. You sit and wait for the passport to be processed while they check you have the visa for both sides. They give you a lifejacket that doesn't work.”

  • “It takes 15 minutes to get over the river, and that's when the hell happens”

“I was spotted by a cop who tried to charge me to help for things I didn't need. You could break a rule that you didn't even know you broke, and they ask for a bribe. The cops work undercover and otherwise, so it's never obvious who they are.

“I went through the yellow fever card line, and then there were two more windows. They asked where I was staying, and I didn't have internet on my phone to check the address. People keep coming to ask if they can help you all the time.”

  • “Basically it feels like it feels like you have a target on your back for money. There are a lot of people asking for gifts and money in DRC; it's very uncomfortable.”

“ Kinshasa has a bad rep for this reason. There are assaults on men often, even for looking at somebody the wrong way.”

“Even when leaving DRC, I had to pay a $50 USD surprise pass that not even iVisa knew about, a disembarkation fee for people leaving. You don't know anything about it until you are leaving and it has to be paid in cash.”

Despite all of this, Michael told us:

I did see some cool things in Kinshasa and hung out at the French Institute. Good food, beers, and wifi, a very cosmopolitan city.”

We don't offer visas for the DRC or The ROC, but you can find the DRC visa application form here and apply for the DRC eVisa on the government website.

Enquire about your visa to enter ROC directly with the embassy.

12. Mozambique to South Africa

“If you do the land crossing, there are stops everywhere. On the Mozambique side, there are very corrupt cops. We had to bribe our way out three times. At one point, the guy walked away with our passports because we wouldn't give them enough money.”

“On the SA side, it's not as bad, but they will check the trunk and engine of your car for booze and drugs.”

  • For South Africa, you don't need a visa as an American citizen if you are visiting for 90 days or less. For a full list of visa-exempt countries check here with the SA government. You can also apply with them if you do need a visa to enter SA.

  • A visa is not required for Mozambique for those traveling to the country and not residing with a citizen or resident (i.e., hotel, guest house, or lodge). However, a visa is required for those visiting a citizen or resident . You can find out more about the visas available and apply for them on the government evISA portal.

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The Mozambique visa issued at the land border crossing from South Africa. Source: iVisa

You might find it helpful to take a look at the Facebook group Every Passport Stamp. Michael recommends it as a resource for getting experienced travelers' advice while planning his trip.

Check out Michael’s pre-trip recommendations

If you are planning a trip to Africa, you might also be interested in checking out the following blogs:

If you need more advice on how to apply for your Africa visa, you can contact our customer support team via chat or WhatsApp.

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