Crossing borders made easy

Results 1 to 3 of 3
  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Cape Town

    Default Crossing borders made easy

    Posted as per the request of Karistew in the Starting Out thread

    OFF ROAD SERIES: Border crossings and bureaucracy

    Story: Tony Weaver and Liz Fish

    TONY WEAVER and LIZ FISH look at the etiquette of travelling in the rest of Africa.

    WE HAVE all heard apocryphal horror stories about African bureaucracy. Border posts induce panic attacks, road blocks are a source of terror, visa offices a paper jungle. More often than not, bureaucracy problems are caused by travellers with an attitude problem. With some spectacular exceptions, bureaucrats and law and order officials in most African countries are polite, friendly people. In many cases where travellers fall foul of the law, it's their own damn fault.


    A typical incident at a Botswanan border post: We had just finished completing all the formalities, and were having an amiable chat with the polite and helpful customs officials. A South African 4X4 pulled up in a cloud of dust and two men in grubby bush shorts and t-shirts, and two women in shorts and bikini tops, all wearing hats and sunglasses, walked in. They slapped down their passports. The immigration official politely asked them to remove their sunglasses and hats as they were standing beneath a photograph of the president of Botswana. The travellers burst out laughing and one muttered "banana republic".
    As we drove off, the customs officials were doing a very, very leisurely strip search of the 4X4, huge piles of luggage lying in the dirt. The travellers were in for a long, hot wait.
    In two years of African travel, we were never searched or had a moment's trouble at a border post. Only once was a bribe solicited, by a Kenyan official who asked "have you brought me a present from Uganda?" We fobbed him off.
    Maybe we were lucky, but prefer to believe it was because we followed a few basic rules:

    * To the average traveller, a border post official is a lowly civil servant -- in that man or woman's community, they are very important government officials and must be treated with respect. Call them "sir" or "madam".

    * Without going over the top, always keep a set of neat, clean clothes for border crossings. The more respectable you look, the less hassles you will encounter. Men should shave before crossing a border.

    * Walk into a border post wearing a hat and sunglasses, and remove them as you make eye contact with the officials, indicating respect for the ubiquitous portrait of the president -- and the officials.

    * Have all your documents ready for inspection, and never get impatient if you are kept waiting. You are at the mercy of the border officials who have the power to stamp "prohibited immigrant" in your passport. Bye bye overland trip.

    * Even though most border posts only require one member of a large party to enter the post, everyone should get out and offer themselves for inspection.

    * When customs officials approach your vehicle, immediately open the back -- don't wait to be asked. Tidy the back as much as possible before getting to the border post. Make sure one of you stands by during the search to avoid pilfering.

    * Learn the greetings of the next country before getting to the border post: A great ice-breaker is to get involved in an impromptu language lesson. Remember that, especially at isolated border posts, officials are bored and love practicing English, and enjoy news from other parts of the world. A couple of newspapers or magazines, no matter how old, are always welcome.

    * Keep your cool, no matter how tedious and obstructionist the officials are being. We have heard of travellers forced to camp for three days at a border post because one of them lost their temper and insulted a customs official.

    * Unless there is a compelling reason for being there, like your visitor's permit is about to expire, never cross borders on weekends, public holidays or close to closing time. You are liable to be hit with an overtime fee, or the customs officials will keep you hanging about until the overtime rates come into effect. Most borders are incredibly hectic at weekends and on holidays, and you will have a long wait. The Beit Bridge crossing between South Africa and Zimbabwe is a nightmare on long weekends.


    If a bribe is solicited, pretend you don't understand: Ask the person requesting the bribe to accompany you to another office to clarify the request. This should be enough to scare off the supplicant, unless the whole office is in on the game.
    But don't be too naive: Walk into an office with a couple of click Bics in an outside pocket. If an officer asks to borrow a pen and then admires it, offer it as a token of friendship. Postcards of your home town also make good gifts and help to break the ice. Chutzpah is often the name of the game.
    The rule of thumb is to play it by ear without putting your foot in your mouth. If there is a payment which seems outrageous, ask for a receipt -- if no receipt is offered, then assume you are being asked for a bribe. If a receipt is forthcoming, the item will usually be legitimate.
    There are travellers who routinely bribe their way around Africa. This is an outdated view of Africa no longer valid in most parts of the continent. In the majority of countries, the authorities are committed to cracking down on bribery and corruption, yet many travellers don't realize this -- by offering bribes you are supporting a system which is rapidly fading.
    Two countries which have cracked down heavily on corruption and which previously had nasty reputations are Uganda and Tanzania. The Ugandans have had more success than the Tanzanians, and the threat of reporting a corrupt official to central government will make them turn tail.


    KENYA: Corruption stretches from the pettiest of officials into the highest echelons of government. Here there is a fine line in knowing how long to hold out before offering a bribe. The point at which to offer a bribe is when you are about to be arrested, and no sooner.
    Officials on the Kenyan side of the intermittently operating Sand River border post near Keekorok, linking the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Maasai Mara in Kenya have a nasty reputation for extracting bribes. In East Africa, a bribe is known as "chai", the Swahili word for tea. So "taking tea" is taking a bribe.

    DRC: Expect to pay bribes for almost every single official service. Bribery is a way of life: The central government seldom gets it together to pay civil servants outside of the capital, Kinshasa, so border guards, policemen, soldiers, even bank clerks and nurses, demand a "cadeau" (gift) before doing what they are supposed to do. That is simply how they get paid.

    NIGERIA: Exceptionally corrupt. Expect to pay bribes. Don't fall foul of the military or police: It could be fatal.


    A feature of life. In Kenya, expect to be stopped as many as ten times a day. Always slow down when you see a roadblock, and meticulously obey any signals. Remove your sunglasses when an officer approaches, and greet them in the local language. Be as polite as possible. You will occasionally be asked for a bribe at a road block. Play it by ear.
    In East Africa, road blocks are often badly marked, and the barriers consist of two rows of fearsome, tyre-shredding metal spikes. All the more reason to slow down well in advance of a block, and to NEVER drive at night -- sometimes the police forget to move the spikes, or don't pull them fully off the road.
    Always keep vehicle papers, passports, carnet and insurance documents in a secure place which is easily accessible, so you don't subject yourself to unnecessary scrutiny at roadblocks. If you are issued with a vehicle disc at customs, display it on the windshield.
    In most cases, you will be waved through as soon as the officer sees a foreign-registered vehicle -- except on Kenya's Mombasa to Malindi road, where foreign vehicles are a target for bribe extraction.
    If there is something wrong with your vehicle, work out a convincing story in advance. Say something like "but we have just had that fixed" and pull out a tool kit and start repairing the fault. This usually gets you off the hook.
    In Mombasa, we were stopped while on our way to fit four new tyres to our vehicle, the old set were bald and tread-less. The officer politely pointed this out and said he would have to fine us. In a moment of divine inspiration, we said these were a new design from the United States, especially made for mud driving:
    "You see, officer," we explained, "there are no holes for the mud to get stuck in, so you drive right over the top. They are called Super Slicks." He grinned and said "that is a very good story, you may go."


    Eina. happens. When the Rwandan civil war erupted, several groups of overlanders were trapped inside. Coups are unpredictable things, all the more reason to tune into the BBC's African Service every evening and listen to regional developments.
    If trapped, head for your consulate, or a friendly consulate if you are not represented (the Brits are pretty good) and hole up there. If you cannot get there because of fighting, get to the nearest solid hotel with all your available food, money and backpacking gear (including stoves), book a room, close the curtains and prop blankets, mattresses and tables against the windows to slow down bullets, flying glass and shrapnel, fill the bath and every available container with water in case supplies are cut off, and -- prepare to be very bored, because chances are nothing will happen. The folks back home will be more worried than you.
    If you are trapped in the countryside, head for the nearest friendly border. You will probably come across a road block where the soldiers are drunk. Nasty, and you will have to keep very calm. Don't get out, keep the engine running, the vehicle in gear and a foot on the clutch.
    Single out one soldier with more authority than the others, or who is less drunk. Make sure you know the president's name and invoke his authority -- this may be enough to bring the drunkest of soldiers to his wits, if they are loyalists and not rebels. Play it by ear. Invoke the names of Nelson Mandela and Bafana Bafana -- they carry a lot of power.
    If things get out of hand, crash the roadblock if it is crasheable, and hope like hell the guns don't work. Drunk soldiers are notoriously bad shots. If you are hauled out of the vehicle, don't resist, however tempting it may be.


    We had been gone from South Africa for two years when we returned through the Beit Bridge border post. On the Zimbabwean side, the immigration official paged back through our passports and said "you have been gone two years, you must be very glad to be going home, viva Mandela, congratulations," and shook our hands.
    On the South African side, the grim-faced woman demanded to know: "Why have you been gone two years? Where have you been? How much money are you carrying? Does your vehicle got a licence?" Is you carrying firearms?"
    There is some border posts where the tricks just doesn't work.
    Last edited by Tony Weaver; 2017/11/27 at 02:21 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2016
    king william's town

    Default Re: Crossing borders made easy

    Asking for some assistance from the well traveled members on the Forum.
    A friend has requested assistance in this, but I will also be traveling to Moz, Mal, Zam & Bots;
    So I also need the information for the various border posts.
    Just fill in the table for the requirements and correct in-correct information.
    Your assistance would be greatly appreciated. Thanking you in anticipation.
    Safe Travels,
    Edge (Haboob)

    YellowFever : Typhoid: Hepatitis A & B : Tetanus : Polio : Typhoid :Rabies
    Last edited by haboob; 2019/05/05 at 10:46 AM. Reason: Table does not seem to come up on the post.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2016
    king william's town

    Default Re: Crossing borders made easy

    I do not seem to be able to post the table with the post, but when I try to edit the post, the table appears.
    I had made a table with all the requirements for the Border Posts to each Country, but now cannot post it.
    I would be most grateful, if anyone could assist me.
    Thanks again,
    Edge (Haboob)

Similar Threads

  1. AT Tyre Tests
    By kalahari in forum Tyre chat
    Replies: 67
    Last Post: 2016/04/02, 08:58 PM
  2. Namibia, Botswana and Zambia Tour
    By freeflyd in forum Namibia
    Replies: 14
    Last Post: 2010/02/04, 10:14 AM
  3. Botswana Around the Delta Dec 08 trip report
    By freeflyd in forum Botswana
    Replies: 16
    Last Post: 2009/05/26, 09:14 AM
  4. Diesel, Made Simply From Coffee Grounds
    By SteveB in forum The 4x4 Pub
    Replies: 0
    Last Post: 2008/12/17, 06:23 PM
  5. Where to get a bash plate made
    By Wazzy in forum Mitsubishi
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: 2008/05/06, 02:22 PM


Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts