Africa Retired Travelers Travel by Location

Planning for Africa: Passports, Visas, and Cash

Africa Border Crossing
Written by Tom

updated on May 28th, 2019

We’re here again with another incredibly useful post from my dad all about preparing for a trip to Africa. This week he’ll cover passports, visas, and carrying cash to Africa- things to be sure you’ve prepared for before setting out! –Amy

After you’ve checked up on your vaccines for your trip to Africa, it’s time to make sure your ducks are in line with your passport and African entry visas. Everybody’s favorite topic: paperwork!

Passport Requirements for Africa

US Passport to Africa

Check your passport’s expiration dates

Is your passport up to snuff? Check your passport and make sure you will have six months remaining before its expiration date. That doesn’t mean from today! Your passport should be valid from the day you depart from your last country on your next trip.

(Example: You’re going to Kenya & Uganda to see the gorillas! Great choice! Your trip will start in Nairobi on 10 July and end on 30 July. Your passport should not expire until approximately the first week of the following February: 6 months and 1 week after the last day you are in Nairobi. That gives you a few extra days in case there is, God forbid, an airline strike somewhere along the route.)

Lonely Planet Africa

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Does your passport have enough blank pages for all of the visa stamps and stickers?

For a South Africa visa you’ll need two blank passport pages; most countries want one. In truth, most don’t care as long as there is room to clearly stamp without being on top of another county’s stamp. Don’t quote me on this! If you have an older passport, you can no longer send it in and get pages added. When your new passport’s pages are filled, regardless of expiration date, you are done with that passport. If you are getting a new passport it is wise to pay a few dollars more to get extra pages while ordering. You can’t get a replacement passport without starting the whole application process from the start. This is not something you can do a few weeks before you depart. Plan ahead!

Lastly, make a few color copies of your passport name page. Put two copies in your luggage along with a couple of passport sized photos and your health certificates- use a manila folder to keep it all together. I also leave a copy where a friend/relative can find it at home. They can fax or email a copy to the nearest embassy if you lose everything.

Visas for Africa: Those darned customs officers!

The good news is you can get all East African and Southern African visas upon arrival. That includes arriving at airports, border crossings, etc. The bad news: you’ll need clean undamaged cash. This means US dollars (no credit cards, sorry). And you better have exact money. Waiting for the proper return change is an exercise in futility. Most customs officers forget their English when you start asking for money back. Just Google: “What is the visa fee for Uganda/Malawi/etc. for US citizens?” I’d advise storing those dollars in the manila folder of documents so it’s handy upon arrival. You can also download a county’s visa application form and fill it out ahead of time. Many countries in Africa have e-visa services through their government websites. I’ve never used them so I can’t speak to that issue. What I do know for sure is that every customs checkpoint that I have ever been passed through is usually crowded, confusing, hot and unfriendly. Keep your smiley face handy and do as much homework as possible prior to departure.

East Africa Tourist Visa

Are you familiar with an “East Africa Visa”?

This will save you some money as well as time. It is a single entry visa for foreigners visiting Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda (which you’ll do if you’re planning on gorilla trekking). It is also recently available upon entry. You must purchase it at the first country of the three that you enter. If you leave those countries, it is invalid for reentry. It costs $100 US cash and is good for 90 days as long as you stay inside the three countries. Some people suggest writing “East Africa Visa” by hand boldly on the top of the standard Kenya visa application form while waiting in the visa line. Kenya is working to get other counties to join the “union”, but so far with no luck.

Kenya-Uganda Border Crossing

Traveling with Cash in Africa

We have learned to rely on credit cards and ATM’s for most of our travel needs. In Africa, you will need cash for visas and money exchange. US dollars are accepted everywhere, and Zimbabwe uses only US dollars. I take about $100 per week per person, in addition to pre-planned border crossing money. I always come home with extra money. Petty crime is rampant everywhere in the world but in Africa you are at an additional disadvantage. You’re probably white and the locals probably aren’t. Europeans and North Americans are easy to pick out of a crowd. Whatever trivial amount of cash you might have in your possession is at least a weeks’ worth of groceries for a local. Split up your cash between bags and persons. If you’re on an overland tour, you have the advantage of a locking “cubby” in the truck for your bags during the day. You also have a driver/guide that will not put you in a bad spot. In all of our time travelling in Africa we have never felt threatened, but our awareness radar is always fine-tuned. Use common sense!

Gorillas in Uganda

Now we are about ready to hit the trail. I should say “dusty” trail. Because Africa is just that: dusty. How do you think they get their beautiful African sunsets? And the great “sundowner” parties that go with the setting sun? Next we’ll cover what to pack so you don’t look like some kind of safari idiot that will provide hours of humorous jokes to the indigenous camp staff.

See more posts in our Africa series!

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