Traveling overseas usually requires visas, especially if you’re not traveling within a defined geopolitical area, like the European Union or the Commonwealth. As we traveled around the world we collected visas and visa stories. Fees, processes and paperwork differed in every county, some were a breeze, others were so painful they overshadowed nearly the whole visit. Interestingly enough, our good, bad and ugly are all from Africa. I’m not going to lie, obtaining visas there sometimes felt like catching Harry Potter’s snitch leading us to write an African Visa Guide.
The Good: Mozambique
Like so many visa processes, we had read differing accounts as to whether visas were available at the South Africa/Mozambique border. Unsure we were walking down the street in Buenos Aires when we came across the Mozambique consulate. The next morning we arrived at the consulate during business hours prepared to spend our day filling out papers. To our surprise we were met by a housekeeper who showed us into what could only be described as a formal diplomatic receiving room. The two of us, dressed in our travel best we looked completely out of place in the lavishly decorated room. We heard the clatter of breakfast dishes and shortly the consul came to greet us and inquire about our business. He was clearly surprised, but incredibly gracious with us. He spent several minutes socializing with us about our travels, our background and our itinerary in Africa. Eventually he disappeared with our passports leaving us as fish out of water again in the receiving room. When he returned, we had Mozambique visas and a new friend.
The Bad: Egypt/Sudan
A tourist visa for Sudan can take months to process and you have to send your passport to Khartoum. That clearly wasn’t an option for us, so we found a legal work around- a transit visa. The transit visa allowed us 15 days in the country without a problem so long as we had a visa for our next destination – Egypt. We assumed we’d have no problem getting Egyptian visas so we went to the Egyptian Embassy with our South African friends to apply. That’s when we were hit with the catch, processing time for South Africans was less than 4 days. For Americans it was a 10 day minimum, no matter what. Frustrated we politely explained the situation to the consulate officer, who empathized and offered to talk to the consul for us. She was unsuccessful and we ended up having to stay an extra week near Addis Ababa waiting for our Egyptian visas. Not the worst situation by any means, but 10 days is a lot of extra time when our Ethiopian visas were limited to 30 days in country.
The Ugly: Ethiopia
And that brings us to the ugly. It wasn’t that the experience was so long or painful, rather that it was overtly unfair. By the time we arrived in Ethiopia we had been traveling well over a year and were used to special rules or fees for Americans and Europeans. Usually our fee was within the same range as those for other Western nations, but we were shocked when we stood in the consular office in Nairobi and heard we’d have to pay $70 instead of the $20 for everyone else, including their colonial oppressor – Italy! The consulate explained, sanctimoniously that Americans can afford to pay $70 and therefore they should. Never mind that if Americans fly into Ethiopia they only pay $20 like everyone else for a visa on arrival. We were subjected to a patronizing lecture on how we can pay therefore we should and how unbalanced our own immigration system is. While I can’t argue that our immigration system isn’t broken, I’d be lying if we didn’t point out to the officer that at least the fees are EQUAL for everyone. (And we never once complained about a country that charged us a reciprocal visa fee). We left frustrated, enraged and thought seriously about not going to Ethiopia as a matter of principle. In the end, we got our visas and left for the border. You can only imagine our rage when we showed up at the Kenya/Ethiopia border and the first sign we saw in the customs building was stamped USAID: A gift of the American people. Awesome.
If you’re interested in an interesting statistical breakdown of our trip around the world, check out our trip by the numbers!