Visas in West Africa

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With less than three months to cover around 6000 miles, time will be surprisingly tight. To make border crossings go much smoother, we wanted to get as many visas as possible ahead of time. We have one week until we head to Europe, and we managed to get every single visa we need in plenty of time, except for the Mauritania visa which we plan to get on the road. Here’s how we did it (on US passports):

1. Guinea visa
Sometimes with standard 3-month visas, you have to enter a country within a certain number of days (usually 90 days) from the date of issue of the visa. This can be a concern on a 3-month long trip, so we chose to apply for 6-month visas that don’t have an entry date restriction for both Guinea and Ghana, to be safe. Since we were entering Guinea first, we chose to apply for this visa first to give us more buffer room for the Ghana visa.

Turnaround time: 5 business days
Cost: $200
Duration and type: 6-month multiple entry
Important links: http://guineaembassyusa.com/visa-citizen-services/visa/

Update: Despite requesting a 6-month, multiple entry visa and paying $200 for the expedited multiple entry visa, we received 3-month multiple entry visas, which should have only cost $100.

2. Ghana visa
Next, we applied for a 6-month Ghana visa. This was because the minimum number of visas we needed to complete our trip was Guinea (which we had already), Ghana, and Cote d’Ivoire (since we’ll get our Mauritania visa in Morocco). The Cote d’Ivoire visa application process was a bit ambiguous and we didn’t know if we would need to enter the country within 3 months from the date of issue, so we thought a 6-month Ghana visa would be safer.

Turnaround time: 9 business days
Cost: $100
Duration and type: 5-year multiple entry (even though we only asked for 6 months!)
Important links: http://www.ghanaembassy.org/index.php?page=visas

3. Burkina Faso
Since we were still unsure of the entry requirements for the Cote d’Ivoire visa, we chose to get a Burkina Faso visa next. We don’t need to pass through Burkina Faso on our trip, but Jackie knows someone there so it seems like a good idea. Plus we’ll be avoiding the rainy season on the coast, anyways.

Turnaround time: 5 business days
Cost: $140
Duration and type: 5-year multiple entry (to match our Ghana visas)
Important links: http://burkina-usa.org/the-embasy/visas/

4. Cote d’Ivoire
Now that we were within 3 months of when we thought we’d be entering Cote d’Ivoire, we applied for our Cote d’Ivoire visas. We read on a Horizons Unlimited thread that this visa should be relatively easy to get in Nouakchott or possibly Dakar, but we figured we’d do as much as we could before leaving to save us time on the road.

This visa was tricker, because the information wasn’t clearly posted on the embassy website (which was decently hard to find). The visa section of the embassy website says to call the consulate for details, but the number on the visa page never seemed to reach a human being. After several days of calling, I finally reached someone by calling the number on the contact page. This person took down my email address, and then emailed me both the application instructions and application form (posted here for convenience). The application was a bit more complicated than the other applications – you need a hotel reservation and proof of your flights into Abidjan, for example. We prepared a long document with our flights into Denmark and out of Ghana, and we mapped out our overland route, specifying the date which we planned to enter Cote d’Ivoire. All went smoothly.

Turnaround time: 5 business days
Cost: $150
Duration and type: 1-year multiple entry (even though we only asked for 6 months!)
Important links: See text above

5. Mauritania
We plan on getting or Mauritania visas in Rabat, Morocco and will post once we’ve learned more about the process! (Many past travelers have posted on it here.)

Update: Our experience getting the Mauritania visa is here.

Senegal and Morocco don’t require visas for US citizens. We’ll be in West Africa during Liberia and Sierra Leone’s rainy seasons, so we decided to avoid there. We had enough rain in Norway last summer.

Update: Senegal has started requiring a visa. We found out a couple days before we were supposed to enter Senegal, but our accident in Western Sahara kept us from traveling any further south. Since we returned to the US, we didn’t try to get a visa for Senegal, but we’ve heard there is an online application.

** Note: turnaround times come from a sample of 1. Don’t count on our results being typical, but overall we were quite impressed with the speed with which our passports were returned to us.
*** Also note: turnaround times are calculated from the day we mailed our passports in to the day we received them back. We sent our passports overnight with USPS Express Mail.

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