Rosso Border Crossing: the hellhole everyone says it is

We’ve posted about No Man’s Land between Moroccan controlled Western Sahara and Mauritania. While the process was lengthy and convoluted, the crossing was easier that we expected. Having made it through, our next crossing was a similarly dreaded crossing from Mauritania into Senegal. It was the only other part of this trip we’ve been really concerned about. Since we generally enjoyed our short time in Mauritania and Senegal has been great, keep in mind that this post represents the exception on our trip so far.

In short, we found The Rosso border crossing lived up to it’s terrible reputation.

Some takeaways:
1. If you don’t get a receipt it’s not real (this doesn’t mean you won’t have to pay, because receipts generally come after you’ve handed over your money).
2. Don’t let anyone without a uniform or not behind a desk hold your passport or paperwork (this is harder than it sounds).
3. Get through and get over it. Rosso is the toilet of West Africa, but the rest of Senegal is lovely.

In long…
There are two border crossing options between Mauritania and Senegal. They are Rosso and Diama. On the travelers forums we’ve read, Rooso is widely regarded as “the most corrupt border crossing in Africa.” Mind you that evaluation comes from people who have crossed lots of African borders, don’t through around a statement like that lightly, and know from experience. Rosso is swarmed by people who call themselves “helpers,” are call “touts” on the forums, but should be more accurately described as scammers, cheats, and assholes. Diama is a much smaller border crossing, accessible only by 50 miles of piste (dirt road), but also crosses you into Senegal right near St. Louis, which was our next stop. We could start to tell something was fishy within 100 miles of the border. The police checkpoints stopped being short exchanges of pertinent information (where are you from, what is your profession, where are you coming from/going to?), and started to become awkward conversations. Strategically, Jackie stopped speaking any French and Aron got to drive the conversations including one where a policeman placed a call and gave him his mobile phone in order to talk to a “friend” who spoke English (only marginally and who couldn’t really be heard anyway with a phone shoved in the side of a motorcycle helmet). This “friend” could supposedly meet us at the border to “help” us get through. Playing dumb and ignoring it seemed to work, but only after several minutes of “What? I can’t hear you.” Police started asking us if we were crossing at Rosso (easy to get to, but corrupt) or Diama (far flung, but supposedly better). At the first checkpoint we said Diama. Truthfully we weren’t sure which we’d do. At the second we said Rosso and the cop kept asking the question until we switched the Diama. This game played out a few times and it felt like we were being steered one way other the other, but it wasn’t clear which.

The turnoff for Diama is right in town in Rosso, only a couple hundred meters from the Rosso ferry. About 10 miles away we decided to go Diama. Somewhere around this point, a rundown black Mercedes started driving really close behind us. Annoyed, we pulled over to look at maps on our phones and let the car pass. The POS Mercedes loops around to follow us again. We speed up, it speeds up. We slow down, it slows down, now driving in front of us on the poorly paved road making it hard to see ahead and control our pace. We were in a populated area, so this wasn’t really threatening as much as irritating. We pull over at a gas station to fill up our tanks from our gas cans and to try to get rid of them again and the Mercedes stops down the road. Some guys get out saying they can “help” us at the border. We tell them we don’t want their help and they didn’t get the message until Jackie started yelling at them to get the hell away from us (or however close she could get to at in French).

At this point, another car pulled up, but these people seemed to be traveling towards the border themselves. They said they were going to Rosso, we said we’re going to Diama, and they pointed us in the direction of the turnoff. They also pointed out (for the second time we heard this) that you can’t get road insurance in Diama, so we should get it here in Rosso. They suggested that if we ride two motorcycles any closer than the turnoff to Diama, we’ll get swamped by touts, so Jackie went into town with one of the guys to buy insurance while Aron waited with one of the other guys at the turnoff with the bikes. Jackie frustratingly ended up going to three insurance places before finding one that would sell what we needed for Senegal (and supposedly for all of West Africa) it cost about 100Euros for a month which seemed high, but was also about the same amount we had paid for insurance at the border in Morocco (there was however no receipt). Aron waited awkwardly by the bikes for almost an hour.

At about 2:00pm with insurance in hand, we set off for Diama. At first the road was good, but it kept getting rougher and sandier. To keep this part of the story short, we made it about 15 miles in an hour before we decided to turn around and go back to Rosso. It didn’t seem worth risking an increasingly difficult road that looked like it would take at least two more hours to traverse to get to the slightly less corrupt border crossing.

At around 4:00 we made it back to Rosso and surprisingly the guy who helped us with insurance, Mangane or some name like that, hadn’t crossed to Senegal and was still hanging around at the border. He must not really have been traveling and Somehow he inserted himself as our “helper,” navigating the passport checks and customs paperwork on the Mauritania side of the river, which were relatively easy, but usually incorporated some sort of fee (with receipt). Jackie handled the paperwork, while Aron watched the bikes and ignored rude comments from the scammers who were growing tired of being systematically ignored (Note: these jerks need to work on their English language insults if they’re going to accomplish their goal of getting under your skin. “Your wife bad” just doesn’t cut it). General practice of the scammers is to hold on to you passports and paperwork between stops making it difficult to remove them from the equation.
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We crossed the river to Senegal on one of the later ferries of the evening. The ferry is pretty crappy and so are the docks on both sides, requiring you to drive through 10 feet of shin deep water to get on and off. Mangane rushed us on saying it was the last ferry (it wasn’t), and he had to get back to other side (potentially because he had a Chinese guy to scam who was still on the other side). Instead of being done with him, he called a friend who met us to “help” on the Senegal side. When the boat stopped on the Senegal side, the shout-y border official took our passports and drivers licenses (something that requires digging in bags and pockets with both hands, while yelling at us to get off of the boat. Then he disappeared with the paperwork.

The Senegal side was a whole new level of screwed up. Here, the biggest issue was that the border and customs officials didn’t really acknowledge you existence, instead directing all conversation through the scammers (who they were most likely in league with) and thereby further removing you from control in the situation. At this point in the process the scammers (including Mangane who somehow reappeared after our “last ferry of the evening”) count of fatigue setting in. We had all the correct paperwork (visas for Senegal, Carne de Passage for the bikes, insurance) and Jackie still spent an hour or more navigating the various rooms and getting paperwork stamped by dismissive officials. Aron got worried waiting at the bikes and eventually found Jackie. After getting a signal that she didn’t need help, he quickly left the room before the official saw him to avoid changing the dynamic. Ten or so minutes later, Jackie came out with stamped passports, filled out Carnes, and passavants (temporary vehicle permits, which we didn’t really need but paid for). Somewhere in this process, one of the scammers pocketed about 30 or 40Euros that he was supposed to exchange and we had no local currency.

This is when they started demanding 50Euros per bike in payment for their “free help,” but couldn’t explain what we were paying for. Jackie, run down from the previous two hours, didn’t know what to do. Aron asked her if we had all the paperwork we needed and she said we did. We had been parked in to our parking space by some asshole in uniform who was getting his car washed. On Aron’s suggestion, Jackie went to the exit gate to see if there was any reason we couldn’t leave. Aron found a way out of the parking space by backing up and driving around a van. After some angry words, we made a break for the exit gate. We had no local currency, but the guard accepted a slight overpayment of 5Euros to open the gate. Aron pulled his bike up to the gate with a lot of engine revving to get people to step back and get their hands off of our bikes, Jackie passages through, and with some more screaming engine noises we pulled away as someone on the busy road yelled, “Go away! Go away! You are free!” At this point it was twilight and we basically promised ourselves not to drive after dark on this trip. Richard Toll was the closest town and after about 10 miles on good roads and not many minutes after dark, we found a hotel for the night.

The next day (Christmas day), we left for ZebraBar, a camping and bungalow site south of St. Louis, which was our intended destination for the first night in Senegal. ZebraBar was pretty filled with overland travelers. We compared our insurance with some German guys in a sweet Toyota Land Cruiser and realized we hadn’t gotten the proper “Carte Bruin” insurance for all of West Africa. They asked us about our Carne. They had gone through Diama the someday we went through Rosso. They told us there were no scammers, but the border officials were plenty crooked and had refused to stamp their Carne, stating they didn’t have the facilities for it (Note: the facilities consist entirely of the red customs stamp they had used on the German guys’ passavant and a pen). When we got to Dakar a couple days later we found an office for the insurance company we had purchased from on the Mauritania side only to be told our insurance was counterfeit, lacking a hologram and the proper stamps. So much for that 100Euros, although our supposedly counterfeit insurance had already gotten us through one police stop in St. Louis. We bought real insurance with proper full West Africa coverage from another company and paid about 30Euros total.

Oh yeah. In case we didn’t sell Rosso as bad enough, there was also a dead body inside the gated Rosso immigration area. We each separately saw a guy in a yellow shirt laid out and face down in the sand. Someone told Jackie he was passed out drunk. Neither of us stared long enough to see if he was breathing, but both of us have our doubts.

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Western Sahara to Mauritania through No Man’s Land

After leaving Dakhla and Ocean Vagabond, we crossed hundreds of miles through the Sahara on smoothly paved highway. It was desolate and empty, but easy travel through beautiful sand dunes and desert scenery. So why were we so anxious and worried about our next few days on the road? Because of the ominously named No Man’s Land, a roughly 4km stretch of unclaimed, unpaved desert surrounded by land mines (if you stray too far off the track) between where the Moroccan military’s control of Western Sahara ends and where Mauritania begins.

The day before leaving Morocco and entering Mauritania, after some off-road riding practice with Colin, we set off for Hotel Barbas about 85km north of the border. It’s pretty grand and tall building for the area (the middle of nowhere), situated behind the second, more run down looking gas station you pass when coming from the north. They pretty much insisted that we pull our bikes in to the gated and tiled courtyard of the hotel, which was fine with us. The hotel is pretty far south and seems more removed from the Moroccan control we saw in Dakhla. We got the impression that speaking Spanish gets you just as far as French.* (see footnote) The next morning, we set off around 9am for the about an hour ride to the border.

The politics of Morocco and Western Sahara are beyond us, but in sight of border checkpoint it’s clear that the Moroccan military is in charge here. There was a long line of cars waiting to be shuffled into the border control area, and we got in line and waited. And waited. And waited some more. It was a long line, and we were pretty surprised at how slowly it moved.

Then one very nice, or maybe just surprised, man who was walking past us to his car (which was parked behind us in line) shouted (in French), “You know this line is for cars only, right? You can go to the front of the line.” So Jackie rode up to ask the Moroccan police officer at the front of the line if this was true, and it was! Apparently motorcycles are treated differently than cars, and so we got to form our own line. We were first.

We made it into the border control area, and went through more passport checks than we ever thought imaginable. The man at the gate checked our passports. A man inside checked them again. He brought them to another man, who stamped our passports. Then the second man spent 30 minutes writing down every detail of our information by hand onto a piece of paper (a nice little paragraph in red pen). Then there was the customs check. Then a check for our bikes. Then the customs form again. Then the police man at the exit. Then we had to stop and get in line to have our passport and registration details written down on a giant ledger. Then one final check, and we were free (to cross into No Man’s Land).

As soon as we entered No Man’s Land, we were bombarded by people wanting to exchange money. We traded 50 Euros and all of our Moroccan Dirhams for Mauritanian Ougiya, and we think we actually got the better end of the deal. Probably because Jackie confused them a bit with our negotiating (we negotiated a price for Euros + our remaining Dirhams, and then traded that price for Euros only and ended up getting more Ougiya for our Dirhams. You’re probably confused too).

Then we began the drive through No Man’s Land, which turned out to be quite a bit easier than we had expected. This means that there were only two parts with soft sand, no signs of land mines or easy ways to go completely off track, and the rest was a relatively clear path of rocky bits (like going up and over speed bumps, potholes, and curbs every foot or so). The track was relatively wide and sometimes confusing, but if we were ever lost then we could just wait for another car to come by and follow that car’s tracks. Note that we did NOT follow the Audi being led off into the soft sand by a couple guys on foot. But they eventually made it through behind us, anyway.

After about a kilometer or two, we could see the Mauritania side (which made navigating very easy). When we arrived, we were approached by a man who could “help us get through without paying too much.” We thanked him for his offer, but decided against his “free” help – an offer like that is never really free. Then we went through all the Mauritania checks. First some officers took down our passport information. Then we filled out some customs forms and got them stamped. (Note that we had to pay 10 Euros per bike for this. There was an official receipt, so we paid it.) Then an officer stamped our passports. Then we got sent into a special room for foreigners where they took our fingerprints and photos (this part took forever, since the fingerprinted machine couldn’t seem to capture Jackie’s fingerprinted despite having four different officers push on her fingers, trying to get them to work). Then one final check to exit and we were free.

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Finally done with the border crossing, we stopped to see if we should buy insurance. We eventually decided against it because a) we were only in Mauritania for a very short period of time, and b) no one seems to check. We plan on buying some in Senegal though, which should cover us for the rest of our trip. A few kilometers after the border, there’s a police checkpoint where they checked our passport again. After that, fiches were sufficient.

One of the buildings we found right after we got outside of the border crossing area:
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Overall, the whole process took us nearly 5 hours. Colin said that the general rule of thumb is that if you get through before noon, go to Nouakchott. Otherwise, go to Nouadhibou. So, we spent the night in Nouadhibou, where we made some Mauritanian and Saharawi friends, and enjoyed a relaxing night of conversations in multiple languages and tea (much more welcoming than the “National Tourist Office”).

* Western Sahara is the former colony of Spanish Sahara that the Spanish gave up in the 70’s and the Moroccans then claimed. As far as we know, the Moroccans consider it their land, but the UN considers is an occupied country. There are Moroccan military checkpoints at pretty much every town along the main road where you have to hand them “fiche,” which is a little piece of paper with your name, passport details, address, etc. After a couple questions they wave you through. We think they’re basically looking for journalists. Anyways, French is the language of the Moroccans, and Spanish is still spoken by the people of Western Sahara, known as the Saharawi.

Holt and Melton Constable are running again!

23.914901°, -15.764326° Ocean Vagabond, Dakhla, Western Sahara

In case you weren’t aware, the name of our blog comes from the names of our bikes, which are actually the names of two towns we rode by in England on our then unnamed motorcycles almost three years ago. Those towns are named Holt and Melton Constable. We’ve now got our Holt (Jackie’s bike) and Melton Constable (Aron’s bike) back in our possession and they’re up and running again.

We spent two days in Casablanca, and arrived yesterday back at Ocean Vagabond outside of Dakhla, Western Sahara (this is where Jackie’s accident happened, and we still owe you the story of the accident and how we got home). This morning we went into town to see Holt and Melton again after five months of storage. They were dustier and more covered in cobwebs than when we left them, but otherwise they looked pretty good.

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Our motorcycling badass friend, Colin, who along with Freya helped us get home in July (like we said, we owe you that story), was there to help us again. We rolled the bikes out of the garage and pumped up the tires. We put in the key and the engines turned over (a good sign that the battery was still alive), but they wouldn’t start.

Colin suggested cleaning the spark plugs, so it was off with the plastic pieces around the motor. As it turned out, we had the wrong size spark plug socket. Off went Colin and back he came with the right one, but we still couldn’t get any good purchase because of the tight space. So, off came the gas tank on Jackie’s bike to allow for more working room, and out came the correctly adjusted and problem free spark plug. In with some starter spray. In with the spark plug. We tried to start the bike and got one putt. Hmmm.

Battery, check. Spark, check. Fuel? In our rush to leave last summer, we hadn’t closed the fuel valves or run the bikes until dry, so there was old gas that had been sitting in the carburetor for the last five months. Colin said that the easiest next thing to try was to open up the carburetor drain screw. With the twist of an Allen wrench, Holt started peeing fuel on the ground for five or ten seconds. We closed the screw, turned the key, pressed the starter button and the engine roared to life. Twist the Allen wrench again, Melton took a little tinkle and we had a second running bike.

By this time the customs office, which was our next planned stop, was closed for lunch. Colin took us to the “Oyster Farm” restaurant, which was really just an oyster farm plus some shaded tables. They served oysters picked 30 meters from where we sat, and octopus and mixed seafood tagines that were so fresh and good that even Aron (who doesn’t like seafood) ate them.

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Lunch was followed by picking up our keys and paperwork from Customs in a process that took all of 10 minutes. It took about the same amount of time to look at pictures of the Customs official’s motorcycles on his phone as it did to get our documents and keys. We bought some snacks in town, went back to where the bikes were parked, and rode back to Ocean Vagabond, and successfully rode up the entrance rode without crashing. And here we are, ready to hit the road south again!

Mauritania visa in Rabat

We have all of the visas we need for our trip, except one: our Mauritania visas. And according to many overland websites, the place to get this visa is in Rabat, Morocco. Below is our experience, and we’ve summarized the important information at the bottom of the post.

There’s been a fair amount of blogs documenting the chaos that appears to be obtaining a Mauritanian visa in Rabat, and we came in rather nervous. The most recent information we could find was from this January 2013 thread on Horizons Unlimited, and it did not sound super promising (long lines, limited number of visas issued per day, people arriving at 2am to wait for the embassy to open). But since then, we haven’t heard any updates. So when we arrived in Rabat yesterday, we decided to visit the Mauritanian Embassy to check it out for ourselves.

At 5pm yesterday, there were about 20 people waiting outside of the embassy to collect their visas. We spoke to a couple of them, and one said he arrived at 9am to apply for the visa and there was a fairly long line, but he got his application in. A couple Spanish tourists said they arrived at 11am and were the last ones to get their application in, not because of a limited number of visas because they only accept applications until 11am. Apparently a number of passports had been returned at 3pm, but a group of people were still waiting at 5pm, and as we stood there, we saw the ambassador return to the building, presumably to hand out the rest of the passports. According to a very friendly guy in a bright yellow vest (who looked like he was a nearby guard), Mondays are fairly busy and we shouldn’t have too much trouble applying on a Tuesday. There were also two signs outside of the embassy with a bit more information (in French, see below).

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So today (a Tuesday), we tried our luck. Rather than waking up at 4am like we had planned, we showed up at 7am. There were about 10 people there, most of whom looked like they had slept in their cars parked by the embassy the night before. Contrary to what we had read, these people were not mostly Senegalese car dealers, but rather travelers from a variety of West African countries. People were surprisingly not pushy in line. Our group established our own line order (we were #7), and some of the people who slept in their cars joined the line behind us. It seems that being present in the line mattered more than being there early. By 8:30am, there were probably about 25 or 30 people there.

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At around 8:45, the door opened and a man handed out application forms (each is now signed and dated, so don’t try to buy the form ahead of time). As he did this, he walked everyone through the line. Thus, the first line that we formed was essentially worthless. We scrambled to fill out our form as quickly as possible (note there’s a front AND back to the form, and we definitely left some sections blank), and got back in line. Aron pushed his way in between two of the guys we had been standing next to in the old line who had already grabbed spots towards the front. He made it back in line right before the man from the embassy sent anyone not standing behind the barrier to the back of the line (including people who had been at the very front). Jackie had to go in a separate line for women that was much shorter.

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Then the embassy started accepting applications. Jackie ended up being #3 to go in, and Aron came with her (we just explained that we were traveling together [“ensemble”] and Aron doesn’t speak French). The man was very nice, stamped our applications, gave us a piece of paper with our numbers, and told us to come back at 3pm to get our passports. The full application included: our application form, one photocopy of our passports, two passport photos (one of which we glued to the form, and the other of which we just handed over and the man stapled to our form), and 340 Dirham per application. He handed us a ticket with stamped numbers on it that corresponded to our applications – we got one ticket with both our application numbers (which was useful for picking up our passports later). We were done by 9:17am.

Contrary to what we read about in January, the whole process was rather orderly and quick (except for the fact that the first line means basically nothing). There were no hawkers, although there were two guys who set up chairs across the street and were helping people fill in their applications and stapling photos, presumably for a small fee (to the right below).

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We arrived back at 2:45pm to pick up the visas (the door opened was supposed to open 3pm, and actually opened at about 3:05pm). The line was pretty long, and Aron had to go to the back of the long men’s line (see below). Jackie had to go to the back of the women’s line, which meant she was 2nd in line, and got to go in before all the men did. It was quick and easy to pick the passports – just give the man your ticket and he’ll give you the passports – and we were out by 3:07pm. The men’s line also seemed to be moving along reasonably well. And despite not filling out the forms in their entirety because we didn’t know how to answer a few questions, we got the two 30-day visas that we had asked for. Success!

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In summary, the process for getting a Mauritanian visa in Rabat seems to be much easier and more reliable than it was in January 2013. We don’t know if this is because it is low season or Ramadan is approaching, but we’re going to credit the Mauritanian Embassy with cleaning up the visa application process significantly. It was a relatively painless and straightforward process and can be accomplished in the same day.

Summary of important information:

  • The application includes: a form that is handed out around 8:45am (it has both a front and a back), one photocopy of your passport (black and white is fine), two passport photos, and your passport.
  • Applications are accepted starting at 9am
  • Pick-up is the same day at 3pm
  • You can line up before 9am, but this line will be disbanded when the application forms are handed out. The real line starts once you have the application form.
  • The embassy has cracked down on hawkers – there were only two guys there who mostly were helping people fill in the form if they didn’t understand it. You need to get an application form from the embassy yourself because each form is signed and dated.
  • It seems that one person = one passport now.
  • There is a separate line for women, and the order of the line goes: 1 man, 1 woman, 1 man, 1 woman, etc. This is true for both applying for the visas and for picking up your passports.

Entering Morocco

Our ferry from Algeciras to the Tanger Med Terminal was delayed, but we did cross according to our modified plan last Thursday (in some rough seas), and we’re now enjoying Morocco. Entering Morocco with the motorcycles was a fairly straightforward, multistep process.

On the boat:

The first round of Moroccan passport control and customs are on the boat. Get a copy of the white immigration form from one desk and the green vehicle import form from the other desk. They are in French and Arabic.

First, fill out the white form, stand in the long line, present it with your passport, and get your passport stamped with the all important Moroccan CIN number (assigned on your first visit to Morocco, like it was for us). You’ll need the CIN for the green form, for hotels, for the several upcoming rounds of paperwork checks when you get off the boat… Don’t wait until the end to get your forms checked. The lines don’t get much shorter. We hoped they would and we got in the first line for the passport check and white form halfway through the crossing. We made it out of the second line for the vehicle paperwork check as the boat entered the port.

For the vehicle form check, fill out the green form and present it with you registration paperwork. The vehicle form asks for name, Moroccan CIN, registration number (license plate number), model, make, and VIN (usually called chassis number in Europe). Those labels are a little harder to figure out in French. We basically extrapolated the meaning of sections based on this useful Morocco Overland post.

Off the boat:

When you get off the boat, there will be people directing traffic. We got off pretty quickly on the bikes. Keep you passports, vehicle registration, and green forms handy for a few rounds of checks. Here is what we remember the process being:

Almost right after getting off the boat they will check you passport for the proper CIN stamp. Then you drive on and there are some random guys guys waving you over to buy SIM cards. Keep going.

At the first booth manned by police/immigration agents we got waved through (but that became a line as more cars got off the boat). We stopped at the second booth and presented our registration and green forms. They took them but also had us walk back to the first booth with our passports to the get our CIN input into the computer since it was our first time in Morocco. Then back to the second booth. We got back our green forms and registration.

The booths for insurance (“assurance” in French) and bank with working ATM are in view on the right. We asked if we could stay parked there while we bought insurance and the police said yes. The insurance booth was empty but a quick question at the booth next door and he came over and opened up again. I guess the insurance booth is lonely. We paid 950 Dirham for each bike (I think the same price as a car) for 30 days of insurance. I think 10 days was 470 Dirham, but that wasn’t enough to cover us through to the Western Sahara border with Mauritania.

Then there was one last checkpoint before we exited with a guy who looked over all our forms again and said “Bienvenue à Maroc!”

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.