African visas can be a bit tricky. They’re expensive, policies change often, and some require extensive paperwork to obtain. To add to that, visa policies often aren’t completely clear. You may read one thing online then the embassy tells you something completely different. This Africa visa guide outlines the process of researching and obtaining visas. I also include a few tips to make the border crossing process as smooth as possible.
In the second half of this guide, I outline the process of obtaining some of the more popular African visas in East and Southern Africa. Each entry includes info on visa availability, price, and requirements. I will try to keep this list up to date as I continue my travels. I travel on a US passport but will try to include info for other nationalities as well.
Where to Apply for African Visas
Where you apply for your Africa visas depends on your destination country, your nationality, your route, and the port of entry where you plan to enter the country. Before you leave on your trip, you must research each specific African visa that you’ll need to obtain. There are four different places that you may need to apply. Listed in order of most convenient to least convenient, they include:
African Visa on Arrival at the Border or Port of Entry
Many African countries offer a visa on arrival system (VOA) where you don’t have to arrange anything in advance. Just show up at the airport or land border, fill out a form, pay the fee, and you get your visa. This is the best and cheapest option if it is available.
Before showing up, make sure that the visa on arrival is available for your nationality. Also, make sure that it is offered at the port of entry where you plan to arrive. Some countries only offer visas on arrival at larger border crossings. Some countries, like Ethiopia, only offer visas on arrival the international airport.
African E-Visas Online
Many African countries are moving toward an online visa system. Because many of the systems are new, they occasionally have a few quirks. For the most part, these work smoothly and efficiently.
In order to get your visa online, you’ll usually have to submit a scanned copy of your passport, yellow fever card, and a passport photo along with your completed visa application. You pay the visa fee by credit or debit card.
Depending on the country, you may need proof of onward travel, bank statements, or a letter of invitation as well. Check the requirements before applying so you know that you have everything that you need. After you pay, there are no refunds if you make a mistake.
At the Country’s Embassy in a Nearby or Bordering Country
This is the best option if you’re traveling overland and a visa on arrival or e-visa isn’t available. Sometimes, you’ll have to make a trip to your destination country’s embassy in a nearby or bordering country to obtain your visa in advance.
If this is the case, it’s a good idea to do a bit of research to find where is the cheapest and easiest place to apply for your visa. For whatever reason, sometimes different embassies for the same country have different visa prices and requirements. This is really only a problem in a few places in West and Central Africa. You may be able to save some money and time this way.
At the Country’s Embassy in your Home Country
A handful of African countries require that you apply for your visa through the embassy in your home country. This is the most frustrating and annoying for planning.
Before you leave for your trip, you should research the availability of each Africa visa that you will need. If it’s not available on arrival or at a nearby embassy, you should get it before you leave.
An example of a country with this policy is Nigeria. These days, they require that you get your visa in the country where you are a resident. I have read about a few travelers getting visas in the Nigerian embassy in Cotonou, Benin, and Niamey, Niger, but I’m not sure if this is reliable information.
Ethiopia has a similar policy. It is difficult to get a visa in Kenya or Sudan. Generally, you must get the visa in your home country or fly in to get a visa on arrival.
Common African Visa Requirements
Every country has a slightly different visa process. Sometimes all you need is your passport. Sometimes you need some additional support documents. Common document requirements for African visas include:
- Passport- This is obvious. Usually, your passport needs to have at least 6 months of validity from the date that you plan to enter the country. Most countries require that you have 1-2 completely blank pages to place the visa.
- Yellow fever vaccine certificate- This is an entry requirement for many African countries. Make sure your certificate is still valid. Carry the original and a few copies.
- Visa application- These are usually handed out for free at immigration or embassies.
- Passport photos- Some countries require 1-2 recent passport-sized photos. These should be different than the photo that is in your passport. You can save money by making your own. For help, check out my guide: How to Take Your Own Passport Photo for Free.
- Letter of invitation- A handful of African countries require that either an individual or business invites you into the country. They are usually required to take financial responsibility for you. You can purchase a letter of invitation from travel agencies in the country where you are applying for the visa. A friend or family member who is a citizen can also invite you.
- Proof of onward travel- Many African countries require that you show a valid ticket out of the country when applying for your visa. This is most common for e-visas or when applying at an embassy. Usually, when you get a visa on arrival, you can just say that you are exiting overland. For more info, check out my guide: 8 Ways to Provide Proof of Onward Travel.
- Bank statement- Some African countries require that you prove that you have sufficient funds to support yourself for the duration of your stay. In this case, print out a recent bank statement from your account with around $5000. Make sure the statement shows your name.
You won’t need all of the above items for most African visas. Usually, all you need is your passport and yellow fever certificate. Be sure to check the visa requirements before applying and make sure you have all of the required documents in order before you apply.
Paying for African Visas
One major expense of traveling in Africa is the cost of visas. Almost every country charges $50-$100 for a simple single entry visa that is valid for 30-90 days. Costs add up quickly. During my trip through 11 countries, I spent over $600 in visas alone.
In East and Southern Africa, most visas are available on arrival. Fees are paid in US dollars only. I recommend you carry clean, new bills issued after 2004 in denominations of $20, $50, and $100. Small bills and older bills are generally not accepted at borders.
In West and Central Africa, you’ll usually have to obtain visas in embassies as you travel. These are usually paid in US dollars or Euros. In some cases, you can pay in West African CFA Francs.
For visas that you obtain in your home country, you’ll usually have to pay by check or card. For e-visas that you obtain online, you’ll usually pay by credit or debit card.
African Visa Requirements by Country
In this section, I’ll outline the availability, costs, and requirements for specific African visas. This guide focuses on East and Southern African visas ordered in alphabetical order.
For info on West African visas, check out this excellent guide from Safarijunkie.com.
No visa necessary for most nationalities. You are permitted to stay for up to 90 days in a 12 month period.
The visa available on arrival at the international airport in Addis Ababa. I paid $50 for a single-entry 30-day visa. A 90-day single entry visa is also available for around $70. Multi entry visas may be available at a higher cost if the immigration official will sell them to you.
If you plan to enter Ethiopia overland you must organize your visa in advance. You can try to get the visa at the Ethiopian embassy in Khartoum or Nairobi but I have heard of some travelers being refused depending on nationality.
As much as I hate organizing visas in advance, this is one visa that I would recommend getting in your home country if you are planning to enter overland. If you can’t get the visa, you may need to fly into Addis Ababa.
Visa available at the border on arrival for $50 for 90 days for most nationalities. You can also get the East Africa tourist Visa on arrival for $100. This visa is valid for entry to Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda. More info on that in the following section.
I crossed from Ethiopia to Kenya at the Moyale border. The crossing was fast and hassle-free.
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Malawi recently changed their visa policy. It was free up until a year or so ago. Now, the visa is available at the border for $75 for most nationalities. It is valid for 30 days.
I entered from Tanzania in the north. The process was easy and fast.
Visa available for free at the border for most nationalities. It is valid for 90 days in a 12 month period.
Visa available on arrival at the border. It cost $30 for a 30-day single-entry visa. One thing to note about entering Rwanda is that plastic bags are illegal and they will be confiscated at the border.
South Africa Visa
No visa is required for most nationalities for stays up to 90 days.
This visa is a bit of a hassle. European, Canadian, Australian, and most Asian passport holders can get the visa in Aswan, Egypt at the Sudanese consulate. You will need to bring 2 passport photos and a photocopy of your passport and Egyptian visa. They will supply you with the visa form. The visa takes between a couple of days and a week to process. The cost is $50 for one month single entry.
Sudan Visa for US Citizens
Americans can get the visa in Aswan as well but it requires an extra step. You must have a contact in Sudan to submit your visa application in Khartoum for you. Most likely you will also need a letter of invitation and hotel reservation.
The easiest way to do all of this is through a travel agency. You can also hire a fixer if you can find one. You will be required to mail the application, your passport photos, and possibly your passport to Khartoum for processing. They may ask you to book a tour as well if you go through a travel agency.
Once the application is approved, they will send a confirmation to the consulate in Aswan. You can then go to the consulate to get your visa once they return your documents. The cost for the visa is $50-$100 plus whatever the travel agency or fixer charges plus the cost of a tour.
All in, this will probably end up costing $200-300. I know, this is a major hassle and expense and will require you waiting in Aswan for up to a couple of weeks.
Visa available on arrival at the border. For Americans, it costs $100 and is multi-entry valid for 1 year. This is the only option for Americans. Visas for most other nationalities cost $50 for a single-entry 90-day visa. They will ask to see a yellow fever certificate.
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This visa must be arranged online in advance. It is not available on arrival at the border. The visa costs $50 plus a couple of dollars for a processing fee. You need to attach a copy of your yellow fever vaccine certificate and a photo.
They do check the attachments. One of mine didn’t upload properly and I needed to resend it. Luckily, I didn’t have to pay again. You must print out the visa acceptance letter once approved and present it at the border.
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Visa available on arrival at the border. I entered from Malawi. The cost was $50 for a single entry. Some European nationalities can enter for free. For example, my Irish friend didn’t have to pay.
Visa available at the border. Costs vary depending on nationality. European, Canadian, American, Chinese, and UK all have different visa charges. I believe I paid $30 for a single entry with my US passport.
African Visas Valid for Entry to Multiple Countries
In Africa, there are two instances where several bordering countries have agreed on a single tourist visa which allows entry into each country. These can save you money, time, and the hassle of having to apply for multiple African visas. Multiple country visas in Africa include:
East Africa Tourist Visa (EATV)
This multiple country African visa is valid in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. It costs $100 and is valid for 90 days. During these 90 days, you can make multiple entries into each country. If you leave Kenya, Uganda, or Rwanda, the visa is void. If you wish to return, you’ll have to apply for a new visa. This visa cannot be extended.
You can apply for the East Africa Tourist Visa online and receive an e-visa. There is no need to send your passport or visit the embassy to get this visa. You must, however, apply through the embassy of the country that you plan to visit first. For example, you can’t apply for your visa through the Uganda embassy then fly into Nairobi to start your trip.
At this time, the East Africa Tourist visa is only available on arrival in Kenya. This may change soon as Kenya moves toward an e-visa system. You can’t apply for the East Africa Tourist visa on arrival in Uganda or Rwanda. If you plan to visit either of those countries first, you must apply online in advance.
If you want to stay in East Africa for longer than 90 days, you’ll want to get your visas separately. For example, on separate Kenya and Uganda visas, you can stay 90 days in each country. You can also extend the visas. With a Rwanda visa, you can stay 30 days. You could probably spend over a year in the region. The East Africa Tourist Visa is mostly about convenience. It only saves you $30 over the price of buying the visas separately.
Visa Touristique d’Entente (VTE)
On paper, this multiple country West Africa tourist visa looks great. It costs 100 euro and allows you 90 days to visit Benin, Burking Faso, Ivory Coast, Niger, and Togo. You are allowed one entry into each country. Once you leave the Visa Touristique d’Entente countries, the visa is void.
This sounds like an excellent deal. You’d probably spend 3 times that paying for individual visas for each of those countries. Not to mention the time it would take to arrange each visa. Unfortunately, the Visa Touristique d’Entente is less useful these days. The latest I’ve heard, it is no longer accepted in Ivory Coast, Niger, and Benin. I believe the reason is that these countries have begun an e-visa program. Before applying for this visa, do your research. It may not even exist anymore.
A Few African Visa Tips
- Always make a copy of your visa if you obtained it in advance- This can come in handy if your passport is lost or stolen. You can prove that you were in the country legally.
- Carry digital and physical copies of all of your documents- When applying for visas, you may need copies of your passport, yellow fever vaccine, bank account statements, passport photos, etc. Copy and scan them before you leave home. You need digital copies to apply for e-visas.
- Make sure you give yourself enough time to apply for all of the visas that you need- Some African visas take multiple weeks to process. It can also take you time to gather all of the documents that you need. You don’t want to miss an expensive flight because you didn’t get your visa in time.
- Double-check the visa policy before going to the border– Rules change often. You don’t want to take a 20-hour bus ride to the border then get turned away because visa on arrival isn’t available when you thought it was.
- Try to avoid multiple entries on your itinerary- African visas are expensive. You’ll save money this way.
Final Thoughts- The Africa Visa Guide
As you can see, many African visas are easily available on arrival at the border, through an e visa process, or at the embassy in a nearby country. Having said this, there are a few exceptions of visas that must be obtained in your home country.
Before your trip, you should research every African visa that you need and learn how and where to get it. Remember that policies change often and without notice.
Please comment below if you know of any changes in visa policy. I would like to keep this African visa guide as up to date as possible.
For a list of all of my step-by-step bus guides, check out The Ultimate African Bus Guide.
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Sunday 25th of October 2020
Thank You very much for such Detailed Information . One of the Best Blogs I have come across on Africa providing Factual Info.Helpful Indeed .
Wednesday 1st of May 2019
This will be my gotoguide while travelling across Africa . I cantbemuch happier readingyour blogs . It’s so helpful .
Friday 18th of January 2019
thank you so much for all those information, it's so hard to find anything on the internet about backpack's travel in Africa !! Your blog is excellent, keep going :) !!
Friday 18th of January 2019
Thank you! Glad you found the info useful