Our Angola visa experience at Santa Clara

In March 2018, the Angolan government made it easier for visitors from Australia and about 60 other countries to get tourist visas. Prior to this, it was one of the most difficult countries in the world to visit. According to a traveller who wanted to visit every country in the world, even North Korea was easier!

Anyway, when Greg heard about the new, improved process, he suggested that we visit here asap, in case it became more difficult again. And here we are!

Lonely Planet’s Thorntree https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/forums/africa/angola/angola-s-new-e-visa-tourist-visa-on-arrival-share-stories-here has a great thread on how to do it, but here’s how we did it.

It is now possible to apply for an e-visa, but only if you plan to cross the border at Santa Clara, which is north of Ondangwa in Namibia. The benefit of the e-visa, for us, was that we could nominate the date we wanted to enter Angola and then have 30 days from that date to stay in the country. It’s still rather a lot of paperwork (Africans LOVE paperwork!), but it’s easier and makes more sense to apply online rather than either at home or in Windhoek where the 30 days starts as soon as the visa is issued.

When we were in Windhoek, Greg did all the online stuff, scanning our passports, other passport-sized photos for the visa, proof that we had means of support while in Angola (USD$200 per day is the requirement – scan of credit card is acceptable), proof of accomodation for the first night in Angola – there’s a pensao guesthouse in Santa Clara on Booking.com that accepts bookings and offers free cancellation up to a few days prior to the night the accommodation is booked for – he printed out the Booking.com confirmation then cancelled the booking.
All the scans have to be particular sizes – that cheap printer/scanner we bought in Cape Town has really been useful!

And then the online application process can begin – filling in heaps of info, uploading the scans, then getting email confirmation and printing out the .pdfs to give to Angolan immigration at the border. Cost of a visa is USD$120, payable in USD only, so we made sure we had the cash to hand over.

We didn’t realise that because we were taking our Clancy into Angola, we would also need photos of the vehicle – front, back and side shots. That would apply to rental vehicles as well. There’s a road tax charge of 6336 kwanzas (around AUD$28), and that is only payable in local currency.

So, on our nominated date of entry, Saturday February 23rd, we drove from Ondangwa to the Namibian border. There are a lot of money exchanges and copy shops there in case you need a document or photo printed. At that stage we assumed we could pay the road tax in USD. As soon as we parked, we were thronged with men wanting to give us advice and act as our ‘fixer’, but hey, we’ve done lots of border crossings in Africa and South America, how different or difficult can this one be? Well, we were about to learn.

One young man attached himself to us, and he seemed to have an entourage of several other young men. We got through the Namibian stuff without too many hassles or waiting around. In order to enter and leave Namibia, one must fill out a form. Of course. In this border post, they are kept behind the desk and must be requested by each person wanting to leave the country. I can’t even begin to imagine what would happen if those forms were just left out for all and sundry to help themselves to! So, the immigration part was slow but okay, then we had to have Clancy’s carnet filled out to prove we had taken him out of the country. Finding where to go was difficult, but thankfully we had those young men who wouldn’t leave us alone. Paperwork all done, we were ready to drive the 2 or so kms across the border to Santa Clara. The men walked and met us there.

Not much signage to suggest where we should actually park and which buildings we needed to visit. There are a couple of small buildings, one at either end of the border post, plus a couple of huge buildings, one of which appeared to be for commercial import/export stuff. We parked in the shade near the exit checkpoint and sat for a while gathering our thoughts. Eventually a police officer wandered over and advised us to go to the small unmarked building near the entrance, and he escorted us there. Inside there were 3 desks and one female police officer. We sat and waited for about 30 minutes while the policewoman looked at our paperwork, made a few phone calls and sat and did nothing much else. Then in a flurry of activity another police officer and a young man in plain clothes arrived. It was lunch time and they – the usual staff – had been at lunch. We came to refer to the young man in plain clothes as The Tech Guy, and after a while another young man arrived and took up his place at a different desk. He was The Finance Guy, and had apparently been called over to process the paperwork so we could each hand over USD$120 for our visas. A more senior police officer came and went while all this was going on.

The tech guy busied himself scanning and printing stuff for our visas, which he then ceremonially embossed with his special embossing stamper thing, stuck them in our passports, stamped another full page and then stamped somewhere else as well. My visa is number 100, Greg’s is 101. We’re not sure if that’s from this month, this year or since the visa system changed, but as we haven’t seen any other tourists since we arrived, I’m guessing the latter. That all took a couple of hours longer than it took you to read that last paragraph.

Meanwhile, other peole wandered in to get their passports and border permits stamped. No one else paid for visas. We got talking to a young man with a beautiful British accent. His father is Angolan and his mother is British. He was helping his Zimbabwean/British friend get through the process, even though he has visited the country many time before. They went to uni in the UK together and are now in business here together. Greg also got talking to a local who had visited Australia and loved it. Meanwhile, our fixer friend and his mates were still hanging about.

In addition to all the information we had already given them, including the printout of the (cancelled) local Santa Clara Booking.com booking, we had to provide information about our parents’ full names and all the places in Angola we were planning on visiting, and when and how we were leaving Africa. Ugh. Greg got up a map of Angola, read out about a dozen major towns, I wrote it all down on a piece of paper – my details on one side, Greg’s on the other, and showed them a copy of our Qantas e-ticket which showed our flight out of Joburg on March 27th.

With our passports now a couple of pages fuller, and the immigration bit finally sorted, we had to figure out the Clancy bit. We went back to the office we had parked near and were advised that we needed to submit 3 photos of the vehicle along with whatever paperwork they would give us. Our fixer was all ready to take the photos and send one of his men back into Namibia to get them printed, but Greg took the photos while I got our printer out, he printed the photos and we took them back to the office where we were handed an illegible 2-page document that needed to be filled out. Remember how things used to be copied in the 1960s – with a Gestetner that spat out blue/purple pages that smelt of methylated spirits? Well, the original document had come from that era and they must have been using a photocopy of a photocopy of a …. you get the idea. And of course it was all in Portuguese. Then there was the road tax that had to be paid in local currency. Hmm …

The Angolan-Englishman had put in a good word for our would-be fixer, and the police officer who handed us the form advised us to get someone to help. So after hanging around for 3.5 hours, our fixer finally got his chance. And he was really good. He took us to the back of the large commercial building, where we had to get an invoice raised for the road tax, and he filled out the illegible double-sided form while we got kwanzas from the ATM conveniently located nearby. He did also offer to get money exchanged for us, but we figured we’d need local cash anyway. Then he took us next door to pay the tax at the bank (which didn’t have any small coins or notes to give me the correct change!) AND got the guy there to photocopy the appropriate stamped page in Greg’s passport. Back to the police to hand over all the paperwork. Have I mentioned how much Africans love paperwork? At one point, the cop gathered all pages together and spent time getting them all neatly organised, then someone opened the door, messed them all up and some pages fell on the floor! I had to stop myself from laughing out loud.

And then we were almost good to go. We thanked our fixer and asked him how much he charged, he got all bashful and pretended that he had done it out of the goodness of his heart <eyeroll> I offered him ZAR South African rand which he almost spat on, he asked for Namibian dollars which we didn’t have, and Greg offered him USD$40 which he happily took. Of course.

The whole exercise took us about 4 hours, and we were very thankful that we started at midday, because any later in the day would not have allowed enough time to get it all done before the border closed for the day.

If I was doing it again, I would not have kept on wishing that fixer would just disappear. I would have engaged his services upfront and settled on an agreed price. I would have talked to him and asked his name and learnt about him and his life, and told him about mine, if he’d wanted to know.  It would have made the process a lot nicer for both us and him.

The high quality 75 generation form for importing your vehicle into Angola