Practical Guide to East Africa (Tanzania – Egypt route) 2013: visas, money, internet

TO BE UPDATED

If you travel to these countries anytime soon, please feel free to post updates in the comments to keep this entry informative and relevant.

I owe you some practical and technical details about East Africa because this is some information I was struggling to get but even Thorn Tree forum turned out to be unreliable. Another thing is, rules and regulations constantly change, and many things depend on your nationality, gender et cetera.

Visas:

Visa to Kenya: Starting from July 2015, tourist visas should be applied for online at http://www.ecitizen.go.ke/. Approval process will take a couple of days. It will no longer be possible to get a Kenyan visa on arrival without the online application. To extend your visa, refer to the local immigration office (can’t always trust Goole maps in Kenya but these locations seem right: Nairobi http://goo.gl/maps/0szYb, Nakuru http://goo.gl/maps/BLokZ. Single girls, please mind that some immigration officers are dirty perverts. A friend of mine went there to get her visa extension, the immigration dude took her passport and then said that he’d only give it back if she’d spend some hours with him. Try to find a big male friend, preferably local, who would accompany you.

Visa to Ethiopia: visas on arrival only available at the airport ($20 single entry valid for 90 days, NO multiple entries available). The government is actively supporting their one and only airline and makes you fly into the country instead of using more adventurous ways. The embassies in Khartoum and Djibouti, however, seem to issue visas easily. Embassy in Nairobi generally tells you to f*ck off. Embassy in Somaliland used to issue visas but I was the last one who got it there and got yelled at by the visa officer. I heard that if you get a visa for Sudan in Nairobi and then bring it to the Ethiopian embassy, you might convince them to give you the visa for overland journey.

Visa to Djibouti: Haven’t made it there but it seems that getting a Djibouti visa in Dire Dawa (Ethiopia) is much much cheaper than in Addis. No visas on arrival.

Visa to Somaliland: no visa at the border, but it’s probably the easiest visa to get. Finding the embassy in Addis is a bit of a game though: this is the link for the embassy of Somalia (http://goo.gl/maps/8emLM) but Somaliland is a different one and it’s somewhere nearby. $40, 10 minutes, valid for 30 days from the date of issue.

Visa to Sudan: no visa on arrival. To get your Sudanese visa in Nairobi, go here (http://goo.gl/maps/pS62B). You will need an invitation from a person or agency in Sudan OR get an introduction letter from your own embassy (which is basically an official piece of paper confirming that you are who you are in your passport. Don’t ask me what the fuck this is, my embassy sent me rolling, but you embassy might be reasonable). To get your visa in Addis (http://goo.gl/maps/ZpWxg) you need to go through 9 levels of hell and questioning. However, to get a 2-week transit you just need an onward visa to Egypt and $93. Consulate open only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and it takes 1 working day to issue the transit visa. Coming from Aswan, I heard that a travel visa costs $50 and no buttfuckery.

Visa to Egypt: most nationalities get visa on arrival for $40, but should you need one in advance, go here http://goo.gl/maps/mkk9T. The egyptian dude at the entrance (whoever he was) was flirting with me and being racist towards Ethiopian applicants. Note that Egyptian embassy has some stupid rules: make sure that your photo is on EXTREMELY WHITE background. Not light blue. Not gray. White. Plus if you paying cash in Ethiopian birr (470 ETB), bring a receipt from wherever you exchanged it OR an ATM slip if you withdrew it from an ATM. It’s dumb, I know.

Visa to Uganda: visa on arrival in airports and on land borders, $50 for 90 days. Technically, there are 14 days transit visas for cheaper but no way they’re gonna give it to you haha.

Visa to Rwanda: apply here to get an online visa https://migration.gov.rw/index.php?id=203 (usually takes about 1 day to approve). Bring the printed online confirmation to the border and pay your fee in USD. Rwanda doesn’t allow plastic bags in the country so you will be searched at the border 🙂 Border with Tanzania is open 24h.

Visa to Burundi: issued at the border, $90 for single (30 days), $40 for transit (3 days). You don’t want to overstay. Border with Tanzania is creepy and is closed after dark.

Uganda: issued at the border or in the airport, I think $50 (30 days).

One visa for Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania: Single visa in any of these countries allows you to travel between all of them unlimited amount of times within the allowed 90 days. However, it doesn’t mean that with a Kenyan visa you enter Tanzania or Uganda without paying another fee. It simply means that if you’re staying in one of these countries on a single 90-day visa, you can travel to the other two and return to the first country with the same single visa (assuming you do it within the allowed 90 days).

Money exchange:

Money in Ethiopia is one big trap. Not many people know that you can NOT exchange birr into dollars in Ethiopia. Technically, only at the airport if you show your outward ticket they will give you USD in exchange for your birr. Of course, black market saves the world. Go to Churchill Ave in Addis around here http://goo.gl/maps/tXzmz and find a bunch of souvenir shops. They might give you a good deal (best rate I got was 2000 birr = 101 USD).

Money in Somaliland Somaliland doesn’t have ATMs (there is one, but it’s not functioning yet), but you can exchange your birr into dollars or Somalian shillings at the border or in Hargeisa. Dollars are good for hotels and restaurants, shillings are good for markets and local eateries. 1 USD = 6500 shillings, 2000 birr = 100 USD. If you’re stuck, you can only transfer yourself money via Dahabshili. No Western Union as of 2013.

Money in Sudan ATMs won’t allow you to withdraw money from you cards. All online currency converters somehow tell you that 1USD = 5 Sudanese pounds. It is bullshit. In Khartoum, the rate is around 7 pounds for 1USD. Coming from Ethiopia, do not bring birr, just get dollars in Addis (unfortunately, in Gondar I didn’t find a single place to get USD). Scammers who exchange money on both sides of the border with rip you off. Going onwards to Egypt, exchange your remaining Sudanese pounds into Egyptian pounds in Wadi Halfa. 100SDP = 100EGP is probably the best you’ll get, whereas in Aswan it will be 100SDP=80EGP.

Vaccinations:

No one ever asked me for a yellow fever certificate upon arrival to Kenya. Until I travelled to Uganda and was coming back to Kenya from there. The visa officer already stamped me in and let me go, when some other official dude called me and asked for my yellow fever certificate. Since I didn’t have it, he vaccinated me right there for about 12USD (place looked dodgy but the needle was new haha), otherwise he wouldn’t let me go.

Internet, Wi-Fi and mobile data (for digital nomads):

Ethiopia had the worst internet accessibility of all. At some point apparently there was a possibility to buy a 3G sim card to use mobile internet on your smartphone, but only in the EthioTelecom offices. When I was there, they didn’t sell me one (because they ran out of stock or something), and internet didn’t work on the ordinary sim card. Needless to mention that customer tech support here don’t really know about phones much more than you do. There are many internet cafes in all big cities and towns but the speed is ridiculously slow and Wi-Fi is rarely available. For Wi-Fi your best bet will be Itegue Taitu Hotel http://goo.gl/maps/mJQBY or a top floor restaurant here http://goo.gl/maps/53L0g.

Hargeisa hotels had the fastest Wi-Fi that even allowed me to download stuff! Almost all hotels have Wi-Fi, most restaurants don’t, but in Berbera you can always count on Starbucks. 🙂 However, I never figured out how to use mobile internet on the smartphone.

Kenya’s mobile internet bundles are quite expensive and unreliable and slow, but many coffee chains have Wi-Fi. Worse than that is only Uganda, where even coffee shop Wi-Fi is usually limited to 30 minutes.

Rwanda offers great mobile internet deals, I think it was about 50 cents for a day unlimited and moderately good speed. Majority of coffee shops have Wi-Fi.

Sudanese sim cards are cheap easy to buy and use, with a decent internet speed. Wi-Fi places are not in abundance, but you can go to My Place in Khartoum http://goo.gl/maps/52Juc

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