Africa travel documents

Africa travel documents

Tourism in Africa has seen a tremendous boom in recent years, with several new niche markets being developed- one of which is something called “overlanding”, involving small groups of people crossing Africa on guided tours using converted trucks. However, apart from operators developing new niche markets to new destinations, many African governments have realised the benefits of international tourism to their countries, and destinations that were once out-of-bounds to South African tourists not too many years ago are now freely accessible, and one of the most rewarding ways to experience these once-forbidden pleasures is to embark on a self-drive, independent off-road trip through the length and breadth of the African continent. Nevertheless, despite the South African Government’s view of its real or imagined exalted standing in African (and international) politics, South African travellers still need to be in possession of valid travel documents when they are abroad in Africa- just like everyone else, and in this article we will take a closer look at the documents South African citizens require for travel in Africa, such as passports, visas, and something called a “Carnet de Passages en Douane.”

Travel Document Contents:


South African passports come in different flavours, such as tourist passports, official passports, diplomatic passports, emergency passports, and passports for persons under the age of 16, for all of which rather hefty fees are payable but for the purposes of this article, we will only deal with tourist passports for persons older than 16 on the one hand, and tourist passports for persons under the age of 16, on the other hand.

South African tourist passports can be applied for at any branch office of the Department of Home Affairs in South Africa, or if you are abroad, at any South African Embassy or Consulate. However, the printing of passports is only done in Pretoria, after which the completed documents are sent to the office of application, a process that can sometimes take several weeks. It is therefore important to apply well in advance of your departure date since delivery dates of new issues cannot be guaranteed. More information on the application process for passports can be found at:


Who can apply for a SA passport?

All South African citizens who are in possession of a valid ID number can apply for a passport. Nevertheless, before we get to the application process, here are some points to bear in mind when first applying for a passport:

• Regular or maxi passport:
A normal passport contains 32 pages, but an option to apply for a maxi tourist passport with 48 pages is available (at a higher tariff), but only for persons older than 16 years of age.

• Period of validity:
South African passports issued to persons older than 16 years of age are valid for a period of ten years from the date of issue. However, SA passports can no longer be renewed: once the initial 10-year period has elapsed, the passport expires and a new application must be submitted. Passports issued to persons under the age of 16 are valid for a period of 5 years only, and cannot be renewed.

• Validity and departure dates:
For trips of shorter duration than an overland expedition through Africa, SA passports must be valid for a minimum of 30 days after the intended departure date. Moreover, there should also be a minimum of two opposing blank pages for visas and entry stamps, and the endorsement page at the back of the document cannot be one of the blank pages.

How to apply for a SA passport

Some veteran SA travellers are of the opinion that the application process for passports have become easier, more streamlined, efficient and quicker: however, many travellers heartily disagree with this assessment, but whatever the case may be, to apply for a SA tourist passport you must be a South Africa citizen, and you must complete/supply the following documentation and items to initiate the process:

• An application form (DHA-73) must be completed in black ink only. Ink of any other colour disqualifies the application.

• If the applicant is under the age of 16, the application must be accompanied by the applicant’s original ID document, as well as a certified copy of it. In addition, the application must be accompanied by the applicant’s original birth certificate, as well as a certified copy of it.

• If the applicant is under the age of 18, the application must be accompanied by the consent of both parents, failing which, the application must be accompanied by the consent of the legal guardian(s).

• If the application is made from outside the borders of SA, the application must be accompanied by a properly completed Determination of Citizenship- on Form DHA-529.

• Applicants who are in possession of current and valid passports must present this with the application. In cases where passports were lost or stolen, the application for a replacement must be accompanied by acceptable proof that the matter had been reported to the SA Police- on Form DHA-335.

• All applications must be accompanied by two colour photographs that comply with the current Passport and ID Photograph Specifications, as well as the relevant fee, which can vary from R400.00- R600.00, depending on the type of application.

Applying for Passports for Persons under 16 years of age

South African travelers can no longer include minor children on their passports: all persons departing South Africa must be in possession of their own valid passports. South Africa is a signatory to several internationally binding agreements and conventions that have the aim of combating human trafficking- thus the need for the following procedures when applications are submitted for passports for persons under the age of 16 years.

• All applications must be completed in black ink on Form DHA-73.

• Should the parents be married, both parents are required to sign the application, and both parents and the child, or children, must be present at the time the application is submitted, regardless of whether the application is made in SA, or at a SA diplomatic mission abroad. Copies of ID documents and letters of consent from absent parents are no longer accepted, and the application will be rejected, with possible adverse consequences for subsequent applications.

• In cases where divorced parents share custody/guardianship of the applicant(s), both parents are required to sign the application, and to be present when the application is submitted.

• Should one parent be deceased, the original death certificate as well as a copy of it must accompany the passport application.

• Should the parents of the applicant not be married, the consent of the applicant’s biological father is required if any of the conditions as prescribed in section 21 of the Children’s Act, 1995, apply. In these cases, both parents must be present when the application is submitted.

• In the event that the legal guardian of the applicant is not one (or both) of the parents, the application must be accompanied by proof of the fact that the High Court had appointed the person purporting to be the applicant’s guardian.

• If absent parents refuses to consent to the application, or where absent parents cannot be found, or where a dispute regarding consent (or otherwise) arises, the application and its merits, must be referred to the Children’s Court for determination, and the ultimate decision of the Court must accompany the application.

• All applications for passports in respect of persons under the age of 16 must be accompanied by the original birth certificate of the applicant, as well as a copy of it, two colour photographs that conform to the current Passport and ID Photograph Specifications, and the relevant fee for each application.



If you are planning an off-road expedition trough Africa, it is important that you have your passport in your possession at least 18 months before your intended departure date. Planning your route and obtaining visas for all the countries on your intended route is the most time consuming aspect of your trip, and even though some countries in Africa do not require visas from SA passport holders, the next country on your itinerary might require a visa, which you should not think you can obtain at the border of that country. Almost all African countries require travelers to obtain visas in advance, and below is a list of those that do:
Burkina Faso.
Cape Verde.
Central African Republic.
D.R. of Congo.
Equatorial Guinea.
Ivory Coast.
Sao Tome.
Sierra Leone.

And those that do not:

St Helena.

However, these lists are only guides; some countries change their requirements from time to time and a country that you needed a visa for six months ago, might not require a visa when next you apply for one, with Tunisia being a case in point. Similarly, the countries that do not require visas from SA passport holders differ in how long they will allow you to stay without a visa. It is always prudent to check the current regulations with the diplomatic missions of the countries on your intended route.

Some unexpected visa issues you should know about

• Visa dates/ Multiple entry visas:

Obviously, you need current, valid exit and entry visas for both the country you are leaving, and the country you are entering, but make sure you leave all countries on or before the date on which your visas expire. Overstaying your welcome means that you may be prevented from leaving a country, as well as being denied entry into the next country. All of this means that if you are allowed to leave, you could find yourself stuck in no-man’s-land between two countries. If this happens, you are in deep trouble, so pay proper attention to the dates on your visas.

Travel in Africa is not predictable and first-time travellers especially, can be delayed, or prevented from leaving a country on the due date for any number of reasons. The real problem however, is the fact that entry into the next country on your route could be denied, also for any number of reasons, which means that if you exited country A, and you cannot enter country B for whatever reason, you will not be allowed back into country A if you do not have a multiple entry visa for country A.

Once you have left country A, you are no longer of any interest to it (nor of its officials), and they will not do anything to help you in any way- you are stuck in no-man’s-land, and you could remain there until the SA diplomatic mission devises some scheme to get you out, which could take several days. Therefore, get multiple entry visas for as many countries on your route as you possibly can, and for the longest periods allowed. Chances are of course excellent that you may never need a multiple entry visa, but you will be ecstatic if you have them when you need them.

Beware of your past.

Some North African countries such as Sudan, Algeria, and Libya may deny you a visa if you have an Israeli passport, or a visa in any other passport that shows you had been to Israel. Merely having stamps from Egypt and Jordan may also result in being denied entry, or a visa, since these countries allow Israeli passport holders into their territories. This is a crucial point to remember when you do your route planning, since some countries may not issue you a visa if they see Israeli, Egyptian, or Jordanian visas/stamps in your passport, regardless of the country of issue. In addition, while there may not be an official ban on Israeli passports or stamps in most other African countries, the border guards of some Arabic speaking countries in Africa sometimes take a dim view of an Israeli-stamped passport, which means that entry into these countries could be problem, despite having a valid entry visa.

Carnet de Passages en Douane

The best way to describe the Carnet de Passages en Douane (CPD) is to see it as a sort of passport for your vehicle when you are travelling through Africa. Although it is still required in many countries around the world, the number of countries that require it to guarantee that a vehicle is removed from its territory after a specified time is steadily decreasing. However, while many countries in Africa require a carnet, an increasing number of countries now make use of Temporary Import/Export Permits that can be purchased at their borders upon entry. This is no doubt a method to raise revenues, but it undoubtedly makes the arrangements that go into an African expedition significantly easier as well.

How does it work?

The basic principle of the carnet relies on the fact that the purchaser of a carnet lodges a large cash deposit with the bankers of an organisation such as the Automobile Association of South Africa (the only organisation in South Africa that can supply a carnet), and which is based on the following criteria:

• Country of registration of the vehicle.
• SA citizenship. Non-citizens or holders of permanent residence permits are obliged to lodge a deposit of 100% of the vehicle’s value by way of guarantee.
• Countries the vehicle will pass through, as well as the duration of the trip.
• The vehicle’s current value, as well as the question of whether the vehicle will be returned to the country in which it is registered.

The object of all of this is to establish a guarantee to foreign governments that all vehicles subject to a carnet will be removed from their countries within the time limit imposed by the carnet. Failure to remove a vehicle from their jurisdiction results in the owner of the vehicle forfeiting his bond in respect of the vehicle, but moreover, the affected foreign government can claim all import taxes and duties from the AA of South Africa that would have been payable had the vehicle been imported into that country legally.

Carnets are valid for one year from the date of issue, and is available both the members and non-members of the Automobile Association of SA who reside in SA, and have their vehicles registered in SA. Of course, once the vehicle is back in South Africa, and proof of this is presented in the form of the final entry stamp into South Africa, the carnet must be returned to the Automobile Association for the bond to discharged, and refunded to the holder of the carnet. More information on the pricing structure of the bond that needs to be lodged can be found at:

Do you need a carnet?

This depends on where you are going, but even though some countries In Africa do not require a carnet, it is always a good idea to have one, since it can make the process of importing and exporting your vehicles considerably easier. The AA recommends that carnets be obtained for the countries on the following list although it is not always compulsory, so check with the Automobile Association of South Africa on the exact requirements.

• Zimbabwe.
• Zambia.
• Malawi.
• Tanzania.
• Kenya. (Compulsory.)
• Uganda.
• Sudan.
• Egypt. Carnets are compulsory for visits to Egypt, whose government demands a deposit equal to 200% of the value of vehicle.
• All West African countries.

You are almost there…

Assuming that all you travel documents are now in order, the last thing you need to do before you leave on your epic African expedition is to double check that all the visas you applied for appear in the passports of every person in your party, and that you have a list of the contact details of all the diplomatic missions in all of the countries you plan to visit. SA Embassies and Consulates abroad also maintain registers of South African citizens that find themselves in foreign countries, so make use of this facility to make sure there is always someone who knows where you are.

That’s about it- you have all your papers, your vehicles are checked and ready to go, your credit cards will work even in Burkina Faso, you have enough money, and you have just tested your new satellite phones and GPS devices. So why wait; get going- after all, what can possibly go wrong?