Well this was unexpected


So apparently my golden ticket is not so golden. This morning I went to the Senegalese consulate to inquire about visas, since they are not required for visits of fewer than 90 days but I may want to stay beyond that.

It was quite a surprise to be told that the visa is the least of my problems. Once in Senegal I can visit the immigration office at any time to apply for a visa… but I will not be allowed in the country – or for that matter, on the plane – if I show up to the airport without a return ticket.

I spent about twenty minutes trying unsuccessfully to ascertain whether “return” meant going back to the country of origin, or onward travel to any destination outside of Senegal. The two people I spoke with consulted about the nuances of this question and I could not follow along in the least (nor could they give me a firm answer in English). At first I thought they must be speaking Wolof, but I kept hearing words that, if pronounced entirely differently, would have sounded like French to me. This led me to wonder, not for the first time, whether Senegal is actually the best place for an American to learn French. But I’ll table that question for now in favor of the bigger issue.

As it turns out, you can’t just buy a one-way ticket somewhere and promise them at passport control that you will definitely leave within the time allotted to you. I feel pretty naive for making this little faux pas, but I’m not entirely sure how best to correct it, since I have no idea when I want to leave Senegal nor where I want to go next. I don’t want to book an arbitrary placeholder return ticket and change the date and/or destination later, because that will cost money that I haven’t budgeted for this particular use. But it looks like that’s exactly what I’m going to have to do.

Looking forward to spending the next eight hundred hours on the phone with United…

[Photo: Eva Holm]

3 thoughts on “Well this was unexpected

  1. International bureaucracy! It sounds like the policy is squishy. In Morocco, I could enter for a 90-day visa, and leave the country (just to Spain), and come back for another 90-day visa. It’s weird that Sengal would make you go back to your own country. What do Peace Corps volunteers do?

    The other thing about it is that the folks at the airport may or may not be aware of this policy–and may or may not follow it. In many cases, they let you through, agains “official” policy.

    I would start asking around among people who have visited there.

    Also, what’s the cheapest airfare out of Senegal to another country? You could buy the ticket and not use it–consider it part of the “visa fee.”

    • It does seem like I’d be able to leave the country on day 89, go to the Gambia or wherever, and come back 24 hours later to start the 90-day clock over again. But the issue is that they won’t let me into the country to begin with unless I show proof of an onward ticket dated for less than 90 days from my arrival.

      Peace Corps volunteers and people with secure jobs probably come with a bunch of paperwork that allows them to get a visa on arrival, or they get one beforehand, so they wouldn’t have to deal with this.

      I’ll figure it out, it’ll just take time away from all the other things on my to-do list…

  2. I hope you have sorted this issue out by now, Ruth? Perhaps if you get some work lined up in Dakar before you fly in they can sort it out for you?

    When I set off on my overland trip down through West Africa at the beginning of October 2008 I figured it would take me three to five months at least. But, like you, I was told that for most of the countries I would be going through I would need proof of an onward flight within 90 days. I hated committing to this, but I did it. I booked a flight from Johannesburg to Dublin, via London, for 30th December 2008. In the event, I opted to leave slightly earlier, on 23rd December, and from Cape Town in fact, so I did have to change my flight, and incur the cost of that. And just a note, I had come into Tangiers at the start of my journey on a ferry from Spain, not from my home country of Ireland. I don’t think it would matter where your ongoing flight was going to? If you do intend to stay for many months in Africa, and sometimes flying from one to another, perhaps take a chance and pick a country you might reasonably expect to be flying out of within the first 90 days? Most of the African countries I went through were quite annoying at the border checkpoints, looking for all sorts of information and often demanding extra fees or outright bribes to make things easier. Be firm and try to avoid paying any bribes. I often gave them the name of a hotel or hostel that I MIGHT be going to stay in but that does not mean that I actually booked it or necessarily stayed in it once I had crossed over!

    Also, do check which countries need you to have a visitors visa for in advance. A friend had told me how she had been unceremoniously ejected from Algeria for daring to try to come in without a visa! I had decided not to bother trying to go through Algeria, but Nigeria was definitely on my route and they expected a visa in advance. I had a lot of trouble getting a visa for Nigeria, even in advance, because I wasn’t in my home country at that time (I was in Portugal), and I even paid for one online, but I found their online system didn’t seem to work properly and I ended up in floods of tears in the Nigerian Embassy in Dakar because as far as they were concerned, I didn’t have the visa, and they said I would have to go back to Ireland to get one! In the end, the Nigerian High Commission in Accra in Ghana was much more helpful and I had no problem getting it there, although I had to pay a second time for it!

    Getting visas to be able to go from one country to another was one of my biggest headaches, and most time-consuming. Some take days or weeks to process them. Angola was my next biggest problem and the Angolan Consulate in Pointe-Noire was dragging out the process so much that, regretfully, I had to fly over Angola altogether (which was very expensive – internal African flights are generally not cheap, and many are not recommended for safety!). Again, perhaps if you are working you will be able to get visas through your employers.

    All that was over seven years ago, and perhaps things have changed, but do your homework and be prepared! Good luck!

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