Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dress Casual for Tanzania

I have been traveling to Tanzania a few times now, and I like to compare it with countries like Angola to show that on the eastern side of Africa things seems to work a bit more effective than on the opposite side. Take for instance the arrival procedures at the airports. I have written many times about the time it takes to move through the airport in Luanda, and even about the difficulties in acquiring visas for Angola. In Tanzania, getting a visa is very quick, you can even get it on arrival with no extra documentation needed other than a passport.

So, I have gone through the Immigration counters in Dar Es Salaam a few times, effortlessly and in a reasonably quick time. I applied for my visa in South Africa and eventually received a multiple entry visa valid for a year. Things couldn't be more on my side.

So, I was due for another visit and arrived at the airport in Dar. This time not armed with my magic passport with the multiple entry visa. That passport was lying at the Angolan Consulate in Cape Town waiting for a visa to go to Luanda. Needless to say procedures were not followed by the visa team and I have not received my passport back from the Consulate. As a matter of fact, my letter of invitation is still stuck somewhere between two fax machines. Fortunately I have two passports, so I took the second one and was ready to get my visa on arrival at Dar Es Salaam Airport.

When I arrived it was business as usual. Fill in the landing card and instead of going to the Immigration counters, line up for a visa. Once in the line I noticed everyone else had a white paper as well. You know how it goes in most of these airports, you have no way of knowing what you have to do, so you look and listen what others do. Ah, I had to fill in a white paper too, with exactly the same questions than the landing card, except that it asks you what your business is in Tanzania. This apparently determines which visa you get. Note, visa prices range from 50 USD to 600 USD, from single entry to "'special visa", so make sure you know what you have to say to get away with the lowest priced visa. From those who know your dress code also plays in important role. Look like a business man and your in for a heavy business visa; wear work boots and you have to apply for working visa, and dress like me and you might get away with a single entry for tourist for only 50 bucks.

Being the honest person I am, I decided that I will tell them exactly what I am doing there. Funny enough the guy in front of me was doing the same, so after he said "Four nights in Tanzania for a meeting", I decided that the 250 USD is a lot but if that is what you have to pay for a meeting in Tanzania, then so be it. "Your business in Tanzania?" I was asked. "Uhm...", I started, still wondering if a lie could not save me some bucks here. "Fifty dollars" the gentleman replied before I could even say anything.  OK, I can do with that, but why was I not interrogated like the people in front of me, I wondered?

That was quite quick and easy I though, but soon I was to find out that "quick" is still not a word very often associated with Africa. Once the gentleman who decides which visa fits your profile best has taken your passport, your landing card, your white visa application form and your money, you have to wait for your name to be called out from behind a window to complete the last steps in "getting a visa on arrival". The problem here is that your name could be called out at any time, and if you were first off the plane and in line, that does not mean that you will get your passport back in that same order. After every ten or so passport collections by the gentleman in the uniform, the passports gets put on a pile where someone pastes the visa in your passport. From there it goes to the Immigration officer that calls out your name, looks to see if your face matches the photo in your passport, and then instructs you to put your fingers on the fingerprint scanning device. There are no receipts, so I paid the visa out of my own pocket. Fortunately I looked like a tourist and only had to cough up 50 bucks. What was NOT so fortunate was the time I stood there waiting for my name to be called out. You have no idea where your passport is lying in the pile of passports in front of the Immigration officer. I stood there 45 minutes before my name was called out, which is longer than a good day at Luanda Airport.

Tanzania is a great country and definitely worth a visit. I do however suggest that when you visit Tanzania to make sure you have your visa before your arrival. If you cannot do that, then at least make sure you have patience and that your dress code says something in the line of "Tourist".

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