You cannot travel across borders without a passport. A Carnet de Passage en Douane (CPD) can be seen as a ‘passport’ which allows your vehicle to be temporarily imported into a foreign country while you overland.
What exactly is a Carnet?
Most people refer to a Carnet de Passage as a Carnet or CPD. It is an international customs document which offers a guarantee to a foreign government that the vehicle identified in the Carnet, if granted temporary importation status, will be removed from the country within the specified time limit. In the event that the vehicle is not removed within that time frame, the country may claim from the authority who issued the Carnet all duties and taxes that would be required to permanently import the vehicle to that country.
Normally a Carnet is valid for a maximum period of one year from the date of issue. If a South African registered vehicle is being shipped or flown out of South Africa on a temporary basis, the Carnet will facilitate customs formalities for both the export and re-importation of the vehicle into South Africa.
A Carnet is recommended for all African countries on the southern and East Africa route, but it is compulsory for Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. We have, however, heard reports of travellers who managed to buy a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) upon entering Kenya.
A Carnet normally makes the formalities during border crossings easier for travellers but some countries (like Uganda) do not accept or recognise a Carnet. Even if you have a Carnet you may still be expected to buy a TIP at a small charge.
Where do you get a Carnet?
Automobile Clubs worldwide affiliated with FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) issue Carnets.
The Automobile Association of South Africa (AASA) is the only authorised issuer of FIA Carnets to citizens/permanent residents of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland.
Normally a Carnet is bought in the country in which the vehicle is registered but it is possible obtain a Carnet from a different Automobile Club, e.g. if you are a foreigner who buys a vehicle in South Africa. (See the last section of this blog on ‘What if you are not returning the vehicle to the point of exit?’)
How does it work?
A Carnet may be purchased as a 5-page, 10-page or 25-page booklet. You use one page per country, each time that you enter. If you enter a country a second time (e.g. on your return trip) you will need a new page for that country. The fee for the booklet varies between R3 000 and R4 200, depending on the number of pages and the duration of the Carnet and a deposit/bank guarantee is also required.
You must apply for the Carnet at least two weeks, but preferably one month, prior to your departure, but be aware that it will only be issued to you a few days before you leave. A Carnet will be issued for a maximum period of one year; if you want to extend your trip, AASA will issue you with a new Carnet. A fee will be charged and your cash deposit/ guarantee will be carried over to the new Carnet.
While you overland, make sure that the stub of each page is stamped upon entry and exit of each foreign country. The Certificate of Location on the last page inside the Carnet should be endorsed by SA Customs (if you are returning the vehicle to SA) on entry, confirming the final destination of the vehicle. It is proof to AASA that the vehicle is back in South Africa. (It may also be stamped at your nearest police station.)
What does it cost?
If you obtain a Carnet in South Africa: for most countries a refundable deposit/bank guarantee of R10 000 is required if the value of your vehicle is below R380 000. If it is between that and R500 000, a 10% deposit of the vehicle value is required, if the value of your vehicle is between R500 001 and R800 000 a 50% deposit is required and if the value exceeds R800 001 a 100% deposit is required.
The deposit for Ethiopia is R20 000. For Sudan and West Africa countries you pay 10% of the value of the vehicle (minimum R20 000). For Egypt you have to deposit the equivalent of 200% of the value of your vehicle. This prevents many overlanders from including Egypt in their itinerary!
Non-SA citizens or permanent residents will automatically be required to lodge a 100% value of the vehicle as a guarantee. Go to the AASA website for full details on the pricing per country.
You don’t pay this deposit per country, but the maximum payable amount once-off. For instance, if your itinerary includes Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia and Zambia you will pay the maximum amount (R20 000 for Ethiopia) plus the booklet fee.
Getting your deposit back
Once you have returned home from your trip, you need to courier the Carnet back to the AASA head office or take it into the office where you acquired your Carnet in order to have the cash deposit / bank guarantee discharged and credited to you.
What if you are not returning the vehicle to the point of exit?
Many foreigners who do an Africa overland trip prefer to buy a vehicle in SA and drive it to Europe. If they intend to return to South Africa, they can obtain a Carnet through AASA. However, if they don’t intend returning the vehicle to South Africa, they can obtain a Carnet through their home automobile club.
For instance, the General German Automobile Club (ADAC) issues Carnets for Europeans who buy a SA registered vehicle and will not be returning to SA to discharge the Carnet. They can discharge the Carnet in Europe.
The amount of the refundable deposit/bank guarantee in this case depends on the countries to be visited and the vehicle type and value. This varies between 5 000 and 60 000 Euros for a Carnet that is valid for all African countries (including Egypt). Typically the Carnet fees for an Africa overland trip would be around 600 Euros.
The bottom line
For some countries a Carnet is compulsory. For other countries where it is not essential, it may ease the border crossing but some countries will still expect you to get a TIP, irrespective of if you have a Carnet or not.
Some travellers will be put off by this additional layer of cost for their journey, bearing in mind that many vehicles cross most borders without one, while others will prefer the sense of security and comfort that a Carnet provides for overlanding.